Pen Name: J.M. Erickson
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have been a social worker for more than thirty years and I’ve been a professor for more than a dozen years. I’ve work with a number of people who suffer from major mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-trauma, attention deficit disorder and people along the autism spectrum. As a senior instructor and visiting lecturer I teach graduate level psychopathology, post-traumatic stress disorder assessment and treatment and basic neurobiology and neuroscience.
How do you feel that your career, educational background and overall life experience contribute to your writing?
All of my writings tend to have protagonists with some kind of mental health issue they manage, or they are women or people of color, or people with disabilities, or part of the LGBTQ community that are the strong, dynamic characters with equal voices dealing with challenges.
Where is your favorite place in the world to live and why?
I really do love Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I grew up here and just love the rich history balanced with advances in medical health and technology; old building and new structures standing side by side. What I really love is the people – we tend to be liberal but don’t like change.
Where is your favorite place in the world to visit? Why?
I love visiting London, United Kingdom. In many ways it reminds me of Boston with a still richer history.
What is the funniest thing about your personality that fans would love to know? What are your quirks?
When I come home from work, I carry on an extensive conversation with my dog. She listens well, howls back and will patiently allow me to express my dramatic monologue while I change my clothes and get her lunch or dinner.
What drew you to writing?
Writing is therapy for me. I deal with my own personal stuff and the stuff of others, and teach people with their own stuff to help other people with their stuff… Writing is the only place where the world is created and everything in it is workable.
Do you have anything special, a habit, that you do that gets you into the mood of writing? Favorite object, desk, pen? Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to?
There is one thing that always helps me generate entire dialogues and plots – being on the elliptical going at full speed with music blaring in my ears. I have no idea why it happens this way. (Actually, I think it’s the kinesthetic learning through the movement which facilitates neurogensis and connections from the limbic system to my frontal lobe, but that’s just a guess.)
Do you have a special place you like to go to write? Do you do a retreat?
My writing desk is one of two work stations in my bedroom suite. Of the two identical glass and steel desks (each with two monitors) it is the left table that I write stories on, and the right one I do clinical and teaching work. As it turns out, my writing is my retreat. When I’m on a roll, I’m gone.
Does your life experience influence your writing?
My early life being poor really affected me and my writing. The work with clients and the struggles they manage and overcome are the bases of characters emerge.
What was the inspiration for your book Future Prometheus?
The Series was inspired from a series of courses I taught about people on the autism spectrum and how they see the world in a very different way from average or “neurotypical” person. This series also took an approach to highlight gender diversity and to have a world where women were the strong leaders and being heterosexual was “unusual.” In Rogue Event, it was the norm for everyone to be on the high-end of the autism scale while the outliers were people who were emotional and driven by passions.
If you use a pseudonym, why? What are the pros and cons of using a pen name?
I use the first two initials of my full name so as to keep some privacy. It might be strange for patients to know me as a therapist but then know me as a science fiction, political thriller writer. I’m lucky because my pen name keeps me out of the clinical and teaching circles, but it easy to figure out who I am if you know what to look for.
What is your biggest writing challenge?
Writing short stories or flash fiction is a major challenge. I have a natural tendency to reiterate and over-explain. It has taken me years to write clearly, descriptively and with as few words as I can. I’m still learning and got a long way to go.
Are you easily distracted when trying to write? Or are you very focused? If you are easily distracted, what are some of the things that distract you?
Little distracts when I write with the sole exception of the television being on. In many ways having noise going on downstairs or when my children and wife are home milling around downstairs is the best time for me to write.
Did you study any other authors before you embarked on your first novel?
For my first book I ever wrote was inspired by Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity but for Future Prometheus I re-read Mary W. Shelley’s work Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. It was great!!
Who influences you now?
Surprisingly I find that poetry – Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Coleridge, Shakespeare, and others – they all inspire the themes which often become the crux of my stories
What is your favorite genre to read?
Science fiction is my all time favorite. I just love how it can convey major themes about us as a species and be put in fantastic, alien, futuristic place and time, and still be recognizable in the here and now.
Do you have any favorite authors? What is it about their writing that really grabs you and pulls you in?
Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury are my favorites followed closely by George Orwell’s work. While their styles of writing are different, I find the writing easy for me to grasp and enjoy , while I struggle with the layered meanings that lie deep in the pages.
