The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer

John Connolly - The Land of Lost Things

October 09, 2023 Marissa Meyer Season 2023 Episode 173
The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer
John Connolly - The Land of Lost Things
Show Notes Transcript
In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with John Connolly about THE LAND OF LOST THINGS, his long-anticipated companion to THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. Also discussed: how being a journalist can help and/or hinder being a novelist, the concept of writing being a muscle, how even many books into a career you may recognize planning would make it easier to write, but still will never do it, reading reviews of your own books, the draw of fairy tales and why they are so enduring, and so much more!

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[00:12] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thank you so much for joining me. Real quick FYI before we get going, we are currently looking for our first official sponsor for this podcast. Or two or three sponsors. I don't know. I've never had sponsors before. Maybe the more the merrier. If you're interested in advertising here on The Happy Writer, please contact us to discuss options and what that might look like. You can find contact podcast what is making me happy this week? If you heard last week's episode, you know that I just got back from a road trip. Me and the girls, just mother and daughters, went on a short one week road trip down to Salt Lake City. And one of the highlights was getting to meet up and have dinner with some of the creators of Heartless the Musical, which was a joy in itself. But the best part was that we somewhat spontaneously decided to go do an escape room together. And so we found this escape room that turned out to be this creepy motel room themed escape room where people have been disappearing from this motel and there's this axe murderer on the loose. And it was very scary. And the girls will tell you that they didn't scream, but I know I definitely screamed multiple times. But Sloan and Delaney were so brave. They even volunteered at one point to go into this pitch black closet and close the door on themselves in order to get the next clue. And I was very proud of them because I was like, I am not going into that closet. So go children. Be safe. And we had an absolute blast and we did, in fact, escape and did not get murdered, so that's always a bonus. I am also so happy to be talking to today's guest. And I'll be perfectly honest, I spam girling a little bit about today's guest as well. He is the number one bestselling author of the Charlie Parker thriller series. The supernatural collection. Nocturns. The Samuel Johnson trilogy for younger readers. The Chronicles of the Invader series, co written with Jennifer Ridyard. And The Book of Lost Things. His newest novel, The Land of Lost Things, came out last month. Please welcome John Connolly.

[02:56] John: The pleasure to be here. How are you? I was waiting for a round of applause, but I didn't really get one, but kind of used it up by now.

[03:03] Marissa: The people listening in their cars are applauding. We just have to assume that it happens.

[03:08] John: You're just throwing me a bone here, aren't you?

[03:12] Marissa: Oh, you know what? I would love to get like, a little button where I press a button and there's the sound track for the applause. That would be what would be lovely.

[03:21] John: I think that's all you're missing. I think that would just bring it up a little bit.

[03:25] Marissa: Absolutely.

[03:26] John: I feel wanted.

[03:27] Marissa: We need more bells and whistles on this.

[03:29] John: Really? That's what you need.

[03:32] Marissa: It is such a joy and such a pleasure. I'm going to tell you that I read The Book of Lost Things when it first came out, and I had to look up the date. 2006. It was a long time ago that that book came out.

[03:47] John: Yeah, that's about right. So I'm striking while the commercial iron is hot by bringing out another 117 years later. This is why I don't have a yacht.

[03:57] Marissa: Short blip in time. No. And it was one of those books that was really influential to me as a writer. I love fairy tales, have always loved fairy tales and mythology. And I just was so immersed in the world and what you did, combining these stories in this really dark, really creepy, luscious way. And so it was one of those books that just kind of left its mark on me as a writer and a creator. So thank you. And I am just thrilled to have you on today.

[04:32] John: Oh, it's very nice of you to ask me. And I'm touched that you would say that. That's a very nice thing to say.

[04:36] Marissa: Thank you. So the first thing that I like to ask all of my guests is that I would love to hear your origin story.

[04:46] John: About Tarzan.

[04:47] Marissa: Exactly.

[04:48] John: I was raised by apes on the north side of Dublin. Yeah. My father was a cold woman. I was born at an early age. I suppose like most people who write for a living, I've always written. It was just one of those things that I did in the same way that someone who hears a piece of music when they're young wants to figure out how to play it, or someone who looks at a painting wants to draw. Once I started reading, I wanted to write, but I always thought I would be a journalist because I didn't see any other way to be paid to write. And I ended up working for the Irish Times in Dublin. And there were people who were just much better journalists than I was. I could do it, but my heart wasn't in it. And also, I like making stuff up. And by and large, well, you used to be able to say safely that media outlets didn't like you making stuff up, but I think that may be in the past. I could probably get a job at Fox News now. And so I began writing my first novel, and that was the first piece of fiction that I had written, barring one short story I wrote in college since I'd left school. And that became every dead thing. And that was the first book of mine to be published back in 1999.

