Welcome, readers. This is David Stegora, Editor-In-Chief of Dark Futures, here with our first interview in a quite a long time. Today I will be interviewing Jason Kucharik. People reading this already familiar with Jason likely know him as the author of V.O.K. or the guest judge of our current writing challenge. He also has an Indiegogo campaign going on right now. We’ll talk about that a little during the course of this interview but you can take a look at it here. Thanks for doing this, Jason.
Let’s start out simple. Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. I’ve had a love for movies and video games ever since I was a kid. My dad had an Atari 2600 that we used to play on and he liked to stay up to date on technology, if we could afford it. I got into computers after that, playing text games and basic 2D stuff. When I was thirteen my parents got me a Playstation and my whole world changed. Metal Gear Solid was the first game that I really fell in love with. I like movies that made me think and was surprised at how deep the story in Metal Gear Solid was. In between games my dad liked to share all the 70s and 80s action, sci-fi, and horror flicks that he really loved: Star Wars, Aliens, The Thing, and so on.
After that I focused more and more on movies and games that would get the wheels turning in my head. I dabbled with some art in high school but ended up staying away from it due to a few select, arrogant teachers. I did a year a local community college studying photography and graphic design before transferring down to Full Sail University in Florida to study 3D animation. It was geeky heaven, haha. Everyone loved all the same stuff that I did, they were passionate, and excited to share their ideas. That’s where I really flourished as a person and a storyteller.
I graduated, life happened, and I got away from animation for a while. In 2010 I was looking at joining the Army, did everything short of signing papers, but got in contact with an old friend from school. I got back into animation, and moved out to San Diego with two suitcases and fist full of hope. My friend was working in the industry since school, had made a name for himself, and planned on mentoring me back into the industry. After about a year I decided that it just wasn’t for me.
A few months after making the decision not to continue freelance animation, I overheard two colleagues at work talking about bucket lists. Seeing as I had no personal goals at the time, I decided to make my own. First on the list was writing a book, and second was completing a triathlon. I completed both within a year and became addicted to writing. It’s definitely been an eye opening and crazy ride since that day. I never really read for pleasure so there’s a lot that I learned that first year, and there are things I continue to learn every day. I do read now, haha, thanks to the pressure of my editor. Pretty much nonstop in fact, I’m just trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed. There’s a different sort of appreciation for other people’s work when you understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. Plus it’s still one of the best ways that I’ve found to better yourself as not only a writer, but a person as well.
What is V.O.K.?
V.O.K. is my third book and the first one to really get some attention on Wattpad.
V.O.K. is written from the perspective of an Alpha, the universe’s most skilled special operations soldiers, who act as the High Order’s eyes and ears in every corner of the universe and, when necessary, its unflinching reapers. LT, a stoic combat veteran and his sarcastic Sergeant, Bill, are engaged in a seemingly simple recon mission on the scorched surface of the now abandoned Earth. Upon discovering that they were once human and the history of their species, the Hemosapiens is a lie, the very people they’re meant to protect turn against them.
An honor bound warrior species known as the Thyr spread across the universe preparing for war, as LT and Bill are pulled across worlds, expected to quell the threat of their home galaxy’s destruction. Meanwhile, a Hemosapien-made plague selectively spreads across the universe turning people into blood thirsty, powerful, animalistic echoes of their former selves. As everything goes to hell, LT and Bill trust in their skills, sarcasm, and the bond of blood to dismantle the increasingly corrupt High Order.
There’s a lot of action, a lot of sarcasm, and a lot of intrigue going on behind the scenes. I wrote V.O.K. as if I was making my own movie. It has a great deal of influence from a wide array of video games, movie and books.
Who or what would you say influences most in your writing? What about for V.O.K., specifically?
So, so many things. Videos games, movies, books, conversations I have with people, inside jokes between friends, people’s characteristics, relationships I’ve been in, my own life decisions, you name it, it goes into my writing, no more so than in V.O.K.. I actually have a document that I’ve been putting together that’s a list of Easter eggs in the book. People always ask what influences my writing and I figure that would be a cool way to show how much truly went into the story. There’s dialogue that’s a nod to things as obscure as Zack Braff’s character, JD, in Scrubs, to more similar stories like Pacific Rim, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and many other influences. Some are really subtle, like my shout out to Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn who I had the pleasure of meeting at San Diego Comic Con a few years back. He is an inspiration. A very creative, and talented man who fought for years to get the rights back for his book after the animated movie was made. Some are more in your face, like a chapter about a third of the way through the book where my characters express their views about a very popular group of vampires that sparkle in the daylight, haha.
V.O.K. is inspired by more things than I can remember. In fact, there are still times when I’ll be watching a movie or talking to a friend about something and just go…Ohhhhhh, that’s why I wrote that line that way. It happens all the time. It is a compilation of all the creative works, people and events that have inspired me to write and do whatever I can to better my own work. I don’t think anything I write from here on out will be even close to what it’s like in that sense.
