Author Q&A

  1. Other than an author, who are you Joel Ohman?

My name is Joel Ohman, I am 34 years old, married to my best friend, Angela, and we have 3 kids, ages 6, 4, and 2 (so, yeah, I write with headphones on…). My writing companion is my 130 lb Bull Mastiff, Caesar (who’s asleep on the job most of the time, to be honest). I am a Christian who likes to talk about the good news of Jesus Christ – I do volunteer work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and also with my church in Tampa, Idlewild Baptist Church. I am a serial entrepreneur: I have founded a number of different startups in the web space. I am currently the President & CEO of 360 Quote LLC and Real Time Health Quotes LLC – we own a lot of different web properties, one of the most popular ones being our workout website/iOS App/Android App

  1. What books and authors, past or present, have inspired you to write?

I read a LOT so there are many different things that have shaped my writing over the years (you can follow me on GoodReads here!), but I wouldn’t say there was any particular book, or books, that I was consciously looking to for inspiration while writing Meritropolis. For the craft of storytelling, I have learned a lot from John Truby and his book, The Anatomy of Story. I can also see different threads of influence in almost everything I have read over the years that contribute to make Meritropolis what it is as well: the strong protagonist of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, the philosophical bent of C.S. Lewis’ fiction, the dystopian setting of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series, and many more.

  1. If anything, what are you currently reading, or what was the last thing you read other than your work?

I am constantly in the middle of about 15-20 different books. I read for an hour or two every day and I try to read a wide variety of genres and authors, both fiction and non-fiction. You can check out what I am currently reading and follow me on GoodReads here!

  1. Do you listen to music while you write, and if so what kinds of music and which artists do you enjoy.

I almost always listen to music while I write (especially because there are often screaming kids and dogs running around my house!). Usually its a playlist of the same song or group of songs over and over again because it allows me to kind of zone in on what I am doing. Here is a link to the Spotify playlist of music that specifically inspired Meritropolis (each of these songs were among the songs I would listen to on repeat while writing Meritropolis):

  1. In “Meritropolis,“ how were the animal combinations decided upon? For example, I know you chose to write about a bion (bull-lion), as well as many other freaks of nature, but how did you decide which animals to meld together? And why?

I have a big list of animal combinations that I came up with before I began writing the book, and I tried to work in as many as I could. Sometimes the only criteria was that I liked the way the name sounded. Look for many more in the following books!

  1. Who illustrated the animal combinations that are featured before each chapter?

Rachel Crafton is a friend of mine who is a very talented artist. She did each of the 17 different animal combination illustrations (one for each of the 17 chapters in Meritropolis):

Chapter #1: “Dreams of Revenge” Bion (Bull-Lion)

Chapter #2: “The Gates” Scorpicon (Scorpion-Falcon)

Chapter #3: “The Gate Ceremony” Tigon (Tiger-Lion)

Chapter #4: “Preparation” Crant (Crow-Ant)

Chapter #5: “Alive” Rotthog (Rottweiler-Hog)

Chapter #6: “The Real World” Lanther (Lion-Panther)

Chapter #7: “The System is Always Right” Chimpanzelle (Chimp-Gazelle)

Chapter #8: “Bions, and Ligers, and Zorses—Oh My!” Liger (Lion-Tiger)

Chapter #9: “The Plan” Slox (Slug-Ox)

Chapter #10: “The Tower” Squostrich (Squid-Ostrich)

Chapter #11: “Human Farm” Festrel (Ferret-Kestrel)

Chapter #12: “Stars” Gobster (Goose-Lobster)

Chapter #13: “Rampage” Manateel (Manatee-Eel)

Chapter #14: “Prison” Snick (Snipe-Tick)

Chapter #15: “Riot” Muffalo (Mule-Buffalo)

Chapter #16: “Revolution” Rama (Ram-Puma)

Chapter #17: “Invaders” Gulture (Gecko-Vulture)

My three favorites are probably the Festrel, the Chimpanzelle, and the Gulture. 

  1. What or who was your inspiration to write about post-apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi?

I’ve read a lot in this genre so I would say its a mix of a lot of different things. I really just wanted to explore this question of, “What gives a person their worth?” Is it their usefulness to society? Is it because someone loves them? Is it because of how they look? Is it because of their health or ability? As a Christian, I believe that everyone has worth because they are made in the image of God so I wanted to explore some different takes on this question. I think that the post-apocalyptic/dystopian/scifi-ish genre was the best vehicle to tackle some of those deep philosophical questions in a fun and interesting way.