[06:02] Marissa: And so that was the very first book that you attempted to write and also got published yeah, that's an unusual path. You don't hear that very often. It's more common to hear the oh, I wrote ten novels that went nowhere before I finally got that.

[06:19] John: Yeah, I know. I think in part it was because I had spent a I spent a long time writing it. So rather than write five novels that really didn't go anywhere, I spent four and a bit years writing, working on one novel and trying to finesse it. But I had also had that experience of being a journalist and it is a very useful experience for a writer to have because it knocks a lot of preciousness out of you, it teaches you to work to a deadline, it teaches you that anything can be researched and it gives you a discipline. And I think that's often the difficulty for writers who are starting out that discipline of sitting down to write even when you don't want to write because newspapers have a very low tolerance level for writers who come in and say I'm not really in the mood to write today. They go, well, maybe we'll find someone else who is in the mood to write. You can go and clean windows for a living. So all of those things, I think, fed into what I was doing. So I guess I had that craft, for want of a better word, which was helpful. And I left journalism just in time, I think. Because in theory you would imagine that lots of journalists will be producing novels and journalists do, but not as many as you might think. Because I think we become habituated to writing nothing longer than 1000 words or maybe 1500 words at most. And then conceptualizing a novel which is obviously much longer becomes very, very difficult. And I think it's interesting sometimes if you look at journalists who have become novelists and I suppose in crime fiction I can think of Michael Connolly and John Sanford, I can often see that they're writing in thousand word chunks, that something of that journalist craft has seeped into the way that they write novels. They know that this is how you sit down, you write a section that's your work for the day done or that's your deadline done and then you come back again and do some more tomorrow. And I think I can sometimes pick up that rhythm in what they write.

[08:22] Marissa: Interesting. Do you think you have any of that left over in your writing?

[08:26] John: Yeah, I still write in I mean, my target for any writing day is about 1000 words. I'll sometimes write a little bit more but if I get 1000 words done, I'll be content and that will be some of my work done for the day. I think it's a bit like when you're teaching kids in school they say that if you try and talk to them for beyond about half an hour they start falling asleep and losing interest. And I sometimes think you can burn yourself out a little bit. I think 1000 words is a pretty decent effort to make before you get up and stretch your legs and go and walk the dog or make a cup of coffee or whatever it might be. And when I talk to people who want to be writers, I often tell them when they're starting out, really, to not try to write. Try to write maybe 100 words a day and do it before your kids have gone to school or before your kids have got up, or just when they've gone to school or on your lunch break in your job or whatever it might be, because that takes about ten or 15 minutes. And when you've done, it to put away your laptop or your notebook and be satisfied with the fact that you've done what you said you were going to do. I think sometimes when we're trying to write a novel, or people are trying to write a novel for the first time, they're thinking of 100,000 words. That's a very difficult task to accomplish. You're better off thinking of it in small sections, tackling those small sections, doing it piece by piece and step by step. And that's how novels are constructed, I think. And not being frightened of your desk and not simply not burning yourself out.

[09:59] Marissa: Yeah. No. And I think it takes so much of the intimidation factor away from it and kind of helps to establish the habit. I know for me, when I was first starting, I would go weeks without writing, and then I would have, okay, here's a Saturday where I've got nothing else going on, and I would write 12,000 words in a day. And it was fun. I looked forward to those days, but it was exhausting, too. And then it's like, well, now I can't write for two more weeks. And so at some point in my journey, in my path, I was like, you know what? It really just works better. If I could do it in smaller chunks and be more consistent, I find that that muscle better.

[10:40] John: It's a muscle I go to the gym because I'm a middle aged man, and I don't want to end up wearing spanx or living in my own filth on the couch. And so you learn from going to the gym that you can only use a muscle for so long before it starts getting tired, and then you have to switch to another muscle to try and because that's how you alternate. And riding is a muscle. It's a muscle that needs to be trained, but it's also a muscle that can tire. And I think to get used to just exercising it enough sufficiently that you make progress is a very good habit to develop as a writer, no?

