Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
JMG: Hello from The Great Northwest, Fiona -and all the readers out there!
While my published name, Justin Michael Greenway, is my given name, like many people, I have a nickname that developed in my early twenties -roughly thirty years ago. Its use has been so ubiquitous in my social circles that it is a good indication of whether someone knows me personally or professionally.
Fiona: Where are you from?
JMG: I am from Portland, Oregon, where I spent much of my childhood until our family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I spent the school year during junior high and high school at home thirty minutes outside of The City and my summers on an aunt and uncle’s farm in Napa. I spent much of my twenties traveling the country and then settled in California’s Central Valley until returning to Portland nearly ten years ago.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
JMG: The most pertinent fact about me, in regards to how my character, world view, and underpinnings as an author have been shaped, was the death of my parents in my mid-teens. My mother was killed in an accident at the hands of a drunk driver and my father died of cancer within three days of the one-year anniversary of her death. I was sixteen when I was emancipated and began supporting myself while finishing high school.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
JMG: I recently returned from Baltimore, where I attended The International Edgar Allan Poe Festival. It was an amazing networking opportunity and an extremely fun event -especially The Black Cat Ball, which was held Saturday night at Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds where Poe’s tomb is located. It was the last of my planned travels for the year to promote my novel, Ravenword and The House of the Red Death. Prior events and readings saw me travelling to Oakland/San Francisco and Sacramento, Nashville, Atlantic City, and New York City. I am always eager to accept invitations to do readings, especially when they entail traveling to new places. I am currently coordinating with the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia to do a reading there in 2020.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
JMG: I began serious attempts at writing a book when I was about thirteen years old. I got the writing bug after writing a story as a homework assignment in the sixth grade that garnered accolades. Then, about a year later, after asking my mother to type out my handwritten stab at a first novel, I overheard her telling my grandmother that I “wrote like a real writer”. This gave me enough confidence to widdle away at writing while dabbling in journalism as a reporter for our junior high school newspaper for three years. I was able to leverage this experience my freshman year of high school to procure the position of Editor for my high school newspaper while trying to immerse myself in my English and Journalism classes in spite of the upheavals in my personal life. In my twenties, I completed my first book, a fantasy novel, as a test of my ability to actually complete a book and polish my talent. For the next ten or fifteen years, I worked on various projects until the opportunity came to dedicate myself to a credible endeavour full-time.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
JMG: I first considered myself a writer in 2004. As another test of my abilities, I wrote my first and only screenplay, which earned me an invitation to Paramount Studios. While the screenplay was not optioned, it was the first time I had been introduced professionally as a “writer”. It was a defining moment for me.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
JMG: I had been exposed to the themes of Edgar Allan Poe from watching Vincent Price movies as a kid, and then a true fan from reading his works in school. Masque of the Red Death had always been my favourite and the ending always intrigued me, leaving me to ponder the fate of the damned over the centuries. This led to the concept for Ravenword and The House of the Red Death. However, because my tastes lean more strongly toward science fiction and fantasy, the project sat in stewing and developing in the back of my mind for twenty years. When the time and opportunity to see if I could write as if it were my full-time job, and on a deadline, presented itself, Ravenword and The House of the Red Death was the most fully formed of the dozen or so stories waiting in the vaults of my imagination.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
JMG: The original title, House of the Red Death, seemed a clear-cut homage to Poe’s Masque of the Red Death but after finishing the novel, I discovered another author had beaten me to the title. Yet, I couldn’t relinquish my attachment to it. I realized that House of the Red Death only reflected half of the story. The other half of the story is informed by the eight characters who make up Ravenword, therefore, including ‘Ravenword’ in the title seemed like a great accommodation. This became even more ideal later. I had always assumed the novel would be a stand-alone story but my muse had other plans and including ‘Ravenword’ in the title lends itself quite well to a series; e.g. Ravenword and The House of the Great Empyean (the work-in-progress sequel to Ravenword and The House of the Red Death).
