Interview with Author and Senior Editor, Joshua J. Perkey
Josh works as a senior editor for the Church magazines. Prior to coming to work for the Church, he was an associate editor with the McGraw-Hill Companies. Josh also writes fantasy novels. “My first love was epic fantasy,” he says, “but I’m having so much fun writing my second middle grade fantasy, I may have just switched genres!” When he’s not wrestling with his kids, sneaking in a date with his wife, or serving in his church callings, he tries to catch up on sleep—a sadly long lost pastime. Josh’s blog isjoshuajperkey.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Facebook.
Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Josh: That’s an interesting question, really. I’ve loved to daydream since I was a little kid, and that’s a big part of my inspiration for writing. I first read The Hobbit when I was about 10 or 11, and since then have loved the fantasy genre and wrote a few little stories. I didn’t get serious about it until college, though, and even then got distracted a lot by life before I gave it a consistent effort. Still, I’ve learned a lot about myself and writing along the way. Every writer’s journey is unique.
Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
Josh: I have an M.A. in medieval history, and a B.A. in history, focusing on Classics, English, and Spanish. I’ve written a number of poems, but mostly focus on fiction. My first love was epic fantasy, and I’ve written several unpublished pieces. But a year ago my oldest daughter asked me to turn some bedtimes stories I tell her and her brother into a novel, and thus was born Lizzie Peterson, or as I’m calling it now, The Legends of Kyreo. The title is still in flux, but this fun MG fantasy has really allowed my creative energies to thrive. It’s a blast, much, much easier to keep a handle on than epic (which was 4 times longer), and is just so much fun to write for kids. Oh, and I also work in my day job as a senior editor for an international magazine. Before that I was an editor for the McGraw-Hill Companies making textbooks.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
Josh: I love to daydream and imagine in my mind, and I love seeing those ideas take shape in story. That’s how the story for my kids began—just letting my imagination carry me away as I told it to them. When I began crafting the actual book, the story evolved and became more complex—definitely a necessity given the original serialized form. That part of the craft also excites me, even though it can be tedious and challenging. But I tell you, nothing is better than getting feedback. Today I actually received my first fan mail from a twelve-year-old young man who was one of my beta readers for the middle grade. He told me how much he loved my book, offered a few suggestions on the title (it’s great to get market feedback like that). He even drew pictures of two of the main characters and gave them to me. Wow! It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
Josh: Inconsistently crazy. As I mentioned, my day job as an editor keeps me editing and writing quite a lot, and I have a busy young family. That means there’s never enough time to really write. Sometimes weeks go by without any activity. Then I’ll get an idea bugging in my head and I’ll write several thousand words a day for a few weeks. When I’m firing on all cylinders, I can write 65,000 words in a month. But it comes and goes with my time. I prefer to write either on a word count schedule, or on a chapter schedule.
Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about the work you do as the Senior Editor for The Ensign Magazine.
Josh: I suspect a few of your readers don’t know this magazine, so here’s a little background. The Engisn is a human interest magazine promoted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s intended to build faith, strengthen individuals and families, and inspire people to be better. The field is much different from fiction in many ways, but much of the craft, and the skills I’ve developed as a novelist, still apply. I write and edit articles, solicit specific works from authors, and generally prepare content for print and online publication. I also write about 5-7 articles a year for several magazine audiences. Lately we’ve been reinventing ourselves as multimedia editors with a broad online context. It’s a great job, mostly standard work hours. But I do travel once a year to gather stories from members from around the world. It’s a fantastic job.
Deirdra: You also write fantasy books. Can you tell us a little about this?
Josh: Well, I’ve already touched on this, but fantasy for me is an extension of dreaming about the fantastical world out there and about the people and creatures and magic that inhabit them. I love good swashbuckling adventures, great magic and the power of magic, and funny medieval stuff. Writing about it is a great outlet. But I also love the craft of creating those worlds and making the stories come alive, especially, as I’ve learned recently about myself, the motive of character.
Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor or since you are such a rock star editor yourself do you send it to anyone else for review?
Josh: That depends on how many people I can entice to read it! Last time round we sent it out to about 60 people, about 40 of whom were middle grade readers. I got solid feedback from about 20. Very, very helpful.
Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your work?
Josh: Truth is, a whomping good time! I hope they enjoy the works, can imagine new places and magic and creatures and adventures and just enjoy themselves. But on top of that, I believe that everything we write impacts people on some level, and causes them to think. So I also try and tackle some deeper themes on a subtle level—the sort of thing that you can ignore if you don’t really want to, but can engage if you start thinking about it. In my current middle grade, the main character is an eleven-year-old girl with a ton of confidence in herself. The trouble is, she’s impetuous as a result and often gets into hot water. That begins to wear on her confidence. So there’s a very subtle current of self-awareness and what it means to have natural confidence versus confidence you build through conscious choices that lead to successes versus failures. Wow, I wasn’t even aware of that in my book. Cool!
Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Josh: I love to listen to Celtic music, especially Loreena McKennitt. Sometimes a little U2. But mostly I just think about the story and let my mind wander around in it for a while. Sometimes inspiration comes from my kids, or from telling the story. If I get stuck about motivations, I’ll talk it through with someone or wait from alpha reader feedback. I don’t have a lot of trouble with getting inspiration, but then, writing time is not as frequent as I would like, so I’m doing a lot of undercurrent thinking about character and plot before I sit down to write. In fact, I’m about to rewrite chapter 4 of book 2 in the Legends of Kyreo series based on a movie I saw on Saturday and a flash that came to me about a new scene.
Deirdra: Yeah! Another Loreena McKennitt fan!
Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Josh: I’m not sure I could single out one person. A lot of people have helped, and my wife has been tremendous in supporting a craft that has taken years squeezed in around the edges of a busy family and life to produce some worthy material. The wise thing would be to say her! But I’ve had a lot of good friends give fantastic advice, including a comment from Brandon Sanderson, who told me once to stop peddling just the one epic fantasy and write something else. I did, and it changed my entire focus.
Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
Josh: Motivation. Description that allows freedom in the mind of readers, but detailed enough to cement a few things. Using multiple sensory experiences in setting. And then getting back to motivation. I don’t think huge background copy is necessary before you start writing. You need to know enough about your character to know what they want and why they can’t have it. Answer that question before you write, or as you write, and it will shape the story.
Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Josh: David Farland for his tenacity and gentle mentoring spirit. Brandon Sanderson for his creativity. J.R.R. Tolkien for establishing the fantasy genre. Raymond E. Feist for illustrating how a similar story can be completely reinvented. Tracy Hickman for teaching me that none of us has written our best work yet, for we are constantly growing. And a thousand other writers who have helped me see that we need to keep honing our craft based on what people want to read today. Oh, and of course J.K. Rowling. Where would I be without Harry Potter? (My daughter is reading book 3 right this moment!)
Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your blogs and how they will help authors?
In this blog I write about the craft of writing, including pulling in the ideas and posts of other talented writers (mostly much more talented than me!) Also I’m following the e-publishing industry closely and posting about that. I see it as increasingly more viable each day, and plan on going that route in the near future. So if you’re interested in honing your craft or about what’s happening in the industry, come along! I believe that that the more we help promote each other, the more successful we’ll all be.
Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
Josh: Music. I love to play the piano, compose music, sing, play the guitar, the recorder, and such things. I don’t have a lot of time for other hobbies, unfortunately, as service in my church and work and family take up the rest. However, my wife and I love to watch movies, from sci-fi and fantasy movies to British stories and the like.
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Josh: Daydream. A lot. Think through stories and what makes them of interest to you. Delve into the motivations of your characters, both the heroes and the antagonists. Write a lot, and rewrite, and edit later, but definitely do edit—give yourself the freedom to re-craft. I’m a multi-draft writer, and I believe things only get better with new approaches and effort. Also, go to writing conferences, make friends with other writers, and read about the craft as much as you can. Then don’t be afraid to develop your own style—just know what the rules are and why you break them.
Deirdra: What are you working on now?
Josh: A middle grade fantasy series, the first book of which is called The Legends of Kyreo: The Places of Naming. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl who flees to a magical world where the shadows from her dreams really to come alive. That’s the elevator pitch. Here’s the longer pitch:
“Lizzie Peterson carves adventure. Well, who wouldn’t if your secret pets—a unicorn and a flying horse—helped raise you to believe you might be a child of prophecy in a far off world? Yes, somewhere beyond her Ohio home is the magical world of Kyreo, where eleven-year-old Lizzie dreams of going someday to meet the cunning gnomes, mystical faeries, and hungry hippogriffs, and to see the five moons and the lands of crystal and cloud. And, of course, to find out what that prophecy really is all about.
“But when the Shadow Wizard attacks Lizzie’s family, she and her brother Jack have to flee to Kyreo just to stay alive. The world they find is not nearly so fanciful and fun as Lizzie had hoped, for the Shadow Wizard has conquered the heroes and champions and enslaved most everyone else.
“Dark forces begin to hunt them almost immediately as Lizzie, Jack and their horses set out to find new heroes to defend Kyreo. If they fail, their lives, the world of Kyreo, and even Earth itself may hang in the balance.”
Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Josh: Thank you so much for having me on your blog! It’s been a blast.
Thank you so much, Josh. It’s a real honor to get your insights.