INTERVIEW: Author John Gregory Hancock

John Gregory Hancock is a storyteller. Currently, he has seven books of his own and has written for The Future Chronicles anthology series, whose titles have hit the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. The Immortality Chronicles – a Top 5 SF Anthology and Hot New Release – featured his story ‘The Antares Cigar Shoppe,” which was also nominated for Best American Science Fiction.
His work has appeared in other anthologies, including; Prep For Doom, Bite-Sized Offerings: Tales & Legends of the Zombie Apocalypse, Flying Toasters – The DeadPixel Tales, and Off the Kuf.

We had the pleasure of interviewing John recently. Below are his generous answers to our (oh, too many) questions.

When did you first consider yourself a writer or do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I was always interested, since a child. I took creative writing classes in high school and college. Then, I put that away for several decades. I picked it back up again at age 50.

What genres are your books? What has drawn you to this genre?

I write in all genres that interest me. Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Whimsy. The type of story determines the genre, or the mix of genres.

What techniques and tools do you use to keep yourself organized? 

My brain, basically. I plot out stories while trying to fall asleep at night. Once I start a project, I might make an outline. I might not. I always have the skeleton of the story in my head. And then my characters rewrite it.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

When you’re in the groove and it flows like sweet wine.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Varies. A couple of months uninterrupted, but there are always interruptions.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Not really, maybe slipping on your computer cord? I got nothing.

How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?

We are all made up from what we experience. Of course my childhood has an impact. Because of it I know of great cruelty, of unimaginable virtue and the banal and the mundane. Doesn’t every child?

Writing about sex – easy or difficult?

Easier than HAVING sex at 61.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The most accurate criticism was that one short story I was working had been using a thesaurus extensively, it was pointed out to me, I was ashamed, and rewrote it again from the heart. That was the short story “The Well” from my Splintered Dreams anthology. It made for a much better story. The best compliment was someone who told me they had read ROOF five times over and still enjoyed it. And they were not a relative.

Was there a person in your career who has impacted you the most or who has really made a difference? 

So many, but I would say the most famous would be Zoe Sharp, the thriller writer. She read my first book and helped me correct some Americanized britishisms in a short story, and Laura Albins who did the same for The Mortuary Arts, a Victorian romance/horror novella. I also cannot ignore Samuel Peralta, and his chronicle anthologies for giving me a chance with “The Antares Cigar Shoppe,” which appears in the Immortality Chronicles.

Which writers inspire you or are your favorites, and what really strikes you about their work?

I’m too much an omnivore when it comes to reading so this is hard to pin down.  BUT I would say I have a fond penchant for Kurt Vonnegut. He’s a writer like me, in that I don’t pad stories. I don’t use 24 carelessly chosen words when 7 finely crafted ones works better. As a result, most of my works thus far have been relatively short.

What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

Oh, I was unaware sanity was a requirement.

Do you have a day job as well?

Of course, I’m an award-winning graphic designer.

Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?

No. My dad wanted me to be an accountant. To heck with that. Life is short, create all the things.

Do you admire your own work?

Admire is the wrong word. I enjoy it. I write what I want to read. I often reread an old work and am a bit surprised at how well it holds together, but I don’t think admire is the right word. Probably satisified is more appropriate.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

 I’ve been disappointed I didn’t fix certain things. But I don’t think I’ll say I’ve every hated anything.

Tell us about the books you’ve written.

I will list them here.

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In 1880s London, around the time of Jack the Ripper, Kate O’Donnell finds herself in desperate straits. She has no options left but to answer the advertisement for a position as a mortuary assistant. Utilizing every skill she possesses, her new vocation teaches her to find beauty in death. But is that all she would learn?

An illustrated neo-gothic horror novella that contains 26 interior black and white illustrations.

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The world has hardened. Opportunities are few and dwindling. Society has changed, and not for the better. Every day robots and machines replace humans in the workforce, not just in the most menial jobs, but also throughout the cubicles of the corporations that dominate the cities.

