A graduate of the University of Missouri—Columbia, John Herrick explores themes of spiritual journey and the human heart in his works. Herrick’s debut novel, From the Dead,which was hailed as “a solid debut novel” by the Akron Beacon Journal, achieved Amazon best-seller status. Herrick’s second novel, The Landing, was named a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Herrick’s nonfiction eBook, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, received over 100,000 downloads and landed at #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration best-seller lists. John Herrick is a native of St. Louis.
Connect with the author on the web:
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
You mean, besides the fact that I’m a sucker for 1990s music? By normal standards, I’m the least-qualified author out there. I never took a creative writing course and got turned down for every writing position I pursued, but took many opportunities to write on an unpaid basis to gain experience. I started my career in information technology—computer programming, the opposite of my interests! But it led to project management, which provided the structure and self-discipline I needed to complete a novel. Growing up, I suffered from a lot of depression, which might explain why many of my characters struggle with pain in their hearts. A lot of my work is based on instinct.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Yes! I scoured the Young Adult shelf in the bookstores. In the mid-1980s, YA wasn’t trendy and the books were mostly paperbacks less than 200 pages long. I loved one series called Not Quite Human. It revolved around a scientist who invented a robot which, on the surface, looked like an ordinary high school kid. I also read a lot of new Hardy Boys books, which they had rebranded as the Hardy Boys Case Files. (Should I admit to reading several Judy Blume books? Her Then Again, Maybe I Won’t had a male protagonist.)
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
In Between These Walls, Hunter Carlisle is a Christian with a secret attraction to other men. He manages to hide his secret well into adulthood, until he crosses paths with another Christian who holds the same secret. They let their guards down and the story unfolds from there. Readers walk beside Hunter as he reconciles sexual identity in light of his faith. They get an honest look at the turmoil that roils in his heart, mind, soul and emotions.
Here’s my inspiration: A few years ago, I caught a television news story about a high school student who had endured an onslaught of bullying because he was gay. He was on the verge of suicide—tired, desperate, filled with pain. The news story centered around a video the student had posted online. In the video, the only way he could bring himself to express his hurt was to page through words he’d written in black marker on sheets of paper. Here sat a kid who looked like an average high school freshman, wiping tears from his eyes, seeking someone to hear his cry for help.
My heart broke for that kid. I’ve never met him. I don’t know if he’s alive today. But I’ll never forget him. I thought to myself, “Nobody that age should know what it’s like to feel that kind of pain.” A high-level concept for Between These Walls already resided in the back of my mind, but the heartbreak I felt for that kid was my catalyst for action.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I need to plan ahead. It provides a road map, but more importantly, a plan prevents burnout and the shelving of a project. I plan my projects with a clear head and a critical eye. Doubt tries to settle in while I write, so when that happens, I can say, “No! I planned this project when I was clearheaded! I trust the plan!” Technically, you could call my plan an outline, but it’s more like a sketch, a mini version of the novel, an in-depth narrative of each chapter. If a block of dialogue comes to me, I’ll stick it in there, too. In fact, when I write the novel itself, I lift much of my dialogue from that narrative verbatim. The narrative ends up 50 to 100 pages long. It allows me to find logic holes and evaluate the story’s facets—and fix its fatal flaws—before my emotional involvement skews my judgment.
That said, I’ve approached each book differently. For some reason, I’m in different states of mind each time around, so I need to adjust the planning process. Halfway through my planning for Between These Walls, I couldn’t stand the wait any longer and wanted to take advantage of that fervor. So I started writing early. Then, halfway through my novel, I had to stop writing the first draft, map out the remainder of the story, then resume writing.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
Oh my, dare I answer this?! Honestly, my best ideas tend to come to me while I’m in the shower, probably because everything around me stops: I can’t text anyone, I can’t work, I can’t get started on little tasks. Ideas also come to me while I take a long walk. Long drives on the interstate with music playing are also helpful—ideas don’t come during that time, but its calming effect paves the way for those ideas.
