A visual and musical experience that captures stories in a city dump where over 14,000 families live in the Philippines. On our adventure we discovered children who were overcoming unbeatable odds as we were challenged to ask ourselves, “What would happen if we accepted the greatest invitation in history?”
What inspired you to write? And what was the inspiration for this book?
From an early age, I’ve been captured by stories that left me turning the page. The first book I remember reading cover to cover was Treasure Island. At eight years old, those few days I spent in my room lost in a world of adventure, suspense, and mystery left me with the dream of one day becoming a storyteller. At the time I wasn’t sure how that would become a reality.
After a decade in the music business, and the rise of iTunes, I found myself transitioning in a new career as I stood on the set of a new TV series as an Executive Producer and Director. Another decade passed as I produced hundreds of TV episodes, still searching and dreaming of the perfect story to write.
After a year of writing late at night I sent a draft of my first novel to a friend in the TV industry with the disclaimer, “If it’s not any good, the only two people who’ll know about it is you and me.” Within a few days she called with a thumbs up and that began the search for an agent and a publisher. When The Disillusioned was released it captured what I’ve defined as a “cause-driven” novel. Throughout the pages of the story the adventure takes the main characters into the heart of Africa and the trafficking trade. I was fortunate enough to do a 15-city book tour with Barnes and Noble, and realized I was hooked. I needed to write the next story.
In my second novel, Waking Lazarus, I raised the stakes. I couldn’t simply follow the template I’d created in The Disillusioned. So, I returned to my roots, to a story I heard from an early age about a controversial evangelist from the 1920’s. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with a family friend who was in his nineties as he shared with me how her life shaped the history of Los Angeles. I didn’t want to write a biography, so I created a character based off of this real life celebrity figure.
As the story unfolds, readers will find themselves following two mysteries, one from the 1920’s and one present day that are on a collision course. What was exciting about the writing process was that I could live in two worlds, and create a storyline that spanned nearly a century. And, for those who read The Disillusioned, they’ll find themselves in a parallel timeline between both books but with all different characters and a standalone storyline. My plan in the third book of the Guardian Novels is for those characters and storylines from the first to books to crossover. I guess you could stay it’s part of my master plan!
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Due to my TV production schedule, my writing schedule is a bit more fluid than regimented. I find that my most productive time is writing late at night, or on the weekends. If I find myself on a roll I might carve out a few more hours during the day. Sometimes the writing goes smoothly, and other times I end up rewriting what I’d done the night before. It’s all part of the chase, the adventure of discovering the world for yourself.
I know that many authors outline each chapter, and spend weeks or months on character development and storylines. For me, what has worked is to know where my story begins and where it ends. What happens in between is part of the discovery. So, I don’t outline. Honestly, I found that when I tried this for myself I spent more time working on my outline than I did writing. It took the excitement and fun out of the writing process.
I want to be on the edge of my seat, wondering how I’m going to squeeze out of an impossible situation, so that it translates to readers. I think the most important point is that you find the right routine that enables you to maximize your writing. It might be a few hours a night, or spending a few days away. I’ve done both and have found that depending on where I am in the story it looks different.
How long does it take to write a book?
I’d say anywhere from 8-12 months. I’m not a fast writer, mainly because I spend a lot of time envisioning the scene in a chapter before I sit down to write. I guess some might say that’s daydreaming not writing, but I’ve found that if I can picture the scene in a chapter playing itself out then I’m able to capture it more powerfully in words.
My plan going into a novel is to get a first draft writing within 4-6 months. Then I take a month off from reading, writing, or even thinking about the book. You need that perspective before you dive back in for a second draft. Typically, the second draft will take another 1-2 months. I follow the same routine and take a break for another month. Then I do my final revisions before sending it out to my editor. That process takes about a month or so. When I get the edits back from my editor, I take a deep breathe from all the red marks, and dive back into the final draft.
