Sunday, April 2, 2017

Author Interview: John Collings

 John Collings has traveled the world and has taken the wisdom he has collected from various cultures and placed it in his novels.    

He has found that satire is the best way to impart this knowledge due to its lasting effect with the reader. 

It is his goal to open up discussion about what he perceives is wrong with the world in the hopes that we can come together to fix it.

Tag: A Cautionary Tale is the followup to his debut novel, Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers. Learn more about John Collings at or

A Question and Answer Session: 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always enjoyed writing when I was growing up, and would always sit down at our Apple 2C computer every night to write while the rest of my family was downstairs watching television. Of course, I never had the discipline back then to finish any of my stories, and it wasn’t until I gained an interest in theater that I was able to sit down and write a longer piece of work. The first major work I wrote was a play, and I didn’t attempt to write a novel until later in life. The first novel I wrote never saw the light of day, but it got me into the routine of writing every day. I still have that routine and I find with each page that I write I continue to get better and better at my craft.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It really depends on the story I’m writing. The first novel I wrote took a year and a half, and my second one took me a year. Tag: A Cautionary Tale was a weird experience. The idea had been bouncing around in my head for years, but when I finally sat down and wrote it, it flowed out of me within four months. I would say that I am getting quicker at writing my stories except for the fact that the one I am currently working on has taken me over a year to write so far, and I am still crafting the climax of the story. It really depends on the story and how complicated it actually is or how close I am to it.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I write for about an hour every night, but I prefer to write in the mornings. During that time, I find that my mind is fresh and I am able to accomplish more than when I have the worries of the day weighing down on me at night. I get to write in the mornings on the weekends and during the summer months when I am off from my teaching position, but my work schedule doesn’t allow me to get up that early every day to keep up with my routine. The point is I force myself to sit down at my computer every day to write for an hour. I know that it doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but you would be amazed at how much you can write by keeping to this schedule. There are some days where I barely type out a page or two because I am at a complicated part of the story or just not that interested in it, but then there are time where I write up to ten pages and the words just come out of me without me even having to think about it. I call that getting in the zone, and it is when I find that place that makes writing worth all the times when I struggle with coming up with the words I want to say. Many of my students come up and tell me that they want to be a writer, and I ask them how much they have written that day. When they tell me nothing, then I tell them that they will never be a writer unless they start with some kind of routine. It is like any task; it takes discipline with it in order to accomplish anything, but the more you get into that routine, the easier you will find the task.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I was a mobile disc jockey for many years and I have always had a strong passion for music. Every night when I am writing I listen to an album as a way to time the hour that I am supposed to spend on it. Sometimes that gives me a little more than an hour of writing; whereas, other times it gives me a little less. I just think of it as averaging out to an hour. I try to find something that would fit with the mood of what I am writing that night. It is like the soundtrack to the book, and even though nobody will ever know what it was I was listening to when I wrote, I think it comes out when it creates the feeling that the piece invokes.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I am a big believer that life is given to us to live. If we spend all of our time inside our houses doing nothing but watching television or playing video games then we are missing out on something more exciting. Pokemon Go does not count as going out and living life either. I love to leave my house and see what is going out in the world. Sometimes it is nothing more than the same old routine, but there are also crazy, exciting things happening. Even though a lot of my inspiration comes from what I read, it is the moments when I go outside that I formulate all the intricacies of the story I am writing. I go out there with the mind frame that there is a story out there to find, and you will be amazed at how many times I find it.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I finished writing my first book three years ago, and I finished it right before my fortieth birthday. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and even though that book has never been published, I knew I could finish writing one if I put my mind to it. It made writing my next two books, Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers, and Tag: A Cautionary Tale that much easier. 
