J. T. Moriarty
Today in the Writer's Corner, we meet J. T. Moriarty.
Amanda: Hi, Jacob. Welcome to the Writer’s Corner, where we talk all things writing in our corner of the world!
Jacob: Thanks for having me!
Amanda: So tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jacob: Oh lessee… I’m 6’0 tall, pale as a ghost, work behind a news agency desk and love reading and writing. I’m not sure which I love more, but if I had to pick writing wins any day.
Amanda: Where are you in this big wide world?
Jacob: I’m up in the lovely mountains which are blue. Close enough to Springwood.
Amanda: You're about to release The Full Life of a Robot in May 2020. Tell us anything and everything.
Jacob: Well where to start? I love robots as a reader and have been a fan since I was a little boy, and I’m a huge Daft Punk fan too. I had an idea for a world where a robot got thrown into some very human situations, and wanted to ask the reader, or all humans, what would you do in situation X if it wasn’t a human in peril? Watching “Electroma” by Daft Punk, which I do suggest but be warned, it’s very arthouse, really gave me the courage to go ahead and write the story out, not leave it as an inkling of a maybe good idea. Philip K Dick also inspired me through out, with his huge and immense range of scifi and philosophical scifi, not just blasters and saving royalty.
Amanda: Was there a defining moment in your life where you knew you had to be a writer?
Jacob: Yes! I was 7, in year 2 at school, and we had to write a story for class. We got those giant A3 pieces of paper from the old dot-matrix prints, and most kids had big writing and did a page. I used normal sized writing and needed a second page. I just remember I would watch a show or movie and think “But that’s not how I would have ended it,” and dream up my own ending. Some time later I wrote a pirate story involving me and my friends (write what you know, right?) but it was only the meeting of the main characters, and then finding a treasure map and ship to go on the adventure with, and that was all that got written. But it came naturally to me, so writer as a life time job made itself known from a young age.
Amanda: What are you working on right now?
Jacob: I’ve got 5 or more things “in the pot” but I’m really focusing down on one at a time, which still isn’t easy to do. When one story becomes written out, the others start to jump around for attention, so I have to tell them to be patient, they’ll get their turn. I’m currently planning to write 3 more first drafts this year, and I’ve already gotten an 80,000 word first draft out. I’m working that down to a good state where I can leave it for now, then come back to it from a purely editing point of view, probably after the third draft of the year has been done.
One story is fantasy featuring Hobgoblins, another is epic scale science fiction with a pair of heroes who arrive from the past, 1000 years ago, when all humans have died out and every other species has had a chance to evolve into their bipedal form. The third is another fantasy, about a gnome who goes from lowly tea server all the way up to Grand General of the Gnome Initiative, but everyone has forgotten about Gnomes and they all risk fading out of existence, if the gates to the Gnome kingdom stay closed. The fourth novel is actually the long awaited and teased sequel to The Full Life of a Robot, which I’ll admit leaves more than a few questions totally unanswered -- but it’s not my fault! The robot didn’t feel like writing about them!
Amanda: Describe your writing space? What makes it uniquely you?
Jacob: Oh that changes, a lot. When I wrote Robot I was in another suburb, and just hoping to mash it out before the end of 2014. I made a promise to finish it, and did so, and that felt good but rushed. I’m not upset with the end, but I didn’t like feeling like I had to push myself to get anything out. As a first writing though it’s a good experience to go through.
Now I might go and sit at the local coffee shop, and I always get a moch and ham n cheese toasty, eat that, and then I know my body is happy for a few hours, so I can write peacefully. Internal interruptions are much worse for me than external. I can ignore a lot of noise around me, but if I’m hungry, or need the toilet, forget focusing at all.
I wrote the 80,000 word draft this year over just 3 days, with 2 days of planning beforehand. That was written at my lovely parents house (BEFORE covid 19 was a thing!) in my dad’s unused study, which was quiet and very static and a perfect place for my Hobgoblins to do their thing. It was a great experience, and I was stunned to produce 15,000 words a day without extreme effort or fatigue afterwards.
My next book I’ll be at my table in a new room, with the gorgeous green trees of the blue mountains behind me. Yes, the one’s that didn’t burn down during those awful bushfires.
Amanda: But you’re not just a writer, you’re also an artist. How does your art practice help shape you as a writer?
Jacob: I think a lot of self reflection goes into making me a different writer, and it’s tricks of habits I see myself using that I don’t want to use. Often I’ll squeeze out a scene to see where it leads to naturally, despite not hitting what I wanted to write into an actual scene intended for it. This isn’t bad, and I can always abandon what did come out rather than what was intended, but sometimes I do have a very simple scene, and it just needs to be in for story progression, but the characters will take my hands and write away with for a half hour longer than intended!
Structuring has helped a tonne. When I have an idea but no structure, I begin with a backbone and don’t know what it will look like, so story “limbs” will be written and seem to go on forever. With a structure, say even just chapters and parts, I can see the box that defines the story, and then just have to fill that in -- we’re no longer writing outwards and hoping to make sense, we’re filling in a box. And I can change that box later, once we’ve filled it in with story.
