Author of the Heaven Sent series
It’s been a privilege to connect with published author in my Author Interview series for the blog. I spend literally decades, consumed by writing related fears, unable to commit to a genre, a plot, or even character names. By speaking to writers who have overcome any writing obstacles, both real and perceived, I have pushed past my fears and completed my first novel!
J.L. Rothstein was a good interview because she was candid about starting her writing career later in life, how she handles negative reviews, and the ways she finds to destress after completing a manuscript. She has a supportive husband who helps talk her through plot, character development, and getting battle scenes accurate. She says that while not everyone has a spouse who can do all that, it’s critical to find someone who can. I agree!
I hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did. We can learn a lot from J.L. Rothstein, and carry the lessons into our own writing to make it stronger.
Available July 2022!
L.A. Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers? I’m sure they’d like to know where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing, and what you enjoy doing in your free time!
J.L. I am a fictional fantasy writer from Boston. I published my first novel, Atonement, in my Heaven Sent series in 2020. Writing is really what I do in my free time. I work full time as an accountant and I write books on the side, which takes up most of my time. When I’m not writing, I enjoy reading and spending time with family & friends. I have recently begun etching glass, which has been a lot of fun and a very different way of releasing my inner artist.
L.A. Did you have a career before writing? If so, what was it, and at what point did you transition over to writing full-time?
J.L. I do not write full time, but I wish I could. I know I am not alone in that sentiment. I speak with many writers in my position where they work full or part time and write when they are able. It can be tough writing that way, you lose a certain level on continuity, and it can be difficult just to get started on a project.
“I hope I am an example of never giving up on the idea that if you want to write a book, you can.”~J.L. Rothstein
L.A. How many books have you published so far? Also, how old were you when you wrote the first book?
J.L. I have two books published and a third launching in July 2022. It’s a very exciting time when you are done with the manuscript and the first round of edits. Once the editor finishes the copyedit stage it’s time to move on to marketing and promotion. I’m a new writer with a lot of gray hair, lol. I don’t think you are ever too old to pursue a dream you’ve had for many years. I hope I am an example of never giving up on the idea that if you want to write a book, you can.
L.A. Have you ever written a manuscript that didn’t translate into a finished novel?
J.L. Yes! I think every writer has. Sometimes I just write notes or a high-level outline of something and then sit on it for a while. Not all the ideas I have percolate to the point where they become a finished product. I have notebooks full of ideas, character descriptions, places, etc. that never make it out of the notebook. There’s nothing wrong when that happens, you just have to let the idea you feel strongly about rise to the surface where you’re willing to sit and write it. Once you start writing the book however, it’s important to finish.
L.A. Can you talk a little about your writing process?
J.L. I don’t have a schedule, most of my time is dictated by my work schedule. Once I know I am going to write something, I will try and make a timeline for the project. Calculate out when I want it finished, and then work backward from there.
If I was writing full time, I feel confident I could write a book in 6-12 weeks. Writing it part-time means you must double that. You also must account for what time of the year you are starting. If you start in October for example, it’s hard to imagine you will get as much done over the holidays as you would starting in January.
(On listening to music before writing) “…if I am about to begin a big battle scene, I will listen to epic music or movie music to set the scene in my head.”~J.L. Rothstein
L.A. Do you write with music, or do you need it quiet while you work?
J.L. I prefer it to be quiet. It lets my mind fall into the story completely. If music is on, it has to be classical to avoid me typing something right from the song, lol.
In general, I listen to music before I write. For instance, if I am about to begin a big battle scene, I will listen to epic music or movie music to set the scene in my head. Music inspires and it can also solidify the story and setting of your narrative.
L.A. Do you outline your stories before you begin writing them?
J.L. I have a lot of notes, many pages of scenes, settings, character descriptions, plot points, timelines etc. but they are not formalized into an outline. If I do an outline, it’s a fifty-thousand-foot level one. I find outlines to be restricting and I want the freedom to veer off course from time to time. Doing it that way is how I created some of my more memorable characters and scenes.
L.A. Do you have a test reader(s) such as a spouse or friend that reads your work along the way? Or do you write the whole thing and then show it around?
J.L. My husband, Alan, has been an amazing partner in this area. He has read everything I write and he’s comfortable enough to call things out that seem off or don’t fit. He is particularly critical of fight scenes. If they are supposed to be epic, then they need to be more than two paragraphs! If I get my battle scenes past him, then I know I will get them past the editor, lol.
I think as a writer it’s important you allow others to read and critique your work before you publish anything. I know that not everyone’s partner is the right person for that. I am very grateful I have that in my life. My husband and I enjoy a lot of the same things. He likes walking through story lines or talking through plot points and character arcs. If it’s not your partner, then find a friend, a colleague or someone you trust to read through and give you that feedback. You will never get better if you insulate yourself from criticism. As a new writer getting better is one of my top priorities.
L.A. Can you discuss your experience with publishing?
J.L I wrote the first draft of Atonement many years ago. I tried the traditional publishing route, but no one wanted it. Looking back, I realize now how much work the book still needed but being new to the process I had no idea what was wrong or how to fix it. I ended up taking some online classes and paid an editor to review it from a story concept. From there, I revised it and kept taking classes. I even went so far as to enroll in a graduate program for creative writing. When I finally finished the manuscript, I then sent it out to another editor for more revisions.
