The response to my call for author interviews was surprising (thanks to Teri for the shoutout), so there are seven more Indie Interviews to come. And I’m so glad there are because I love doing these and talking to other writers about their books and their writing experiences.
This week’s interview is with John Foley, whose new novel Leaving Dreamland will be released in March, and I can’t wait to read it.
Hi, John. Welcome to Read A Lot.
Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?
A: Since I was a freshman in college. A professor read some of my work aloud and she and my classmates responded very positively. I enjoyed the process and the reaction.
Q: What inspired you to write Leaving Dreamland ?
A: I’ve been interested in Buddhism for many years and I found the story of the spoiled prince’s transformation deeply moving and inspiring. Eventually it occurred to me that I could work the essence of Buddhist philosophy into a current-day story.
Q: What made you choose the genre?
A: As a high school teacher, I’m around young adults all day, so YA seemed a natural genre for me. I also had a terrible time in high school myself – my family moved frequently and I went to four schools; I had a terrible case of volcanic acne; I suffered heartbreaking failure as a basketball player, and as a result of all this, I was a terrible student and a social outcast.
Painful as it was, the experience has given me empathy for my students and loads of good material.
Q: What is the book about?
A: The book is about GT, a spoiled high school senior in Page, Arizona (where I lived for two years). GT is a gifted athlete, handsome and popular, but his beautiful world comes crashing down one summer evening when he and his friends go cliff-jumping at Lake Powell. His friend Steve jumps from the wrong spot and suffers a spinal cord injury that leaves him in a wheelchair for life. Immediately after the accident, while at the hospital, an old Navajo woman dies in front of GT’s eyes. The sudden introduction of suffering and death into his life prompts him to begin asking the big questions: Why do we suffer? Why do people care so much about things that are unimportant? What is my purpose in this world?
His gradual transformation alienates him from family, friends and teachers, but he’s found his path to lasting happiness and meaning, and will not be deterred.
Q: Did you find it easiest to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?
A: Teaching requires a great deal of creative energy so on school days I only write about 15 minutes early in the morning. I’ll write a bit more on weekends, and much more – a couple of hours a day at least -during the summer and on other breaks.
I’m a former journalist and write fairly fast.
Q: Can you choose a favourite character?
A: In addition to GT, I liked Marge “Ma” Brill, a composite of several of the intelligent, strong and inspiring women English teachers I’ve worked with over the years.
Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing your book when you wanted to give up?
A: No. I have rough spots, like all writers, but just keep plugging along. I agree with the late great Roger Ebert that inspiration happens during the process, not when you’re sitting around waiting for lightning to strike. Start typing and ideas will come to you.
Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?
A: When I’m struggling to bring a scene together and it’s not working. Best at that point to go write another scene and come back later with a fresh perspective.
Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you find it easier to make them up as you go along?
A: A combination. I have a general plan at the outset but then the work takes on a life of its own. I think it’s best to follow your instincts where they lead you as a writer. For example, rather than forcing yourself to write chapter ten because you just finished chapter nine, why not jump ahead and write that climax scene in chapter 30 that suddenly became clear?
Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?
A: Tell a good story. I think it’s easy to get caught up in various elements of writing and lose sight of the simple fact that you’re a storyteller.
Q: Where can people learn more about your books?
Q: What have you learned since you started writing?
A: That our painful experiences in life often provide the best material.
Q: What’s next for you?
I just finished a YA coming-of-age/crime novel called One For the Team, and I have an idea for a good ghost story.
“In the guise of a book about ordinary teenagers—playing football and basketball, chasing girls—John Foley has, startlingly, written a book about spiritual awakening. The story begins in tragedy, includes an early messenger and an unlikely teacher, and is believable, moving, and exemplary. The young GT that we know at the end of the novel is a far different person from the one we met on the first page. Foley has written a Buddha story for the 21st century.”-David Guy, author of Jake Fades and The Autobiography of My Body