A graduate of the University of Missouri—Columbia, John Herrick explores themes of spiritual journey and the human heart in his works. Herrick’s debut novel, From the Dead, which was hailed as “a solid debut novel” by the Akron Beacon Journal, achieved Amazon best-seller status. Herrick’s second novel, The Landing, was named a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Herrick’s nonfiction eBook, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, received over 100,000 downloads and landed at #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration best-seller lists. John Herrick is a native of St. Louis.
Connect with the author on the web:
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Between These Walls. What was your inspiration for it?
A: A few years ago, I caught a television news story about a high school student who had endured an onslaught of bullying because he was gay. He was on the verge of suicide—tired, desperate, filled with pain. The news story centered around a video the student had posted online. In the video, the only way he could bring himself to express his hurt was to page through words he’d written in black marker on sheets of paper. Here sat a kid who looked like an average high school freshman, wiping tears from his eyes, seeking someone to hear his cry for help.
My heart broke for that kid. I’ve never met him and don’t know if he’s alive today. But I’ll never forget him. I thought to myself, “Nobody that age should know what it’s like to feel that kind of pain.” A high-level concept for Between These Walls already resided in the back of my mind, but the heartbreak I felt for that kid became my catalyst for action. That evening, I resolved to pursue Between These Walls.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: Hunter Carlisle is a Christian who harbors a secret attraction to other men. I believe a lot of individuals wrestle in that way but never tell a soul. And oftentimes, in the church world, same-sex attraction is a taboo subject, or at least an unspoken one, which creates a vacuum of isolation and pain where it shouldn’t. In Between These Walls, I wanted to examine the tug-of-war Hunter might endure in his soul as he finds himself at the crossroads of sexual identity and faith.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: It took me about 5 months to write the first draft, then another 5 months for the revision process. Prior to that, I underwent my usual research and planning phase. A typical novel takes me about 18 months, and Between These Walls fell within that window. That said, I think my speed has increased, because this book is much longer than my prior books.
I’ve approached each book differently. I wouldn’t call this a bump along the way, but I started writing Between These Walls about halfway through my planning process. I couldn’t stand the wait any longer and wanted to take advantage of that fervor. Due to my own vulnerabilities and work habits, however, I need a framework in place before I write. It prevents me from abandoning projects. So about halfway through my novel, I had to stop writing the first draft, map out the remainder of the novel, then resume writing.
Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?
A: One of the most important things I can do is write from the heart. I love inner conflict, because it occurs within the confines of the human heart and is a 24-7 conflict—you can’t run away to the beach for relief. So I consider the character—his psyche, emotions, background and circumstances—and try to capture the nuances that are unique to him, the type of details a reader will read and say, “I never would’ve considered that.” Everyone has a story of their own, as unique as their fingerprint, encompassing their blend of DNA and life experience. I treat my characters like real people and tell their story, with a sharp eye for the nuances in their stories that wouldn’t exist in anyone else’s. In fact, part of my planning stage includes several documents which bring the protagonist to life: his biography and an interview in which he answers the questions in his own voice. In Between These Walls, Hunter is a man with a guarded secret and a protective shell, so I also created a list of secrets—significant and insignificant, innocent and shameful—that he has kept to himself since childhood.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: With every book, I face a fear that I’ll sit down to write or plan a novel and nothing will come forth. It’s a weird psychological barrier writers seem to face, a fear of failure. No matter how many books I’ve written, the same fear lurks, day after day. Yet it’s an irrational fear. I’ve discovered if I simply show up and put my fingers to the keyboard, something will come forth. Showing up is half the battle. Yes, that’s a cliché, but one filled with truth.
Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: Writing is my second career, so I need to work around my desk job. I used to write in the evenings, but after several years, grew too tired and flipped my writing schedule. Nowadays, I start writing between 5:30 and 6 a.m. while the sun rises, and continue until my desk job begins. Sometimes I’ll wrap up lingering details in the evening. Before I take a vacation, I require myself to set the specific date when my book work will resume. I don’t have a wife or kids at this time, which is probably best—I haven’t had leisure time during the week in a decade! My poor kids would be shivering and my wife wouldn’t be happy!
Q: How do you define success?
A: Life is all about the lives we impact. Writing a book is a privilege because, with that collection of pages, you have the potential to speak to thousands of individuals at once. When I complete a novel and have zero doubt in my heart that I did the best I could, I consider it a success. But if that book encourages a reader or changes her perspective on life, I consider that greater success.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: I’m not married, so I’m not qualified to give advice there. But regardless of our situations, I believe we can examine our relationships and status quos, then examine our dreams and the steps required to get there. Then, identify the balance between those two extremes and start at that point. If you’re a single person and unattached, your balance might allow for several hours a day. If you’re married, find where you can carve out 30 minutes. Some people disregard 30 minutes, but bear this in mind: 1+1 always equals 2, and 1+1+1+1 always equals 4. Completing your goal is a matter of stacking up enough 1’s to get there. It might take longer than you wish it would, but if you keep showing up, you’ll get there. You can always polish it up later; first give yourself something tangible to work with.
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: I do, though the demon part is a bit creepy! I’ll put it this way: My greatest motivator is the sense inside my gut that says, “I must do this.” When a character arises in my heart and grabs hold of me, I’m ruined for him. He won’t let go until I tell his story. If I ignore him, he lurks in the recesses of my mind, tugging at me. I do consider it divine intervention from God, an indicator that someone out there needs the character’s story.
And Orwell was right, writing a book is exhausting, at least for me. My protagonists often deal with deep, dark internal conflict. I step into their minds and hearts each day, and it becomes like a cloak on my shoulders. They take up residence in my heart and lean on me night and day. By the time I press through the planning, first draft, and revision stages, I’ve borne that character’s burdens for almost two years. It screws with my emotions and leaves me worn out by the end, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: Thanks so much for letting me stop by! I’d love for you to check out Between These Walls. I also love hearing from readers, so feel free to send a message at my website. If you need fresh wind in your sails, my nonfiction book, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, can be found as a free e-book at most retailers. More details on my books at www.johnherrick.net and my blog, johnherricknet.blogspot.com.
About the Book
The latest release by best-selling novelist John Herrick, Between These Walls is an extraordinary tale featuring an unforgettable protagonist, Hunter Carlisle.
About Between These Walls: At 26 years old, Hunter Carlisle has a successful sales career, a devoted girlfriend, and a rock-solid faith. But Hunter also guards a secret torment: an attraction to other men. When a career plunge causes muscle tension, Hunter seeks relief through Gabe Hellman, a handsome massage therapist. What begins as friendship takes a sudden turn and forces the two friends to reconsider the boundaries of attraction. Along the road to self-discovery, Hunter’s secret is exposed to the community. Now Hunter must face the demons of his past and confront his long-held fears about reputation, sexual identity, and matters of soul.
A story about fear and faith, grace and redemption, Between These Walls braves the crossroads of love and religion to question who we are—and who we will become.