Jason J. McCuiston
Featured Author: Jason J. McCuiston was born in the wilds of southeast Tennessee, where he was raised on a healthy diet of old horror movies, westerns, comic books, sci-fi and fantasy novels, and, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. He attended the finest state school that would have him where he studied art before coming to grips with the hard truth that his heart just wasn’t in becoming a professional illustrator. Following his matriculation, he embarked on a whirlwind tour of underpaid and uninspired career paths until finally realizing that all his forays into role-playing games, comic books, and creative design were merely the manifestation of his innate desire to be a storyteller.
His speculative historical adventure “The Last Red Lantern” was a semifinalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest in 2016, and was subsequently published in Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Appetites anthology. His flying ghost-ship tale “The Wyvern” appears in Pole to Pole Publishing’s Dark Luminous Wings anthology. His debut novel, Servants of the Horned God, is currently under representation with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.
Featured Author: Jason J. McCuiston Interview
- How long have you been writing?
- What/who inspired you to be a writer?
- What genre do you prefer to write in?
- Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
- What is your daily routine as a writer?
- What are some of your biggest challenges you feel like you have to overcome in your writing career?
- Do you have a set number of words each day or a goal?
- How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
- Do you prefer short stories or full-length novels in your writing?
- Can you give some us some insight into your story?
- What advice can you give other writers?
LHP: How long have you been writing?
Jason J. McCuiston: I started getting serious about writing as a career in 2004, but I’ve always been a storyteller. As a kid, I was the designated “Dungeon Master” and spent a lot of time writing and drawing my own comic books, thinking that was where my future lay. After college, I had a night watchman’s job, and filled some of the hours and several spiral notebooks with some truly awful manuscripts, but I was digging through those million bad words Ray Bradbury said every good writer has in them.
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LHP: What genre do you prefer to write in?
Jason J. McCuiston: I am a Fantasist, and always have been. I like to say, “If it doesn’t tend to happen in the real world, then it will probably happen in one of my stories.” So, whether that means fantasy, science fiction, or even the occasional horror story, or some combination thereof, that’s what I’m going to write.
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LHP: What/who inspired you to be a writer?
Jason J. McCuiston: My biggest inspirations come from the pulp adventure writers like Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, and Fritz Leiber, and the gritty comics writers of my adolescence like Frank Miller, Doug Moench, and Alan Moore. I’ve also become a huge fan of historical adventure fiction. In fact, I became addicted to it after reading Sharon Kay Penman’s When Christ and His Saints Slept just after college, and since then Bernard Cornwell and Jeff Shaara have become two of my all-time favorites.
LHP: Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
Jason J. McCuiston: I’m definitely a plotter. As “creative and artistic” as my friends and family like to say I am, my wife will be the first to tell you that I have a mathematical bent to my mindset. I’ve been very influenced by Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering in helping to define plot structure. As to plot versus character, it depends on the story. Sometimes I have an idea of something weird or dangerous to happen, and then I need to have a character or characters for it to happen to. Other times, the characters show up demanding I put them through the ringer to reveal their potential for heroics or villainy.
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LHP: What is your daily/weekly routine as a writer?
Jason J. McCuiston: I am blessed in that I can finally be a “full-time” writer. I put that in quotes because I come from a blue-collar background where “full-time” equates to 8-12 hour workdays. Writing full time for me usually means only about 2-4 hours of actually sitting at the keyboard pounding out pages/revisions, with another two or three hours spent doing research, completing writing exercises in a journal, reading articles on the craft and the business end of things, or just daydreaming and hoping that a muse will show up with a new story idea. This is six days a week, with a little time sneaked in on Sundays and holidays.
LHP: Are there any software tools, resources, or websites you use often while writing?
Jason J. McCuiston: I do all my writing in MS Word; I’m sort of old-school. My biggest resources to date have been the online courses at Writer’s Digest University, especially those taught by Philip Athans (I also highly recommend his blog at Fantasy Author’s Handbook; he has so much wisdom to share, and not just for authors of genre fiction), and several books on writing by James Scott Bell. Of course I make use of Wikipedia, and I am a member of a couple medieval history groups on Facebook where there are some experts in the field to be found.
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LHP: What are some of your biggest challenges you feel like you have to overcome in your writing career?
Jason J. McCuiston: Staying relevant. As I said, I’m of an old-school mindset when it comes to storytelling. I just enjoy swashbuckling adventure, heroics, derring-do, and all the same stuff I loved as a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But it’s a different world today, and a lot of people have different agendas for the things they want to read or publish. I don’t get into politics, identity or otherwise. I’ve always thought that people are people; we all have the same basic desires and concerns. We all want to be needed, loved, respected, and appreciated. So I write stories about those things, couched against backdrops of magic and monsters or spaceships and aliens, and hope for the best. That and spelling; I’m a terrible speller.
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LHP: Do you have a set number of words per day you target? or do you set other goals to meet?
Jason J. McCuiston: When I’m writing a first draft, I shoot for two thousand words a day. I usually hit or exceed this on a given day of writing. When I’m revising, I try to work through a chapter or a short-story per session, focusing on how the story flows and looking for all the little foul-ups I created while muscling through the first pass. Of course, there are those days where I don’t have a WIP to focus on, and then I spend as much time as possible in my journals and revisions, hoping to get a spark for a new story.
LHP: Do you prefer short stories or full length novels in your writing?
Jason J. McCuiston: Honestly, I enjoy both; to me it’s like enjoying football and baseball — two totally different, yet similar things. Some stories work better as novels, while some hit their stride as short stories. Case in point, “Solomon’s Key” which appears in A World Unimagined, is a story which I tried to turn into a novel once upon a time. I’m not saying I couldn’t have done it, but I do believe that the story works better, for me at least, as a shorter piece. It has more impact, I think.
LHP: How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
Jason J. McCuiston: I don’t spend as much time on the agent-hunt as I once did. I currently have a novel under representation with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. Mark is one of the best in the industry, so I let him do what he does, I focus on getting better as a writer, and leave the rest to God. That being said, I do keep my ear to the ground for open-calls and submission windows for short-story markets. I belong to a few Facebook groups that help with this, as well.
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LHP: Can you give some us some insight into your story?
Jason J. McCuiston: My story, “Solomon’s Key” is a pulp-style detective story set in a post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh, and is part of my “World After Tomorrow.” I created this world returning from the brink of destruction by magic and monsters as a sandbox in which to hone my craft. The hero of “Solomon’s Key,” Mark Halftown, is a deeply-flawed ex-cop with rage and addiction issues, but I wanted to show not only how he deals with them, but also why he has them in the first place — in other words, how the wounds of a child can manifest as scars in adulthood.
LHP: What advice can you give other writers?
Jason J. McCuiston: There is no magic bullet. Writing is like any other actionable skill; the more you do it, the better you get. You work hard, you make sacrifices, you put in the hours that turn into days, which turn into months and years, and then you finally sell a story. Then you get another dozen or two rejections before you sell another one. The cycle repeats until one day, hopefully, you’re good enough to make more sales than rejections. Persistence and hard work; that’s it. Keep writing, toughen your skin, and make friends. As a writer, you’re going to need them.
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Jason J. McCuiston recently authored “Solomon’s Key” for A World Unimagined on sale now.
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