One note on my writing schedule: When a book is sitting for a month or is with my editor, I’m already working on the idea for the next book. I think it’s important to have a stable of ideas brewing so that you’re constantly growing as a storyteller.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When I’m not in production on a TV series, or if I’m taking a break from writing, I enjoy binge watching movies, catching the next NBA game, and driving along the coast in Malibu to unwind. One of my favorite things to do is hike Point Dume with my wife and watch the whales and dolphins as they swim near the beach.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Writing is a journey that leads us into the valleys as we strive to climb the mountain. I would say for any writer the challenge is to live out the 3 P’s: Passion. Purpose. Productivity. Passion is what gives you the endurance to keep going. If you love to write, then you write whether you become a bestselling author or not. It’s part of your DNA. It’s something you’ll do no matter who might end up reading your creation. But passion without purpose leaves you without clear goals or direction. Know where you want to end up in six months, a year, or five years from now. Know what drives your passion for writing. Know the genre where you want to build an audience. Passion and defining your purpose allows your writing to become more productive. Set a writing schedule to start and finish your novel, and then do it! Finishing a novel is the hardest part of the journey. But with each story you finish, you’ll discover what makes your writing and storytelling unique.
Do you have an interesting writing quirk? If so what is it?
With each novel, I create a music playlist that consists of soundtracks from various movies that I feel capture the tone of the story. Depending on what chapter I’m writing, I’ll put certain tracks on repeat so that the mood of the music helps me translate the scene I’m putting on paper.
With my latest novel, Waking Lazarus, I went a step further by bringing in a composer friend who composed a full soundtrack to go along with the book. I’d never seen this done before with a novel, other than those books that were made into feature films. So, with Waking Lazarus you can listen to the soundtrack that fits each of the chapters you’re reading. And we did it in such a way that it doesn’t matter if your a fast reader or a slow reader. You simply put the tracks on repeat depending on which chapter your reading and it fits the scenes in those chapters.
What is the last book you read?
The Whistler by John Grisham.
Who is/are your favorite author(s)?
Michael Connelly. John Grisham. James Patterson. David Baldacci. Brad Meltzer. Daniel Silva. J.K. Rowling. And the list goes on!
What is/are your favorite book(s)?
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. The Testament by John Grisham.
After all of your hard work, what does it feel like to be a published author?
For me, it’s more about the chase than being a published author. I feel that if you have a strong enough story there are avenues for you to get that story out. Traditional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers. The Martian is one example. So, I keep my focus on chasing characters, twists and turns, mystery, suspense, and an adventure that unleashes an unexpected plot.
The big unknown is always whether readers will go on the chase with you. That’s the challenge when you’re writing by yourself for months at a time not knowing if the story is going to jump off the page for readers. But I think with each novel that sense of fear fuels an excitement to chase the next story. And I would add, that publishing is constantly changing. If you’re a writer who has written a story you want the world to read, but you haven’t been able to crack the code with a traditional publisher, then I’d say look at ways to indie publish. As we’ve seen in recent years, indie publishing is a valid alternative to traditional publishing and can be the first step toward building an audience who will follow you for years to come.
I’m excited to have been invited as a keynote speaker, as well as teaching a continuing session for the upcoming Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in Estes Park.
Here’s what I’ll be sharing:
Second Act: Storytelling that Inspires Change (Keynote)
Is the story you desire to write moving you toward inspiring change? The second act in any story is where the main character gets in over his head, is pushed to innovate, to move forward in faith, and to act decisively so the story has a greater purpose. When an elephant charged his safari convoy in Africa, Executive Producer and Author D.J. Williams experienced split seconds of pure clarity about God’s calling on his life: to pursue God’s plan to share stories of the forgotten through social issues that inspire true change. D.J.’s story of faith in the jungles of the Amazon, the bush of Africa, and the slums of the Far East will inspire you to seek out God’s plan and purpose for your life, and move you toward becoming a storyteller who inspires others to embrace the pursuit of social causes in a world desperately in need of the Gospel.
The Chase (Continuing Session)
A 5-part interactive workshop that dives into the structure that moves novelists and screenwriters to write stories that make a difference in the world. By the end of the workshop writer’s will have created a roadmap to chase their cause-driven novel.
