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Spotlight Sunday – J.D. Cunegan

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J.D. Cunegan is a 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University. He has an extensive background in journalism and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, enjoys reading, and is an avid racing fan. Cunegan’s debut novel, Bounty, is a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. The dramatic follow-up, Blood Ties, is slated for a January 2016 release.

How did you get started writing?

When I was 11 years old, I read my first comic book – an issue of X-Men from the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee era, and it stuck with me to the point where I had the desire to create my own characters and craft my own stories. By the time I got to high school, I had created my first original characters and had started to work through crafting stories for them. They were admittedly terrible, but I worked tirelessly on them throughout high school and into my early college years – when I still had the desire to create comic books.

As I got deeper into college, I grew out of love for art, and as a result, my comic book creations fell by the wayside. But I kept writing, moving to study journalism. Over the years, I’ve been a sports writer for newspapers, websites… you name it. But just before graduating from college, I re-visited my old creations. Even though it was clear my art was no longer where I wanted it to be, the writing was still there.

When I (finally) discovered the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, my creative spark reignited, and I’ve been writing almost non-stop since then, even though I didn’t actually publish my first work until this past summer.

What books do you currently have published?

I published my debut novel Bounty this past June, and in August, I published the short story Boundless, which is a prequel that takes place roughly two years before the events of Bounty and further examines the origin of the hero Jill Andersen. Bounty is a murder mystery/superhero/sci-fi hybrid story, and anyone who reads it will be able to tell just how heavily comic books have influenced me. In fact, Bounty was one of my original comic book creations that I just transitioned from panels and word balloons to prose. Bounty is available on Kindle and in paperback, and Boundless is a Kindle exclusive.

Your book Bounty was recently reviewed on our blog. What was the inspiration behind it?

Bounty has several different sources of inspiration. When I first created the character of Jill Andersen, back when I was in high school, she was heavily inspired by the comic book Witchblade. Jill has grown beyond that in the intervening years, and of all the characters I’ve created, she has been my favorite by far. Many of my favorite characters are female, and a lot of them have helped shape the way I write – and that includes Jill. I like to joke that Jill is part Buffy Summers, part Sydney Bristow (from the TV show Alias), and part Kate Beckett (from the TV show Castle), but she’s still very much her own person.

On a more macro level, I chose to write Bounty because I’m fascinated, on a philosophical level, by people who refuse to accept things as they are and go above and beyond even what they’re capable of to change things. Jill is a cop, but that’s not enough for her – for several different reasons – so she embarks on a life of vigilantism on top of that. This idea of nothing ever being enough, yet soldiering on anyway, registers to me and helped propel me in writing Bounty.

Do you have any current works in progress? If so, would you be willing to tell us a bit about them?

The second novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series, Blood Ties, is almost complete and will be released in paperback and Kindle this coming January. I’m also about to start writing the third novel in the series, Behind the Badge, which will be my NaNoWriMo project for 2015.

Looking more long-term, I’m currently writing a massive supernatural/occult epic called Notna and a political thriller titled The Pen is Mighty. If everything goes according to plan, I might be ready to publish those sometime in 2017.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Writing the first draft. Because everything is fresh and new and I can’t wait to tell whichever story I’m writing at the time. When the words are flowing and my fingers are gliding over the keyboard as if they have a mind of their own – there aren’t many better feelings as a writer, and that feeling is what keeps me going when I have my struggles.

What part of the writing process do you struggle with most?

Patience. I am far from a patient person, and the constant revisions after writing is over can be taxing. Not that I hate revising or editing – I’ve actually found it enjoyable – but forcing myself to do it multiple times, even when I’m convinced my manuscript is ready, is forcing me to display a level of patience and discipline I’m not convinced I have. For instance, I have Blood Ties ready for a January 2016 release, but a big part of me wants to put it out there now. But alas, I’m forcing myself to do at least one more read-through beforehand.

Do you have any favourite authors who you aspire to be compared to? (e.g. Next Agatha Christie of Mystery)

I don’t know if there are any authors I necessarily want to be (especially since one of them doesn’t even exist), but I’d like to attain the same level of success someday as some of the bigger names. But some readers have compared Bounty to James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, which was nice (I’m not a big Patterson fan, but I know he’s a pretty big name). Another reader told me Jill was like a mixture of Daredevil and Lara Croft – and the geek in me absolutely loved that.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure I want to be compared to someone. That could have its benefits – i.e., “If you like so-and-so, you might enjoy J.D. Cunegan” – but I’m not actively trying to be like anyone. I’m just writing the stories I want to write and hoping like hell people read and enjoy them.

What are your thoughts on traditional publishing vs self publishing?

I never even attempted to have Bounty published the traditional way – not because I fear rejection or anything like that, but because I just don’t have the patience. Waiting weeks and months at a time for an answer – let alone actually starting the publishing process… I just don’t have the wherewithal to sit back and let other people handle my work like that.

Self-publishing, on the other hand… yeah, there are issues there as well (cost, finding a decent cover, beta readers, etc.), but I feel like I’m more in-control of the publishing process and the timeframe in which it happens. I don’t have to wait for someone else to handle each step of the process; I can do it myself – and if I need to change anything after publication (say, a cover or a re-formatted manuscript), I can do that on my own and not have to play another round of the Waiting Game. I like having all of that in my hands.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Read as much as you can. Don’t limit yourself to reading things similar to what you’re writing, either. Next to writing itself, reading is the most surefire way to improve as a writer.

Also, find the process that works for you. Everyone’s different. Maybe you like meticulous, detailed outlines that go on and on for pages at a time. Maybe you just need to jot down a few notes. Or maybe you just pants your way through the whole thing and worry about the particulars in editing. But whichever way you choose, choose what works for you, not what you read in some book.

That said, Stephen King’s On Writing? I think every writer should have a copy

Anything else you would like to add?

Bounty doesn’t really fit neatly into any one genre. There’s a lot of murder mystery to it, but it’s also a superhero story, and there’s a sci-fi element to it, but it’s not sci-fi in the strictest sense. Basically, I just want people to look at this book with an open mind, and if they do that, I think they’ll find an exciting read that might take them places they weren’t really expecting to go. And I can almost guarantee they’ll enjoy themselves along the way.

Found this spotlight interesting? Find out more about J.D. Cunegan and his writing by visiting his website; you can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

     -Beth

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