I’m delighted to introduce you to fellow genre guy, Jon Gillam (aka J.D.).
Jon has become a good friend since I met him last April at the World Horror Convention 2010. He’s also an emerging talent within genre journalism, working for such titles as SCI-FI NOW, SHOCK HORROR and the recently revived STARBURST MAGAZINE.
He’s got a lot of shrewd advice for budding journos.
So, over to the man himself…
WS: Tell us a little about yourself – who are you?
JG: Well, I’m nobody really. I’m an aspiring writer who loves to read and has an imagination that sometimes really struggles to shut down. Hopefully, in the near future, I can use that imagination to entertain some of my peers and make some kind of living.
I took a chance and pitched some interviews to Sci-Fi Now, including one with your good self of course. It gave me a lot of confidence to be paid for my endeavours and see my name in print in a national genre magazine.
Since then, I’ve become a confirmed columnist for Starburst magazine (yup, they’re back!) and hope to be talking to some big genre names very soon. The column, entitled “Remake Hell”, will cover remakes of older films.
I’ve also landed a gig with Shock Horror magazine, an up-and-coming UK publication. It’s a great mag, dealing with all-things-horror including movies, comicbooks and even tattoos!
I’m a typical “Jack of all Trades” – my overactive brain woke me a few nights ago, telling me to write down an idea for a horror-related advertising campaign that could work for a certain high street shop. So watch this space…
WS: How did you get into sci-fi/ horror journalism?
JG: Pure luck and persistence!
It all started last year, when I met and made friends with an independent film director. He, in turn, works on the side for a major UK horror magazine. I have managed to make some great contacts via that. Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing…
I secured an interview with John Carpenter, but due to the fact that he lives on the other side of the Atlantic and a plane ticket would be a bit expensive, I arranged to interview him via e-mail.
That was my first mistake!
John was busy with post production on his new film, “The Ward”. He was too snowed under to give the interview 100%, which I totally appreciate. Unfortunately, this meant that my questions, including several relating to his work on “Big Trouble In Little China”, were answered in brief, sometimes one word answers.
On my next interview, with MEG author, Steve Alten, I arranged to carry out the interview over the phone.
Now, I have a small list of known names that are happy to be interviewed. I hope that these will be placed in future issues of prolific genre magazines.
WS:You also write short fiction and are working on a novel. Do you find it daunting, as a reviewer, to put your own work into the public domain??
JG: You couldn’t be more on the money.
I find writing is a very personal thing. After all, unless you are plagiarising, then everything that goes onto the page is from your mind, your imagination.
So to open that freely to strangers to read and pick at, feels like you are opening yourself up for anything. It could be good. It could be bad. But that’s the game isn’t it? You can’t please all the people all the time. As long as you can please somebody…
WS: What are you working on now?
JG: I’m working on the second draft of my first book, which is incredibly daunting as I’m sure you can appreciate. I’m also writing some more short stories and trying to undertake further work with genre magazines.
I have a few side projects on the go as well. One is a werewolf script that I’m currently retooling. Another is a script for a zombie horror comedy graphic novel.
I’ve had a short story, entitled “Dreams” accepted for a small press compilation that is coming out very soon. My first two pieces were sent to other publications but weren’t picked up. The important thing is to not be too down-heartened with rebuttals. Even Stephen King was turned down a lot when he first started out.
Oh, and trying to get into the swing of being a father after my wonderful daughter Cassie was born on Boxing Day!
Time management is a test every day for me now. But I’m working through it!
WS: What are your hopes for the future?
JG: To make a living out of writing. It’s a big dream, but one I will pursue. I may not make it but my motto is ‘If you don’t try, you won’t fail. But you won’t succeed either.’
WS: Any advice for others who want to get into genre journalism?
JG: As with myself, persistence, timing and luck.
First, you have to look around the market and find the right publications for what you write, making sure that they take freelance work. A lot of magazines only use in-house writers. After the recent economic downturn, there are quite a few magazines that have fallen by the wayside.
Then you need to contact the right individuals.
You need to have something that those magazines and individuals might be interested in. Do your research – what’s up and coming? Who does the magazine cater for? It sounds stupid, but if you are into horror, there’s no point soliciting a gardening magazine with your in-depth piece on slasher movies!
I’m still wet behind the ears, but the one piece of advice that I truly believe in is ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try again!’ Just because one magazine says no, doesn’t mean that they all will.
One thing I will say is this: The internet is your friend; it’s a lot easier to track someone down now than it was twenty, even ten years ago.
Be professional and courteous in all communication, either written or verbal.
WS: How important are conventions to you?
JG: Well, I can honestly say that before the World Horror Convention 2010 (staged in my home town of Brighton, UK), I had never attended a convention before. I must give my wife a mention here (after all, it was she who bought me the ticket for my birthday!).
Now, importance wise, I CANNOT stress how eye-opening and fantastical I found the whole weekend. I was concerned that it would be very difficult for someone like me to fit in, but it was very much the opposite. I made some great contacts, including yourself of course, and met some fantastic people.
Obviously there was the pitching event, where we could pitch our ideas to prospective publishers and agents. This was quite daunting, but I received some healthy feedback which I have taken away. The reading cafe was a wonderful experience, reading some of my short stories to total strangers, gauging responses and receiving more feedback.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be very easy for someone to be swallowed whole by the event. If you are not prepared to stick your neck out and speak to people, you would struggle to get the most out of the weekend. All I can say is that I’m gutted I can’t attend the 2011 convention in Texas, due to the arrival of my daughter. But, hopefully, in the near future, I will be attending more events in one capacity or another.
Another bonus was the recent SFX Weekender in Camber Sands, UK, which you attended as well of course! I bid in an auction for a day at the SFX office and loved every minute of it! Seeing a genre magazine office in full swing was a real eye-opener, but a fantastic experience. If I hadn’t attended the Weekender, I would have never got that chance.
WS: Where can people find out more about you?
JG: As I am still very much a nobody, there’s not a lot on me out there at the moment, except my facebook account and IMDB page. I have written a few pieces on www.Xomba.com.
Hopefully, in the near future, I will set up my own website and be able to justify having one too!
WS: Anything else you want to say which hasn’t been covered.
JG: Some basic advice:.
Keep your feet on the ground.
Enjoy each day.
Be realistic – I hold down a very dull job to pay the bills. So, at the moment, writing is a hobby that I hope to turn into a career. Meanwhile, I’ll still have a roof over my head!
Treat your real friends well. You’d be surprised how much they can help you.
Use all feedback, good or bad, to improve and hone your craft. If it’s particularly vitriolic, ignore it.
J.D. has written articles for high-street genre mag, SCI-FI NOW. He’s currently writing for the recently resurrected STARBURST MAGAZINE, as well as up-and-coming horror mag, SHOCK HORROR. Contact J.D. him at his facebook page.