The Writer's Life with John Ford Clayton, Author of 'Manipulated'

John Ford Clayton lives in Harriman, Tennessee with his wife Kara, and canine companions Lucy, Ginger and Clyde. He has two grown sons, Ben and Eli, and a daughter-in-law, Christina. He earned a BS in Finance from Murray State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is active in his East Tennessee community having served on the local boards of the Boys and Girls Club and a federal credit union, on church leadership and creative teams, and on a parks and recreation advisory committee. When he’s not writing he works as a project management consultant supporting Federal project teams. John is a huge fan of Disney parks and University of Kentucky basketball. Visit his website at www.johnfordclayton.com.

Find out more about Manipulated 
INTERVIEW:

What got you into writing?

For close to 20 years I worked on creative teams in churches helping to write full-length dramas as well as 3-5 minute sketches. That process led to a nagging question that just wouldn’t go away; “I wonder if I could write a novel?” After doubts and procrastination, I finally decided to give it a go.

That led to the next important question, what would be the subject matter of this novel? For me, that question had to be aligned with something about which I felt great passion. That something is our country, the United States of America. Unfortunately, I see our country in difficult times as our political culture has become so toxic that it is tearing us apart. A major source of that toxicity is degree of manipulation we all face daily, regardless of our political leanings. To highlight the phenomenon, I decided to write this work of fiction, Manipulated. 

What do you like best about being an author?

I love the blank sheet of paper, or more appropriately for our time, the blank screen. I love that is represents endless possibilities. To meld together a cast of colorful characters, interesting settings, and myriad storylines is a challenge I embrace. When it comes together with the reader moved, inspired, or challenged is the ultimate payoff.

When do you hate it?

Not sure that I truly ever “hate” it, but there are times when I can’t seem to make writing a priority although the story is pinballing around my head. There are also times when I’m excited about a book but have only written 10,000 words and the remaining ~80,000 can seem an impossible climb. I can sometimes convince myself that those 80,000 words have to be written in a single weekend or I’m somehow behind schedule. 

What is a regular writing day like for you?

I have a day job, so writing comes in the evenings and weekends for me. I tend to both write and break in bursts. I may have a 3-week period where I write most evenings and weekends but over the next 2 weeks write nothing. On a good writing night, I’m home from work by 6, walk the dogs (we have three!), tackle some other chores and writing by 7:30. I try to wrap up by 10:00 to wind down for bed. On a good evening I will write 1500-2000 words, depending on that evening’s creative flow.

Do you think authors have big egos?

There are authors with big egos, but I’m not convinced the percentage is any higher than the general population. Authors come in all shapes, sizes, creeds and egos. Beyond egos, I think all good writers have command over both hemispheres of their brains. The left brain is necessary to produce an organized storyline that stays focused on evolving the plot. The right brain is the source of colorful characters, interesting scenes, and intriguing dialog.

How do you handle negative reviews?

You have to read the review with an open mind. If there is no substance behind a negative review (e.g. “this book was awful”) my advice is to disregard it. In the dark alleys of today’s online world there’s a subculture whose sole purpose is to sew negativity. If there is substance to the review, I read and ensure I understand the reviewer’s perspective and try not mentally debate. Before my book was published I tried to get it into the hands of colleagues that I knew would give me honest feedback. Their reviews were among those I took most seriously.

How do you handle positive reviews?

If I’m honest, I do what most writers probably do, I read them…sometimes more than once. But seriously, I tried to read as many as possible and assemble an overall theme. Readers seems to like how the book mirrors what’s going on the world today. Readers seem to like the cast of characters. The key thing to understand about both negative and positive reviews, there is nothing they can do to impact an already-published book. You can only apply this feedback to future writing in hopes of continuing to grow as a writer.

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

It is rare that I bring this up in conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I want to – I mean, I really want to – but for me, this just seems awkward. I really enjoy talking about the writing process in general, and my book in particular, but I’m reluctant to just declare “hey, did you know I published a book” unless it somehow comes up in the course of conversation.

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break? 

Because my writing time is somewhat limited, if I have carved out time to write, I usually push through the “not feeling it” evenings. I find if I just make a go of it, the rhythm will eventually come. One approach that works for me is starting out by reading the most recently written chapters. I do some editing, get engrossed in the story, and soon enough I’m ready to write.

Any writing quirks?

In writing Manipulated, I found that external motivation works well for me. When I finished writing my first seven chapters I gave the partial manuscript to my wife to read. She loves to read, and I knew she’d give me honest feedback. Her words of encouragement pushed me to keep writing. After another lull at around chapter 20, I recruited a few friends to read. They all became engrossed in the story and pushed me to keep going. I found their excitement contagious and I knew that I wasn’t just writing for myself, but I was now writing for my friends. I adopted a protocol where each Sunday evening I’d send that week’s progress to my beta readers. If I had a less-than-productive week I knew I’d hear about it. Their interest and accountability helped me get to “The End”.

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

I’d love to be able to say this wouldn’t bother me and I’d continue to write. However, this isn’t the honest answer. Similar to the discussion above on having in-process readers, I like getting feedback from those around me. My wife and I enjoyed the TV show American Idol, particularly in the early years. In the audition phase there was always a “singer” who was accompanied by her mom, who had told her she had the voice of an angel. The audition begins, and it is, well, not angelic. The cameras pan to the judges who have shocked looks on their faces. Finally, a judge tells the singer “you are terrible, you should never sing again!” Both she and her mom storm off stage insisting the judges were all wrong. My nightmare is to be the author version of that singer. My wife and close friends tell me the writing is great, but in reality, the world sees the book as “off key.” To combat this fear, I seek as much feedback as possible, particularly from those I know will be honest with me.

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate? 

I can definitely relate. The “love” comes from completing a difficult chapter, getting good feedback from readers, and having that writing day where everything just seems to flow. The “hate” comes when you are stuck on a storyline that just won’t progress, or when you’ve written several chapters and then realize they don’t really fit in the story and need to be deleted.

What’s on the horizon for you?  

I’m in the middle of writing my second book, Rise of The Mustangs. In is the sequel to Manipulated and second in a trilogy. Rise of The Mustangs is planned to be on the market in the spring of 2019. The third book, Declaration of Independence, is slated for a 2020 release.

Leave us with some words of wisdom about the writing process or about being a writer. 

As I’ve spoken to people about publishing Manipulated, the most common response is that they too had an idea for a book “someday” but either hadn’t started it or hadn’t finished it. Writing is hard. It takes time. It takes energy. There will be unexpected circumstances that arise that take you away from writing. There is a 100% chance that your book will not be completed if you don’t find the time and discipline to write it. My writing journey was interrupted by the death of my mother and my own cancer diagnosis, among other lesser distractions. With the encouragement of friends and family I returned to the writing and found a way to get it completed.

I wrote a blog entry on my website with more information about my writing journey:


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