Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Dan Jolley. He is the author of the Gray Widow Trilogy. Dan writes novels, games, and comics.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Paranormal & Urban, Superhero
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I'm Dan Jolley. I grew up in a rural town in northwest Georgia as a weird, awkward nerd who loved to make stuff up. I’m still a weird, awkward nerd, but now I’m lucky enough (and stubborn enough) to get paid to make stuff up, and I make my living writing novels, video games, comic books, and children's books.
My latest project is GRAY WIDOW’S WALK, a sci-fi/superhero noir novel, which came out May 13 from Seventh Star Press. October 18 will see the debut of FIVE ELEMENTS, a Middle Grade urban fantasy series from HarperCollins.
I’m also currently working on the Dark Horse Comics Young Adult graphic novel series LARP!, co-written with Shawn deLoache, illustrated by Marlin Shoop, and lettered by Gray Gunter, as well as a mobile iOS game that I can't talk about quite yet.
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
Congratulations on your book: Gray Widow's Walk. What do you have on the drawing board next? Rumor has it that you have two more books on the horizon in the Gray Widow Trilogy. Can you tell us the timeline for their release and give us a little tease?
I do indeed have two more books coming -- Gray Widow's Web and Gray Widow's War. My contract specifies that I give Seventh Star Press one book per year, so Book 2 will come out in May 2017, and Book 3 in May 2018. Unless I get them done sooner, which I might.
As far as a tease goes, I don't want to give too much away for people who haven't yet read Gray Widow's Walk. But I can say, I think, that what started as a story very much localized to the Atlanta area will become much, much larger, involving the entire planet, with implications beyond Earth itself. At the same time, sci-fi elements aside, the Gray Widow Trilogy is about the journey of its protagonist, Janey Sinclair. Janey is the reason for everything in these books, and following her as she works through the emotional scars of her past and the physical scars of her present is by far the most important part of the story, much more so than the combat or the conspiracies or the extraterrestrial involvement.
You have a good following on twitter. Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your current success? How did you build your following in your niche? How much has it changed your book launch process?
You're right, when I first started writing professionally, there was no social media. There was, in fact, no Internet, and every time I think about that it reminds me of how drastically the world has change since I was a kid. (I got my first writing contract when I was nineteen.) Honestly, it's been a struggle. As late as 2007, when my first original novel trilogy, Alex Unlimited, came out, companies were still telling writers, "We have a marketing department, and they're going to take care of all the publicity, so you just keep quiet and let them do their jobs." Now, of course, the whole landscape has changed, and most publishers expect you either to help out as much as possible with the online marketing, or to do all of the marketing yourself. The thing is, I have never been good at self-promotion. So every time I put myself out there, send out a tweet about my work or write a new blog post, I'm horribly self-conscious about it. I know that's something I just have to get over, but it's been a process. One I'm still going through.
I've been wise enough to know when to ask for help, though. A friend of mine who's much more social media-savvy than I am, Andrea Judy, has become my de facto publicist, and has helped tremendously with the rollout of Gray Widow's Walk. Without her help, the book launch process would have been very different, and much more anemic, I'd say.
Do you do any book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?
I have done a few speaking engagements, but most of my public appearances center around sci-fi/fantasy/comics conventions. I'm doing a one-day show in Nashville on June 11, and I'm confirmed for DragonCon in Atlanta Labor Day weekend, as well as Imaginarium in Louisville, Kentucky October 7 - 9. I'll have links and updates for all of those on my website,
and for any new ones that pop up. Plus you can follow me on Twitter -- @_DanJolley -- as well as on Facebook,
You have great covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?
The cover process varies greatly from publisher to publisher. I have another series coming out in October, a Middle Grade urban fantasy story called Five Elements, and for that I simply got an email from the publisher, HarperCollins, that said, "Here's your cover!" I had no input, and don't even know the name of the artist. I have no complaints, though, because HC knows what they're doing and the cover is gorgeous. For Gray Widow's Walk, working with the much smaller Seventh Star Press, it was an entirely different experience. I had huge input on the cover, and final say over it, so much so that I actually brought in a comic book artist I've worked with a lot over the years, a guy out of Florida named John Nadeau. (He and I have a serialized story called "Murder Society" coming up in the Dark Horse Comics anthology "Dark Horse Presents.") Anyway, John had never done a novel cover before, but I gave him a basic list of elements I was looking for, and he generated that cover in just a few days. I couldn't be more pleased with it. John's worth his weight in gold, as the saying goes.
Between your writing, blogging, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do you sort of play it by ear?
I'm governed almost entirely by deadlines. It's a lot easier for me when I'm given a deadline, but I can set them for myself without too much trouble, and I just work backward from the deadline. I figure out how much time each step of the process is going to take, split that up into days, and go from there. I work from home, and I write in bursts, so while I can realistically crank out fifteen or twenty pages in two or three hours, there's also a good bit of time devoted to reading, playing video games, feeding cats, etc. I try to make it to the gym on a regular basis, too, but sometimes that gets pushed aside if I have a particularly hairy deadline to meet. (I know that's a bad habit.)
