8 Questions with Anthropology Author John L. Monk

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Kevin:  Thanks for tuning in for this episode of Eight Questions. This is Kevin Tumlinson, one of the rotating hosts around here. I’m having a chat today with a friend of mine, a fellow author, John L. Monk.

John Monk lives in Virginia, USA, with his wife, Dorothy. A writer with a degree in cultural anthropology, which is very interesting and he boldly does the dishes, roots out evil wherever it lurks, and writes his own stunts.

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the 8 Questions Podcast)

Welcome to the show, John, good to have you here.

John:  It’s really good to be here. I absolutely love this show. It’s a new addition to my podcast list. I particularly love the intro. That’s got to be the coolest intro to any podcast I’ve ever heard.

Kevin:  And I had nothing to do with any of that, but I’ll graciously accept those kudos on behalf of Sterling and Stone.

John:  Steal what you can, or whatever it is.

Kevin:  Exactly. I’m going to steal that. I’m a great artist now. So, you have several books out. You and I talked recently on the Wordslinger Podcast, and so I was really glad to get you on this show, which is similar, very similar, but let’s talk a little about your books real quick.

What have you got on your plate right now?

John:  Well, I’m actually writing the sequel to Hell’s Children, which is sort of my first and only break out. Well, it’s not my first novel, but it’s definitely my only break out novel. Everybody seems to like it, not everybody, but enough people that I want to write a Book Two kind of thing, and that’s what I’m working on.

I’m also writing something with Justin Sloan and P.T. Hilton.

Kevin:  Everybody’s writing something with Justin Sloan and P.T. Hilton.

John:  Right. They’re really great guys, very talented and I just read one of their kind of collaborations and I thought it was pretty cool. I don’t remember if I’m supposed to say what it is that they wrote. It’s not erotica, guys, get your head out of the gutter.

Kevin:  No, but I know what it is and there are reasons why he can’t announce it, so we won’t talk about what it is.

John:  Okay, cool. My Spidey senses were working.

Kevin:  Right on track. I don’t want to waste too much time here because there are questions that I’m really interested to hear your answers to them. But you know the set up here. We’re going to ask you eight questions. I haven’t told you what they are, so we’re going to get some interesting answers. They’re about you, so you ought to be pretty well prepared. I mean you’ve lived your life, right?

John:  I have lived my life.

Kevin:  So, let’s get started on that. My first question for you, John, is do you have a writing ritual, and if so, what does it look like?

 John:  Okay. My writing ritual. You know, I’d like to go at a place I’d like to write would be like a Starbucks, that’s kind of a writing ritual. I like the buzz of people walking around.

I like to stare at the people as they kind of come in and get escorted out. A nice kind of buzz in the background would be pretty good.

When I listen to music, I don’t like music with any words in it particularly. Maybe a lot of big band music and stuff like that. The problem is, it’s not always appropriate.

Kevin:  Like to the mood of your story?

John:  Yes, it’s not appropriate to the mood of the story, for the most part.

For my Jenkins Cycle books, he’s a slightly more literary I guess you’d say than a Hell’s Children novel. It works wonderful for them.

But as for rituals like wearing my lucky sweaty hat and things like that, I don’t have anything.

Kevin:  This is a follow-up question. It’s not one of the eight, but do you tend to use music to set the tone for what you’re writing, or is that just an annoyance when the mood is different?

John:  I’m about 50/50 on music. If I’m writing stuff that’s really kind of pulp-fictiony, a lot of times I will listen to words that I can’t understand.

So, I’ll listen to a lot of garage kind of band stuff. I can’t understand the words to fast rock and roll in general. I like that. It’s a little bit more chaotic, anything can happen kind of thing.

Kevin:  All right. Those kids and their damn rock and roll.

John:  And their long hair and their tattoos.

Kevin:  Get off my lawn! All right. So, let’s move to the second question. So, who do you consider to be your best source of information about the publishing industry?

 John:  Wow, that’s a really – because there’s so many.

Kevin:  Yes.

John:  The best source of information right now about publishing. I would have said Kristine Kathryn Rusch because she’s so good, but I don’t read her stuff enough to say that that’s my go-to place.

I guess I would say maybe the Sell More Books Show with Bryan Cohen and – why am I drawing a blank?

Kevin:  I’m not even going to help you. I’m just going to wait, because you didn’t say Wordslinger.

John:  Jim Kukral.

