Tuesday 15 January 2019

Interview: Jay Marksman

of-thieves-and-dying-leaves, jay-marksman, book

I am super excited to be welcoming crime author Jay Marksman to The Writing Greyhound on this cold January morning - what better way to stave off the January Blues than with some bookish chat?

Keep on reading to learn more about Jay and his writing, not to mention an insight into his novel Of Thieves and Dying Leaves.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Hi! My name is Jay Marksman. I'm a writer, game developer and artist from Finland. What's that? That name doesn't sound very Finnish? You got me. I write in English, so I use a pen name. Shh. Don't tell anyone.
How did you first become interested in writing?
This question is hard for me since so much has influenced me and my decision to start writing fiction. Books, comics, movies, tv shows, and video games have influenced me in more ways than I can count since my childhood, and I'm very interested both consuming and creating all of the above. 
I've started a bunch of comic projects, but I've realized it takes way too long for me to get the art to the quality that I want, so I decided to tell those stories in the written form instead. Now, having written a novel and a half and a bunch of short stories, I've found that just writing (as opposed to drawing a comic as well) is probably a better fit for me. I will definitely continue to make games in the future, though, and write stories for those.
Tell me about Of Thieves and Dying Leaves.
Of Thieves and Dying Leaves is my debut novel. It's about an introverted young woman named Ashley, who gets fed up with her cleaning job and quits, and on her way home, decides to try and pick a pocket. Just once, of course, just to see if she can do it. It looks so easy in the movies, after all. Turns out it is. 
Of course, she doesn't leave it at that. What if she just got lucky? She has to try again. And again. And after a while, as you might expect, someone notices. That's where things get dangerous, not only for her but for the few people in this world she truly cares about.
Why did you decide to write in the crime genre?
I thought this would be a cool story to tell, and I hadn't really read or seen a similar one before, so I decided to write it. Genre wasn't really something I thought about before I started writing; it usually isn't for me. Writing in multiple genres isn't great from a marketing standpoint, but for me, the idea and the story come first. My next book won't be a crime novel (though some of the main characters are criminals), but I'm open to coming back to it if I come up with a cool idea for another crime story.
What made you choose a female pickpocket as the lead?
I wanted to write about a pickpocket, and a female character came to my mind first. I didn't think about it much after that. As for why I wanted to write about a pickpocket specifically, I think a lot of it goes back to the beginning of Ashley's, the main character's, journey. She quits her job and wants to try something new, something different, something that she can do all by herself and that she's good at. She finds social interactions draining and tiresome, but still craves connection. I guess I share many of these desires and qualities with her. Except if I quit my job I wouldn't become a pickpocket. I would be writing or making games, probably both.
What’s your writing process?
I usually have a simple outline of the story in my head and I start by typing that out. My outlines are very simple, basically, just short lists of "this needs to happen, this needs to happen, this might happen, this definitely needs to happen..." Every scene description is a couple of lines at most and the list is in no way comprehensive. I also list out the main characters I need and type out one or two lines of description for them. I have an image of the characters in my head, but I don't use much physical description since I want the reader's imagination to do that for them. 
I usually have a couple of key scenes that I'm eager to write, so I sometimes start writing them first. For Of Thieves and Dying Leaves, these were the opening scene and a scene later on where the protagonist and the antagonist meet for the first time. Writing these first makes me excited about the potential of the story, and pushes me to finish writing the book. After this, I go back and start writing from the beginning, though I tend to jump around from time to time.
Tell me about your journey to getting published.
I started writing Of Thieves and Dying Leaves during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2016, but I couldn't keep up with the pace of writing 1667 words a day, so I decided to take it slower. I wrote a little over half of the book during NaNoWriMo, then the rest during the next couple of months. I took a long time editing it, getting feedback from early readers and incorporating those and ended up self-publishing the book on October 10, 2018. 
Self-publishing was always my goal, and I wanted to release in autumn, since the novel is set in autumn, and autumn leaves are a big thematic component of the story. Also, October 10 is the day of Finnish literature, so the date fit really well. Even though the book is written in English, I'm Finnish, so it's technically Finnish literature. I think.
