Interview with a Writer: Jay Requard

IWAWJay Requard is a former organizer of the Charlotte Writers Group and regular attendee of Wednesday night write-ins and Saturday critique groups. He took some time out of his busy schedule for our Interview with a Writer series.

Question: What role has Charlotte Writers Group played in your writing journey?

Answer: When I first arrived in Charlotte in 2011 for grad school I had begun to take my writing much more seriously after the failure to get my first novel published after I had sold it to a really inexperienced publisher. At the suggestion of James Maxey (Bitterwood, Nobody Gets the Girl), I sought a writing group on Meetup. As they say, the rest is history.

Charlotte Writers not only allowed me to better myself as a writer, but it allowed me numerous opportunities to connect with professionals within the publishing industry while forming real, lasting friendships. Without this organization I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I am now.

Question: What propelled you into the world of writing? What/who was your inspiration?

Answer: I started writing stories from the time I was eight until I was 12, and then stopped until I was 19 years old and washed out of a career as a combat sports athlete due to a series of injuries and bad choices. Writing found me at a time where I was arguably at my lowest point, and having grown up reading Tolkien, Howard, Salvatore, Gemmell, Le Guin, and Mary Stewart, among numerous others, fantasy became the genre that always offered me hope in times of great peril. It was obvious looking back on it now that I would end up writing in that genre.

Question: Describe your writing process. (How do you begin? What comes first—character or plot? Do you outline? Is your process the same for every project?)

Answer: I outline extensively, both on paper and within my head, the latter method I adopted from the hip-hop artist Jay-Z, who never writes his lyrics down on paper because he thought it diminished his creative spontaneity. I write skeletal outlines, but the real story is always kept internally until it comes out on the page.

As to the question of character and plot, The truth is it doesn’t matter what comes first—the characters and the plot will show up when they show up, and sometimes new twists and story beats arrive when you least expect it. In general I write a lot of everything during the rough draft, no matter if it is good or bad (and you won’t know until someone else besides you reads it.) After that rough draft, I usually walk away from it for one to three days, at which point I return to cut the story down to the bone. This leaves me with a manuscript that is often devoid of heavy descriptions and filled with dialogue that acts more like place holders for ideas. Some of them stay in the final draft, most of them get tweaked, but everything that fails gets cut. I’m very brutal towards my own work. Either way, I end up with what will be the first draft.

From there I have a process that follows into three to five different “rounds”, depending on the length and difficulty of the story. After the first draft has been completed, the first round involves structural/developmental edits, which can include anything from line-editing all the way to re-writing scenes depending on what is needed. The second round is for the first copy editing and polishing, where anything new that has been added is cut down to the bare bone again and polished. After this, the third round involves sending it to my first readers, which is usually a circle of one to three trusted people who’ve read the style of fantasy I’ve been influenced by and who I know will be completely honest with me to the point that I *hope* they tell me something is wrong. I like there being problems to fix. The third round is another structural/developmental edit, which is usually the point that I would consider submitting the piece to a critique group like Charlotte Writers if I deem it necessary. The fourth round is another copy editing and polishing pass. The fifth and final round, if we reach that, is usually where I send it out to publishers and see if I can sell it. If the piece is rejected but receives feedback, considerations are often made for developmental editing, and we start the process over again until the work is sold.

Question: Describe your routine as a writer. (Is it daily or weekly? How do you structure your day/week? How many hours of writing versus research? How much time is spent on “business”—queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?)

Answer: No offense, but writers write when they can and a real creative life doesn’t follow a routine. I write in the morning, afternoon, evening, at night, when I’m at work, when I’m sitting in the parking lot (usually in the form of notes, outlines, and even voice recordings I save in my smartphone.) I take one day out of the week to plan my marketing. Queries are made when the work is ready to go out—there’s not really a method to it other than being a professional about it.

The work comes before everything else, and life is shaped around that. All great writers have hobbies, social circles, and creative activities that don’t involve writing but do, which is a horribly nebulous answer. My hobbies are reading everything I can get my hands on, fencing, cooking, working out, listening to music, and above all meditation, which is geared and focused on making me a better person, which will make me a better writer in the end. You either put everything in or you don’t, and if you don’t, you get from this business what you get. Writers should not live life outside of writing; what they should do is mold their lives to it, supporting and enriching their craft.