Kevin:  Yes, exactly. You didn’t say Wordslinger Podcast or Self-Publishing Podcast. You didn’t say anything I care about.

John:  That’s not true. The Writing Careers, that’s a really good one.

Kevin:  That was not me fishing for a compliment. I was really kidding, but I actually happen to like The Sell More Books Show. I like Bryan and Jim, they’re cool guys.

JohnCreative Writing Career Podcast.

Kevin:  Yes, Creative Writing Career Podcast. For those keeping score, that’s mention number one.

John:  Jokes aside, that’s a new one for me as well, and it’s definitely your podcast but it’s a new one for me as well and I particularly like it because it’s geared towards – maybe it’s not about publishing per se, but it’s definitely geared towards creating content and getting it out there, without being necessarily quite so artsy-fartsy.

Kevin:  Yes, it’s a little different. It’s not a self-publishing podcast. It’s a little different.

John:  Right.

Kevin:  So, that’s Justin’s brain child. That’s the second mention of Justin Sloan.  When you need help or advice about your work, where’s the first place you turn?

 John:  About my work, wow. Believe it or not I tend to go towards Lindy Moon. She’s one of the first authors I ever met, doing the whole self-pub thing. I met her over on K-Boards. We have been kind of I guess you could say just sort of lean on me kind of people.

She’s so good. She’s an incredible editor. She’s an amazing writer, incredibly talented artist. She did the cover art for Thief’s Odyssey, my stand-alone no-hit wonder.

I guess another person would be P.T. Hilton. He’s a really talented writer, very smart guy. Lots of good insights and stuff like that.

Other than that, usually my wife. She doesn’t pull any punches whatsoever, which is why she doesn’t usually get to the book until it’s already published. She’s so afraid that she won’t like it, and she has a tendency to like it, but not all of them equally.

Kevin:  That’s interesting. A lot of people use their spouses as a sounding board or first reader. So, she’s not your first reader. She’s more like your last reader.

John:  Yes, but she has to sit there and hear me saying oh, I have this really cool idea, blah, blah, blah.

Kevin:  She gets the conception of the idea, right?

John:  Yes. And by the way, she’s usually not very receptive to any of those types of statements, or like now, I think that’s stupid. She’ll very much often kind of say that. So, if I want to have a cool idea and abandon it, she’s the first person I go to.

Kevin:  Okay. All right. That’s an interesting approach. So, in the same vein, when you need help or advice about your work, where’s the last place you turn?

 John:  Wow. Well, I guess anybody at work. I guess people who don’t create. Anybody who does not create. They don’t understand. They come up with crazy ideas or they just don’t work, they’re just not there. They’ve never finished a novel so they don’t know what they’re asking.

Kevin:  Yes, yes. I know exactly what you mean I think. Whenever I’ve told people that I was a writer, before people just knew, I got these really off the wall responses to any time I had a conundrum.

If I mentioned, and it was always something ridiculous, like I’m having trouble selling my books, and they’d be like you know what you need, you need to take out an ad in the New York Times and do billboards all across the country and make a movie out of your book.

It’s always something like that. Is that the kind of thing you get?

John:  Absolutely. I hear this all the time from a particular friend, who’s sort of a know-it-all. He asks me how the books are doing and stuff like that, and he’s always got advice that tends to be more negative.

Familiarity breeds contempt I guess.

I remember telling him something we were working on, my wife and I were working on doing some cooking videos on YouTube, because we’d like to monetize it. It’s for low-carb eating and stuff like that.

There’s definitely a niche. There’s definitely people searching for it. Put some Amazon affiliate links down in the description of the tools that we use and stuff.

He was telling me yes, yes, you can’t make any money on YouTube, and I’m just like (sigh).

Even if he was right, which he wasn’t, it’s not really something you go telling somebody who’s trying to kind of progress.

So, I guess maybe the meta answer is don’t deal with anybody who isn’t positive.

Kevin:  Right, right.  Don’t deal with anybody who isn’t positive. That’s a lot of people to not deal with. Actually that might make your life easier, if you decide I’m not dealing with anyone who isn’t positive, you’re pretty much sitting by yourself in Starbucks for a while.

John:  That’s right.

Kevin:  All right. Now we’ve heard some bad marketing tips. So, what’s the best marketing tip you’ve ever gotten?

 John:  I hate to bore the audience, but probably make it free. But the thing is I don’t think that works as well anymore. There’s just too many free books and if you’re writing for Amazon, they tend to hide the free stuff.

