Today on CSReview author Jake Vander Ark talks about what it takes to be a writer in 2012…
CS: Welcome to CSReview again, Jake! Nice seeing you here, nice seeing you’ve been busy. It’s been just over a year since the release of your first book Lighthouse Nights. What have you been up to since then?
Jake: The last twelve months have been the busiest of my life, Camilla. After I released the first edition of Lighthouse Nights last summer, I dove right into my next book called The Accidental Siren. Things went a little crazy in January; my father’s lung cancer returned, then took his life at the end of the month. That made it difficult to focus on Siren… but I pushed through until the book was finished. A few weeks later, I got engaged! Weird timing, but I couldn’t be happier. Unfortunately, these two major changes threw my life into a tailspin, and I realized that I either needed to jumpstart my writing career, or find a new path in life. To put a long story short, I created a Kickstarter project called ‘Four Novels in Four Months’ and raised $2,500 to self-publish three years of my work. Now I’m in the middle of fulfilling my promise: The Accidental Siren was released in July, and I just re-released Lighthouse Nights for number two! I’m also rewriting a sci-fi novel called The Day I Wore Purple, and trying to find bloggers to review The Brandywine Prophet. Busy!
CS: So sorry to hear about your father… It’s wonderful that you were able to honor his life by moving on with yours. Congratulations on your engagement, Jake. I can tell you have what it takes to be a prolific and active author, but where do you get the strength to remain active in this business of writing?
Jake: My strength comes from a lack of options. I am very honest about my talents, and the truth is, I only have one! If I don’t make it as a novelist, I’ll exist as a shell of a human being. And there’s nothing more motivating than that.
CS: I have to agree with that statement of yours. Takes some guts though, don’t you think? Now, where do you go in search for an inspiration – or does an inspiration find you whenever you go, regardless of place and time?
Jake: I have two kinds of inspiration. The most exciting are the “big ideas”; that first spark of a concept for a novel. This only happens a few times a year, but when it does, I write it down immediately. I won’t act on it right away… but I mull it over for several months. If I find that I’m still thinking about it, I’ll run with it. If it fades away, I’ll file it under “Book Ideas” in Evernote. The second kind of inspiration happens daily. I carry a journal with me wherever I go, and I’m constantly writing down anecdotes, musings, street names, newspaper articles, etc. Generally, these notes relate to the story that I’m working on at the time.
CS: Evernote… that’s funny… I do not mean to delve into your professional secrets, but having once seen your desktop and paper scraps with all kinds of book notes on them, I was very impressed. Do you have a system, a method you follow and apply to each book?
Jake: I do! Whenever I begin a new book, I buy a giant stack of large notecards. I think of the scenes that are essential to telling the story, then I write them in marker at the top of each card. When I have a rough outline, I rummage through my journal and transfer any relevant notes onto small cards, then I tape those onto the corresponding scene. The notecards will change drastically as I write the story, but that’s why this method is useful. Even if the order changes, I always know what beats to hit. Also, I never have writers block because I always know what comes next!
CS: Okay, that sounds like a director’s cut to me. A very cinematographic approach to writing a novel! What can you tell me about your characters, do they get under your skin, do they become real, maybe too real? How to you negotiate the divide between fiction and reality?
Jake: Generally, my characters are planned out pretty well. Of course they change and develop as the story progresses, but I usually have their arc planned out before the story begins. There is one major exception from The Brandywine Prophet. The main character’s name is William Carmel… and that guy had a mind of his own! I had a very specific plot in mind for him, but about halfway through the book, he started making his own decisions. There was actually a point where I said, “I wash my hands of this,” and let him take over completely. We still hit the necessary end-point, but the journey was much more interesting once he took over!
There’s one other recent observation I had about my characters: my females are usually more interesting than my males. With the exception of William, the guys tend to be the “every-man” type; a character for the readers to project themselves onto. But Mara (from Siren), Jules (from Lighthouse), Janie (from Brandywine), and Hannah (from Purple) are far more complex, nuanced, and engaging. I don’t know why!
CS: Well, obviously, writing is a very hard and demanding thing to do, but I’ve also experienced it as very rewarding. How about you, what is your favorite part of being a writer?
Jake: Feedback from fans. And it doesn’t even have to be positive! I’ve lived with these stories for years, and there is no greater feeling than hearing how they touched someone else’s life. Even if their sole purpose was to entertain, it’s an incredible feeling to know that my words gave someone a few hours of happiness. Sometimes it’s more than that. Since Lighthouse Nights was released on Wattpad, I’ve had several readers tell me that the book had a profound effect on them. The book is dark, but it’s honest, and I think that combination connects with people who have experienced a similar kind of pain. Maybe it’s egotistical… but those comments serve as a tremendous source of motivation and validation for this insecure novelist.
CS: Oh yes they do… What are your future plans, how do you envision your next year of being a writer in business? Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Jake: It all depends on the success of my ‘Four Novels in Four Months’ project. If this doesn’t jumpstart a writing career by the end of the year, then I need to put the novels on hold to pursue a more realistic path. I’m getting married in March, and “starving artist” isn’t a viable job to feed a family! If the worst happens, I’ll still write… but I won’t be putting out two books a year anymore. If (by some miracle) I start selling books regularly, I’ll immediately begin writing the sequel to The Accidental Siren called Mara the Saint. I have at least ten ideas in development including two sequels to Lighthouse Nights. The Four Novels project is my Hail Mary pass. I’m throwing my life’s work out there and praying people like it!
CS: Jake, I am sure you’ll make it as a writer and whatever career you chose, you’ll be great at it too. Wishing you all the best and hope we sit down for a conversation again someday. To book lovers who read this interview, Jake Vander Ark is giving out Lighthouse Nights on Goodreads, don’t miss out on an opportunity to read a book with a very urgent message. For more on author Jake Vander Ark, visit his website http://jakevanderark.com.
Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.
Lighthouse Nights Book Trailer