Funmi is a writer I met through the One Stop Fiction Authors Facebook group, and I’ve seen her blossom from the start with her first novel in the Nome Chronicles, the Pursual. Today, she’s launching her fifth novel in her second series, LegionMarked, the sequel to LegionBorn. Let’s meet this fantastic author.
As a child, F.F. John was inquisitive and loved to find answers in books. When her home ran out of space for mer books, her mother told her to write the stories she wanted to read. So, she did.
Today, she conjures worlds of characters that have a lot to say about everything. And she lets them as they tend to give answers to the riddles she’s yet to solve.
F.F. John lives at the top of a hill with my husband and children on a small island in the Eastern Caribbean. I am the author of The Nome Chronicles, a young adult dystopian romance, and the urban fantasy series, LegionBorn. I’m currently working on Excelsia, a young adult space opera series as I expand the LegionBorn universe. Join my mailing list for updates on upcoming books at https://subscribepage.com/greatworlds.
How long have you been writing?
My late mother encouraged me to write for the simple reason that she’d run out of room for books in our home. She would tell me to create the books I wanted to read and I did. It started off with super short stories but soon cascaded into much more elaborate tales. None very good, if I must confess, but she loved them all the same.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Unfortunately, no. However, I distinctly remember the first piece of fiction writing that made me realize writing could be fun! It was an assignment in the 10th grade. Mr. Arnold told us to write five more chapters for A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. BEST. ASSIGNMENT. EVER! At the time, I was maybe 14 or 15 and I loved creating tension between my characters. I still have that assignment and read it a few years ago. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was written with a zeal that I vividly remember. And, I got an A+ so not bad.
What made you want to become a writer?
My kids. When they were small, I read everything I could get my hands on to them. In fact, they got to hear me read The Economist to them in utero. Between that and the amount of time they spent surrounded by books, it was no surprise that they constantly demanded stories for entertainment. It came easy to me–teaching them to spell with a story or teaching them to not touch the hot stove via storytelling. I then started a blog about my life with them that became very popular. That and a political analysis website of mine had people encouraging me to write. Then, my kids told me I should turn one of the funny stories I’d made into a book, so that others could borrow it from the library. That got me thinking why not? It took a while but I eventually got to writing fiction.
How has your environment & upbringing colored your writing?
There was a period in time where I would read books just so I could figure out which ones to get for some of my favorite nieces and nephews. Between getting them quality reads and finding stories for my own children, I noticed a lack of books with diverse characters. I knew I couldn’t just complain about it, so I set off to remedy the situation. My books contain characters of all races and are a reflection of the world I want to see–one where the color of our skin, the religion we choose, the sexual orientation we were born with or our chromosomes do not define us. I’m currently working on a fantasy series that will have a Vietnamese-American girl from West Virginia as the main character. My hope is to continue to create diverse story worlds with diverse characters that anyone from anywhere can identify with and be entertained by.
Is being a writer a gift or a curse?
Gosh, I daresay it’s a little bit of both. Per the gift, there’s nothing like meeting a character in your mind’s eye, discovering his/her story and putting it down. It’s incredible to get that in front of readers and have them enjoy it, no matter if that’s only five people.
Committing to fiction writing has allowed me to tap into a side of myself that needed to breathe.
As for the curse of it, there’s a bit of pressure to live up to my personal expectations. I love writing but its a bit of a time-suck and that bites into family and friend time. I’ve been very fortunate because the people who love me have been beyond gracious. I can only hope to repay them for their kindness and patience. I’ve started by writing a few characters into my books. Sister Patti in the LegionBorn series is based on a super cool family friend who didn’t let anything like the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane stop her from getting me my manuscript when I couldn’t get it printed on the island I currently live on.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
It depends on the story. Recently, it’s been a combination of computer and paper. I used to log every thought into a Google Docs document but, since Hurricane Maria in September 2017, I’ve been without internet at home, which means I primarily work offline. As such, my trusty notebook allows me to jot down ideas. Oh, and my voice notes are a key component to my story building as well.
Goals of certain # of words a week or when inspiration strikes?
