Renee Writes

Author Spotlight: The Threat Below by Jason Latshaw

11870802_1478582762465492_5270596849924276928_nWelcome to this weeks Friday Author Spotlight! Today I have Jason Latshaw with his novel, The Threat Below.

Jason Latshaw is a writer who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two children, a lizard, and a fish. Latshaw has an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA. He also writes television and film scripts.

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About the Book

cover image300 years ago, something terrible arose and wiped out humanity. Now 17-year-old Icelyn Brathius must face the legendary monsters that destroyed civilization as she uncovers centuries-old secrets and learns that all is not as it appears – while struggling to survive a world where humans are no longer the dominant species.

Clarion Reviews raves that “this YA novel is a fast-paced, fascinating slam dunk of a book…” and “…a mind-expanding tale of postapocalyptic humanity and truth–and the survival of both.” Kirkus Reviews declares it’s “a promising debut that could find success beyond the YA market.”

Get it today on Amazon!

Keep reading for an interview with the author:

What inspires you to write?

I have always absolutely loved stories and the worlds and people they introduce you to. I am floored by the power of stories. They can create empathy and understanding, take people on a journey of thousands of miles, and make them learn more about themselves. I’m so impacted by stories and get viscerally excited when the seeds of one grow through my writing.

What authors/books have most influenced you?

Growing up I was always drawn to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and this enticing yet dangerous world that he created. I lived in a rural area with a lot of woods and creeks and would spend hours outside, and something about Lewis’ description of Narnia spoke to that same feeling I would get out in nature. When I was in sixth grade I determined to read every single Newbury Award winning book. Looking back, maybe that was a clue that I was an odd child – but it was such a great project to complete. I think as a library they gave me a very diverse foundation.

If you could choose an author to be your mentor, who would it be?

I would love to learn from Lois Lowry. I adore all of her books – and she writes in such a wide variety of genres – and think she could teach me a lot about spare, evocative descriptions and believable, relatable characters.

When did you first consider yourself an author?

After high school I started to write plays and musicals. Nothing huge – actually just for the kids in a summer camp where I worked to perform because all the other plays I could find for their age groups were boring. And at the end of the week, watching these plays performed, I could tell that people were genuinely entertained. They were laughing and feeling something and when you watch an actual crowd reaction it’s pretty easy to tell when they’re just being polite versus being lost in the story. Watching those audiences I could tell that I was onto something, and could give the gift of storytelling. It felt good. I’ve been on the receiving end of that transaction so often that it felt like giving back.

What are your goals as an author? Where do you see yourself in five years?

I try to keep my goals firmly 100% under my control. Of course I have hopes and dreams for what I write – I’m in LA and have been working in TV and Film for years, so I would very much like to see (good) films and television shows arise from the books that I write. But I also know that those things just aren’t under my control, so I can’t really make them harbingers of success without risking my own mental health.

My goals are simple and controllable. I want to write approximately 2,000 words a day to tell the stories that I feel need to be told. I want to write those stories in a true and authentic way so that they have a chance of reaching the readers who would be affected by them, and maybe take comfort in them, or be inspired by them. I want to continue to learn and develop myself and my skills as a writer so that my stories are as accessible and entertaining and meaningful as possible. And I don’t want to let any outside forces (bad reviews, my own laziness, my own fear of failure) keep me from telling the stories I know should be told.

What is the biggest obstacle you face as an author and what do you do to overcome it?

I kind of alluded to it earlier, but for me the largest obstacle is paying too much attention to things I have no control over whatsoever and allowing them to dictate whether I’m a success or not. For example, reviews. Negative OR positive! They can be paralysing. If I focus too much on them, I start to lose the stories, because I’m looking at the outside results, not the internal creative process. I literally have to push them aside and declare that the story is important and through that lens the reviews can actually be helpful too. You can see where you’re unclear, perhaps.

The other obstacle is this desire to be flawless and perfect and being afraid to fail. That’s where writer’s block comes from. I have to tell myself all the time that failing is actually good. It can be embarrassing, but if it leads to getting better at something (which it will, unless you give up) then it’s exactly what you need. This desire to always look so composed and together is really toxic because what it does it keeps you from doing very much. A very small example in my life – back when I was in high school, I played on a basketball team and many of the boys would try to jump as high as they could and touch the rim. I was always nervous that the other guys would make fun of my jumping if I missed the rim, so I never even tried. They would all get better at jumping as the season progressed because by trying to touch the rim they were actually getting stronger and learning better technique. I never improved at all. It’s the same in creative pursuits.

Does your family support you in your writing, or are you on your own?

I’m very fortunate to have a wife and children who are very supportive of my writing. It’s a family value that we all share – we support each other in the arts, and believe that they’re vitally important. My parents always encouraged creative expression too.

