Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in El Nido, California in a family of dairy farmers. I moved to Utah in 1993, joined the Church in 1994, served a mission to Alabama from ’95 through ’97, and have lived in Utah ever since. I graduated from Utah State, where I met my wife, Bridget. I’ve been an accountant, then I was a gun dealer and firearms instructor, then an accountant again before I broke into writing. I’ve been married for sixteen years and have four kids.
You’ve always been a voracious reader. How much does being well-read play into your writing? Are there any drawbacks, do you think?
I love to read. Quite frankly, I hated English in high school and college, taking just what was required for my accounting degree, so I’m a self-taught writer. I learned to write by reading a lot. The only real drawback now is that writing uses the same part of my brain as reading, so it is now really hard for me to read to relax, so over the last few years I’ve not read nearly as much as I would like.
What are some of your favorite reads in the past, and what do you read now?
I grew up on Louis L’Amour. Terry Brooks was my gateway drug to fantasy. From there I read pretty much everything. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and we were dirt poor, so I read everything in our tiny local library. When I was in college I discovered Tom Clancy and got on a techno-thriller kick.
Currently I don’t get to read nearly as much as I would like, and most of what I do read is from authors who I am friends with. When I become friends with an author, I really want to check out their stuff, but the To Be Read pile is a few feet tall and growing.
Has becoming an established author changed what and how you read?
Very much so, mostly in that time I would have spent in the past reading, I now spend writing. Plus, a book needs to be really super engaging, otherwise my brain goes on autopilot and starts editing, and that’s no fun.
I do get asked to blurb other authors’ books now though, and I do that whenever I can make the time to do so. Getting to read books before they come out is pretty nifty.
You self-published your first novel, Monster Hunter International, and it made it to the Entertainment Weekly bestseller list. Tell us about that journey.
I tried to go the traditional route but I got rejected by pretty much everybody in publishing. I knew it was pretty good though, and because of my business background I understood marketing and my target audience, so I decided to do it myself. I marketed it to internet gun forums where I was already well known, and it did extremely well. A major indy bookstore sold MHI like hotcakes, which is how it ended up on that bestseller list, and this same store recommended me to Baen Books. Which is how I ended up with my first publishing contract.
You’ve also received awards for the audio versions of your novels. What differences do you think a “reader” experiences by listening to your stories?
I’ve done really well in audiobooks for a couple of reasons—first off, I lucked out and ended up with some excellent narrators who were a really good fit for the work. Second, I tend to write in a very fast, cinematic style that translates well to narration. I can’t speak for the reader/listeners, but for me personally a book takes on a whole new dimension when you have a good voice actor’s take on the character drama.
The internet played a key role in building your fan base. How do you think social media in its various forms has affected both the art and business of writing as a whole?
I think it has made writers a whole lot more accessible to their fans, and it helps us understand our fan base. One reason that I’ve done well is that I actually enjoy talking to my fans, and not just to sell them stuff. They’re fun people, and because I interact with them, they have a good time, and they’ve told their friends. So it is great for everybody.
The downside of social media is that it can be a great big time suck for authors, and it is way easier to screw around on the internet than it is to get work done. That requires some self-discipline, because when you are interacting with a thousand people at a time, you can kill whole productive days and not even realize they’re gone.
What has been the most surprising aspect of becoming a successful author?
That’s a tough one. For me, I’d have to say it is weird when random strangers start recognizing you in places, or you find people you’d never think are fans talking about your work. It is weird, and awesome, and very humbling.
Most of your novels are grouped into series. What do you find appealing about carrying plot lines and characters across multiple books versus writing standalone works?
A series gives me more room to work. I like to write the first book of a series in a manner that it can stand alone if necessary, just in case it turns out to be unpopular, because then why would I waste my time writing more books that people don’t buy? So far I’ve been lucky on that front, though. Then I can take all of the fun things I didn’t get to do before and write about them now. A series gives me more chances for the characters to grow and have adventures, and then when all of those stories have been told, it is time to wrap it up.
Describe your writing process. How do you conduct research and where do you look for inspiration for your novels?
I’m a research nerd. I love research. My fans have come to expect everything outside of the fantastic elements to be spot-on accurate, so I owe it to them to do my homework. A side benefit of this is that while I’m researching one thing, I find ten other things that are interesting which can then be used in future stories.
Inspiration is all around us. Every time I find something that sounds cool to stick into a story, I file it away. Then I’ll find other ideas that tack onto that one, and another and another, and next thing you know, I’ve got another novel.
You both handle and write about weapons extensively. What are your thoughts on depictions of violence in the media and the arts?
I hear a lot of people condemning violence in entertainment, but I think in a lot of ways they are missing the point. Violence isn’t inherently evil. It is only evil if it is used for evil. Violence can also be used for good. I was a self-defense instructor for many years, and I taught good people how to use as much violence as necessary to defend themselves and their loved ones from harm. Weapons are just another tool in the toolbox. Different problems require different tools.
Most of my books are about heroic people doing hard things for a good reason. Just like real life, that often results in violence. Readers enjoy that for the same reason they enjoy reading about challenges, sacrifice, friendship, or courage, because these are all elements of the human condition they can understand and appreciate.
In what ways does the gospel influence your writing and what you choose to write about?
I don’t write sex scenes. If I’m writing about characters where that is what is obviously going to happen next, I’ll cut away like a 1950s movie ending the scene on the closed door. Other than that, I write what I want to write. A lot of times it isn’t even a conscious decision, but my personal philosophy is going to sneak in. Most of my books tend to have a good versus evil theme, or at least medium bad versus evil, but evil is always a real thing.
How do you see your work as a writer helping to build the kingdom?
That’s a tough one. I don’t write churchy books, I write for the national market, but I’m still very outspoken when it comes to my personal beliefs. A lot of my fans would be considered rough around the edges by “polite society,” which isn’t a surprise, because I’m rather rough around the edges. Yet I’ve been surprised how many times it has turned out that I’m the one Mormon somebody out there is familiar with, and that has made some sort of difference. A lot of times Mormons get a bad rap out in the world, and we’re thought of as pushy or judgmental or naïve goody two shoes or some other bogus stereotype. Then I hear from people with some variation of hey, Larry Correia isn’t a wimp, so okay, I guess I’ll talk to these missionaries. That sort of thing blows me away when it happens.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
I always tell aspiring writers that there are really only two things you need to do to make it as a professional writer.
A. Get good enough that people will give you money for your stuff.
B. Find the people who will give you money for your stuff.
It sounds trite, but it is true. You can’t skip one step or the other. However you accomplish those two things is irrelevant, but they must be accomplished. You need to practice, and work, and continually improve your craft until it is good enough that people will want to purchase it. Then you need to get it out there so that people can purchase it, whether that is the traditional method of finding an agent and then a publisher, or if it is self-publishing, because even then you have to find a way to separate yourself from the hundred thousand other writers just like you.
I find that it all comes down to treating it like a job. Be a professional. Act like a professional. Learn, grow, improve, network, practice, and keep on writing. The best piece of business advice I ever got was from Kevin J. Anderson and it was be prolific.
What’s next for you?
Lots more work. I’ve been doing this for six years now. I just turned in my eleventh novel, Monster Hunter Nemesis, and it will be coming out this summer. In 2013 I wrote two novels, eight short stories, and a novella, and I’m going to try and beat that in 2014. I currently have fifteen more novels under contract to be written. ❧