John Pirillo was born in the coal-mining town of Avella, Pennsylvania. He cut his teeth on all the books in the local public library, read every comic book he could get his hands on, played with imaginary friends, got a degree in film and a Master’s in Experimental Animation from Disney’s school, Cal Arts.
John loves animation of almost any kind, music, art of most kinds, the laughter of children, old Disney cartoons, Redwoods, ocean views, lakes and rivers, friendship, love, writing and teaching and Robby the Robot.
Time to chat with John!
You have quite a background in art, from your 3D design skills to abstract art, character designs, landscapes, and architecture. Was writing always a part of your life, too?
More so than art actually. Though I’ve always loved working with colors and shadows, even as a child. I spent years illustrating children’s books and stories for a huge club in California at one time. I currently have some children’s picture books in e-book format, which I used my 3D design skills to create. And I am offering free children’s stories on my children’s blog.
My first serious writing was done in seventh grade after the Russians launched Sputnik. I wrote it for my English class with Mister Bronze. It was about an American Astronaut who hid aboard the Sputnik to sabotage it so it couldn’t deliver an atomic bomb on the United States as planned. Kind of a James Bond in Outer Space sort of thing.
I owe Mister Bronze for my best writing skill, speed typing. He forced me to learn typing over a summer because my personal handwriting is so terrible…”Looks like chicken scratching.” In his words.
Your writing has as much diversity as your artistic endeavors. You write adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers. What common elements do you find in these different genres? Do you have a favorite?
The common element or theme really that runs through my stories is that man is more than a physical body and that it is our great individual spirit that helps us to triumph over all odds, not our intellect alone. I suppose that’s why I’ve always been so strongly attracted to writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, to name a few, who had at the basis of their writings a nobility of spirit, adventure and wonder.
The genre I favor the most is a relatively new one, which is a blend of British air and mysticism, utilizing paranormal events, where magic and investigative skills drive the stories action, but the basic theme being our soul is at stake if we don’t do the right thing.
I suppose this is why I’ve always been so strongly attracted to the Golden Age Writers. They cut new inroads into genre writing, incorporating the best of the older Wells/Verne/Doyle colors of writing.
What is your latest book?
Journey to the Center of the Earth, “The Advent”
It’s part of a new series that will take at least three novels, perhaps as many as nine to complete. As I write it I keep finding more stories to tell within the scope of the theme.
I’m in the first proof stage of this novel.
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
Moriarity, “Infinite Worlds, Infinite Choices.” I am on the final proof now and I think this will be the last. If so, it should be published within the next two weeks and available at Amazon and all other major retailers.
Is your recent book part of a series?
Yes. Moriarity is an ongoing series. I have already finished a new story, which will eventually turn into many more and a new novel. Probably a year down the road, because I usually am working on multiple ideas at the same time.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
Actually, for me, it’s not a challenge. I love writing that way. I grew up with Serials like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Chandu the Magician and Captain Marvel, which kept telling more stories, and I’ve never run out of ideas since.
What else have you written?
I have a really nice series based on the Arthurian legend, “Young King Arthur,” which I really love a lot, though it’s a harder write because of its time period. I also have a high tech series called “Perihelion,” which investigates the nature of reality through a communicative science called “Convolution.” And of course my new “Sheridan Holmes” series, which I shall be publishing the first story of soon and my “Chittles and Red Eye” series which I’ve published two stories about. From ancient worlds to future worlds, from Baker Street to Robin Hood, that’s my trek of desire.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
I learned a great technique when I was in graduate school in Theater. My teacher was a famous off-Broadway director, Davey Jones. He said always right backwards. He explained that if you know the ending, then write backwards you will always keep the audience guessing.
I have incorporated that into my own writing, but mostly I actually see the whole story in my mind at once, and just basically flesh it out as I type. I always know the ending before I write the story.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
Brain drain. Story kill. Don’t do it! I learned way back in my early days that if you stop to examine your work and don’t finish, you kill the process. Creativity is like a breaking dam. Let it flow. Block it and risk the whole thing blowing up.
