MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Jon Merz. Jon has published over a dozen novels including four Lawson Vampire adventures (2002-2003), the Jake Thunder mystery/thriller DANGER-CLOSE (2004), and eight installments in the internationally bestselling adventure series Rogue Angel (2006-present). His latest thriller PARALLAX debuted in March 2009 as an exclusive ebook. His short fiction story “Prisoner 392” (appeared alongside Stephen King in FROM THE BORDERLANDS, 2004, Warner Books) earned him an Honorable Mention in 2004’s Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror edited by Ellen Datlow. As a producer, Jon has formed New Ronin Productions with longtime friend Jaime Hassett to create television and feature film projects in the New England area. Their first project is THE FIXER, a new supernatural action series based on Jon’s Lawson Vampire novels. That’s Jon there, seated, next to actor Brandon S. Stumpf.
Jon, what happened to your website? When I follow the link from Wikipedia, it leads to one of those spam sites.
JON F. MERZ: Jonfmerz.com was basically hijacked and turned into some European gambling site for some bizarre reason. I’ll need to file a grievance and pay about $1500 in order to get it back, so I just decided to let it go and use jonfmerz.net instead. My website is currently being designed and should be done by the end of the month.
VENTRELLA: How important do you believe a website and blog are to a writer?
MERZ: Vital. Seriously. If you don’t have a blog, a website, and a presence in social media (meaning at the bare minimum Facebook and Twitter) you are killing your career before you even get started. It amazes me to no end that bestselling authors are on twitter, have thousands of followers, but only follow a few people back themselves. They totally miss the idea of social media – that being to develop relationships with your audience.
Facebook has definitely replaced Myspace (thank god) as being the go-to place for a presence. And with Facebook Fan Pages, you can have both a personal profile and a Fan presence out there. Synchronized with Twitter feeds, these sites serve to reinforce your position in the market, help build an actual audience for your work, and even help you secure publishing deals if you can develop a large enough fan base. I’ve seen some writers pull out of social media and say they only want to do one of them, but that’s truly stupid. In order to reap maximum benefits from social media, you need to integrate them so they work together like gears in a cog. One drives audiences to the other and so on and so on. If one piece is missing, the machine falls apart. And quite frankly, in the 21st century, if you are a writer, you must positively be engaged in social media and actually understand it. It’s not enough to hide away in a room tapping away on a keyboard in anonymity. Readers want to know their authors and develop relationships with them. If you aren’t out there, you lose ’em.
VENTRELLA: Your vampire novel THE FIXER is being made into a TV series, and, from what I understand, you are one of the main producers. How did this come about?
MERZ: I’ve been flirting with Hollywood for years. I’ve been lucky to have some great friends in the industry, but each time I got close to making a deal, the numbers simply weren’t good enough to make me sign away rights. So a few years back, a buddy of mine and I talked about doing it ourselves: we’d form a production company, raise private equity, and do the thing ourselves. And that’s just what we’ve done. Backed by private investors, THE FIXER will be produced with the same (or better) production quality that Hollywood delivers in its television shows. We’re shooting the pilot later this month and from there, an additional twelve episodes for season one. It’s tremendously exciting.
VENTRELLA: What inside scoops can you share with us? Do you have a distribution deal yet?
MERZ: Unfortunately, we can’t release details on this just yet. But soon, I promise!
VENTRELLA: How does writing TV scripts differ from writing novels? Which do you prefer?
MERZ: I’ve always enjoyed challenges, so when it came time to learn how to write scripts, I studied the form for a long time and then started working on my own. Screenwriting or teleplays are obviously a lot more visual given the medium, but I tend to write pretty visually anyway, so the difficulty wasn’t too great. As for which I prefer, it actually depends on the story itself and what medium it’s best suited to. I don’t have a favorite anymore, which I think is probably a relief to both my literary agent and my manager in Hollywood since they both want me writing books and screenplays.
VENTRELLA: As I am now working on my own vampire novel, I keep getting told that the “trend is over”. Do you agree? Or do you think we’ll always have a love for a good vampire story?
