Jordan, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Can you tell me a bit about yourself? I have my degree in education and right now I’m working as a trainer. I am obsessed with writing and reading. Maybe sometimes it borders on the unhealthy. Like, I will be listening to someone talk and think of a million different story lines. I suddenly realize they are still talking and I have to admit I’ve just visited a fantasy world, and can they repeat the last five minutes?
Thank you for featuring me on your blog. I’m a novelist/screenwriter specializing in epic storytelling and fantasy world creation. From an early age, I gravitated towards the depth and escapist joy of grand tales like Star Wars. Whenever the pressures of life became overwhelming, I’d lose myself in the stories of books, comics, video games, and movies. Experiencing the classic hero’s journey put everything in perspective and made it easier to cope with whatever was bothering me. That same passion for iconic myth and storytelling now drives my own work.
I spent ten years in Los Angeles as a screenwriter, which is a vastly different medium of writing compared to traditional prose. I learned how to quickly identify and set up the core narrative structure of a story while relating the details of complex, fantastical worlds through brisk but engaging language. Not having the luxury to fill pages with excessive detail helped me to focus on only the aspects of my worlds that were important to the plot and characters. It’s a skill set that has served me well in the transition to novels.
With the launch of my debut novel, Fall From Grace, I have been focused on creating an online author brand through social media, blog essays, etc. It’s all a completely foreign landscape to me, but I’ve found the online writing community to be quite welcoming.
For a more in-depth biography, check out my website.
I just finished your book Fall From Grace, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Give me a little background on how the book came about. Where did the idea come from?
When the seeds of the initial concept were first planted over a decade ago, there was an influx of sword and sandal epics hitting theaters. I couldn’t get enough of them. Then, I randomly stumbled across a book called A Dictionary of Angels by Gustav Davidson, probably the single most complete A-to-Z compendium of angels on the market. I never had a particular interest in angel lore, but while flipping through that book I began to realize that the fight for Heaven was warfare on a scale I hadn’t seen before. The story also hadn’t been told with any decisive detail in religious texts or pop culture. The more I read, the more the world and characters took root in my mind. Despite the grand scale of the project, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to move on until I told the story. An article on my blog breaks down the development of Fall From Grace from concept to publication.
My managers in Los Angeles, Heroes & Villains Entertainment, reached out to numerous agents and publishers. However, the sheer amount of time it took to get a response (weeks or months) became counterproductive. Rather than continuing to submit the manuscript, we decided it would be more beneficial for me to self-publish. Personally, I needed to get my work out there to the public. Self-publishing meant a lot more work on my end but there was also a thrilling, entrepreneurial feel to the process. Besides, I had nothing to lose. A publisher can always still pick up the novel.
As an author who struggles for story ideas, what advice would you give me?
Focus on the type of material you enjoy and inundate your mind with it. Whether it’s a song, an article online, an episode of TV––whatever sparks your interest can be the avenue to a new story. I don’t sit down at my keyboard with the sole purpose of churning out new ideas. Rather, ideas seem to spawn in my mind while I’m knee-deep in material that feeds my own creative hunger. Trying to force ideas is like poking at your brain and hoping to snag the one random neuron that will generate greatness. Keep an open mind, feed your creativity, and ideas will inevitably bubble to the surface.
However, sometimes the chaos of the real world can stifle ideas whispering in your head. Occasionally, I use a technique of basic sensory deprivation to hear those whispers. I turn off all the lights and cocoon myself under the bed sheets, removing all exterior sound and visuals. Then, I just let my mind wander. I’ve broken through a lot of story problems with this method.
Did you have someone edit the book, or did you do it yourself? Do you have any beta readers?
My reps at Heroes & Villains are grammatical masters and helped scan the novel for errors. I spent a great deal of time and effort researching proper novel formatting and then edited the story line-by-line, chapter-by-chapter on both my computer screen and printed out on paper. It is an exhaustive process that I don’t necessarily recommend if you can afford an editor. Luckily, some previous editing experience had prepared me, and the end result was a novel that met the high, professional standards of the industry.
Beta readers are an absolute necessity. I utilized a handful of close friends from the initial story outlining sessions through a completed draft. It’s good to have a variety of readers: someone that has sound knowledge of story structure, a diehard fan of your genre, and especially someone who can be brutally honest.
What’s next for you? Have you started your next book? If so, can you give us a hint?
I am just beginning my next novel, a companion piece to Fall From Grace that will be under the banner of Fall From Grace Chronicles. I don’t want to say too much, but it will be a series of short stories that expands upon the events seen in the war for Heaven. I felt that I had more stories to tell taking place during the war before I could officially move on to the sequel.
Tell me about your daily writing routine.
I’m a big advocate of outlining, especially for the fantasy genre. I never want to waste my time writing something that I won’t use, so a detailed outline essentially acts like my first draft. My outlines break down character info and arcs, settings, themes, sociological aspects of the world, and the major turning points of the story. From there, I fill in the gaps scene-by-scene, even including lines of dialogue, etc. When I begin to write the actual manuscript, it tends to go quite smoothly. Having said that, nothing is set in stone. Listen to your characters. No matter how much you plan ahead, you will invariably find new and exciting twists in the story that were never plotted out.