I learned that when I played guitar. I used to play songs to learn the guitar and a friend of mine Barry Nutter told me to don’t stop. Just keep playing, even if you missed some parts, otherwise you created a habit of stopping.
He was right. I never did it again and it’s always helped my creativity. If anything, I have more ideas than I could ever have time to write. Which could be depressing if I was wired that way, but it’s so exciting to be able to create…something at the drop of a hat…that I don’t even think about it anymore.
Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?
None whatsoever. I write about people I care about. I don’t believe that anyone is pure evil, but usually a mix of good and evil. Of course, you can’t always show that in every story, but I try to be fair about it.
Now, I may take a situation like World War Two with Rocketman, “The Secret War,” a new story series I began this summer, in which our hero has to deal with a man bent on dominating the world. But in reality Hitler wasn’t pure evil, but he did make a lot of horrible, horrible decisions which hurt many. (Because a person might be crazy, doesn’t make them evil, only perhaps more capable of it.) I think we’ve all made bad decisions we wish we hadn’t, trouble is that a good villain usually makes more mistakes than he can take back. At least in public view. (Nixon, Bush, or Cheney anyone?)
Which is why I did the Moriarity novel. I felt that it would be great to show that a man as evil as Professor Moriarity could actually have a counterpart of himself that was totally the opposite. That its choices we make that are evil, and make us evil in appearance and not that we’re born that way. Free will. (Mmmm, isn’t that something God was supposed to have given us?”
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
Yes. For diversity usually, or contrast. Or just simply to make it easier to remember.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
When I worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter I made contacts with most of the top names of that day, people like Steven Spielberg, but I never became famous as a screenwriter. And yet much of what is on screen today I had been writing for decades before it became popular.
I’m a strong believer in the spiritual aspect of man. I subscribe to the belief that this is a lesson planet and we are all here to learn how to play nice with each other. Since not everyone can be rich and famous, some have to play lesser roles, but that does not make us lesser, it only makes us not in the spotlight in this life. But since I also believe in reincarnation, I also am sure that everyone gets a chance to grab the number one spot, just not in every life.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Read what you love. Love what you write.
There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?
Trial and error. Tons of research. I don’t think any one thing works, it seems to be a combination of things. I do notice however that when I am more upbeat and positive, I get better results with my work. I subscribe to the belief that what we put out comes back to us and people can feel us…sort of like when you go into a person’s home where there’s been a lot of anger you can feel it thick as molasses in the air. It makes you feel yucky. So the more positive you are, the happier you’ll be. Live for the good vibes you put out, not that you get back. If get too attached to results, you’ll drive yourself nuts…and also everyone else around you. (Divorce anyone?)
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I love social media. I wish it had been around when I was going to college, I would probably have learned a lot more about my fellow man and had a lot more fun doing it.
I love the ability to get snapshots of other lifestyles and other cultures. It fits in nice and snug with my enjoyment of alien cultures in science fiction and fantasy.
My most favorite part of social media is the fact that if people like you, they share you with their friends. I’ve probably sold more books when that happens. So I would encourage the use of social media.
Myself, when I like the writing of someone, I get curious about the author. In this case people get curious about you and read your writing. It’s a nice turnaround.
My least favorite part of it is that sometimes I friend people who post truly shocking things which my friends and fellow professionals can see and that’s distressing. I can usually block or remove their content and even them, but I wish that didn’t happen. I don’t like having to cut people out of my life, but if they insist on not making nice, I do what I must.
But I understand, some people like the negative attention. Personally, I have no need for negative attention. I’d rather make people feel better about their lives, or at least bring up ideas that challenge the status quo in an effort to get them to expand themselves and consequently enlarge their own happiness.
I don’t know how many saw the original Star Wars, but when Han, Luke and Chewie get their awards in front of the Rebel Forces by Princess Leia, it really raised the adrenaline in my body and hairs on the back of my neck. Yay team! Good over evil. Positive over negative! Boo Darth Daddy! Yay! Hans Cool! Solo!
Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?
Trouble with typing fast is that you can sometimes spend a lot of time going back and editing your mistakes. Especially troublesome if you have a bad keyboard, then you can easily create more mistakes than you might have otherwise.
Usually I can type between 90 and a 120 words a minute, with an accuracy of about 90 percent.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
It’s like asking someone out for a date. Not everyone is going to like you enough to go out with you, and if they do, not everyone is going to like what they see. Such is life. You can’t judge your life by another’s tastes. You have to love yourself as you are right here and now, not in some distant future that may or may not happen. If your motivations for writing are not just for the money, it won’t matter, you’ll just take the silliness and get on with more writing. If you love it, that’s the big thing. If they love it too, then Yay! for you. Just keep writing and learning. You’re going to get better and better.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
On Smashwords I give away tons of free books. I’ve given away hundreds, I think thousands by now. It helps. But I think my blog and pro site help more because they’re more personal. Hard to tell, but it’s probably all interrelated, each part kicking in at different times.
By the way I’ll be having a surprise on my author site www.johnpirillo.com…an autographed, free copy of my “Moriarity” novel. The rules will be posted on the site once the book is published.
Would you like to write a short poem for us?
For you Lisette I say these words
That flowers do spring and sing.
Your heart is like a gentle sword
that puts my heart awing.
How was that?
Lovely! Thank you, John.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
Las Vegas is where I live. If all my friends didn’t live here, then I’d rather live in Switzerland by a lake, or perhaps Tahoe, or in Canada…by a lake! 🙂
If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.
Jesus. Because he was the kindest man I’ve heard of in our Western culture. And it’d be nice to have the level of love he did for all life. Next after that would be Einstein. What a good heart and brain that man had!
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
A kiss from my daughter.
Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?
Yeah. My kids took some poop and pretended it was a huge brownie and fed it to me. I didn’t laugh at first, though they did. But later I thought it was funny. (And no, I didn’t warm their little bottoms, those little rascals!)
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
That I am as important to them, as they are to their self.
If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?
Be tough. There’s way more people who need help, than a million dollars could cure. But probably to a children’s hospital or home.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
The ability to never say anything or do anything that harmed another. Ever!
What was your favorite year of school? Why?
I loved all of my school years. Best social life I ever had.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I’m really from Mars. Just kidding. 🙂 Or am I?
What makes you angry?
Mainly politicians and the extremely wealthy. Because they have lost their ability to relate to the common man and they live in selfish worlds. They’re not evil, just distracted from what is truly valuable in a person’s life…the ability to love and care for their fellow man.
What music soothes your soul?
NewAge, Beatles, Classical, Soul music and any kind of well done Blues or Jazz.
What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?
My English class during my Freshman year in College. Ms. Molly Irwin, my teacher, taught me to write what I loved and from love and don’t filter it as you do, let the soul come forth.
If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?
Right now, Game of Thrones; Sleepy Hollow; Grim; Once Upon a Time; Bill Maher; Extant; Falling Skies; Conan O’Brian; the Walking Dead; Big Bang; Cheers; Eureka; Haven; and head over heels in love with the new Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, even if it is Peter Capaldi now…who is an excellent actor by the way!
If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?
Walls of books. A very comfortable chair to meditate upon. A great sound system for soothing music. My writing computer. My pet cockatiels, whom I just love to death. And a huge set of French Widows with a balcony so I could watch the sun set and the sun rise, and get wet when it rains if I like. And lots of flowers on the balcony.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
That we live in a world where so many have to struggle to have the basics, while a select few have the majority of the wealth and are reluctant to share it and do everything they can to make sure that it’s NOT shared. (Not always consciously, but shouldn’t those with the most, also be the ones who act as guardians of the wealth in a responsible way to protect their fellow man? To insure their happiness and health as well?)
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Bag of potato chips while reading a book.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Love each other. Forgive each other. Learn from each other.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
A baby’s smile. A baby’s laughter.
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