Interview with John Herrick, Author of 'Between These Walls'
A self-described "broken Christian," John Herrick battled depression since childhood. In that context, however, he developed intuition for themes of spiritual journey and the human heart.
Herrick graduated from the University of Missouri—Columbia. Rejected for every writing position he sought, he turned to information technology and fund development, where he cultivated analytical and project management skills that helped shape his novel-writing process. He seized unpaid opportunities writing radio commercial copy and ghostwriting for two nationally syndicated radio preachers.
The Akron Beacon Journal hailed Herrick's From the Dead as "a solid debut novel." Published in 2010, it became an Amazon bestseller. The Landing, a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, followed.
Herrick's nonfiction book 8 Reasons Your Life Matters introduced him to new readers worldwide. The free e-book surpassed 100,000 downloads and hit #1 on Amazon's Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration bestseller lists. Reader response prompted a trade paperback.
Herrick, who is at work on his next novel, admits his journey felt disconnected. "It was a challenge but also a growth process," he acknowledges. "But in retrospect, I can see God's fingerprints all over it."
A: Thanks for letting me stop by! A few years ago, I caught a television news story about a high school student who had endured an onslaught of bullying because he was gay. He was on the verge of suicide—tired, desperate, filled with pain. The news story centered around a video the student had posted online. In the video, the only way he could bring himself to express his hurt was to page through words he’d written in black marker on sheets of paper. Here sat a kid who looked like an average high school freshman, wiping tears from his eyes, seeking someone to hear his cry for help.
My heart broke for that kid. I’ve never met him. I don’t know if he’s alive today. But I’ll never forget him. I thought to myself, “Nobody that age should know what it’s like to feel that kind of pain.” A high-level concept for Between These Walls already resided in the back of my mind, but the heartbreak I felt for that kid was my catalyst for action. That evening, I resolved to pursue Between These Walls.
Q: What themes do you explore in Between These Walls?
A: I love stories that inject faith into the tough questions of life. In Between These Walls, my main character, Hunter Carlisle, is a Christian with a secret attraction to other men. Much of Hunter’s journey is rooted in the fear and isolation he felt while coming of age, so Between These Walls ties those past experiences into his life as a 26-year-old adult today. The novel takes readers to the crossroads of faith and love, and digs deep into the internal turmoil of a man with a secret. It explores homosexuality and its impact upon one individual’s heart, soul, mind, and emotions. It also challenges readers to consider the pain that might lie beneath the surface of what we see.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I write because I die a slow death inside if I don’t. I love the writing process, but writing itself feels like lifeblood flowing through me. It’s a “must” for me, but a good kind of “must.”
Q: How picky are you with language?
A: What a great question! My top priority is to make sure my words flow from the heart. I don’t write to win awards; I write for people, including those who struggle. For me, the dialogue must be realistic, and the prose must reflect the personality of the character whose point of view I’ve adopted. Those factors drive how strict or flexible I am with words.
Q: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
A: My best concepts seem to come when I don’t seek them. A character will arise in my heart, grab hold of me, and won’t let go until I tell his story. If I ignore him, he tugs harder until I relent. I believe it means someone needs that character’s story. The process fascinates me. It’s like walking through a small miracle.
Q: What is your worst time as a writer?
A: With every book, I face a fear that I’ll sit down to write or plan a novel and nothing will come forth—which, for a writer, feels like failure. No matter how many books I’ve written, the same fear arises. Yet it has proven an irrational fear. I’ve discovered if I simply show up and put my fingers to the keyboard, something will come forth.
Q: Your best?
A: Hearing from a reader who says a book has impacted his/her life. Yes, I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with the completion of a book project, but the privilege of touching someone’s life—the rewards don’t get better than that.
Q: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
A: I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” With rare exception, you can find the time or resources you need to take your next step—though it might take a little creativity to dig it up. I’ve discovered one key to writing is to do it anyway: If you’re afraid, do it afraid. If you’re depressed, do it depressed. If you feel like a failure, do your best and pray that God will use it anyway.
Q: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
A: The moment I saw my first book in print and held it in my hands. I’d waited 25 years for that moment!
Q: Is writing an obsession to you?
A: Yes! When you’re a writer at heart, a fire burns in you. You need to release it. If I go too long without writing, I feel like I die a slow death inside. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s precise: A deadness settles in, and it drains the life out of me, ounce by ounce, until I rekindle the fire.
Q: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
A: My novels are not autobiographical, per se. That said, I believe a piece of the author winds up in every story, and I’m no exception. Sometimes I’ll draw on a past experience or background detail to help shape a character. But I believe an author works himself into his stories on a subconscious level, too: An author’s personality might lurk in various corners of his prose, or he might channel his emotions into a character’s dilemma.
Q: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
A: Let me put it this way: Although I love to create stories and dig down into characters, the process has also proven therapeutic for me. I’ll channel my emotions into the character’s struggle, where the emotions are similar but the circumstances or struggle are different.
For example, in my novel The Landing, the main character, Danny Bale, has grown frustrated with unrequited love and is on the verge of abandoning his dreams. When I wrote that novel, I wasn’t struggling with that scenario—and I certainly didn’t live at the beach or perform music on weekends like he did! But I dealt with a lot of frustration and anger as it related to my job at the time, so Danny’s frustration and anger became a symbol of my own. So yes, when reality gets me down, writing becomes a haven where I can sort through the mess. Plus, showing up for book work adds a steady rhythm to each day. Jobs, circumstances and relationships change, but writing is one of my few constants.
Q: Where is your book available?
A: You can find it at Amazon and the usual retail outlets. If they don’t have it on the shelf, they can get it for you. And a sidenote here: My nonfiction book, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, can be found as a free e-book at most retailers.
Q: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?