jay-marksman, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Currently, for me, the hardest thing about writing is finding the time to write. I'm really bad at writing under pressure, or with a lot of background noise. I need a distraction-free environment, which prevents me from writing on my breaks at work, and when I come home from work, I'm often too exhausted to write. 
As far as the actual craft of writing is concerned, I sometimes have a hard time connecting scenes together. Basically, I might have two cool scenes that the story really needs, but between them is this void I need to fill, and coming up with interesting ways to do that can be difficult. Sometimes it's as easy as starting a new chapter, but more often than not it isn't.
What do you love most about writing?
I love creating characters, and scenes that show who those characters are with action. Sure, there can be dialogue, too, but what the characters do is often way more important than what they say, just like in real life. When showing, not telling, works well, it's a joy to see. I also think that the characters' inner journeys, how they change and grow, are often way more interesting than their outer journeys. 
I also love to write the ending of a story. My stories are often somewhat melancholy, so I love to give the reader that glimmer of hope, something to hold on to, in the last scene. I love to show how despite all the ugly things that tend to float to the surface in life, it has a lot of beauty in it, too.
Which authors inspire you?
My favourite authors are Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. I love how both authors can have a multitude of characters, sometimes separated by very long distances, a veil between worlds, or even death, and manage to weave a story together so well that at the end of it it looks like it couldn't have gone any other way. Both authors are also great at keeping the mystery of the story alive for a very long time. Many of their books have a central *something* the story is progressing towards, but you don't quite know what it is, but you know it's there. These are qualities I strive to have in my own fiction as well.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
My advice to "aspiring" anything, is to just start doing it, whatever it is. I think that if you are writing regularly, you are a writer, no need to put the word "aspiring" in there. "Published writer" is a different matter, but that comes later; you need something to publish first. 
There's no need to be afraid of bad writing, either. That's what editing is for. 
Also, you will never be ready. If you wait until you feel ready to write, you'll probably never start.
What are you currently working on?
I'm working on an urban fantasy novel called We Need Better Gods. It will be the first book in a series (at least two books) called The Living Ones. I'm still working on the elevator pitch, but basically, it's about multiple people in multiple countries, family, friendship and connection, cults, strange powers and possible immortality.
What are you reading at the moment?
Acceptance (Book 3 of the Southern Reach trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer. I'm glad I haven't had it spoiled for me since I'm really interested to see where it goes. VanderMeer did a really interesting thing with the trilogy where the first book was in the first person (I), the second was in third (he/she), and the last one starts with the second person (you), though it then continues with the third. The story is fascinating enough, but VanderMeer uses the medium itself in interesting ways as well.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Currently, I would have to say American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I also really loved Anansi Boys, also by Gaiman, but I think American Gods has to be number one. That being said, I don't read nearly as much as I should, and my favourite book will probably change at some point. American Gods is pretty fantastic, though.
Have any particular books had a big impact on you?
I can't single out a book, but I think every good book impacts us in some way, and even though it might not have been life-changing, every book that I think back to with "oh yeah, that was a good book" probably changed me a little bit, hopefully for the better. Some of those books, of the top of my head, would be American Gods and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show and Everville by Clive Barker and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I'm taking it slow, but eventually, I would like to earn a small side income from my fiction, possibly even make it an actual career, but I'm also interested in crafting stories in other media besides just books.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I work as an artist in a videogame company and also make my own games in my free time. I also, quite obviously, play a lot of games. I play a good mix of indie and AAA titles, though I tend to lean towards indies most of the time. I'm also very interested in movies and tv shows. I especially like to give lesser known filmmakers a chance, so I watch a lot of indie films, many of which rival big-budget Hollywood movies in my opinion. What they lack in production quality they often make up in story and creativity. 
I also listen to a lot of podcasts, ranging from writing and video game topics to ghost stories and the unexplained.
I'm also into comics, both western and Japanese, though I haven't read much recently.
Of Thieves and Dying Leaves is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

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