Interview with Jody Clark

Jody Clark: Author of Livin’ on a Prayer, Medillia’s Lament, and several other coastal-inspired novels

I stumbled on author Jody Clark when I was looking up Maine authors online. For a time, I lived in the Wells area myself. I even wrote for the York County Coast Star, and interviewed some pretty fascinating locals. It turns out, the newspaper has featured Clark more than once. I happened upon one such article, which you can read here. When I saw that someone wrote a book inspired by the Bon Jovi song, “Livin’ on a Prayer,” I was thrilled! Before even reading the book, I reached out to Clark, who was gracious enough to reply to my inquiry.

We agreed to do an interview, but first I bought the book to acquaint myself with the author’s work. Honestly, I felt like Clark was describing my own high school in Livin’ on a Prayer. It was nostalgic and humorous and made me want to jump in a time machine and revisit the years of awesome music, stirrup pants, and Aqua Net.

Clark and I spoke on the phone, and he was candid about his writing journey, process, and some of his interesting experiences in the self-publishing world. Hint: It’s a lot more work than you might think! Please enjoy our interview below, where there is much to learn about self-publishing, staying positive during challenging times, and some interesting insights on writing groups.

L.A. Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers, tell them a little about yourself, where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing?

J.C. My name is Jody Clark and I’m from the southern coast of Maine (York Beach, Maine). I originally started out writing screenplays with the high hopes of bringing Hollywood here to Maine. I wrote my first screenplay when I was thirty, and over the following ten years, I wrote eight more. After about twelve years of unsuccessfully searching for the proper connections, and more importantly, the proper financing, I decided to start turning my screenplays into novels. Up until that point, my scripts were just collecting dust in my drawer. I knew they weren’t “blockbusters,” but I also knew in my heart, even if it was small, there was an audience out there for them.

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.C. I’ve always been in the restaurant business, owning my own for most of the early 2000’s. Even today, I continue to work in the business. Unfortunately, it’s still how I pay the bills.

L.A. How many books have you published so far? Also, how old were you when you wrote the first book?

J.C. I published my first book when I was 46 years old (yes, I’m old). I’m 52 now and have published seven novels and two children’s books.

L.A. Have you ever written a manuscript that didn’t translate into a finished novel?

J.C. I still have a couple of screenplays that I haven’t turned into novels. I’m just not sure if there’s enough in them to become full-fledged novels.

“…I also knew in my heart, even if it was small, there was an audience out there for them.”

~ Jody Clark

L.A. Can you talk a little about your writing process? (Do you write at the same time each day? Where do you do your writing? How long does it take you to complete a book?)

J.C. When I first started writing my screenplays, I was working 70+ hours at my restaurant, so I would do all my writing from around 11p.m. – 2a.m. But after my first child came along, and after I got rid of my businesses, my writing times were all over the place. As soon as he started school, I settled into a morning writing routine that I still continue today. I am very much a “coffee shop” writer. I am fortunate enough to live in an area that has dozens of great coffee shop writing spots. I’ve also been known to park up at our local lighthouse (The Nubble Light) and sit in my car and write. I usually start writing sometime in the fall and hope to have it ready for the final editing by March. I then design the book cover and have it published and out on the shelves by May. I then spend the rest of the spring and summer promoting the heck out of it on social media.

L.A. Do you write with music, or do you need it quiet while you work?

J.C. I absolutely write with music!! Even more than that, I use music to help create and shape a lot of my stories. I even have specific soundtracks made for almost every one of my novels. And in five of my books, I even use song titles as my chapter headings.

L.A. Do you outline your stories before you begin writing them?

J.C. I usually do a very basic and bare outline before I start writing. Usually just a list of scene ideas. I almost always come up with the ending first and then I do the beginning and fill in the middle from there. Seeing as my memory isn’t as good as it once was, I find myself jotting down ideas and dialogue as I think of it. When I first started out, I never wrote a thing down until I had the entire story in my head first. The one thing that hasn’t changed from day one, is I always write my first draft entirely by hand in notebooks.

L.A. Do you have a test reader(s) such as your wife or a friend that reads your work along the way? Or do you write the whole thing and then show it around?

J.C. When I first started writing years ago, I found myself joining multiple writing groups and getting feedback from as many people as possible on my stories. This even included paying for “professional critique services.” After a while, I came to the conclusion that NONE of that was truly benefiting me. If you show your work to 10 people, chances are you’ll get at last 7 different responses. On more than one occasion, things like this would happen: One of my readers would message me and tell me they liked the story but hated the climatic scene. I would get so stressed and rush to change the scene how they thought it should be… only to have another reader message me and tell me how much they loved that same scene. I quickly learned to simply trust my own instincts because after all, I want to tell my stories the way I see them, not the way certain people want them to be. Now, besides my wife, I only have one or two people I bounce ideas off of. Other than that, I do it in my own vision and cross my fingers it resonates with readers.