[11:19] Marissa: Definitely. And for so many, it seems like the act of getting started is usually the toughest part of the writing day. I don't know if you agree with that. But for me, that resistance. If I feel any resistance, if I feel like, oh, I don't feel like it, I'm tired, whatever the voice in my head might be telling me. But then if I sit down with, say, a small goal, 100 words, 200 words, or even ten or 15 minutes, I'm going to apply myself to this story. And then suddenly all of that resistance vanishes. And it's like, okay, I'm here. I'm back in this headspace. I can keep going. But getting started is so often the hardest part.

[12:01] John: Yeah, there's no easy way around it. At some point, you have to sit down at your desk or open your laptop and begin writing. And it is a little bit easier if you're not intimidated by saying that you're going to write for 10 hours. I think that that's the point at which there are difficulties and learning to ignore that little critical voice in your head that says, well, this isn't very good, or you're a bit tired today, maybe go and do something else. And a lot of days are not enjoyable. It's not all running through the hills and fens and consorting with the muse. It doesn't work that way, generally speaking. You get a good run at the beginning for the first couple of weeks, and then it starts getting difficult. And that's the point at which doubt begins creeping in. That's the point at which you have that fatal voice in your head that says, well, that wasn't a very good idea. Why don't you abandon it? And why don't you try me? Because I'm the shiny new idea, and you're clearly more enthusiastic about me than about the book or the short story that you're trudging through. And the temptation is to listen to that voice, to set aside what you're doing and commence something else. And I always tell people, I always give people, like three or four minutes at the end of a signing and tell them everything I know about writing. And it pretty much comes down to the fact that you have only a finite amount of creative confidence, and anytime you abandon a project, you chip away a little piece of it. And the really difficult thing to be any kind of creative individual is to recognize that an unfinished thing has no place in the world and doesn't do you any good. And the real difficulty when you sit down to write that first line is to psychologically commit to writing the last line. I don't have any abandoned projects and drawers. I don't have any unfinished short stories. I don't have any unfinished novels. I don't have anything that I written that I haven't published. And in part, that's that commitment to recognizing that no matter how hard it gets or how frustrated I get, that this is all part of the process. Doubt is part of the process. That temptation to abandon projects is part of the process. And it has to be resisted. There are writers who come and tell you, no, if you're not enjoying it, go and set it aside. And that's nonsense. It's just rubbish. Because actually writing a long novel, the longest book I've written, certainly longest piece of fiction I've written, is probably closing in on 200,000 words. There's no way you're going to get through that without having days where or months where you just don't want to do it. And do is part of the process. It's a job in many ways, it's a job that out of it, if you're very lucky, can come something worthwhile. But to imagine that every day is going to be a pleasure is kind of fooling oneself. I think a lot of it is hard work, and if it wasn't, there would be even more people writing than there are already, and there are already quite a lot of people writing. But I think to recognize that, to recognize that writers and we don't often talk about doubt, and we don't often talk about the difficult days of trudging through stuff, because there are writers who are a bit embarrassed about that, I think. Yes, it's difficult. And yes, there was a period when I just wanted to abandon this novel. I'm going to have just published my 36th book. Every one of them I've wanted to abandon after 20,000 words, every single one of them. And that period goes on until 50 or 60,000 words, when I gradually begin to come out of the weeds and see something approaching the end of the novel. And that has never changed. And at least I recognize that that's a step along the way and a difficult step. And I think for first time writers, that's the point at which they begin to lose faith in themselves and lose faith in the project.

[15:43] Marissa: I think it is funny how completely universal that is. And it's that 20,000 word mark for me, certainly, and for so many writers, that actually has come up a number of times on this podcast and how at whatever it is about that moment in the story, that moment in the plot. You've gotten past the beginning that's so full of possibility and potential and excitement, and now you're into the murky middle, as they call it. And it's so long, and there's still so many unanswered questions. And that is when all of the doubts start to creep up for you. When you're having one of those tough days, is there anything you do or do you just sit down and power through it, keep writing your thousand words a day?