Peter Harkness is one of the few humans lucky enough to still have a job, and works next to automatons all day long. How long will his job last? What secrets do the roofs of the city have waiting for him? Peter is left wondering who his allies truly are in this near-futuristic dystopian world, reminiscent of Asimov, Heinlein and the golden age of science fiction.

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In desperation, mankind constructs a rescue spaceship to escape a doomed planet. But will it save them? Or will they discover a secret that unravels everything they’ve ever believed to be true?

A science fiction short story that will challenge you and have you thinking for days after you read it.

Originally part of the anthology A Plague of Dreams, and it exists in a forest called Dreamwood Tales.

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An historic plantation house acts as the electrifying intersection in time for random strangers with psychic talents, along with the entities who haunt it and the unsavory evil force that lurks within.

Among them; an African slave/shaman, an American WWII soldier crushed with guilt, a reality television ghost investigation crew dangerously unprepared, and a psychic crippled by claustrophobia who discovers he is a bare uninsulated wire attracting psychic energies like a lightning rod.

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A collection of ten stories, of varying lengths, genres and styles. They vary from fantasy, to science fiction, to crime thriller, to paranormal adventure. And of course humor. You’ll find things like…

– A dragon with an identity crisis

– An accountant that runs into a three-headed dog, (or maybe the dog runs into him)

– A refugee spaceship that might not be enough to save mankind

– A lottery winner that finds his life turning into a nightmare when he finds a hidden room

– A TV psychic that is drawn against his will into demonic evil

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SPLINTERED DREAMS

9 unique tales of fantasy, horror and science fiction…

A WINTER CROSSING:

Magic comes at a price, and the price is too dear.

YELLOW FOG:

The simplest of us comes to a crossroads with the destiny of our species

PRISM

The things that make us different not only define us, but defines our fate, and the fate of the entire kingdom.

THE INTERPRETER:

Not all is lost in translation.

MAGRITTE THE THIEF:

When Angels don’t act like angels.

THE WELL:

Be careful what you wish for.

SUBWAY ZERO:

An incident in the underground.

THE STORY ROOM:

Time. Travel. Will. Kick. Your. Ass.

DANGER IN THE NIGHT:

When a prowler with a knife spouts poetry, beware.

THREE MAGIC TALES:

Recollected under the theme of Magic, these three tales originally from volumes 1 and 2 of the Dreamwood Tales series were chosen to be the best platform for a consummate narrator to create an audiobook. That narrator’s name is Jon Caruth.

Are the names of the characters in your novels important?

Incredibly. Choosing the absolute correct name is key. It informs a lot of the character.

Give us an insight into your main character.

I have many main characters. I love them all, but I’ll pick William Fastensmith. He is a smile made human. He appears in the short story “Sharing Dunwoodies.” I’ll take this intro to show it:

He never quite saw the kindness that wore itself on his face like a comfortable worn sweater.

Bill’s dog was familiar with his kindness, of course. Dogs have a keen sense of such things; pets and little children. Being part of Bill’s pack was the best thing ever for Kip. The human was the alpha. Bill was the food giver. He encouraged Kip to be the heroic champion he was meant to be. Chase that leaf, he’d say, or that’s a good boy, for no reason. Kip saw himself how Bill saw him. This is a difference between dogs and men. Men see themselves as less than they are, or more than they should be.

Kip was just a wiener dog.

Nothing more, and nothing less.

But he was Bill’s champion. That made him feel all better inside.

Tell us about the covers.

I design my own covers. I’ve been a graphic designer for much longer than I’ve been a writer. I had designed them one way when I was first writing, but as each book came along, I realized they needed to be more consistent. So, I redesigned them and simplified the look.

What was the hardest part of writing your books?

Sitting in the chair.

What did you learn from writing them?

Everything. Words have a unique power to educate. Even if you wield them yourself.

Is anything in your books based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

What we write is always a part of us in some way, but creating the stories requires the glue of imagination.

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?

