Alrighty folks, today I’m starting a new thing on my blog. Author spotlights where I interview and share with you all authors coming across my way that I feel you should know about. Today, author J.D. Cunegan of the Jill Anderson Series.
1: Hi, and thanks for joining today. In your own words tell us about yourself, not you the author, but just you!
A: I’m an avid reader, first and foremost. I wasn’t always, but as I’ve gotten older and I’ve learned to take better care of my free time, I find myself turning more and more to books. It used to be that if it wasn’t a comic book, I wasn’t interested… but now I’m reading fiction, non-fiction, biographies, comic books… you name it. When I’m not burying my face in a book or staring at a manuscript, I’m an avid sports fan – specifically baseball, hockey, and auto racing. I attend four to five NASCAR races every year, and next to writing, that’s my big passion in life. I’m not currently employed full-time, but I have a background in journalism and media relations. Also, on top of being a self-published author, I am a freelance manuscript editor.
2: Why did you decide to become an author and what’s the best part? Yeah, it’s a double-whammy of a question. So unexpected!
A: Well, when I was in middle school, I discovered comic books… and it wasn’t just a case of discovering a new hobby. Once I started reading them, I began entertaining the idea of creating my own. Writing them, drawing them… I was at one point intent on being a comic book creator. But I wound up being a much better writer than artist, so eventually, my comic book scripts slowly morphed into prose stories – to the point where I’m now far more comfortable writing a short story or a novel than I am trying to knock out a comic book or graphic novel script.
The best part of it is the control and the escapism: the fact that I can let myself get lost in this fictional universe (which I can also do when reading), only when I’m writing, that escapism is met with the control that comes with having created a fictional world and its inhabitants. That control isn’t all-consuming – my characters do occasionally wander off on their own – but it’s not unlike when I would dump out a bin full of Lego blocks as a kid, knowing that I could build practically anything.
3: So, tell us about your work. Sell us on it! Why should we read it (for those of us that haven’t, 😉 ) and why it will capture us?
A: I currently have three novels (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge) and one short story (Boundless) to my name, and they are all a part of the Jill Andersen mystery/urban fantasy/superhero series. Jill is a homicide cop in Baltimore. Md., and she also doubles as the costumed vigilante Bounty – thanks to cybernetic enhancements provided to her when she volunteered for a secret experiment called Project Fusion when she was in the Army. Jill is equal parts Buffy Summers, Kate Beckett, and Sara Pezzini (from the comic book Witchblade), but she’s still her own person, and I love how I can use the backdrop of her character and her origin story to play with genre convention (i.e., what if Bruce Wayne wasn’t filthy stinking rich?) or tackle real-life issues (like race-inspired police brutality, which I take on in Behind the Badge). There are a lot of high concepts at play in these books, but the stories and characters are very grounded and personal.
4: Now, you write primarily under the urban fantasy/superhero umbrella of genres. Why did you choose this over others to start your publishing career? Did others appeal to you more and you chose this? Was there a bit of choice weighing or was it rather simple?
A: The universe in which Bounty takes place is something I created way back when I was in high school. The characters and the world they inhabit have grown as I have grown, and when I finally decided to get off my butt and finally write a book, falling back on this universe seemed like a no-brainer. So much of my creative identity is centered around and informed by comic books and graphic novels, so it made all the sense in the world that my first published work would be an homage of sorts to that industry. Although my work is strictly prose, the comic book influence is obvious – to the point that I’m even toying around with the idea of one day writing a graphic novel in that universe (just gotta find an artist worth a darn I could afford).
5: So far, what would you say has been the hardest part of being an author?
A: Getting noticed. Marketing is, by far, the one part of being a self-published author that I wish I could completely outsource. I didn’t realize just how crowded the indie publishing market is, and trying to get some name recognition when surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other indie authors has been, at times, an exercise in frustration. And the fact that it’s almost exclusively a trial-and-error process adds to the stress, as does the fact that methods that worked for other authors might not necessarily work for me.
6: Now for the ever-so-shocking follow-up question. What’s the best/easiest part, if there is one?
A: The writing itself. Not that it’s always easy, but it’s the essence of why I do what I do. Telling stories, creating characters and stories that people can connect with on some level… everything else – the marketing, the book covers, the formatting, the sales – is contingent on there being a book in the first place. If I don’t write it, none of the other stuff matters. When I’m pecking away at a manuscript, I forget everything else – and remember why, in spite of the stress and frustration, I love doing this.
7: Tell us about what your experiences in the author life have been like. I don’t mean the writing aspects. I mean the daily human life. Tell us what it’s like to live the daily life you do and be an author at the same time. What’s it like when people in your life and the people you come across find out you’re an author?
A: It’s a strange dichotomy. People are almost always excited and interested when they find out I’m an author, or they find out that I’ve actually been published… but unless I have an actual copy handy to sell them in the moment, that excitement seldom ever translates into sales. I have better luck with strangers in that regard – my experience at Hampton Comicon this past October perfectly showed this. I had a friend tell me she was proud of me not too long after Bounty was first published, because she said I had the nerve to be published that she lacked. But I’m not sure if she’s supported my work beyond that first book.
8: Writing is a hard craft and a harder career. What are the things that keep you going, both in improving the craft and enduring the downs/lows of the career?
