Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Author Interview: Joel Ohman

Joel Ohman, author of Meritropolis. Self-published using whitefox.

I'm a huge fan of dystopian novels, which is why I'm excited to present you with Joel Ohman's dystopian city of Meritropolis and how it came to be.

The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment--to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.

But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn't an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing--not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science--is going to stop him.

Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn't possibly have bargained for...


Other than an author, who are you Joel Ohman?

My name is Joel Ohman. I am 32 years old, married to my best friend, Angela, and have 3 kids, ages 5, almost 3, and 6 months. My writing companion is my 130lb Bull Mastiff, Caesar (who's asleep on the job most of the time, to be honest). I am a Christian who likes to talk about the good news of Jesus Christ. You can learn more about me at JoelOhman.com.

What books and authors have inspired you to write?

I am constantly in the middle of about 15-20 different books. You can check out what I am currently reading and follow me on GoodReads here! For the craft of storytelling, I have learned a lot from John Truby and his book, The Anatomy of Story. I can also see different threads of influence in almost everything I have read over the years that contribute toward making Meritropolis what it is—the strong protagonist of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, the philosophical bent of C.S. Lewis’ fiction, the dystopian setting of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series, and many more. I also like to listen to music while I write.

Music? What type of music do you listen to while you write?

Usually it’s a playlist of the same song or group of songs over and over again, because it allows me to kind of zone in on what I am doing. Here is a link to the Spotify playlist of music that specifically inspired Meritropolis (each of these songs were among the songs I would listen to on repeat while writing Meritropolis): spoti.fi/1qDgfy9

How about your characters? Who/what inspired their creation?

I am a big believer in John Truby’s approach to building a “character web”, because this deepens the relationships between characters and helps to make each of the characters more complex. Without building a good character web, it can be all too easy to fall into the not-very-true-to-real-life good-person/bad-person false dichotomy where your protagonist devolves into this I-can-do-no-wrong character and your antagonist is just pure evil. I was very much aiming to show the imperfections and brokenness in each of the characters. My thinking as a Christian influences this to some degree, given that the Bible teaches that we are all essentially the same; we are all sinners—only God is perfect.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Take the first step! Just do a little at a time. If you decide writing is important to you then make time for it, be consistent, and read a lot.

What was the easiest part about writing Meritropolis? And the hardest?

This was my first book, so I would say that the entire process was maybe a little harder than I anticipated. I worked with some fantastic editors though, so I learned a lot as I went along, and I think it became easier and easier as I went along.

How did you tackle the planning and writing of Meritropolis?

I sketch out a very rough outline, and then I just start writing. Things often deviate, sometimes wildly, from the outline, and I think that usually ends up being a good thing. I do however try to follow a little bit of John Truby's method from his book, The Anatomy of Story.

How long did it take you to write Meritropolis?

It took me about a year and a half to write Meritropolis, almost two years, really. I feel confident that I could write the next book much quicker, because I learned a lot from my editorial team and others at whitefox.

Who is Whitefox, and what was it like working with them?
Whitefox is an author services company that I worked with throughout the writing process. They helped with everything from editing to design to initial marketing. They did a fantastic job of connecting me with professional editors, a professional cover designer, and offered outstanding advice along the way. I would highly recommend that all self-published authors check them out!

Is there anything you would do differently next time?

I am constantly working to improve my craft and get better at the mechanics of writing, so I would like to think that each book I write will be better than the one before it, but I don’t think there are any large structural/process things that I will change.

What are you doing to market your book now?

Right now I am concentrating on getting my book in front of as many of the awesome book bloggers and book reviewers out there as possible. Meritropolis is fortunate to have received a large number of 5-star reviews on both Amazon and GoodReads, and I am definitely hoping this trend will continue. I also recently started working with Emlyn Chand over at Novel Publicity, and she has been great, so I am excited to see what she can do!

Do you have any advice for authors who are considering the self-publishing route?

I am not one of those authors who will say that self-publishing is the best choice for every single author, but I am absolutely glad that I went this route. I love that I can fully control and fully own my work, but I would encourage anyone who self-publishes to try and adhere to the following advice:

1. Don’t be a cheapskate - be willing to pay for a professional editor, a professional book cover designer, etc. It boggles my mind that people will spend hours upon hours writing their book and then just take a few minutes to throw some clip art and stock photos together to “design” their book cover. Don’t. Just, don’t.

2. Work with professionals - by this I simply mean to not overly rely on friends, family members, and co-workers, all of whom will likely just tell you what you want to hear. You need someone who is not afraid to point out the problem areas in your book and provide an honest critique. You already know that your mom is going to say she loves your vampire-Scottish-Highlander-billionaire-love-triangle-in-space book that you wrote, so don’t even bother asking her for feedback. Instead, pay someone who does that kind of thing for a living...

3. Sell, sell, sell - If you are a self-published author and you are not actively involved in sales and marketing for your book—which is essentially your mini-business—or you are not paying someone else to be actively involved in the sales and marketing of your book, then you are not maximizing the reach your book can have. As uncouth as it might be to say this, writing is only half of what is required to see success as a self-published author. Yes, you need to write a good book, but you also need to effectively market and sell your book (either by hiring someone, or doing it yourself, or both).

Is there any advice along the way you ignored?

There is a school of thought that says you should just get your writing out there as quickly as possible. I think that is a mistake. It’s important not to procrastinate, or be scared to get your work out in the public eye, but every new author should be concerned with building their brand, and released a poorly edited or unfinished book will do damage to an author’s brand.

Author Profile

You can discover more about Joel Ohman through his website, follow him on GoodReads, and grab yourself a copy of Meritropolis through Amazon