There is always a conscious or unconscious message. In Roof, I think the message is to not overlook what you take for granted. In Crawlspace, there is not a message per se. Unless it would be the courage and resourcefulness of good people facing evil. The Mortuary Arts is the message of perhaps great horror dolloped out in small doses and disguised as love. I don’t know, maybe other people can interpret my work better than I as far as message.

Are you working on another book right now? What is it about?

I’m coming back from a hiatus soon, I have several different works in progress. One is intended to be an epic science fiction saga, titled Across the Endless Sea of Suns. I have a sequel to Crawlspace in the works. I have plans more vaguely for a science fiction book called Return to Me My Beloved. And I have a notebook full of notes for many more ideas.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

Yes, I loved my character William Fastensmith. I loved my character Jack Banyan.

What’s your views on social media for marketing?

It’s fun sometimes, I have no metrics, though. All the best advice is to not be political on social media, but I was political long before I started self publishing. So that toothpaste was already out of that tube. So people either have to read my work on its own merits or else decide to read or not read me based on my politics, and I can’t stop that. We all swim in a sea of politics, so it is as much part of me as anthing else I believe in.

Which social network worked best for you?

Facebook.

Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?

God, no. Except be careful that those who are very willing to sell you advice for coin are making their money selling you advice. I don’t market much, or very well. Don’t come to me for help in marketing, I suck at it, basically. The best avenues that have worked for me, though have been book events where I offer books as prizes.

Do you think that giving books away free works and why?

It works toward getting occasional reviews. And generating good will. Which are both good things. Depends on what you mean by “work”. If you mean large sales, then not necessarily.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

Take instruction, if it has merit, thank them for a review. Never ever respond to bad reviews. Treasure them also. Reviews are not the author’s sandbox but the reader’s. No benefit from engaging in the wrong sandbox.

Where are you from?

I was born in Missouri, near St. Louis. Not small enough of a town to be plumb off the map, but not large enough to be ever heard of, either. If you want, you can imagine Narnia. Not accurate, but infinitely more interesting.

Besides writing, what are your interests or how do you relax?

I love to draw people when they are unaware I’m doing so. You capture so much more of their personality that way. Another way I have fun is to play video games, and I’ve actually been written into Fallout 2 in a random encounter, in the guise of Lerk, of the Unwashed Villagers. It happened after being part of a fan group that helped out on the message board of the company that designed the game. Several of us were included.

Who are your heroes?

I have famous heroes and everyday heroes and superheroes. The one book that probably most affected me on a base human level was Victor Frankl’ s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, a holocaust survivor wrote about humanity in the most extreme situations. I consider him a hero.

Jimmy Carter was the favorite president of my lifetime. What he’s done since leaving office is what I admire him most for. I admire humans that remember their humanity. And their humility. We are all on the same planet, we should start acting like it.As far as superheroes: my favorite is Ironman. Not the one you know today, though I like Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal. I like Ironman from when I was a kid, in the comic books and the 1966 animated series.

What is your greatest fear?

I have discovered the hard way that I’m claustrophobic. I wrote my actual experience into my book Crawlspace. Once, when I was very overweight, I got stuck in an MRI and couldn’t breathe. I had dropped the panic button they gave and I almost went mad thinking I was going to die. It’s the most visceral part of the book and its own my true experience.

Your proudest achievement?

Haven’t done it yet. Lol. I did work on a Pulitzer Prize winning series in the Dayton Daily News, though. Some people would consider that something to be proud of. But I don’t know. I have loved and been loved, cherished the familiar and the unfamiliar, welcomed strangers and stood for truth. Perhaps that is more what I’m proud of.

What are your lifelong dreams? 

 To travel. Up until this year I’d never been out of the country. We flew to Barcelona and it was like walking in a dream.

If your friends or family members were asked to pick three character traits that describe you, what would they say?

Can’t speak for them, but I would hope they said I had a big heart, and that I care a great deal about things and people that benefit the greater good. And that I tell very bad dad jokes. Like, really bad. They even make ME groan.

