Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte
In this interview I talk to Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte, creator of multiple books in the post-apocalyptic fiction genre, including the Post-Apocalyptic Writing Guide, Days Too Dark and his most recent The Bastard’s Curse.
The Artist Interviews Project is part of an ongoing series of interviews with artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers and musicians, which examines the relationships, experiences, events and locations that may have contributed to a persons’ creativity. By exploring underlying motivations and inspirations we hope to learn more about the creative process.
Early Life Impressions
Most highly creative people are able to trace back their creative beginnings to certain points in their life. Here Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte gives some insights into those moments.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brisbane, Australia and I moved to the Sunshine Coast in my late teens. Both are pretty great places to live.
Describe a favorite place from your childhood that you can easily visualize? Now explain how this might have impacted your ability to write fiction?
Honestly, the place I think about the most from my childhood is where I set my book Days Too Dark, it’s one of the reasons I set it there. It’s my mate’s family home, they have a decent sized property out near the airport. While my family moved around a lot, they stayed in one place for our entire childhoods – so in a weird way, my mates house was my constant.
What era was your “coming of age” years?
Yeesh, that’s a hard one to pin down. I was born in ’85, if you want to put a number on it, but it’s kind of more complicated than that. I had to deal with some heavy shit as a kid so I had to grow up fast in a lot of areas, but at the same time that also meant I fell behind in a lot of others.
So to answer your question, I don’t really know?
What is your earliest childhood memory, that relates to your creativity or craft?
I never read as a kid; it was more oral storytelling. So, it was probably something to do with listening to adults tell me these stories about all the crazy things you can get up to in life.
Talk about a happy moment in your life that might have contribute to your creative talent.
I was working for this video game company and I was creating the story for this upcoming game, but management kept butting in and trying to change things. I kept trying to tell them that the ideas weren’t good, that they didn’t mesh with the overall story, but they were their ideas and they wanted them included. So I bailed, and swore never to write for anyone else ever again. I can work shitty day jobs to pay the rent, but my art will always be mine.
What was your first job?
My first job was as a car washer, it lasted three days. It didn’t influence my becoming a writer at all.
Interests and Influences
Creativity is born out of interests and influences in a persons’ life. This section digs deep with Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte to uncover some of those things.
What music do you listen to?
Usually Trailer music, it’s great for inspiration and to have playing in the background while you’re writing. It’s always been hard to explain to people because it’s only really become a thing in recent years. Before that I had to tell people that I listed to “soundtracks” from movies, and even that was considered a little strange.
What is your favorite movie? Why?
Michal Clayton, with George Clooney. I don’t know why, it’s just about this fixer who gets pulled into this whole big mess. It’s stuck with me though… and I have today off, so I’m going to watch it again.
What is your favorite book(s)?
The Road, because it’s 300 odd pages of bleak poetry.
Who is your favorite author(s)?
As a teen it was R.A. Salvatore, I just loved those fantasy novels with Drizzt Do’Urden. As an adult I’m sort of going through the greats, I loved most of Robert E. Howard and Hemingway’s works but now I also find myself reading a lot of Indie books.
Who would you consider your biggest inspiration?
My dad worked overseas a lot and he’d always come home and tell me stories about all the crazy shit he got up to. At the same time, he had dyslexia and couldn’t read or write well so he’d get me to transcribe emails for him. I used to hate it when he’d walk in the room and stop me from playing a game to write an email, but it brought me here.
What got you interested in becoming a writer?
It’s really uninspired. I did work in nightfill I ran into this guy who had just finished his Creative Writing degree and he convinced me to go to University.
Who is your favorite character, written by you or any other writer, from a book or movie? Please explain how you relate to that character and why they are important to you.
Tough question, but if we keep it Post-Apocalyptic then it’s Redridge from The Book of Eli. I did a write up on him, but basically he’s this background character, the villain’s right-hand man, but he’s given so much character development and his own little arc.
What do you fear most?
Why is that your greatest fear?
Haha just something that happened when I was a kid. I got over my issue with snakes, but Enya still weirds me out.
