Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, John. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
My background is ninety percent government employment at all levels of government. I was a police officer in my youth upon discharge from the Air Force in 1974. In the Air Force I served in nuclear security and Base Police, then went into civilian departments. I decided to get a college degree so, in 1977, I entered college and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in law in 1981. This degree served me well the rest of my life. My first job out of college was to be appointed to the post of District Court Commissioner in Maryland. This appointment is made by the Chief Judge of the State, and is called a magistrate, or Justice of the Peace in other states. While in this position, I was also designated as a United States Magistrate Pro Tem, where I heard Federal cases brought before me by Federal authorities of ever variety.
I left that after three years and spent a year as an armed bodyguard to Saudi Royalty, and finally entered Federal Service. While in the Federal Government, I served in the Department of Labor, the Food and Drug Administration and finally the Department of the Treasury. My last position garnered an award from Vice-President Al Gore, and another from Secretary of the Treasury Rubin for my work in the Treasury Department. I retired in 1998, and have done various things since including a writing career. I also performed work for agencies I cannot name and enjoyed that work very much as well. Serving President Clinton was a good time to be in Government. I also went on to Graduate School in the 1980’s and earned a Pontifical degree in Theology.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
My first book is “Murder Most Gay,” based on a murder I investigated during my time with the Orange County State’s Attorney’s office in Orlando Florida while attending college. It took me about six months to find a publisher. I was very unhappy with the publisher and eventually got the rights to this book back due to breach of contract. I then submitted the book to Dreamspinner Press and it has sold well since the first day and continues to sell every quarter. It was first published in 2007.
When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
I started in 2007 writing gay romance stories because I felt at the time, there wasn’t many stories out in this genre that were anything more than just pulp porn. I wanted to portray exciting fiction that featured the lives of gay men as the main characters including their love lives. I’ve been called the “Tom Clancy” of gay romance which is a compliment I take gladly for this is the type of story with a few exceptions, that I’ve always tried to turn out. Also, the fact that I am a gay man certainly didn’t hurt my understanding of being a gay man in many of the situations that I write about.
How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?
It took six months the first time. I’ve written over 32 novels and novellas, with I believe about 19 being full length books between all my publishers. I have three more novels coming out this year so far, and about four novellas on the schedule.
Do you write full time?
I’ve recently been nominated and confirmed at the first Ethics Commissioner for the County that I live in which sadly is known as the most corrupt county in America. So, this will take away some time which will reduce me to a part time writer. I am part of a five member Commission and the only “civilian” citizen that is a Democrat as there is also one citizen who is a Republican.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
Since my teen years, I have had stories running around in my head. In fact, I wrote a book at age 17, fiction, horror, which I suppose was terrible because in those days you submitted the bulky manuscript to publishers and it came back rejected three times and I gave up. During retirement, I decided to let these stories out and put them down in type. Many of my books are based on fact, with a lot of fiction thrown in. So, I guess I chose writing.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
I take care of administrative stuff during the day and write beginning at around 11 at night. I write until around 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., which is my most productive time to write.
Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
I write all the way through and then do re-writes. I call it throwing up on the screen and then cleaning it all up. Lol
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I let the characters tell me where the story is going. All I have is a general idea of the scope of the book. The rest just flows from my fingers.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
Well, most of it I have lived, so no research is done. However, for books like, “Undefeated Love,” I actually traveled to Berlin Germany, and toured the former grounds of the SS headquarters, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, and other sites associated with the book which takes place in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. For, “Irish Winter,” I read a lot and studied the time period portrayed in the book which was the late teens in the 20th century.
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
A lot of me goes into many of my characters, again because I lived what I’m writing about. In the Condor series, I wrote the President’s part as if I were President. What would I do if this happened, or that. Plus I’ve been to the Whitehouse on government business and have been around the Secret Service and like things. I was a Security Police Officer in the Air Force, so in “Def Con One,” I write it like I knew it. As for other people, other than “Jack and Dave,” I haven’t used other people as prototypes for any secondary characters. Again, the characters develop as I write them and they tell me what they’re going to do.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
I have written an entire book in as little as four weeks but others have taken me six months. It depends on things like writers block, or the characters go silent. Many just flow from my finger tips. Again, I revise and edit after completing the manuscript.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Yes, I have had three instances of writer’s block. On all three, I have put the book aside and written a novella and then come back to the book and the block is gone. Writer’s block is a very frustrating thing that most writers have to deal with at some time in their careers.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
I truly hope they enjoy the book above all else. I want to have been able to entertain them. Second, I hope they learn something new that they didn’t know before reading the book. As I said, most of my books are based on fact. “Peter’s Chair,” is about a gay Pope. Some of the weirdest things in the book happen to be true. I have had some wonderful reader comments that tell me the book they read transported them to a different world that was new to them. I take that as a large compliment. I’ve also had readers write and tell me that they intend to search out gay teens who need a home and try and give them one by searching adoption agencies. I’ve had others ask me to suggest where they should make a donation for a particular cause.
