What books did you love as a child? Why?
I grew up with Doctor Seuss; those were the first books I ever read for myself. I think the draw there is self-evident if you’re a fan. The fun rhymes and whimsical characters were, and still are, just a perfect match for kids. My first chapter books, I believe, were the original Hardy Boys adventures. They were hand-me-downs; they’ve been in my family for decades now and will be passed along to my nephews. They’re great adventures and they do some major wish-fulfillment for young boys. I can see it now looking back. I mean these teenagers had access to helicopters, the ear of the chief of police, always got into adventures, and never had any parents around unless things really got dangerous, then they were always scooped out of trouble by their father. Sounds pretty perfect to me.
Do you do research for your writing? If so, how do you go about it (Internet, travel, etc.)?
I do a lot of research for my writing. For one, I’m constantly listening and looking around whenever I’m out. I try to train myself to treat everything as a chance for research, so I’ll listen in on conversations around me or study faces or if possible I’ll ask people how their job works or what they’re day to day is like. I get a lot of good flavor that way for my writing. And then, if I have a large topic that I know I need to learn about, I’ll just buy the biggest book about it I can and choke that down. I read a biography of Isaac Newton for Probability Angels that was probably the most boring thing I’ve ever read. But that’s how I like my research, unfortunately. I just want dry, dusty facts, and then I’ll take them and add color and spin. I don’t want anyone else’s spin on them before I get to them. Oh, and of course there’s the Internet. I was writing a scene in a street in Frankfurt, and I’ve never been there, so I went to Google Maps and looked up Frankfurt and zoomed into street level and took a walking tour digitally. I mean that’s an amazing tool.
What do you wish someone had told you about writing that you learned the hard way?
Nobody ever really talks about the second third of writing a book. Or maybe they do and I wasn’t listening. Anyway, the first third of a book is pure lovely excitement. You’re meeting new characters and discovering new settings and you have free reign because these are your starting decisions that you’re making and nothing is guiding them. The last third of a book is exciting, though not as much, but you get a lift from seeing the ending coming at you and knowing that soon you’ll be able to show it to people as a completed project. The middle third? The middle third is horrible. It’s just an annoying, grueling, march through a bog. The excitement drains off and you don’t have your freedom anymore because you have to make sure things line up with your early choices. And you’re too far from the ending to think about that. So you just have to sit down, type, push yourself to get your word count, day after day and week after week. Nobody really told me about how a book turns into boring old desk work in that middle third. That was a bit of a shock when I learned that one the hard way.
When do you find time to write?
It depends on what I’m working on. For shorter things I’ll wing it or write when I get a rush. For books, though, I take a good look at my schedule and I make time to write. And I stick to that. Even when it gets sloggish. And I keep in mind that it is always always always better to write 200 words a day for 10 days straight than to plan on writing 1000 words at some day in the future. Take the little bit of sure-thing writing time and stick to it one day at a time. Next thing you know you have a book done. Well…it’s not exactly that easy but still…
Tell us about your book.
Probability Angels is an Urban Fantasy novel about a group of beings, call them ghosts, call them angels, call them phantoms, it doesn’t matter, they’ve been called worse. But they’re all former humans who died under specific circumstances. They didn’t die together, mind you, but the moment of their deaths all contained a moment of self-sacrifice. So because of this, they were given a choice: they could either pass on to whatever comes next, or they could stick around on this world and become a tester, a near immortal being that pushes humans to ensure that they live up to their full potential. The book mostly follows Matthew, who is new to all of this, and Epp, his mentor, who is a two-thousand year old tester. We learn about the world of testers along with Matthew and, just as he starts to feel comfortable in his role…well there’s a bit of an uprising. But I don’t want to give too much away.
What is your next project?
Probability Angels is the first book of a trilogy. The second book, Persistent Illusions, will be going on tour in about a month. So my next project is to write the third book in the series and finish off the trilogy. I’m doing research right now for that by reading a lot of not very exciting history books.
How would you describe your writing style? How did you develop it?
