From actor to author: Jim McDoniel talks about his debut vampire fiction
Writing can make a wonderful career or hobby because it is something that can be picked up at any point in one’s life. Take Jim McDoniel: actor turned writer who is publishing his first novel An Unattractive Vampire this month. Performing onstage since he was eleven years old, acting was McDoniel’s life goal. “My undergrad degree is in theater which comes in REAL handy when you decide, ‘Oh, how do I get a job as a writer for money? I need an English degree? Okay, so this [theater degree] is utterly useless,” McDoniel said. Transitioning from one life goal to a new one, McDoniel found a passion in writing and has been focusing on it for the last five years, including taking courses in a graduate program.
“I’m a writer. That’s pretty much what I do right now,” McDoniel said. “When I was at my university, the theater department was transitioning and really didn’t know what they were doing. I was, and still am, into comedy and all of the shows that were being put on at my school were [shows I had no interest in]. So after about two years of that, I just said, ‘Fine, if you’re not going to do the shows I want to do, I’m going to write them!’ And so I signed up for the two playwriting classes that my school offered. I took those two classes a total of three times, taking one of them twice because I enjoyed it so much.”
After beginning to write plays, McDoniel discovered they would be difficult to place upon a stage. “Plays require people who are willing to put up your show and my scripts are very much like how my novels are now, involving monsters and magic. I was told at one point that [my plays] were basically ‘unstageable,’” McDoniel said. Along with being “unstageable,” McDoniel admitted he has a hard time of promoting himself and didn’t show his work to many people. With acting and playwriting not working out, McDoniel moved on to essays and sketch. “Honestly, one of the things that I found when I started really concentrating on writing is that I don’t really miss acting,” McDoniel said. McDoniel still occasionally does voices for an audio drama that he writes for called Our Fair City but focuses on his writing for the show rather than his voice acting.
“I started off writing plays. I didn’t think I had the patience to write a novel and I was a few years out of college before I had the idea for An Unattractive Vampire,” McDoniel said. Amazingly enough, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was, according to McDoniel, “The seed of how [my story] came to be. That was the spark.” While standing in line at the theater, he overheard two women talking about something called Twilight. McDoniel went home that night and searched everywhere on the internet to discover what this “Twilight” was. How ironic that one of the last shows McDoniel acted in was actually an improvised Twilight parody and was performed in the fall right before he started focusing on An Unattractive Vampire.
Being a fan of monsters, McDoniel is knowledgeable of monster information. He is familiar with traditional vampires, having read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot; however, he had to do research on modern-day vampires, watching popular TV series and reading popular fiction based on what people view vampires as in today’s society. “I tried watching True Blood… it made me feel gross, so I didn’t even get past disc one,” McDoniel said. “Vampire Diaries I have never actually watched, but the show in the book is based on what I think the Vampire Diaries is like. I made the show up, but I kind of based it around, ‘This is what I assume that show is like,’ although I throw in helpings of Buffy as well because that [show] I am actually familiar with.” Along with modern-day vampires, McDoniel also had to research different vampires from different cultures, such as looking up vampires talked about in Chinese and African folklore.
While writing about his vampires, McDoniel said that he, obviously, liked writing his main vampire, Yulric Bile. “Yulric is kind of a grumpier me or me at the time I was writing because I was kind of cranky and hermit-like,” McDoniel said. “The surprise character that I found myself really liking was Catherine, the coma patient. She was only supposed to be in that one scene at the beginning [of the story] where she’s in the coma and it was just a transition between Yulric finding out about the vampires and him going to see the vampires. I didn’t want to write it, but I had to so that I could get to the action. I worked on the chapter for a couple hours, but it wouldn’t end because I kept coming up with fun ideas for the character. Later, when I needed Simon and Yulric to go on a plane ride and go globe hopping, I realized, ‘Oh, they kind of need a chaperone because Yulric can’t be in a plane and an eight-year-old can’t fly by themselves,’ so then I got back to thinking about her and her part just got bigger and bigger until she became one of, if not my favorite, character.”
One fascinating trait of An Unattractive Vampire readers will notice are the footnotes scattered through the story. Footnotes are a feature McDoniel has always liked and has read a few authors who insert footnotes as well: Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, and Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. “My first failed attempt many years ago to create a book was going to be a parody history book and it was just footnote after footnote making fun of historical facts that I researched,” McDoniel said. “That was still a part of my DNA at the time. I still haven’t gotten it completely out of my system, but I’ve found, as I continue writing, that the footnotes become fewer and fewer after this book.”
An Unattractive Vampire is already beginning to appear in bookstores and arriving at homes of readers who preordered it. McDoniel said he feels good with his book finally being shared with the world, though he is a little stressed for now it is time to promote his book further to gain new readers. “Just trying to find ways to hopefully promote myself, promote the book, make sure it sells well, or as much as I am capable of,” McDoniel said. So far, he has created his own website and he has printed postcards that he hopes to distribute to willing places in Chicago as well as pass them out at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) this month.
The process with Inkshares leading up to his publication has been great for McDoniel. For his first book, he never really wanted to self-publish and this was one of the reasons why he almost didn’t take part in the first Sword & Laser Contest because, to him, it sounded very similar to self-publishing. However, McDoniel did enter and is now a published author as well as a part of the Sword & Laser Collection on Inkshares. “The publishing process has been great. I love the development edit process, maybe not so much at the time, but in retrospect, it was great. I had done maybe eight revisions previous to this and the fact that someone else looked at it and said, ‘Okay, what about this?’ and ‘What about this part?’ and pushing me to make it better. Copyediting and getting updates on marketing and what [the marketing team] wanted to do with [the book], things I would never think to do or be able to do on my own. This I could not have done without Inkshares and the whole publishing process,” McDoniel said.
Even with a debut novel of a new writer, readers who are fans of just this one book will always ask the writer if he has plans for future books. “I have lots [of ideas],” McDoniel said. “I literally have a document on my computer that is just a list of book ideas I have in the order they will be written in.” The next book McDoniel has been working on may even appear on Inkshares, especially with the announcement of the series of contests Nerdist and Geek & Sundry are doing with Inkshares for 2016. McDoniel said that Sword & Laser and Geek & Sundry are two of his favorite things and it was “life achievement happiness” for McDoniel to be selected for Sword & Laser’s collection. To also have a book with Geek & Sundry would be a dream come true for McDoniel and, grad school and completed manuscript allowing, he hopes Geek & Sundry will host a contest where he could potentially campaign his next book.
Even though he began with a passion that he thought would be his life career, McDoniel has discovered a new life career that he feels even more passionate about. “I could talk about writing forever, much like any other writer,” McDoniel said. “Back in college, there was a class I took called Career Prep for the Actor and my teacher for that was really pushing me towards writing. At the end of the course, we had to go around and say a goal that we had. What I said was, ‘I would like to go into a bookstore and find a copy of my book and I want to buy it.’ Everyone laughed, telling me I wouldn’t have to buy a copy of the book that I wrote. But I’m going to go do that just to show them. I’m going to take pictures of me buying a copy of my own book and not care.”
Originally published at www.examiner.com on March 13, 2016.