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
JMG: The narrative voice for Ravenword and The House of the Red Death earned a lot of criticism while I was writing the novel, as it is a work of Literary Fiction that mirrors Poe’s narrative voice. The prose and sesquipedality of the narrative voice were essential to the atmosphere of the story but proved too much for many of my friends and others from whom I had solicited feedback. Fortunately, Ravenword and The House of the Red Death has since found its audience, an audience that relishes the echo of Poe in the narrative voice -especially with the contrasting modern dialogue.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
JMG: The events in the book take place, for the most part, in real places and settings except, of course, for the actual castle. In fact, one reader was able to identify the unnamed coffee house in an unnamed town in the opening scene of my novel. The travel itineraries, routes, and connections can actually be booked. As for the characters, I have been asked on several occasions if they are based on people I know because they seem “so real”. Considering they are not based on anyone I know, I find that question particularly gratifying -especially when taking into account how often my characters would say or do things that surprised even myself. I will say that I did lift one particular incident in the novel from real life, when a good friend was confronted by two gay-bashers outside of the club one night. It did not end well for them and was too conducive to Parson’s storyline to not include as a homage to my friend.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
JMG: While I have travelled fairly extensively, none of it was to aid the process of writing Ravenword and The House of the Red Death, outside of applying that experience to research. I did do a lot (a lot!) of research that included reading travel journals, booking travel arrangements but not following through on the purchase, and online guides and reviews of restaurants and venues.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
JMG: I actually designed the cover. I had a very clear image in my mind of the Ravenword logo and learned PhotoShop in order to integrate the multi-media layers to create it: pencil, watercolor, photography, and filters. In fact, I spent a solid six weeks cleaning up the edges and trim of the scanned pencil and watercolor red “R” pixel by pixel to ensure professional looking results.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
JMG: The main theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death was compassion (or lack thereof) for the suffering of those around us. I continue this theme in Ravenword and The House of the Red Death, while also integrating the theme of compassion for peoples’ frailties and the redemption found in the accepting of each other. These themes seem to be more important than ever, considering the state of civility and politics.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
JMG: There aren’t any new authors who have caught my interest since J.K. Rowling. I have always been a fan of mythologies, both archaic and modern, so many of my favorite authors have long since past or have been lost to history. My two favorite novels were published in 1887 and 1905 by H.Rider Haggard and are the prototype India Jones type adventure stories; She, and the sequel, Ayesha, The Return of She (I always read them together as if they were one novel).
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
JMG: I received a lot of support from friends, especially Jody Caldwell, who read the manuscript as I wrote it, and the parents of my boyfriend at the time, who hosted me the winter I wrote the novel. Outside of these wonderful loved ones, it was several of the teachers I had while in school who guarded and prodded my aspiration to become a published author. Especially, my senior year English teacher, Ms. Mulcahey; “I will persist until I succeed.”
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
JMG: Absolutely. Securing the success of Ravenword and The House of the Red Death is a major step towards continuing to write as a career. I would love to master screenwriting in order to translate my novels for a wider audience.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
JMG: There are two points I would change. The first would be to include the original final paragraph that I omitted before writing ‘The End’. I didn’t include it because I thought it was pedantic and unnecessary. However, I’ve had a few readers who wanted more details regarding the characters’ fate. The second thing I would change is pushing back and standing my ground against my two editors. While they did a great job, both pushed very hard for me to change the spelling of “Jesus Christ” as an expletive to “Jeezus” in order to avoid offending readers. As a new author, I capitulated, but in the end my readers have found it a bit ridiculous.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
JMG: As far as content, I learned a lot about Catholicism and various saints. The process definitely included a few learning curves, particularly how vital the connotation of a word can be. I provided parts of my manuscript incrementally to Jodi,my “reader”, as I wrote and she honed in on one word in a paragraph as a mis-step. When I insisted that it was correct, she countered with the fact that, despite the word being correct by definition, the connotation was inconsistent with the atmosphere of the scene and, thus, pulled her right out of the story. It was a huge lesson for me, both in writing and regarding my ego.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
JMG: Ravenword and The Red Death follows an “ensemble cast” and, while I had clearly defined images in my mind of each character, none resembled any actor that I was familiar with. As the story unfolded, Charlie began to remind me of Katee Sackhoff but there was no conscious correlation. Surprisingly, after completing the manuscript, I was surfing the internet and somehow came across photos of Rutina Wesley. In one photo, in particular, she was s dead-ringer of Motisha -so much so that I sat stunned with a thrill of astonishment (and goose-bumps) for a minute or two. I didn’t know who she was nor had I ever seen her in on the screen, which made her being a mirror-image of Motisha all the more authentic. As for the rest of the characters, the most important priority when the story is translated to screen, is that each of the diverse characters are portrayed by actors from their respective communities; e.g. Hmong actor, LGTBQ actors, Indian actor, African American actors, Italian actors, etc.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
JMG: There are three pieces of advice I would give other writers. The first is write the story that makes you happy. While I certainly wanted Ravenword and The House of the Red Death to be successful, I wrote the story for me, with little regard for what I was taught or imagined would make it profitable.
