Recently, I got to interview Jeff Norton, author of such books as Alienated, Looking Glass, and MetaWars.
Jeff Norton is an author, writer-producer, and founder of AWESOME. He creates compelling characters, amazing stories, and immersive worlds for all ages, in all media. He is the author of the high-tech thriller MetaWars series from Hachette, Memoirs Of A Neurotic Zombie from Faber, and the upcoming Stomp School picture book series from Little Tiger Press. He also creates and co-writes with other talented authors, such as the best-selling Princess Ponies series with Julie Sykes (under the name Chloe Ryder) for Bloomsbury and the young adult novel Drummer Girl with Bridget Tyler.
Jeff is an Executive Producer of the pre-school television show Trucktown based on Jon Scieszka’s best-selling books. Through his production company, AWESOME, Jeff is developing a slate of high-concept television shows for kids and adults.
Why did you start writing? How long have you been writing?
I always enjoyed creative writing in high school, but I came very late to it as a profession. I never gave myself permission to pursue it seriously, and there was no Wattpad when I was a teenager. I worked for years helping other people with their creativity across film, TV, and books and finally I decided I wanted to flex my own creative muscles. That was in 2010 and I wrote a book called MetaWars, which was published by Hachette and spurred three sequels. And I haven’t stopped since!
What type of genre do you write?
I have a special fondness for elevated genre, that is, taking a genre you think you know and putting a twist on it. Alienated for example, which you can read on Wattpad ahead of its paperback publication, is a mash-up for science fiction and high school comedy. Looking Glass, which is my first adult novel, combines a Victorian era mystery with the origin story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank or acknowledge?
Wow, how long do you have? But the person I need to thank the most is my awesome wife, Sidonie. She’s been amazingly supportive in encouraging me to pursue writing as both a passion and a profession.
Do you consider yourself a writer or an author? Why?
I consider myself a creator. Sometimes I write books, sometimes I write screenplays (I have two spec screenplays that are in development for TV), and sometimes I come up with an idea and look for a collaborator. For example, I created a book series called Princess Ponies, which despite the pink & sparkly covers are ass-kicking swashbuckling tales for school-aged girls (and boys!). Those books I work with a partner called Julie Sykes, and we publish under the pen-name Chloe Ryder. So long as I’m creating, and moving creative projects forward to readers and audiences, I’m happy.
Who’s your favorite author? What’s your favorite genre? What’s your favorite story/book?
My favourite author is Margaret Atwood. I’ve been a life-long fan, well before her recent bump in fame with Handmaid’s Tale. She’s Canadian, and I’ve met her a number of times, and what I love about her work is that she writes genre fiction that is so elevated and literary you get the best of all worlds. I also have a fondness for the storytelling of Stephen King. My favourite book, however, is The Great Gatsby. When I cooked up Keeping The Beat with Marie Powell, Gatsby was very much an inspiration for that story.
How did you get people to know about your stories/books? (i.e. promotion methods)
I don’t know that I do a great job of that, to be honest. I spend so much time writing & creating that I probably neglect the marketing/promotion side of things to my detriment. When my books are published by big publishers, they do have talented marketing and PR people. I try to stay active on Twitter, which is mostly for fun, and I joined Wattpad to share stories before they were published.
How do you judge if you are successful?
That’s an existential question if ever I heard one! For me, my goal is to craft someone’s favourite story. Ideally, I’d have lots and lots of people think that something I create is their favourite.
How did you find Wattpad? Why Wattpad over other sites? Are you on other writing sites?
Margaret Atwood told me to join! She’s an investor in it and I met her at an event and we were talking about how long it takes to get a book published and she told me about this incredible sounding platform where you can share stories and get feedback instantly. It sounded like fun, so I joined. I’ve had a blast sharing work on Wattpad and meeting great people, like you!
Have you been published, such as self-published or through a publishing house? If so where can people find you books?
I haven’t self-published any books, mostly because I don’t really know how. My books are published by major publishers like Bloomsbury, Hachette, and Faber, and I’m on Barnes & Noble and on Amazon at: amazon.com/author/jeffnorton
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I just write through it. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I just believe in working the problem and keeping going.
What is your proudest moment as a writer?
My proudest moment by far was meeting a young teenager who told me that MetaWars was his favourite book.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I’m inspired by so many things, and often it’s a logical leap of something that’s happening in the world. MetaWars came from an observation about people spending more time online than in the real world. Alienated is a throw-back to my own high school life. Keeping The Beat is inspired by my time in Hollywood. Looking Glass comes from a desire to understand the creative process. Star Pressed, which is also on Wattpad, was inspired by a sense of wanting to tell a story about a different type of family.
What book/story has been the most fun to write? Which was the least fun to write?
The most fun I’ve had writing is Memoris Of A Neurotic Zombie because the book is so much about Adam Meltzer’s voice, and he is such a real character to me.
What character would you want to be and/or what world would you want to live in?
The great thing is that I don’t have to choose! Being a writer means I inhabit these characters and live in their worlds. The world of MetaWars is dystopian and terrifying, but a heck of a lot of fun to inhabit for a few years.
Imagine you could do anything you wanted—“in the real world” (you had enough money, time, etc), what would you do?
I wouldn’t do too much differently, but I suppose if I had more finance I would work to adapt my stories to the screen in a faster way. I am very lucky that several of them are with amazing producers and we’re working very hard on raising the finances necessary to make the leap from page to screen. But that’s a long process and I’d love to short cut it somehow.
What advice do you have for other (or new) writers?
Just write. And start early. I wish I’d started putting pen to paper much earlier in my life. I always tell folks to just get a page or two done a day. It adds up very quickly!
What advice do you have for other (or new) writers on Wattpad?
I feel like I’m still figuring out how to best use the platform, so I’m open to tips in fact! But, with all social media, I’d ask people to be nice and be themselves. Most people are fundamentally good and sadly there’s a few bad apples out there who use social media to troll. Writing is so personal and exposing, that we need to be kind to each other and encourage one another to share our stories.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to thank you so much, Joe for the thoughtful questions and for your support and comments on Wattpad. And to wish you well with your own writing!!
Thank you Jeff for taking the time for this interview. It was nice learning more about you. Good luck in your future endeavors.
Jeff Norton can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and PopJam under @thejeffnorton.