Amanda: On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?
Jacob: Next question! It depends. When I’m writing content to get a feel for the characters, 2-3 hours. When I was writing the Hobgoblin draft, I wrote in 4 sessions, of approx 2 hours each. I take a break at about 45 minutes, for roughly 15, and that served me swell for 3 solid days of writing. It’s the same technique I used when I was completing my Masters of Writing. If I get the can from the news agency job (thanks again covid19) it’ll be 8 hours a day, as it’ll become my new full time job.
Amanda: Can you tell us about your process before you jump in and start writing?
Jacob: The process is usually to psyche myself up. I described earlier that I’ll eat and quiet my body needs, but otherwise I just need to get excited to tell the next part of the story, rather than watch another useless YT video, that WILL still be there after I’ve written my story for the day.
Amanda: Have you ever based a character on someone you know? Did you ever tell them?
Jacob: I get a lot of interesting characters at work, but they usually only inspire a tiny character, just cameos. I’ve never told anyone because they probably wouldn’t care, and they are totally unnamed in the story, so to read it you’d never be able to guess who the real world inspiration was. They are used much more for characterisation and the air of the character, rather than physical appearance. I’ve asked quite a few if I could use their name, because it’s a great name.
Amanda: How do you do research for your books?
Jacob: I read. A lot. Miles and miles. Comparisons. Movies. TV. I know its easier to research for fiction than real life stuff, because if you’re being fantastical (and science fantasy is a real genre) than you can put down what you like, and the science or facts are allowed to be smudged. Compare that to, say, A Space Oddysey (a great read, it’ll also explain a bit more of the movie for you), which is super dry, very realistic science fiction. When reading it I felt like it was a genuine journal of humanity’s first trip to Saturn. The only scifi is HAL of course and the alien technology that’s been left behind, so we haven’t got blasters or mystical forces that help us conquer the bad guy -- we barely even meet them. And are they even evil? They’re just curious about a lesser race, surely? THAT would require buckets of research and I’m glad Kubrick/Arthur C Clark did, but I’m far more into a great story, rather than an accurate one, factually speaking.
Having said that though I have looked up the time it took humans to evolve, to use as a guesstimate for my science fiction that’s coming up, where humans are gone and animal hybrids replace them all. So if it’s glaringly obvious that things couldn’t “evolve in 1000 years” than I’ll research something real and apply that.
Amanda: What are your writing tools for the trade?
Jacob: Actually I love Notepad. It never does a thing you didn’t tell it to do. No bullet lists, no sudden indentation. Nothing at all. I can really trust a program that does nothing. Also pen and paper. I have to write a story out on pen and paper first, then it’s a lot better when I produce my writing on computer.
Amanda: What was your hardest scene to write?
Jacob: The romance scene in Full Life of a Robot. I knew it could happen, I know it happened in the story, and I knew it was my job to point the proverbial camera at the scene when it happened or not -- and I choose to show it. I knew the book would survive or die on it, and I’m glad I wrote the scene because if I was having concerns before writing it then it meant it was the right scene for the job. My mum was happy reading the book up until that point, then told me she put it down. I laughed and told her Don’t worry, that’s the only scene like that in the book. Just skip the chapter and keep reading.
Amanda: Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, have you ever had to deal with it? And how did you overcome it?
Jacob: There’s no such thing as writers block, that’s just an easy conventional thought, kind of like the ‘moralistic journalist’ who must dig to the bottom of a bad news story government cover up. Dreams and fluff.
There are absolutely writers who don’t know what to write next, and that means they need to sit back, get off the keyboard, and go talk to their characters again. Recheck the story where it’s headed, where it’s come from. “Writer’s block” is like using the bathroom. If you force it, you’ll make absolute shit. If you allow things to take their time you’ll be greater rewarded. Writer’s block also pushes this image that the writer must be constantly at their writing machine of choice, but I couldn’t think of anything more damning. Without an idea, you won’t produce.
To get around my own lack of writing, I’ll set a timer. If I’ve stared at the screen for half an hour and written nothing, I’m allowed to get up and walk away. I clearly haven’t got the next piece loaded in my mind, and that’s the “writing” I need to do next.
Amanda: What about reader’s block? Is that even a thing?
Jacob: I’ve never heard of it, but there are definitely times when my eyes are cry and hanging out of my head, or I’m simply fed up with a story going nowhere or turning into a genre I didn’t sign up for. The French Lieutenants Woman was a great read, but it took me 2 years to actually just sit down and read it, and that’s kind of a crazy book by the end. Avoid the movie.
Amanda: If you could tell your younger writer self some advice, what would it be?
Jacob: Haha, “Hurry up!” Writing is like exercise, if you only go until you’re a bit tired you’ll get very little done. Find your wall, push against it, and gain!
Amanda: What is the significance of the title?
