An Interview With… Carl R. Jennings

I’m Carl R. Jennings. I tell fantastic lies to help people deal with a plain reality. I realized that with this ability I could go one of three routes: 1.) I could run for public office; 2.) I could start a cult; 3.) I could start writing. I picked the third one because politics makes me violently ill and being a cult leader would involve directly interacting with a group of constantly whining people.

Though I haven’t ruled out the cult thing, depending on how my finances fair in the coming years.

What was your first book and when did you write it?

Mister Posted and the Brain Freeze Goddess is my first book. I suppose the concept began in early 2018. 

What inspires your stories and characters?

Really two things inspired this book. I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of personal choices where it comes to characters. Such as why is a scarecrow always a bad guy? They can be tall and menacing but is that all they are: Goosebumps books fodder? Do they want that kind of life? And take the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Yes, they’re supposed to bring about the end of the world, but is that what they want to do? Why don’t they get the opportunity to do what they want?

The next thing that inspired this story is what worlds and characters can be opened up by examining the small details. There are many times, I’ve found, in books and movies where such meaningful parts of a story are ignored for the “grand scheme.” One of the main characters can do something small and insignificant to them–kicking a rock into a field, for example. It could land and kick up some dirt, or it could inadvertently start an inter-species war. It makes for a somewhat bloated narrative, but there is no such thing as insignificant.

Do you normally research your stories before you write it, or do you start with a general concept and see where it goes while writing?

I make considerable backstory notes about anything I’m writing. I need to know where everything and everyone has come from before I can let them go anywhere. As for planning I do start with a general outline of where I want things to go, but it is always subject to change.

Can you tell us something about your beginning in the indie world?

There’s a movie called The Grey staring Liam Neeson. It’s a “stuck in the great white north and trying to survive against killer wolves” story. There’s a point near the end where Neeson’s character is screaming into the sky for God to help him survive, just after the horrific events of the movie, and right before the final showdown. When divine intervention doesn’t appear to be in his future, he simply states, “F*ck it, I’ll do it myself.” That was essentially my attitude with going indie.

I attempted to take Mister Posted and the Brain Freeze Goddess through the traditional publishing route, and I queried over 80 agents and publishers before I made the decision to self-publish. Clearly I wasn’t wanted in the traditional publishing world, which follows marketing trends, but I got great feedback from beta readers, so I decided to take up the job on my own. I will say it’s a lot of work if you want your book to go anywhere, but there’s an artisan pride to it that I’d bet is missing with traditional publishing. 

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Phantasmagoria Magazine?

I met the editor-in-chief, Trevor Kennedy, on a Facebook writing group. It’s one of those contacts through networking that you always hear about but can never bring about putting in the work to make. He invited me to submit a story for one of his anthologies from his indie publishing company, TK Pulp (I believe it was a horror comedy called Faustian Sweets Redux, a sequel to a story called Faustian Sweets.) He said he liked my writing style and asked me to start contributing to his magazine as a reviewer for books and movies. At time of writing I’ve been doing that for around a year now.

Writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing… Do you wear all these hats yourself, or do you have some trusted person helping you through it all?

Everything that I’m capable of doing, I do myself. That’s not a pride thing, it’s just an expense thing. The only thing I don’t do myself is cover design because I recognize the cover as an exceedingly essential part of getting your book to readers, and I am artistically challenged in that field. I was lucky, though: I knew an excellent artist and she was able to make a cover for me. Hot indie writer tip: get closely acquainted with as many artists as you can.

Do you find that being based in a town, rather than a city, for example, can influence a writer’s career?

With the increasing reliance on the internet, one’s physical location is becoming less and less important. Not only in the influence geography has on one’s actual writing, but opportunities are more online than in person now.

Did you start by writing novel or you “evolved” into it after writing a lot of short stories?

I started with short stories, and I think it’s important to write and read them. Not only does a small word count teach conservation of words and editing skills, true literary lovers read short stories. These folks can be discerning. If you can make it in the short story world, you have a better chance making it elsewhere.

Do you have a formal writing instruction (for example, a degree in creative writing)? Do you think that a formal instruction helps writing?

I don’t have formal instruction beyond public school and a few years of college (not a degree for writing.) I’m an autodidact in writing. As to the importance of formal education, I believe it depends on the person. Some excel in that structured environment, some don’t. Higher education is essential, but not necessarily higher education institutions.

Have you ever killed a character you didn’t want to?

Nope. I have a customer loyalty punch card for killing characters and I have no problem getting all ten punches. That hasn’t come up much in the Parabeing series, but the later series is going to be wild.

“Mr. Posted” is one of the most singular name for a literary character one will ever come across. Then there is a Goddess whose name is simply “Sharon”. How do you choose your characters’ names and how important are the names of the characters in your stories?

Names are integral to the identity of my characters, and that is because they have to be chosen by the characters themselves. It says a lot about them. Both Mister Posted and Sharon both have backstories to their names. We learn Mister Posted’s in this book, and Sharon’s will come up later.

Was comedic fantasy a prominent genre on your bookshelf growing up or has it surfaced as an adult?

I was a Goosebumps and mystery kind of kid. As an adult, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Douglas Adams are at the forefront of my book shelves. But that space is shared by literary fiction greats like Orwell, Faulkner, Phillip K. Dick, and Aldous Huxley to name a few.

Is there anything you find bad for the comedic fantasy genre? (For example, it being too niche, people not getting it, or even it limiting writing sad and / or violent scenes…?)

I don’t really find the genre limiting, or that niche is a problem for me, but what can be devastating to a comedic fantasy story is the same spectre that haunts comedy in general: something not being funny. Comedy, like horror, is a fickle thing. Each person has their own definition of what’s funny, like they have for what’s frightening. Riding that razor’s edge of successful humor is a difficult and dangerous thing.

What, if anything, is currently missing from the comedic fantasy genre?

That story that person is thinking about writing, right this very minute, but hasn’t the confidence to do so.

Genres like horror very often evolve with the sociopolitical climate. Do you think comedic fantasy is a blissful fictional world where we can leave our worries aside, or does it reflect the real world?

Comedic fantasy can do either, but I find the best ones are a commentary.

If you could erase one comedic fantasy or fiction in general cliché what would be your choice?

Cliche can be springboard for originality, when one is sick of cliches. It’s much like getting punched in the face and all your money stolen is an excellent motivation for learning how to fight. Or finding a new route home from work. 

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?

Tough one. I haven’t come across anything that I would be completely taboo against. I’ve read a few Cormac McCarthy books–that tends to harden one against the worst of the literary subjects.

Do you ever write other genres?

Yeah, I love to. It helps prevent burnout and keeps the writing fresh.

How important is it to use an editor?

When you can afford it, it’s a wonderful thing you can do for your book. It’ll get the best book you can to your readers, earning their loyalty. You shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to afford an editor (they can be expensive, and for good reason) but if you can, do.

Do you want to talk about your current project?

I always have more than one projects burning on the stove top, and the prominent one right now is writing the second book in the Parabeing series, the sequel to Mister Posted and the Brain Freeze Goddess.

What do you do when you’re not knee-deep in writing?

I have a regular person job to get the bills paid, I read books not by me, I watch shows, and I mainly just try to keep my head above the water in this crazy sea we call life.

I’ve been wondering for a while, Carl R. Jennings: what does the “R” stand for?

It stands for “Robert”. Writers need strong R’s in their name. I’m thinking of purchasing one more when I’m able to finance it.

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