When I was writing and working other jobs, I had to fit it in whenever I could. Now that I am able to write full-time, I treat my writing day like a typical 9-5 job. In the mornings, I’ll wake up with some video games, usually a story-intensive game that helps get the gears turning. During breakfast I check my social media accounts and email, trying not to get lost in the minutiae of the Internet. I write through the afternoon, taking a break at lunch to walk my dog and get some fresh air. I’ll write until my wife gets home in the early evening. Once she is home, it’s family time. It can be difficult to turn off the writing part of my brain at that point, but I’m much happier for it.
Do you need total silence, or do you write while listening to music? If so, what kind of music do you listen to?
When writing in Los Angeles, the constant sounds of the city were background noise that I had no choice but to accept. Now that I live in a much quieter area, I cherish the silence. However, if I am researching or working on social media, I’ll usually have on music. I listen to pretty much everything, my favorites ranging from Wu-Tang Clan to Black Sabbath to Adele.
How do you deal with stress? What do you do to take care of yourself physically and emotionally?
Stress and anxiety have been a daily part of my life since childhood. After all, the creative mind tends to be the most tortured, doesn’t it? Physically, walking my dog every day forces me to get outside and live less like a hermit. Walking a couple times a day may not seem like much, but it does wonders for your health. My wife is the greatest emotional support I could ask for. Her love keeps me grounded and sane. It’s only because of her encouragement and belief in my talents that I am able to continue along in a career that can have such overwhelming rejection.
Love is the great nullifier of life’s bullshit.
Robert Shaw has worked in film and television in Australia, England and the US, and has been involved in such films as Angel Heart, Homeboy, The Blob, A Chorus of Disapproval, Jack’s Back and many others. He was also involved in the development and packaging of Jericho, written by and set to star the late Marlon Brando, who personally picked him to assist with casting suggestions for the film. Additionally, he co-wrote the indie action/horror film Mexican Devil starring Danny Trejo.
The Scare, his first novel, was adapted from a screenplay he wrote as a tribute to ‘80s and ‘90s-style horror films. He currently lives in Australia, where he is writing his third novel, which he describes as “a thunderously violent, slightly sci-fi tale of the Old West featuring the fierce and lovely Emeline Bransford.”
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, Robert. I see from your bio on Amazon.com that you have lived and worked in several different countries. Where are you from originally?
My pleasure, Mark, it’s great to be invited to your blog. Thanks for having me. I was born in a little cottage in Essex County, apparently the first male baby born there in a hundred years. I wonder if that can be my claim to fame.
Sounds like you’ve been involved with lots of films during your career. Of these, which is your favorite? Why?
Yes, I’ve worked on quite a few TV shows, movies and live events. I’m always much more nervous about live events because they have the inherent “something always goes wrong during the show” factor – and you can’t stop the cameras and do it over. The audience sees it warts and all. My favorite movie that I worked on was a little picture that, sadly, no one will ever see, called Joe Joe Angel and the Dead Guy. I was involved in this from concept to completion and made it with a group of my best friends from LA. I loved those times and will never forget how great it was to work with my best buddies on such an intense and sometimes difficult shoot. We went all over the place on that one and had a great time. Everyone was terrific and I miss those days. It’ll always be one of my fondest memories.
Who are some of your favorite authors? What draws you to their work?
I love Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins – I never knew what a Victorian Novel was until I read those guys. The characters they create are funny and complex and the villains dastardly to the point where you’d like to reach into the book and strangle them. Pumblechook in Great Expectations is one of these. I wanted to throttle him! Dickens has a way of describing characters that is beyond compare. When describing a person, he’ll sometimes talk only about an old building or location but you’ll get a very distinct idea of what the person looks like. He’ll do likewise sometimes when talking about a place, describing a person and their traits and giving you a perfect image of the thing he’s talking about. I’m sure I’m not articulating what I mean very well, it’s almost something I can’t quite put my finger on.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing short stories in high school – I was the kid who was always wanted to keep writing when the bell went. My teacher once told me I would probably become an author. I wrote my first novel longhand when I was nineteen – a cheesy Dirty Harry knock-off set in Australia. But I thought it was terrible and threw it away. I started writing screenplays in my early twenties. When I saw Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior I was so impressed that it was an Australian film (in those days Aussie films were not what you’d call mainstream commercial and The Road Warrior was an impressive deviation from that) that I wrote a story for a third movie. I then wrote a letter to the producer, Byron Kennedy, asking if he’d look at my idea, and believe it or not he called me at home one night! At first I thought it was a friend playing tricks but once I got on the phone I realized it really was him. We talked about my idea and he told me to flesh it out into a sixty-page treatment and send it to him and then we would talk further. At that time, I had no idea what a treatment was so had to ask around. It turned out that a treatment is a short story told in present tense, so I fleshed this thing out into Mad Max III: The Steel Prince and sent it off. Byron’s secretary called to say he’d read it and liked it and would call me when he got back from a trip he was on. Sadly, he died in a helicopter crash while on that trip and so that was it. There were some similar elements from my treatment in Mad Max Beyond Thunder Dome – I had a fight in a pit, they had the dome fight; I also had an oasis with kids but they weren’t airline crash survivors. Anyway, who knows if it was coincidence or plagiarism? There’s a new Mad Max movie being shot in Africa right now so I’m doing a quick novelization of my Steel Prince story to put on Amazon before that movie comes out.
