I love meeting new authors and learning about their new books and writing process. What could possibly be more gritty and fantastic than mobsters and gods in the same book. Today, my guest is Justin D. Herd author of OF GODS AND MADNESS: THE FAITHFUL (July 2015).
Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that’s not true.
He squawks in full daylight.
Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he has two wonderful dem—children. One growls at things he likes. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three.
From there, things will only get more interesting.
He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing.
Vanessa: So tell us a little about the book.
Justin: Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful is about a mobster who becomes a god, only to discover they die too. To go a little more in depth, it has over a dozen POV characters that range from mobsters to streetwise artists to the Trickster god and everywhere in between. In short, this is a beast of a book. Not to give anything away, but it also blends genres, so it’s hard to categorize.
V: It does sound beastly! How long did it take you to write this book?
J: That’s a tricky question. My first draft took me about nine months, six of those were spent with me obsessing over future books and not wanting to spoil those ideas, but eventually it took me cramming those ideas into the last third of this book. That being said, I finished the first draft of this book in February 2008. It finally released on July 21, 2015.
V: Sounds like a satisfying journey. What Genre do you write and why?
J: I write Fantasy Noir. Haven’t heard of it? Well, chances are if you read Urban Fantasy you’ve encountered this. Technically, Jim Butcher could fall under Fantasy Noir. I was introduced to it by Alan Campbell’s Scar Night (part of the Deepgate Codex) and, after years of trying to place my genre, found that it fits firmly in here.
Essentially Fantasy Noir is about feel and setting rather than a bunch of story beats. You’re typically put into a gritty urban environment with questionable characters. It’s more about the dirt and grime and being able to feel that wafting off the page.
V: Fascinating and intriguing. Can you pick a favorite line from your latest work and tell us why this is your favorite?
J: Neon flashed through the evening haze, calling the shuffling drunks out into the dead of night for some faintly promised tail.
This is an early favorite line. It’s more for how it establishes the character. It opens with him pulling out a twisted cigarette, watching these drunks from an alley across the way. But, true to my writing style, we don’t spend much time in his head, instead we move forward with the action as he pitches his cigarette into a mound of trash and gets on with the job. For me, it’s all about how Raine views the world and how he’s so unimpressed with all these drunks, but he has to endure it to do his job, though we do get to see how easily he slips into this.
V: I love the part about tail, lol. What can you share with other writers were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
J: Probably how easy it is to screw-up something and then spend three or four revisions trying to fix it. Specifically, it came for me with the overall design. Once I decided I was done and it was ready, I sent it up, hit the “Good to go” button and then 30 seconds later I found one small thing that I’d missed. Had to wait another 24 hours for the original to get approved, then change it.
V: Do you have a favorite author(s)?
J: I have several favorite authors, but the weirdest of those has to be Jeremy Robert Johnson. He’s part of a genre called Bizarro, which is essentially the literary version of David Lynch. His first short story collection, Angel Dust Apocalypse, featured a story about a man paranoid about the pending apocalypse and stitches cockroaches to a suit, since they’ll be the one thing that survives a nuclear attack. Not strange enough for you? How about a retelling of Dante’s Inferno in a nightclub while doing drugs? I love how demented Bizarro can be. I’m currently reading his first full novel, Skullcrack City.
V: I can tell you’re definitely into dark and gritty. What are a few things that you’ve not often shared about yourself?
J: Not the cheeriest subject, but I lost a couple digits from fingers on my left hand when I was a child. Good times had by all.
I can type without looking. Kinda like Paul Walker in 2 Fast 2 Furious, I can type perfectly while staring you in the face, and know the moment I make a mistake.
I’m a huge proponent of fan edits. I’m not sure how I’ll feel if someone wants to modify my work to make it better, but, with films, there’s so much that goes into it that, most of the time, I’m left wondering what the hell they were thinking.