Once complete, I told my husband, it’s been so long to get here, I just want to get it out there and so I self-published it on KDP.
L.A. Where do you draw inspiration for your settings, characters, and plot?
J.L. It’s funny, I do read fantasy, but I mostly read thrillers. I like anything in the supernatural/paranormal space. Looking back at the series I realize I sort of mashed those two things together. I would consider my series to be in the supernatural suspense/thriller category.
For inspiration, I love visiting some of the local museums in our city. I also enjoy the large botanical gardens a few towns over. I think being outside and exposed to nature has a big impact on me and it can be refreshing. When you finish a novel, you are sort of spent both mentally and emotionally. You really leave it all out there. We all need a way to refuel that creative energy and being outdoors, in a beautiful floral garden or walking on a beach, can be great ways to fill up your creative tank.
L.A. How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?
I have worked hard to decipher criticism from the useless commentary. For example, when someone says “You had a lot of main characters in your book. I found it hard to follow,” that is a valid critique and one I will take with me into future books. Not all skills come naturally to all people. There are things I did well in book one and things I didn’t, that’s just true. If someone gives me a 1-star review and writes “I didn’t like it” I usually dismiss it. There is nothing I can learn from statements like that. They are as hurtful as they are unhelpful.
I think there is a sort of badge of honor in giving what is a so called “honest review.” I hear that phrase a lot, but in truth most of the people giving reviews are just regular people. They aren’t editors in high profile publishing firms, so why so harsh? And why relish in it? To me, when I see a fellow author give me a low review, I just think it says more about them, than it does about me or my work.
If I read another author’s book and I find issues with it, I don’t put a bad review out there. I send them a private message and tell them about it. I do that because I know how much it hurts author’s ratings to have 1, 2, & 3 stars reviews out there. I am far from perfect, so I am certainly not going to hold anyone else up to some unattainable standard.
In time, you will learn the best way to cope with bad reviews because whether you like it or not, you will get them. I mean that literally. Take a few moments and go read the reviews of your favorite authors. I left one below from one of my favorite authors.
1 star: “The book was too dark for me.”
Too dark? What standard is this person measuring that against? Neil Gaiman writes in the Fantasy genre and sometimes leans toward horror. That would mean he writes edgy books. If he didn’t, he would be in a different genre. There is nothing an author can do when someone doesn’t like their work. The 1 star just feels undeserved, fortunately for him he has a million positive ones to offset it.
L.A. What is it like connecting with your readers and hearing how your stories have impacted their lives in a positive way?
J.L. I have had the pleasure of hearing from a few readers who really liked the books and are looking forward to reading the next one. It feels amazing of course, but more than that it helps ground the belief that you made the right choice to sit down and write that book! And you should keep writing!
L.A. What advice would you give to someone who has writing ability, but is stuck in fear and can’t go the distance with a full-length manuscript?
J.L. This is hard, fear can be crippling. Dismissing people suffering from it would be wrong. We all experience fear in some shape or form over our lifetime. I guess I would advise people to do it anyway. That is what I do. I get scared. I beat myself up. I lie awake at night sometimes worried my stuff stinks and no one wants to read it. Then I get up and get back to it. In general, the fear is almost always worse than the reality of what happens.
“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback.” Brene Brown.
“Finish what you write.” Neil Gaiman
L.A. What are you currently working on?
J.L. I just finished writing book 3 in my Heaven Sent trilogy. I am playing around with a few ideas for my next book, but right now I am trying to stay in this moment and enjoy it.
L.A. What books/tools did you use to learn the science of story development?
J.L. I read a lot of how-to books on writing. It’s sort of in my nature to consume as much as possible before I start a project. I also took classes that dealt with this, and there were some character templates and plot checklists that helped. Every writer has an area they are not strong in, and most know what it is. I would suggest googling it and taking the time to learn as much as you can before sending it off for others to read.
L.A. Which authors influence and inspire you?
J.L. I don’t think you’ll be surprised when I mention Neil Gaiman having referenced him multiple times already! Growing up I read a lot of John Saul (Horror) Clive Barker (Horror) and Dean Koontz (Supernatural Suspense). But I also read Nora Roberts (Romance) and Jon Krakauer (Non-fiction). There really isn’t much I wouldn’t read.
I just finished consuming Barbara Nickless (Thriller) Sydney Parnell series, loved them. I am currently reading Pete Zacharias (Thriller) The Man Burned by Winter.
L.A. Do you have a favorite book? If so, what is it you like so much about this story?
J.L. There are certain books that stick with you. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It was a fairytale-like story that I just loved. The Books of Blood series from Clive Barker was a collection of short stories that really terrified me in the best possible way. I’ve never read anyone else’s account of hell that beats his.
In recent years I read a lot of thrillers and have really grown to appreciate them. In addition to the ones above I really enjoyed Charles Martin’s books in the Murphy Shepard series. In general, I will read anything that Philip Margolin, Dan Brown, Nicholas Sparks, or John Grisham writes.
A big thank you to J.L. Rothstein for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the craft of writing, how to handle negative reviews, and how to overcome fear. I think we can expect a lot of great things from her moving forward!