The second is to trust the process and let the story and characters unfold naturally. Ravenword and The House of the Red Death followed my designed story arch consistently, but my characters said and did things and took on a life and direction of their own in such a marvellous and wonderful way and this opened up avenues and added dimension to the story that I had not anticipated.
My final piece of advice is to stand your ground with your editors. There will be several rounds of editing, tweaking, and tightening but if there is a colloquialism, slang, or character-specific expression that is true to life and pertinent, retain your authority as the creator and guardian of the integrity of the story or character.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
JMG: I think it’s important to convey that one does not need to have read Masque of the Red Death or even be familiar with Poe’s works to enjoy Ravenword and The House of the Red Death. It is a contemporary story that adheres to the maxim; “write a familiar story in an original way” and I think it achieves this beautifully.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
JMG: Lol -Actually, I’m reading The Screenwriter’s Bible right now. Three guesses as to why.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
JMG: The first book I remember reading, which is also the first book I loved, was The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. I still have a copy, as it instilled a tenacity in me at a very early age that prepared and served me well later during the tragedies of my youth.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
JMG: Dark and/or irreverent and absurd humor will almost always evoke a chuckle or outright burst of laughter from me. Two examples of movie scenes that provoked me to laughter so consuming that I could barely breath and had tears running down my face were; the dignified bishop with the speech impediment in A Princess Bride, and; the hypodermic needle into Uma Thurman’s chest scene in Pulp Fiction.
As for crying, the tragic separation of loved-ones and the self-sacrifice of a heroic character almost always reduce me to tears. If you’ve watched season two of Star Trek: Discovery, you have context of what I mean.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
JMG: Hm… My first inclination is to say Patrick Wilson or Alistair Appleton in the vain hope that one of the two would fall in love with me. However, on a more serious note, I think the person I would enjoy spending a day of conversation with is Russell Brand because he translates challenging concepts in such an accessible way, and because of the torrid path of his own personal journey and resulting growth.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
JMG: I have a few hobbies that counterbalance my literary drive. I design floor plans for houses, design and build scratch-build scale model starships, I am an avid and intentional day-dreamer, and enjoy kayaking and hiking, although sometimes I think I should include going to the pub should be included in the list.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
JMG: I am an escapist when it comes to my viewing preferences; take me to the past, future, or a fantastic setting, which ties in nicely with my love of mythologies. For example, I am an avid fan of Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch), Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Tim Burton. I also watch a lot of documentaries on evolution, astronomical science, and ancient history and architecture. Outside of Queer Eye, I am not generally a fan of reality TV. Historical dramas like Darkest Hour, The Post, and The Crown are certainly included.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
JMG: I am not a “live to eat” type person, which is almost a crime in a city like Portland, Oregon, where the culinary delights have reached near cult status. So, for the most part, as long as it’s not my own cooking, I’ll enjoy it.
My favorite color is emerald green, which also happens to be my birth stone. I also have a deep appreciation for soda-pop orange.
As for music, my tastes are very diverse, yet nothing makes me happier than waltzes and 80’s music. However, I generally listen to modern folk/singer-songwriter genre or classical music when I’m at home. The last two songs that I couldn’t hear enough are Beg, Steal, or Borrow by Ray LaMontagne and Yellow Eyes by Rayland Baxter.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
JMG: I wouldn’t be doing anything except rotting in my grave. However, if there were some inexplicable and magical way to exorcize the need to write from my soul, I could only be satisfied with a pastoral life in which I were raising chickens and geese and a few playful goats while tending to the vegetable and flower gardens and orchards.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
JMG: How ghastly! I would spend it drinking around the fire pit at the pub with my closest and dearest friends, the village regulars, and strangers willing to listen to my stories.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
JMG: Justin Michael Greenway 1966 – 2116
“The stars above our bow to aim, with sails unfurled in Erasmus’ flame; the thrill of joy to know at last, that into the blue we finally cast” -Aldobrandi Acropolis c. 2666
(An excerpt from the science fiction series I am working on.)
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
JMG: Yes, I have website with a too-often neglected Author’s Journal (I’m lousy at self-promotion) at www.windwovenpages.com
Author Page on Amazon USA is: https://www.amazon.com/Justin-Michael-Greenway/e/B07DYTHKNB%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share