What made you want to write V.O.K.? Was it something that was just in your head and you had to get it out, or did you spend time and effort developing and planning?
V.O.K., which now stands for Variable Operations Knowledge, originally stood for Vampire, Ork, Kiaju. V.O.K. came about, kind of on a whim and as a way to challenge myself. I was finishing up Fear Your Fate (my first book) and Project Aspire, which I wrote with Taran Matharu, Stephan Landry, and Penegrin Shaw; three other authors on Wattpad.
Stephen had posted something on Facebook, wondering if anyone would be interested in watching a movie with vampire space marines, using lasers to fight orcs and kaiju in a forest. The debate livened up, people traded ideas and he added zombies to the mix. The universe quickly started taking shape in my head. Haha, the idea itself is totally ridiculous and I think that’s why I was so interested. At the time, I had been planning on writing a gritty, more grounded vampire novel that pretty much threw out all the traditional archetypes and formed something new. This was the perfect chance to prove that I could do just that. I wrote the first chapter, posted it on Wattpad and didn’t really plan to go back until I was finished with Fear Your Fate, but the readers on Wattpad had other plans.
I’m a pantser when it comes to writing, which for anyone who doesn’t know, means that I write by the seat of my pants. I write chapter to chapter. I have a very vague idea of where I want to take the story, like the beginning and generally the end, what I want the characters to feel like or certain scenes I see in my head that would look cool…but I don’t plan. I don’t map everything out, write character bios or spend time charting plots. Maybe I will in the future, I don’t know, but for now I love the fluidity of writing chapters as they come to me. It worked very well for V.O.K., so I’m hoping it continues to work in the future, because I really enjoy doing things that way. There’s something so fun about having a sudden epiphany about what your next chapter should be and seeing the readers react to it only a day or two after you’ve conceived it.
I think getting to see how people respond so soon after you write is what draws a lot of people to things like Wattpad. As you’ve said, V.O.K. was originally published on there and it was quite successful. I understand it reached #1 in science fiction and #2 in fantasy at one point. Congratulations on that. Can you explain what Wattpad is for any of our readers who don’t know?
Thank you, I appreciate it. Wattpad is, for those who don’t know, a website where people can read free work or, as an author, post their work for free for others to read. I commonly refer to it as Facebook for authors. You can vote on peoples’ work, leave comments, add things to your reading lists, and have conversations in blogs with other like minded people.
Wattpad has over 40 million users daily, 77 million unique stories, and V.O.K. made it to #1 in Sci-Fi were it bounced between the first few spots for months. It made it to #2 in Fantasy (when Wattpad still allowed stories to have two categories) and Wattpad reached out to me to make it a featured story. At the time of writing this, Wattpad analytics says that I’m only missing readers in 22 countries across the world. Wattpad tracks readers’ location, along with age, and sex, so you can see who your work appeals to.
That being said, every time someone brings up V.O.K.’s success on Wattpad, my response is usually…Eh, it’s done alright. Truth of the matter is, I’ve had a hard time seeing my experience on Wattpad as a success just because of how early I am in my career. Especially compared to authors who have tens of millions of reads and have secured publishing deals that will set them up for life. I see it as a good start, not bad, not great, but good. I hope that V.O.K.’s activity on Wattpad is an indication of how successful I may become in the future, but that is yet to be seen.
Success is perceptual, and while I had goals when uploading V.O.K. to Wattpad, I didn’t and don’t want to become complacent with where I am. When are you successful? Fifty thousand reads? Five hundred thousand? Five million? Writing is a very tough business, especially if you want to do it full time, which I plan to do in the future. So I think it’s important to take a moment to enjoy whatever goals you’ve reached, then accept the fact that you’re not successful and set new goals. When you reach those, you do the same thing. If you do that, success will come on its own and you probably won’t even realize it. One day you’ll wake up on a boat somewhere, writing and sailing around the world and you’ll post something on Facebook about how you can’t believe everything you’ve achieved in life. If I can reach Hugh Howey status, I’ll consider myself successful. Boat not required.
What made you decide to publish V.O.K. on Wattpad? Would you recommend it to others?
Wattpad started as a platform to test my ideas. I really just wanted to know if people were interested in what I wrote. Was it engaging, did they like the characters, did they care what I had to say? It’s been overwhelmingly helpful in that aspect.
I would certainly recommend it to others. I have a very supportive family, a lot of them read my work before anyone else sees it, and I get feedback from that, but some people don’t have that. Often times, even if you do, it’s hard to tell whether family members actually like your work or just want to be nice.
Wattpad fixes that, or at least it did for me. Readers on Wattpad want a quality story, and I don’t necessarily mean grammar. They want to be engaged, connect with the characters, and enjoy what they’re reading and they have no qualms about telling you whether or not it’s bad. If the story is good, a lot of them will look past the grammar, or help you fix it, which is also nice. I love staying connected with my readers and they’re very passionate about my stories and offering ideas to make my writing better. Wattpad itself has also been awesome in helping me succeed. They’re now offering a new program which helps pair some of their more popular writers up with paying promotional work for books or movies, which is really nice.
