Doodling, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Doodling?
JONATHAN GOULD: Doodling is something of a wish-fulfillment fantasy. It’s about this idea that the world is moving way too fast and sometimes I feel like I’d love to be able to slow it down. The idea was actually inspired by a comment along those lines by my wife a few years ago. At that time I’d just finished a year of a writing course. I was a bit fed up with the fact that I was writing primarily to fulfill assignment requirements and I was looking for a project that would make writing fun again. Instantly the image of a person falling off the world because it was moving so fast came to me. The next day I’d written a first draft of the first chapter, where my main character, Neville, finds himself marooned within an asteroid field after “letting go” of the world. At that stage I had no idea where the plot was going, but every week I would sit down and make up another chapter of what I began to call my “literary doodling”. In the beginning, each chapter was like a little vignette or a comedy sketch where Neville would wander to a different asteroid and meet another strange bunch of characters, a bit like Douglas Adams meets Lewis Carroll. But gradually an overriding plot began to take shape, taken from the original premise that the world was continuing to move faster and faster, eventually placing the asteroid field and its inhabitants at risk. And after much chopping and changing, I found myself with this strange little book. But I still liked the idea that the story evolved from my literary doodling, which is why I decided to retain Doodling as the title.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
JONATHAN GOULD: Most of the characters are drawn in a pretty simple way, a bit like cartoon characters. Each of them has a particular trait that defines them and I’ve tried to make that really clear, both via the way they are referred to in the text (eg the Toaster People, the Party Couple and the Cyclists) and also via other aspects such as the way they look, the clothes they wear, and their speech mannerisms. I also work really hard on their individual voices. Having some experience writing sketch comedy helps as it enables me to “hear them” as they speak, and to provide a strong dynamic to the dialogue scenes. Initially, these characters were designed simply to express a strange or funny idea, but as the plot developed, it became important that each of their traits was essential in finding the answer to saving the asteroid field. For this reason, a number of original characters found themselves cut from the story, not because they weren’t good characters but because they had nothing to offer as the story developed. And as this occurred, new characters were brought in. The Cyclists in particular only appeared once I realized that bicycles were an essential component of my plot.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
JONATHAN GOULD: Probably someone a bit like me. Someone who likes a laugh and has no problem seeing the absurdity of the world around them. Someone who isn’t fussed about whether a book looks like it’s for kids or for adults. Someone who has a strong imagination and likes to be taken on a bit of a ride. And, of course, someone who shares that desire to slow the world down. The one thing I never do is specify an age for my readers (which funnily enough is the first question most people ask). If you fit the above criteria, then I think you’ll enjoy my writing, whether you’re eight or eighty.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
JONATHAN GOULD: I was a bit of a late starter. Although writing was something I always enjoyed, I didn’t really give much thought about it until my late twenties. When some friends decided to start up a comedy show for community television, I immediately jumped at the idea and decided straight away that that’s what I wanted to do, primarily inspired at that stage by British television comedies such as Monty Python, The Young Ones and Blackadder. The TV show didn’t happen but around that time I began working at a university so got involved with a group of students doing a comedy revue. I offered the sketches I’d written to them and a significant number were accepted and became part of a show that was a tremendous success. That gave me the confidence to realize I was quite good at this and I decided that this would be the direction I’d like my life to take. I continued writing sketch comedy (for subsequent revues and also for a radio program), as well as having a couple of goes at the great Australian sitcom. However I gradually decided that my real passion was writing books. That way I could speak directly to an audience without having to deal with producers, directors, actors and all those other hangers-on. I threw myself into it with gusto, producing a couple of drafts of two novels which, looking back now, were probably creditable first goes, as well as attending the aforementioned writing courses. However for me the real breakthrough was Doodling, which I think is the truest representation of my individual voice as a writer. Since then, I have produced a number of other works of varying lengths. I’ve even managed to get a couple of “children’s stories” published in Australia. But apart from that, I’ve been collecting rejection slips from publishers. Often very nice ones with encouraging feedback. The general gist seemed to that while they loved my stories, they were never quite sure where they fitted. Were they for children or adults? Were they fantasy or science-fiction or something else entirely? They just didn’t fit into any of the predetermined boxes. Which took me pretty much to the position I am in now. I’ve decided I need a new genre to classify my stories. I call them “dag-lit”—derived from the term “dag” which is Australian slang for someone who doesn’t fit in. And I’ve realized that if I’m going to make a stab of a career as a writer, I’m best off ignoring the established publishing industry and doing it for myself.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
JONATHAN GOULD: Generally my stories are inspired by themes or ideas (eg the idea that the world is moving too fast). The ideas can come from many places—comments people make, something I’ve read in a book or newspaper or seen on television. Once I have the idea, I try to craft out a story in order to express it, developing a premise, a location, and a set of characters that can help to bring it out in different ways. And then the fun starts, mixing and matching these various elements until a plot begins to appear. Hopefully, if all of the aspects above are set up properly, the story tends to develop quite naturally. Generally I like to have things quite well mapped out before I get down to the hard work of drafting, scribbling down ideas in notebooks and making lists of characters and their qualities and quirks. Doodling was the one exception where I just sat down and wrote without thinking about where it was going. But it worked so well I’m sure I’m going to try it again.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
JONATHAN GOULD: Lots of different authors in lots of different genres. Especially those that have broken down barriers or established something entirely different from what had been there before, eg Douglas Adams (the most obvious one), Raymond Chandler, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, George Orwell. But I’m also inspired by creative people in other genres, especially comedy (John Cleese is a major hero), music (especially love the work of R.E.M.—their playful attitude to lyrics and song titles has been a big inspiration) and cartoonists (really admiring the work of Shaun Tan at present). And one final inspiration I do have to mention is The Muppet Show—a big influence on my developing sense of humor.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
JONATHAN GOULD: I admire so many books but generally I don’t feel like I wish I’d written them. I like to enjoy the skill and craft of other writers while thinking “there’s no way known I could ever have written that”. If you put me on the spot, I’d probably throw in something by Dr Suess, maybe Fox in Socks. So simple and yet sophisticated at the same time. And also, I wish I could draw better.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
JONATHAN GOULD: In a not terribly coordinated way to this point I suspect. If my writing style is “literary doodling”, then I reckon my marketing style could be “promotional doodling”. I’m really not so flash at this marketing caper and am pretty much making it up as I go along. My focus had really been on writing the books and going through traditional publishing options so now I’ve decided to go indie, it’s a totally new ball game for me. Also, I was not a user of social media so had pretty much zero online presence. However given my book is in electronic form and being sold on an online site, I realize that these are the tools I’ll need to master. So I’m getting out and twittering away, have recently established a blog and also a presence on Goodreads. It’s a slow learning process but I’m getting there.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
JONATHAN GOULD: As described above, once I realized I had to go it alone, it was the obvious choice. I considered self-publishing a printed book but the expenses were too high and the distribution and promotion would have been a nightmare, plus I was worried booksellers would have similar issues that publishers did in terms of not knowing where to place my books. But with kindle my initial expense are minimal, the distribution is maximal and I can market my book directly to readers, hopefully allowing it to be able to find its own readership.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
JONATHAN GOULD: Know the story you want to write. Try to be sure of what makes it unique so you know how to differentiate it amidst the vast number of ebooks out there. Ensure it is as good as or better than any traditionally published book—road test it, workshop it, and get it professionally edited. And don’t wait till after it is finished before you get out and start building your online presence.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
http://daglit.blogspot.com/ and you can follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/jonno_go
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