22 May 2012

Interview with John M. Green, author of Nowhere Man and Born To Run

John M. Green

Thanks to John for joining My Four Bucks today.  John is the author of two novels reviewed on My Four Bucks, Nowhere Man and most recently, Born to Run.

In your bio, we learn that during your 30 year career you were a very successful banking executive and partner in 2 major law firms before deciding to leave the business sector and become a writer.  What gave you the courage to leave all that behind and plunge into the uncertainty of being a writer?
My wife was the trigger, my role-model. She gave up a successful business career to follow her artistic passion, sculpting, and encouraged me to do likewise with my own passion for writing. It’s a thrill to be able to inhabit two entirely different worlds, the business and the artistic, and to get to do it together is pretty rare.

What can you tell us about your writing habits?  Do you ever like to write outside or in public? 
When I’m in ‘the zone’ I’m fairly oblivious to my surroundings (unless they’re part of a scene I’m writing), so I’m not prissy about where I write. My third novel, The Trusted (out in November 2012), was written at home at my desk, in bed, in the garden, on boats, trains and planes, in airports, hotel rooms, and in places where I’ve set it, such as Saint-Petersburg, Paris, Venice, Athens, New York, Boston – even North Narrabeen beach in Sydney. 
But my main routine – how I write mostly – is by hopping out of bed around 4am when the world around me is dead quiet, and sitting at my computer for as long after that as I can. Some days I’ll write for a couple of hours, some for 16 hours, sometimes I’ll write nothing – perhaps fiddling, plotting, researching. Other days I’ll write maybe 1,000 or 2,000 words and there have been days when the characters won’t stop doing what they do and they’ve given me way more.

Do you listen to music when you write?  Do you take any handwritten notes?
Because I wanted to get into Tori Swyft’s head—she’s the hero of my 3rd novel, and will be the mainstay of my new series—and she was world junior women’s surf champion at 13, I wrote a lot of The Trusted with surf rock instrumentals crashing over me: classics like the Atlantics (Bombora, Pipeline) and the Surfaris (Wipeout) and more recent works like The Break’s Church of the Open Sky – The Break’s members are from Midnight Oil and Violent Femmes, and one is a mate.
Thatcher, another character in The Trusted—a professional hacker – has a thing for Brandenburg Concerto No 4, so that was another course of my musical diet for this book.
My first novel, Nowhere Man, was driven quite a bit by Midnight Oil’s Power and the Passion (and there’s a chapter set to it) and Puccini’s Nessum Dorma.

One My4Bucks reader would like to know how you came up with the idea for Nowhere Man and why it took so many years to publish after you completed it in 2001.
I started with a question ‘What if I were the Time Traveler in the HG Wells classic, where (or rather, when) would I go to live an enjoyable life?’ And I decided it would have to be in Australia, and today. Despite the politicians, we Aussies do live in a postcard, right?
Why so long? I finished it in August 2001, but in that original version of the story, my fictional terrorists destroyed the World Trade Centre in New York. And when that terrible event actually happened a few weeks later, it was also literally the end of the story. I had some strong emotional connections to that horror, which I explain in my Author’s Note in the book, so it took me quite a while to come back to the manuscript to find a new catastrophe and embark on a rewrite. Funnily enough, I settled on a global financial crisis, and ‘finished’ in 2006/7, just before it happened, so when it actually happened, once again I had to rewrite the book before it got published.

A second My4Bucks reader would like to know if you're planning to write a sequel for Nowhere Man, as she'd like to know more about how the program works, how people can travel through time using it and what happens to Sam Sing.
I’d like to know, too! A lot of readers have asked me about a sequel, and it may come, but I’m not working on it yet. I’ve got too tied up with my new character, Tori Swyft.
One reader even emailed joking that his copy of Nowhere Man was defective because the stock price chart on page 104 stopped too early, and he wanted the copy that showed the share prices going forward a couple of years from now so he could use it for stock trading.

I imagine being a co-founder of Pantera Press requires you to read submissions from writers much of the time.  How do you decide when a writer is worthy of being published by Pantera Press?
Because it’s so tough even for great writers to get published, we expressly set up Pantera Press to focus on debut authors, with the aim of nurturing and continuing to publish them, and building their readership over time. What we’re on the lookout for are great stories – plot is critical to us – with characters who readers will care about, and strong writing. We also need to ‘click’ with the writers; developing personal relationships with our writers is critical to us.

When you're not reading for work, what are some of your favourite books/authors?
I have an eclectic taste. I happily go from Kate Grenville, Geraldine Brooks, Edmund de Waal to Michael Crichton, Marele Day and Harlan Coben (and Pantera Press’s other authors, of course, who I read for the pleasure as much as for work). I read loads of non-fiction too.

My favourite character in your political thriller Born to Run was the little boy Davey, and my favourite part in the novel was when Davey was telling the King Kong joke in ASL (sign language).  It really had me laughing out loud, can you tell me your inspiration for his character?
I’m thrilled you loved Davey, and the humour. Because I had a seemingly “ideal” couple – Isabel, hot favourite for the White House and her ex-general war-hero husband – I didn’t want it to be a plastic set-up, I needed tension at home, so I used the humour for lightness, to contrast with the darkness that Davey’s disability stemmed from psychological distress over his father’s first marriage break-up. 
One of my favourite actresses is deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who won an Academy Award for leading actress in Children of a Lesser God and was also fabulous in The West Wing. Subliminally, she might have inspired me. To paint Davey as realistically as I could, I consulted a US expert on hearing-impaired kids.
By the way, because I needed a US president in my next novel, The Trusted, little Davey and his mother, President Isabel Diaz, get a small role, but it isn’t a sequel to Born to Run.
I really like it when authors have a crossover of characters in unrelated novels; it's like a little treat for loyal readers who have read all of their work.

In Born to Run, you were able to write about your love of US presidential elections, do you have any other interests that you'd like to explore or focus on in your next book?
Saving the planet is a justifiably hot topic. So in The Trusted I pitch light green against very dark green. The story is about brilliant eco-terrorists, PhDs, who spend ten years as sleepers, getting themselves into positions of great influence and power from where they hope to turn back the planet’s gas-guzzling clock – by destroying the financial system, food supplies, shipping, you name it. They’re trying to save the planet, though their methods are extreme. When I started researching this, I discovered there are many extremist green groups, though none as sophisticated as my fictional one – at least none I’ve found so far, and fingers crossed, it will stay that way.

Having now published two books, do you have a favourite?  Has one sold more than the other, or is that akin to asking a parent which is their favourite child?
I think that’s right. Maybe when I have a few more books under my belt, I might have more perspective to answer that question.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’m going to be overseas for a bit of it, mainly in NY so I can enjoy the run-up to the presidential elections, but also to get the vibe for the novel I’m just about to start. It will be the second Tori Swyft thriller.

Anything else you'd like to share with your readers?
A surprise for me, a pleasant one, has been how readers can sometimes read what you thought you’d written quite differently to how you see it. For example, a few readers have told me they wished Nowhere Man had a happy ending, but for me it is a really happy ending. I won’t explain that to your readers, Tracey, since it gives the ending away, but I suspect you know what I mean.

Thanks so much for joining us here at My Four Bucks John, it's been a pleasure having you.
My pleasure, Tracey. Thank you for the opportunity, and also for taking the time to read my stories.

Would you like to comment?

  1. That is so awesome Tracey, it was a real thrill to see my questions being answered. Now I know what a buzz you get from what you do. Thank you for including my questions.

  2. You're more than welcome, glad you got a buzz out of seeing your questions and reading his answers.


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