There are still people out there who got their anywhere from 1 to 5,000 sales ranking for their free stuff. They’re moving Book 2s and Book 3s and things like that, but man back when I first started, free was crazy. That was a good one.

The best one is get a good book cover.

Kevin:  That’s all pretty standard fare. You hear that from everybody. I think what I’ve discovered lately is it’s better for me still offer a book for free, going back to that advice, but make that book a paid book on Amazon and everywhere else so that when they get it free, it’s something they can’t just get anywhere.

It’s exclusive to getting on my mailing list, right.

John:  Right. I get what you’re saying, yes, definitely something like that. But I wan to offer the audience something a little bit less cliché, because we’re so sick and tired of hearing that stuff.

So, the less clichéd thing would be do Amazon sponsored product ads.

Kevin:  Yes. I’ve been playing with them, man, since you told me about it, I’ve been tinkering with it and I’ve seen some pretty interesting results.

John:  At the very least you’ll see who’s putting in what search terms into Amazon. When you get 100,000 people who see “vigilante”, you see five people that see “mutant” something or other, marshmallow man. Whatever keyword that you put in there.

We’ve never been able to know who is typing keywords on Amazon. So, at the very least you’ll get to see that.

Kevin:  So, that’s interesting, because, you could take that information now and retool that actual keywords on your book listing, right?

John:  You certainly could. One little caveat is that if Amazon decides that the book and the advertisement don’t kind of match each other, they will not put your ad in front of people.

So, you’ll have an ad that’s just not getting any impressions. And you’re thinking, oh, I chose dumb keywords. No. It’s because the people who click the ad don’t buy the book.

So, you have to have enough people to buy the book, and I’ve heard rumor that they will actually reject your ad after it’s been approved if people are clicking on it and not buying it at a significant rate.

Meaning like for every 1,000 clicks, one person buys, then you’re in trouble.

Kevin:  That seems like a bone head decision in Amazon, frankly. I get why they do it, except that it would be much more productive and much more beneficial to everyone, including Amazon, if they would come back to you and say this isn’t performing well, here’s why, or here’s what we think is why. Just to give you the chance to retool that ad instead of just shutting it down.

John:  Amazon doesn’t talk to anybody about anything.

Kevin:  Amazon doesn’t talk to anybody, right. Exactly right. There’s another company out there called Draft2Digital. I just thought I’d throw that out there.

John:  I love Draft2Digital by the way. They are amazing.

Kevin: I’m going to get thrown off the show because I’m turning it into a promotion. All right, that was your best marketing tip ever, right. I have a follow-up but I didn’t write this as one of my eight questions.

What’s the worst marketing tip you’ve ever gotten? What’s the worst marketing advice you ever followed? That’s a better question.

John:  Kind of at the beginning I was spamming my book on Twitter because I thought you had to do that.

Kevin:  Did someone tell you to do that or you just decided you were doing it?

John:  No, I guess somebody told me to do it. Hold on, something that they told me. Well, I guess just don’t self-publish, hold out for a publishing contract.

I was talking with someone just yesterday who wrote and sold books for Tor Books, and this poor woman didn’t make hardly any money at all. They gave her horrible covers. They didn’t go to 99Designs. They didn’t even get her Book 2 in bookstores after they had bought it.

She didn’t make back her advance or whatever. It was just a terrible situation and now she’s self-publishing and she’s super happy, and she’s pretty popular.

Kevin:  That’s the most common story I hear now. It’s weird because I don’t understand what’s happening on that level. I know what’s happening actually. Those guys are just refusing to look at what’s happening in the indie industry and take it seriously. That’s what’s happening.

Do you have any opinions on that? I don’t want to…

John:  No, it’s pretty much it’s mahogany desk syndrome. It’s something Jim Kukral, whose name I suddenly remember, would definitely say.

Kevin:  Yes. So, moving on from marketing then, what’s the – this question doesn’t actually have to be about your career per se, but it can be, it can be about anything you want really.

What’s at the very top of your bucket list?

 John:  Oh, you mean like what I want to do to be successful?

Kevin:  It can be about that, or it could be about anything at all. If you want to parachute naked, or something, that’s cool. That’s just between me and you and everyone reading.

John:  This might sound a little sad, and unambitious, but my goal is literally to be the captain of my own ship. Not to have to work in a job, to pay my bills, to pay for my medicine if I get sick. You know, I could just pay for it with cash or check, I could use a check.

But basically just to be my own guy and basically wake up and work or not work.