L.A. Can you discuss the pros and cons of self-publishing, as well as your experience with the process? (Do you think you’ll ever go the traditional publishing route with an upcoming book?)

J.C. Re: self-publishing vs. traditional… Depending on your ultimate goals, I think this answer is different for everyone! For me personally, I had already spent over ten years trying to get my screenplays into the hands of everyone and anyone who could help (agents, directors, producers, and yes, actors). So the last thing I wanted was to spend another ten years getting a publishing deal. I have writer friends who have written amazing books and refuse to self-publish because they want to be “real” writers. For some of them, it’s been over fifteen years now… and they’re still waiting.

Like I said, for me, self-pub was the way to go. I wasn’t looking to be a best seller, or to be rich and famous (though it’d be nice), I simply wanted to get my stories out there, and even if only a hundred people bought/read them, that would have been good enough for me. Amazingly, I have a great and loyal fan base and I’ve sold nearly 100X my original goal. Of course, this has led me to strive for even bigger sales and a larger fan base.

Some of the pros to self-pub are: I keep 100% of my profits, and I have complete creative control of content, including book cover design. The cons: CONSTANTLY coming up with creative ways to promote. For me, I use Facebook as my sole promoting site. Social media is definitely a necessary evil. Whether it’s book related or not, I find myself posting multiple times a day for 365 days a year. Unfortunately, I’m not at the point where I can sit back and count on “word of mouth” alone to sell my books. If I don’t post on FB for a week then chances are I won’t sell one book that week. Promoting on social media is exhausting and a HUGE time-suck! I literally spend more time posting, checking Likes, commenting, checking Likes on comments, and brushing up on the new algorithms than I actually do writing my books. There are times I wish I could get off social media all together!! But the sad truth is, without it, I probably would have sold less than 50 books.

“…the best writing advice I can give for someone wanting to write a full-length book is… Just do it. Write.”

~ Jody Clark

L.A. Can you explain what it was like working with a co-author? (Did you get together in person to compare notes or email back and forth)?

J.C. My experiences with a co-author is a tricky one to answer. I also think my situation was unique from most people who write with a partner. In most cases, co-authors work together in creating the storyline, in creating the characters, and in creating the scenes and dialogue. But in my case, my books were all based on my original screenplays I had written years ago. So all of the stuff I just mentioned was already done. I was simply looking for someone to help “color in” the details of my pre-existing story. For example: In a screenplay, I only need to give very basic descriptions of the scene. “Jody enters the coffee shop and sits at a table in the corner.” I don’t need to tell you what he looks like or what he’s wearing… or what the coffee shop looks or smells like. The Director and the cameraman and the actors will do that. But in a novel, you might spend a whole page describing exactly what he looks like, exactly what the coffee shop looks like etc. When I first decided to turn my screenplays into books, I had very little confidence that I was a good enough writer/wordsmith to accomplish those details, which is why I brought on co-writers for my first two books.

Although I enjoyed working with my co-writers, I quickly began to gain confidence and realized that I indeed possessed the talent to “color in” the details of my own stories. My biggest advice would be: whether you just come up with an idea and have a ghost writer do all the writing, or whether you and a co-author create and write a story together, HAVE A DETAILED CONTRACT SIGNED AND SEALED BEFORE YOU WRITE A WORD!

L.A. How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?

J.C. In the beginning, not very well! Fortunately, I’ve only had a few bad reviews online and I’ve learned to let it go and not harp too much on it.

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.C. Probably the best writing advice I can give for someone wanting to write a full-length book is… Just do it. Write. In my opinion, procrastination and over-thinking are the biggest obstacles for writers. You don’t need to run your story idea by others, you don’t need to join multiple writing groups, and if you do, you certainly don’t need to write a page then send it to them for critique. Trust your heart and instincts, after all, it is YOUR story. JUST WRITE. You don’t need to worry about finding an agent or publisher yet… JUST WRITE.

J.C. I just recently published a novel called Medillia’s Lament II – The Dark Waters. It is Book 2 of a magical realism trilogy I’m working on. It takes place on a mystical Maine island and is based on a fictional Native American legend called Medillia’s Lament. I’m hoping to have Book 3 out in spring of 2023. Signed copies of all my books are available on my website vacationlandbooks.com

A sincere thanks to Jody Clark, who defines perseverance and tenacity. It was wonderful speaking with him, as I learned a lot about self-publishing, self-promotion, and putting one’s nose to the grindstone to get the job done.

Mr. Clark lives in York, Maine with his wife and son. You can probably find him in a local coffee shop working on his latest story. But in case you want to get in touch with him sooner, you can find him on his website or Facebook.

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