Today I’m pleased to welcome JP Sloane to Off the Page chatting about his new book The Curse Merchant.
I am a storyteller, eager to transport the reader to strange yet familiar worlds. My writing is dark, fantastical, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, and other times hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed. I write science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, and several shades in between.
I am a husband and a father, living in the “wine country” of central Maryland. I’m surrounded by grapevines and cows. During the day I commute to Baltimore, and somehow manage to escape each afternoon with only minor scrapes and bruises. I am also a homebrewer and a certified beer judge. My avocations dovetail nicely!
1. Tell a little about yourself, what you do when you’re not writing, what are your aspirations for the future?
I work in the city of Baltimore during the day in an attempt to keep the bills paid. By trade I’m an office furniture designer, though I’ve spent more time in my professional career as a kitchen and bath designer. After work I return home to a town nestled between the cow pastures and vineyards of central Maryland, near the city of Frederick. When I’m not writing I divide my time between being a Dad and a husband, but manage to squeeze in some kickboxing and homebrewing when I find a spare moment. I hope one day to earn enough from my writing to stay at home and do it full time.
2. When and why did you start writing?
My first real attempt to write a short story was in high school… not as a class assignment. This was on my own time. By college I was cooking up the basics for a real long-format novel which became the foundation for the tabletop roleplaying system I would create much later. Shortly after college I finally completed my first novel. It was wretched, but it was an important first step. Ten years have passed and The Curse Merchant is my seventh competed novel, but only the first I felt was ready for public consumption. Why did I start writing? Simply, I feel a deep need to tell stories.
3. If you could only read one book over and over again for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I’ll have to go with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It still makes me laugh out loud and demonstrates a twisted a sense of humor as casually as it skewers our modern sensibilities. It hip-checks my sense of self-importance, which is good for any author.
4. Give us some back story about The Curse Merchant, where and when did you write it?
I began outlining The Curse Merchant early in 2010, and typed the first sentence in March. I finished the first draft somewhere in June, mostly writing in the evenings after work. As the economy was still on thin ice at the time, I was given several unpaid days off, of which I took full advantage. I let the manuscript sit for half a year as I worked on revising my previous manuscript, then ran it through two full revisions before giving it to beta readers. Once I had tightened up the loose nuts my readers ferreted out, I sent out queries to literary agents. I had four agents request full manuscripts, and three others requested partials. Ultimately all would pass on the project, though one agent gave me vital input and encouragement. I made the decision to self-publish in September of 2011, and after a thorough combing by a professional editor and securing cover artwork, I uploaded it to Amazon and made my first official sale as an author in October.
5. What inspired your story?
The city of Baltimore, in a nutshell. As I drove down I-70 each morning during the winter, I spied the bare limbs of trees alongside the road, thinking as many literary geeks do about Nature and storytelling. When I reached the twisted alleys and rundown brick row houses of West Baltimore, I realized the dark forest of fairy tales still existed within the older cities. I imagined an entire world of fantastical darkness lying just behind those back alley doorways. The rest of the Dark Choir mythos basically fell together from there.
6. What was your favorite part of The Curse Merchant to write?
I most enjoyed writing the climax scene. I had the entire manuscript plotted out to a nut, and though I knew what was coming, the groundswell of action and revelations was as enjoyable to write as I find it to read. My average word count when drafting is 1200 words in an hour and a half each night. During that scene I was cranking out 3500 words per sitting.
7. Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I’m in the middle of the first draft of a Top Secret Manuscript not related to the Dark Choir series. When it’s complete I’ll begin drafting the sequel to The Curse Merchant, which is already outlined. I’ve actually put Top Secret Manuscript on hold to write a prequel short story for The Curse Merchant which I’m making available for free online. My plan is to write an independent novel between each book of the Dark Choir series.
8. Are you a Pantser or Plotter? Why?
I’m a notorious plotter. It suits my left-brained sensibilities, and I frankly just love spreadsheets. On my blog I’ve detailed my pre-writing process and offer my character worksheets for free download. I like to start with the overall skeleton, usually following a modified version of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth structure, then flesh it out in a sprawling multi-page spreadsheet in which every scene is summarized and justified toward the work as a whole. When it comes to drafting and revising, however, I’m not necessarily dogmatic about adhering to my plot outline. But if given a blank sheet of paper and no sense of where I’m going, I tend to go nowhere in a big damn hurry.
9. Do you have any tricks to your trade, bottomless coffee, a magic pen, a special muse?
Every time I need to write I retire to my basement, a.k.a. Writing Dungeon, pour myself some whiskey or some homebrew, and I dial Pandora into a station that best suits the tone of the work I’m drafting. I find the combination of liquor and music to be good mental triggers to wipe away the problems and distractions of the day and snap me into writing mode.
10. If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would it be and why?
It’s always been my fantasy to be a god for a day. Perhaps one from the Greek pantheon. The notion of doing precisely nothing that is required but having power to fully realize any one scheme you can imagine is a compelling fantasy indeed!
Dorian Lake has spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed. He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy.
His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own. As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.