What do you love about writing?
It is therapy for me. It helps me settle my mind and soul
What do you hate about writing?
That it takes me so long to for me to type. There have been times when my mind has jumped ahead of my typing and whole sentences and at times paragraphs have been lost and need to be reconstructed.
Do you have a good support network around you? Do you find that people understand how writers work? Or do you encounter people who just don’t get it, the process we go through, the way we see the world, the way we think, the way we need to be inside our heads so much of the time?
Most of the time, most people have no idea what it takes to be a writer. When they hear that I do write they are surprised. Once they get by that, they will assume its some clinical essay or a chapter in a mental health text book or article or blog. They assume it’s brief and in my professional field of study and profession. When they find out I write full length science fiction novels, novellas and short stories that deals with artificial intelligence, alternative universes, aliens among us, pandemics and dystopian worlds, they all look at me askance and wonder if I’m serious. Nope…the non-writers don’t get us.
What did your family think when you told them that you wanted to write a book?
My family was shocked when they found out I wrote and published my first book. They couldn’t believe it. I didn’t tell them. And when I write and publish books, they continue to be surprised probably because I still don’t talk much about it. I take to heart Stephen King’s advice about writing: “Write all the time. And write a lot.”
Was there anything about the industry that surprised you?
I was surprised that when you research and look hard enough and long enough, there are some real good editors, cover artists, formatters and writing services that are really good quality and don’t break the bank. They are hard to find and it takes time.
What did you most learn about yourself through the writing process?
I learned the importance of storytelling; the poser of the narrative to the brain. While the neuroscience behind story telling was always intellectually something I understood, once I started writing the stories with all of its components did the consolidating power of the narrative on the human mind become crystal clear to me.
Do you have a favorite fan reaction that you can share with us?
I had a mother who was the parent of a child who is on the autism spectrum who thanked me for writing a strong character with this disability who was a dynamic character with strengths and barriers who dealt with the cards they were given and did what we all try to do – adapt, grow and live. This is why Future Prometheus: The Series is a favorite of mine.
How did it affect you when you first began to realize that people responded well to what you present as an author?
The anxieties before the reviews came in were crushing. Unlike many writers, no one knew that I had published my first book so there were no family or friend reviews out there. When the reviews came, they were from people I did not know. When they came in and when they still do, it is both frightening and awesome.
How has being an Independent Author affected you? Has it been positive? What are the down-sides of being an Indie Author?
Since I work with people all day and teach still more people to work with people, I find the solitary writing process therapeutic and restful. While many would complain about the isolation and the demand to write, it is a revealing process that sometime when I’m in the zone, the stories write themselves.
Where do you think publishing is going? Some have predicted that readers are waning and that in years to come, few people will read anymore. Do you believe that?
Maybe that will happen. Maybe Rogue Event is prophetic (and no one will know it because no one will read). Similar to how Johannes Gutenberg and the ebooks were new technologies that got the written story distributed, I bet there will always be books in some kind of format or medium. And there will more likely be people that still like the feel if paper and cover art in their hands.
How do you think technology is affecting writers? Both good and bad?
Technology is the double-edge sword for writers – technology has made it possible for me to be published and to get my books out there; at the same time, anyone can publish anything regardless of quality. As a result, there are far more books out there that require the poor reader to go through before they find a well written, professionally edited story, suitably formatted book with inspiring cover art.
What do you love most in life?
Diversity – there are so many different people with different ideas in infinite combinations. Pretty cool when you think about it.
What is the best advice you would give a new author?
When in doubt, keep writing. When you get bad reviews, read them and use them to hone your craft. Put your writings out there and get feedback.
What advice would you give an author about negative reviews?
Sometimes I get negative reviews from people who either don’t like my characters, or don’t care much for my themes and ideas or just don’t like the genre to start with. That will happen. But if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you get a bad review from a reviewer that has actually taken the time to express what they felt was wrong with your work and how your work could be better. Now that’s gold! It’s only the contrary, well thought out opinion that can really help an author grow in their craft.
If you could, what would you do to change the world?
I would have people actually stop and listen to each other. To listen, consider the other person’s point of view and to maybe grow from the difference.
Is there anything more you would like to add?
Thank you very much for this opportunity to do this interview!