John Thornton

‘Settle for a B.’

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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing? 

I have been imagining situations and stories for as long as I can remember. Back as a small child, like fifty years ago, we would play pretend.  That was the start of my making up stories in my head.  Then as a teen I played a lot of board games and role-playing adventure games. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Metamorphosis Alpha, and even some of the naval combat games like General Quarters. None of them were totally satisfying, so I would modify, combine, and invent new scenarios. Some of that was pretty wild with having space marines battling fantasy creatures like trolls and orcs and dragons. From that, I found I was drawn to a combination of vast spaceships and interior biomes.  Generational ships have been a favorite of mine since the 1970s when I read books Non-Stop, Orphans of the Sky, and especially the World and Thorinn. The World and Thorinn has been a favorite of mine since then. I started keeping notes, and “Game master” maps and such.  Those evolved into my sci-fi novels of today. I would talk about these to my children often, and my youngest daughter once said to me, “Are you going to finish this one?” and that inspired me to be more disciplined and actually finish the first novel.  Now, I am 29 books later, and working on number 30. Thanks Rachel! I finished some of my stories! Additionally, when I started to seriously write the stories, it was in large part due to a counselor who suggested I do journaling. I hate journaling, so instead I started putting my old stories down on paper and telling them.  That broke out the writing bug in me.

Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?

Yes. Damon Knight, Brian Daley (especially Doomfarers of Coromonde), Robert Heinlein’s juveniles, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and a vast trove of other authors.  Stephen King is an excellent storyteller, and so is Elizabeth Moon.

Tell me about your series.

A vast generational colony ship, lost for a hundred years, might be the only hope humanity has to survive.

In my Colony Ship Universe, the Earth suffered through a series of cataclysms including the Great Event, the 90 Hour War, and others.  During those times, a program was designed to build huge colony ships, and they would carry people on generations long voyages to other solar systems.  Seven such ships were launched, with people living in separate biomes, but also with large numbers of people in suspended animation.  The plan was to colonize and terraform the target worlds.  But all the ships were lost.  Then a hundred years later, then last remnant of humanity is surviving in Dome 17, and every other dome have failed.

The Earth is a toxic wasteland, and the last 1500 people uncover that their dome is also about to fail.  Their scientists have made breakthroughs in faster-than-light travel, and teleportation, but each has distinct limits.  FTL slight has a mass limit which hinders journeys and barely allows for a scout ship, and two occupants.  Teleportation needs a sending pad and a receiving pad.  So, the leaders of Dome 17  decide to send FTL scouts on one-way missions to where they think the colony ships are located.  The goal is to have the two-person team build a receiving pad, and then teleport all the survivors of Dome 17 to the colony ship, before the dome fails.

Each of my book series is about a team to a different colony ship.  So far I have completed three series, the Colony Ship Eschaton, the Colony Ship Vanguard, the Colony Ship Conestoga, and am working on book 3 of the Colony Ship Trailblazer series.  I also wrote a stand-alone novel called, Battle on the Marathon, which covers some of that colony ship’s story.  I have outlines, sketches, and plans for books about the other ships as well.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

I am really against censorship. The written word should be allowed to be read, discussed, and freely available without banning. The only times I support a ban is on things like child pornography which is extremely hurtful to the children who are abused and traumatized in such a way. Therefore, videos and photos of child porn must be banned, but that is the only time I can think of for banning something.

Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?

In my Vanguard series one of the main characters is Paul. Paul is brutally honest about his feelings.  He whines, and complains, and wonders what he is doing throughout all eight books. In some ways, Paul is my favorite character, but now I hear my other characters yelling at me about how much I should like them as well. Paul has also gotten some reader responses who say they disliked him a lot and one said something like, “I hope something terrible happens to Paul.” I found that a wonderful connection, because I tried, while writing Paul, to just express how I would honestly feel if I were in his situations. Facing some of those things I write about, I too would be whining, terrified, and complaining.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

Indie.  I have not sought a traditional publisher at all. I think traditional publishing is a way that hinders authors from reaching readers. Those gate-keepers at traditional—or as I like to call them—dinosaur publishers, think they know what readers want. To me, I want readers to have the widest possible selection at a reasonable price.  Indi publishing allows for new, creative, and imaginative ideas to flourish. The traditional publishing model if far too top heavy with bureaucracy and waste.

It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

I read a lot, but I will leave it to readers to decide if I write worth anything. One reviewer said, “Shouldn’t you have to pass a basic English class to be a writer?” and I found that amusing. I guess that reader did not care for my book. Other reviews have compared my writing favorably to Heinlein, Stephen Donaldson, and Jack McDevitt. Those reviews have boosted my self-esteem, but like my tag line says, I settle for a B. I settled for Bs and Cs in college through my doctorate degree, so why stop now?

Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why. 

The best is being able to express yourself.

The worst is editing.

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

I do both plotting and flying by the seat of my pants. I do plot out and outline my novels, and many of those outlines are decades old. Then when I execute the actually writing of the novel, the characters seem to get minds of their own and that changes out the story evolves.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

I like to trap shoot clay pigeons. I do not like to hunt. I have done target shooting since I was a kid.

What are you writing at the moment?

This author interview questionnaire. Haha. The book I am working on is Terror on the Trailblazer, and I plan to be finished by Christmas 2017.

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I have read too many badly written books by traditional publishers to ever believe that. They are good books, and there are bad books. Both can be found in indie or in traditional publishing. What I have yet to find is creative and new ideas in contemporary traditional publishing houses.  The dinosaur publishers seem to be sticking with Star Trek, Star Wars, and other homogenized and commercialized “proven products” which they know they will make money from.

If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?

No. The colony ships I write about are way too scary. Imagine a haunted house in deep space, and then compare that to my recliner and my home? I sure would like to see a movie made from my books. Maybe the Asylum Film Company will see this interview and contact me. Hey, producers!  Call me!

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

No. I hate distraction like that. I either listen to music or I write. I cannot do both.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

How many other excellent indie writers are out there. Truly nice people willing to help and who write very good stories.

Tell me three unique things about you.

1) Educated as a Registered Nurse.

2) Love dogs.

3) Adore my daughters.

Sure, that does not sound too unique, and is common for other people.  But I do think my writing is unique and I hope readers do as well.  I write because I love to write, and for no other reason.

John, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!