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Like I said earlier, I love getting out of the house and playing. Being from Colorado that means going up to the mountains, and hiking or camping. I am also a huge traveler. As a teacher, I have many times throughout the school year to go out and explore the world. I have been to over 28 countries, and I enjoy seeing the different cultures and different perspectives that people have. It also fun trying the different kinds of foods. Just last year, I have been to five different countries, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Japan. I know most of that has been in Asia, but I have also done some extensive traveling in Europe, Africa, and North America as well. It helps me collect the stories I need to tell, and it also makes life interesting. It would be the one recommendation I would have for the younger generation; if you ever have the time, go out and see the world. You can learn more from that than you ever could in a classroom, and it will help to make you a well-rounded person.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I know that not every author looks at writing the same way that I do, but I do know that there are many authors out there that do. I write because there is a bigger idea I want to explore, and the characters, and situations I create help me to explore this idea. Sometimes what I find out about the idea I am exploring surprises me. Tag: A Cautionary Tale had this kind of surprise. I was writing it as an allegory for American history, and there were many aspects of its history that fascinate me and I wanted to include. Like most Americans, I am opinionated, and I wouldn’t allow myself to see why the other side believed. Writing this story, forced me to look at the other side’s perspective. It really surprised me that I would be able to empathize with this ideology. I started to realize that more people need to understand what their neighbors are thinking, and if we did that then we wouldn’t have the problems we are facing today. It was this exploration that allowed me to come to this conclusion. This is part of the reason that I think writing is important, and more people should take the time to explore their own thoughts in the same fashion. We would become a more thoughtful society if we took the time to think things through rather than jumping aboard some quick and rash decision. Of course this requires us to turn off the lure of the more seductive forms of media which I don’t know if that will ever happen, but if more and more people took the time to do that every day, it would be the first step to making the world a better place.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
I have always preached in my classes that English classes are the most important ones in the school. It is because it takes all of the ideas presented in the other classes and brings them together, and it also important that people learn how to read critically. It is authors and their words that change the world, and by examining the great ones, my students would be able to find their own voice and eventually make their mark on the world. I think this is reason that I write, and because of this I have always drifted towards the satirists. They are the ones that have tried to make the world a better place, and they do it in such an entertaining way. The one that has always influenced me the most has been Jonathan Swift. If you have never sat down to read “A Modest Proposal”, you have missed one of the funniest pieces of literature ever written. It is hysterical, and there is not a better piece of satire. I wish for my writing to someday have the same impact that this piece had when it was first written.
I also enjoy the post-modern writers. I consider them to be the wittiest writers. They pushed what you could do as a writer. Of course, the best one from this genre was Kurt Vonnegut Jr. What he was able to do with voice, and humor makes his stories some of the best that have ever been written. It holds with it a little bit of the theater of the absurd which we need to see from time to time because the world we live in is a little absurd and he knew that. He taught me that we can’t take the world too seriously or it would drive us crazy, and I hope to have the same ideas come across in my stories. I also hope to push the envelope with my writing to open my readers’ minds.
The last author that has influenced me is a little outside of my genre, H. P. Lovecraft. While I was growing up, Stephen King was at the height of his popularity, and I drifted towards his books. I love the way he could create suspense in his stories, but I never knew how much H. P. Lovecraft influenced his writing. Later, when I came across this writer I started to see the brilliance behind Stephen King. Where Stephen King explored the things that scared us as kids, H. P. Lovecraft explored what scared us as human beings. His stories are thought provoking, and when you read them they might not scare you, but the thoughts he puts in his stories haunt you. They follow you around and make you think about how all the stories blend together. I would love to be able to create a mythology the way that he has and even though I attempt to do this from time to time, I have never been able to reach the same level of success with my stories. 
It is really the blending of these three people that have influenced my writing the most.
What do you think makes a good story?
I think before an author sits down to write a story, he or she needs to first have an idea to work with. Whether this is a theme that he or she is exploring, or a point that he or she is trying to make, it should be the driving point of telling the story. Everything should come back to this idea. Too often, I believe that writers have a story that they want to tell, but they don’t have an idea behind it which leaves the story feeling kind of flat. It is the stories that have an idea behind them that make it worth reading, and you feel satisfied after you finish reading it.
Next, the writer should have a passion for this idea. This means that it should come from within themselves and should not be an idea that is pressed upon them by another person whether that be their teachers, agents or publishers. If the author is not passionate about the idea he or she is writing about then that comes across to the reader. It feels hollow. When you read the story, you might not agree with what is being said, but if the writer has a passion for what he or she is saying, you don’t care as much because you can feel that passion permeate the story.
Lastly, the story needs to be entertaining. If I am reading a story, I need to enjoy the journey that the characters are going on. If it is not, then I don’t really care much about the idea behind it. There are authors out there that just try to push their ideas on their readers without telling a story. It turns out to be boring and pretentious. The reason we tell stories is to entertain each other, and authors need to keep that in mind.

