Inside the Writer's Studio with John Jaramillo

John P. Jaramillo


We have a real treat today in the writer’s studio to hear from author and creative writing instructor, John Paul Jaramillo.

John Paul grew up in Southern Colorado but now lives, writes and teaches in Springfield, Illinois. He earned his MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Oregon State University and, currently, holds the position of Associate Professor of English in the Arts and Humanities Department of Lincoln Land Community College.

Connect with John Paul on his websiteFacebookTwitter or GoodReads.

I took advantage of his expertise as both a writer and someone who works with beginning writers as students to ask an array of questions related to his work, advice, and future plans. Learn more about his collection of short stories, The House of Order and enter for a chance to win a range of prizes!


What is your one piece of must know advice for aspiring writers?

I tell my creative writing students to think of form more than meaning. To think about how they tell stories almost more than the stories they want to tell. To think about form more than what stories are selling or popular. I also tell them to read as much as possible but also I tell them to put those influences away and write as much as possible. At some level a writer has to spend hours a day drafting rather than hours a day reading. I value reading and investigation of narrative but once those models inspire and assist our process I think it is important to labor with the drafts more than any other text. I think writers have to devote so much of their time to their desks and chairs to conduct the work of writing. I know many students that wait to be inspired rather than commit and re-commit to re-envisioning work. Folks perhaps don’t understand how difficult it can be.

Is there an unforgettable lesson you learned from writing this book you wouldn’t have known otherwise?

The book is intimate and is filled with imaginings and retelling and re-crafting of old family stories. Most of the stories come from my writing in graduate school at Oregon State. They represent quite a bit of revision and reworking. I was exploring what kind of stories I wanted to tell and what kind of stories I could tell. Over the past five years I’ve tweaked and developed these stories into a greater story arc and trajectory. I think I learned, more so than anything else, how story telling or fiction writing is about the finding of the story as opposed to the capturing of the story.

Any challenges for you as you wrote and published this book?

The biggest challenge had to be incorporating ‘slanguage’ and so much of the Spanish idioms I grew up using. Capturing the language of the old folks of my family. Being honest to that but also keeping the story with a certain amount of clarity. There are fewer and fewer venues and publications that embrace the odd kind of stories and the odd kind of mix of languages and slang I wanted to tell.

Have you started your next project?

I have so much material based around Southern Colorado. I have stories about my father’s side of the family and stories about my mother’s side. But I’m constantly developing the form or the structure of those stories. I have more stories about my father and my uncle. In the writing they are Relles and Neto. I’m hoping the material will shape up into a novel or another collection of composite stories. I feel that the form will dictate the stories. Many of the characters that feature in this book feature in many of my stories and as I tweak and re-draft material I won’t be content until I capture the most effective form or structure for the stories.

Anything else you want to readers to know?

I have a writing and teaching weblog at where I discuss the differences of writing and teaching. I tell my students I feel that I am a better writer than I am a teacher. I post quite a bit about the differences between teachers who majored in and study literature rather than those teachers who majored in creative writing. Dare I say those who create literature or art? I think fiction writers look at writing in a little different way than lit majors. Looking at literature and how it is constructed instead of what it means or what literary trend it represents. Thanks again for the interview.



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Novel Publicity Blog Tour Notes:

Wanna win a $50 gift card or an autographed copy of The House of Order? Well, there are two ways to enter…

  1. Leave a comment on my blog. One random commenter during this tour will win a $50 gift card. For the full list of participating blogs, visit the official House of Order tour page.
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest! I’ve posted the contest form below, or you can enter on the official House of Order tour page–either way works just as well.

About the author: John Paul Jaramillo grew up in Southern Colorado but now lives, writes and teaches in Springfield, Illinois. He earned his MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Oregon State University and, currently, holds the position of Associate Professor of English in the Arts and Humanities Department of Lincoln Land Community College. Connect with John Paul on his website, Facebook, Twitter or GoodReads.