It doesn’t mean have an island with peasants of my own and a fortress with chandeliers and everything like that. Literally it could be just driving around in an RV from place to place, paying for my gas, where I keep my food, making some YouTube videos and writing some books.

My wife and I are both creators, and that’s something I would love to do. Or maybe sailing, kind of living the cruising lifestyle. Same sort of idea.

My wife and I are also talking about maybe moving and doing some ex-pat kind of living, like maybe in Baha, kind of like Russell Blake.

We live in Northern Virginia. We don’t have a lot of friends up here, and the friends we do have work all the time. They’ve got kids, we don’t have kids. They live kind of far away and there’s a lot of traffic between us and them.

I could go on and on and on.

Kevin:  No, and that’s fine. I know exactly where you’re coming from with that. It’s interesting, when I started getting into the creative industry, this wall kind of came up between me and a lot of the people I was interacting with daily.

When I was in a day job, going into an office and everything, you have your interaction with those folks, but I could never quite connect because first of all, I don’t watch football so that cuts me out of 90% of the people I could talk to in the Houston, Texas area.

But all the things that everyone was interested in were nice and all, but nobody was interested in the things that I was passionate about. So, I could never sit and geek out over drinks with my buddy from work about writing, because they just glaze over.

Even with fellow copywriters, by the way, when I was working as a copywriter at an agency, same problem, because a lot of them didn’t think in terms of wanting to be a novelist. they wanted to just have their writing career and then go home and do whatever they were going to do at home and go on vacation and that sort of thing.

Is that kind of the gist of what you?

John:  Yes. I don’t like football either, by the way. I’ll watch it when the Super Bowl’s on. I’ll get into it because the friends I’m with are into it, but other than that, I’ve never understood why anybody would want to watch it. It’s just not interesting to me. Nothing bad about those goods.

A similar feeling like when I go out to lunch or whatever with friends, they want to talk about work or they want to talk about football, or maybe their kids or something.

None of them want to talk about Genghis Khan.

I’m not kidding you. These are the things that I would like to talk about, like history or science fiction novels that I liked or things like that. I’m just kind of lost there.

Kevin:  Yes, I know, I hear you.  You kind of alluded to this, but Kara and I are getting on the road in our RV and that’s one of the reasons. Is we’re out looking for our people.

We want to go spend time and be out in the world, but we also want to connect with people who are like us, and think like us, and want to have conversations about Genghis Khan and whatever I happen to be researching that week.

This week it’s been forensics and dead bodies.

John:  That’s scary. I’m going to knock on your door.

Kevin:  All right. So, question number seven, by the way. So, in 100 years, what is it that you want the world to remember about you?

 John:  I think it’d be kind of cool if in 100 years there are still people kind of passing around my books. I don’t care what they think about me, personally.

I don’t ever necessarily want to be famous. I’ve never had that itch. In fact I feel sort of like closed in with the idea that there are people out there talking about me personally.

Like John L. Monk did this today. Kind of like the way they talk about celebrities or maybe Stephen King’s kind of a celebrity novelist.

But I would absolutely love if in 100 years there’s some poor English class somewhere where they’re all forced to read my stupid book, and they want to read their Twitter sized books, their Haiku novels, however tiny they’ve shrunk by then.

They’re forced to read the classics and they’ve got to read my stupid book. That would be kind of neat.

Kevin:  The early days of the indie era, just before we actually took over the entire publishing industry and changed the world. That’s the way I choose to think of it.

That’s a notable goal. I like that.

John:  Thank you.

Kevin:  You didn’t say I want people quoting me Shakespeare style every time a conversation comes up or anything. But you want English students to be forced to read your work.

John:  That was more of a joke. I just like the idea that there’ll be people kind of still passing around literature from the dawn of the indie movement, and there are people actually reading it.

Maybe there’s a movie out there they go back to and kind of like people still watch Marx Brothers movies. I love Marx Brothers movies. Nobody at work loves Marx Brothers movies. I can’t talk to them about that.

Kevin:  Let’s see, in 100 years, AI maybe writing all our books for us. You may still be producing books, your virtual ghost may still be cranking out Jenkins Cycle books. You never know.

John:  Naw, that’s total bunk. AI’s never going to be – I’m sorry.

Kevin: I don’t know. I used to feel the same way, but now the more I read about it, I’m not worried about it, but I’m kind of like well, no one saw this indie wave coming, so people might actually enjoy an AI book.