Here’s a weird detail about me: When I’m on the lookout for a story, my subconscious goes into high gear 24-7. I seldom remember my dreams—on average, I’ll remember one or two dreams per year. When I’m on the lookout for a story idea, though, I’ll remember my dreams once or twice per week! Unfortunately, because dreams are disconnected and nonsensical, they never turn out as viable stories for me.
Describe your working environment.
Keeping my writing time and location habitual helps me gain traction. And music is a must! Throughout the planning and writing stages, songs come to me, songs in which a lyric line or melody capture the tone of the novel or an aspect of a character. Once the first draft begins, I’ve developed a playlist of songs, old and new. You can check out my Between These Walls playlist here: www.johnherrick.net/betweenthesewalls/playlist.htm
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I write non-stop until I have a first draft. The most important thing is to get the first draft written, regardless of quality. Once you have a draft, you have a tangible product you can mold and improve. However, the more books I write, the better I can envision the end product and the earlier I can identify many weak spots. So I also allow myself to edit “live.” My first drafts are more solid nowadays. If I catch myself getting bogged down with it, I remove my editing privilege for that day. Plus, I make many developmental edits during my sketch process, which removes a significant obstacle before writing begins.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Regardless of your age, you’re always your parents’ kid. What scares me most is any chapter that makes me think, “You know, Mom and Dad are going to read this!” But the best way to connect with readers is to drop my guard and make myself vulnerable as a writer. That means allowing the reader to experience the most intimate aspects of my character’s life—the secrets he would never tell, the things he would only do when nobody else sees. One previous novel, From The Dead, contained a few pages of sexual content which were critical for illustrating my characters’ motivations and vulnerabilities. When I allowed my mom to read the first draft, I removed those two pages from the manuscript without telling her. Unfortunately, I forgot to warn my parents about the R-rated content until it was too late. They already had the final book in their hands. Oops! But I don’t think the content took them by surprise. They realize the purpose behind it and are among my books’ biggest supporters. And with each book, I do grow less concerned.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I love the intricacies of the human heart. As a result, my characters are prone toward introspection. I tend to gravitate toward characters who ache inside, in the hope that real-life individuals will find a kindred spirit.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
By nature, I’m a night owl and used to hit my stride around 9 or 10pm. Two years ago, I flipped my schedule and began writing before sunrise. That brought fresh fervor. Looking outside the box is a powerful asset.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
I need a hot beverage, preferably hot herbal tea, to do my best work. That being the case, I’m a total junkie—my kitchen cupboard has about 20 flavors of tea stashed inside!
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
As a big-time introvert, I’ve never joined a critique group, so can’t offer an opinion there. Use every tool that helps you. But I will say this: When I write a novel, I don’t let people read the manuscript until it’s done. There’s a time for everything, and I need to minimize potential hindrances, including the wrong word at the wrong time. Also, use wisdom to seek opinions from people who can give you solid advice. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can offer an opinion, but not every Tom, Dick and Harry has wisdom or good instincts. Quality is better than quantity.
Do you have any favorite authors?
John Grisham is my favorite author, and I love his earliest books through The Runaway Jury. I was a constant reader as a kid. Once high school and college started, along with all of its required reading, I stopped reading for fun. When I picked up Grisham’s The Firm, then The Client, I fell in love with novels all over again. Had I not fallen back in love with novels, I wouldn’t have pursued writing them. I owe him my gratitude for that.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Sure do! My website is www.johnherrick.net. My blog is johnherricknet.blogspot.com. Feel free to message me there, or connect with me on Facebook and Twitter—links are at the top of my website. Readers, keep in touch!
As an author, what is your greatest reward?
Life is all about the lives we impact. Writing a book is a privilege because, in that collection of pages, you have the potential to speak to thousands of individuals at once. My greatest reward is hearing my book encouraged a reader or changed her perspective on life.
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!
My pleasure! Thank you for letting me stop by.