Wednesday, July 25, 2012

10 Questions: Jonathan Winn

Jonathan Winn, a wearer of many hats

About Jonathan

I was born in Seattle, but grew up two hours south of there in a very small town.  Two weeks after graduating high school, I left for Los Angeles where I lived for a decade before moving to New York City.  But finally, after fifteen years of Manhattan (Greenwich Village, to be exact), I'm back in the Pacific Northwest.  My two dogs love it.  Grass?  Trees?  Sky?  No leash?  What the … ?  I'm also one of those irritating (interesting?) hyphenates --  actor-writer-producer-coffee drinker --  with my finger forever jammed in a lot of different pies.  For example, besides a movie currently in development, I also have a play hopefully, possibly looking at a 2015 Opening in a Tony Award-winning theatre -- still working that one out -- and I'm writing two new books, one a full-length sequel to Martuk … The Holy and the second a continuation of The Martuk Series , a collection of short fiction.  There's also a new play I'm buffing and shining and tweaking and an even newer screenplay I've just started mapping out.  Did I mention I drink coffee?  Lots of it? 

#1:  How many books have you written and where can readers find them?

I'm a fairly new writer with two books under my belt, Martuk ... The Holy and The Wounded King: The Martuk Series.  Both can be found in ebook format on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.

#2:  What are you working on now?

I'm doing so much right now I've stopped pretending I have a lot on my plate and have finally admitted it's more like an All You Can Eat Buffet with unlimited breadsticks. 
Let's see, I'm writing the sequel to Martuk ... The Holy -- titled Martuk ... The Holy: Proseuche -- as well as The Elder , the second book in The Martuk Series, a collection of Short Fiction inspired by characters in Martuk.  I'm also working on a new play, Shooting Avellino, and the 2nd Draft of a screenplay,  Cynda.  Oh, and I'm mapping out the sequel to Proseuche, planning The Magi, the third book in The Martuk Series, and somewhere in there, just for the heck of it, is a gem of a TV pilot I just love titled Rhumm & coke.  On a solid 3rd draft of that.

 #3:  In addition to being a writer, you are also involved in films as both an actor and producer. Tell us about some of those projects.

Yeah, I kinda wear a lot of hats and drink a lot of coffee. 
The tag line I'm working with for my film West Third  -- a script I wrote, actually -- is "Sometimes it takes a death to discover a life". That sentence really captures the essence of the movie .  West Third is about a woman who, after the sudden death of her brother, discovers he hid himself, his true self, from her.  Surreptitiously excluded her from his life, his loves.  Someone she assumed she knew ends up becoming someone she didn't know at all.  It's really a story, I think, about how cataclysmic it can be when your assumptions are destroyed and the comfort level inherent in categorizing someone, especially family, as this or that is completely obliterated. 

 #4:  You have lived on both the east and west coasts. How much of an advantage, if any, is it to live so near the heart of the film industry (west coast) and the publishing industry (east coast)?

I think most would agree that nowadays, in a world that is more and more digitally driven, it's much easier to live where you want and still be a vital, vibrant part of a  community that is, in some cases, thousands of miles away.

But obviously, as an actor, especially if your focus is on film and television, there's a clear advantage to living on the West Coast.  But only if you're a bit of a glad-handing social butterfly.  Which I'm not. 

With the advent of self-publishing and ebooks, there really isn't a clear advantage to living on either coast when it comes to writing, at least as far as I can see.  Even when I'm in the same city as the people I'm working with -- and in one case even living in the same apartment building! --, the majority of my business is done via email, text or good ol' telephone.  It's very rare, or at least it has been for me, to have personal face-to-face meetings or working lunches or stuff like that.

It might take a lot more work and a bit more time, but I believe if you produce consistent, quality work, and market yourself effectively, you can forge a successful career regardless where you live.

 #5: Just trying to write novels consumes all of my spare time. How do you manage so many different projects at once? Or do you concentrate on one area at a time?

In all honesty, although I have a very strong work ethic, I'm easily bored.  So having a lot of different pies to stick my finger into works for me.  If I hit a bump when I'm writing a book, I start chapter mapping the next one.  Or switch over to a screenplay.  Or a play.  Or I take a break and go on a run with the dogs.  I just shift gears, you know?  And in a day or two, I pick up the book, the bump is gone, and I'm able to pop out a few thousand words until I get bored, and the cycle begins again.

#6:  Every author dreams of having his or her book made into a movie. Other than writing an awesome book, what can an author do, if anything, to better the odds?

Well, even having an awesome book might not be enough.  It helps if the Film Industry knows you exist, so expanding your circle in some way to include those involved in film and television can be useful.  That world is a lot smaller than people think, they're always on the lookout for new material, and if you're good -- and I  mean really good --, word gets around quickly.  It's also helpful to write something that can be easily adapted into a screenplay.  If an executive -- or his or her assistant or friend or fellow Producer -- can see the movie and hear your characters speak  as they turn the pages, you're half-way there.