As for the real answer, I probably fear having such a shitty life that I wouldn’t mind the world ending. I just moved overseas, and I’m trying to set down some roots and build a life here. Friends, loved ones, that whole deal. You need those connections, otherwise… who cares if the zombies come along? You’ve got nothing to lose anyway!
World Building With Author JJ Shurte
World building is the staple of any good writer. Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte is no different and pulls back the curtain to discuss these topics in depth.
Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
Days Too Dark started out as a dream I had, and sort of grew from there. A common thing with my work that I’ve found is that I’ll have a lot of different ideas about things and just jot them down. Later on though, I’ll be working on something and I’ll pull together all these ideas together and make them work. This idea for a super soldier was a bit iffy in one project, so I pulled it from there and threw it into another project where it was more suited.
It’s a bit of a lengthy process but it makes for some interesting stories.
Many writers use pieces of their own life in the development of their characters. How do you feel about this practice?
Totally okay with it, I do it all the time. I did get a bit sick of it constantly popping up though because I kept writing about the same sort of thing for a while. So, Days Too Dark was my attempt to get it all out once and for all so I could move on to other things.
With that in mind though, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t turn yourself into a Mary Sue. You need to be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, even more so than you would be with totally fictional characters.
How much real life do you put into your stories?
Well, Days Too Dark is a fictional autobiography so there’s a hell of a lot of me in there. And I pull stories from real life all the time, and friends and family have found their own stories altered and embedded in my works.
Also, if someone has done something I’m against, then I damn well let the whole world know it in fiction. There are some pieces of shit in this world and it’s messed up how they get away with some of the things they do. Now, I could go all revenge rampage and ruin their lives, and mine, or I can subtly let the world know what they did by immortalizing it in print.
How do you transform from a daily worker bee, into a creative machine that can string hundreds of words together to tell a story?
It’s been hard with this new job. I teach English in Taiwan and so I’ve usually got 10 hour days. It usually revolves around getting up early and making sure that my writing gets the best of me.
Why did you choose the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction to write about? What draws you to apocalyptic stories?
My dad showed me Mad Max 2 when I was like, four, or something. Scarred me for life. Then my cousin showed me Resident Evil 2 when I was 11, scarred for life a second time.
As a reader, I like the vibe that it has. Things can be shit, but you can make it through if you work hard enough. Although, with that in mind, there are some situations that are untenable and you’re just screwed. I love the honesty of it.
As a creator, I love the extra background you get when you create a Post-Apocalyptic story. In a normal story you’ve got the plot, setting and characters. But in a Post-Apocalyptic story they all get split up between the before and the after. What was the world like before it ended, what’s it like now? Who were the characters before the world ended, who are they now? The change can be radical, which gives you a lot more to work with.
How does Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte think the world will end?
It’ll be swallowed by the sun, eventually. But if you mean for us, then there’s a few distinct possibilities that are ahead of the pack. Any sort of pandemic is a real concern, since by fighting those sorts of things we inevitably make them evolve into bigger and badder versions. An economic collapses is always a possibility, especially with automation on the horizon. Global warming is going to mess things up as well.
I think the main issue here is that it’s never going to be just one thing, it’s going to be a Cascading Effect. Running out of oil causes food shortages with causes food riots, but it also means people can’t get to work which causes an economic collapse, both of which cause a refugee crisis as nations break down.
Or maybe we’ll be fine, who the hell knows?
What do you consider to be the greatest threat to human life on Earth?
Humanity is the greatest threat on Earth? Is that because of nukes, overpopulation, global warming, or just general stupidity or something else?
Not even in a pessimistic sense of, “oh, humans suck.” It’s more to do with the fact that there’s nothing out there that can be as much a threat to anything. We’ve got technology that could end the world right now, and you talk to some people in the military and you wet yourself when you hear how lax the systems around those existential threats are.
There may be some random event, like how the dinosaurs died – but how do you even put a percentage on that? Aliens? Maybe, but they’re probably too far away. In all likelihood, if it were to all come crashing down, it’s most likely going to be because we did something stupid, or didn’t do something smart.