A: Several different things:
First and foremost, I’m a writer. That’s just who and what I am. I was a writer when I wasn’t published, and I’m still a writer now that I am published. Writing is a fundamental truth of who I am.
Secondly, I would love to one day be able to write novels as my career… but if I walk away when things get tough or frustrating, then I won’t accomplish my goal. It might take another decade or so, it might never happen, but if I stop writing, then I’m definitely not going to achieve it.
And yeah… part of it is somewhat petty. I loved the TV show Castle, but every time I saw a Richard Castle novel in my local bookstore, I would have this thought of “Okay, this guy who doesn’t even exist is publishing books and making the New York Times bestseller list… so what’s my excuse?”
9: What do you love about the genre you write and what others appeal to you?
A: Well, one of the things I love most about the feedback I receive on the Bounty series is how each reader sees Jill as a superhero. Some compare her to Batman, others have compared her to Daredevil… I even had a reader tell me she read like a cross between Deadpool and Lara Croft. I think that, more than anything, speaks to how flexible and ubiquitous the superhero genre is. The murder mystery aspects are a no-brainer, given that most of my characters are detectives, and I love the added element of sci-fi that’s been thrown in – those aspects will be explored much more and in much greater detail in the coming books in the series.
While I have my favorites – urban fantasy, thriller, YA, mystery – I tend to not limit myself when it comes to genre. A great story is a great story, regardless of the window dressing surrounding it. When I pick up a book, I want to be entertained and inspired, and to me, those things transcend genre.
10: What can we expect from you next? Tell us about the plans for your series and body of work.
A: The fourth and fifth books in the Bounty series are being written – Behind the Mask and Betrayed, respectively. I don’t have a set number of books for that series; I’ll write them until Jill no longer speaks to me as a character, but the next two books in the series are in the works.
In addition, I’ve spent this past month writing a fantasy/supernatural epic titled Notna, which is steeped in tons of pagan lore and it’s filled with prophecies and holy wars and it’s such a departure from what I’ve been writing that it’s been really satisfying spreading my wings a little. If everything goes well, Notna will be out by the middle of next year.
I’m also working on a political thriller called The Pen is Mighty – detailing a speechwriter for a presidential candidate who finds himself knee-deep in an international conspiracy – and a supernatural thriller called The Keeper, inspired by the Euthanatos tradition from the old White Wolf tabletop roleplaying game Mage: the Ascension.
11: The writing and publishing world has changed a lot. Self-publishing, small to medium presses popping up, and things like becoming a hybrid between indie pubbing and traditional. What are your thoughts on that? Any predictions on what the future might hold? What would you like to see, both as an author yourself, and, as a consumer/reader?
A: I think the advent of technology has been a boon for aspiring authors. In the old days, the traditional publishers were really the only option because technologically, the options were not there. Because of how things have evolved, the traditional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers… which I think is a good thing. I understand indie and self-publishing have a bad rap in some circles, but the fact of the matter is, some of the best books I’ve read in recent years have come from self-published and small presses. If the old ways were still in place, would books like Madeline Dyer’s Untamed or your Grave Report books exist? I’m not sure, but I’m glad the landscape is now accessible enough for those of us who have stories to tell and are willing to put in the effort.
12: The always done and asked question. Who are your favorite authors? What are you favorite books? What are you reading now? Tell us. Tell us!
A: First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your books. Grave Beginnings and Grave Measures are both fantastic, and I’m sure Dangerous Ways will be just as good.
Also… Madeline Dyer’s Untamed and Fragmented, C.A. King’s The Portal Prophecies series, and The Only One and No Safe Place by Mary Head are among my favorite indie works. I’m also a huge fan of Alex P. Berg’s Daggers & Steele series, as well as Jade and Jane from Rose Montague.
Michael Byrnes’ Bounty was a great thriller, I’m really enjoying Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave trilogy, and I’m currently devouring Sabaa Tahir’s A Torch Against the Night (her first book, An Ember in the Ashes, was great as well). I will even admit to being a fan of the Richard Castle novels; they’re not the greatest books in the world, but they’re entertaining in their own right.
13: I’ve got to know…what’s your favorite word to use? Every author has one. What’s the word you catch yourself using a lot? We’ve all got those as well. What’s your favorite word just to say? Something where you like the way it sounds. What’s your favorite curse worse, if you’ve got one and or use them?
A: I can’t really think of one, to be honest.
But I do enjoy writing dialogue. More than anything, I learn so much about my characters by what they say and how they say it. Some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer was in writing dialogue for Det. Earl Stevens, one of the supporting characters in the Bounty series (who debuted in Blood Ties). His way of speaking, his vernacular, his turn of phrase was one of the most pleasant surprised I’ve encountered as a writer, and dialogue is so instructive to me that I sometimes pay attention to it at the detriment of exposition and description (which is probably why I always increase my word count in editing, while other writers are cutting words).
14: Lastly, where can we find you? Facebook? Twitter? Website? Links to your material. Go on, don’t be shy. Share!
A: Click any of the below. Hyperlinks embedded into the word.
Barnes & Noble
J.D. Cunegan introduces Behind the Badge, the third installment of the Jill Andersen series, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that re-introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, enjoys reading, and is an avid auto racing fan.