Get The House of Order on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.



Inside the Writer's Studio with Brian Holers

It’s time to go back into the writer’s studio again, this time with Brian Holers, author of the literary novel, Doxology. For Brian, life is a gift that plays out with unbearable sweetness. Inherently drawn to the opportunities all around him, Brian has forged his own way. An arborist by day (that means a tree expert, I had to look it up too!) and a novelist in every moment he can steal, his head is filled with stories which can’t be contained. Be it writing, blogging or ranting to friends, his voice is passionate and compelling.

At the end of the interview, learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $450 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book. The tour blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card. When you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to Vote for A DAY IN DOHA.

1. Why did you choose to write about characters who set out to rediscover their faiths?

The characters in Doxology don’t really set out to rediscover their faiths—they simply rediscover them when everything else is lost. My two central characters, Vernon and Jody, uncle and nephew, are just living life as the story begins. Jody has a pretty good, interesting life, he has a stable job working for a nice family, he’s in love with the daughter of that family and works for the son and father. He has totally inserted himself into this family, and his life has promise. Only when he learns that his father is dying does he decide to return home, deal with things he has successfully avoided, and discover the great role faith has played in making him who he is. Vernon, conversely, is making his way through life, but just barely; the tragic loss of his son has made him a mere shell of the man he once was, and the greatest joy of his current life is his ongoing endeavor to show his disdain for God. Only when he fails in the one pitiful thing he has left, when he is broken down to absolutely nothing, is a return to faith possible. The story is entirely fabricated, without really a shred of reality, though I can recognize parts of myself in many of the characters. Particularly Jody’s girlfriend.

2. What was the inspiration for this book?

The inspiration for Doxology was the longstanding concept of “my brother’s keeper,” superimposed on the Jewish concept of “dayeinu”. Dayeinu is what Jews say during the Passover seder in contemplation of the many things God has done for us—the concept of “it would have been enough.” “If only God had led us out of the desert, dayeinu, it would have been enough. But no, God did something more.” In 2005, when I finally started writing, I worked on short stories and met twice a month with a group of other writers. When my wife and I decided to leave the country for a year, I figured, well I won’t be meeting with a writers’ group anymore, maybe I’ll just write a book. And I wrote the first several drafts of that book while we were traveling, from a smelly dive-shop hotel in Zanzibar, where I had to drag a rickety wooden table into our room and kick my wife and son out for the afternoon, to a beachfront room in Phuket, to the lobby of a YMCA hotel in Jerusalem, to a coffee shop with stale cookies in Malaysia, where my family and I helped build a Habitat for Humanity house during the day. And really that trip cemented for me the idea that anywhere you go, the stories are the same. We all care most about our families. There are so many good things God does for us.

3. What surprises did you encounter in writing Doxology?

The greatest surprise I encountered when writing Doxology was the way Vernon kept trying to take over. When the story began, it was all about Jody. The problem was, Vernon’s conflict was more immediate right from the beginning—dealing with the death of his only son, his constant drinking and self-destructive behavior. He just kept taking over—maybe Jody’s struggle was so much harder to portray, since he seems to be doing pretty well in his current life, unlike Vernon. I overcame this problem by letting go—I stopped fighting it. I let Vernon take over, and then struggled to really work my way inside Jody, which took a long time. I overcame the problem by deciding the book was going to be done when it was done, and I couldn’t rush it.

4. Why did you decide to become a writer?

I discovered my passion for stories at a young age—I have always been filled with stories. It took me awhile to begin to try and write them down. It also took me a few years to discover that trying to tell people the stories I imagined just made everyone think I was weird (which is a fair assessment) and that I talked too much. I’m glad it worked out this way though—if I had discovered my passion for writing at a young age, I would probably have struggled in a losing battle to make my living that way, and I’d be discouraged and burned out by now. What I discovered instead, in my twenties, is that for a guy so animated by imaginary stories, I’m surprising adept at negotiating the physical world. A dozen or so years of self employment allowed me to strip away a lot of detritus, have a lot of time alone to think. Once, a consultant I hired to help me manage my tree service told me that the world inside my head was more vivid to me than the world outside, and that’s when I decided I had to get serious about my writing.