[16:37] John: Do you power through it, recognizing that when you finish them, they're going to look awful, but when you go back to them in six months time, they're not going to seem so bad after all, if you're having an awful day. There are two things. The weird thing about writer's block or whatever passes for it, is that it's different for everybody, I think. But counterintuitively, the way to get over writer's block is to write. Write your way out of writer's block. The worst thing you can do is abandon what you're doing or walk away. Certainly walk away for longer than a day, I think. So sometimes if I was having real difficulty with a book, I would go off and write maybe an essay on a piece of fiction or a piece of music that I liked. Or I would write something for a newspaper. I would keep using the muscle, but use it in a different way. And that usually gets you over that hump. But abandon that to walk away for something for a multiplicity of days or for a week or a month, I just think that's a really bad idea. But there is many ways to write as the rare writers. And there are probably some writers out there who can actually step aside from something after 20 or 30,000 words, put it away and come back to it when they feel a little bit better about it in six months time. But I think they're very rare. I don't think that's really how writers are wired. And sometimes you recognize that instead of getting 1000 words a day done, maybe you'll just get 500 and you shall be satisfied with that until your enthusiasm or your impetus picks up your velocity, or whatever you want to call it, picks up pace again. But it's not a straight line. There are ups and downs and there will be frustrations and moments where things aren't going well. And again, it depends on how you write. I am someone who I'm not a planner. I've never been able to plan. I have no interest in planning. I don't want to learn how to play chess at this stage of my life. It's not going to make my life any better. I tend to write quite slowly, not really knowing where I'm going, but being happy that I've just put something down on the page. And I've learned to ignore that little critical voice, I think. That voice that says, this is rubbish, that voice that says it's not happening. And I tend to write start to finish. I don't look back over what I've done until the draft of the book is finished. So I might not look back on the first chapter until nine or ten months later. And then I go over it again and again, start to finish. Because I think you become attuned to the rhythms of a piece and how characters are fitting together and how words are fitting together and how themes are running through it. You become familiar with them. So I know there are writers who will do a first or second. They'll write in the morning, they'll revise it in the afternoon, and they may never look at it again. Or there are writers who will do a first draft, give it a quick polish and send it to their editors and like that kind of input. Again, it might be a hangover from journalism, but in journalism, the idea was that you handed over a piece that was pretty much word perfect, that didn't need anything done to it, and that could go straight to print. Because the last thing you wanted was either to have the piece handed back to you or to have some sub editor chop the last precious hundred words off it. So I got very good at really delivering stuff that is quite clean. But that takes a long time.

[20:10] Marissa: Yeah. How long does it take to write a book? Or how many drafts do you go through?

[20:16] John: Somewhere between eight and twelve start drafts before anyone sees it, before it goes to my editor or my agent. They're on a kind of two year cycle now, I think. I can spend my morning writing a book and I can spend my afternoon editing another one because I kind of have averaged about three books every two years. And so I've got quite good at being able to multitask, or at least I'm using that analogy of the muscle again in the gym, but that I can use my arm muscles in the morning and my leg muscles in the afternoon. There's a little bit of that. There are two different parts of the brain. That editing part and the draft, the writing part. And I don't like the first draft. I don't enjoy doing it. I love editing. I like cleaning. I find the first draft very difficult because I'm not a planner. If I was able to plan, if I was somebody who could even do a bare outline, that process will be easier and the doubt will be less profound. I think if you can plan, I think it makes life easier.

[21:16] Marissa: Well, I am a planner. I am definitely one of the really intensive outline writers. But I love talking to seat of your pants writers, which is just such a totally different beast and totally different way of yeah, somebody else uses that phrase.

[21:35] John: I was doing an event last about a weekend ago, and I'd never heard that phrase before. I'm not sure that I kind of like it.

[21:44] Marissa: Honestly. I don't like it either. I just don't know.

[21:51] John: Actually, the writer I was sitting next to, she laid out her work, her books on a spreadsheet, and I think there might be a photo somewhere be leaning away from her, looking absolutely appalled that somebody would do something like that with a book. But it worked for her, I suppose.

[22:07] Marissa: Have you ever it's actually seat of.

[22:09] John: The Pants implies kind of almost like an element of there's almost like something exciting or that you're risk taking in some way. If I write really slowly, it takes me a very long time to write, and I'm much more of a I'm not sure if you can have a seat of the pants tortoise. I don't think that holds together.

[22:34] Marissa: I also hear the headlights analogy a lot where that's.