Jacob: It’s very important at informing the reader, and gives them a hook they can accept or throw away very quickly. You don’t want people to throw away your book, but you want to be honest so they’ll take it and enjoy it, rather than take it, feel like they were cheated into a genre or story they have no interest in, and then they’ll really hate it. “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” is obviously scifi, but why does it mention sheep? And why are the sheep electric? We’re immediately given a thought, something to chew on and be curious about, and we haven’t even opened the book yet. I tried to do the same with “The Full Life of a Robot.” Do robots live for an entire life, like we do? Can you see an old graying robot, staggering down the street, body parts sagging?
Amanda: Where do you draw inspiration from?
Jacob: Everything. Boredom. Every day life. Interesting characters that show themselves to me out of nowhere. Roleplaying games (like Pathfinder) characters.
Amanda: What books and authors have most influenced your own writing?
Jacob: 1984 by George Orwell was the first book I read that I believed, 100%. As in I feel like it came from a real human, from a different era, and with a true message to pass behind. I was amazed when I read it, back in year 12, and for a short while I thought “Why be a writer? That’s the best book ever.” I realised quickly however that such a thought was useless, if anything 1984 proved how much of an impact a book could have on a reader, and didn’t I want to have that same impact upon my own readers? I took it as a great star to aim towards, rather than a sign that you shouldn’t try, as many of my personal friends do think when they read/watch something amazing.
Also Lewis Carroll, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m quite happy to say many great reads I love I have sought out myself and been very rewarded by. Alice is the one book I can read at any time, any stress level, and it’ll sort me out and bring me back down to zero very effortlessly. I read it at least once a year, and I’m well aware of the two millions “Alice 3” books that are out there, but I’m not interested at all. I think it’s the world of fun and wordplay that really draws me in, and the honesty and openness of little Alice, that makes it a fun, simple, time in a crazy-to-us world.
Amanda: Do you have a favourite quote?
Jacob: Winston Churchill, super relevant for this year. “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” Nothing sounds cooler, or has made more sense. If you stop, you literally have chosen to STAY in hell. Who would do that? It’s very hard to continue, but you’re always closer to getting out if you keep going.
Amanda: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Jacob: I will plot, that’s essential, but you have to pants when you’re actually writing. Quite often your characters will have a better idea than you. Jennifer Roberson, who wrote the Cheysuli Chronicles, planned to kill off a character in the second book, but they actually told her no, so they stayed in and were there for another 4 books as well.
Amanda: Are you a world builder or character creator?
Jacob: Character, definitely. I need a good strong character, someone I can like and spend many hours and days writing about and thinking about. The world comes second, or not at all (see Robot. The world is very undefined, because the robot in question simply didn’t think it relevant). I do go back and force myself to give places a characterisation of their own now, but I know I used to ignore location almost entirely.
Amanda: What are you reading right now?
Jacob: This year I made a list of 12 books, ideally one a month. I’ve read it out of order and never finished a book within it’s own month. LotR is on there, the Belgariad, Elric: Stormbringer which was insanely fun and good. I try to match my reading to my writing, so I’ve been spamming fantasy for a months, but the list does have The Three-Body Problem on it too. I’ve also made 2 alternative 12 book lists, in case I finish or haven’t got access to the book I’m meant to be reading. So can I say 36 books?
Amanda: Any advice for writers?
Jacob: Start now. And I know it’s easy to simply write that, but I mean start planning. Do you have a character? A place for them to travel to? A deeper, personal inner reason they don’t reveal until part 3 or early part 4? Good, start writing. If you don’t have those things set aside just half an hour, and think about them, continually, for that whole half hours. Afterwards write down what you think, and gather all these points together. They’ll eventually gell into an idea you can write, but that’s what I mean when I say “start now.”
Also get a job at a news agency. I get so much free time while waiting for customers that I have ample minutes in the day to ponder my story world and it’s inhabitants.
Amanda: Any advice for readers?
Jacob: Find a sizeable list and tackle it. You don’t need to read every book if you don’t want to, but to expand your reading is to expand your brain. I’m currently reading through the Times magazine 100 best novels list (1923 to 2005), and am at 50 books? I had read 9 already. I’m also reading 14 Books That Changed SCIFI Forever list, and everything written by Phil K Dick ever. I don’t think I’ll actually finish those lists, because long drawn out books that go nowhere (Infinite Jest, Dhalgren, Gone with the Wind) aren’t any kind of reward for reading so much of one persons idea, buuut I can’t be sure of those notions without reading them myself.
Also you gotta have a comfy couch, an animal around (cats and dogs equally good, birds/goats will eat your book) and a cuppa somethin’ hot.
Amanda: The next book - when can we read it? And what can we expect?
Jacob: The next book, ‘Full Life of a Robot 2’, is being written in the later part of this year 2020, but I intend to channel that one along for easy quick publishing. I can reveal here that it’s title is “A Machine of Blood”, and isn’t from the main robot’s pov but rather the most loved and hated character from the first book.
Amanda: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for coming along today. It’s been great to chat.
Jacob: I’ve had a lot of fun, cheers.
Amanda: Where can readers find more about you and your books?
Jacob: Find me on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jtmoriartywriter/