That was in 1995 and I don’t believe any of us knew at that time you’d become one of The Executioner: Mack Bolan writers for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle program, but of course, that was one of your goals. Since that time you have written more than thirty novels, starting with your own Chaser and Chaser’s Return, both published as audio books, a number of Executioners, Mack Bolan, and Stony Man novels and now your publication of your new book, Soul Runner: A Novel of High Adventure.When did you become interested in writing? Did you write as a kid? I don’t mean for school but for yourself? Do you recall the first story you ever wrote? If so do you want to share what it was about?
Jon: I became consciously aware of those interests probably when I was around twelve years old. I remember taking a typing class in sixth grade (which would have been around 1980), and just that act alone made me realize that with this “highly advanced machine” I could produce my own stories—and quicker than by mere handwritten means. I suppose, however, I was a born writer; that I had a God-given talent and desire to do it. I was also a voracious reader, whether comic books or novels (I loved the Narnia Chronicles). I think the spark of creativity grew out of my love for Star Wars and Star Trek, and fantasy novels. By that age, I had also started to read The Destroyer series by Warren Murphy and Dick Sapir. The Executioner series followed shortly thereafter (or at least the Gold Eagle books, which had just started coming out around that same time).
Linda: Who or what has influenced your writing and in what way?
Jon: Oh my! Many things influence or have influenced my writing. Again, reading was a definite motivator from my earliest recollections. But more than that I can say with earnest my parents lovingly fostered my desire to write instead of trying to suppress it. In later years, you and Don certainly encouraged me to be persistent in the work, to train and hone my skills by writing. Over the years there are other authors to whom I wrote fan letters, and who responded to me like Ed McBain, David Morrell, Steve Mertz and Mike Newton.
Linda: How much of your background as a soldier, firefighter, and paramedic, along with your interests in martial arts, history, music, and technology play into your writings?
Jon: All of those interests have played into my writing, certainly; whether subconsciously or consciously, they are part of what ties my creative right-brain with my logical left-brain. Those experiences and interests are inescapable parts woven into the seams of what Don called the “inner dramatic laboratory” in The Metaphysics of the Novel. My experiences as a firefighter/paramedic gave me an inside look into the human situation, not only the victories but the most abject miseries. Many of my characters are veterans or soldiers, or have some military background, which is only natural in the kinds of stories I love to tell. I don’t generally talk about my military service. I’m proud of it, but I choose not to go into any great detail about it. Music and technology play less into my work, although you never know. I might surprise you some time.
Linda: Who have been your favorite writers over the years? What books do you believe have influenced your writing? What books have most influenced your life and/or your world view?
Jon: My favorite writers are almost too numerous to list because I love to read! Top five picks would be Don Pendleton, Alistair MacLean, David Morrell, Jon Cleary and Ernest Hemingway. The Executioner/Mack Bolan books have most definitely influenced my writing, along with other action-adventure series in that similar vein. The books of my favorite authors have, naturally, helped influence how I write (i.e., how to plot, pace, establish setting, evoke conflict, write dialog, and so forth). The Bible has absolutely guided me through much of my life—or the later years when I moved past my rebellious phases—along with many of our greatest adventure classics like Kidnapped, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Prisoner of Zenda. The list goes on.
Linda: As most writers, I have read a number of books on creative writing and techniques of novel writing. What books on writing have you found to be of value, and why?
Jon: Three books immediately come to mind: The Metaphysics of the Novel (which I’ve read about a half-dozen times), On Writing by Stephen King, and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. I also made good use of many of the Writers’ Digest fiction series books in my early days, as a writer. They are great starting references to learn the “rules” of writing, which is why I found them of good use. But I firmly believe (and I think most veteran writers will agree) that eventually I began to surpass them as I gained experience, and realized I had begun to form my own opinions and values as a writer. In part, this is one reason I’ve never attempted to write just “another writing book.” There are already plenty of great resources in the marketplace, and I feel writers—to become skilled writers—must eventually come into their own style and voice. Now I do most of my learning by reading the work of others and building on my own, internal toolkit.
Linda: Did you ever take creative writing classes or belong to a writers critique group?
Jon: I never took any hard-core creative writing classes beyond those required in my general education (high school and college). Most of my writing there, too, was purely academic or non-creative. I’ve never gone for critique groups as a matter of preference. I believe they’re invaluable for some writers, but I consider writing an entirely personal and individual affair. It requires a certain amount of labor and intellect that can only be found within me. That’s something I can’t move past and I’m relatively superstitious about some facets (like I generally won’t talk about or even let someone read an unfinished work outside of a select few individuals in whom I place an inordinate amount of trust to give me the real deal).
