A self-described “broken Christian,” John Herrick battled depression since childhood. In that context, however, he developed intuition for themes of spiritual journey and the human heart.

Herrick graduated from the University of Missouri—Columbia. Rejected for every writing position he sought, he turned to information technology and fund development, where he cultivated analytical and project management skills that helped shape his writing process. He seized unpaid opportunities writing radio commercial copy and ghostwriting for two nationally syndicated radio preachers.

The Akron Beacon Journal hailed Herrick’s From the Dead as “a solid debut novel.” Published in 2010, it became an Amazon bestseller. The Landing, a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, followed. Publishers Weekly predicted “Herrick will make waves” with his next novel, Between These Walls.

Herrick’s nonfiction book 8 Reasons Your Life Matters introduced him to new readers worldwide. The free e-book surpassed 150,000 downloads and hit #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration bestseller lists. Reader response prompted a trade paperback.

His latest novel, Beautiful Mess, folds the legend of Marilyn Monroe into an ensemble romantic-comedy.

Herrick admits his journey felt disconnected. “It was a challenge but also a growth process,” he acknowledges. “But in retrospect, I can see God’s fingerprints all over it.”

Book description: Del Corwyn is desperate to return to the spotlight. He hasn’t had a hit film since his Academy Award nomination 40 years ago and now teeters on bankruptcy. He’s a forgotten legend. One day, while going through personal memorabilia, he discovers an original screenplay written by his close friend, Marilyn Monroe, who named Del as its legal guardian. News of its discovery goes viral. Suddenly, Del skyrockets to the A-list and has a chance to revive his career—if he’s willing to sacrifice his friend’s memory and reputation along the way.

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background? My first chance to write for the public was writing commercial copy at a local radio station. I received practical experience talking to a defined audience and received feedback about what pleased clients or resonated with listeners. I’ve also done some ghostwriting—which is where experience writing dialogue comes in handy! Aside from those, my foundation for writing came together through project management experience in the IT field, of all places! In addition to Beautiful Mess, I’ve written a few other novels. You can read about them at www.johnherrick.net. 

When did you decide you wanted to become an author? In the third grade, I’d finished a class assignment and noticed the kid sitting next to me writing a story, the kind with pictures and captions, to pass the time. It looked like fun, so I tried it out—and fell in love with it! Short stories took up all my spare time, casting aside the pictures and focusing on the stories. I knew I wanted to write for the rest of my life.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading? Yes. I’m an introvert and was kind of a brainy geek, so I didn’t fit in with the crowd! That meant, from a young age, I spent a lot of time reading. It progressed from Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume (yes, a guy reading Judy Blume—don’t judge!) to the Hardy Boys Case Files series to John Grisham as an adult. As a kid, young adult books were only around 150 pages, so I tore through them. To this day, I’m always reading a book or two. Never waste time—my fourth-grade teacher ingrained that in me!

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story. Beautiful Mess is a humorous coming-of-age story about a 78-year-old man who lives in his own fictional world. The novel incorporates lesser-known facts about Marilyn Monroe and imagines the further impact she might have made on pop culture if her life hadn’t reached an abrupt end.

As for what compelled the idea, years ago, I read a biography about the actress and learned she was forced into a mental institution against her will. She was trapped, all alone, and couldn’t do anything to escape. But she was sane. Just misunderstood. Can you imagine her terror? Nobody could escape that predicament unchanged.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? Discipline is key for me. A written plan keeps me moving forward when I don’t feel creative—and I usually don’t! I always start with a detailed sketch. It’s a mini version of the whole story, minus the bells and whistles, and ends up 50-100 pages long. So, technically, I tell every story twice. Oftentimes, I’ll lift blocks of dialogue from it verbatim and insert them into my first draft. My goal is to get all the thinking out of the way, remove all the barriers, so I can plow through the first draft as fast as possible. Stream-of-consciousness writing is fatal for me—I’d never get anything done.

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes? I undergo a weird hybrid of the two. What takes a reader one week to read took me a year or two to develop, write and polish. During that time, I get to know my characters. They dwell in me, which means their emotional struggles dwell in me. Many of my characters are in a dark place, desperate to find their way out, and for someone prone to depression, that darkness can become my own if I’m not careful. So although my stories are 100% fiction, I live vicariously through the characters. I’m thankful Beautiful Mess is a romantic comedy. It gave me some good laughs! It contains its John Herrick dark moments, but they don’t form the crux of the story.

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? I’m a highway guy too. Anytime I need to clear my head or return to my creative roots, I hop on a stretch of I-70, which connects St. Louis to Kansas City, and drive through rural Missouri. At one point, you reach a steep incline where you can see for over two miles—I’ve measured it on the speedometer. That expanse is so broad, so awe-inspiring, it makes me feel as if anything is possible on the creative road ahead. The ideas don’t come to me on the highway, but they get the clutter out of the way. Most of my ideas come from asking “What if” questions.From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take? From research to planning to first draft to revisions, I’m looking at about 18 months, since I have a career in addition to the books. Then add the waiting time for the shelf date to arrive. I’m usually in the preliminary stage of the next book by that time. That said, Beautiful Mess happened very fast. It took only half my normal time to write. 

Describe your working environment. I need to establish a routine. Once I start rolling with it, momentum builds. These days, I show up at Starbucks around 5:30 a.m. and write until 8 a.m., then head to the office.

