Below is an interview that I conducted with author J. R. Handley. I met J. R. here on WordPress and read about him on his website. It was after reading about him and his journey that I knew he was someone I wanted to talk to. You can find his blog here. J. R. Primarily writes military fiction.
What genre do you typically write? What drew you to that genre?
I write in the broader science fiction world, with a heavy leaning towards military science fiction. And I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy, but I found that science fiction was easier to write with my brain injury because I could use what I already knew. Plus, I read Star Wars novels as a kid and dreamed of being a Storm Trooper. I like the idea of a future where anything is possible for those who work hard enough, dream big enough and persevere through until the end.
Using writing to help manage your PTSD is something haven’t I heard of before. Was this just something that fell into place or a recommendation that turned into a passion?
In 2014 my shrink recommended I take a class about writing as therapy. If I remember correctly it was through the local NAMI group (National Alliance of Mental Illnesses). An English professor from one of the local colleges facilitated the class, and we were encouraged to pour our emotions onto paper. We were only told to start expressing ourselves in any way that felt safe. I used my experiences in Iraq, set in a futuristic environment (aka SciFi) because then it wasn’t my story, it was genre fiction. When I submitted it to the professor, she told me that the stories were good and I should look into publishing them somehow. I was shocked and told her I hadn’t lived enough life to be an author. She laughed at me, deep belly laughs. I remember her shaking her head before she could breathe enough to respond.
“You’ve been in two war zones, what more do you want?”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
I have a father with PTSD, and reading your story really struck me. It seems like writing can really benefit people with PTSD. Especially creating military situations with different outcomes than your actual experiences. You specifically write military science fiction, is this kind of a way of facing your internal demons in a controlled setting?
Yes, I wrote the military science fiction because I could process my issues in a safe environment. I’m upfront with the readers, this is my processing of my demons, and I just hope they enjoy the ride. The stories all have aspects of my own experiences and reflect my personal experiences running gun trucks on the MSRs (Main Supply Roads) of Iraq. I jokingly refer to them as the highways and die-ways of Mesopotamia, because we were ambushed so much. When I was there, IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) were king and ambushes were a fact of life. Further, the enemy we fought willingly used kids as soldiers, which went against my own American cultural upbringing. All of this led to me being pretty jacked up when I got home. I was drinking, getting into bar fights and generally not being the kind of person my family deserves. So when this therapy opportunity arrived, I jumped in feet first.
What drew you to publishing solely on Amazon?
I publish on Amazon because they’re the king, but I definitely try to stay current on all things bookish. But something like 66% of all book sales go through the Zon. When you combine eBook sales and their Kindle Unlimited program, it just made sense for me to be there. My contract gives that decision to the publisher, Human Legion Publications, but I wholeheartedly agreed with [Tim C. Taylor]’s decision. Should the Amazon only approach become an issue, a lot of other authors will be in the same place. If or when that happens, I can just adjust fire. I write for therapy, but I do publish to make a profit.
Do you have concerns about the Kindle Unlimited Page turns scams that have been in the news lately?
I’m aware of the issue, and it does worry me, but I try to keep my nose to the grindstone and hope for the best. I believe that the situation will eventually reach critical mass, forcing the marketplace to fix itself. Until then, I just wait and try and keep writing good books.
J.R. Handley is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team. I somehow missed that when I first contacted you. You’ve written a lot of books together. Has that helped you grow as a couple and understand each other more? Or has it been more like a shared hobby?
I believe that it has helped us communicate better, but that was already something we were working on within counseling. It hasn’t been easy on my family, but my wife and I are committed to the long haul. After 13 years we’re stuck with each other, so we talk it out and keep the business stuff to the appropriate time and place. But to be clear, I actually write the story, and she just edits out my aphasia issues. Basically, I often confuse my words and my wife takes the gibberish and translates it into something you can read. Afterwards, my mom edits it before we send it to our professional editors.
What struggles did you face writing your first books and how did that your later works?
Hmm, well I already mentioned my issues with word aphasia. I get words mixed up, and my family (wife and mother) go through the stories to fix it. They have to try and figure out, using the context, what I meant to say. We’ve got the same system that I started with, but my wife and mother have gotten better and fixing my wording issues. They’ve also gotten better on our internal grammar edits. I’m lucky that I have a formal education to fall back on so I can work around my head injury. Unfortunately, the writing that I was taught was for an academic setting, and that doesn’t translate very well to genre fiction. Together, my support system and I are developing cheat sheets on what to look for. Basically, what’s changed is our own internal policing that we can give the editors the best product possible.
Because of this setup, I must consider the topics I write about. I remember writing an intimate scene between characters in the [Demons of Kor-Lir] and let’s say it was an interesting experience. My mom sent me back a note that I still blush over. “I don’t know what you and your wife do together, but maybe you should practice more so you can fix this scene. Body mechanics matter!” Needless to say, I won’t be writing any bodice rippers with this support system.
What is your best tip for new authors?
Just write. You can’t edit a blank page, and editors exist for a reason. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. Just keep writing. Once you finish the manuscript, there is plenty of help out there. Facebook is a great resource for that, and if you have any questions you can reach out to me, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.
Do you have any authors that you would like to recommend readers take a look at?
Wow, there are so many great authors out there. If you’re looking for books on craft, check out Chris Fox, Joanna Penn, or Angela Ackerman. There are a ton of writer blogs as well, just be aware that not all advice is created equal. How many books have they written or edited? How successful were those books? Do they have the credentials to make you listen to the what they’re saying? It’s up to you to judge all of these things for yourself, but trust your gut. Also, I recommend finding a good writing mentor to point you in the right direction. See what I did there? Okay, maybe it’s time to switch to decaf. Who am I kidding? More coffee!!
Now, if you were asking about good science fiction, I think your Kindle will hate me! I loved the [Ember Wars Series] by [Richard Fox]. Another awesome military science fiction adventure is the [Galaxy’s Edge Universe] by [Jason Anspach and Nick Cole]. I can’t say enough nice things about this series, I even started a [fan club] for them on Facebook! The universe’s a solid military science fiction adventure, and I’ve loved it. For a mixing of the military science fiction and space opera, I recommend the [Empire of Bones Series] by [Terry Mixon]. Finally, if you enjoy mixing your fantasy and magic into your science fiction, then check out [Glynn Stewart] and [Justin Sloan]. I’ve got Justin’s [Shadow Corps] at the top of my TBR (to be read) pile. The cover teases me and makes me wonder what all the awesomeness is about.
What book/books are you or your wife reading right now?
We’re listening to [A Discovery of Witches] by [Deborah Harkness], which the wife picked for the time we’re driving around to her doctor’s appointments. It’s pretty good so far, but I’m not that deep in yet. I’m also listening to [Scott Bartlett]’s book [Meltdown] about mech suits and glorious explosions. I highly recommend them both, so go check them out! And remember, be kind and remember to leave a review!
What’s next for you, after you finish the Sleeping Legion series?
I’ve signed a super duper secret project with a classified publisher for a 60k novel, which I hope to finish by mid-December. Then I’ve signed a contract with [Chris Kennedy Publishing] for my Odera Chronicles, which should be fun. The premise got great reviews at HonorCon, and people seemed excited by the idea. Let’s just hope I can deliver!
You can find JR Hadley’s books on Amazon here.
If you’d like to help people with mental illnesses you can donate to NAMI here.
You can also find help if you have any mental illnesses yourself. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.