Linda: Tell us about your latest book, Soul Runner, and what inspired you to write it.
Jon: Soul Runner is the story of Dr. Abram Aronsfeld, an anthropologist and history professor who is recruited by a secret organization called ARK to rescue persecuted Christians from countries all over the world. The book is predominantly set in 1988 Romania—less than two years prior to the collapse of the Communist dictatorship under Nicolae Ceauseşcu—and Bram is assigned to steal a Christian gypsy woman by the name of Ileana Tarus out of the country. Unfortunately, things quickly turn perilous once he’s in Romania. The story is told in Bram’s voice, and pre-readers told me it moves at a frenetic pace. It was upon reading a pamphlet in 2006 from an organization called The Voice of the Martyrs out of Bartlesville, Oklahoma that I first learned of the magnitude of Christian persecution in the world today, and that inspired me to run with it. The novel contains an afterword where I go into a bit more detail on the inspiration, and soon I’ll be providing an eBook on my site called The Writing of Soul Runner that will expand considerably on the whole history of this book (which I felt would be of interest to some readers).
Linda: Will Soul Runner be a series of novels?
Jon: Ah, the old series question. I suppose the best way to answer it is that it definitely could be. The topic of Christian persecution is a giant one, so I have a global playing field in which to set additional books. The concept here is that ARK has many Soul Runners (Bram isn’t the only one); you could liken them to sort of “secret agents” in God’s service. When the original publisher offered a contract on the book (they backed out in December 2008 under relatively obscure reasons), the acquisitions editor certainly expressed an interest in what he termed a “loose” series—about which I can clarify my meaning, if requested. I think for now, however, I would not write more books unless fans clamored for them. Novels are a lot of work and I have other stories I’d like to tell.
Linda: What is your usual writing routine, Jon?
Jon: I had a much different routine during the short period I wrote full time (how I do miss that time). Since I’ve held down a “day job” most of my writing career, however, the typical routine is hectic, at times. I’m almost always under contract with a book in The Executioner or Stony Man series, so often that gets the priority over other projects due to deadlines. I usually write every evening, beginning around 9:00 p.m., and go a couple of hours. I start by reading what I’ve written the previous evening, and then write anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 words. I do a bit more on Saturday afternoons. Since I attend church services on Saturday night, I take Sundays off to spend time with family, do little projects around the house or just relax with a good book. When the work is finished, I set it aside for a month or so (if time permits), and then sit down and read it straight through. By this time, Marilyn (my wife) has also copy-edited the work. I then make any additional edits to hers and then off it goes to the editor. I take a couple of vacations a year, during which time I stay away from the keyboard so I can rejuvenate and give family my full attention.
Linda: I often ask writers how they receive their inspiration. Many writers feel the inspiration comes from beyond them at times as they are working with their characters. Do you experience that in your writing? Do you visualize your scenes? Do you “walk” in your character’s shoes? And one more question along that line… do you outline prior to writing a story?
Jon: My main source of inspiration is God. I also take a lot from my observations about the world around me, and the behaviors and intents (both public and “secret”) of the people that inhabit it. In other words, I glimpse what “could” be from what I perceive “is”. And the one person I can never fool is me, so I have to write with some level of honesty if I want to remain credible. You see, I believe fiction should do three things: inspire, inform and entertain. I take that approach with each new project I tackle, forming and tooling and shaping my story into something that’s passionate and dramatic. I’m always trying to elicit a set of non-prescribed responses from my readers; to leave them the freedom to decide what they will think and feel about what I’ve written. Hopefully, my readers will take something away from it. That’s all I can ask for. And whenever someone tells me they enjoyed one of my books, or that they learned something or were inspired in some way, it’s music to my ears!
As to the visualization of scenes or internalization of my characters, I don’t really story tell in that fashion. I more see the words, almost as if I were reading the book for the first time, and that’s usually when the process is the most fun for me because I surprise myself. I believe this is why I don’t outline. That just feels too much like writing the book before I write the book. I’ve read many authors who say they outline, and in almost every circumstance those authors have said they do it to keep them on track or so they know what they’re supposed to work on that day. I already know every time I sit down at the keyboard I’m there to write. I don’t need an outline to tell me that.