When I’m in ‘storyland’, I aim for 20,000 to 25,000 words a week. Once I have an outline or ‘scene list’ (a collection of story scenes), I can knock out a first draft very quickly and I wish I did. Sadly, I don’t edit that quickly. I spend months doing that, my story twisting and changing before my eyes.
Do you outline or just write?
Oh, I have to outline. I go with the flow when I’m making up stories for my kids on the fly. That’s easy to do because they participate and if the tale goes off track, they reign it in so the conclusion is satisfactory for all of us. (Yes, this is something we’ve been doing since the kids were babies. Now they are teenagers and still enjoy making up silly stories when we’re in the car).
As for my books, I like to have a sense of where the story is going. What happens in the beginning, in the middle and at the end. Then I try to imagine other possible scenes that help flesh out the plot. From there, I craft a loose outline that can be very detailed but I don’t marry myself to it. I know it could change at any time.
Do you want each book to stand on its own or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I’ve watched the way my kids read, they enjoy long series with characters getting through extraordinary circumstances. While I don’t have that patience, I’ve learned that my kids are more reflective of the norm in that people enjoy longer book series that they can sink their teeth into. With my urban fantasy series, LegionBorn, I’ve decided to turn it into a multi-book universe. While LegionBorn focuses on Vaughn Prentiss, I have another related-series that will focus on another character. I’ve found that growing the series through the experiences of multiple characters is a lot of fun and the only issue now is finding the time to create more stories. Fingers crossed it will all work out!
Do you consider yourself to be a successful writer? If yes, why? If not, what do you think would make you successful?
It’s funny you ask this because I just realized I’m a successful writer! While my level of success might not be that of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King’s, I consider myself successful in that I’ve managed to craft stories and characters that readers like/hate enough to send me a private message or a demand to get another book in the series done. There’s no way to explain the feeling I get when I have those sorts of discussions with my readers. I’ve still got room to grow, though, and that’s the goal.
Do your books have a lesson, a moral?
I’m the child of Nigerian parents and I was fortunate to live in Nigeria during my formative years. Nigerian culture plays a huge impact on my life as an author. It has to do with the great respect and almost mysticism there is around the art of storytelling in Nigerian culture. It’s the way elders share wisdom with the young. As such, I will confess that my stories always have a little moral or two to them. The danger of hubris is one that comes up again and again in the LegionBorn series. My Nome Chronicles series features the power of forgiveness among others.
What writing/publishing wisdom would you bestow upon new writers?
I’m still ‘green’ myself but if I could give some advice it would be the following—you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Once you accept that, it will make the entire process a little easier. Be sure to continuously learn the craft. You will never not need to (yes, the double negative was purposeful). Understand genres as that will make you knowledgeable about reader’s expectations and what your covers should look like. Treat self-publishing as a business. It requires you to understand not just the art of storytelling but also the skill of marketing, networking, researching and much more. You can pay someone else to deal with these things, of course, but if you don’t know the ins and outs of the business, you’ll always feel lost and you’ll lose more money than you should. Ask for help when you need it. There are always authors out there willing to provide answers. Play nice with others and most will do the same. Finally, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You’re in competition with who you were yesterday. That’s it. Focus on getting better. Be inspired by those who do well and know that you are capable of success. No matter how big or small that might be.
Do you send out a newsletter, and if yes, what’s your experience?
Yes, I do and interested readers can sign up at https://subscribepage.com/greatworlds. I have enjoyed this part of my author journey because it reminds me of my good, old blogging days. I share a little bit about my life with each message–what I’m watching or reading, what snack I’m craving (usually chocolate mousse cake), my favorite kitty cat gifs (they are a tad addicting) or how the writing process is going. My readers tend to write back and share their favorite gifs, recipes (yes, I got a great steak recipe from a subscriber that we now use for lamb. It’s delicious), advice on how to solve certain problems and much more. I prefer engaging this way though I’ve been encouraged to also communicate visually on my Facebook pages. We’ll see.
Where can we find you online?
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/F.-F.-John/e/B06Y4Z5DPR
Bookbub page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/f-f-john
Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16612509.F_F_John
iTunes book page(s): https://itunes.apple.com/us/author/f-f-john/id1225855673?mt=11
Thank you, Funmi, for sharing a bit of history about yourself and about your writing. It is always intriguing to find out about how others became writers and how they experience it.