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“If you give up, it’ll never happen,” an interview with bestselling authors Sara Connell & John Morano

It also helps to be patient. Things take time, especially in the book world. But if you give up, it’ll never happen. If you never give up, it can always happen. Someone smiled and said to me recently, “It’s taken you thirty years to become an overnight success.” If that’s what it takes, then that’s […]


It also helps to be patient. Things take time, especially in the book world. But if you give up, it’ll never happen. If you never give up, it can always happen. Someone smiled and said to me recently, “It’s taken you thirty years to become an overnight success.” If that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Morano.

John Morano is Professor of Journalism at Monmouth University in New Jersey. He has authored four novels in his series, The Morano Eco-Adventure Series, and a textbook for aspiring film critics, Don’t Tell Me the Ending!

Under contract with Grey Gecko Press, John is currently working on his fifth novel, a story following the lives of endangered wolves.

John has served as the founding Editor-in-Chief of ROCKbeat Magazine, managing editor of Modern ScreenMagazine, and senior editor of Inside Books Magazine.

A writer very concerned with endangered species and habitat depletion, John employs the journalistic ethic of giving a voice to the voiceless as he pens stories of imperiled creatures and habitats that can’t speak for themselves.

With over twenty-five years of experience at Monmouth University, Professor Morano has won many teaching awards, including The Distinguished Faculty Award, The Celebration of Teaching Award, and five consecutive Student Choice Awards.

Morano advises the student newspaper, The Outlook, which has been recognized nationally as the “University Newspaper of the Year” three times (2009, 2012, 2013) by the American Scholastic Press Association.

In addition to his work at Monmouth University, John has studied at Clark University, Penn State University, and Adelphi University.

John enjoys playing basketball, reviewing films, hunting for fossils, throwing Frisbee with his dogs, and barbequing with his family.

www.johnmorano.com


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?

Well, to be honest, I was adopted. My parents, the people who raised me, were a police officer and a teacher. I was their only child, but later in life I found out that I was left in a box at a church in New York City as a baby. The priests found me and brought me to an orphanage in Manhattan. Eventually, they figured out who left me there. I found these details out after I was married and had my own children. I thought that there might, perhaps, be a woman out there who left me in that church and might have wondered about me and regretted the decision. So, I reached out to the orphanage, just to leave a message, just to tell her that my life turned out wonderfully. My parents were the best anyone could have. And I consider myself about the luckiest guy alive. I thought it might make her feel better, if she was struggling with her decision. That’s when I found out that I have six brothers and sisters whom I’ve never met. But I already have a family. It’s a wonderful family, and I’m fine with that.

I grew up in East Rockaway, New York. I went to public school, did pretty well as a student and as an athlete. I went to Clark University to play basketball, thinking I’d figure the rest out when I got there. I left as a double major in English and Film, as an editor for the school paper, and as an aspiring film critic.

After graduating, I worked for CBS in New York as essentially a staff escort in their Security Department, thinking it would get me in the door to better things. It didn’t. So, I landed a job as a film critic and assistant editor at Modern Screen Magazine in New York. Soon I became Managing Editor and lead film critic. Then I moved to Los Angeles to become the founding Editor-in-Chief of ROCKbeatMagazine. From there, I went to Penn State and earned a graduate degree in Journalism. Then, it was on to Senior Editor of Inside Books Magazine in New York.

Eventually, I landed at Monmouth University as a journalism professor, and that’s where I started writing environmental novels.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life?

There wasn’t really one single book that sent me down this path. It was more a single teacher who helped me appreciate the power of the printed word. When I was younger, Martin Severino, my junior high and high school English teacher, gave me a list of books to read over the summer. The list included authors like Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway. It included books like Brave New World, Time Machine, Watership Down, Stuart Little, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I really began as a reader. It wasn’t until I studied at Clark University that I thought I might be a writer.

I remember as a freshman at Clark, the season was just beginning and the basketball coach told us that a writer was coming to speak at Atwood Hall, and that as student-athletes, we were expected to attend and sit in the front row. I preferred to attend Pub night with my friends, but coach made it clear that I would be attending this event, so I went.

The auditorium was packed, standing room only. I sat in the front row, wishing I was in the Pub, wondering why the entire town would show up to this. A man sashayed onto the stage. He was wearing a long robe-like flowing outfit with a safari-type hat. He might have been inebriated. He was tiny, older. He stood at the podium and said, “Welcome, everyone. My name is Truman Capote. I would like to read from my story, A Christmas Memory.”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, hearing. He had the strangest voice. All I could think about was getting to the Pub. But as he read, that voice, hearing, for the first time in my life, an author read his own words. It was magic, mesmerizing. When he finished the story, I found myself in tears, literally (pun intended).

As I walked out of the hall, openly weeping, not at all sure why, I could tell what the city of Worcester was thinking, “That’s our new shooting guard? We’re not gonna win a game this year.”

Outside, as the rest of the team went to the Pub, I stood alone under a tree trying to gather myself. I was confused. It seemed that perhaps, the wimpiest human I had ever encountered had just reduced me to tears, kicked my butt, with nothing but words on a page. I decided two things. First, it was probably the coolest thing I had ever seen. Secondly, I was going to learn how to do it. So, I really have Truman Capote to thank for making me fall in love with the printed word.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? 

I knew I wanted to write a book and I was upset with myself that at age 27 I hadn’t done that yet. What loser I was. But I couldn’t really write a book unless I had something to write about, and I didn’t. So, while I was on spring break from Penn State, I went to my parents’ home on the beach in Florida. I saw a news report on TV. The reporter stood in front of a small cage. She said that inside the cage was a very obscure hamster, in fact, it was the last of its kind. She explained that it was a male and there was no female, and when it died, as it surely would one day, the planet would never see this animal again.

That was when I knew what I would write about, extinction. It was real. It was happening. And what could be more dramatic? So, rather than spend the rest of my vacation on a surfboard, I spent it in the local library looking up endangered species and imperiled habitats. When I stumbled on the extinct Guadalupe petrel, the Eco-Adventure Book Series was born. I’ve been writing environmental novels ever since.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book(s)?

First and foremost, I just wanted to see if I could write a novel. And, when it seemed I could, I wondered if it might get published. Once that happened, my hope was that people would read my book, appreciate it, and I would be given the opportunity to write another. But beyond those practical aspirations, my hope was to introduce readers to an animal that they didn’t know. I wanted them to hang out with Lupe’, get to like him, and then, in a sense, lose him. I wanted people to feel extinction, to personalize it. So often, we hear about an exotic species disappearing in a rain forest we’ll never visit, or in a ocean we’ll never swim in. My hope was that if you met Lupe’, loved him, and lost him; when you hear about the last white rhino, or the dwindling spotted owl, or the lonesome Galapagos tortoise, you might remember Lupe’ and how you felt when he disappeared (you’ll have to read the story to see if he actually does disappear), and then do something to protect these other creatures. That was my hope.

Did the actual results align with your expectations?

I think they did. I believe on an individual level, the books really do touch the reader. I’ve gotten letters and emails from readers who have told me how one of my stories has shifted their viewpoint, or called them to some action. That’s deeply satisfying to me. To have organizations like Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Ocean Conservancy, The Rachel Carson Center, and even The Grateful Dead and Phish support my work suggests to me that I’m heading in the right direction. Indeed, yourinterest is reassuring and motivating for me.

What moment let you know that your book(s) had started a movement?

It was actually early on. I had hoped that critics/reviewers might identify a character, or a story line, and call it original. That was a goal. But when they began to call the books themselves, original, a new type of novel, eco-literature; it seemed that I might be on to something. The first response for so many readers, when they finish a book, is; Disney! But then they usually follow it up with Eco-Disney. And that’s something I’d really like to see; not necessarily a union of Disney/Morano (although, that wouldn’t be bad), but environmental issues woven deeply into the fabric of what we read and see. I’d like to see entertainment that matters. As a professor, I think that we can learn exciting things and have fun doing it. My hope is that these books do that. Then, readers will continue to be interested in environmental issues long after they put one of my books down. That’s where movements begin.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book(s) now? Are they the same? Different?

One of the things that’s most exciting to readers is the idea that the stories are primarily written from the animals’ perspectives. It’s looking at this world that we all live in through their eyes, rather than our own.

We generally know what we’re looking at when we see an oil spill, when we see a forest clear cut, when we see sediment wash out to sea and choke coral reefs; but how do the creatures who are directly affected by these things explain them? It’s a wonderful perspective to write stories from. Most readers tend to say things like, “I never thought about it that way before.” That’s exactly why I’m writing what I write.

Another thing I often hear from readers is something like, “I never knew an octopus could do that.” or “I never heard of a coelacanth. Do they really exist?”

I love fantasy and science fiction, but what if the real world read like fantasy and science fiction? It does. Very often, truth is stranger than fiction.

My goal is to show you things you haven’t seen. To take you to places you haven’t been. But in my books, they actually exist.

