Interview with Jed Santos

When did you decide to become a writer?
Ever since I enrolled in journalism in college. Prior to that, I didn’t have functional English writing or speaking skills. So, I compelled myself to learn the language, as in learn it deeply, up to the use of punctuations and how to distinguish words by form and function. All those years poring over books in the university library did pay off, and as with most things I know, I am self-taught. It’s amazing how the Internet age has made self-study really convenient.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
Mid-life crisis, maybe (lol). Many of my friends are writers, but I’ve always wanted to have one author friend whom I could brag about. When I realized no one’s going to do me this favor, it made me decide I had to become an author. Plus, it’s a thrilling designation. Like, me? author? Yeah.

The other reason is, since obtaining a home-based job, I’ve had a considerable amount of free time. So I thought, it would be a shame to the many people out there who are doing great stuff if I just kept on sleeping or goofing off online. I couldn’t just let the opportunity pass to do something worthwhile that I also love.
Tell us about your writing space.
It’s just my bed. I write lying down, so I need a headboard to rest my upper back against. Other than this, there’s only one unbreakable requirement: Nobody else should be breathing in the room. Writing is a solitary act, which I am totally comfortable with.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time. The other time I do my home-based job.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I write after finishing my obligations for my part-time online job, at around early afternoon. I write until I reach my quota or until 6 p.m. reaches me.
Do you write every day, five days a week or as and when?
I try to be as persistent as the changing of the days, writing five days a week. Sometimes when I skip a weekday, I make up for what I missed in the weekend, and the guilt sometimes makes me try to write more. That abates the feeling of routine.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
I aim for 500 words minimum, with no maximum. There are days when writing is the most natural thing in the world and I finish an entire 2,000-word scene. That’s rare, though. Mostly I stay duty-bound to the 500 words.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
Smartphone. I paid for a premium version of JotterPad. It looks decent and helps me focus on the writing. At first, I tried writing on my laptop, but I couldn’t bear the back pain. I also tried the traditional pen and paper, but I seem to have lost touch of how writing this way felt. I realized it’s because of my constant handling of gadgets. But I do jot down ideas and revise with a pen.
What inspired you to write your first book?
A vision. The idea came to me one night when I was having a bout of insomnia. Two images crossed my mind: first, an asteroid; second, a zoom-in toward the Earth that stopped at a mountain peak where a monk was seated (like that scene in the movie “2012”). I didn’t jot down the idea, for I was sure I wouldn’t forget it, like a eureka moment. A few days later, I read a quote by Paulo Coelho that goes like, you can’t write a story that doesn’t want to be written. When I read that, I got my reinforcement that I need to finish the book. Call that convergence or synchronicity, but these events fueled me to write a book.
How did you come up with the title?
Until the final draft, the book’s title was “The Transmigrant Monk.” I wouldn’t have changed it as a working title if not for the fact that I could tell almost half of the story by it. Plus it was bland. So I had to come up with something intriguing that still speaks about the book. When I decided to use the final title, I had to remove any reference to “ether” within the book, that’s why that word only appears in the title.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I make a broad look at these elements first, making a rough outline of what’s going to happen at specific points of the story and which characters are taking part in them. I want to make sure that the story will hold itself. Then I let the elements flourish from there, changing things as I go, scrapping irrelevant and illogical ideas. I don’t brainstorm. Some of my great ideas came during shower or bedtime. Point is, it doesn’t happen on a conscious level all the time, so I’ve learned to trust my subconscious. The swapping of scenes using index cards comes after the second draft.
We all need a hero! Tell us about your protagonist(s)? Was there a real-life inspiration behind him or her?
I’d like to think of Monk as a persona that embodies the good and bad in all of us. As a hero archetype, he follows what he believes that goodness must influence his choices in life. I tried to fashion him from the 13th Dalai Lama as much as I could, but materials were scarce since he lived at a time of pre-Internet. So every time I wrote about Monk, I just had to imagine that I was the kindest, most righteous person in the world. Boy was that hard. It wasn’t me (lol).
A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
I identify much closer with Esvald because it’s easier to be bad than good, right? Not that I’d done anything downright evil in real life, but I sourced Esvald’s actions from lack of affection that leads to emotional isolation. Anyone who loses his family, gets cheated by a close friend, and who happens to own a feared position in government, can turn into a sadistic and selfish character. That’s how I thought of it. Esvald is more of an imagination than one inspired by a real-life villain, and he supplied the physical danger in the main character’s life. For the spiritual danger, that’s where the entity comes in.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the world-building within your book?
I used some of our modern technologies, like 3D printing, solar roads, and drones. It’s a plot-driven story, so the settings aren’t much delineated, but I made sure to provide an accurate sketch in every scene.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
This question can make me cry, because right then all the hardships that I had to go through just came flooding back. Well, the hardest part had to be the writing itself. Seriously. The book wasn’t going to write itself, so every day I had to put my brain on a leash and drag it to work. I’ve grown immeasurable respect to all the authors and artists out there, because these are the people who had to battle against their inner demons to create something with value both to themselves and others.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
All the tear-jerker parts. My favorite was when Esvald walked out on his father and cried in the car. I actually shed tears during one of my revisions in that part.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Hard work. Persistence. Self-belief. That’s my trinity for success. I also learned a few things about Buddhism.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
That the only battle that matters is within ourselves. More than the idea that good prevails.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
An Avenger. But seriously, a graphic designer.
Why do you write?
To keep me sane. I’ve been planted deeply in the ground of writing that I couldn’t imagine being nourished somewhere else. But I guess that’s just being dramatic. I write because it challenges me to the point of self-cursing and craziness, and even though I’ve been doing it for years, I still feel I have so much more to learn. I also like the satisfaction of seeing my crappy sentences develop into less crappy ones after polishing.
Where do your ideas come from?
From the boys in the basement, to borrow from Stephen King. When I conjure an idea consciously and it makes sense, I let my subconscious work on it for a bit. I trust the boys to find the best use and best place for such idea in my story. You develop your intuition this way. They also say writing is intuitive, and it’s true.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I do a rough outline and then let the characters and the story lead me.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I have embraced the idea that anything can be used as material, and this thinking has led me to use my senses more keenly. Every experience now becomes more than an experience; it’s immersion, research.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
(No true writer will dignify this question with an answer.)
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Now this is a question that any true writer can honestly, and easily, answer. So: yes. But based on my experience, writer’s block is just laziness guised as such—a hurdle. Follow the five-minute rule and the block crumbles. If I spend 30 minutes writing one paragraph, that’s a sign of a bad day. If this happens, I just try to put down as many words as I can, sort of making a rough outline of the idea. Then I call it a day. Sometimes you really can’t push yourself and just get stressed if you resist, so take a break, don’t think of words and writing, and come back the next day with a vengeance.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I don’t write full-time, so it’s roughly a year from draft to final manuscript.
Do you read much and, if so, who are your favorite authors?
Reading is part of my day-to-day. Mostly, I read online articles, and I do a lot of reading because of my work. When I go out to eat or get a haircut, that’s when I read a book from my ebook collection to pass the time.