Session 1: Defining Passion, Shaping Habits, Harnessing Raw Ideas
Session 2: Developing Plot, Timelines for Research, Flexible Outlines
Session 3: Creating a World with Characters that are Believable
Session 4: Building Visual Chapters and Dialogue filled with Mystery & Suspense
Session 5: Going Beyond the Last Page
Who are your influences?
My biggest influences are John Grisham, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson. Each one for different reasons. With Grisham, I enjoy the variety of stories he weaves into his books. With Connelly, it’s the way he develops his characters in such a way that they can grow throughout a series of novels. And Patterson, for his style of writing each chapter as if it were a scene in a move. With my background as an Executive Producer and Director, I find that my writing style is a mix of all three.
When did you begin writing?
I remember when I was eight years old picking up a copy of Treasure Island, and then spending the next two or three days lost in the story. I didn’t know then that my passion was writing, but I did know that story telling was in my veins. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I sat down and decided to write my first novel, The Disillusioned. I finished the manuscript without telling a soul what I had done. Then I shared it with a few friends to get their honest opinion, and went through the painstaking process of finding an agent and publisher. In fact, my wife didn’t read the book until I received my author copies from the publisher. After finishing a 15-city book signing tour with Barnes & Noble, I’ve been humbled by the response of the story. My hope is that Waking Lazarus will build on the characters and story while growing an audience who enjoys the series.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc.?
I’ve tried several different methods. Sitting down and outlining every chapter, character development, and a long list of story ideas. What I discovered about myself was that I could spend all of my time doing this and never write a single word. So my style is to begin with a main character, decide on the POV, and the beginning of a story. Then I write, and write, and write until the story begins to take shape. I push through a first draft, and then rewrite. During the rewrite I look for the characters that stand out, the story lines that are the most interesting, and then add another layer to the overall book that keeps readers guessing.
If you could actually meet one of your characters, who would it be? Why?
I think the one character would be Stella Adams. In The Disillusioned, she was the mystery, and the payoff of finding her has fueled what I have planned in the rest of the Guardian novels. She’s someone who is willing to put it all on the line for justice. I only hope that I could be half as brave as she is in the story.
Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
My philosophy on writing is that I want my stories to make a difference, to cause readers to think about the world around them in a different way. While some authors write for pure entertainment, I believe there is an underlying message in my books that goes deeper than an action adventure or suspense novel. At least that’s my hope. I figure if I’m going to spend 6-8 months writing then I want there to be purpose behind it. In The Disillusioned, it was to raise awareness about human trafficking. And now in Waking Lazarus, it is a deeper look into good versus evil, and how those lines are often times hard to define in the world we live in.
Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
Honestly, I don’t think about what genre I’m writing. I think more about the characters and how the story unfolds. In the future, I’m sure I’ll write stories that are outside of the mystery/action adventure genre, but for now that’s what keeps me writing. I’ve got big plans for the Guardian novels that will keep me busy for the next few years.
Do you listen to music as you write?
Yes. I always write with a soundtrack blasting in my ears. It helps me to focus, to grab the emotion in a scene, and the imagine what it is I’m trying to reveal. In fact, with Waking Lazarus we’re taking it a step further. We’ve actually recorded a soundtrack that will accompany the book. I haven’t seen this done before and am so excited for readers to have this as an enhancement to their reading experience.
I sat across from Michael Connelly’s agent and wondered how I ended up there. To say that Connelly was an influence in my pursuit to be a storyteller would be an understatement. Along with Grisham and Patterson, he is in the top three of my favorite authors. Connelly’s agent had read my first novel, The Disillusioned, or at least enough of it to request a meeting. I listened as he shared how they had built Connelly’s career culminating with finalizing the Amazon deal for Bosch. I shared with him a story idea that had been resonating for a few years and knew from his response that I had something unique.
Go behind the scenes as we share about the journey to bring the next novel in the Guardian series to life both on the page and beyond. In this clip, Jené Nicole Johnson talks about the challenges of creating the soundtrack.
After the June 3rd release, I’ll share more about writing the story, and what’s next in the Guardian series. For now, I’m trying hard to keep quiet and not give away any spoilers!
Note: If you’re going to the release event, no need to pre-order your copy. You’ll be the first to get the book in your hands that night.