Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Adam J. Whitlatch, and I am a science fiction and fantasy author and editor. I’ve published four novels: The Weller, Birthright, Vengeance For My Valentine, and the official novelization of the animated movie War of the Worlds: Goliath .
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Usually when I write, it’s to answer some burning question in my mind. I write stories to satisfy my own curiosity. Every once in a while, though, I’ll start writing a story out of frustration and disgust. Vengeance For My Valentine initially came from being inundated by gothic vampire media in the late 90s and thinking, “I can do that better.” Hopefully my readers agree.
How do you deal with creative block?
I have a few ways. I do most of my brainstorming in the car with the radio cranked up. I’ve plotted entire stories on long car rides. If I’m stuck on a particular story issue, however, I’ll either talk myself through it or break out a notebook and start writing out questions. What if my character does X? What if they do Y? What are the possible consequences of each? I can usually break through any creative roadblocks that way and push ahead with the story.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Holding the reader’s hand too much. Nobody likes being hit over the head with exposition, and of course there’s that old and oft-repeated piece of writers’ advice: Show, don’t tell. A competent storyteller will supply the reader with the necessary information to set the scene and then take off the training wheels.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
A title should be intriguing without being overly cryptic. If possible, it should also be unique. While I love the title of my young adult novel Birthright, it’s not the first book to pop up in an Amazon search (it’s not even on page one, or page two for that matter.)
Covers should be relevant to the book’s subject matter. My father’s bookcase is full of vintage science fiction paperbacks with cover art in no way connected to the story they were chosen to represent. A cover shouldn’t make a reader scratch their head in confusion. Like titles, covers should also be as unique as possible. Using royalty-free stock images may be convenient for indie authors and publishers, but one runs the risk of having a competing title with the exact same image on the cover. I’ve seen it many times, particularly in horror. I highly recommend commissioning original artwork. It can be costly, but it’s a worthwhile investment. You want something eye-catching and unique, something that will make readers pick up your book and not want to put it back down.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Anyone who says bad reviews don’t bother them is a liar. Every negative review hurts to some degree; it’s like someone called your child ugly or kicked your dog, and it’s extremely difficult not to take that personally. My policy is to never respond to negative reviews (or even positive reviews) unless it is simply to say “thank you.” The Internet is full of stories about slighted authors lashing out at reviewers. There are few quicker ways for an author to commit career suicide. It’s not hard to pick out good, constructive criticism from needless hate. Take what you can use, and just laugh off the rest. Honestly, a bad review here and there lends a book some legitimacy. I always give a healthy dose of side eye to any book that’s got nothing but five-star reviews.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I’d say my process is much more efficient and grounded than when I first took up writing. When we’re starting out, we really have no clue what we’re doing, and we tend to put the cart ahead of the horse. These days, I try to keep my eye on the prize and stay focused on the task at hand. Being an independent author makes this kind of prioritization even more crucial, because I have to do all the jobs of a traditional publishing house. If I dwell on the cover art or even the title while I’m trying to get chapter one down, I’ll never finish. I try to let those details spring from the story itself as it’s flowing onto the page.
Working as an editor for a small press publisher improved my process by leaps and bounds as well, because I learned how to spot those rookie mistakes in my own writing, and I also learned some hard truths about editing, particularly self editing. I always say that any writer who is given the chance to work for a publisher in some capacity should do so. Even if you don’t plan to set out on your own as an independent, the skills and insights you learn are absolutely invaluable.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
A little bit of both. I can’t write something I don’t believe in, which is why I’d make a horrible ghostwriter. I mentioned questions earlier, and how I write to answer burning questions for my own personal satisfaction. At the same time, however, my readers are my customers, and I want them to come back for the next book, so I can’t afford to be selfish and cut their feelings completely out of the creative process. I’ve had to make some tough decisions before, cutting or rewriting something because I know if I don’t, I’ll get crucified in the reviews. It’s a real fine line to walk. I deliberately left romantic subplots out of The Weller, and when a reviewer complained about the lack of sex and romance in the story, I simply smiled and said, “Thanks for noticing!” It’s possible to make your work accessible without sacrificing your artistic vision. You just have to decide where to draw the line.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
Emotions are critical in creativity! If the writer isn’t emotionally invested in the characters and story, the reader can tell. I think that’s true of any art form. I always have music playing when I write, and I try to choose relevant genres to match the type of story I’m working on. It helps root me in the world I’m creating and brings me closer to the characters. Mood also helps. If I’m angry, then I can’t write happy or comedic scenes. My words just wouldn’t come across as genuine.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I get the hell out of my office. Seriously.
I primarily write on my iPad, and before that I used a laptop. I don’t like being chained to my desk; that makes it seem too much like work. So I go somewhere else. I do my best work on the couch or in bed. Just today I got bored waiting for my wife at the grocery store, so I pulled out my phone, brought up my manuscript from the cloud, and tapped out a few lines of dialogue until she came back.
My desktop is for editing, cover design, ebook formatting, and other technical work. Very rarely do I actually create at my desk.
What are your plans for future books?
At the moment I’m working on finishing up the follow-up to my debut novel, The Weller, which will be called Fear of the Dark. Subscribers to my Patreon can read sample chapters from the book and even view exclusive behind-the-scenes content. Once that’s done, I’m going to dive right into War Machines, the follow-up to Birthright. I have some young fans chomping at the bit for that one. I have a couple other projects on the back burner as well that I’m hoping to kick out the door for readers soon.