I have no favorite authors. What I have is respect for those who are able to craft good stories and get their books out to the world.
What books have most influenced your life?
For non-fiction, the “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, “Fifty Writing Tools” by Roy Peter Clarke, “A Dash of Style” by Theodore Cheney, and “Bird by Bird” by Ann Lamott. These books have helped me become a more resilient writer. As for fiction, I admire the showing in the “Harry Potter” books, the beautiful sentences in “The Great Gatsby,” and the magical style in “Stardust.”
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I’ve gotten used to reading ebooks now. I read a lot of non-fiction ebooks when I was studying to be better at fiction writing. Of course, printed books remain attractive, simply because their smell and texture are inimitable.
What book/s are you reading at present?
I’m reading many books right now, both fiction and non-fiction, just to get exposed to different styles and tones. I don’t think I’ll be able to complete one particular book any time soon. Recently, just out of whim, I found myself reading H.G. Wells’s “The Invisible Man” and I was so appalled by how his storytelling swept me by its vividness and beauty.
Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
I do everything myself. Proofreading and editing are auxiliary skills to writing, both of which I painstakingly studied on the side in college.
Do you let the book stew—leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
It’s essential to have fresh eyes and ears before you get down to revision. Yes, I did leave my book aside, but only for two weeks. What took longer was having my close friend to read the final draft.
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
They say appearance matters, and in our highly visual world today, I know I ought to heed this advice.
Tell us about the cover/s and how it/they came about.
A praying monk with blur effect is the only image that I had in mind. For the background, it started as a cave, which turned out to be not so visually appealing, so I had it changed to something cosmic.
Who designed your book cover/s?
I did. If this was a mistake, I’ve already forgiven myself. The designer I hired couldn’t pull off the effect on the monk that I wanted, so after my frustration and all, I rolled up my sleeves and gave my snoozing Photoshop skills some coffee.
What do you think most characterizes your writing?
It’s my first time and I had to find my voice through thousands of words of discarded drafts before I finally found my natural form of writing. See, I have written a lot of articles preceding, yet I didn’t like what I wrote in the first two months writing this book. When the fog finally cleared, I kept my natural voice and focused more on the images, effects, and delivery.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Seeing my ideas manifested into words that will be shared and live forever.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope they enjoyed what I did with the characters and the story, and that they’re delighted with how I used the language to make them involved in the journey. I know I have so much to learn and grow as an author, and I wish they stick around for when I get better. I also hope to hear about their favorite sentences or passages from the book.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Three of them.

