Today's Fab Friday Feature spotlights John Clark, author, columnist, and an inspirational, beautiful spirit! Read on for my wonderful interview with John for a bit of inspiration.
CHELLE: John, welcome to the Beautifully Inspired Blog, where we write the script to our beautifully inspired lives! Getting to the heart of the matter, most writers fall into one of two categories, with a few being special enough to fall in between. J What are you? Plotter or Pantser?
JOHN: I never thought much about it, but I would have to say I am a pantser. My background is print journalism – newspaper reporter and columnist – and so I am used to going out, gathering information, doing interviews, and then putting the story together in my head on the way back to the office.
It is said that in writing a newspaper story, when you come up with a great “lead” (opening paragraph), the rest of the story pretty much writes itself. That is true, to a certain extent, although it still takes a little editing and moving things around sometimes as you put the story together.
I did do a little planning for my current project (a 35,000-word non-fiction book) – even hand-wrote a one-page outline for it! That’s the most “planning” I’ve ever really done for a book. Not saying that’s a good thing; it’s just the way I do it.
CHELLE: Interesting. How did you first begin your career in print journalism?
JOHN: I worked for a number of newspapers across the state of Texas, after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Houston. The biggest story I ever covered was the October 1991 massacre at the Luby's cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. I actually won an Associated Press award for my coverage of that tragic event. But one story that comes to mind when you ask that question is a story I wrote once about a young man who was murdered at the pawn shop where he worked. Everybody I talked to said he was a wonderful kid who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody had anything bad to say about him at all. So I decided to try and interview his family, girlfriend and co-workers, and write a feature story about his life. It seems like criminals always get more publicity than their victims, so I wanted to do something to honor this kid. When I approached his boss at the pawn shop, the guy agreed to an interview, but first he looked at me and said, in no uncertain terms, "If you do anything to hurt Troy, I'll come looking for you." I assured him that was not my intention, and the story turned out great.
CHELLE: Human interest stories, beautiful! You obviously create great work, having made a career out of writing. But when the pen is put down, the laptop is placed away, no deadlines looming, and you’re in the comfort of your own home and skin, who is John Clark, the man?
JOHN: Here’s who I am – an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. There is a little more to it than that, of course, but that pretty much sums it up.
I grew up playing sports, and my athletic activity now is mostly limited to playing golf, which I love. When I first went to Spain five years ago to backpack the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I discovered a love for distance walking, although here at home I fight my natural laziness and lack of time for exercise. I play guitar, and have performed as a singer/songwriter and as a guitarist in a couple of bands.
My trip to Spain was the first time I ever went overseas, and although it scared me half to death at first, once I got over my fears and settled in to the adventure, I had the time of my life. I went back again, and now am planning a trip to Thailand. In a few years, I will travel around the world, just me, a backpack and my trusty laptop.
That’s enough. I don’t really enjoy talking about myself. If there’s a horn to be tooted, I’d rather let someone else do it.
CHELLE: That’s living life! Have you ever traveled for any stories?
JOHN: I wrote a weekly column for the local paper during my second trek along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, and I drove two weeks along Route 66 last summer doing interviews and shooting photographs all along the way for an upcoming book. Occasionally, I'll make a little road trip on the weekend in search of something unusual and interesting to write about.
CHELLE: With all that goes on in a writer’s life, how do you create work/life balance being an author?
JOHN: Luckily, I have a supportive wife, and the kids are all grown, so I’m able to spend basically as much of my “spare” time as I choose in my office at home, writing. Still, life gets in the way sometimes, and I continue to be forced to learn patience, as far as the projects I am working on.
Again, stemming from my daily newspaper background, I like to write the story, get ‘er done, file it and move on to the next story. I’m a meticulous proofreading perfectionist when it comes to my work, but once it’s finished, it’s finished. One of the things my editors have always liked about me is that I produce clean copy that doesn’t require much editing.
When I get home from work, and on the weekends, I write until I get either tired, bleary-eyed or distracted, then I force myself to stop and go mow the grass, or lay on the couch for a while and watch some TV.
Right now, I’m getting ready to go out on a beautiful sunshiny day to a local art festival and try to scratch up a feature story for next week’s column.
CHELLE: You mentioned that your children are grown. Has your career choice as a writer had an impact on them?
JOHN: My youngest daughter is a terrific writer. She has that gift of writing from the heart that makes good writing good. And my stepson says he is inspired by my writing, and by my continuing to pursue my passion and my dreams.
CHELLE: Describe a day around your house and in your ordinary life where writing is not key.
JOHN: Hmm, let’s see. Writing is normally a part of everyday life for me. Not only does writing help keep me somewhat sane, it’s hard for me not to write, because I think I am wasting valuable time.
I don’t go to work at my dreaded day job on Saturdays and Sundays (occasionally other days, as well!). So normally on the weekend, I brew a cup of coffee, head to my little office and check e-mail, see who’s doing what on Facebook and such. Then, I’ll start working on something – blogs, my newspaper column, my new book, marketing my already-published books. I don’t have a particular schedule – which again is probably not a good thing. One of my weaknesses is lack of organization, not just for my writing biz but life in general.
