Ebook or physical book: Lucy in the Sky is available in ebook, paperback and author-narrated audio
Classic or contemporary: The novel takes place in Milwaukee in 1969. That time and place sure ain’t classic, so I guess it’s contemporary by default.
Fantasy or reality: Reality, with just a soupcon of wish-fulfilment thrown in.
Traditionally or self published: I’m not a fan of the terms “traditional” or “self-published,” since neither seems to capture the current realities of book publishing and marketing. I use the phrase “indy publishing” to describe what I do.
Favourite Author: Tom Robbins.
Favourite Book: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Let's get a little deeper:
You've had quite an illuminating career working around the world in a myriad of positions relating to television. What have been some of the highlights?
J.V: Well, I’ve taught and trained writers in 28 countries on four continents (at last count). The most challenging gig was running the writing staff of the Russian version of Married… with Children, as my knowledge of Russian is nonexistent, and Moscow is, well let’s just say, not the happiest place on earth. My most gratifying experience was co-creating the social-action TV drama Contracorriente in Nicaragua. With its no-nonsense look at such tough issues as gender identification, sweatshop labor and commercial sexual exploitation of adolescents, it really did some good in a country that needs all the help it can get.
You’ve worked on a number of non-fiction, educational books such as The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even if You’re Not.” What pushed you to write fictional books, and what challenges did you find yourself up against?
J.V: My growth as a writer has been about trying progressively harder things. I started out writing songs and graduated from there to sitcom. From sitcom I moved to hour-drama and screenwriting. Then I tackled non-fiction – more words, bigger challenge. I’ve always seen long-form fiction as the hardest sort of writing there is, and so I pushed myself to be equal to that task. The biggest challenge was – and is – cutting through the clutter and helping my readers discover my work and my voice.
Would you like to tell us anything about your latest foray into the fictional world with your book Lucy in the Sky?
J.V: Lucy in the Sky is the coming-of-age story of Gene Steen, an earnest young striver who wants to be a hippie in the worst way. He doesn’t know what a hippie is, really, just knows that there are none where he lives, as far as the eye can see. Then one day into his life dances Lucy, his very hip, very wise, witty, spiritual, sensual, hot and sexy 17-year-old… cousin. Good news, she’ll teach him to be a hippie. Bad news, she’s his cousin. Good news, things are not always what they seem. But Lucy has demons of her own, and in helping her fight them, Gene learns that being a hippie is not about love beads and peace signs, but about the choices you make and the stands you take.
J.V: Well, I learned that I can use my own writing to exorcise the significant demons of my life. See, I always wanted to be a hippie, but I was born just a tad too late to ride that train, and this has always filled me with regret. After I finished Lucy, I was surprised to discover that the regret had gone away. In the world of my imagination I had finally had the transcendent “hippie experience” I had always wanted to have, and now need to chase that ghost no more. I’m excited to consider what other demons I might slay using this same strategy, and commend it to other writers’ attention: figure out what’s bugging you, then write about it until it bugs you no more.
Have you started or made any plans for your next fiction book? Any hints you’d like to share?
J.V: Right now I’m working on a short mystery called Secord and Smoke: Scream Bloodless Murder. It features a sassy young police detective, Anne Secord, and her curmudgeonly partner, police consultant Dave “Smoke” Sawyer. I hope to make it a series.
What is your writing process?
J.V: I start my writing day before nine a.m., but after the newspaper and coffee. I work until noon or until the dog demands a walk, whichever occurs first. After a break of fresh air and sunshine, I get back to my desk and stay there until the late afternoon. Eventually my brain turns to cheese and I can no longer think productively about the creative problems I’m trying to solve. At that point, I turn my attention to other aspects of my professional life, such as promoting my books, writing press releases, or doing interviews like this. Hope my cheese brain doesn’t leak through…
Since you have experience on both sides of the fence, so to speak, what advice do you have for any writers who may be reading this? Both as an author, and as someone who has advised others who write.
J.V: The secret to successful writing is really very simple. If you want to get better, write more. If you want to get a lot better, write a lot more. Here’s why that system works: because even a bad day of writing is a good day of writing, simply as a function of what we learn and how we advance our craft. It’s also useful to remember that “a writer is a subversive who uses entertainment to instruct.” Keeping that idea in mind will help you to inform your work with ideas that matter, and give you faith that it is exactly your job as a writer to do so. Finally there’s this: “Keep giving them you until you is what they want.” Each of us has a singular voice, a way of expressing ourselves that is easy and fun for us to write. That’s what we want to focus on, the organic path to an ever richer and more satisfying writing experience. Be the best writer you can be, according to your own vision, and then work to help readers discover and cherish this best version of yourself.
Thanks to John Vorhaus for taking part in this interview! His book Lucy in the Sky can be purchased at Amazon from here, and his full range of non-fiction books can be found here.