If an author is able to blend these three things together when telling his or her story then they will have created something wonderful. I don’t really think that the genre is important. It is rather these elements, and then you as a reader will enjoy the story no matter what the plot is really about.

An Excerpt From Tag: A Cautionary Tale:
Excerpt: Opening The old man shuffled his way to the foot of the great hill where sat a smooth boulder, protruding from the ground. He arrived every day, at precisely at 7:01, with the precision of a German engineer, as if he’d just disembarked from a bus or a train somewhere around the hill, and taken only the time needed to waddle over to the rock, and sit in the indentation worn into it by his butt over the years. He’d become a slave to this routine over the years, sitting there, on rock at the foot of a burnt out hill, undisturbed by the people who passed him as they moved about their day. They probably didn’t even notice him, seeing as they had other priorities to possess their time. 

 The man remembered a time, long ago, when the hill possessed the highest peak in the town. If a person climbed to the top of it, he could look down and take it in at a glance. But progress had seized the town, and large buildings soon grew to obscure the view, until the hill served as no more than the outline for the roundabout, designed to take busy people to their busy places. If any of them ever took the time away from their busy pace, how many of them would wonder how this old man found his way across that busy street to sit on his rock? 

 The current aesthetic labeled the hill an eyesore, an abomination, best residing on the other side of the tracks. If any of the fools ever put forth the effort, they'd march up to their representatives in the city hall and demand that the representatives move it to the place where it actually belonged. No doubt those representatives would get right on the task, filing injunctions, posting notices, and writing bills about the town’s eyesore. And still the hill would remain as the busy people rushed their way through the roundabout towards their destination, never considering the state of the hill’s dilapidation. The representatives did, however, get around to putting a chain-linked fence around the hill with imposing ropes of razor sharp barbed wire on top, to keep out all the busy people who never wanted to go in in the first place. The fence marked, to all who cared to notice, the speed of “progress”. 

 After all these years, the hill remained. Nothing would grow on it. No one would walk on it. Not even the birds would feign to fly over the flimsy, metal barrier to land upon the hill's desecrated domain. No one else seemed to even care about it but the old man, and he cared enough to visit it on a daily basis. So often had he visited the hill that he'd almost became a permanent addition to it. Except for the fact his clothes would change from day to day, people might have mistaken him for a statue. 

 He sat on the rock leaning heavily on the cane he carried with him, craning to get a better look at the nothingness the hill had to offer. What had begun as a mild interest in the hill had grown to such an obsession, that he would often squint his eyes at it, as if hoping to read the words somehow typed into the typography. His bald head protruded from his shirt collar so much that an onlooker might mistake him for a turtle, taking its first trembling steps onto the sands of some foreign beach, if, that is, they stopped long enough to notice. He thought he might need to find a place to rest his weary head, or it would fall from his body. Instead it came to lie on the gnarled and knobby hands he’d wrapped around the handle of his sturdy oak cane. 

 Day in and day out he sat, fearing any change in his routine, until Little Lizzy showed up to change that routine for him, having found her way across the traffic to the burnt-out oasis of the hill. Her blonde curls bounced giddily as she skipped her way over to where the old man sat on his rock. She wore a pink dress barely long enough to cover her chubby knees. She carried a box in her hands, about the size of a Bible, which she brandished with extreme importance. 

 The old man watched as Little Lizzy made her way around the fence line to approach him. 

 When she noticed him, she stopped and stared at the sight, as if she found it hard to believe another soul had found his way over to this parcel of land. She dropped the box in her hands and it disappeared in the shadow of the rock. Because items not in the immediate view of children are seldom remembered, the box remained there as she slowly walked towards the ancient anomaly. 

 The old man sat there, unmoving. Little Lizzy approached with caution, as if she feared chasing him away by her approach. 

 First, she waved at him from a safe distance; the old man did not move. 

 Then, she skipped into the old man’s peripheral view and tilted her head; still, the old man did not move. 

 Finally, she took a spot in-between the old man and the object of his attention. She grabbed the sides of her fluffy skirt and twisted it right and then left, wearing a pouty expression on her face. At last she said, “Hi.” 

 The old man responded, “Go away.” 

 She took a step closer and said, “My name's Lizzy.” 

 “Go away, Lizzy.” 

 Little Lizzy looked at the old man closely, then turned her head to follow his gaze. “Whatchya looking at?” 

 “Right now? A little girl who won’t go away.” 

 Still Lizzy was not deterred. She ignored the slight and went on with her questioning. “What were you looking at before that?” 

 The old man lifted his head from his crooked hands, and looked at Little Lizzy with renewed interest. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?” 

 Lizzy also ignored the man's attempt to change the subject. “Are you looking at that hill?” she asked. 

 The old man finally gave into the girl’s interrogation. “Yes, I’m looking at the hill. Now, go away.” 

 “Why would you want to spend all day looking at that hill? It’s sure an ugly hill. Not even weeds grow on it. It is probably the most worthless plot of land in the whole town.” 

 The words of the young child enraged the old man. He stood up from his seat and used his cane to point at the hill. “How dare you call Arbella Hill a worthless plot of land? If it wasn’t for that hill, this town would never have existed. It's thanks to that hill that you see all this around you.” 


 “Why? Why? WHY?” 

 Little Lizzy looked at the exasperated old man as if wondering why her question would illicit such a response. “Yes," she said, undeterred. "Why?” 

 The old man considered Little Lizzy’s question with a new respect. He placed his sturdy oak cane back on the ground, and snuggled back into his groove in the rock. “Well, that requires a complicated answer, little girl.” 

 Lizzy’s eyes brightened up. “Does it involve a story?” 

 “Yes, and what a story it is!” 

