I'm pleased to interview novelist John L. Davis IV, author of the "American Revenant Series," and his latest suspense thriller, "Average Joe."
Linda: John, in our previous correspondence when you did an interview with me regarding my late husband, Don Pendleton's, The Executioner: Mack Bolan Series, you had indicated that a Mack Bolan novel, "Tuscany Terror," written by Stephen Mertz, not only had introduced you to Don's Executioner Series, but to reading and collecting paperback books at a very young age.
At that time, while doing a lot of reading, were you beginning to have an interest in writing novels? Do you recall the first story you ever wrote? And what inspired the story?
John: Linda, thank you for interviewing me. I started writing stories of my own about two years after reading "Tuscany Terror." My shelves were filling with books pretty quickly, and I was reading a little bit of everything, discovering new authors at a wild pace. It was wonderful.
My first few attempts at writing my own stories were all action-adventure oriented. The only one I ever completed was for a school project, and it was my take on the Johnstone post-apocalyptic survivor kind of story. I got some funny looks for that one when it was read in front of class.
The first short story I’d ever written entirely for myself was a dark, twisted little piece about a guy who is “murdered” by his friend when the man intentionally gives him a deadly disease. It was a weird piece, and I still have it, tucked away somewhere in a box. I think only three people besides myself have ever read it, and I intend to keep it that way. I can’t really say what inspired it. On a side note, I can say with surety that I’ve never thrown away anything I’ve ever written. I have it all. Reams of paper with tons of poems, half-written novels, and start-and-stop short stories.
Linda: Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? Who is your favorite author or authors?
John: This is a list that could go on for ages, if I let it. I’ll do my best to keep it lean, I promise. Don Pendleton’s “Executioner” series, and William W. Johnstone’s “Ashes” series were formative to my love of reading, and storytelling. I loved the rapid pace and larger-than-life heroes. I’ve always wanted to tell those kinds of stories, the ones that leave you a little breathless and maybe a bit shell shocked, even as you’re reaching for the next one on the shelf.
The other two most influential authors, for me, are Dean Koontz and Stephen King. The depths of the characters and worlds they create took me even further in my literary adventure, and gave me new goals to shoot for. I’ve read and re-read nearly everything they’ve written, numerous times.
Linda: As a novelist, as well as newspaper journalist, tell us a little about what led to your newspaper work. You've also done screenwriting and film work?
John: Writing for a newspaper is something I’d never even considered until about a year and a half ago. I was looking for work, my wife sent me a Facebook post from a newspaper looking for a new writer and I answered. To be entirely honest, I never expected them to give me even a first glance, let alone a second.
I don’t consider myself a journalist. I’m a storyteller, first and always. I enjoy telling stories about local people and events.
Screenwriting was another one of those things that I kind of fell into. I had considered it, simply because I love movies, but never seriously. I’d met an actor/filmmaker via social media and he read one of my short stories, loved it and asked if I could turn it into a script for a short film. I learned the art of screenwriting on the fly, so-to-speak.
That film, titled “Digger” has a few touches to be completed, and he’s hoping to release it next year. Since then, I’ve written several short screenplays, filmed one here with a local director (a sci-fi action short called “Friend”), and have others waiting to be filmed. (I hope.)
Linda: As most writers, I've read a number of books on creative writing and techniques of novel writing. What books on writing have you found to be of value early on in your career, and why?
John: I’ve read several over the years, such as James A. Michener’s "Writer’s Handbook," "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card, just to name a couple, but the one that has done the most for me is Stephen King’s book "On Writing." King has a way of stripping away the mystery and pretense of the writing process from his point of view. It’s the one book I go to the most when I’m struggling with a plotline or character. I find it motivates me like no other book dedicated to the craft of writing has.
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?
John: I’ve never written a sex scene. Some may find that funny, but it’s true. So far, none of my stories have called for it. Action scenes and emotionally powerful moments are two places where I feel I excel. I feel my own blood racing when I’m crafting an action scene, be it a fight or a chase, I lose myself to the moment. The same for the more emotional scenes. I caught myself sniffing back tears more than once when writing my newest novel.
Linda: Now that you have moved from zombies and post-apocalyptic fiction to an adventure thriller genre, with your new novel, "Average Joe," what inspired the new book, and will there will be more with your character, Joe Pruitt?
John: I love the big, over-the-top action heroes, whether it’s Mack Bolan, Ben Rains, Frank Castle or Jack Reacher. Those archetypal characters are always fun, but they’re out there all over the place. I wanted to see that kind of story, but from the point of view of someone who wasn’t hard-core and highly trained. How would he handle the physical act of killing a man in defense of self or someone else. How does someone like that process these moments of helplessness and violence. That was the genesis of the story, itself, but the plot comes from a combination of news stories about human trafficking and my own fears as a father.
Would I be able to do the right thing, would I freeze in fear, or jump on the back of a moving vehicle to prevent the kidnapping of a kid I don’t know? Would someone do that if they saw my daughter being kidnapped?
A big part of what we do as writers is the “what if” game. What if I saw this happening? What if I couldn’t call for help? Then we place our characters in the situations and let them develop their own “what if” reactions.
As for more Joe Pruitt, I have ideas. Always with the ideas. He may turn up again. A little less naive, a little more ready for the unknown, but still just an Average Joe.
Linda: What is your favorite quote?
John: “In the real world, as in dreams, nothing is quite what it seems.” The Book of Counted Sorrows, Dean Koontz. "Aut inveniam viam aut faciam" - I shall either find a way or make one. Attributed to Hannibal when he was told that it was impossible to cross the Alps on elephants.
Linda: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
John: Always write. Even on the days you don’t want to. Dream, and dream big, but don’t quit your day job, because “It” isn’t going to happen overnight. Don’t let your mom (dad, best friend, spouse) read your book until after your editor has.
Linda: Tell us anything about you as a writer that you think might be interesting or unusual.
John: I’m never going to settle into one genre. I dislike the idea of being confined to one certain shelf in the bookstore. If I have another post-apocalyptic story to tell, I’ll tell it. I’ve got an unfinished science-fiction novel or two just waiting for the impetus to drive them forward. I’ve got notes on a few ghost stories, and several more suspense thrillers. My writing tastes are just as eclectic as my reading tastes. One day it’s Koontz, the next, Asimov. From men’s adventure to classic fantasy. Every story is a journey, and I hope to take as many rides into the unknown as possible before my final word is written.
Linda: Thank you for such an interesting interview, John. Good luck with your books and your film projects.
John's books are available at Amazon. Visit his Amazon Author Page.