[22:42] John: That idea, it works. I suppose I will be closer to that. That very methodical process. I mean, occasionally I know the last line of the book I'm working on at the moment, but that's like knowing that you have to get to Athens but you don't have a map. It doesn't really help you.

[23:02] Marissa: But do you feel like in your brain you have an idea of maybe what the climax is going to be or what the major turning point is going to be? Do you have some I know maybe.

[23:13] John: Two or three things that are going to happen in the book that I'm writing. But no, very rarely do I know the ending or how it ends. And also I write quite character driven. I think all good fiction is character driven because plot is what people do. And so a lot of it arises out of character. And for me, you discover the character in the process of writing. I know I can't sit down and do some kind of outline and say the main character is six foot two, he wears tweed jackets, he smokes a cigar, he has a scar above one eye, he has nine children, or whatever it might be. That seems to me a very facile way of writing. I think I kind of need to get into it. And these characters arise in the course of the writing and I begin to discover more about them with each rewrite, I suppose. And then from that, often what happens in the novel will emerge. But I have to get those characters right first and I have to start knowing them. And that's why it takes such a long time. I think if you're a plot driven writer and they're out there, then maybe you're possibly more inclined to do that kind of outlining in advance and be able to work that way. But I think the more character driven your work is, the more difficult it is to do that kind of advanced work because so much of it is the characters don't come out fully formed. It's a process of excavation, I think. And that excavation occurs in the first and the second and the third draft. But again, there will be writers who will disagree with me. Yeah, I think they're wrong, but they can disagree.

[25:01] Marissa: No, I think that makes a lot of sense. I would say that I am more of a plot driven writer and again, very much an outliner. But largely because of that, it does take a long time to figure out those characters. And in come the third 4th draft of a book, the plot starts to change because now I can see them more, I can hear them more and I understand their motivations. And so now they're doing different things. And so in the end, we all end up with a book. It's just different.

[25:34] John: That's absolutely true. If you do end up with a book or a finished essay or a finished poem or whatever it might be, or a finished painting, then that was the right way to go about it for you. And we hone our methods. We don't write the same way after 25 years that we did when we write our first book, you develop and you change and you find ways to do things that are maybe a little bit easier. I remember when I remember when I wrote my first book. If there was a part that I was struggling with, I would gloss over it and move on to the next stage. And that was a disastrous idea, because suddenly you're left with all these parts in a book that you didn't want to write to begin with, so you're better off looking. You married. That thing about if you can't have your pudding until you eat your vegetables, go and eat your vegetables, and then you can have your pudding and write your too.

[26:24] Marissa: Oh, I have had books where I left holes in the draft, like, oh, I'll come back to this big battle scene. Oh, I'll figure this out later. And you're right. Future Marissa always gets mad about it. I don't want to do this now. Now I've got two weeks of nothing but the hard scenes in front of me.

[26:43] John: Yeah, but they're no fun at all.

[26:46] Marissa: All right, so here you are. I think you said this is your 36th book.

[26:51] John: Yeah.

[26:52] Marissa: And you're still not an outliner. Would you tell listeners? What is the Land of Lost Things about?

[27:04] John: It is about or at least it centers on a young single mother called Ceres whose daughter is hit by a car when she's crossing the road and is rendered unresponsive. And her life obviously alters because she is now forced into these pilgrimages to her daughter's bedside and reading her stories in the hope that she'll react and dealing with doctors, and her friendships fall away and her work falls away, and she gets that call that will happen. Sometimes if you have a if you're dealing with a sick relative where the hospital will say, you should come now, this doesn't look good. And when she arrives, her child is rallied, and something in her breaks at that point, it fractures, and she moves into a land that is composed in part from the folklore that her father shared with her as a child. Her father was an amateur folklorist, and there are elements of fairy tales, too, because there is some crossover there. And it is a journey that presents her with different versions of grief and loss and coping, and also different versions of motherhood and gradually leads her to answer a question about her daughter and herself and what is going to happen or what she should do. It builds a little bit on The Book of Lost Things, which came out. I should. Say, nearly two decades earlier and has elements in common with it. There's not quite a sequel to it. It moves in the same universe as that book, I think.

[28:39] Marissa: Yeah. More of a companion title, perhaps.