But if getting a movie deal is a goal, take the time to educate yourself about the film business.  Get a handle on all those nitty-gritty not-so-pleasant nuts and bolts, especially if you're also a screenwriter and hoping to negotiate writing the First Draft.  Become familiar with things like contracts.  Reversion of Rights, Sole Separated Rights, Derivative Rights.  If those terms aren't familiar to you, they should be.  Do writers get residuals?  Yep.  Not everyone knows that.  What about doing rewrites?  Passive Payments for sequels and spin-offs?   No one is going to offer this.  You have to ask and, in some cases, it can be the difference between getting a nice paycheck and achieving long-term financial security.  So learn what you, as a writer, can and cannot get.  Be aware of what Executive Producers can and cannot ask for.  Just arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.  Even if you have an agent.  Especially if you have an agent.  And an attorney.  The more you know going in, the less crushing the reality of being a Writer in Hollywood will be.  (hint: even the most successful are considered the bottom of the food chain and treated accordingly) 

 #7:  Are you published through a traditional publishing house or as an indie, and why did you choose that route?

Although I'd certainly still consider working with an Indie or even a Major if the deal was right, I'm proud to say I took the plunge and decided to self-publish.  The reason is simple:  the publishing world right now is damn near impossible to break into.  You could be the next (insert popular author name here) and still find your queries unanswered, the rejection emails clogging your InBox, and your MS never making its way out of the digital slush pile.

So, I figured instead of spending the next few years pounding my head against that traditional publishing door and having nothing but a headache to show for it, I'd focus on strengthening my work and then producing a clean, professional product that could realistically go toe-to-toe with the Majors. 

Somewhere along the line I just realized that if I followed the self-pubbing path, those years spent knocking on closed doors or waiting for permission and approval to be a Writer could go to actually achieving something, other than learning how to write a kick-ass query.  I could slam out several books, pop them on the virtual shelf, and, at the end of the day, be on the way to building a readership and a brand.

But if someone goes that route and self-publishes, they better offer a darn near perfect book.  Beautifully formatted.  A unique, easily-readable voice.  Riveting narrative and three-dimensional characters.  A strong, genre specific, professional cover.  Self-pub, Indie, whatever, potential readers hold us to the same standards as the Majors.  It's worth your while keeping that in mind.

And that's not even mentioning the marketing and promotion that needs to be done.  And writing!  Keep those books coming. 

In short, if you want to build a career as a writer, it takes a lot more than just publishing a book via Amazon or Smashwords. 

#8:  You are also working on a play, Mrs. Gabriel Tell us about that project.

Oh man, I love Mrs. Gabriel.  In fact, I'm currently in discussions with a Tony Award-winning theatre to include the play in their 2015 Season.  Fingers crossed!

It's about the consequences of choice.  About a woman looking back, recognizing her failures, destroying her delusions, and finally seeing herself clearly and without regret.  In the end, though, the story of Mrs. Gabriel really boils down to acknowledging who we are even if that means admitting we're despicable monsters with vile histories.  And then accepting that.

 #9:  If you had to give up all but one of your current projects, which one would you keep and why?

What? No, seriously? This is an actual question? O. M. G. I cannot even THINK of giving up ONE of my projects let alone all but one.  Talk about Sophie's Choice!

Even faced with the prospect of rhetorical annihilation, the Actor in me has gone into diva meltdown, the Screenwriter is seriously considering writing a film where an Interviewer is systematically tortured before being gruesomely dispensed with, the Playwright is already negotiating adapting that into a stage play - a musical, perhaps, with high kicks and glitter --, and the Writer is cowering under the table rocking to and fro while quietly singing "Soft Kitty" (possibly obscure Big Bang Theory joke).

But if I HAD to answer -- grumble, grumble --, I'd probably choose my Martuk books.  The character has a long lifespan and the story, even when I'm working on other projects, keeps me constantly engaged and occupied.  Plus the narrative could, book by book, veer quite easily between past and present.  No other project I have can take place in 1st Century Jerusalem and modern Paris in one book and then 451 A.D. Constantinople and an Egypt pre-dating the pyramids in the next.  I can place the story anywhere at anytime.
The OCD in me is endlessly entertained by this.

 #10:  Let's do something different. There has to be a question you were hoping I would or wouldn't ask. Ask yourself that question (please let us see the question), then answer it.

Question:  Your work is often dark, violent, and even, with its reworking of well-known historical events, controversial.  Do you ever worry about offending people and maybe even losing readers because of this?

Answer:  Yes and no.  While what I write can indeed be considered dark, sometimes violent, and perhaps controversial -- the genre is Literary Horror, remember --, those elements are supported by a strong narrative and, I believe, intriguing, multi-dimensional characters.  And so even if I find myself struggling with those disbelieving 'am I really going to publish this?' moments -- and, believe me, I do -- I have to ignore that weak-kneed inner critic, put aside my need to be liked, and just trust the story. 

Having said that, I do hear from people who quite literally put my books down (at least temporarily) after reading something upsetting.  For instance, the so-called "Jesus chapters" in Martuk.  I got a few indignant emails about that.  Actually, they were more angry than indignant, but they all agreed it was a great story with a surprising, unexpected twist and fantastic writing.  Or the opening chapter of The Wounded King .  I still hear about that opening chapter.  People reaching out to me, worrying about my mental health or wondering just what in the h-e-double hockey sticks is wrong with me that I would write something like that.  
But as upsetting as it is, those events that jar and shock and maybe even disgust always have a purpose. Nothing is gratuitous and everything is plot specific.

I suspect this is how most writers handle this issue.  Knowing I'm far from being alone or unique in this regard is somewhat comforting.  Somewhat.

* * *
Thank you Jonathan. Questions #9 wasn't so bad after all, huh? You did answer it. Just saying.

Jonathan can be found on Twitter as @Jonathan_Winn and on Facebook. I'm sure he would love to connect with you.


  1. This was a wonderful interview to do, Carl. Thank you! :^)