  1. What projects are you currently working on? Include things other than literary as well.

The next writing project is book #3 for Meritropolis (you can buy books #1 and #2 on Amazon here!). Other than that, I own a number of different businesses, so we always have new and interesting projects in various stages of development. We are currently building out a 90 seat call center in a commercial building we recently purchased in Daytona Beach. One fun project is our workout website/iOS App/Android App: – which I love and personally “dog food” almost every day by logging workouts in the gym when I workout!

  1. Can we expect to read more about Charley, Sven, Grigor, and the rest of your wonderful characters?!?!?

Yes! I am busy at work writing this series!

  1. Are your characters named or formulated personality wise from anyone in real life, or are they purely works of fiction?

Purely works of fiction. At least that is what I tell everyone… 🙂

  1. Why the title Meritropolis?

I wanted a short one word title that was a clever, or at least semi-clever, play on two different words. I like “Meritropolis” because it combines “Merit” and “Metropolis,” two words that are great for describing a city where each resident’s worth is measured by a score given to them.

  1. Can you tells us about your characters and who/what inspired them?

I am a big believer in John Truby’s approach to building a “character web” as I think that this deepens the relationships and helps to make each of the characters more complex. Absent building a good character web, it can be all too easy to fall into the not-very-true-to-real-life good-person/bad-person false dichotomy where your protagonist devolves into this I-can-do-no-wrong character and your antagonist is just pure evil. I was very much aiming to show the imperfections and brokenness in each of the characters. My thinking as a Christian influences this to some degree, given that the Bible teaches that we are all essentially the same; we are all sinners – only God is perfect.

  1. What was the easiest part about writing Meritropolis? The hardest?

This was my first book, so I would say that the entire process was maybe a little harder than I anticipated. I worked with some fantastic editors though, so I learned a lot as I went along, and I think it became easier and easier as I went along.

  1. Who designed the book cover? Why this design?

Nik Keevil designed the cover. He did a fantastic job, and has designed covers for the new Lord of the Rings box set, Bernard Cornwell, Diana Gabaldon, and many other outstanding authors. It was a great privilege to have him working on this project with me.

  1. In what formats can potential buyers get your book?

Kindle eBook, paperback, and audiobook on Amazon:

  1. What are your views on marketing your book through social media such as Twitter or Facebook?

I believe that social media can be an effective marketing technique if done the right way. The key is that social media is primarily about building relationships and about delivering something of value. We all know those Facebook friends who incessantly clog up our newsfeeds with pleas to join their health & wellness MLM – don’t be that kind of author! That being said, I do think that Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, etc. can be a great way to meet other readers and authors and discuss fun and interesting things. Hopefully that will lead to more exposure and more book sales, but coming across as too salesy or pushy is something that I definitely aim to stay away from.

  1. What about a book trailer, do you have one or do you plan on having one made for Meritropolis?

No, I don’t have plans to do a book trailer at this point.

  1. What are your ambitions for your writing career?

My focus now is on marketing Meritropolis and then writing book #2.

  1. What all have you written so far?

Meritropolis is my first book and Meritorium is my second book; book #3 in the series, Meritopia, is coming soon!

  1. Most surprising thing you learned while writing?

One of the most important things I learned, maybe not all that surprising, but definitely important, is the value of an editor. I worked with three different editors while writing Meritropolis. Each of them provided extremely valuable feedback and advice that was instrumental at various stages of the book writing process. The book that is available for purchase now is a much better book than it would have been without the expertise of my editorial team.

  1. Are you working on anything new currently?

My next project is book #3 in the Meritropolis series and then I also have a number of other books in various stages of development.

  1. Do you have a preference for how you get your writing done? (Typewriter, longhand, computer, dictate, etc.)

I wrote most of Meritropolis on my MacBook Air, and then I upgraded to a MacBook Pro with Retina display, and I love it.

  1. Do you plot your books? Or do you just sit down and write what comes to you?

I sketch out a very rough outline, and then I just start writing. Things often deviate, sometimes wildly, from the outline, and I think that usually ends up being a good thing. I do however try to follow a little bit of John Truby’s method from his book, The Anatomy of Story.

  1. Any strange habits for when you write?

Nothing too strange. I always sit in a chair with my feet up, one pillow on each side of me to rest each elbow on, and one pillow on my lap to rest my laptop.

  1. What are your thoughts on getting bad reviews?

Everyone has different tastes in what they like to read, so I don’t let bad reviews bother me too much. No matter what your favorite book is, you can almost be guaranteed that it will have many bad reviews on Amazon from people who just didn’t get out of it what you did – that’s

fine. I do try to stay objective and see if there might be something I can learn from the criticism to become a better writer, if not, then I just move on and don’t worry about them.

  1. Are there any books that have inspired you any time while you’ve been writing?

I read a LOT so there are many different things that have shaped my writing over the years, but I wouldn’t say there was any particular book, or books, that I was consciously looking to for inspiration while writing Meritropolis. Looking back though I can definitely see different threads of influence in almost everything I have read over the years that contribute to make Meritropolis what it is: the strong protagonist of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, the philosophical bent of C.S. Lewis’ fiction, the dystopian setting of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series, and many more.

