John Ford Clayton lives in Harriman, Tennessee with his wife Kara, and canine companions Lucy, Ginger and Clyde. He has two grown sons, Ben and Eli, and a daughter-in-law, Christina. He earned a BS in Finance from Murray State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is active in his East Tennessee community having served on the local boards of the Boys and Girls Club and a federal credit union, on church leadership and creative teams, and on a parks and recreation advisory committee. When he’s not writing he works as a project management consultant supporting Federal project teams. John is a huge fan of Disney parks and University of Kentucky basketball. Visit his website at www.johnfordclayton.com.
Find out more about Manipulated

INTERVIEW:

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.

If I could distill my writing inspiration into one word, it would be frustration. I’m very frustrated by the direction of the country. I’m very frustrated by how ill-informed or misinformed most Americans are. One specific anecdote that illustrates this phenomenon involves a friend I’ll call Sally. I know Sally well enough to know the core values she holds. Sally was trying to decide how she should cast her vote in a recent election and one candidate was very clearly aligned with Sally’s values. However, a co-worker convinced Sally to vote for a different candidate based on fear and invalid information. As much as I tried I couldn’t convince Sally to consider that she’d possibly been led astray. That she’d possibly been manipulated. My experience with many colleagues like Sally led me to write the story of Manipulated. Although it is a work of fiction, it is grounded in events that will hopefully sound familiar to the reader. My desire is not to convince – or manipulate – the reader, but to hopefully open their eyes to more critically consume information.

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 tried to have a master plan but as each segment of the story unfolded I felt led in different directions. Ultimately, I abandoned the master plan. I did know how the story would end, I just wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. What was interesting was that I found the more I wrote about a character, the more I understood about them. This would often compel me to go in a direction I had no idea I’d go. Likewise, when a storyline took the left fork in the road where I thought it would take the right, this opened up new places for the story to go. One unexpectedly entertaining aspect of writing Manipulated was in my own surprise at finding out exactly how the story would evolve.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

I tend to go through a cycle. Step one is a wrestling match with my muse. I sometimes win and can push through to progress. This often involves reading the previous few chapters I’d written to get back into the flow of the story. If step one doesn’t work, step two is often a walk down to the water. We are blessed to live on a beautiful lake in Tennessee with a boat house adjoining our property. I find that a properly cast fishing line can sometimes conjure the muse to come out of her shell. I’m a sports junky, so step three usually involves watching a football or basketball game. If I’m in step three I’m pretty much conceding my muse is done for the day.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

In writing Manipulated, I found that external motivation works well for me. When I finished writing my first seven chapters I gave the partial manuscript to my wife to read. She loves to read, and I knew she’d give me honest feedback. Her words of encouragement pushed me to keep writing. After another lull at around chapter 20, I recruited a few friends to read. They all became engrossed in the story and pushed me to keep going. I found their excitement contagious and I knew that I wasn’t just writing for myself, but I was now writing for my friends. I adopted a protocol where each Sunday evening I’d send that week’s progress to my beta readers. If I had a less-than-productive week I knew I’d hear about it. Their interest and accountability helped me get to “The End”.

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?

I did not join a formal critique group, but as discussed above, as I was writing I did solicit feedback from a group of trusted friends. The key for me is that word “trusted”. If I joined a critique group that consisted of people I didn’t know, I would probably find it difficult to take seriously their input. I see a critique group as different from the normal readers of your book. When I acquire a new book, I read it for enjoyment in hopes that I get lost in the story. I don’t look for error or plot holes. I do believe that a critique group has the potential to discourage a new writer as their purpose can become finding something about which they can be critical.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I’m in the middle of writing my second book, Rise of The Mustangs. It is the sequel to Manipulated and second in a trilogy. Rise of The Mustangs is planned to be on the market in the spring of 2019. The third book, Declaration of Independence, is slated for a 2020 release.

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

This is an easy question, it is all about having a happy reader. Statistics show the average reader reads the average novel in around 30 hours. Manipulated is a little longer than average, so it wouldn’t unusual for a reader to invest 40 hours reading Manipulated. That’s a significant investment and I believe I owe it to the reader to have a fun, memorable, satisfying experience. I want them to be thankful they took the time to read it. I understand the practical need for sales, critical acclaim, and author branding, but for me, those pale in comparison to a happy reader. Getting that e-mail, text, or personal visit from someone telling me they enjoyed the book is my greatest reward.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

If you’ve recently turned on the news or read the newspaper, it’s likely you walked away depressed and discouraged. The U. S., and much of the world, seems to be struggling through a period of bitter division. In the U. S. much of this discord is centered around politics. Your either on the Left or the Right and whichever you declare, you must hate the other. If you believe your TV, all of life’s events must be viewed through the lens of politics.

But, is your life really this way? Do you and your neighbor incessantly argue about the upcoming election? Are you and the person in the office next to you unable to carry on a professional conversation due to political differences? My anecdotal sample says that’s not the case. That most ordinary citizens go about their daily lives largely unaffected by the political persuasions of the person next to them. Then why does it seem so different when you turn on the news?

Manipulated attempts to answer this question. While a work of fiction, it is grounded in the premise that you are being manipulated. I hope you’ll consider reading Manipulated.

If you’re frustrated by what you hear, see, and read about American politics, my plea to you is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to accept the status quo. You have the power to change it. I hope you find Manipulated provides some motivation to make that change.

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