What is the best compliment you’ve ever received as an author?

I respect my daughter’s tastes very much. She was one of the first to read my novel The Threat Below, and she said, “Daddy, I always knew you were smart, but I had no idea you were THIS smart.”

Have you ever had a particularly harsh critique? How did you handle it?

Oh my goodness, yes. I had one woman who just eviscerated my story and hated my main character. She didn’t keep her opinion to herself either. She lavished one star reviews as far and wide as she could – on her blog, on amazon, on goodreads, on barnesandnoble.com, even on some site for librarians that I didn’t even know existed! It can feel like a real slap in the face so I took a moment to breathe and ask myself if there was much to learn from what she was saying. There wasn’t in this case because she criticized many of the things that were in fact intentional and – at least in my eyes – crucial to the story I was trying to tell. She didn’t like that the villains ended up being victim themselves, and actually sympathetic, too, which was very much by design. She didn’t like that my main character was flawed and privileged and often blind to her entitlement, but again, that was an essential part of who she was and part of a long arc that I have planned. So I finally had to just shrug it off and admit that my story wasn’t for her. Which is really fine. I then went to Amazon and looked up a bunch of stories that I absolutely love – the Hunger Games, The Giver, etc – and read their one star reviews. They were far harsher than mine. If they can handle it, I have to be able to, too.

What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

I’m a rebel at heart so I really don’t like it when people force formulas and rigid rules on new writers. Teach those as guidelines, sure! But whenever someone tries to tell me that every story needs X, Y, and Z or every scene needs this or that it bothers me. The truth is they’re right in 90% of all cases and I can see that. But I feel like these ironclad rules are short-cutting people from going through their own try-and-fail process by imposing this ready made structure on new writers and we all miss out on truly creative stories because of it. For instance, the Martian had no antagonist, and no real inter-character conflict, and no true character arc. All three of those are terrible sins according to most writing gurus. But I’m so glad they didn’t force these elements onto that story, because we wouldn’t have gotten the delightful book we got if they did.

What do you enjoy doing aside from writing?

Exploring, finding new things to do, collecting memories, hiking, playing basketball, watching my son play basketball, trying new restaurants, watching TV and film and plays, reading books, listening to music, writing music, singing along to music, watching my daughter perform. Spending time with my family. Watching sports. I really really like doing a lot of things.

What is your writing process?

While I’m hiking, a million thoughts flow through my head. I don’t listen to music or anything because I appreciate the thoughts I have when it’s silent. I’ll have my phone with me and record them all as voice memos. Then at some point I’ll sit down and transcribe all these recordings – which is funny and embarrassing because I’m breathing heavily and sometimes my ideas are stupid and overall I sound ridiculous. But at the same time, sometimes there’s gold in there too.

Then I’ll outline with pen and paper. I can’t outline on the computer – typing is too linear and my outlines are more likes sketches or sculptures. They’re all over the page, swirling around with arrows and drawings and stars and notes.

Finally when I think I’ve got a loose idea of the story together in that sketching process, I’ll try to type it and give it more linear form. Then I’ll number all the different memos I’ve recorded and place them on the outline.

Then I’ll start writing! And once I’m finished a first draft, which I try to write without too much self judgment, I’ll set it aside for a week or two. Then I’ll read it out loud and make my own notes and changes. Then I’ll start having 2-3 other people reading it. And I’ll read it myself a bunch of times. And I’lll pay a professional editor too. Then I’ll try to cut every single word that isn’t helping and I’ll end up cutting the word count by 25%. This entire process keeps happening until finally I’m ready to say I’m done and it’s ready. The Threat Below was re-written 17 times.

Are you a pantser or outliner?

I’m an outliner but my outlines are loose enough that I know I’ll be pantsing my way through the whole thing. Often I’ll get to a part in the outline where I’ll say to myself, “Oh my goodness, what was I thinking, this character would never do or say that?!” That’s part of the story-learning process.

Do you write about real life experiences, or does everything come from your imagination?

Just about everything I write comes from both, and figuring out which parts are made up and which part was a real life experience is something I don’t even know if I could do! For instance, in the Threat Below the initial setting is the top of a very high mountain, where a small community hides behind a wall and all are forbidden from journeying down into the valley because whatever lives outside the walls of their safe community is dangerous and deadly. I thought I just made this up, but only after I finished the book did I realize this is an excellent metaphor for my own upbringing! I lived in a tight-knit religious community where the adults were all former hippies who had been burned and damaged by their pre-religious days and thus we were warned about the dangers of “the outside world” since birth. That’s the kind of mix I’m talking about.

Do you ever base your characters on people you know?

All the time I do as a starting point, but eventually the characters will evolve into their own distinct entities.

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