  1. Why do you write? Is it for fun, or because you have something you need to say in your writing?

Some writers are loath to say that their writing has a message, because maybe they think that to say that means that their art is somehow diminished (not true, in my opinion) but I think that everyone has a message in their writing, even if they aren’t as consciously focused on it, or will admit it, and that’s a good thing. My message is in my epigraph for Meritropolis: “Because everyone matters – Psalm 139”

  1. Do you prefer ebooks or traditional paperback/hardback?

I never thought I would say this, but I now totally prefer eBooks over paperback/hardback. I definitely prefer to read on my iPad Air using the Kindle app. I love that I can carry my entire library on my iPad, I can hold the iPad with one hand (so I can eat while I read!), and so I don’t have to add any more huge bins to my garage that are full of books!

  1. Are there any authors that have emerged in the last three years that have caught your interest because of their books?

Hugh Howey is an author that I really like that has caught my attention lately. I would highly recommend his WOOL series!

  1. Are the names of the characters important? Or do you just choose some that you like and think will fit?

I am not very Dickensian in my character-naming – usually its just kind of choosing a name that I think will fit because of the way it sounds. One mistake I think that some authors make is that they either A) make their names too hard to pronounce/too unusual/too just plain obscure or weird that it’s almost distracting to the reader and B) they make too many of their character names sound quite similar and that can end up confusing the reader as well.

  1. Do you have a favorite genre that you like to read?

I read pretty much everything! Fiction, non-fiction, you name it! I am of the opinion that, as an author, you can learn something from almost every kind of writing. Sometimes, it most definitely is a matter of learning what not to do – but, on the whole, I love to read a wide variety of writing styles, genres, etc.

  1. How do you feel about ebook piracy?

I’m not too worried about it.

  1. Any advice for those aspiring authors out there?

Take the first step! Just do a little at a time, if you decide writing is important to you then make time for it, be consistent, and read a lot.

  1. Do you have any books that you would recommend to aspiring authors?

Here are some books that I highly recommend for all authors and aspiring authors to check out:

Wordsmithy – Douglas Wilson

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

On Writing – Stephen King

The Anatomy of Story – John Truby

The Fire in Fiction – Donald Maas

  1. How long did it take you to write Meritropolis?

It took me about a year and a half to write Meritropolis, almost two years, really. For Meritorium, it took me less than a year. I feel confident that I could write the next book much quicker, because I learned a lot from my editorial team and others at whitefox.

  1. Who is whitefox, and what was it like working with them?

Whitefox is an author services company that I worked with throughout the writing process. They helped with everything from editing to design to initial marketing. They did a fantastic job of connecting me with profesional editors, a professional cover designer, and offered outstanding advice along the way. I would highly recommend that all self-published authors check them out!

  1. What are you doing to market your book now?

Right now I am concentrating on getting my book in front of as many of the awesome book bloggers and book reviewers out there as possible. Meritropolis is fortunate to receive a large number of 5-star reviews on both Amazon and GoodReads so far so I am hoping that will continue. I also recently started working with Emlyn Chand over at Novel Publicity and she has been great so I am excited to see what she can do!

  1. Do you have any advice for authors who who are debating going the self-publishing route?

I am not one of those authors who will say that self-publishing is the best choice for every single author, but I am absolutely glad that I went this route. I love that I can fully control and fully own my work, but I would encourage anyone who self-publishes to try and follow the following advice:

  1. Don’t be a cheapskate – be willing to pay for a professional editor, a professional book cover designer, etc. It boggles my mind that people will spend hours upon hours writing their book and then just take a few minutes to throw some clip art and stock photos together to “design” their book cover. Don’t. Just, don’t.
  2. Work with professionals – by this I simply mean to not overly rely on friends, family member, and co-workers who will likely just tell you what you want to hear. You need someone who is not afraid to point out the problem areas in your book and provide an honest critique. You already know that you’re mom is going to say she loves your vampire-Scottish-Highlander-billionaire-love-triangle-in-space book that you wrote so don’t even bother asking her for feedback. Instead, pay someone who does that kind of thing for a living
  3. Sell, sell, sell – If you are a self-published author and you are not actively involved in sales and marketing for your book, essentially your mini-business, remember, or, even better, you are paying someone else to be actively involved in the sales and marketing of your book, then you are not maximizing the reach your book can have. As uncouth as it might be to say this, writing is only half of what is required to see success as a self-published author. Yes, you need to write a good book, but you also need to effectively market and sell your book (either by hiring someone, or doing it yourself, or both).

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