[28:41] John: Yeah, I think they sit together in a way. If the first book was about my childhood and adolescence, this is about parenthood because I'm at that stage in my life where I've become the responsible adult in the room. My mom is 90. I've become parent to my parent. I'm parent two sons. I'm parent. There are some of my relatives who need assistance, and it's a stage in middle life that many of us reach. And I think that was why I returned to that world of The Book of Lost Things, because I wanted, having explored, excavated my childhood and adolescence, I wanted to use the same environment to explore this phase of my life and to try and understand where I was. And the crime writer Ross McDonald once said, it's much more interesting not to aim directly at the target. And so rather than write about fatherhood, motherhood appealed to me. And that depth of there's a different texture to the relationship between a mother and a child. I mean, I've watched it with my own wife, so it was a chance to explore those themes at an angle, I think.

[29:54] Marissa: Well, being a mother myself, and I've got twin daughters who are the age of Phoebe, of series little girl who is in the hospital during the book. And some of the scenes were extremely emotional. How do you go about tackling some of these emotions when you're writing?

[30:19] John: I'm not sure we're going to go back to that word planning. Again, I'm not sure that it's planned in that way. As I say, if you write the way that I do, then you're on this constant mining expedition and you're mining your own feelings and you're mining your own memories and the experiences that you've gone through with your own children. I suppose of memories of sitting outside an operating theater when my son had injured himself quite late at night. And these things that stay with you. And they're the material that all writers draw on. An observation. Observation of other parents around me, the observation of other children. But mostly you're just delving into yourself and your fears and your hopes. They're all you have, really, as a writer. All of those things that you've experienced or observed. Writers are quite magpieish. So it's really just like I said, we keep coming back to that thing. I struggle sometimes with questions like this because I'm not sure that's how I think. I'm just not sure that's how I'm wired. And the process is not very conscious. It is very much a case of I sit down and I know that something is in there and I have to sit at my desk and do my best to write. And at some point, some of that will come out, and it won't come out perfectly, and it won't come out in quite the form that I wanted. And even after all those rewrites, it still won't be in that form that I wanted, because something gets lost in that transfer of something quite nebulous to concrete symbols on a page. It's never quite what you wanted it to be. That's why I never read interviews with myself anymore, because I go, well, they didn't quite get what I was trying to say, and they're never going to get what I was trying to say, because I can't say it. All you can hope is that when you write the book, if it's connected with people, that you've done something right. Because I think readers are very not just they don't just have a critical intelligence, they have a very sharp emotional intelligence developed not just from their own experiences of life, but from the books that they read. And they're very good at picking up something that sounds hollow or something that rings folds to their ear. They might not be able to express why it does, but they'll just know that it doesn't seem true to them. And so in some ways, you're relying on subjective responses from readers, and not everybody's going to like it, not everybody's going to like the books that you write. And all you can do is when you finish. If I've never handed over a book that I didn't feel, that I put my heart and soul into, I didn't feel that that was as good as I could make it at the time. That doesn't mean that it's going to stand up or that 15 years later it would be the book that I want to press into people's hands. But at the time, it was certainly what I wanted to do, and I tried to do it to the best of my abilities. And that gives you a certain you're not impervious to criticism, but if you've done your best with what you've done, and you believed it to be true and people didn't get it, then you've come out of it with a degree of honor.

[33:43] Marissa: Yeah, I think truly all that you can do.

[33:47] John: Yeah, it is. Obviously it makes life easier if people like it, because more people buy it and talk about it. And your publishers are happy and the booksellers are happy, and maybe you're a little bit happier too, because nobody likes to see a book that they've written maybe not connect the way that they had hoped to. But a lot of that is out of your hands. You can publish a perfect book at the wrong time and it won't connect, or your publishers may be distracted, it may not have the best cover on it, and if it doesn't have a good cover, a lot of people won't take it down from the shelf.

[34:21] Marissa: Right.

[34:21] John: There are so many aspects of it that are out of your control. And learning to accept that is quite difficult for a writer, because we do we are invested in the things that we do. We do care about it. And we're always looking at the person next to us and going, how come their books are piled 50 high in the bookstore? But they are hacks, and unfortunately, the world doesn't quite work that way. I don't read reviews anymore. That's something quite a while ago I decided I wasn't going to do, because they only mattered in the sense that a good review maybe will sell more copies than a bad review. But writers tendency is not to believe either of them. Well, no, your tendency is to believe the bad one and not believe the good one.