I love the X-Men, Batman, Superman as much as anyone, but for me, I’ll take an octopus every time.It is a superhero; three hearts, blue blood, no bones, poisonous bite, 200 suckers on each of its eight arms, the ability to regenerate a limb, jet propulsion, the ability to change virtually any color instantly, the ability to release an ink cloud to perplex a predator. This isa superhero. So is a hummingbird, an owl, a marine iguana, and so many more.

Why not write adventures about real creatures, real habitats and identify actual environmental concerns along the way? I believe it’s a wonderful recipe for novel writing, and the readers seem to be agreeing.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book(s)?

When Makoonacame out, the president of the World Wildlife Fund, Kathryn Fuller, wrote the Introduction. She sent me a note telling me that she loved the book. For me, she is an environmental rock star. She’s Bob Weir, she’s John Mayer, or Trey Anastasio. And she loved my story. But it didn’t end there. She told me that she gave my book to her daughter.

What does a parent give to their child? As a parent myself, I know my wife and I would only give our boys something that would nurture them, enlighten them, model good behavior and thought. For the president of WWF to feel that way about my book was incredibly humbling.

She went on to say that her daughter also loved the book, shared it with her teacher, who now had her entire class reading it. This is it in a nutshell. This is why I write.

Also, I had an adult friend send me a note one night. He had read the entire series. He told me, although he is a successful business man, he had never actually graduated from college. Because of the books, he felt compelled to return to school, finish his degree and pursue a Master’s, all in the area of marine science. He said the stories had touched him so deeply, he had to make these issues the focus of his life.

It’s moments like these that demand that I write eco-literature.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book(s) that starts such colossal conversation and change?

To be honest, and I have to recognize my own inherent bias here, but to be honest, I’m having a difficult time seeing the downside of writing stories that expose readers to issues surrounding extinction and habitat depletion.

At my core, I’m a journalist, a journalism professor. My books, I believe, are built on a foundational ethic of good journalism, giving a voice to the voiceless. If you believe in that ethic, and I certainly do, then who is more voiceless, who is more in need of having their story told than an endangered animal or an imperiled habitat? If their stories are not told, they will disappear, forever.

For me that underlying imperative tends to obscure any drawbacks to writing these stories. As they say, “It’s all good.”

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

One of the reasons I believe books have the power to create change stems from the fact that they are so intimate. When someone sits down with one of my stories, there are only two people in the room, you and me. Together, we spend many hours taking a journey. When it’s all said and done, a person has more or less, stepped into my mind and allowed my thoughts to enter theirs. That’s very intimate. And, potentially quite powerful.

In the world of environmental literature/journalism, one need only look to Rachael Carson and her bookSilent Springto see how a book can spark a movement, create a consciousness, if you will. I’ve tried to take some of her themes and carry them over to a literary approach. My hope is that by reading stories like mine, people will be more environmentally aware, which might also lead to positive action. This is just as much the literature of a movement as it is a movement spawned by the literature. It’s difficult to separate the two. Just as songs can become anthems, so can books. Two song that speak to me when I write are Bruce Hornsby’s Look Out Any Windowand The Grateful Dead’s Throwing Stones. (In fact, one of my characters in Makoonaspeaks the lyrics to this song in an underwater scene.)

At a young age, The Old Man and the Seaignited my interest in writing about the interaction between humans and the sea. It led me TO books like The Jungle Book, Watership Down, Call of the Wild, White Fang and so many others. I didn’t realize at the time that these books were rewiring my brain and eventually I would attempt to write similar stories with deep environmental roots. So really, these books, these authors, unintentionally, sparked a movement in me, which is leading to a growing environmental genre in literature. It’s wonderful to be part of that. I’m interested to see where it goes in the future.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?

Obviously, there is a list of traits or habits that I have that contribute to creating a novel. I guess, one that plays a huge role for me is keeping a promise to myself. Whenever I decide to write a story, I make a series of promises. For example, I will not begin writing another book until this one is done. I’ve met so many people who tell me that they have three half written books. Well, I haven’t come across many publishers who are interested in publishing half written books, so you don’t really have anything. One completed project is generally better than several partial projects. So, I focus totally on the task at hand; research, write, and rewrite.

I also, wherever possible, try not to “settle for good enough.” Yes, I understand that “perfection can be the enemy of excellence,” but in the pursuit of perfection (How would one ever attain that, anyway?), one often arrives at excellence. I try to find the bestword, the correctvillain, the rightvoice, etc. It’s more work. And it means that I write more slowly, but it seems worth it to me. It’s not a race. They don’t give awards for the fastest book written.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career?

I think the biggest challenge for me was to not give up. I came into it thinking that writing my first book would be the mountain. Then I wrote the book. I had climbed the mountain. But as soon as I did that, I realized that it was amountain. Now the book had to get published. There was actually a mountain range to climb. And so you continue climbing, one mountain after another. One book after another.