“Whoops, accidentally invented Skynet.”
“Dang, should’ve listened to those scientists about global warming.”
That sort of thing.
Your Book Days Too Dark has many fantastic illustrations. Were those drawn by you?
No, but that’s something that I’ve been looking at getting into while I’m over here. I’d like to expand my skillset into another creative field. I considered getting into painting Warhammer/40k models but that gets expensive, and honestly I’m not a real big fan of the setting.
Anyway, most of the artwork from Days Too Dark was done by @Weilard, a mate of mine from Russia. This dude is keen for anything Post-Apocalyptic, and if you like artwork then he’s your go-to guy. He’s in high demand though, he’s currently working on a Science Fiction/Post-Apocalyptic video game.
Connecting With Readers
Many writers, artists and creative people are willing to connect with their audience. In this segment I discuss how Post-Apocalyptic Author JJ Shurte specifically connects with his readers.
How do you feel about social media? You and I first met on Twitter and have had a few interactions there, but do you use any other platforms to connect with your audience?
I like to connect with people who have similar interests on Twitter, and I use Facebook for friends and family while Instagram is just for pics of things I’m into. I’ve also got a blog where I write about all things Post-Apocalyptic and storytelling related.
Besides your books and your website, you also write for another website. Please talk about this experience and how it helps your writing career.
I write for Post-Apocalyptic Media as a guest writer, but I try not to push that too often. I tend to get in arguments with people, I’ve got pretty strong opinions on the creative method and storytelling. I hate it when people are lazy or take the easy way out with their work, and I’m an absolute bastard when it comes to critique because that’s what I want in return.
As an example, I’ve got a running Twitter feud with the creators of the Van Helsing tv show because I’m pretty critical of their work. Which isn’t real good for a website that focuses on Post-Apocalyptic shows. So, I try to quarantine myself so as to not do them any damage.
If you could write for any website or print publication, paid or not, which one would you like and why?
I don’t really know; I’ve never thought about it. It’s not something I’ve ever really aimed for because I don’t really like the idea of writing for others. PAM let’s me write whatever I want and they choose to take it or not, so that works. Others might not be so open or hands off, so I’ve never really gunned to write for a website before.
As long as the website focuses on the Post-Apocalyptic genre, then I guess I’d be fine with writing for anyone. Hit me up if you fit the bill, we can work something out!
I think it’s fantastic you offer your books for free, in exchange for an honest review. What gave you this idea, and how has it helped grow your audience?
Reviews are all that matter in the Indie market, they’re the social proof that your content isn’t shit. And they’re impossible to get so people know that they’re worth something. I’ve given away books for free and asked for reviews, only to have people say they loved the book but then never given a review. It’s disheartening, but you do remember who helped you out and when they come knocking you help them out as well.
What other methods of connecting with people, do you engage in, to increase your readership?
Interviews like this are great, and going on podcasts helps too. Just connecting with people with similar interests is a good way to go about things, you get a community around you and that’s your base.
How can people find out more about you, and if they want to how can they connect with you?
What are you currently working on that readers might be interested in learning more about, and when can we expect to see it released?
I’m currently working on this Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraftian short stories, they’re very much random because I love the idea of letting the Twitter Tribe chose what sorts of characters to explore. This next one is going to be the most horrific thing I’ve ever written and I will explicitly ask people not to buy it, after that it’s a bit less likely to make you queasy but we’ll see. People seem to like to pick weird and twisted protagonists, so blame the tribe haha.
As for big projects, I’m working on the last book in a trilogy. It’s Post-Apocalyptic but in a weird way, because anything to do with a PA scenario where Reality itself ends is inevitably hard to handle, so I’m trying something strange in the hopes that it pays off. Who knows? The first one is polished, the 2nd book is in 2nd draft and the 3rd is being written, so I’ll have all three out by years end.
After that, there’s a plan but it’s a while off. I’ll keep everyone posted though!