What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
A: While writing fiction has plenty of its own merits, I was lucky enough to become a parent in September of 2012. Much like my wife, she (the baby) never does anything the easy way. I suspect that my bottomless well of patience may get a volume update! ‘Til then, the adventure continues…
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
A: The bulk of my youth was defined in small Midwestern towns throughout Nebraska (with some time in southern Louisiana) where my brother and I could wander from limit to city limit without worry of ending up on a milk carton. I can still remember the days before we started locking the house on a regular occasion. Somewhere in that innocence, my brother and I-I the elder with three years between us-shared a life of worldly adventures that seldom left the state (and sometimes the borders of the yard). I was the visionary idea man, while he was the risk taker. I credit that as much as anything in laying the foundations of my story-brewing potential; just being given the opportunity to truly let a young imagination run wild. With a hammer, a bucket of scrap nails, some plywood and the willpower, two boys could make anything from a fort to a flying machine. Functionality was always up for debate.
When and why did you begin writing?
A: Even when I wasn’t putting words to paper, the neighborhood kids and I were always playing out these fictitious scenarios, like action movies without the camera (what kids did before cell phones and video games became common place: Imagination realization!). Somehow I was able to pull a fun script out of thin air on a regular basis.
I couldn’t pinpoint a precise date for you, but it was in my formulative years in high school when I began to look at writing as an actual profession. That ‘freedom to starve from anywhere’ part was a real kicker, too.
As far as why, I always had a taste for a particular book that I’d never found all the elements I wanted in one story: action, adventure, mystery, puzzles, strong characters and strange locations where you couldn’t quite tell what year it was. After spending an entire summer watching film noir movies, I realized that modern storytelling was lacking an all important function: surprise! Watching those old films, the writing blew me away; it had to be good, as that was all they had. Good writing sold tickets rather than special effects. You were truly at the mercy of the script that revealed only as much as was needed to accelerate the story, so you had no idea what the ending would hold until it was revealed.
That was when my stars aligned. I wanted to write something like that. A book that tickled all my spots, read like a movie, and I could go as nuts as I pleased without worry of a budget. Several years later, Rose Petals and Gun Powder was born, and some very interesting titles have joined the ranks thereafter.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A: Oops. I think most of that was handled above, but it was my Creative Writing teacher in high school that really gave me the push to get serious with it.
When did you first know you could be a writer?
A: I’m going to get a touch metaphysical here and say that writers are like the blocks of marble that Michelangelo carved. The writer was already inside, merely needing a little work to be released from within.
What inspires you to write and why?
A: Anyone can write, but the art of Storytelling is at the heart of any great book. Beyond the ability to describe a setting or name a character, possessing the ability to create a total package that inspires a reader to push on and on until completion, regardless of dampening boundaries, is the separation between writer and Storyteller. When you’ve realized that, only then has the transformation from writer to word artist begun. Afterward, the Storyteller realizes that there are no boundaries from beginning to end to create something really special along the journey. And in this instance, it is that journey that drives me to aspire to be a Storyteller.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
A: I much prefer fictional action/adventure/speculative fiction with sci-fi elements, but I prefer this collage of words to be logical. I want my reader to never have reason to dispel any of their logic while reading my books. If I’ve come close to my goal, then the only time they have to leave the world of possibilities is the time between reads.
What inspired you to write your first book?
A: I love watching movies, but actually making one is a far different feat. Writing novels is, for me, like being able to make the best movie possible. Unlimited special effects, no budget restraints, no equipment costs (other than a computer with a word processor for me), actors never go on strike, et cetera. The only real limitation is the ability to make someone else see it just as I do in my head. But that is the beauty of a novel as well. I can add or extract a few details and let the reader make whatever image they want to see.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began?