Tell me about your daily writing routine.
I deal with Twitter first, it’s the only promoting I do for my book other than the infrequent interview by invitation (like this one). I don’t bother with FaceBook and I’m not a frequent blogger – I find it’s just as hard to get people to read my blog as it is to get them to read my books. After that, I sit down for a few hours and thrash out the words. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it blows. But eventually I get a first draft done… and then the real work begins.
When you finish a first draft, do you immediately begin work on the revision, or do you let it sit for a while?
I definitely let it sit for a while! By the time I’m done with a first draft I’m so close to the material that it’s hard to be objective and I tend to think the entire piece is a steaming pile of excrement. I get a proof and let my younger sister read it and give me her thoughts. While she does this I put it completely out of my mind and read, watch movies, and start on a new book. When I come back to the first draft, it’s fresh and I can look at it objectively, and I’m happy to say that by this time, with very few exceptions, I usually feel that the entire thing is not too bad at all. I can only hope that readers feel the same or better!
Your first novel, The Scare, was adapted from a screenplay that you wrote. Any plans to develop it into a movie?
I have no current plans myself unless I suddenly inherited a ton of money, then I’d do a straight to DVD version. Back in the late nineties, when I first wrote the screenplay, a couple of producers optioned it and I met a couple of directors who showed some interest. One of them was the Aussie director, Jamie Blanks, who had just come off Urban Legend so I thought we were on a fast track. But his agent had other plans for his career and nothing ever came of The Scare with him attached. Jamie did Valentine’s Day next, which was not a hit, so his agent messed up there I reckon.
I reviewed The Scare before reading your bio. You said that it was written as an homage to the horror films of the 80s and 90s. That is exactly how the book struck me, which I mention in my review. I love those old horror films. What horror films from that era stand out as favorites?
My favorites will always be Nightmare on Elm Street and I Know What You Did Last Summer, which was a way better movie than book in my opinion (and in fact if I ever could get The Scare made I’d love Jim Gillespie to direct). Another favorite is the old TV movie of Salem’s Lot with David Soul. As well as vampires, it had all those great horror elements: a small town with a creepy house, misty, windy nights, and creepy graveyard scenes. When I wrote The Scare, I in fact played with the idea of actually making it a vampire story, but there were so many on the market that I went zombies instead – but mine are the old traditional zombies (like from the Bob Hope classic, The Ghost Breakers) – corpses that have been revived to do someone’s evil deeds. I also love old black & white horror movies. All the old Lugosi stuff, Vincent Price, the Val Lewiton and Jacques Tourneur films, and the Seth Holt/Jimmy Sangster classic Hammer Horror movie Scream of Fear. I’m not a big fan of new horror – they seem to lack in story and rely on loud music and sudden shocks that have grown old and tiresome. The Ring was the last modern movie I thought was scary.
Tell me about what you are currently working on? Old West sci-fi?
Yes, a slightly sci-fi western – I say slightly because there’s no alien spaceships or tech or laser guns and no invading army of lizard men or anything like that. In fact I could take the sci-fi element out of it and it would play as just a great western – except for the fact that I have taken a few liberties with historical facts and landscape. But I think the story will be engrossing enough that only the most die-hard fact checkers would even notice. It’s really about the path Emeline Bransford and her daughters are on and the things they encounter and combat along the way. The sci-fi element is just another one of those things that they deal with and not really the main focus of the plot. I love very strong and capable female leads in any story, and I like to think that Emeline and her girls are three of the strongest ever created. There’s nothing they can’t handle. And they go through some really brutal stuff.
How do you cope with the stress of being a writer? What do you do to take care of yourself?
The main stress for me comes from self-doubt so when I’m working on anything I try to shut “me” out of the process and just leave the “writer” switched on. Otherwise the analytical side of my mind takes over and I start fretting over what I’m writing and doubting it. I think Stephen King said once that a writer’s worst enemy is self-doubt, and he’s spot on. Other than that writing is just like any other job – it takes work. The sitting down and just doing it factor. One word at a time until it’s done. I take care of myself by keeping fit and relaxing with a good book or watching a movie or favorite old TV show on DVD. I never watch anything on actual TV because the ads just drive me crazy.
Give me a list of five things that people would be surprised to know about you.
I can’t think of five things – I guess I’m not sure what others would be surprised at, but the one thing I can think of is that I’m very shy. When I’ve worked on a show, whether as a stage manager on a live event or an assistant director on a movie, I’ve had to interact with and coordinate many people – and I’ve produced and directed my own short film and loved dealing with the prep and with the actors – so I think people might be surprised to find that I’m very shy. Put me to work handling a large crowd and I’m in my element, but set me down in a crowd at a party or in a bar and I head for the nearest corner to hide away in.
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