Author Interview: J. Edward Ritchie

JRitchieNewHeadshotMr. Ritchie, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

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.

51xRW3hs0BL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I know that Fall From Grace is self-published. Did you shop the book to any agents or publishers?

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.

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