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
I don’t take advances as I prefer to have the royalties quarterly in a bigger chunk where I can use the money for a purpose. I’ve often been told to write what he readers are buying which I don’t do, because I have to write what’s in my heart or brain at the moment. You can NOT please all readers with any one book. Someone will always hate it, give it a one star rating because of some bizarre reason, and I try not to take is personally. I usually fail at not taking it personally. To give an example, one review site gave my book five stars and then when I told readers who were leaving negative comments about the book who admitted they didn’t read the book, to lighten up and understand that love can come in the ugliest places sometimes, they all got up in arms and tried to kill my sales by leaving negative comments about me wherever they could. They failed as sales went up on the book because they gave it free publicity.
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
Both. The Condor series and the Murder Most Gay series titles came to me before word one. Others, I’ve titled it one thing only to change it when the book or novella was complete. Usually, the titles are there waiting for me.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
I have a dry sense of humor that is not always appreciated by people who don’t know me. Jon Stewart amuses me greatly as he has sorta the same type of humor as I do. I take most things in life too seriously because of things I’ve seen and witnessed and I generally don’t get into humor often. I do come upon a line now and then which I put in a book that I think is hysterical and don’t mind if no one else finds it so.
What is the most frequently asked John question?
When are you going to write another Condor book? (The series is done.)
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two novellas and investing time and money into the “Condor One” project which is to turn the book into an HBO series or a movie for the big screen. I have hired an award winning director/screenplay writer and he has begun work on the first draft of the screenplay. I’m doing this more to see the characters come alive than I am for any money that might come out of the project. I want to show that it is possible for a gay man to become President, and a woman to become Vice-President and then President. I hope to achieve with “Condor One,” what “Brokeback Mountain,” achieved for the gay community.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
“Write what was in my heart,” and don’t read the reviews! I succeed at the first and fail at the second.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
I have given radio interviews, advertised in newspapers and magazines, and I have an upcoming cruise in September where I’ll give a talk on being a gay writer and then autograph books that will be for sale. This will be a chance for interested people who need a seven night cruise that is priced right, to meet me and discuss anything to do with writing that I’ve learned. I will also give my publishers publicity also as they are the ones that make me a public person.
Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your life-style as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?
I have no idea how that sparks stays alive other than being inspired by a real life story that moves me to retell the story with gay characters in it. I read a lot of news stories and try and stay informed about world politics as well as American politics.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I like history books, gay fiction, police stories. But sadly, I’m so busy, I have two half read books that have been waiting for me for 9 months to get back too. I’m taking a vacation in April and will have time to read on the plane.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Totally involved in politics where I live more so than I already am, including a run for Congress. I would also be an advocate for social justice on many different levels.
I’ve read your books in the Condor series. Where did you get the idea for those books?
The Condor series came from within me. It is what I would do in the situations outlined in the five volumes. It is in many instances ideals that I would want the President to have, such as a refusal to accept social injustice when it rears its ugly head.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
For the most part, I’ve like most of my covers. I’ve only hated one or two. I have been very fortunate to have had very talented cover artists create the visual representation of my work. I’ve had a couple of books where I had to fight to have a bare ass on the cover because it was germane to the story inside. Thank you again to the cover art people who finally saw it my way and I think that some of the covers are beautiful.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Fighting the right wing of America. Fighting for social justice, gay rights. I also advocate for animals as in pushing for no-kill shelters. I enjoy going to a police firing range and keep my firearm skills up since I carry a weapon most of the time. I enjoy my friends and my family and my three Scott Terriers. I enjoy by partner of 37 years.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
The only special projects are the “Condor One,” project, and the cruise which can be found at: http://www.cruisewithagroup.com/lgbt/
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Since I’m still learning this craft, I don’t feel qualified at all to advise another author on anything. I felt my way through the dark and I have a flashlight now, but I’m still in the dark many times.
What future projects do you have in the works?
I and my Murder Most Gay co-writer, are going to write a spin off series based on the next novel in the Murder Most Gay series which will be out sometime this July hopefully, “Murder on a Queen.”
Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
Author website: Johnsimpsonbooks.com
Thank you Michele for taking the time to interview me. I very much appreciate your efforts and it has been a blast getting to know you!