When I started to look for that first publisher, there was a lot of rejection. The manuscript of Wingkept being returned to my mailbox. I could see that the binding wasn’t cracked. It was being rejected from one publisher after another, but it didn’t seem that anyone was reading it. I was using Writer’s Market. I had identified every publisher in the US and Canada that might be interested in what I had written. Back then publishers were not convinced that greenliterature could lead to greenprofits. It was a hard sell. I stayed with it for over a year, one rejection after another. Then I got a phone call from Northwest Publishing in Salt Lake City. (I had started at ‘A’ and was up to ‘N’.) The publisher had actually read the manuscript. (There was a photo of a pelican flying across the sun on the cover. He said that he liked birds, so he opened it up, otherwise he just would have returned it.) He liked it and passed it on to his staff of readers. They also liked it, and the first edition of A Wing and a Prayertook flight.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book?

First, you genuinely need to believe in what your message is. To the best of your ability, you have to model the behavior you’d like to see in others. When I started writing these books, I lived on the beach and I liked to fish. I always took a bucket to the shore with me. Whenever I left empty handed, which was not uncommon, I filled the bucket with trash; hooks, line, lures, lead weights, whatever washed-up or discarded refuse was strewn about. Later, I would refurbish the lures and re-use them, rather than ask the planet to provide for more consumption.

Now, after having written about what it’s like to be on the other end of the line, I really can’t fish anymore. I have a lot of trouble, personally, making sense of catch and release. I just can’t entertain myself with something else’s horror.

It also helps to be patient. Things take time, especially in the book world. But if you give up, it’ll never happen. If you never give up, it can always happen. Someone smiled and said to me recently, “It’s taken you thirty years to become an overnight success.” If that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes.

Connecting with others, organizations that also feel similarly to you, can be beneficial. In my case, being recognized by environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy, Oceana, World Wildlife Fund, Ocean Conservancy, ASPCA, The Rachel Carson Center, and others, helps bring your words to people who they might resonate with. Certainly, you don’t only want to ‘preach to the choir,’ but it’s not a bad place to start.

You really can’t write a book and then wait for the change to occur. As an author, you have to support your work. That means going to bookstores, festivals, conferences, speaking with reporters. But if you really believe in the underlying message, the central cause, then it gets a lot easier to do these things. I remember going to an environmental festival to sign books every summer, The Clearwater Festival, in New Jersey. My wife and I would bring our boys when they were young. It was such a wonderful setting; to be in a park, listening to music, walking from booth to booth, all with environmental themes. If this was going to be my cause, and it made my wife and I happy to have our children surrounded by it, that helped confirm that we were doing the right thing.

The movement I’m associated with is Environmental Literature. One thing I try to be careful about is telling people what they should do. There’s an arrogance to that. It makes me uncomfortable. I think the job of any writer who wants to evoke change is to show rather than tell.If I can show readers what I see, then perhaps, they will see the same thing, which might lead them to draw the same conclusions. If they do, then it could spark a movement. If they don’t, then maybe I’m wrong. And if I am, why would I want people to agree with me? I don’t want to persuade readers as much as I’d like to expose them to ideas, perspectives. The main goal is to be heard, not to be agreed with.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?

In covering issues surrounding endangered species and imperiled habitats, I try not to be political. I would like readers to read the stories, understand the thought process, and then decide for themselves how that might manifest itself in their own politics. It’s more of a journalistic approach to story telling.

That said, I would like to see a movement that actually calls for our representatives, whether elected or appointed, regardless of party, to actually govern, and to do so with only the best interests of this nation and the world in mind. I would like to see a movement that puts nation and world above party, above special interests, above greed, above protecting one’s re-election, and one that recognizes and values good science.

These will not be books that I’ll be writing. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Perhaps one of your readers will be that person, that author. I, however, will continue to write about environmental issues. These are stories that need to be told.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m, at times, regrettably, old school. I also don’t want my novels to dominate my life. I have a family, a career, a business, and other wonderful interests. So, in order to maintain balance in my life, even if sometimes it results in fewer readers, I avoid Tweets, Instagram and blogging. I do have a website, JohnMorano.com and a Facebook page. I check these things, and my email, regularly. I’m thrilled to interact with readers and to visit schools, festivals, events, but I will not be letting everyone know what I had for breakfast, or what my most recent thought on something is (unless someone asks me, of course).

But everyone should feel very free to contact me via Facebook or email. I am interested and I do respond.

Thanks for your interest, and I hope everyone finds the time to turn the pages of my books. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and I’m thankful that you’ve considered them.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!


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