John Taylor is a writer, musician, wine geek, sci-fi nerd and Certified Master of Failure & Redemption. A graduate of the USC School of Journalism, John threw his education out the window to become a founding member of the alternative rock band, The Uninvited. The band enjoyed about nine minutes of its allotted fifteen minutes of fame, including a release on Atlantic Records, movie & TV soundtracks, and an on-going appearance on that “One Hit Wonders of the 90’s” station your coworker listens to incessantly.
After a brief but horrifying stint in real estate in the early 2000’s, John got wise and made a day job out of his favorite hobby – wine – and has held various sales & marketing positions in Napa Valley since 2011. John’s writing career started in earnest at this point, with blogs, essays and short stories appearing in various online and print publications. The father of three adorable kids and one annoying cat (and sometimes vice-versa), John lives in the Bay Area of California. You can read more of his musings at www.pairswithlife.net.
It’s Sunday. Do you know what that means? It’s interview day! Let’s read, learn and connect with this year’s fantastic bunch of writers, editors and agents. Next up: new author John Taylor on his debut novel, PAIRS WITH LIFE, out September 2020.
John’s Advice for Writers
I honestly don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice on writing or querying or any of it. But I will say this: dig deep. Write with absolutely brutal honesty. Even when you’re lying, be completely honest. Put all of your love and heartbreak and life lessons and tragedies and anxieties and wisdom and doubt into your characters, even if you’re writing fantasy. People read books to see how other people solve their problems. Readers want to say, “Oh my god, that’s me” when they read your book. So, expose yourself. It’s really tough, but look on the bright side: you get paid so much to do it…
With time inching closer to PAIRS WITH LIFE‘s publication date, tell me. Why did you write PAIRS WITH LIFE? Is there a personal connection to its content? I wrote it because there’s a personal connection with the content. My first novel (the one before PWL) was a labor of love: a YA sci-fi about alien invasion (with not-so-subtle spiritual overtones). It was roundly rejected in the query trenches, except for one agent who requested a full. She ended up rejecting it, too, but she gave me some very good advice about that time-honored adage: write what you know. PAIRS WITH LIFE is a very personal story about failure & redemption and the meaning & importance of connection. But it’s also just meant to be funny and entertaining – the kind of book you read in a day on the beach in summer with a bottle of Rosé, but hopefully resonates long after. Like a hangover.
Anyone who knows you knows you’re a wine connoisseur. Let’s play an either/or game: Chardonnay or Pinot Noir: If “connoisseur” is French for “functioning alcoholic,” then yes. Hmmm, this is not an easy choice, but I’ll go with Pinot Noir. If it’s an unoaked Chardonnay, that makes it an even harder choice. I can’t stand the Cougar Juice/oak-baseball-bat-upside-the-head style of most domestic Chardonnay. Pinot grigio or Sauvignon Blanc: Easier choice: Sauvignon Blanc for sure. Pinot Grigio is the chicken of wine. It’s what you order when you don’t know what else to order. Merlot or Syrah: Ohhhh, now I hate you. Can I cheat? How about I tell you Merlot while I hide a bottle of Syrah under the table.
What does literary success look like to you? Like Jamie Dimon’s bank account ☺Alright, I’m going to give you two answers. The first is, yes, financial success, in the respect that if books were paying the bills, then I could write all the time or do other creative things instead of watching the remaining minutes in my life slowly wither away until Death by Day Job.
The other answer relates to a story from when I was with the band. We were on tour, opening for the Violent Femmes, and our self-titled debut had just been released. Sales were meh, the tour was grueling, we were being paid $75 a night, and five of us were sleeping in one room in a Motel 6. It was 3 in the morning, and I was filled to capacity with doubt and anxiety about whether any of this was going to be successful.
I was on AOL Messenger, talking with a friend back home (Goggle it, kids), when suddenly this message pops up: Hey i think this is your account but i dont know but i just wanted to say i was going to kill myself tonight but i listened to your record and decided not to.
THAT is success.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? What writing lessons did you learn from those manuscripts? I finished my first novel, Flight of The Dolphin, in 2017, which I may revisit someday (and rewrite completely). That one was a HUGE learning process. I wrote over a million words in a five-year period. I had studied Maxwell Alexander Drake’s writing classes, but I was still screwing up structure big time and throwing away chunks 50,000 words at a time. In retrospect, I would have rejected that MS as well if I were an agent.
After that, I dove into KM Weiland’s story structure and character arc books like a madman, as well as Robert McKee’s amazing “Story” textbook. Then I started writing Pairs With Life. I guess the short answer about learning is that I am not a pantser.
Since finishing PWL, I have completed another manuscript, Tiffany & The Nightmare Hunters, which I co-wrote with YA Goddess J. Edwards Stone.
As you’re fresh out of the query trenches, what was the hardest part of the process for you? What was your day like the day you found out you’re to be published? The hardest part wasn’t holding up my writer’s ego against the non-stop barrage of rejection. I get it: agents are looking for manuscripts that resonate with them personally, that they can sell to publishers and will be successful in the marketplace. When I query, my concern is always, am I not conveying this story and its marketability effectively in this query package?
When an agent finally made me an offer, I was working in an office in the backroom of a tasting room in Napa. I lost my s**t, of course, and ended up running a victory lap around the parking lot like some kind of drunken idiot (even though I waited until that night to get officially drunk). That said, things did not work out with the agent. After a year, he could neither get a yes nor a no from his submissions, which I guess is a thing that happens. So, we parted ways amicably.
I submitted myself directly to Hurn Publications, and they offered me a contract. It was a weird path, but it was my path, and my path has historically been relentlessly weird.