What are three positive character traits you don’t have?  

I would say that as I get older, I am less patient with idiots, so patience. I’m not entirely forgiving if someone is a racist, sexist, homophobe or transphobe. I’m just not. Die mad about it. Also, I’m not always filled with self confidence.

What is your biggest regret and why? 

 I really can’t narrow it down to just one. I am in the business of doing things I regret. But if I had to point something out, when I was in college I was offered a threesome with my date and her girlfriend and I thought it was a joke or a test so I said no. That was 40 years ago and I still wish I’d answered differently, just to see.

Why do you think what you do matters?

Maybe it only does to me, but, as I said, I write stories that I know I would want to read. In that way, it matters what I write.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

Barcelona. Definitely. It was not only beautiful in its own right, but every block had architecture that just knocked you on your feet. And the fruit and food! Omg.

What’s the last book you read?  

Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep

What books have most influenced your life most?

Well, I already mentioned Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, but beyond that I’d say from when I was a kid in the sixties Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Harlan Ellison’s anthology Repent said the Ticktock Man, with I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, Jules Verne’s To the Moon And Back, Alfred Bester’s The Stars my Destination, Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human, Isaac Asimov Foundation Series, and well it’s hard to list all because I used to check out 14 books a week, put them in my bicycle basket, read them all and return for more the next week.

As an adolescent, Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings feature prominently, as well as Ursula le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. As an adult, Clive Barker’s Imajica and The Great and Secret Show; Julian May’s Intervention series (which should damn well be made into an HBO series sometime), L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Saga of the Recluse. Stephen King’s Lisey’s Tale, and Dr. Sleep. I could go ON and ON and ON. I love reading good books.

What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last year? 

I would say Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There are other contenders, though. A Star is Born would be another.

What is your favorite film and why?

Personally, It’s a Wonderful Life has a lot of meaning to me since watching it after my first wife died kept me from doing something drastic. Other than that, like books, I have so many favorites. I loved and still love I, Robot because it’s a perfect story. Young Frankenstein is funny even after watching it a hundred times. Defending your Life had a very amiable view of the after life that I find comforting, Cloud Atlas has a view of humanity that is both alarming and inspiring, to just name a few.

What would you do if you won the lottery? 

Probably move to Barcelona lol. No, seriously.

What is your favorite memory from childhood? 

My mother passed when I was 6. I have a memory of her beautiful face, though, when we caroled on Christmas in the cold. It was her tradition for the neighborhood. We would go to the first house, carol, then they would come out with us to the next house and so on until we had collected the neighborhood and then came back to our house for a party. That was my mother.

What were you like at school?

Goody two shoes smart kid with no dates. Tall, but not athletic. Had those black safety glasses that weren’t supposed to break. But did. And needed tape to hold them together. A hopeless nerd. Back before being a nerd was popular. However, I guess I was kind of popular because I had friends in all the various groups: straights (which back then meant no drugs) Stoners, Nerds, smart kids, athletes etc. I ended up Senior Class President, but I’m at a loss as to how.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Relax more, don’t sweat the small stuff.

Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Sadly, yes. But I’m so damn funny.

What makes you cry?

Movies, life, inspiring things, sad things, loss, kindness, beauty.

What makes you laugh?

Movies, life, inspiring things, sad things, loss, kindness, beauty.

What’s the loveliest thing you have ever seen?

A child’s laugh. My child’s laugh.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Drive your own car. Make your own stories. Use your own voice. Use the voices of your characters. Too many people giving you conflicting advice can just confuse your vision. If you only write something you think will sell you’re making cornflake boxes on an assembly line. Punch through. Tell a story from your gut, from your heart, not your pocketbook. Of course I’m not rich so take that advice with a grain of salt. Lol.

Any tips on what to do and what not to do?

Nope, be you and forge your own path. Be the different you that we will love and admire.

Thank you very much for taking part in this interview!

Connect with John on social media:

John’s website

Author page at Amazon.com

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