On that note, I’d like to make a point here. I once read a book where a very well-known writer said that most of what writers say about their own work is nonsense (albeit, he used a more colorful metaphor). I’m not sure I agree with that. There’s a mantra I’ve carried with me most of my writing career, posited by the great adventure novelist, Alistair MacLean. He said: “I am not a novelist, I’m a storyteller. There is no art in what I do, no mystique.” MacLean had a very clear picture of his role as a writer (interestingly, it’s been said he actually hated the process of writing and the draft he turned into his editors was the first and only). His vision is very similar to my own, in that respect—although I never turn in a first draft.
Linda: Jon, you’ve written a lot of The Executioner, Mack Bolan books and I know you have tried to keep true to Don Pendleton’s vision of his Mack Bolan character. From your point of view as a writer of those books, what is it that has kept Mack Bolan alive all these forty years? In your own novels is there anything you strive to put into your stories to keep them alive, to keep the words jumping off the page and inspiring a reader to want more?...Even in a subtle way.
Jon: I often ask myself that same question about Mack Bolan; even after twenty-something books, I’m still not sure I have the answer (although Don certainly handed off the wisdom baton in our correspondence). I’m persuaded the secret of Bolan’s longevity is the mythical qualities of the character. Bolan is a consummate warrior; a soldier of unswerving duty; a moral agent; a dispatcher of justice and protector of the innocent. How can you not love the guy?! For me personally, Bolan is real—or at least what he stands for. It’s been that way ever since I started reading the books nearly thirty years ago. He emulates many of the qualities that decent, honest people everywhere can admire, and in that context he is every bit accessible as a fictional character. We can identify with him. We can believe in him because he’s doing what most of wish we could do: he fights the injustices in the world and he wins! It’s a classic formula, sure: good triumphs over evil. But it works because of the Bolan character, not in spite of him.
I certainly try to build some of these qualities into my own heroes and heroines, but I also strive to make sure I don’t “mimic” Don’s style. That’s the thing about Don, and one of the reasons he’s my all-time favorite writer. He was an original, the real deal, and he created a hero of the same mold. Pretty tough to compete with that, and I wouldn’t deign to try. But I learned a lot of lessons from reading Don’s works, and I do try to emulate him on different levels by just being true to myself and my own style. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I don’t. But then that’s part of the fun of being a writer. The journey of self-discovery is a priceless return on the investment.
Linda: Of the elements that go into a novel such as characterizations, dialogue, action scenes, plotting, sex scenes, and setting, among other things, which do you find easiest for you personally in your art of writing? In other words, what do you consider your strength to be?
Jon: I’ve never thought about it, really, but I suppose if I had to pick my greatest strength it would be pacing (or I suppose some might call that plot). I try to remember at all times that my chief duty as a storyteller is to entertain. It has to be my paramount consideration because of the natural convergence of all the elements that go into fiction (many of which you listed above). That’s a juggling act and I feel it’s important to season my work with equal measures of putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Anything less is tantamount to literary suicide for a writer, and nothing bugs me more than when a writer has the temerity to withhold entertaining me for their own, selfish purposes. Yeah, I said “withhold”, because I believe this is a purposeful act. It usually happens because they want to hide behind the words, fearful of venturing their own thoughts for the sake of being politically correct or stylish. Utter bunk and I have no use for that kind of writing (and you’ll notice I’m not shy about saying it).
Linda: Would you like to share what your current or next project is?
Jon: I’m currently working on a new, original action series about an “everyman” helping out the little guy in America. I think it’s time we got some new heroes we can admire in today’s world.
Linda: What is your favorite quote?
Jon: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
—Jesus Christ, John 3:16 (KJV)
Linda: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Jon: There is no secret formula I can give you; no magical talisman; no profound wisdom. All of those you must find within. Simply read, believe in yourself, and write… write… write!
And one other thing I suppose bears an honorable mention. Never measure success by whether you’re published; measure it by the joys of self-discovery along the way.
Linda: That’s true, Jon. That is what writing is all about: self-discovery. Thank you so much, Jon for giving us this insight into your writing. I wish you the best with Soul Runner. It is a fascinating adventure story and I know readers will enjoy it tremendously.
Visit Jon Guenther’s website to learn more about Soul Runner and Jon’s other books. Soul Runner is available at Amazon.com in trade paper and for the Kindle Reader, and autographed copies available at his website. Follow Jon's Blog.
© Copyright 2009 by Linda Pendleton and Jon Guenther.
Jon Guenther's Review of Don Pendleton's Metaphysics of the Novel
My blogs about the 40th Anniversary of Don Pendleton's Executioner Series