Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jonathan Kahn: Writer of Dystopian Fiction and Vanity Plate Fanatic

My apologies, Jonathan. Fanatic may have been a strong word to use, but thinking of catchy titles is mentally exhausting. And the world loves a fanatic.

This is half of Jonathan's head.

As you may have heard if you read the recently released February Newsletter, things are moving and shaking over in my little corner of the world. 

Of utmost importance is that fact that I have separated my art and writing personalities into different venues. Most impressive is the fact that it didn't require the help of a therapist to accomplish this. Ink & Alchemy will continue in the same vein and focus on art while More Ink will contain content related to creative writing. You are encouraged to join us in both places.

Both have the same overarching goals - encouraging people to excel in their creative endeavors and enabling networking and promotion via social media. 

Last week Bill Stevens kicked off the beginning of a new series, Creatives on Creating, which strives to understand just how all this incredible work gets done. This week, we're lucky enough to hear from writer Jonathan Kahn, who also happens to be a musician, an accountant, and my very talented and brutally honest writing partner. 

I posed the following questions to Jonathan and here are his answers. Read and learn, creative ones.


Tell us about yourself and your creative endeavor.

I write fictional stories of varying length.  I mainly write horror and dystopian stories, but I do like to experiment with sci-fi and fantasy as well.

When did you first know you were a creative person?

Fairly late in life.  The idea that I was creative didn’t really strike me until I actually began writing down some of my story ideas.

Have you always been comfortable with your creativity, or did you have to learn to embrace it?

I definitely had to learn to embrace it.  Like a lot of creative people I thought my ideas were silly, or at least not as good as those of published authors.

If the latter, how did you find your way to this acceptance?

By taking small, calculated risks.  One of my brothers is very well-read, and I discussed some of my story ideas with him.  I also have a neighbor who pushed me to share some of my writing with him, and then to start a writing group.  Through the writing group, I have come to realize that my ideas aren’t as silly as I thought.  The group members have also pushed me to submit some short stories to literature magazines, and self-publish others on my Facebook page.

Do you have any tricks or tips for others to find their best creative self?

Try things.  You never know what might stick.  This applies to different art forms.  You might think you can’t paint or play the piano, but do you really know if you haven’t tried?  It’s the same with respect to writing – I’ve written tons of stuff that will never see the light of day, just to see if it resonated with me.

When you work, do you allow the process to unfold before you, or do you plan ahead of time?

I used to strictly plan ahead of time.  Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo and found that I had to do a lot more discovery writing in order to get to 50k words.  Now I do a little of both.  I still use outlines – they keep me on task – but it’s also a lot of fun to let the story take you where it will.  There is a lot of value in being surprised by a turn of events your conscious mind didn’t see coming, or by your character doing something you didn’t expect her to do.

Do you have trouble balancing the other parts of your life with your creative pursuits?

Absolutely.  I’m self-employed, and deadlines often conflict with what I’d rather be doing.  I’m still working on finding my balance – I think the trick is to keep trying.  Somewhere I’m sure there’s a good midpoint between making time for my writing and using it to avoid chores and work. 

What events can you point to that have been crucial turning points in your creativity?

Being told that my writing is good was the first one.  Getting a short story published was important as well.  NaNoWriMo did a lot for me, too, in that it put me through a refining fire and taught me that it was possible to write more in a day than I had previously done in a week.

When you’re creating, what emotions are you tapping into?

As many as possible.  I try to tap into the emotion relevant to what’s happening in the story.  Sometimes it happens the other way around, too.  For example, after spending a very angry hour in some horrible traffic, I skipped ahead in the story and wrote the section in which my character threw a tantrum.  That was useful in two ways: the anger in the story is more authentic, and I got rid of the residual anger I felt from rush hour traffic.

How important is the response of others to your work?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care.  Feedback is important.  I like to know that my work reaches people, and that they enjoy what I write.  Of course, both positive and negative feedback are important.  I frequently remind myself of the quote, “If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not making art.”  (I’m not sure who originally said it; it’s been paraphrased a lot and attributed to several people.)  It’s not a license to set out to piss people off, but it is permission to give your work an edge.

Do you feel change is an important part of being creative? How so?

The two are inexorably linked.  In the world of high-tech business, one of the most important concepts is called “creative destruction.”  Creativity always changes things.  The truly creative people are the ones who introduce change.  This relates back to the previous question.  Whenever you introduce change and it upsets someone’s comfortable status quo, that person is going to be pissed off.

Describe how you use social media to promote your creative endeavors.

I have a Facebook page where I publish very short stories I call Vanity Plate Tales.  One of my hobbies is “collecting” clever vanity plates; the Tales are based on my interpretations of them.

Do you work best alone or in a group?

Alone.  I am an introvert with a vivid imagination, and letting my imagination take over & write requires solitude.

How much do your life experiences affect your creative work?

Quite a bit.  My writing is often fanciful and includes things and scenarios that don’t exist.  However, I also like to ground my writing with things, scenarios and dialogue that are familiar to people reading it.  I keep actual experiences out of it as much as possible, but I do tap into intangible things like feelings and reactions in similar situations.

Are there any specific websites or resources related to creativity that you’d like to share?

Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing class at BYU was very helpful to me.  A couple of outlining methods I enjoy are the Eight Step Outline and the Seven Point Story Structure.  Of course, there is this blog, too, but the reader is already here.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Go read my horror short Figments of Conversation and my Vanity Plate Tales.  Leave me some feedback!  And thank you, Robin, for featuring me!


End interview. Since I work closely with Jonathan, I'd like to add a few things that occurred to me while thinking about his answers. Jonathan is much more of a planner than I am. We write in completely different genres. Nevertheless, I think the two of us are able to provide valuable critique and feedback for the other. In my opinion, one of the reasons for this is that because we approach things quite differently, we can offer a new perspective to the other. If your writing is stagnating, try seeking out someone that you can trust to give you feedback on your work. Don't necessarily look for someone with your same predilictions or interests, but think outside of the box and your writing may benefit from it. Also, choose someone who understands the nuts and bolts of writing, meaning punctuation and grammar. You need someone who will see your mistakes and is not afraid to call you out on them. For instance, hypothetically speaking, if someone sends out list of interview questions containing a mistake, a person with good critiquing skills is not afraid to use track changes to fix it. That, my friends, is a good critique partner. 

The art you see in this post was created by Wendy McWilliams, a Featured Artist at Ink & Alchemy. Click here or on any of her works to visit her website.

Do YOU have a creative story to share? I'm interested in all aspects of your literary and/or artistic journey. Drop me a line with a suggested topic and I just might feature you and your work next time. 

I'd like to add a reminder that part of the goal at the Inks is to promote networking among the participants. Please take a moment to stop by some of the links and websites provided. Note that all Featured Artists and Writers are listed on the sidebar of this blog. Visit them. Comment on their posts. Connect with people online when possible. Join in my goal of world domination via social media!


  1. Hmm...I have a vanity plate, see vanity plates everywhere I go, and now I make up stories about them. I think fanatic is the right word.

    A word about Robin, too: she takes my brutally honest critiques in stride, and gives as honest as she gets. It makes for great writing, and I'm grateful to have such a talented and dedicated writing partner!

  2. Great piece... I get it now!! Thought you might like to take a look at this...


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