Interview with Joel Lawrence
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How did you become a writer?
I like to create and worldbuild, so the idea of writing novels was always in the back of my mind growing up. I wrote short stories and have developed a lot of game design documentation, and eventually I tried my hand at writing a full-length novel. My first few attempts were more like practice runs, looking back, but I kept writing and editing and listening to feedback and reading different books on the craft, and I've definitely come a long way.
What inspires you to write?
I’m fascinated by history, science, and mythology, and writing lets me combine all these interests in creative ways. Fantasy and science fiction allows an author to explore those tantalizing "what-if scenarios" in depth. It's the ultimate escapism, and that's what inspires me to take an idea from cool concept to full-length novel and use the setting as a backdrop for relatable characters exploring a strong set of themes. The best SFF can also present challenging and uncomfortable real-world issues without feeling quite so close to home, and pulling off that kind of story is immensely fulfilling.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I usually try to start with a big hook and then develop the main characters and their goals and motivations. Then I like to zero in on a couple of strong themes that tie with the idea of the hook and what those themes mean to the protagonist. I'll usually create an outline broken into three broad acts with major events and turning points involving obstacles the protagonist faces trying to achieve their goals, then break that down into smaller chapter segments and start writing the first draft.
With characters, I often use real people as a starting point (or composites of several), then flesh them out based on their goals and background and let them morph into their own unique character as I write, so by the end of the first draft they've hopefully taken on a voice of their own. For major characters and antagonists, I'll usually write some notes asking what's their inner goal, their external goal, their motivation, and their underlying fear, and a lot of details can spring from those questions.
Could you share some of your challenges as a writer?
I'd say my greatest challenge is the urge to go back and edit as I go sometimes. It’s fine to return to a scene for consistency reasons, even during a first draft, and wonder, ‘hey what happened again back in chapter three?’ and making sure the new scene matches up, but it’s tempting for me to start editing and revisiting dialog and descriptions anytime I look at my writing, and the early draft is not the time to do this. You want to get it all down from A to Z and then go back and revise.
Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness?
Hunter is an average high school student with dreams of greatness. He feels trapped in his hometown and his internal search for escape is magnified when he meets a mysterious girl online who claims to live in another star system. That desire to do something big and make his mark on the world manifests in a literal journey, first to a secret spaceport in New Zealand, and then to a whole ’nother star. His motivation is both his strength and his weakness. He's so desperate for love and adventure that he's blinded to the manipulation going on around him, but he's also willing to take big risks to help others and eventually realizes that making a difference in the universe is more important than fame or wealth. Being heroic is its own reward.
How does your antagonist create conflict?
Proximity is a story about puppet shows. Some characters, especially the starship commander Captain Sydney Reeves, have ulterior motives and are projecting false realities that Hunter feels are attempts to prevent him from his goal of meeting Raea. Hunter uncovers a dark secret and decides to act in order to protect Raea, placing him on a collision course with the captain and his entire crew.
Do you have a routine you follow when writing?
I try to block out writing time, but for me it's about getting enough sleep, having enough energy, eating many small meals instead of one large meal that tires you out, and achieving peace and quiet. So I try to work out and step away from the computer and get outside at least once on a day off. So for me it's just about achieving comfort and no mental or physical distractions.
Ultimately I find the key to avoiding writer's block is just doing it. I always have at least two projects to work on so if I'm just not feeling one that day I can work on something else. And then there are rare days you get burnt out and just don't want to write at all, even with coffee, and I find the trick is to use that time to get other things done that may distract you the next day, when the writing bug really kicks in. Pay the bills, do the housework and shopping when you’re burned out of writing. Don’t let it cut into those days where everything is clicking and you need to be at the computer getting those words on the page. So just good time management and knowing your personal habits.
What are your current/future projects?
In addition to the Proximity sequels, I've been developing a few different SFF stories. I have dozens of story ideas, so for me the tough part is choosing which two or three projects are both the most interesting and the most attractive for the current market.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Invest in Netflix, Amazon, and Apple. ;) From a writing standpoint, I'd say don't jump into a massive fantasy for your first full length novel attempt. I made that mistake. It taught me a lot, but I would've learned those lessons much faster starting with a smaller scale project. I'd also teach myself to block out writing time more efficiently as mentioned above, and never to get defensive when someone provides constructive critique.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read everything is the common trope and it’s one hundred percent true. Immerse yourself in great writing books like Lisa Cron's Story Genius and Wired for Story and master the fundamentals like pacing, clarity, point of view, and driving story through goals, motivation and conflict. The Writing Excuses podcast is excellent, and so are Ellen Brock's YouTube videos and online resources.
One piece of advice I haven't seen as often is to make time to experience life. It's easy to get wrapped up in a project and forget the need to step away and reenergize. I base a lot of dialog, characterization, and scenarios on personal experience, as most writers certainly must, so it's a good idea to get out there, travel, see new faces and places, and experience new things as much as possible.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you?
I'm on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at the following links.