V: Wow, then your typing skills are definitely awesome. If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
J: The obvious choice for Raine would be Michael Pitt. He’s got that great 20s, 30s look along with the right attitude. Marise would be played by Gina Carano, since she’s a self-reliant female that knows when to skirt authority. Cale would be Loren Dean (the lead detective in Gattaca). I absolutely love his slicked back, no nonsense presence in that film, but also has the right amount of feeling to break protocol. And Theon would have to be played by Christoph Waltz, because I could just see Christoph cutting loose and having tons of fun as a Trickster.
V: Now just for fun. Chocolate, Coffee or Wine (or any other adult beverage)?
J: Coffee. I’m the stereotypical writer in that I go to a coffee shop and write there while listening to music.
V: Me too 🙂 What is your favorite meal?
J: Red Chicken Curry, Spicy 5. Well, however the hell spicy you can make it. Honestly, I would eat this three times a day, 365 and still love it. I can really thank my wife for introducing me to Thai food.
V: I don’t think I can handle the heat. Favorite Color?
J: Like a de-saturated blue.
V: If you were a superhero, what would your name be? What would you wear?
J: The Anxious Busybody. I’d probably a simple button-up and jeans, with steel-toed boots. However, I’d wear a blank white mask of my own face, so no one would recognize me. I’d be an editing fool that swooped in and fixed everybody’s documents. I know, super exciting right?
V: Very writer appropriate. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers?
J: The first, and most obvious but seldom followed, would be to just write. Don’t worry about editing. When writing any piece (though my specialty is novels), just get it out there. Once it’s done, you can fiddle with it and rip it to shreds, pulling it back into something that doesn’t even resemble its initial incarnation, but at least you have something to play with.
The other would be to write what interests you. Yes, you could stick to proven genres or what’s hot at the time, but trends change and something that was “it” three months ago could be forgotten by the time your manuscript is in the shape to put it out into the world. What makes your writing interesting is the spin you put on it.
Great advice. What’s next in your future?
J: I’ve got some ideas for how to expand on Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful, specifically make a series that follows the humans, another for the gods. But I also have three other completed novels in varying stages of editing and I’d like to get those out as well.
V: Sounds busy. Thanks for joining us today, Justin. And for our readers, check out all of Justin’s links and an excerpt from his book below.
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Excerpt from Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful:
Raine stumbled forward, collapsing into his nightstand. It jerked, its contents shifting. A lamp crashed to the floor while a dirty glass sloshed, pitching off the edge.
He caught the glass. Watered down and useless whiskey splashed his hand then came to rest. His stomach lurched at the thought of drinking again. He swallowed hard, the tainted liquor plummeting down to his empty stomach. He breathed in twice, sharp, labored breaths, then plucked a crooked cigarette from an ashtray. He straightened, bones cracking.
Slipping into the bathroom, he flipped on the row of lights. A pop hit his ears, another light dead. Only two of the seven lights remained. He stared at his reflection, exhaling a puff of smoke. Though he’d spent half the evening drinking and nursing his wounds, it hadn’t helped much.
Reaching up, Raine tapped a finger along the reflection. Nothing. He banged his fist against its side.
The mirror flickered to life. After an agonizing minute, a collection of three silent displays loaded up. He swiped across and news reports flitted by, dissolved, transitioned to a blank screen, words filing onto the space. He made three more gestures, then music started to play through the speakers. The bittersweet strings of a cello filled the room.
Raine peeled the bandages from his fist. He grimaced, threw the wrappings away. He examined the beet red flesh, finding it complimented the rest of his wounds quite well.
He crossed to the shower as the music shifted to a high pitched squeal of twisted metal. Spinning round, he smacked the glass once more.
The image flashed, the melancholy strings resumed.
“Piece of shit,” he muttered.
He turned the shower on, stripped down. The scalding water assaulted his body and found its way into cuts he hadn’t realized he’d had. His scalp hissed in agony as little bits of glass pelted the shower tile. He sucked in a sharp rush of smoke with the pain. He tapped the ash against the wall, careful to keep the cigarette from the water, as he rattled off excuses for his failure to the unresponsive tile.