First, work hard. Hard work pays off—really—especially if you exert it toward your passion. Whenever I reach my daily quota, I’m content and happy. But you have to do the right kind of hard work. Writing every day for the sake of writing doesn’t accomplish much as tiring your fingers holding the pen or typing away on the keyboard—you have to equip yourself with techniques and tools that you can use and emulate. Save favorite passages so you can read them for inspiration. Fill yourself with wise words for motivation. As the legend King also said, it is hard work that makes people successful, not genius or talent.

Second, embrace what you do. No matter what other people say about your being a recluse and such and such, fulfillment at the end of the day comes from being able to do what you love and offer yourself to it at the deepest level. Today’s world is populated with pancake people who know many things about many subjects, yet not acquiring any genuine skill from them. Be like the experts of yore (yes, the sages and philosophers) who knew by heart the depth of their well of knowledge. Applied to being an author, the reward (or revenge) of being a person of skill is this: putting others in awe of how you made good writing so effortless.

Third, tell no one about your goals. Writing is an insular activity anyway, and by not telling anyone, you keep the mystery all to yourself and concentrate the power of creation and creative work to your very being. This promotes a sense of self-worth. Rowling did this. Keeping your project a secret also means you won’t be bothered by people asking for updates. Also, it guarantees that your not-so-friends won’t have a chance to gather their evil voices for a conference to conjure hexes and cast negativity upon you and your work. I’m not telling you can’t give even tiny details to friends; just tell them you’re working on something, and that’s that. If you’re an established author, however, you can use this secrecy to excite your readers.
Published 2016-08-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Ether's Caprice
Price: $4.49 USD. Words: 120,860. Language: English. Published: July 10, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias, Fiction » Themes & motifs » Spiritual & metaphysical
(5.00 from 1 review)
A chief Tibetan monk becomes the ace of a movement against the oligarchic government of 2064. He becomes a quarry, in turn endangering his protectors’ lives. He finds the people not only suffer from spiritual darkness but are also at risk of a syndrome. Deciding to do more than praying, he walks away, sending himself to a huge struggle—a battle to protect, not his light, but his darkness . . .