Author interview 140 – Jonathan Pembroke


Jonathan Pembroke

United States

Age 49

Jonathan Pembroke is a lifelong fan of speculative fiction. He cut his teeth reading superhero comics and grew up on the works of Stephen King, Michael Moorcock, and Larry Niven. He has published a number of short stories in small venues over the last decade. His first trilogy, The Holly Sisters, features a pair of faery sisters involved in running a criminal gang. All three books are out now and are available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback. His first novel, Pilgrimage to Skara, a low-fantasy/sci-fi story set far in the ruined future, was a finalist in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and is available on Amazon for Kindle/KU. Jonathan is working on an unrelated fantasy series, tentatively titled The Sentinel, which will be his first stab at something more epic. A sequel to Skara as well as more books in the Holly Sisters universe are planned.
Jonathan graduated from a large midwestern university and served in the American military for twenty years, putting his foot on the ground in over twenty different countries. He now lives in the American Southwest with his wife Lisa and a horde of unruly dogs. When not writing or reading, he likes to garden and play some video games. He’d yell at kids to get off his lawn if he had neighbors … or a lawn.
Sydney was bored–bored with mixing potions in her aunt’s alchemy shop and bored of life in the faery homeland of Sylvan Valley. So when her sister Marla sends her a letter and asks Sydney to bring some family documents to the crime-ridden city of Woodhollow, Sydney leaps at the chance–only to discover Marla in charge of one of the criminal syndicates competing for control of the Woodhollow underworld.

Before she knows it, Sydney finds herself embroiled in a gang war and must maneuver her way through the plots of rival thugs, ogre peacekeepers, and the semi-immortal ruler of the city. And through it all, she learns she has drawn the attention of a mysterious order of assassins…who want Sydney for some sinister purpose of their own.

Romelia:   WHAT IS A SIGNIFICANT WAY YOUR BOOK HAS CHANGED SINCE THE FIRST DRAFT?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Talking about Rumble in Woodhollow, Book One in The Holly Sisters, the first draft of the story focused more heavily on the climax and final confrontation between Sydney, the protagonist, and her enemies. By the time it was done, I put a lot more emphasis on her journey and figuring out what she was looking for in life, and fostering a better relationship with her older sister Marla, who is the head of the gang. That theme carried into the second and third books of the series.

Romelia:   WHAT PERSPECTIVES OR BELIEFS HAVE YOU CHALLENGED WITH THIS WORK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   The faeries of this universe are very egalitarian with regards to gender or sexual orientation. Nobody in the faery culture (or the world, writ large) bats an eye at a non-traditional relationship or women in power. Some books I read make a point of belaboring these things but I just presented it as is, as the norm for their society … which is what it should be, no?

Romelia:   WHAT INSPIRED THE IDEA FOR YOUR BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   It actually came from watching the movie Gangs of New York. I started imagining what it would be like if, instead of immigrant gangs, it was gangs of mystical races brawling for control of the streets. Faeries, leprechauns, dryads, hobgoblins, etc. The idea took hold and off I went.

Romelia:   HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BOOK’S IDEAL READER?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Someone who likes a fast-paced, action-oriented book heavy on dialogue. That pretty much describes the whole of the series.

Romelia:   HOW MUCH RESEARCH DID YOU NEED TO DO FOR YOUR BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Not too much, just spot research here and there on a few topics. The next series is going to take the same characters from a European-mythos-based world to one founded on the myths of Arabia and south Asia (India). I am less familiar with those, so I’ll be digging into their stories quite a bit.

Romelia:   HOW IMPORTANT WAS PROFESSIONAL EDITING TO YOUR BOOK’S DEVELOPMENT?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I am embarrassed to say that none of the series was professionally edited and I admit, it suffered a little for it. I’d call it the growing pains of being a new author, so the realization was more critical to my personal development than the book’s. I did have beta and proofreaders, which helped.

Romelia:   WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST SCENE TO WRITE, AND WHY?

Jonathan Pembroke:   From the first book, a pivotal fight scene that I really wanted to get right. I am still not sure it is one-hundred percent perfect but later iterations are better than the first draft, which was a mess. From a technical standpoint, conveying the imagery in that scene was difficult to write. From an emotional standpoint, there is a scene later in the series where … well, now that would be a spoiler.

Romelia:   WHAT CHARACTERS IN YOUR BOOK ARE MOST SIMILAR TO YOU OR TO PEOPLE YOU KNOW?

Jonathan Pembroke:   The protagonist of the series, Sydney, isn’t specifically based off anyone real. She’s snarky, puts up a good front to hide her own insecurities, and doesn’t know what she wants in life. I’ve been there and I think a lot of people have, which is what I think makes her relatable. One of the other faeries in the gang, Vivian, is very much based off my spouse—and yes, I meant that as a flattering comparison. Vivian is my favorite side-character to write.

Romelia:   HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I think from start to finish, the first draft of Rumble took about five months, then the rounds of edits, etc. From the time I penned the first words to the point it was published, it took about fourteen months. Contrast that to the third book in the series, Sylvan Valley Aflame, which I wrote the first draft in less than two months and the overall arc was about ten months. Enthusiasm and momentum count for a lot!

Romelia:   HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE FOR YOUR BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Each book in the series kind of describes the driving mechanism that advances the plot. In Rumble, everything in the book leads towards the final confrontation between Sydney’s gang and their foes. And honestly, Rumble in Woodhollow had better rhythm than Fight or Brawl.