A: I’ve never had the expectation of making money with writing (it’d be nice though!). There were several times when I came to the sobering conclusion that I was just doing something that wouldn’t lead any further than the barrier of my hard drive. Sometimes it came down to cheap therapy and having a portal to escape real life for awhile. Other days it was simply for personal enjoyment with a side thought that I might one day entertain someone else. Why I continue is that perseverance of Storytelling. I’ve still got some great ideas that entertain my imagination-and hopefully someone else’s-for when we can no longer remember the simple pleasures of what could have been, we will have stories to remind and delight us.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
A: Time management and finding a balance of perfection. On the former, it’s not so much as having the time, but making the time to write. We as people have an awful lot of methods to distract ourselves these days. I’ve often gone into research mode and blown an entire night by getting tangled up on YouTube.
On the latter, sometimes that one elusive piece that connects one paragraph to the next is but one word or fact. I get hung up on perfection and can read for hours looking for a single clue, such as when plastic came into civilian use or what things cost in the 1940s. Stuff like that can consume me for hours and I might only get a few lines done for my efforts.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?
A: I touched on the research aspect, but one thing I’ve noticed when I set out on a new title is that I end up learning a trade that one of my characters may have employed. Here’s a few that have stuck with me that began as character research: beer brewing; coffee roasting from green beans; growing, processing and rolling tobacco into cigars; briar pipe carving; making knives (forging and heat treating included); weird invention projects too numerous to list, and I’m forgetting one crucial project at the moment. I’ve also taken jobs for what ended up being one or two chapters in a book. The two I regret most were being a Psychiatric Technician for a state mental hospital and a Public Safety Officer with the intention of moving into a full Peace Officer. As it turned out, the ever-deepening game of politics ruined my desire to move up after several years.
Do you intend to make writing a career?
A: That’s the goal! I could continue to crank out good material given the opportunity, and my wife would very much appreciate liberation from her current field. Right now, it’s stabilizing as a conceivable dream.
Have you developed a specific writing style?
A: I think writers in general build a style that is as recognizable as their jacket photos. Personally speaking, you can probably spot my style as occasionally having too many commas in one thought, though I try to limit myself to three. It boils down to my preference for the page to read a very particular way: keeping the action flowing, or making a point by leaving one sentence hanging out in the breeze. I’ve also developed a style where the bulk of my characters’ dialogue appears outside of the traditional format, and I like to incorporate fonts and pictures for the eBooks. I’m still working to make the various eBook formats look just like the PDF version, which in my opinion are so much cleaner and look much better than the typical eBook-reader version. Reflowable text seems to be the limitation to better acceptance.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
A: Hmm, self-critique time! In life, I like to think that I’ve made self-deprecation into an art form, so I love to transfer that into characters. Somehow that translates into a greater aspect of having characters that span as many available personalities as possible but are still very capable of their individual jobs.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
A: Much like my characters of Sampson Baker and Gray Conroy, I too am a hulking leviathan of a 6’5″ American man; still working on the six pack abs descriptor…
What is your least favorite quality about yourself?
A: ‘Least favorite quality’. I’m adding that to my list oxymoron list! Back to being serious though, the foremost in my mind is that the older I get, the more reserved I have become to being an extraverted personality. That and I can complain like the best old man. Probably too well if you ask my wife.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
A: I used to loathe quotes at the beginning of books. Probably out of envy that I can never remember one off the top of my head. I have finally conceded defeat and included one in the opening pages of my newest title, MechaNation: The New Frontier, that should be completed later this year.
Three that come from Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Carnegie, listed respectively here, define my thoughts on how the power of sound thoughts can still ring true despite the passage of time. More so, Thomas Jefferson was the original rebel from governmental tyranny and, as a man of thought, I respect highly. I can only imagine how he would be labeled now, speaking as he did in today’s era. He has so many fitting quotes that it is difficult to choose, but here are two; one practical, one observational:
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
“It is the mind that makes the body rich. There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.” – Excerpt from personal memo of Andrew Carnegie
J.E. Dugas is the author of the multi-period action/adventure/science fiction series Rose Petals and Gun Powder (Rose Petals and Gun Powder, including , RPGP: Shadows of Life, RPGP: Lost Cove, RPGP: Wanderlust, and RPGP: Paradoxical, a Double Feature), as well as the new title MechaNation, a NanoPunk Thriller. J.E. is currently at work on its sequel, MechaNation: Rebirth. Prior to writing full time, J.E. spent over a decade in the private security and law enforcement fields