Joseph John is an Army officer and combat veteran with seventeen years of active duty service. He
graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY and attended flight school at Fort
Rucker, AL. He remained in Army Aviation as a CH-47 Chinook pilot until 2013, when he transitioned to Operations Research and Systems Analysis.
His debut novel, The Eighth Day, is a techno-thriller set in New York City. It envisions a near future where we’ve begun meddling with the human genome and taken evolution into our own hands. It was published March 31, 2016.
Joseph is currently stationed in Italy. His website is www.josephjohnfiction.com, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
S&S: Well, let’s get to the important stuff right away: What does your coffee/tea mug say about you?
JJ: I got my coffee mug from Bennington Pottery in Vermont—their American classic mug with a blue agate glaze. Ceramic cookware, especially the “Made in Some Foreign Country” crap you find online and in the local bargain bins, has lead in it. That’s right: lead, as in “lead poisoning.” It’s all part of a larger plot by the Chinese government to poison the America people, destroy our hearts and minds, and weaken us slowly before they launch a massive ICBM strike across the Pacific. Bennington Pottery is one of the few cookware companies that hasn’t been subsidized by the Chinese government. Trust no one.
Just kidding. Or I’m dead serious.
S&S: How long did it take you to write The Eighth Day from idea to finished manuscript?
JJ: You can’t see me, but I’m scuffing my foot here. I, uh, started writing The Eighth Day in [response is muffled and incoherent].
Sorry, I said, “in 2003.” The original story was set in 2003, too. Keep in mind, this was before the proliferation of cell phones. At one point, Shawn Jaffe even used a phone booth. It took me five years to write the first draft, and by the time I was done, I realized how outdated my story had become.
So now it was 2008. I had a finished first draft, but there was so much that needed to be fixed. It was a bit overwhelming. Not only did I need to update the world to present day, but I realized there were some major plot holes and structural problems with the story. I owe these insights to the countless books on story structure I’ve read, but three in particular stand out. They were: Story, Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee; Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder; and The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. McKee’s and Snyder’s books deal mostly with screenwriting, but the principles of story still apply. They made me see not only the structural flaws, but also that I’d created a passive protagonist and a weak antagonist that was definitely not a worthy adversary for my hero.
I procrastinated for years because doing a complete rewrite of something that had taken me so long to puke onto the page was pretty damn daunting. But in the end, I got ‘er done. First, I moved the story about thirty years into the future and added all that new technology to the setting. Then I rewrote Shawn Jaffe to be an active protagonist instead of reactive, and I added a new antagonist for him to battle. That’s right. The Alpha did not exist in the first version of the book.
It’s a completely different story and about a thousand times better than the first draft.
I also learned that I write much faster if I plot the story first—or at least start with a rough outline—versus trying the ol’ seat-of-the-pants style. I averaged about five pages per day on the rewrite of The Eighth Day. In the future, my goal is to release a book a year.
S&S: I know that your first novel read was Cujo – that must have been interesting and vaguely terrifying in the third grade! Did you, like I would have done, give dogs a healthy bit of distance and suspicious side-eyeing for a while after that?
JJ: Surprisingly, no. I’m a dog lover and have always been a dog lover. When I read Cujo, I had a Siberian Husky named Ben and a Laborador Retriever named Deacon. They were two of my best friends and my protectors, and the thought that either of them could possibly hurt me never even crossed my mind.
S&S: If you could collaborate with any author (without specifying who it is!), tell us what sort of plot the two of you would craft together.
JJ: It would probably be a mashup of all of my favorite genres and tropes. It would be set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future and would involve time travel, paradoxes, and a mind-blowing twist that you don’t see coming, but when you figure it out, you’re all like, “Oh my God, how did I not see it coming!?” And you have to go back and read the book again to see if you can catch all the little hints you missed the first time.
S&S: Are you a re-reader or a one-time-and-I’m-done book reader?
JJ: I consider reading part of the education process for authors. If you’re an author or aspiring author, you should make an effort to read every day. It doesn’t even have to be a good book. In the military, we have a saying that you can learn more from a bad leader by seeing what not to do. Same goes for a shit-tastic book because, by God, you may not be the second coming of Stephen King, but at least you’ll know never to make that mistake in your yet-to-be-published library of books.
That being said, I’m usually one and done. I like a breadth of experience, to read many books by many authors, to learn as much as I can. But there are a few notable exceptions. I’ve read most of the aforementioned Mr. King’s novels at least twice, and I’ve the unabridged version of The Stand four times and It and Salem’s Lot three times.
S&S: If you could get a movie deal for The Eighth Day, who would you pick to play ‘Shawn’?
JJ:Not sure if you picked up on this, but nowhere in The Eighth Day did I mentioned what Shawn looked like. Not his hair, not his build, not the color of his skin. Most people I point this out to don’t even realize it. They don’t realize it, but they have this image in their head that came entirely from their own imagination, and I think that’s pretty damn cool.
Rather than tell you who I’d pick to play Shawn, I’d be more interested in knowing who you pictured him as while you were reading it.
But if you twisted my arm and insisted I give you an answer, I’d have to say [Redacted]. Yeah. I know, right? He’d be so perfect.
S&S: Speaking of movies, do you have any favorite ‘B-movies’? (I have a soft spot for baaaad disaster movies like Category Six).
JJ: I’m not sure if Slither, with a budget of $15 million, classifies as a B-movie, but it sure feels like one. It hits all the right tropes, and as the saying goes, “you had me at Nathan Fillion.”
Honorable mention goes to Night of the Demons, which totally freaked me out when I was a kid. I still remember the whole thing about how demons can’t cross rivers, and to this day I wonder if I’m standing on the safe side or not and how quickly I can get my ass across if I spot an inbound demon.
S&S: When you’re writing, do you need to have some sort of background noise going on? If so, what’s your go-to?
JJ: I prefer dead silence. Barring that, I’ll either turn up a box fan full blast to drown out the distractions or listen to production music. If you’re not familiar with it, production music is orchestral with lots of dramatic crescendos like you hear during movie trailers. It’s perfect for writers. My favorites are Two Steps from Hell and Audiomachine.
S&S: Its TEOTWAWKI – are you prepared? Or are you one of those guys rushing to the stores with almost everyone else?
JJ: I’m of the mind that when the world ends, it won’t be with a bang but with a whimper. When the world starts sniffling—and it’s not because she just finished watching City of Angels—that’s when I’ll get ready.
S&S: Favorite flavor Girl Scout Cookie? (“None” is not an option.)
Joseph John’s The Eighth Day is released in paperback today!
My review of The Eighth Day is here.
Go pick it up (it’s worth the paperback investment, but there is a e-book format available) on Amazon now!