Do you maintain a reader list? What are the methods you use to find your readers and create the list and the relationship? Do you use social media, forums, newsletters and/or support groups to build your list?
I'm working on that. That's probably the weakest part of my whole social media game right now. I have a sign-up list at every convention, and there's a sign-up button on my website, but it's still very much a work in progress. I think, once I get it up and running, I'm going to start sending out short stories set in the Gray Widow world, focusing on new characters or side characters, and I'm pretty excited about that. I just need to get all my ducks in a row first.
You have a great blog. (See link above.) You do a great job of providing useful information to other writers. What is your primary goal?
When I first got started, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I had no idea what I was doing. I got sort of a crash course in how to write comics from one of my first editors, Dan Thorsland, but if it hadn't been for him, I would've just flailed around for maybe years before learning what was necessary. So, while part of the blog is just me shooting my mouth off about various issues, the more important bits are about trying to impart what I've learned in an easily-digestible, free-of-charge way. If I can let people know the stuff that I wish I had known to begin with, I'll feel as if I'm pulling my weight a little more.
What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?
We're reaching out via social media to a lot of different book bloggers and reviewers, and in June I'll be doing my first-ever blog tour. I welcome and appreciate reviews straight from readers, though. That's one thing about the whole social media age that I'm fascinated by: the ability for readers to reach authors so directly and quickly. The chance to interact with them like that, just have conversations, is fantastic.
You have published a variety of forms of literature. Does changing hats create any problems? Any tricks you can share with us? Which genre or form do you enjoy writing the most? Does moving from one to the other give you some breathing room or a change of pace?
Yeah, right now I'm working in novels, video games, comics, and have a Hollywood thing going on that I'd rather not jinx at this stage. I learned to write comics first, and that was definitely a blessing. Comics have such a rigid, unforgiving format -- page count, panel count, word count, the fact that surprises or big moments should come at the beginning of even-numbered pages because of the page turn, etc. That practice of writing within super-strict parameters prepared me to work in video games, which are rigid in new and different ways. At the same time, when I started writing prose, it felt so liberating and luxurious. "I can have as many pages as I want? My chapters can be whatever length I feel like? Awesome!" There's definitely a changing of mental gears when I go from one format to another, but it keeps me on my toes, and makes it so that, when I return to prose or comics or whatever, I feel as if I've been on a vacation. So I come back fully-charged and ready to go.
Author's Book List
The Emerald Tablet
- Five Elements Book
Five elements. Four friends. One city—and its sinister shadow. This epic new middle grade series is filled with awesome elemental powers, nightmarish creatures, and nonstop adventure that will thrill fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Rick Riordan, and Brandon Mull.
When Gabe Conway and his friends find a strange old map in his uncle’s office and follow it to a crumbling secret chamber beneath San Francisco, they think they’re just having one last adventure before Gabe moves away.
They don’t expect to end up bound to the magic of the elements, or to set off a chain of events that none of them can explain. But they’re about to get more of an adventure than they bargained for.
For the last century, a power-hungry cult has been plotting to merge our world with a twisted parallel realm. Gabe’s bloodline holds the key to the barrier between the worlds—and now it’s up to Gabe, his friends, and their new elemental powers to save San Francisco from utter destruction.
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Gray Widow's Walk
- Gray Widow Trilogy Book 1
“The only thing in this world you can truly control is yourself.”
Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.
But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.
Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…
Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…
And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell—if she’ll let him.
But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities—hers and all the others like her—begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…
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Alex’s world is falling apart all around her! SKAR has developed the most powerful truth serum on the planet, making it the greatest threat to national security yet. To make matters worse, the BGO may be shutting down for good. And to top it all off, the Alex Prime that Alex summons to help turns out to be…a guy? Anything is possible in the series finale of Alex Unlimited!
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- Alex Unlimited Book 2
America has always been rife with “mediums,” but now it looks as though one girl is the real deal: Amy Titus–a spacey, New Age hippie chick from San Francisco. If Amy really can contact spirits, then the government has either a major ally or a potential threat to national security. When Amy disappears mysteriously, it’s up to teen secret agent Alex Benno to track down the missing medium. Is Amy what she appears to be? And can she really communicate with the parents whose deaths orphaned Alex so many years ago?
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The Vosarak Code
- Alex Unlimited Book 1
Alexandra Benno has a unique talent: she can instantly summon parallel-dimension versions of herself. But these duplicates are always super-idealized: smart, fast, tough, and often the most beautiful girls in their world–while Alex herself is clumsy, frizzy-haired, and has the body of a twelve-year-old boy. So when the government recruits Alex for top-secret espionage work, it’s always her idealized double who gets the action and, consequently, receives all the credit. Sick of being her own sidekick, will Alex be able to crack the Vosarak Code and complete her latest mission…or is she destined to live in her own shadow? With pluck and wonder at every turn, Dan Jolley’s smart and action-packed novel series takes the reader on one unforgettable adventure after the next.
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