Welcome, friends old and new. Some may know me as John Zeleznik, some may know me as Ebenstone and others still will know me by the Chooch or Pepperoni or a hundred other silly handles I’ve gone buy but you all know me one way or another, either in real life or via the electronic Intraweb. Anyway, this here is my writing website. My intent is for this blog to stay in the realm of my writing. Sure there may be an occasional comment about my work as an English teacher, something going on in my personal life or the occasional post where I get political, but for the most part I intend to use this medium as a place to talk about my writing. I’ll talk about everything from inspiration to process.
So, who am I?
Well, I am a father, a husband and a high school English teacher from Syracuse, NY. Oh, I am also a writer. Kind of like how Henry Hill always knew he wanted to be a gangster, I knew I wanted to be a writer. As I sit here thinking about writing and my history, I tried to think back to my childhood and all of my reading habits.
I know that I was an obsessive reader of nonfiction picture books about everything from nature to the military. But the first fiction I can honestly remember influencing me were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Glass Elevator. To this day, they are still two of my favorites. They are probably two of the things that pushed me towards speculative fiction. Roald Dahl is a genius and the work he does is amazing. And reading more and more about him, the more I realize that he was an early inspiration to me as a writer.
It was that and a love of certain independent film called “Star Wars” that my first attempts at writing and storytelling began. I created the adventures for our action figures (or sometimes ourselves), continuing the story of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie. Those same skills served the purpose of creating special missions for our GI Joes growing up, always following what the file cards said to the letter. It was my earliest lessons at characterization and canon.
The first of the books that were “top of the head” influences on me as a writer had to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Shocker!) I don’t think I need to go into a long speech about this. I’ve read them numerous times in my life…the first time as a sixth grader…and they truly are the great granddaddy to all the fantasy writing that is being done today.
In 7th grade I discovered a series that I’m sure many out there would agree probably had more to do with their love of fantasy than LOTR…The Dragonlance Trilogy. A classic that I reread numerous times in my early and mid-teens, which alongside The Icewind Dale Trilogy stand as beacons of late 80s fantasy adventure goodness. While trying to reread them recently I felt that they were too “gamey” for me. That doesn’t mean I still don’t love them, because I do. I think when we look back on “tie-in” literature; it’ll be compared to the pulp stories of the 20s, 30s and 40s!
My first fumblings at the written word were poorly veiled pastiches and imitations of these early books. I remember a planned ten book epic about a group of heroes questing for seven tablets to defeat a dark lord. I think there was a half-elf ranger as a hero for that one. I know there was one idea that involved my friends and I with our neighborhood adventures acting as the basis of a heroic quest. I’m almost kind of glad that one has gone away, buried in a landfill somewhere or incinerated into oblivion.
In high school and college I discovered “literature” and immersed myself into some pieces while violently resisting some. And in college I discovered the works of William Shakespeare and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I dropped out of college (the Dark Times) and was kind of listless in my reading. Then I discovered, based on a recommendation in the old Barnes and Nobles science fiction/ fantasy booklets they released every two months, a series called The Deathstalker Series, a rollicking space opera loaded with starships, swordsmen, disruptor rays, vicious AIs, rebellious clones and looming darkness at the edges of space. I own the second and third books of the latest series, but haven’t gotten to them yet. I loved the originals.
It wasn’t until I graduated from Oswego State that all things changed. It was a brutally cold afternoon on my last day on campus (December 2000) at the school before I graduated. I had some money in my pocket from selling textbooks, so I was going to get some pizza at Cam’s NY Style Pizzeria and decided I wanted to read something, so I went to The River’s End Bookstore a few doors down. I picked out a thicj mass market paperback with a long haired lad riding a horse with a massive castle in the background, surrounded by snow and trees. The book? A Game of Thrones. And that day my life changed. I ripped through the available books, devouring them with gusto. A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords became part of my personal canon and inspired my to finish my first novel. While not as great, but still very good, A Feast For Crows is necessary.
As I dove back into writing epic fantasy, in 2003 I was sent an offer for a free half of a new book called The Briar King by Greg Keyes and I was hooked. The funny thing is for all my “inspiration” because of ASOIAF, my first novel “sounds” more like Keyes than Martin. The entire Kingdoms of Bone and Thorn are all on my recommended list, even if the series fizzles at the end instead of rising to the occasion.
At this point, I’ll admit that GRRM spoiled me and I became very snobbish about what I read…that and I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. This meant the classics and now that I’m teaching, I’ve been introduced to a whole new view of books and the classics.
Now I haven’t abandoned my love for epic fantasy, I’m just very picky now. Too many favorites to pick out now, but if you look over at my Good Reads page (where you can friend me if you like), you can get a taste for what I like.
For now, I am a unagented author, focusing on fantasy, mostly young adult. At present, I have one book out on submission, Winter’s Discord. Winter began life as a “break” from what I thought was going to be my opus (don’t we all think that about our first complete novel) trunk novel. It turned into much more. It is the first book in a four book series called The Seasons of Destiny and the first piece I ever shopped. Presently, it is semi-trunked, though under submission with several agents and editors. I pitch it as “A Game of Thrones meets 90210.”
The summer of 2011, I finished a YA version of my trunked novel called The Sisters of Khoda. I’m very happy with it, but it needs a rewrite. I pitch it as a “boy” Graceling. (You will notice a motif in some posts about my passion to write more “boy-centered” books.)
I was working on a new project with the questionable title of The Point Guard and the Space Princess, a YA scifi book. I’ve pushed it back to November for NANOWRIMO and I think I’m going to work on some editing, planning and rewriting for the month of October.
So, welcome and enjoy the ride.