MERZ: A love of vampires will always be with us. It’s just a question of what can you do to your spin that makes it new, or at least offers a different perspective. I get exhausted hearing about “new” vampire stories or series that are coming out. But they never explore anything different. It’s always the same old thing: undead, sleep during the daytime, feed at night, woe-is-me I’m immortal. I wish writers would challenge themselves to really explore something new. Something fresh. Vampirism is in itself very primal, but that doesn’t mean the storylines have to be primitive.
VENTRELLA: What trends in the industry are you tired of? What about the publishing industry really ticks you off?
MERZ: Publishing as an industry is broken. It annoys me when people in New York City claiming that it’s not. It is. They’re using an antiquated business model that simply does not work any longer. So change it! What’s the definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Please. With all the many forms of content delivery these days, people aren’t just reading a printed book anymore. Publishers need to remember that they aren’t in the book business any longer – they publish content. So figure out how to embrace new delivery technology and build a business around that. Don’t get me wrong: I love books and always will, but printed books are just one faction of how people get their written entertainment these days.
VENTRELLA: Of which book (or series) are you most proud? What would you like to be remembered for?
MERZ: My Lawson Vampire series is dearest to my heart. I’m very proud of the universe I’ve created and THE FIXER TV series will be an extension of that. I’m proudest also (so far) of my short story “Prisoner 392,” which appeared in a great anthology edited by Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone. They’re fantastic editors and it was an honor to appear in Borderlands 5. But I’m also very proud of the work I have yet to release. It keeps me constantly excited.
As for what I’d like to be remembered for…well, perhaps that I was just focused on giving people an escape from their everyday lives. That’s all I’ve ever set out to do as a writer. But as someone who has been around in the industry for a while now, I’d like folks to remember me as someone who threw away the rulebook and the box that everyone else (well except for one or two folks) seems imprisoned by. My mantra has always been pretty simple: why would I muck about in the mud puddle when there’s a huge ocean out there I can swim in?
VENTRELLA: Here’s the question I’ve asked everyone so far: What’s the biggest mistake you have made?
MERZ: The assumption that having an agent would be the gateway to riches. It’s not. I’ve had three agents. The first one sold four books for me but only wanted me writing vampire stories, so I fired her. The second one only sold projects that I’d done all the legwork on – basically bringing the deals already done to him – but I made the mistake of staying in that purgatory for six long years. Finally, on the 3rd try, I got the right agent. He’s fantastic. I’ve heard it said before that a bad agent is worse than no agent, and it’s true. Don’t settle because you think you have to. Look for the right person to represent your work. They need to care about it as much as you do. Make them earn that 15% – they work for you. If you find yourself cringing because you need to write them an email to check up on things and you’re worried about how sarcastic or snarky their response is going to be, don’t be like me and wait six years hoping they’ll get better. Fire them fast and find someone else.
VENTRELLA: And what is the best piece of advice you could give a starting writer (other than “write good books”)?
MERZ: I’ve seen scores of writers try to dissuade people from getting into this business because it’s hard. Yeah, it is. But I wouldn’t dream of discouraging anyone from a challenge. Hell, that’s the problem with our country today – people want it easy, they want it fast, and they want it with no work or effort. But it doesn’t happen that way. I wold always encourage people to dig deep and find the resolve and spirit to soldier on, keep working on their craft and find a way to become successful in this business. We need more people who conquer their challenges and serve as an inspiration to others – show them they can do the same if they’re willing to invest time and effort into something they believe in.
The last thing this country needs is someone else telling people “It’s too hard. Just go work a 9-5 cubicle job.” In this age, where we’re rapidly being out-classed by countries whose citizens struggle and succeed. We need more people in the US who understand that striving to accomplish something isn’t a bad thing – it’s what made us great in the first place. So put away the fear and tell the Negative Nancies to piss off – you’ve got mountains to climb.
VENTRELLA: And finally, isn’t Boston a great place to live? I lived there from 81 to 93 and miss it quite a bit…
MERZ: I think so! Boston’s a great city and the restaurants here are fantastic. Just had a great lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant yesterday and I’m craving the hot-and-sour soup all over again today!