5. What is the most effective resource you have found for writing?

The only effective resource I have come across to hone my craft is time. And the best advice I received is not to rush. Even when you think you’re done the first or the first several times, put the book away for awhile and come back to it. Don’t rush. I wish I had kept track of how much time I spent on this book—I would guess between 3,000 and 4,000 hours. For one little book! But the advice goes deeper—don’t rush, make a schedule and sit there and write. Give yourself the time and then sit there and do it. If you’re like most of us and have a job, don’t try to commit too much of your day to it. Give it an hour a day, two hours, whatever. Just commit to it. It’s so much easier to come home from work, have a few drinks, go to the bar, and sit and stare at the stories in your head and say “I’m a writer.” You’re only a writer if you’re writing. As for bad advice, I am totally self taught in this craft—the only bad advice I have received is regarding publishing. A lot of people told me even a year ago not to self-publish. However, I have one thing now I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t decided to self-publish, and that is a book.

6. What is your favorite writing ritual?

My favorite writing ritual is to go to my desk at night after my son goes to bed, have my wife put on her headset if she wants to watch TV or listen to music or whatever, just make it very quiet, and sit there until I really need to go to bed.

7. What do you like about writing?

My favorite part of the writing process is the feeling I get each step of the way, which comes from deciding what I can do that day is good enough. Lately I’ve been writing essays. I start with jotting down notes—I write a lot by hand, I think better that way. I’ll write down in my sloppy scratch all the ideas that come to mind on a subject. Then the next session, I’ll organize all those notes, expand a bit, put them all in order. Again, all on paper. Next time I’ll write a draft, and even as I’m writing I know there will be a lot I want to change. Then I’ll print it, make changes, and write again. But I decide each step, and each draft, is good enough for what it is. My least favorite part of writing is that it’s always late and I’m always tired and have to get through it, which I do by setting short-term goals. The greatest of which is brushing my teeth and going to sleep.

8. Why did you decide to self-publish Doxology?

The traditional, old-school publishing world is in total disarray, which is why writers like me have to take things into their own hands. For a lot of us, especially first time or unpublished writers, our hope to be published is simply that, hope. We look at getting a publishing contract as our best chance of being somebody. Now that I’m out here, I have a better sense of how books are sold, and I am here to tell you it is not easy. Possible, yes, but not easy. There are a zillion other forms of entertainment that require much less effort. A publisher really has to sell several thousand copies of your book before beginning to break even. And if you’re just a regular Joe like I am, and nobody’s heard of you, that’s a tall order. Then the other piece is, even if you do get published, you have to do all the work to sell the book anyway. There’s just not enough money in this equation for a publisher to do any real work for you, not until you’ve begun to prove yourself. Personally, as one with good business sense, I like this new model—there is no one between me and all my potential customers—no one saying it’s not good enough, no one saying we can release your book in 18 months.

9. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Advice to aspiring authors—writing may well be the hardest thing you will ever do. At one time I had tons and tons of business debt, customers calling me daily, six highly-paid guys showing up at work every day looking at me for their instructions. I paid through the nose for liability insurance, workers’ comp, and every tool imaginable. Then I waited for the guys to start calling me to say why the jobs couldn’t be done, while I drove around scrambling for more work. All of that was downright easy compared to writing books. But there’s no joy like it. And while I am normal person who has made a lot of mistakes in life, I have found that the more my life is straight, the better my art. The old concept of the tortured writer or tortured artist with various addictions only goes so far. If you want to write clear, clean prose, make yourself as good a person as you can be, and the words will flow. Keep your head up. Be entertained by your writing. Rejoice in the little things. Ultimately writing should be something you enjoy, that gives you passion. I have read that 10,000 hours pursuant to any activity is required to make one an expert, and writing is no exception.

