Thursday, March 22, 2012

Interview with Chester County author Jonathan David Morris

As you know, I love to promote the work of local authors. I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Phoenixville author Jonathan David Morris through a series of email exchanges.

 Morris recently independently published a 113-page novella, "Versus Nurture," which is currently available for purchase as an ebook or paperback through links available on his website"Versus Nurture," published March 15, is his third book.

I read the first chapter of "Versus Nurture" (a quick and compelling read) and am intrigued to find out where the sci-fi/thriller leads. To read the first chapter of "Versus Nurture" for yourself (for free, courtesy of the author) click here

Summary of "Versus Nurture" (from the author's website):
"Are we already who we're always gonna be on the day we're born? Just a product of our DNA? Or does the world get to shape us? Do we get to learn and grow?"

Chris and Karen Ransom are just a couple of kids when they meet in college during the days leading up to the war in Iraq. Still together nine years later, they unexpectedly receive what is easily the biggest news of their lives. But before they can so much as sit back and consider it, they find themselves facing what may well be the biggest choice in history - a choice so big, so epic in proportion, it will surely affect every person in the universe.
Below are Morris' answers to a few questions about him and his work.

1. Can you tell us more about your background?
I'm 33 years old and first moved to Pennsylvania at the age of 26. My wife is a New York native, and I'm from New Jersey, but we decided to settle in Pennsylvania when we got married, and we're really glad we did. I've lived in Phoenixville for five years now (or maybe a better way of putting it is for five Firebird festivals), and I really love the area. To me, this is home, and you'll find a couple of local spots - including Pottstown - get shout-outs in "Versus Nurture."

2. What inspired you to write this book?

I like my writing to be full of surprises, and I think anyone who reads "Versus Nurture" will see exactly what I mean. So without giving too much away, I'll say that this story was inspired, at least in part, by a version of an age-old philosophical question. You'll realize what that question is as you get deeper into the story. I was always fascinated by this question, but not just in the theoretical terms it's usually asked in. I wanted to know what people would do if they were faced with this particular question in their lives. My characters, a couple named Chris and Karen Ransom, encounter this question in a rather unexpected manner, and they make the decision that makes the most sense for them, given the context, and given their emotional investment in it. Would other people respond the same way?

3. Would you sum up the plot for our readers?

I'm a child of the 80s, and I grew up on movies like "E.T.," "Back to the Future," and "Little Shop of Horrors." People don't rank these movies as being some of the greatest of all time, but I think if you look back on human history, you'll see that these stories resemble the great human myths in a much better way than the "realistic" movies that usually win the Oscars. To me, a great story takes a little bit of the fantastic and dips it into the lives of otherwise normal people. So one of my goals in writing "Versus Nurture" was to do just that. This is a story about a couple named Chris and Karen Ransom, who've been together for nine years, married for five, and life hasn't gone according to plan. One night, they receive some news that they weren't expecting. Big news. Life-changing news. But then something happens to them. Before they can so much as process this news, they find themselves facing what may well be the single biggest choice in all of human history. In their effort to deal with this news, and deal with this decision, you get to see exactly who they are and what they're made of, and I hope readers find that compelling. They'll also find that there's a lot of stuff in there beyond the characters - themes that we all have to deal with in this world, such as what you would do to secure your love, and what it means when humans go to war. 

4. What sort of publicity have you pursued?

The truth of the matter is, we live in a world with a lot of great writers, so you need to do whatever you can to try to stick out from the pack. Luckily, I have a background in marketing, public relations, and advertising, so I'm sort of a fiend when it comes to publicity. I've spent the last several months heavily promoting the arrival of "Versus Nurture" on Facebook and Twitter, trying to get people ready for it, letting them know it was coming. I also have a nice foundational readership, since I wrote a syndicated column for several years. A lot of people know me better for my nonfiction than my fiction, but I'm hoping to change that, since fiction is the thing that really fulfills me.

5. What advice might you offer to other first-time novelists in the areas of writing ... and publishing?

A lot of beginning writers make the mistake of thinking that writing is about language. It isn't. If you're worried about whether your story "sounds good," you're focusing on the wrong thing. Drop the pretense. Forget the flowery words. Learn to focus on the only thing that matters, which is whether your story makes a promise and whether it delivers. Right now, the world is as thirsty for really great stories as it's ever been in history. If you think you can write one, by all means, go for it, but try to do it smartly. I've spent years - YEARS! - studying story structure and story theory, and not just by reading books on those subjects, but by sitting down with a pad and pen when I read a novel or watched a movie. There's an inherent structure to the way human beings have always told stories, and if you can take that structure out of your head and put it in your heart, you'll find yourself writing some really great stuff.

As far as publishing goes, now is an awesome time. When I first set out to write professionally, it was the year 2000, I was fresh out of college, and the hurdles to getting people to so much as look at your stuff, let alone buy it and put it out there for others to read, were daunting. Amazon, with its Kindle, and to a lesser extent Barnes & Noble, with their Nook, are changing the landscape of publishing for everyone. I made a conscious decision to independently publish "Versus Nurture" because I wanted to be in control of my own success, and reap the full rewards. So do your research on whether you think a contract with a New York publishing house is worth it; my guess at this point is that you'll find it isn't. But whatever you do, be sure to get your practice. If you want to write for a living, you need to eat, sleep, and breathe writing. And you need to get your work out there and have others read it, and start to get an objective sense for whether it's "ready" for the masses.

6. Do you have another novel in the works?

Always. But I hate giving away my secrets, so you'll have to wait to find out what it is!

More about Morris:

He is the author of three books, including his 2008 debut novel, "The Best Sniper Ever," and "The Honest Truth About Honest Abe: The Best of Read JDM," a collection of 20 essays.  Morris broke into the world of professional writing with a brief 2000 sportswriting stint with The Times of Trenton. In 2001, he established a weekly column, "JDM vs the World," which appeared, amongst other places, in North Jersey's Aquarian Weekly and Wilmington, N.C.'s Encore Magazine. He resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife, son, and cat.

Links for more info.:

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