Since you did so well on Wattpad, what advice would you offer to other writers who want to try to use it?
There are two very important aspects about writing that I believe are integral in helping someone connect with readers. They go hand in hand and they’re not just for Wattpad.
First and foremost by a long shot, and this is important, so if you’re reading this, please, really understand what I’m saying. Learn how to take criticism, any criticism, and view it constructively. I won’t lie, it’s really F’ing hard. I learned it over a few years of studying art in school, but not all authors have that background to begin with. You’re writing is a piece of you, any art is, and it’s so easy to take things personally when people say something about your work that hurts or you don’t agree with. You need to get past that. I’m going to say that again because it’s so very important. You NEED to get past the emotions attached to criticism. You need to remove the emotion from the situation as best you can, take a step back and say, “What made them say that?” Even the really nasty stuff, “What made them say that?” It will help give you some unknown perspective and allow you to grow as an author and as a person.
Second, learn to sell yourself. It’s very easy to put your work out there and remain anonymous or work behind an alias so people don’t know who you are, but I don’t believe in that. Once again, your work is personal and you’re asking people to spend a lot of time and, in some cases, money to read your work. You’re saying TRUST me, you’ll enjoy this, it’ll be worth it. Great writers are a dime a dozen, now more so than ever due to social media and technology, so you need to give your readers a reason to care. You need to give them something to connect with and that all starts with you. I spent hours, sometimes up to twenty hours a week in the early days, responding to each and every comment on my story and personally thanking every person that read or voted. Whenever you try to sell something (even if they don’t pay for it) the biggest factor that comes into play is how much the customer trusts the person selling the product. This could be themselves, based off of their own research, (they sell themselves on the idea of buying a book) or you, based off of what you’ve written about it. Give someone a reason to trust you, and they’ll support you, and the way you respond to criticism, greatly affects how people think of you.
As we already mentioned, you’ve currently got an Indiegogo campaign going. In part, it’s for getting V.O.K. released in book form but it’s also for something more than that. Can you explain what that is?
Yeah, so an organization I’m in the process of creating is actually the focus of the Indie GoGo campaign. V.O.K. is the first book to be a part of that.
Authors For Change is about self-published authors who are looking to get the word out about their work and do some good in the process. I’m working with authors that I personally know for the first round of books that will be available. Authors involved in the program will donate 100% of the proceeds from their first thousand copies to a charity of their choice, and then a continued percentage after that for one full year. We’ll all use our networks and the charities networks to spread the word about our work and what we’re doing.
As self-published authors, we all understand how it’s likely that you’ll reach a very limited audience, unless you’re really good and equally lucky like Hugh Howey, haha. But we keep at it in our free time, get used to sleepless nights and spend less time being a social butterfly because we love what we do. It has a hold over us that nothing else rivals. I’ve always been raised to help others whenever you’re able and that’s what Authors For Change is about, using my talents, and helping others to use their talents, to do some good in the world. There’s a lot of work ahead, sleepless nights, and failures abound, but I’m up to the challenge and so are the people I’m working with. We believe in what we’re doing and it has to start somewhere, so we’re starting it.
The Authors For Change Indie GoGo will be available all the way through October so any donations or spreading of the word is greatly appreciated. Since it’s still in the very early stages, V.O.K. and V.O.K. related swag are available for perk prizes.
That’s all we have for now, though we may look to touch base with you again in the future and see how things are going. Thanks for your time. Do you have any final thoughts for us?
Please let me know, this has been a lot of fun and I was more than happy to do it. As far as final thoughts are concerned, I would like to touch on communication in general.
If you’re a reader and you enjoy finding new authors out there, I would just like to say feel free to reach out to those authors. I absolutely love hearing from readers and I’ve actually made a few friendships that way. I know a lot of other authors feel the same way. If you have a critique for someone, please do your best to do it in a constructive way as there is so much that goes into creating that product that you or anyone else will never see, know, or understand. Stuff that goes well beyond sleepless nights and good old fashioned hard work. It effects who we are as people and the actual relationships that we have on a level I’ve never experienced. They say actors have to keep their emotions just under the surface so they can access them at will. Authors are very similar except, often times, we’re living the lives and emotions of several different people at once and trying to fully understand and feel what they’re going through in order to convey that to a reader. It’s not always pleasant. Please keep that in mind before taking a few minutes to destroy a piece of work with your opinions. We want to hear from readers, we want people to talk about our work and we want to learn and grow, but try not to be nasty about it.
To authors or aspiring authors, I’d say keep at it. Keep your head down and moving forward, keep writing even when you don’t feel like it. Read other peoples’ work, network, stay connected with your readers and do your best to be polite and not get emotional when people get nasty. People are buying a piece of you, so remember to pour your heart and soul into it, then learn how to become detached when people start critiquing it. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but if you really love writing and want to get better, then you can see why that’s so important.