Interview with John Sims-Jones

When did you first start writing?
When I was very young, but I didn't finish my first story until I was 21, back in late December of 2014.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
When I was six, I had a running storyline I used to make up with my friends called "Scavengers." It was equal parts sci-fi adventure and Pokemon ripoff, involving shape-shifting humans (played by ourselves, of course) and far more fighting robots than could ever fit practically within a spaceship.

Despite my early attempts at writing- which included novels, comic books, short stories, and treatments for television shows and films- I didn't really complete anything of note until I was 21, when friends of mine first encouraged me to seriously consider writing horror stories. My first completed work was a short story called "The Parking Lot," a surrealist horror story about a man trapped in an abandoned building by members of a deranged cult.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Tennessee- I like to break the fourth wall by addressing my readers as "y'all," and most of my characters are best described as "bumpkins," except for the villains, which are best described as "bad bumpkins."
What's the story behind your latest book?
Westport is Dying - Mystery/Alternate History/Horror

In Westport, North Carolina, circa 1964, a radio broadcast announces the sudden destruction of Washington, D.C. Shortly after, the television signal disappears, long distance calls go unanswered, and railway shipments abruptly stop. Left without a method of reaching the outside world, the town quickly turns insular as its citizens focus more on establishing their own means of survival than the common good of their community, and by extension their country.

In the midst of growing anarchy and civil unrest, several key figures emerge in an attempt to restore order to the steadily decaying town: Jack Shelby, the town mayor; Jeremy Fontaine, the local reporter; and Donovan Henson, the chief of police. As they desperately claw their way to the top, amassing resources and securing what influence they can in a rapidly dying town, alliances are formed, rivalries are exacerbated, and the three succumb to espionage, extortion, and murder as they fight to uphold the very ideals they've cast aside.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Mostly by covering myself in fake blood and playing rock songs about zombies.
What is your writing process?
Step 1: Pace back and forth in frustration, talking to myself like a madman as I try to figure out what's happened to my characters.
Step 2: Pull out a notebook and start writing whatever comes to mind, because writing by hand shows real commitment or something.
Step 3: Get tired, give up, turn on laptop.
Step 4: Put on jazz music so I can pretend I'm hanging out in Rapture instead of hunched over an uncomfortably positioned computer.
Step 5: Write a bunch of stuff I don't really like, decide I'm not really all that inspired anymore.
Step 6: Wait a few days, then suddenly get inspired the night before something really important, stay up till 6 a.m. writing, stumble around like a zombie through cousin's wedding reception.
Step 7: Spend hours and hours on editing before sharing with anyone, because most of my friendships are based on the number of typos I maek.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Lack of prospects.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
It actually means a lot to me when people take time out of their day to check out what I've created. I know a lot of people say you should write for yourself, but the truth is I really only create things so other people can enjoy them, and I feel very lucky to have met people who not only enjoy my work, but encourage me to produce more of it.
What do you read for pleasure?
Horror, mystery, science fiction, comedy, and any combination of the four. I also enjoy comic books, but find they're often more expensive than I feel I can responsibly pay. I understand the difference in price since colored ink costs more, the artwork takes a lot of highly specialized talent, and often multiple writers depend on the same title for their paycheck. Unfortunately, rationalizing the price of new comic books is much like rationalizing the prices at a five-star restaurant, and sadly neither industry sees much of my money these days.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

For the most part, I'm not a big fan of rereading books. Perhaps this will change once I'm holder and have more thoroughly forgotten what I've read already, but for now, I much prefer finding new books I like than obsessing over the old ones. That said, I have read The Phantom Tollbooth seven times, starting when I was eight years old and needed something to read during a long flight from Washington, D.C., to London. After that, I read the book again as a ten year old, my reasoning being that with a larger vocabulary, I might better appreciate the witticisms and wordplay that appear so consistently throughout the book. This was largely correct, but there was a more important discovery to be made; to my surprise, the book had changed. What once was a fun but largely innocuous literary-based adventure was all of a sudden an impassioned defense of the joys of learning, not to be confused with the often oppressive and creatively stifling nature of American education. Then I read it again and found that it was a user's guide on how to appreciate life, explaining the mentality behind unpleasantness in the world while showing how to rise above it. Then it was a warning against overspecialization and narrow-mindedness, especially in regards to academia and soft sciences, where theoretical frameworks are placed on untouchable pedestals until the next academic trend comes along to take its place. And so on and so forth. What I have discovered is that The Phantom Tollbooth is essentially a book that grows up with the reader, with enough wisdom and insight behind it that it will always remain relevant no matter what context it is applied to. And perhaps just as important as the values it teaches, The Phantom Tollbooth is also incredibly funny, charming, witty, and engaging. While the ever-changing meanings behind the book are what ultimately bring me back, it is these latter qualities that allow me to have so much fun every time I revisit Milo, Tock, and the Kingdom of Wisdom.

2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Though not really geared towards children, I feel this is the greatest book an intelligent child can ever read, because odds are it will be the first time they truly identify with the protagonists. There are many reasons to like this book, but what I think really makes it stand out is Card's startling decision to not portray his children as wide-eyed little idiots, a decision that sadly failed to catch on outside the work of Lemony Snicket. Thus what should have been a great trend for children's literature instead turned into a blip on the literary radar, leaving only a few shining examples behind to appeal to young readers without patronizing them. Though my admiration for Card lessens with each new book he puts out (I'm starting to think he just hands Aaron Johnston ideas on scratch paper and then slaps his name on the final product), his writing during the initial Ender's Saga and Shadow series was absolutely brilliant, and I'm grateful to have had his works available to me during my grade school years.

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker

There's not a single vampire story that has ever come close to topping Bram Stoker's Dracula. Often, I think we have a tendency to look at classics through (wilted) rose colored glasses, but this truly is one of the most terrifying stories ever told, and it set an impossibly high bar for any other works within the genre.

4. Still Life With Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

This was the first book I ever read in the Pendergast series, and I will maintain that it is the best, though most fans seem to prefer Cabinet of Curiosities. Pendergast is the closest we have to a modern Sherlock Holmes, and yet he has enough unique qualities to prevent him from reading like a cheap imitation. Corrie Swanson is also a wonderful sidekick, which is surprising given how terrible Preston and Child usually are at writing female characters. On top of that, the setting for this story is great, as it balances good old American Midwest sensibilities with deeply rooted paranoia and discomfort, leaving its characters and readers with unshakable feelings of nervousness and isolation. This is one of my favorite stories ever written, and a shining example of how to write modern mystery without reducing it to a police procedural.

5. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (with Dandelion Wine as a close runner-up)

There are apparently space limitations here. I had something really funny planned for this section, but Smashwords (hereby to be referred to as "The Man") won't let me, so here it goes. This book is poetic, yet fast-paced. It's terrifying, yet beautiful. It's depressing and inspiring, action-packed and intelligent, nostalgic and modern, childish and full of wisdom, and every other contradiction you can imagine. Read it and see.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Revenge.
Published 2015-02-28.
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