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Interview with John Herrick, author of 'Beautiful Mess'.

Interview: John Herrick, Author of ‘Beautiful Mess’


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 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. Publishers Weekly predicted “Herrick will make waves” with his next novel, Between These Walls. Herrick’s nonfiction book 8 Reasons Your Life Matters introduced him to new readers worldwide.

The free e-book surpassed 150,000 downloads and hit #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration bestseller lists. Reader response prompted a trade paperback. His latest novel, Beautiful Mess, folds the legend of Marilyn Monroe into an ensemble romantic-comedy. Herrick 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.”

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Beautiful Mess.

Thank you! Thanks for letting me stop by.

What is your book about?

Del Corwyn hasn’t had a hit film since his Academy Award nomination 40 years ago. He’s desperate to return to the spotlight but teeters on bankruptcy. Del is a forgotten legend—until, while combing through personal memorabilia, he discovers an original screenplay written by his once-close friend, Marilyn Monroe, who named Del as its legal guardian. The news goes viral. Suddenly, Del skyrockets to the A-list and has a chance to revive his career—if he’s willing to sacrifice his friend’s memory and reputation along the way.

Beautiful Mess is a humorous coming-of-age story about a 78-year-old man who lives in his own fictional world. The novel incorporates lesser-known facts about Marilyn Monroe and imagines the further impact she might have made on pop culture if her life hadn’t reached an abrupt end.

What was your inspiration for it?

I’m a fan of Marilyn Monroe’s films. I can never get enough of The Seven-Year Itch! But long before I ever watched her films, I wondered what tragedy must have existed underneath her public persona. Seven years ago, I read J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography of her and learned something I never knew: a close acquaintance betrayed her trust, which forced the actress into a mental institution against her will. That ordeal frightened her because she was trapped, all alone, and couldn’t do anything to stop it.

I thought to myself, “Even though they released her, the experience must have left scars. Nobody could escape that predicament unchanged.” I sensed a story there, so I tucked the idea away. I couldn’t shake it. I sought a way to delve into that experience while respecting her memory and presenting her as a human being who had vulnerabilities like you and I. To an extent, Del Corwyn, my protagonist, embodies how Marilyn Monroe might have felt if she had lived to age 78 and faced a spotlight that might have gone dark.

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

It’s easy for us to get caught up in pop culture and personas. I hope Beautiful Mess causes readers to consider a Hollywood legend—Marilyn Monroe—in a different light. The next time they watch one of her films, I hope they notice her nuances or behaviors and ask questions about her as an individual.

But more than that, in Del Corwyn, I hope readers find renewed zest for life and realize second chances can come in unexpected ways.

How do you keep your narrative exciting?

Contemporary fiction contains a point of view. Even if the narrative occurs in the third person, a POV is implied—you tell the story through the characters’ eyes and filter the narrative through their perceptions and biases. That means you need to know who they are. Before I begin writing, I develop short biographies for my primary characters. Some of those details find their way into the novel, some don’t, but the background and psychological evaluation breathe life into the character. They’re no longer a character on a page, but an individual personality. Rather than tell their story, I allow them the freedom to live their lives on the page. I insert them into situations and watch how they speak and react.

Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?

Discipline and a writing schedule are critical for me. That’s a result of working in the IT field for several years—I developed a project management style that enables me to complete long-term projects. Planning is key for me. After telling everyone I’m a night owl whose creativity doesn’t flow in the morning, I became an early riser and fell in love with working at sunrise! So nowadays, my book work occurs from about 5:30 to 8 a.m., Monday through Friday. Aside from occasional light work on a Saturday, I use the weekends to clear my head, read a lot, and avoid burnout.

Some people will tell you that if you don’t write seven days a week, you’re not a true writer. Don’t listen to them. You’re an individual. God wired you a particular way, and one of the joys in life is discovering how to fulfill your destiny in a balanced, sustainable manner.

How do you define success?

I’ve learned to define success not in terms of dollars and quantities, but in terms of how my work impacts others. Do my characters stay with my readers after they’ve finished reading the novel? Does the book cause my readers to view someone or something in a fresh light? Do readers feel like I’m sitting beside them and talking to them one-on-one? And have I sought to improve as a writer and attempt new challenges?

I love my readers. I appreciate them. If they consider my words worth reading, that represents success to me.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

Yes! My website is www.johnherrick.net. I stick a lot of bonus content out there and love to hear from readers! I read and answer all the messages I receive there. You can also connect with me on Facebook, and on Twitter at @johnherrick.

What is your advice for aspiring authors?

Never give up! That’s my advice regardless of your dream. Remember multiple-choice tests in school, where you had four options, and right away, you could eliminate option D because you knew it was the wrong answer? When it comes to your dreams, “Giving up” is your option D. Eliminate that option immediately, before you even begin thinking about how to get from here to there. Promise yourself you’ll stay in the game as long as it takes. And remember, success might look different from your original vision, but it might prove more fulfilling.

Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

I encourage you to spend some time with Beautiful Mess. Get to know Del Corwyn (and Marilyn Monroe)! Feel free to connect with me at my website, or on Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads. My website will get you there. Thanks for letting me stop by!

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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