Friday, June 15, 2012

An Interview With JJ Zep

I get a lot of questions from readers of my books about my background, writing style, influences and so on. To be honest with you, I'm not always that comfortable talking about myself. Nonetheless, there seems to be enough interest to warrant an article on the site, so here it is. 

The questions and answers below are from various e-zine and internet radio interviews I've done. Hopefully they will answer a few questions you may have about me, my books and my writing.

JJ Zep, that's an interesting name?

I guess it is. My parents decided to bless me with a couple of exotic names that most people mangle on their first attempt, so I decided that my initials were a safer option. Zep is a close approximation of my actual name, that I thought looked a bit sexier on a book cover, plus I'm a big fan of Led Zeppelin, so I figured why not?

Where were you born?

My parents are Scottish, but I was born in Cape Town, South Africa. My dad was an engineer so we traveled wherever his next big project took him. I lived in South Africa, Turkey, Scotland and the United States as a kid.

Wow, it must have been difficult to make friends.

I guess, but I didn't think of it like that at the time. For me it was a big adventure and I wouldn't change it for anything. I got to experience a lot of different cultures which was pretty cool. It also got me into books and reading at an early age. And it gave me a wanderlust that I still find difficult to shake off.

Where do you live now?

As an adult I've lived in South Africa, in the U.K. and in California. I currently live in a small town in the South of France. I'd love you tell you where exactly, but I don't want hordes of fans showing up and bothering the locals (only kidding, it's Sète)

Have you always been a writer?

I've always written, if that's what you mean, but I haven't always made my living as a writer. I've been a soldier, a musician and a pen-pusher of various descriptions. I also qualified as an English teacher but decided instead to pursue a career in the corporate world. I went off and got an MBA and worked my way up to the upper echelons of a Fortune 500 company. But I absolutely hated it, so eventually I quit. I became a professional stock trader and an internet marketer. Finally, the advent of the Kindle allowed me to earn a living doing what I love most.

That's quite a resumé.

Isn't it? Actually, it's a lot less impressive than it sounds. Most of the time I was just doing what it takes to keep body and soul together. Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife who didn't even blink when I told her I wanted to quit a high-paying corporate gig to "dabble in the stock market."

This is probably a question you get all the time, where do you get your ideas from?

Actually, the question I'm asked most often is, "how much money can I make as a writer?" but your question is a close second. I'll have to answer it in two parts. Firstly, ideas are everywhere, something I read, a movie I saw, a dream I had, something someone said to me. I actually have more story ideas than I'll ever be able to write. The second part of the answer is slightly more vague. The truth is that I don't know where many of my ideas come from, just that they turn up whenever I'm writing.

Are we talking about a muse here?

A muse, divine inspiration, instinct, hunch, who knows what it is. All I know is that the act of writing serves as some kind of lightning rod for ideas. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense, our brains develop ideas based on what we already know, so when you write something new, that idea will lead you to another and another.

I take it then, that you're not a plotter?

Hell no, to me plotting a story is the equivalent of paint-by-numbers. Not that I have anything against authors who do plot their stories, in fact, I admire them. I just can't write that way. It doesn't suit my particular style and temperament. There are times where I'll jot down a couple of ideas about where the story may be headed, but that's about the extent of it.

Don't you sometimes write yourself into a corner working that way?

That's an occupational hazard of writing without a plot. Sometimes I will have to scrap passages and there are even entire stories I've thrashed because they didn't work out the way I'd hoped. But usually that only happens when I try to force the action. One of my writing creeds is "let it go, let it flow" which means allowing the story to reveal itself to me. Sounds a bit out there I know, but all it involves is putting a character into a situation and letting him or her work themselves out of it. It's a technique that hasn't let me down yet.

Who are you favorite authors, what do you read?

I don't read nearly as much fiction as I should, or would like to and I probably read as much non-fiction as fiction. As a child I graduated straight from Enid Blyton to reading true crime. As an adolescent I read a lot of westerns, mostly Louis L'Amour. Then I read the Dead Zone by Stephen King and fell in love with the horror genre, which I still enjoy today. I've read Dean Koontz, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, James Herbert and others, but King is still the master. My favorite novel, though, is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I've read it a number of times and still marvel at the way he makes this fantastical tale so thoroughly believable.

You use a lot of movie references in your books, are you a movie buff?

I wouldn't describe myself as a "buff", but I do enjoy watching a good movie. My favorites tend to be movies with complex plots, good wordplay and the odd twist. Some of those that would make my "must-see" list are, Midnight Run, The Big Lebowski, My Cousin Vinny, The Usual Suspects, True Romance, The Sixth Sense, The Road, Gladiator, Glengarry Glenross...

Not a lot of horror and fantasy in there.

I do enjoy horror and fantasy movies but unfortunately horror seems to have degenerated into "how much blood can we spill" slasher-type movies, while fantasy has become all about special effects. There is still good stuff being made, like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Avatar, while in the horror genre a movie like Fallen, with Denzel Washington, really got under my skin. Twenty-Eight Weeks later was an excellent zombie movie and I'm a big fan of the Walking Dead series. I also enjoy well made 'predator horror' if you can call it that. The two Aussie movies, Black Water and The Reef, both directed by Andrew Trauki are both excellent. And speaking of Aussie movies, Wolf Creek was pretty damn scary. 

Let's talk a bit about music, a subject I know you're passionate about. You're a musician?

I play a few instruments and have played in bands since the age of fourteen. I've recorded a couple of albums and also had my songs recorded by a number of other artists.

Anyone I'd have heard of?

(Laughs) No, not unless you're a music historian or are into the most indie of indie bands.

Do you still play?

Not in a band at the moment, but I still keep my hand in.

What are your favorite bands?

Where do I start? I enjoy a wide spectrum of music. I love heavy rock and metal like Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Pantera, AC/DC. But then again I also enjoy more mellow stuff like Jackson Browne, The Band, The Beatles, The Hollies, Dylan, Van Morrison. I also like classical, especially Mozart.

I guess my criteria is that it has to be real music. Someone has to have put some thought into it and at least taken the time to learn an instrument. Unfortunately the music industry today is a cesspool overflowing with talentless mimers, rappers and hip hoppers. Total garbage that is not even music, in fact it's anti-music. Sorry, rant over!

Not at all, in fact, I happen to agree with you. So what next from JJ Zep?

How long do you have? I'm currently working on the next book in the Johnny Black, Soul Chaser series. I have another couple of Johnny Black books planned, then another idea I'm working on about a man who travels the multiverse. I'm also planning a werewolf trilogy. And then there's book 5 of the Zombie D.O.A. series and a spinoff from that series called, Ruby.

Phew! That sounds like a lot of work, guess I'd better let you get on with it. JJ, thanks for speaking to us.

My pleasure, thanks for having me.      


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