 Lizzy took this as an invitation. She sat down Indian style on a soft patch of grass in front of the rock, smoothed her skirt out, and rested her chin in the crag of her fists. 

 The old man’s eyes grew foggy, as if looking at a faraway place. He cleared his throat and began. 

 “This place once looked quite different than it does today…” 

Chapter One
Back then, roads didn’t exist. Big buildings didn’t block out the blue sky. Even the cars didn’t hurry off to the places where cars hurry off to. Tall trees circled the expanse of the field, a few stray trees here and there offereing their shade to those in need on sunny days, and shelter to those in need on rainy days. Arbella Hill stood over there, the steep sides of it also covered with trees. On the top of it stood the mightiest of all trees, a proud oak. And, of course, this rock I'm sitting on sat right here. Back in the day, we didn’t call the hill Arbella; that name came later. We only called the hill, “The Hill”, just as we called the rock, “The Rock” and each individual tree, a tree. We didn’t spend a lot of time naming things back in those days. We had more important things to do. We had a big field. I couldn’t tell you where everybody came from, but we came, none the less. We all wandered out of the woods and across the horizon, drawn by this majestic mound. It stood above everything else on the plain, rivaled by no other formation in its beauty. On it, assorted fruit trees and tall pines pointed their peaks towards the heavens, wondrous wildflowers blossomed, rearing their heads to the world, animals scurried under the protection of the hill, peeking their happy heads out whenever they saw fit. If they ever noticed us looking at them, they would dart back into the shadows. They didn't know they had nothing to worry about because we cared about them as much as they cared about us. We had many more exciting things to do, besides. We ran. Not to or from a specific place—doing something like that didn't interest us much. 

We ran more for the why, rather than the where. 

 What was the why, you ask? Well, why not? 

 But just imagine a huge field stretched out before you, soft and supple grass growing just tall enough to tickle your toes as the drops of dew dance upon your bare feet, the subtle sun warming you as you wind your way through the maze of dandelions. And if ever its heat gets too hot, the shade of a nearby tree is there to comfort you. If you'd rather continue on your run, the wind is there to blow a refreshing breeze your way. As far as we were concerned, the field had been created for our pleasure, and we took every opportunity to partake in that gift. 

 As was the case with the hill, the rock, and the trees, we didn’t bother with each other’s names. We didn’t even bother to acknowledge each other’s presence. We weren’t very social at that time—running occupied most of our time. 

 We didn’t care about speed or direction—some of us sprinted from one end of the field to the other; some of us twirled in circles, arms outstretched; some of us darted this way and that; and some just meandered from place to place, spending more time taking in our surroundings than those who surrounded us. It probably helped to get it all started, I guess. 

 The first uproar was caused by two kids of opposite natures. I later learned that their names were Tommy and Franklin, but I just knew them as the Fat Kid and the Focused Kid. 

 Tommy ran with purpose. He focused directly on where he wanted to run and when he got there, he turned right around to focus on getting back. 

 Franklin didn’t run so much as meander all about the place, his head constantly turning to observe the world around him, darting from place to place, to stoop down to look at a wildflower, or up to the sky to watch an eagle fly. Rarely was his head in what he was supposed to be doing down on the field. 

 As in all other aspects of life, when you have two opposites such as Tommy and Franklin, they are destined to clash, and clash, they did. 

 Franklin backed into Tommy one hot Thursday afternoon, too busy watching a wild turkey dart across the field while trying to get out of its way, running backwards, not really looking where he was going. Tommy, on the other hand, was so focused on where his run was taking him that he didn’t see Franklin coming. Franklin weighed more than Tommy, and it was he who took the tumble and landed flat on his butt. 

 Tommy wasn’t much of an orator at that early age, but of course none of us were. Later, Tommy would become the great speaker you may have heard about, but on that fateful day, he looked at where he'd landed in that big field of grass, and said the only thing he could in that situation: “I’s It.” 

 Rather, that's what Franklin thought he'd said, for even though Tommy talked as if he'd marbles in his mouth, he wasn't one to practice such bad grammar. He also didn’t back away from a confrontation, particularly one spurring from an intrusion concerning his right to run. 

 Tommy stood up, and walked over to where Franklin was standing. Franklin tried to stammer out an apology, but was unable to articulate the thought before Tommy pushed him, and Franklin landed on his butt. 

 Franklin could not believe Tommy capable of performing such an act of anger. He looked up at his antagonist, hoping for an apology he knew wouldn’t come. Instead, Tommy responded with a retort that would endure in the cannon of our consciousness for all eternity. 

 “You’s It!” he said. 

Links and Further Information: 
If you want to check out this book or purchase I have listed the sites where the book is currently being sold or find out more information:  

If you want to find out further information on John Collings follow the links below: 

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