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.”
Find out more about Beautiful Mess on Amazon.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about Beautiful Mess, and what compelled you to write it.
Author: I love ensemble casts and wanted to write a fun ensemble romantic-comedy. The original inspiration for the Marilyn Monroe angle hit me after reading J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography of the actress. I learned she spent time—against her will—in a mental institution. I couldn’t shake that fact. I wondered how the experience might have affected her. Did it leave scars? Did it make her paranoid? Did it break her heart?
I also noticed how many people have received Academy Award nominations, or perhaps won them, then seem to disappear into obscurity. I wonder if some of them envisioned their careers soaring in the spotlight, only to watch their opportunities fade. Del Corwyn, my protagonist, is one of those actors.
Somehow, the Marilyn Monroe and fading-spotlight ideas crossed paths.
M.C.: What is your book about?
Author: Del Corwyn is desperate to return to the spotlight. He hasn’t had a hit film since his Academy Award nomination 40 years ago and now teeters on bankruptcy. He’s a forgotten legend. One day, while going through personal memorabilia, he discovers an original screenplay written by his close friend, Marilyn Monroe, who named Del as its legal guardian. News of its discovery 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.
M.C.: What themes do you explore in Beautiful Mess?
Author: As you might expect, I explore some Marilyn Monroe history, including some lesser-known facts. But Beautiful Mess is Del’s story, how he views himself and interacts with those around him. The novel delves into the vulnerable, human side of those we laud as celebrities. It touches on the fears and regrets that come with aging, examines how people find creative ways to adapt to their “misfit” environments, and brings together characters across multiple generations. I loved having the opportunity to feature a protagonist who is 78 years old but considers himself a perpetual 29. What a fun character to develop!
M.C.: Why do you write?
Author: Honestly, I feel like I’m dying a slow death inside if I don’t! Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. But from the creative side, I enjoy developing characters, sketching their life stories, and figuring out why they are who they are, then placing them in situations and seeing how they react. I love giving them the freedom to act in accordance with their unique personalities. I watch how they respond to challenges and how they interact with other characters, and I write down what I see.
M.C.: When do you feel the most creative?
Author: In the past, I would’ve told you it was late at night. But I’ve discovered advantages that come with getting up early and tackling everything fresh (despite the yawing!). So I’ve learned that creative work is less about feeling creative, and more about simply showing up and letting the creativity follow suit. You can buy little trinkets, decorate your surroundings, and do other things to ignite your creative juices, but ultimately, creativity is a part of who you are. You carry it inside you whether the feelings are there or not. The idea that “Creative people need this or that” seems ridiculous. If you’re an artist, all you need is a desk and a keyboard (or the equivalent for your art form). For me, the key is to show up and trust God that something will happen.
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
Author: Very picky, especially with dialogue. And since contemporary fiction incorporates an implied POV even when you write in third-person, that means your narrative is a reflection of a character’s inner dialogue. So the words I use as a writer need to fit whatever goes through that character’s brain and heart. Beyond that, as far as synonyms or the perfect word goes, I do my best to represent what I want to get across. I’m a big believer in excellence. But I’ve also learned readers are savvy enough to read between the lines. I’ve purposely hid nuggets in my stories, such as character motivations, and I’ve seen readers find the evidence, draw the intended conclusion, and post it on their blog or in their book review! So I trust the intelligence of my readers to fill in the gaps where I fall short. That sets me free to worry less about perfection and concentrate more on giving my readers a rewarding, character-driven experience.
M.C.: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
Author: It might not be manipulation, but I do get caught up in my characters’ lives, especially when they’re in the midst of a gut-wrenching struggle. I feel their pain because I know them better than anyone else. I know the psychological torments they endure and why they struggle the way they do, and I walk through it with them daily. Bear in mind, writing occurs on a slower timeframe, so what takes a reader five minutes to read might have taken me five hours to write. So by the time you factor in the planning, first draft, and revisions, I’ve often spent a year or two in that character’s dark place. So if I’m not careful, their emotional torment can become a source of emotional torment for me.
M.C.: What is your worst time as a writer?
Author: Standing still! After working several years in the IT field, I developed a weird need to move forward and just get it done. But there’s a time for everything, and that means ideas need a chance to ripen before you can carry them through to the end. Waiting is a discipline, an appropriate one, but it still makes me nervous.
M.C.: Your best?
Author: Hearing from a reader that a book impacted their life. I love the rush of exploring characters and completing the novel, but when I die and get to heaven, the books I’ve written won’t exist there. The readers will.
M.C.: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
Author: To tell you the truth, I depend a lot on God to give me what I need—the ideas, the words, the heart, the stamina. So if He ever removed those from me, either I’d be unable to write or the quality would be contrived and awful.
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
Author: Taking something I’ve learned along the way and sharing it with another writer to help them grow. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher and used to play school with my dad. (He fell asleep in class each night!) When someone doesn’t understand a concept, I seem to be able to explain it in a way they understand. I never lost that desire to teach and help other people grow. Granted, I have a ton of progress to make and will never stop learning, but I have more to offer other writers today than I did ten years ago—including what I’ve learned from mistakes!
M.C.: Is writing an obsession to you?
Author: Maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m obsessed with the need to make constant progress, and writing is the creative channel where that happens. If you’re doing your job as a writer well, you only spend a portion of your time telling the story. You also spend a lot of time revising, which is your chance to sharpen your skills; researching, which expands your knowledge base and enhances the quality and credibility of what you write; and planning, which is where you develop your characters, construct your plot and subplot arcs, and identify any holes in your logic. I consider all of those factors writing, even when I’m not telling a story.
M.C.: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
Author: While my stories aren’t autobiographical, I do believe a piece of the writer finds its way into every story that writer tells. So you can find nuggets of my personality and background in there. Sometimes they show up in significant ways, sometimes in minor ways. And some characters have symbolized my personal emotional conflicts, so I’ve undergone therapy through them.
M.C.: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Thoughts?
Author: The creative flow is therapeutic for me and helps me fight depression. In that way, it has kept destruction at bay! I don’t live in a fictional world; writing isn’t a form of escapism or denial for me, but it does help me stay balanced.
M.C.: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
Author: Yes! I’m at www.johnherrick.net. I LOVE hearing from people! (Except those peddling Viagra.) I read all the messages that come my way (again, except those peddling Viagra). You’ll also find my Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads links there.