Romelia:   WOULD YOU AND YOUR MAIN CHARACTER GET ALONG?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Probably, as long as I didn’t get in her way.

Romelia:   IF YOU COULD MEET YOUR CHARACTERS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I would tell Sydney to believe in herself and trust her instincts. Marla, I would just tell to shut up.

Romelia:   WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE? ARE YOU MORE OF A PLOTTER OR A PANTSER?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I used to be a pure pantser, especially when I wrote a lot of short stories. Now, I am a hybrid. I usually know how I want to start a book and end it but I write down some milestones—major plot points along the way—and work from point to point on my way to the end. Doing this helps me avoid major plot holes. That is not to say that even though I have an outline, that my plot won’t wander off the path sometimes.

Romelia:   WHAT DO YOU NEED IN YOUR WRITING SPACE TO HELP YOU STAY FOCUSED?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Silence, more than anything. Background noise like music is okay but I find it very difficult to carry on a conversation or listen to something focused (like a news story) and stay immersed in what I am doing. That’s probably why I get my best writing done early in the morning, before anyone else gets out of bed.

Romelia:   IF YOU WERE TO WRITE A SPIN-OFF ABOUT A SIDE CHARACTER, WHICH WOULD YOU PICK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   The aforementioned-Vivian, for whom I have already plotted a side series … though it is a her and a conglomeration of other characters, that is more going to run in parallel with Sydney’s next adventure, before I bring them all back together. Vivian will be the POV character for that series, though.

Romelia:   IF YOU COULD SPEND A DAY WITH ANOTHER POPULAR AUTHOR, WHOM WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I would love to spend a day with Michael Moorcock, just to get inside his head and learn his thought process and how he came up with the Eternal Champion concept.

Romelia:   WHAT IS YOUR SCHEDULE LIKE WHEN YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Nothing fixed or regular, since the timelines of getting feedback from alpha/beta readers has varied so much. I have twice now given myself an arbitrary publishing date to goad myself to finishing the tasks at hand, else I might tend to procrastinate (a terrible habit, of which I am terribly guilty). I mean, if the book wasn’t ready by that date, I wouldn’t force it but having a notional end-date keeps me on track.

Romelia:   HAVE YOU EVER TRAVELED AS RESEARCH FOR YOUR BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   That, I have not done. I spent twenty years in the US military, so I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my life. I do say that seeing some of the ruin wrought by warfare comes to mind when I am writing certain scenes.

Romelia:   WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WRITING SNACK OR DRINK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Odd, maybe, but I don’t snack when writing. Drinking? Coffee and lots of it.

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE WHEN YOU FINISH YOUR BOOK?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I don’t know that I do. I might take two or three days off from doing anything writing-related. I actually like to celebrate when I get my first hardcopies in my hand—when the first paperbacks arrive. That is an amazing feeling. I tend to forget my diet and workout routine for a day.

Romelia:   WHAT RISKS HAVE YOU TAKEN WITH YOUR WRITING THAT HAVE PAID OFF?

Jonathan Pembroke:   I entered my first book Pilgrimage to Skara, in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, a competition hosted by fantasy writer Mark Lawrence. Essentially, ten fantasy review sites comb through three hundred entries, to highlight the best self-published fantasy. I think it’s a risk to put yourself out there, for direct criticism. Pilgrimage was chosen as a finalist, though it was not well-received by many of the reviewers. Even with some of the bad ratings, entering the contest as a major boon; I’ve gotten to know so many people in the industry and had a lot of doors opened.

Romelia:   WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU GOOGLED YOURSELF AND WHAT DID YOU FIND?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Just after I read this question. Links to my Amazon page, my Goodreads page, and to other people with my name. There’s a link to my blog too. Nothing too earth-shattering.

Romelia:   WHAT IS YOUR KRYPTONITE AS A WRITER?

Jonathan Pembroke:   Procrastination, hands down. If I look hard enough, there is always something to do that is more “fun” and “immediate” than writing. And writing is work. Not just writing, but editing, promoting, networking on social media, going to sell books, etc. If you’re a writer, procrastinating is basically goofing off on the job. Some days, I really have to stay focused.

Romelia:   TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Jonathan Pembroke:   I live in a remote, rural area, so the pandemic did not affect me and my wife as much as many folks. One thing, though, is that I let my hair grow out and now wear it in the style of Geralt, the main character of the Witcher. After growing up in a military family and serving for twenty years myself, I had very short hair for over forty years. People ask when I’m going to cut it. I just shrug and say, “No time soon. Look what happened to Samson.” They usually don’t know what to say to that.

Romelia:   DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN A FEW SENTENCES. TELL US SOMETHING WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU AND SOMETHING YOU HATE ABOUT THE WORLD.

Jonathan Pembroke:   Me? Just a normal, run-of-the-mill married guy, with an overactive imagination and a slight talent for a turn of phrase. When I’m not writing, I like to read, work in my garden, and play a video game or two.

Something you don’t know? I have a shark phobia—so much so that I live well-inland, away from the ocean. If the polar ice caps melt, sharks will still have a long ways to go to get to me.

Probably strange for someone with a military history, but I have become very skeptical of authority figures, whether civil, governmental, religious, or what have you. I really dislike our hyper-partisan world since in the end, I think most people just want to be left lone to do their own thing.

Email: jonathanspembroke@gmail.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009256903028

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15560461.Jonathan_Pembroke

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