My writing style came about in a pretty odd way. Looking back at the classes and teachers I had in high-school, the biggest influence on my writing turns out to have been my Latin class with Miss Alexander. I didn’t learn…well any Latin, sadly (although I can still quote the first few lines of the Aenead). But we read the great poets and orators of ancient Rome in Latin and that was where I really started to learn about how each and every word counts. Ovid, Catullus, Cicero, Virgil, they made every word work double-time for them. They also were happy to break their laws of grammar if they felt a word could have more impact placed incorrectly in a sentence. That was a huge impact on me. I tend not to focus on proper grammar and wind up sculpting sentences however I feel they work best instead. I mean I don’t write gibberish, but sometimes new readers take a few pages to adjust.
Who are your favorite authors? How did they influence your writing?
I love a lot of different favorites, but the ones that have had the largest influence are Joyce, Hemingway, Salinger, and Fitzgerald. Joyce ties in with what I was saying before about my Latin influence. The man has zero regard for grammar and frankly reinvented English every time he put a sentence to paper. And he made every little detail mean something. Hemingway taught me to get out of my own way. His stark style is a favorite of mine and I always try to take words away during my rewrites instead of adding. Less is always more for me. Salinger I don’t read that much anymore, but his style is so chatty that he gave me the courage to relax and find my own voice. Also his dialogue is still second to none for me. And Fitzgerald? I don’t know, I just love The Great Gatsby and can read it over and over so I probably learned something from him. How I went from those influences to writing zombie books is beyond me, though.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Why did you decide to write?
I think it was eighth grade English class. We were assigned a creative writing project to write a short story. So I did. It was a science fiction story about some monster attacking…a planet? I can’t even remember. At any rate there was a pure joy that came with writing the opening of that story. I remember it opened with the mayor of the planet (yes the mayor) closing out a press conference about the monster attacks and I slipped in and out of his head and recapped a bit because I had started in media res and, basically, it was the best feeling ever. That was why I decided to write. There’s something intoxicating about being the teller of tales.
What was the inspiration for your book?
A few years ago I was not very happy with the work I was putting out. It was too formulaic and overly planned. So I decided that I was going to start a writing project where I would write a short story every two weeks for a year. I figured that would shake things up for me for certain. So after I had written two stories for that project I was totally out of ideas and I started kicking around the notion of doing a Twilight Zone sort of story, one where the main character makes a deal with the devil and things turn out all ironic for him at the end. Only this immediately seemed boring to me because I’d written something like that before, so I kept noodling with it. Eventually I started asking myself if it would be possible for the “devil” character to actually be the good guy in the story. That got me thinking about how sometimes the bad things that have come my way have actually turned out to be the best things to come my way because of how I grew from them and learned from them. So wouldn’t it be interesting if that “devil” character was actually misunderstood because the bad things he caused made us grow and learn? And that, in a very oversimplified way, is what the world of Probability Angels is all about.
Anything else you’d like your readers to know?
I’d love to tell your readers about the two contests I’m currently running.
The first is The Great Typo Hunt. I encourage readers to email me if they find a typo and if it checks out they can win a signed copy of one of my books:
The second is my Annual Fan Art Contest. There’s a lot of great prizes to choose from for simply submitting art based on my books:
By Joseph Devon
About the Book:
Matthew knows that he died twenty years ago. He has, after all, been bouncing around New York city ever since, causing mischief and having fun as a supernatural being. But recently some problems have been cropping up: not only is he hallucinating things in garbage cans, but his mentor doesn’t think he’s working up to his full potential, his best friend can’t offer any solace but drunken confusion, and his wife is dying in Central Park.
See, the past twenty years haven’t meant a thing because now it’s time for Matthew to make his second choice and become a tester of humanity.
And that’s all before the zombies show up.
Come explore the world of Matthew and Epp and see what a samurai from Feudal Japan has to do with the course of modern physics, what a two-thousand year old Roman slave has to do with the summit of Mount Everest, and what a dead man from Brooklyn has to do with the fate of the world.
About the Author:
Joseph Devon was born in New Jersey and currently lives in New York. He’s been a student, a nanny, worked at the Ground Zero recovery project after 9/11, and of all the things he’s created he is probably most proud of the character Kyo. He writes a blog, enjoys photography and he’s also at flickr, and tumblr, and twitter — sometimes he thinks that he might have one too many social networking outlets. Joseph’s Annual Fan Art Contest has a lot of great prizes to choose from for simply submitting art based on his books — check it out at: http://josephdevon.com/contest/the-third-annual-joseph-devon-art-contest/.