A computer geek and father by day, at night, John A. Pitts engages in fantasies. He attended the Oregon Coast Writer’s Workshop and has been published in the DAW anthologies Swordsplay, Zombie Racoons and Killer Bunnies and The Trouble With Heroes as well as Talebones and Fortean Bureau. His urban fantasy novels, based on a short story that appeared in Swordsplay, Black Blade Blues and the sequel Honeyed Words, are out from Tor. He can be found online as @JAPittsWriter on Twitter, on Facebook and at www.japitts.net.
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with the basics: How do you define urban fantasy? And what are its key elements in your mind?
John A. Pitts: Urban fantasy is tales told in the real world, with some sort of fantastical element, such as vampires, dragons, werewolves,etc. I think the key element for Urban Fantasy is that the mundanes have to have a valid reason for not knowing the “other” exists.
SFFWRTCHT: Why do you think this is so popular with readers right now?
JAP: I think the popularity is due to the fact we are overwhelmed with the grind of every day life. We want enough strange to be entertained, but still able to get our mocha cappuccino at the same time
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?
JAP: I started reading genre at a very young age. my grandmother, who only went through the 3rd grade, introduced me to John Carter of Mars. Tolkien, of course. Total game changer for me at age eleven. Everything else is measured against that first love. It set the bar for what story and adventure was all about. Especially the way the hobbits had to save their own.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing and how long until your first sale?
JAP: I started writing in 3rd grade. Made my first sale in early 2000′s.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study creative writing at all in school? How’d you learn your craft?
JAP: I have a degree in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing. Also, a masters in Library and Information Sciences. I think the Library degree did more for my writing, honestly. Learned excellent research skills. If I had to do it over, I’d have majored in history. That would’ve been better for the writing gig. Librarians are the coolest people. I just wish they got paid better.
SFFWRTCHT: Interesting that perspective on the degrees. Why the library degree? Do you use a lot of research in writing?
JAP: You ever hear “Great first chapter” when submitting a short story? Only this time, the short story was good enough to publish. They still asked for the novel. Short first, then wrote the novel and sold it blind.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to write a series of books featuring the character?
JAP: Oh, I had a series in mind about three chapters into the first book. Too much story to tell.
SFFWRTCHT: The book features dragons who hoarde their treasure via being stockbrokers etc. Where’d that idea come from—hatred of Wall Street?
JAP: Not hatred for Wall Street. Dragons covet power above all else (in my world frame, anyway). They seek that power any way they can. Wall Street, insurance agencies, drugs/vice/crime.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did you spend writing Black Blade Blues before you sold it?
JAP: The book went pretty fast. Only a few months to get to a final draft.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?
JAP: Never thought I would be, but I’m totally an outliner. Can’t breathe without that for a novel.
SFFWRTCHT: From that comment I take it you don’t outline short stories?
JAP: True. Short stories are totally by the seat of my pants. Don’t write a lot of them, alas.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you stop and plot the whole series after that third chapter before continuing?
JAP: I did take a bunch of notes for the next 3-4 books after writing the first one.
JAP: Not hard at all. Switching the POV that way was the only way that made sense in my head.
SFFWRTCHT: It definitely helped keep it Sarah’s story.
JAP: And that was the point for me. It’s definitely Sarah’s story. But the other voices are pretty compelling.
SFFWRTCHT: What kind of responses have you gotten from readers/reviewers besides me?
JAP: Most have been very positive. A few folks have been put off by the fact Sarah is a lesbian. One person suggested I misrepresented myself. I guess by being a guy. I’ve gotten most of the positive comments on how well I handled Sarah’s acceptance of her sexuality. When you work outside the “norm” people get curious and sometimes frustrated.
SFFWRTCHT: The Society For Creative Anachronism figures in the story. Are you involved with that?
JAP: I love the ideas and efforts of the SCA, but I have never participated. Just don’t have enough time. Maybe after I’m a full-time writer.
SFFWRTCHT: Bet the SCA think the SCA stuff is cool!
JAP: Well, they thought it was cool, once they corrected things.
SFFWRTCHT: Is there message to this story? A lesson?
JAP: I think the book is about accepting yourself and the world for what it is, not what you wish it to be.
SFFWRTCHT: Have you written other short stories in this world besides the one which launched it?
JAP: No new shorts in this world, yet. I do have some notes for a few, however.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you draw from personal experience in describing Sarah’s work on movie sets?
JAP: I’ve done lighting and such for school plays, and have friends who are actors (SAG even) but no real experience myself.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you find you want to fill in holes of or between the novels with short stories?
JAP: I’m specifically creating opportunity for short stories in the novels, if that’s what you mean.
JAP: Honeyed Words picks up about five months after BBB. Same characters delving deeper into the world.
SFFWRTCHT: So you day job. When do you write and what’s your writing time approach?
JAP: I write from 7-10 in the evenings. As for approach, I play loud music with my office door closed and growl at anyone who bothers me. I create several play lists for each book, and rotate them depending on the mood of the chapter. I’m an old MS Word hand. Been using it since the earliest days.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play for you in the process now that you have a publisher?
JAP: I have a cadre of first readers who save my life, frankly. They see everything first, then I do a pass.
SFFWRTCHT: So 1st draft, then betas, then editor?
JAP: Betas get the book after draft two.
SFFWRTCHT: Has you family liked them?
JAP: My son has read them. He’s twenty. No for the wife and daughter. My son liked the books. He did mention the sex scenes were odd for him to read, seeing as his dad wrote them.
SFFWRTCHT: And they weren’t even explicit. But I’m sure it’s odd for a kid to think about their parents having knowledge of sex. Do you find your martial arts helps with your writing discipline? Or are you driven by need to tell the tale?
JAP: I’m on the DL for a year now, but I do sorely miss the martial arts. Tae Kwan Do really helped me understand the long game. A valuable skill for a novelist.
JAP: I have a couple of shorts coming out this fall. One in 10Flash, and the other a DAW anthology. I’m also working on another novel (more fantasy) about the last 2 elves in Appalachia. Called Redneck Elves.
SFFWRTCHT: So Book 3 of Sarah’s story is done?
JAP: Book 3 is with my editor in New York as we speak.
SFFWRTCHT: Besides Urban Fantasy, what other genres have you written?
JAP: Science Fiction, Horror, Mainstream, YA, Space Opera, Post Apolayptic (Zombie and otherwise).
SFFWRTCHT: You’ve co-written with Ken Scholes. How do you approach collaboration?
JAP: Collaboration? Painfully. Was one of the only time Ken and I’ve had a fight. A great learning experience for both of us. We had different ideas of how to collaborate. Didn’t set any ground rules. Once we established the ground rules (and I quit pouting) things went swimmingly. The goodwill of friendship doesn’t usually cover collaboration. But, we’re too good a friends to let something like that come between us. Damn fine story, too.
SFFWRTCHT: What advice would you give up and coming writers?
JAP: Write, write, write, read, submit, write, write, etc. There is absolutely no substitute for practice and studying your craft. Concert pianists and pro football players practice every day. Why shouldn’t writers?
SFFWRTCHT: We’ll end with that—one my favorite and the best articulated pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard. Thanks, John.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.