[35:11] Marissa: That's so true. They're no help at all.

[35:15] John: No, they're not helping. Hey. I remember going to interview James Lee Burke when my first book came out because he'd been a big influence on me and he doesn't fly, so he'd never made it to Europe. And I remember making a pilgrimage to Montana, essentially, and I interviewed him, still did occasional interviews for the newspaper with writers. And he said to me, the only piece of advice to give you, he said, you have to learn to ignore the cat calls and the applause. And it's very true. They don't benefit you in it. My mom is happier and I get a good review, but I become very good at not looking at them. You're only human if you open your newspaper and your name is there. And as your title of your book, you would have to be made of steel not to at least glance at it. So I will look at the first and last lines usually, but if I can, I will avoid them entirely. The publishers very kindly will send me reviews, and generally I just forward them to Claire, who looks after stuff for me or to my wife.

[36:23] Marissa: And she can. Yeah. When you are sitting at your desk writing, how much are you thinking about the end reader?

[36:34] John: Hardly at all.

[36:35] Marissa: Yeah.

[36:35] John: Not in the first instance. The first instance, all you're thinking about is, can I get this bloody thing out of my head and onto the page? That's kind of a facile answer in a way. Even if you have your secret diary with a lock on it saying, do not open, must not be read by anybody, and you put skull and crossbones on it, warning death. When you're writing something, you're writing with a view to being understood. You're writing for an unseen reader. Sometimes in the first instance, that reader is yourself in that by putting something down on the page and writing it out, you can come to an understanding that you don't have if it's just sitting around in your head as a series of random thoughts. And I think that might be true. Or to say that there is a reader in my mind but that reader is probably me. And we had a piece. My British publishers did one of those market research things that they occasionally do to try and find out who's reading your books. And it was interesting because apart from the fact that I have quite a lot of male readers, which for mystery writers is not always typical, it tends to be very female dominated. A lot of them were about my age, bought magazines, liked going to the cinema, didn't play teen sports and I thought all my readers look a bit like me. What a shocker. And it is kind of curious that maybe in a sense those are the readers that you will ultimately attract if you're writing from your heart and about yourself you're going to attract people who have some of the same interests as you do, who have some of the same experiences as you do. And that's not always a good thing because while yes, it's lovely to that notion that you can read a piece of fiction and think to yourself, oh, I've thought that, but I never would have expressed it that way. Or I feel a sense of community with the writer because I've had those similar experiences. Sometimes it's actually much more interesting to pick up and go, I've never thought of that. Never have looked at the world that way. That seems to me to completely against everything that I had thought possible beforehand and to be challenged in that way is much more interesting than to have everything that you believe reaffirmed. And occasionally American readers will send me because I suppose I would have a vaguely left wing Catholic view on the world and I will occasionally get letters from right wing readers saying I don't read novels to have the writer's political opinions forced upon me. And I often think that what they mean is that I don't pick up novels to have political opinions that I don't agree with forced on know, I don't imagine I share a list with a lot of writers who would be far more right wing than and that's fine, we are all entitled to our views. I don't imagine those writers, whether it's Jack Carr, Brad Thor getting letters from right wing readers going I don't like your political thought the mere fact that they were buying the book means that they were kind of in a corridor of whatever is being presented and I don't really understand that. I don't understand readers who don't want to have their views challenged, who don't want to have their minds expanded, who don't want to have to look at issues from a different I got on very well with Vince Flyn, the late Flynn, and we had nothing in common in terms of how we looked at society and the world. Perfect that he was a nice man, but our political beliefs were very different. But I could pick up the books and appreciate what he was doing and enjoy them, but I didn't have to agree with everything that was in them. Sure, it's an OD world that would make you want to agree with everything that you read. I mean, at that point you think, why you're reading anyway? If you knew already? What's the point, really?

[40:42] Marissa: So before we move into our bonus round, I do have to ask you about fairy tales and folktales, which play such a huge role in The Land of Lost Things and also The Book of Lost Things. What's your relationship to folktales? What draws you to them?