What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write? The contemplation scenes, where not much happens externally, but where the characters  make sense of what has happened to them. Those feel slow as I write them, but I need to remind myself that what takes me hours to write will only take a reader a few minutes to read. For the reader, it’s a healthy pause that doesn’t slow the momentum.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along? I’ve learned how to make small edits as I go without getting in the way. Most of my developmental editing occurs when I sketch the story, before I write the draft, so I’ve already resolved most logistical problems. That’s another reason I plan everything in advance.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review? By the time your book reaches the reader’s hands, you’ve faced years of rejection and it no longer bothers you. It’s part of the job. That’s my experience, at least. This will sound harsh, but until you can handle criticism, writing is your hobby, not your craft. I consider the criticism, look for a tidbit that will help me improve my work, but toss the negativity aside.

As a writer, what scares you the most? I’m scared I’ll show up to write and nothing will come forth! Every writer seems to harbor that fear. It never seems to materialize, though. I make more progress on some days than on others, but I’ve learned to be content with what comes.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl? Five years ago, I was a night owl, but when you have a full-time career, you’re tired by the time you sit down to write at night. So I switched to writing before sunrise, which revolutionized my process. Not only do the books get my first and best, but by going directly into “next career” mode at 8 a.m., I removed the opportunity for my body to shut down and get lazy.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks? Hot coffee or herbal tea. The warmth revitalizes my motor.

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? The best route is whatever moves you forward but keeps you honest with yourself. You need criticism, but you don’t need it early. You can always fix what you write. Personally, I’ve never joined a critique group. I don’t let anyone read anything until I’ve completed the first draft. I rarely even tell anyone the subject matter! Then I give the draft to early readers who will tell me the truth, and allow them to poke holes in it. Rather than getting input from warm bodies in the room, I prefer to seek out a few people who are strong in an area and can offer solid, knowledgeable, reliable input. I’d rather have a two strong advisors than an army of random opinions. But that’s just me. Everyone moves to their own rhythm.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity? Yes, I’ve gone through it. The key for me is to show up and work at it anyway, because you can always fix it later. I’m a big believer in maximizing your assets, so the best method I’ve found to combat it is to go on offense—take advantage of when my creativity is in high gear. I try to funnel my peak creativity into my detailed outline. That’s the hardest part for me, creating something from nothing. Once I have a plan, the process becomes a matter of showing up each day and adding another chunk to the manuscript. It’s  literally mathematics: 1+1+1+1. When the emotions are no longer present, I can lean on the plan, simply go through the motions, because I know I was thinking clearly when I assembled it.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle with the most when writing? How do you tackle it? Getting started with the outline is my biggest hurdle! The excitement is there, but so is fear of failure. Eventually, I need to bite the bullet and say, “Okay, it’s time. I’m starting this, whether I feel confident about it or not.” When I was thirteen, just days after my cousin’s suicide, my mom told me, “So many kids see their problems as a giant mountain they can’t overcome. But that mountain is really just a lot of little problems. You can tackle them if you take them one by one.” I’ve never forgotten the wisdom in her words. It’s how I’ve approached challenges ever since. Challenges—even positive challenges, like crafting a book—look daunting at first. But once you start chipping away at it in some way, however small, one thing leads to another. Bit by bit, those chips fall away.

What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why? I love The Great Gatsby and return to it every so often. I first read it in high school, but it’s hard to appreciate things when your first priority is passing a test. You do it under compulsion, not by your own free will. Whether it’s literature, history, science—you lose perspective of the beauty of the whole and the brilliance of the intricacies when you can’t sit and enjoy it. I rediscovered The Great Gatsby as an adult and love the layers Fitzgerald wove into it. What a rich reading experience!

The same thing happened when I read an American History book, straight through, from the arrival of the pilgrims to the present day. By reading at my own pace, for my own pleasure, without the pressure of being told to remember this or that, I discovered patterns, cycles, causes and effects. How fascinating to see that history repeats itself, but those repetitions manifest themselves in different ways! I love American history, especially politics and presidential biographies.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Be kind. To everyone. It helps you maintain perspective on why you do what you do. It reminds you that, when it comes to people’s value, life is a level playing field in God’s eyes. That advice didn’t come to me verbally. I learned it by observing the kindness other writers and publishing people displayed to me. People who had every reason to ignore me took time to talk to me. That’s true class, and there’s a lot to be said for it.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work? Yes! You can find me at www.johnherrick.net, along with more details about Beautiful Mess, my other books, and links to my Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads accounts.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects? I have another novel ready to go, so it will probably be on the shelves late 2018 or early 2019.  Currently, I have several book projects in stages of development. I do plan to delve into suspense. In the meantime, you can read my first crack at suspense in my short story, Hit and Run. It’s included in the Beautiful Mess paperback as bonus content, but if you’re an e-book reader, you can get the Kindle version cheap.

As an author, what is your greatest reward? The privilege of doing something that has an impact on people’s lives. When someone writes to let me know a book encouraged them or they related to a character, it reminds me, “That’s why you do this. That’s who you’re writing for.”

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work? Thanks so much for letting me stop by. I LOVE hearing from people! Feel free to visit me online and drop me a message.

Be Sociable, Share!