Dan Jolley


Author Dan Jolley joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Dan writes novels, comic books, children’s books, video games and the occasional screenplay. His books include the manga version of the popular Warriors books, Twisted Journeys books, and Wrapped in in You: My Boyfriend is a Monster (6).


How did you get started writing?


I knew from age 13 that I was going to be a writer. I had always had a pretty vivid imagination, and had written a few stories, but at age 13 it solidified, and I've never wavered since. Most of the people I went to school with, especially in college, cast about for a bit until they settled on a path that suited them, but I just went straight through the English program at the University of Georgia with the aim in mind of writing professionally.


And it did turn professional before I got out of college. I landed my first comic book contract at 19. The company went out of business before my script could get published, but that job started an on-again-off-again period of getting writing work that lasted for about ten years. Once I turned 30, I began getting jobs pretty steadily -- first in comics, as I mentioned, and then branching out into licensed-property novels, original novels, children's books, and video games. Diversifying like that was what allowed me to list "writer" as my day job all these years.


As to how things actually clicked into place to begin with, though, it started when I met a girl at a video arcade in the Macon, Georgia mall and asked her out. She found out I wrote short stories, and said, "Have you ever thought about writing comic books? I know a couple of comic book artists I could introduce you to." Those guys (Tony Harris and Craig Hamilton) decided I might possibly perhaps know what I was doing, and they introduced me in turn to some comic book editors. The rest is on-again-off-again history. 


Who influenced you?


Growing up I had very strong influences in two genres: Westerns and science-fiction. I tried reading some Zane Grey books, since my parents had the complete collection, but I didn't care for them too much. Then I landed on Louis L'Amour, and loved everything he wrote. I think I've read every single Western novel he's done, with the Sackett books being my favorite. In science-fiction, Larry Niven is definitely at the top of my list of influences, particularly the first two Ringworld books and his Tales of Known Space stories. 


Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?


I kind of have a different favorite for each of my primary genres. In Westerns, probably L'Amour's To the Far Blue Mountains. In science-fiction, Niven's The Long A.R.M. of Gil Hamilton, which I would LOVE to develop into a feature film screenplay at some point. In comics, James O'Barr's The Crow sort of profoundly influenced the way I write comic book scripts. It's just a thing of beauty. I actually dressed as The Crow for Halloween several years before the first movie was even announced. In children's books, definitely Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday, which is a pure delight from cover to cover. And in video games, the first two Marathon games from way back in the early 90s completely blew me away. I wasn't expecting to discover long, intelligent, deeply philosophical discourses on the nature of humanity and sentience while playing a first-person shooter sci-fi game, but there they were. 


What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?

You can read metric tons of advice on "how to break in as an author," and the sad truth is that different ways work for different people, and I can't really point out the one right way to do it. But I can offer three pieces of advice that I wish had been available to me when I started all this foolishness back in 1990.


First, read The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler and Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald. You'll thank me.


Second, and this is a two-parter, read everything you can get your hands on, and listen to the way people talk. That second one is especially important. You want to learn to write believable dialogue? Just listen to the people around you. Becoming a writer changes the way you experience the world, and part of that change is coming to love language. You really need to love the words real people say, and the way they say them. You have to be able to hear individual voices in your head. If that starts out as you hearing the voices of people you actually know? Great! Keep going. Write down what you've heard them say. Write down things they haven't said, but that SOUND LIKE things they WOULD say. Eventually you'll start to hear individual voices in your head that belong to characters you made up yourself. Then you can write down what THEY say.


Third -- a simple one but a crucially important one -- don't go back and read what you've written until you've written the whole thing. If you start editing after the first chapter, or the first page, or the first paragraph, you'll get stuck in editing mode, bog down, and more than likely never finish whatever it is you've started. If you write the whole thing, on the other hand, what you'll have is an entire AWFUL story. That's okay! First drafts are supposed to be awful. It's at that point that you can shift into editing mode, and go through and turn your awful story into a fantastic story -- because you have a complete story! And editing is a thousand times easier than facing a blank page.


Where is your favorite place to write?


It depends on what I'm writing. A lot of writing a comic book script takes place in an oversize sketchbook where I actually draw out a sort of chart that lets me map the story to the available pages, and that typically takes place on the couch late at night. If I'm writing prose, I like to use my treadmill desk in my office. I plod along at somewhere between 1.7 and 2.4 miles per hour, typing on an ergonomic keyboard, and the pages flow like water. I think it's a blood-flow-to-the-brain kind of effect. If I'm just coming up with ideas, though, I like to drive around aimlessly and listen to loud, aggressive music. Disturbed works pretty well, as does some White Zombie, Linkin Park, and a few select tunes by Snake River Conspiracy, VAST, and Lords of Acid. It does something good for my brainwaves. Not all that great for my hearing, though.


What else would you like to tell us?


Please hunt me up on Facebook and Twitter (@_DanJolley). I'm kind of terrible at social media, but I'm trying to get better, and I could certainly use more followers. I also have a web page at www.danjolley.com; if you paw through the posts, you'll see a whole series called "How to Write the Way I Write," which goes into great detail about the nuts and bolts of comic book scriptwriting. There's also a series called "What a Long Strange Trip It's Been" that gets into some details and pitfalls from early on in my career.


Currently I have a six-issue comic book mini-series coming out from Dark Horse Comics called The Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy, of which I'm very proud, not only of a story that came together pretty well, but also of my fantastic art team: Jamal Igle, Ray Snyder, and Wes Dzioba. I'm also largely responsible for the story in the upcoming video game Dying Light, which hits store shelves on January 27th.


Dan, thank you so much for joining LitPick for Six Minutes! You’ve given aspiring writers some great resources to research!


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