[41:00] John: I think probably what draws everybody to them. They have truths to them. They are very old. They've been passed down from generation to generation, barely changing. I mean, details change in them, but the thrust of the stories never changes because they communicate certain truths about existence. I think I wrote a piece for the Express in London recently about that, about how adults who try to protect their children by removing the darkness of these tales are doing them a disservice. Because the whole point of them was, in a sense, to try to warn children about the nature of the world, to say to them, look, there is darkness out there. There are people who are predatory. There are people who are difficult, and you will be forced you may face difficult choices as you enter adolescence and early adulthood, but if you behave cleverly, there's actually short stories of there are fairy stories of no interest in people being good, which is why I think a certain type of adult is very suspicious of them. They're much more interested in children being clever and being wary and being wise than they are about being good, because those things are not always goodness is not always there isn't an equal to sign there. And so I find that fascinating. I find a story like Red Riding Hood fascinating because there's no subtext to it. It's all text. It's a story suffused with sexuality, there to warn young women about the nature of men, that some men are predatory and you need to be careful. And I suppose that's what it is. But I told in such marvelous ways, and they've survived for all those reasons. They'll survive. The latest Disneyfications of them. They'll survive arguments about whether Snow White should have dwarves in the new movie. They'll survive. Those stories will persist because they have always persisted, and they persist because they have truths.

[42:59] Marissa: No, and I love the stories that haven't been Disney. I mean, I love Disney. I'm a Disney girl, I'll admit that. But I'm also a Grimm girl and Anderson girl, and I love reading the stories to my girls. And it seems like every time I read one of the fairy tales to them, their response is like, mom, why someone die in every single one of these stories?

[43:27] John: Why are people obsessed with eating each other? Yeah, I like you. I think that, especially the old animations are wonderful. They serve a different purpose, though.

[43:38] Marissa: They do.

[43:39] John: They're closer to entertainments, I think, although Bambi is still traumatizing and bits of dumbo. But they do serve a different purpose, and that's fine. But it is interesting to go back to those original tales and see how dark they are and how consciously dark they are.

[43:56] Marissa: Yes. No. And it really surprises a lot of people when they go back to the originals in a way that's really fun for us who already know about it.

[44:04] John: Yeah, absolutely. It's nice to see your children being terrified occasionally.

[44:07] Marissa: Right. All right, are you ready for our bonus round?

[44:12] John: Go on. Sure, why not?

[44:13] Marissa: What book makes you happy?

[44:16] John: Oh, well, it's a series of books, the Jeeves and Wooster novels by PG. Woodhouse, which I reread. I'm always rereading one of them at some point during the year. And they're just lovely. Woodhouse was just he just had such a marvelous turn of phrase. And it is a world in know even the worst of people have something good to he. Also, I think Woodhouse gave he wrote one of my favorite quotes, which is that Shakespeare's stuff is different from mine, which is not to say that it's inferior. If I'd written that line, I would have taken the day off, quite frankly.

[44:51] Marissa: I love that. What are you working on next?

[44:57] John: I've been traveling at least as much as I can do. I've been writing a book set against the backdrop of the televising of the Watergate hearings to try to do something a little bit different. I'm very conscious that I want to try to do something different with each book. And so this is just something I haven't tried before. But these books are not contract novels. They're like the Book of Lost Things or the Land of Lost Things or he. They're books that are written out of a desire to experiment and stretch myself. And in theory, the publishers could reject it if they didn't want it. They haven't, thankfully, so far, but it could happen, I suppose.

[45:36] Marissa: Lastly, where can people find you?

[45:39] John: Find me? I hope they what, you mean like, come to my house and camp? Well, I guess, like any writer now, I have a certain social media presence, so I have a website, which is John, and there's social media links and stuff on. Yeah, yeah. I guess I can be found more easily than I might like to be found sometimes.

[46:08] Marissa: Awesome. John, thank you so much for joining me today.

[46:11] John: Oh, it was a pleasure. Thank you very much. I'm sorry if I sounded like I was rambling, but the questions were interesting.

[46:17] Marissa: No, I love it, and I love talking craft and publishing and all the things. Readers, I hope you will check out the Land of Lost Things. It is available now. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore, but if you don't have a local indie, you can check out our affiliate store that slash shop. Slash marissabayer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise on Etsy, instagram and tpublic. You can find the links in our Instagram profile. Next week, I will be talking with Kaylin Josephson about her new racehorse themed fantasy, this Dark Descent. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, Author, and at Happy Writer podcast. Until next time, stay inspired, keep writing and whatever life throws at you today. I hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier.