Justin Bloch’s debut novel, The Stolen Karma of Nathaniel Valentine, is a powerhouse of plot twists and personal journeys. The settings are rich and varied, and the characters are all masterfully round and motivated. I caught up with Justin while he was hard at work on the sequel to ask him a few questions.
PersephoneKnits: So many of us are parents and spouses and working full-time at other jobs. How did you find time to write? How long did it take you, and what (if anything) are you doing differently on the sequel?
Justin Bloch: Well, I have two young kids and a third on the way, so writing time is at a premium in my house. I managed to write my debut by not having kids at the time; I actually began the book when I was first dating my wife in attempt to impress her (which apparently worked). But even without kids, it took some time. I’m not a terribly fast writer in the first place, and I’m a perfectionist, it’s hard for me to stop tinkering. It was about eight years from the time I wrote the first chapter sitting on the roof of our apartment building, until the day it was published.
In the meantime, I wrote the first draft of the sequel, got married, and had my daughter. Writing the sequel has been a different experience. I feel like having the kids has made my writing richer, my characters deeper, but I often have trouble choosing the work over my time with them. I live for nap-times. Even if I only get thirty minutes of work in, I consider it a victory. I think the delay has given the book and my abilities time to mature and progress. I bemoan how long it’s taken me to get to this final stage, but I don’t think the sequel would have been nearly as good if it had come out sooner.
PK: I feel like your voice and style are reminiscent of Max Gladstone in his Craft Sequence. There’s that same underbelly of other cultures and ideas peeking through like a broken bone. What writers have left a mark on you?
JB: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was really the book that opened my eyes to what fantasy in a modern setting could be, and it’s probably the work that influenced my first book more than any other. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books taught me how to write a joke, and Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant taught me to think big, and to bury important touches in unexpected places to be unearthed down the line. When I was writing the second book, my wife and I were rewatching the TV series Lost, and I think that had a huge impact on my pacing, my chapter breaks, and my search for excitement in the story.
PK: I can see those influences, now that you name them.
I want to go back a second, as I was struck by something you said earlier about perfectionism. I know many writers struggle with knowing or accepting when a piece is ready to be shared. How did you finally decide to hit publish? What pushed you past the threshold?
JB: Does anyone really ever think their art is finished? Sometimes, as I’m editing the second book or writing the third, and I go back to the first novel to refresh my memory, I catch a passage or a line of dialog and wish I could go back and change it. I think the key is knowing when to let go. I learned that when I studied fine arts, when to pull back before you start overworking. It’s especially tough with writing, I think, because your style is constantly evolving, and, especially for a slow writer like me, I might be editing a paragraph two years or more after I first wrote it.
For me personally, I know I’m approaching the endpoint when my wife starts nitpicking syntax or word choice, and is no longer hitting me with the tough, character-, motivation-, or theme-based critique. When that happens, I know it’s time to start thinking about final read-throughs.
PK: That’s when I know I’m done, too. Although, I’m still learning. I tend to be impatient, but I’m working on it. Letting a story or a query sit before I hit send has helped me grow this past year. When is your expected publish date for the sequel, The Book of Doors, and are you planning on doing anything special that day?
JB: I haven’t decided on an official date yet, but it should be either late spring or early summer. I want to do one more read-through before I pull the trigger. I’m really proud of the second book, so I’m excited to see what people think. I’m planning to do a bunch of giveaways at publication time, and I’ll probably make the first book free to download for at least the first few days of the sequel’s publication. Any money I make is nice, of course, but it’s really getting my stories into readers’ hands that’s the most exhilarating for me.
Justin will be doing a giveaway
on his Goodreads blog for The Book of Doors.
Until then, go pick up a copy of The Stolen Karma of Nathaniel,
and be sure to leave a review!