10. What can you say about this book that we wouldn’t learn from the synopsis?

I am grateful to say, Doxology is a beautifully written book, filled with symbols and layers of meaning. It is so much more than I set out to write, and I am proud to say it is so much better than even I thought it would be. It’s not Dostoevsky or the Holy Bible, no, but it is a sweet, moving, inspiring little story of love, loss, and redemption. All told in a Southern accent so thick it just oozes out of the pages.

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Doxology eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $450 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Doxology for just 99 cents
  2. Fill-out the simple form on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

Help my blog win:

The tour blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card. When you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to Vote for A DAY IN DOHA.

About the book: Fathers, sons and brothers reconnect over tragedy in this blue-collar Southern tale of love, loss, and the healing power of community and family. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: An arborist by day and a novelist in every moment he can steal, Brian makes up stories from the treetops. Visit Brian on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

10, 33, 60 — Nothing But Numbers

Photo by Mykl Roventine

This month I had an event that comes only once a year —  my birthday.

As a Hind child growing up in the west, December 25th came and went in our house like most other days. Friends would call and ask what I got. While I fumbled for an answer, the conversation would move on to their substantial gifts. My birthday however was the one day in our house that we were able to choose a present, a cake, even on rare occasion, plan a party funded by our parents. As a child (and later as a college student) I learned to let my birthday slide because it was so early in the American school year that those kids who came to my birthday parties were not those I was friends with by that other great gift giving time: Christmas.

Moving to Qatar had somewhat the opposite effect as there was a national day that was celebrated on September 3rd. This holiday meant a three day weekend during which I’d dash to Bahrain for some festivities. Now we celebrate National Day on December 18th so it appeared I was robbed of the Labor Day like weekend in Doha. Except for this year: Eid Al Fitr came a few days just before, so we packed our bags, snatched up the baby, and went for a weekend getaway to Santorini, Greece.

I promised myself a digital fast as a way to clear my head, enjoy the trip, and also being with my family. I did what many thought would be impossible: left my Blackberry at home. All the flights for this trip were early morning, making my vow to stay away from the Internet relatively easy. The morning we flew out, I did scan my email as the nefarious Cyclopistic blinking red light beckoned me even at dawn.

Congrats on winning the SheWrites New Novelist competition, Mohana!!!!

Incredibly, there it was. One of those messages that you keep your antennae up for but I had to brush my teeth and get on with the more normal parts of real life.

Needless to say, getting into the airport lounge and onto a computer was immediately the next order of business. I read with astonishment that my project, the one that had been rejected 10 times by agents and editors because they “weren’t compelled by it,” or didn’t feel they could do it justice. While the no’s were increasing from polite to reverse compliments (you have a wealth of material) they were still dismissive.

Of course, being no rookie, I knew all about not taking rejection to heart and writing on. And I did — saving this manuscript that is a semi-autobiographical first novel onto the hard drive — starting a second novel based on questions I was thinking about life in Qatar and how people fall in love. Yet when SheWrites reminded me on Twitter that they were doing a contest for the first chapters of unpublished novels. Winners would have their material in front of agents and editors with critiques. I downloaded the chapter, sent it in with my photo, and there my husband was in Greece, reading my synposis and first 2000 words as one of five finalists.

The Help a book that purportedly was rejected sixty times is now opening as a film all around the United States. J.K. Rowling is perhaps one of the most lucrative examples of never giving up on your work or yourself but there are many, many others including Stephen King, whose wife fished out that nail bitter, Carrie, from the trashcan and said she’d help with writing the teenage girlishness he was unsure of.

A contest breathes life back into a story and indeed this writer. A good lesson in writing close to my birthday or indeed any time of year. If you’re an aspiring writer or a writer who need encouragement, dust off the keyboard, notebook, desk and get back in there.

After all, no one can read you if your work isn’t finished.


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