John:  It can’t pick up the nuance of humor. I don’t think it ever will, unless it becomes literal artificial intelligence where you walk in the room and it’s talking to you, and it’s cracking you up like Richard Pryor did, you know?

Kevin:  Yes.

John:  When it can do that, then maybe, but I just don’t see it ever doing that. There’s a reason why Richard Pryor’s funny, and it’s because he’s a human.

Kevin: I won’t have a purpose in life anymore at that point. I mean what’s the point of me at that point?

John:  Well, that point…

Kevin:  Just bury me.

John:  If they’re so smart, it’s going to be a Skynet situation.

Kevin:  Exactly.  All right.  So, this is my last question and I specifically saved this question for last. I asked you this on the Wordslinger Podcast because you told me to. But I want everyone to see where this will take us this time.

So, what are you reading right now?

 John:  Well, I’m reading a book by Michael Bunker called Hell and the Sea.

Kevin:  Michael Bunker!

John:  Yes, Michael Bunker. He writes kind of like post-apocalyptic type stuff. He sort of coined his own genre, I think it’s called Amish Science Fiction.

I never read his break-out novel, I think was called Pennsylvania, which I believe is going to be turned into a movie.

But Hell and the Sea is kind of like where he’s releasing it chapter by chapter, to Patreon subscribers. I think you can get the first chapter free, just by joining his mailing list, because that’s how he’ll hit you up to be a Patreon subscriber.

Kevin:  Right.

John:  But he is definitely going to be releasing this at some point after it’s done, and he seems to be chugging along pretty well. It’s incredibly well written. It’s thought provoking as heck, and not just because of the slightly controversial stuff in there.

What he does is he sort of changes the names of people in the early part of kind of like the indie movement, 2010 to 2013. He takes the famous type people like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking and John Locke and various types of people, including himself, because he’s friends with all these folks.

He sort of changes all the names and you kind of walk along with him at a convention, I think it was in Austin back then, and you sort of run into all the little characters along the way and the various people.

There’s a lot of stuff that’s unflattering about perhaps some of them, and stuff like that, but it’s his opinion. But I will say that I just thought his take on the art and the marketing, and how you can’t let your self turn into a cog in a machine.

It’s definitely, I would say, I’d call it a literary type novel without being the fluvian flowers and the floo floos.  Like the pretty writing. It’s not like that, although there’s some pretty good writing.

I really like it, and I think that when it launches, it’ll either launch like either it won’t sell or it will sell. But I think if it does sell, I think if it were to take off, that it would be sort of like a bomb that just got dropped in the indie community.

It is kind of controversial.

Kevin:  Yes. You’ve tried to talk me into reading it a couple of times and for some reason I’ve just never gotten around to it. I’ll read it. I’ll get to it.

John:  It’s good writing.

Kevin:  He’s an interesting cat. He and I are connected on Facebook, not that we’ve had deep, meaningful conversations or anything. We’re ships passing in the night and he’s very interesting.

John:  And he’s a funny guy. He’s very funny, very, very smart, very urbane. You wouldn’t expect it. He’s got this gigantic beard. They live without any electricity. They’re off grid and for the most part they’re off, off grid. They don’t have another electrical source that they use for anything, except for his connection to the world.

I think he uses a solar set-up so he can put Facebook stuff out and I guess check his Amazon stats and things like that.

They live purposefully. Anyway, I’ve just gone on about him. He can come on the show if he wants to talk.

Kevin:  Yes, I want to try and get him on my show and this show actually. I think he’d be an interesting guest all around, if he would do it.

John:  He has the gift of gab, so he can talk.

Kevin:  Yes, there you go.  So where can people find you and do you have anything you want to promote or anything? You already kind of mentioned the promotion stuff. So where can people find you?

John:  It’s john-l-monk.com.  That was some advice I wish I’d gotten which is to come up with an easier domain name. You could email me. I think my contact information is there. Send me a note saying hey, what’s going on.

You can also find me on Facebook, just do johnlmonk, all one word in the little search thingy. I have kind of like an ah-ha music video kind of avatar face thing or whatever. It looks like it’s a pencil drawing. That’s me.

Kevin:  Okay. All right. So, that is John L. Monk. You should definitely check him out, visit his web site.

And if you’d like to find anything about me, my books, podcasts or more, check out all things Wordslinger at kevintumlinson.com.

John, I appreciate you being on, man. Thanks so much.

John:  That was great. Thank you.

Kevin:  Take care everybody.

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