If it’s Saturday, I may take a break for breakfast, but probably just plow on through for a few hours and then have lunch and watch some sports on TV or something. Sunday mornings, I’m on the golf course, and then I’ll usually write for a few hours in the afternoon. Then, it’s time to get ready for the work week ahead. Back to reality.
CHELLE: Most authors have a routine they settle into when they prepare to write. Yet, others toss routine out the window and go with the flow. Tell us about your writing routine.
JOHN: I’m not sure there’s much to report on this. Sometimes I may write 500 words a day; sometimes I may write 2,000 words in a day.
My newspaper columns are between 1,200 and 1,400 words, normally. I write about a variety of topics, with the majority being human interest stories, based on 30-minute to one-hour interviews. Transcribing the recorded interview takes the greatest amount of time, but like I said, I tend to pretty much compose the story in my head before I ever sit down to write it, so most of the time I can knock out a column in a hour or two.
Being mostly a pantser (I have to admit I’d never heard that term before), I tend to go with the flow. If the flow slows to a trickle, I’ll probably shut everything down for a while, and come back to it later. If it ain’t workin’, it ain’t workin’. Take a break. There’s always something else I can work on: audio book narration, YouTube videos, research.
CHELLE: What genre do you write and why? What authors have influenced your writings?
JOHN: I’ve mentioned how my journalism background affects my writing. And I am heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway. I love his simple style, and I read somewhere a long time ago that Hemingway said to never use a word longer than two syllables.
That is pretty hard to do, but I think the real message is to keep it simple. I know I don’t want to have to put down something I am reading to go look up a word in the dictionary.
I write exclusively non-fiction. I love telling people’s stories. Everyone has a great story, although it can take a skilled interviewer sometimes to find it. Interviewing has always been one of my strengths, and if you sit me down with someone, I guarantee you I will come away with an interesting story about their life. It’s mostly a matter of careful listening. The biggest mistake interviewers make is not listening to the answers to their questions. Seems simple enough, right? Too many people, though, are already thinking about the next question they’re going to ask and they forget to listen – really listen – to what the person is saying. I rarely have a set list of questions to ask, because the interview almost always goes in an unexpected direction, if you listen carefully.
For example, I was interviewing a guy about his vast comic book collection. This guy has every comic book known to man, and that was the basis for the story. A comic book collector. Well, as he is showing me his comics, and answering a question, he off-handedly says, “Yeah, and I saw my father beat my mother to death when I was a kid.”
He just kept on talking, and I let him go for about 30 seconds to see what was coming next, but he completely passed over this incredible statement about his childhood. So I stopped him and said, “Hang on a second. Let’s back up for a minute.”
The story was still about this comic book collector, but now I had a fascinating hook on which to hang the rest of the story.
CHELLE: Amazing!! As an author, my mind instantly weaves a novel out of that. Did you follow-up and do another story on him?
JOHN: I just left that as the hook and sort of weaved it in and out of the story, using it as a way for readers to get to know him better. It was a pretty strong hook!
CHELLE: How do you handle writer’s block?
JOHN: I don’t really experience serious writer’s block, but like I said earlier, if the river stops flowing, I just let things rest for a while. Work on something else writing-related, or go do something else entirely.
CHELLE: Mountains or the beach?
JOHN: Definitely a beach guy. I grew up in Houston, Texas, an hour’s drive from Galveston. I also grew up going to my grandparents’ lake house on weekends, so it’s a bit of a toss-up, whether I want to buy a beach house or a lake house, when my ship comes in.
CHELLE: Provide one marketing tip for upcoming authors that have worked for you.
JOHN: Marketing is something I know very little about, but something I am learning. I have a website and an author’s page, and I spend probably way too much time posting links to those sites and my books on social media, but that’s about all I know how to do at this point.
When my current project is finished, a friend who is a marketing guru is going to help me with all the technical things that right now are just overwhelming, so I am excited about that.
CHELLE: If there was one thing you would want your readers to know after reading your works, what would it be?
JOHN: I guess it would be that people all over the world are pretty much all the same. That’s one thing I have learned, and maybe that is why I enjoy writing about people. People are fascinating, and for the most part, they are good. It doesn’t seem like it sometimes, when you read the headlines or watch the evening news, but when you come right down to it, most people are good people, and the world is a beautiful place. And wherever you are in life, whatever you are doing, if you are doing things with good intentions, a good heart, doing the best you can, you are doing just fine.
CHELLE: We live life beautifully inspired here, at The Beautifully Inspired Blog. Leave us with an inspirational post, comprised of three words.
JOHN: Follow your dreams.
CHELLE: Alright readers! You heard it…follow your dreams. You all know how passionate I feel about that one statement. That’s the purpose of this blog, to inspire you to live your dreams and live a beautifully inspired life! If you want to know more about John or his works, please visit him at http://www.johnhenryiii.com/.
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