Question: What resources are essential to your writing process (software, writing tools, research sources)?

Answer: Books, both for research and inspiration. If you aren’t reading everything you can, even the stuff that you don’t like, you are really missing out on an opportunity to better yourself. As far as writing tools, I am a convert to Scrivener. I also watch a good bit genre television, documentaries, and cinema, as visual creative mediums have a lot of wonderful ideas and representations that a writer should explore deeply. Music also plays a big part in my creative process.

Question: Talk about your perspective on representation (pros and cons of having an agent) and any attempts you have made at securing representation.

Answer: I am currently seeking representation for my third completed novel and there is real value in having an agent: they open doors to the five largest publishers in the world and many of the smaller houses that offer quality services, they help you negotiate your contract when your work is accepted, and they are hopefully experienced enough help you navigate what is now a very difficult industry due to the digital revolution. There are a ton of great agents out there who work very hard for their authors every day, even though they need to read more manuscripts, take more calls, and put up with more egos than most ever will. They are also, usually, savvy editors who can help you polish your manuscript for the better. If an agent knows their industry inside and out then they are indispensable.

On the other hand, I am of the opinion that agents can also be a hindrance if they don’t know what they’re doing with your particular kind of writing, which happens more often than people think. I’ve known many authors who have signed on with agents where those agents turn around and sell their client’s work for a bargain deal (often failing to secure their client an agreement that involve pro-rate advances or worse, a deal where the agent wasn’t really needed in the first place), and they still take their 15%. Worse, a lot of agents in recent years have gotten into the business of being their own “publishers” in the way that they help their authors self-publish a piece of work they were supposed to represent and failed to achieve a pro-rated sale. Personally speaking, I have qualms about this development in the industry—you can agent and edit, but the moment you become an editor-in-chief in a publishing endeavor, I have a hard time believing there won’t be a conflict of interests along the way. Is an agent going to stop representing authors and acquiring new talent to help their authors promote their work? Do they really have the time to construct an adequate editorial calendar for a project? What about cover design? How much of their own money are they putting into the project? These are the kinds of questions I often wonder about when I see agents opening up their own publishing houses, and speaking as someone who serves as an editor for an up-and-coming indie publisher, I struggle to see the viability of that business model.

Question: Share your experiences interacting with publishers (query letters, the editing process, cover design, marketing/sales). If you have self-published, describe the pros and cons to this process.

Answer: That is a really difficult question because no experience has been the same each time, but there are some general truths that I can share. First, query letters only really matter if you are submitting to a publisher that has open submissions, and even then they are going to judge you on the work, not the letter, which is often not true when it comes to agents (who will read the work if they allow work to be submitted with the letter, but often you have to sell them on the query letter first. At least this is my experience.) Often you will have no complete say on the covers beyond some contributions about direction, but much it is left up to the art director, if the publisher has one, and if they don’t, often they will hire an outside artist, which can present problems if that artist hits snag on their way to fulfilling a deadline.

The editing process is tougher to pin down, but remember—editors are people; each one is different, and because of that difference the experience is never the same. What I can tell you is that great editors work with you to polish the manuscript using their extensive knowledge of the genre you work in, and often they become partners in bringing a book to press that BOTH of you are proud of.

Marketing and sales is a much harder topic to discuss, as the digital revolution has somewhat placed us in a Wild West-scenario. Everyone is trying to completely things in different manners with varying levels of success, and like everything else I’ve already mentioned, it depends on the project.

I’ve never self-published, so I’m not the person to speak on that topic. Seek out John Hartness!

Born on a grim gray day, Jay Requard is an Epic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery author currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina. With experience in medieval fencing, grappling, boxing, and kickboxing, his work features hardened heroes set against the greatest odds with little more than hope and the strength of their arms to save themselves. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, his love of the Iron Age, India, Scotland, history, and religion infuse his work with themes of social struggle, redemption, love, and the power of the spirit.

In his spare time Jay enjoys lifting, brewing, cooking British and Indian cuisine, and hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid gamer and has a fluffy cat named Mona.