Meet Author Jonathan Barnett

Jonathan E. Barnett grew up in Stevens Point, WI. After spending a year in a seminary in St. Paul, MN, he transferred to UW-La Crosse. He graduated with a Bachelor’s in History and a minor in Economics. Upon graduating, Jonathan was commissioned as an Officer in the Wisconsin Army National Guard and deployed twice to Southwest Asia. After his second deployment, he graduated from University of Wisconsin Law School. Jonathan is now a practicing attorney and author in Central Wisconsin.

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Shadow Tracker by Jonathan E. Barnett ~ Genre: Fantasy

Alcasia has been a hunter since a very young age. She hunts the most dangerous animal in the Great Forest of Rhent. The huge beasts skin hardens into a substance called brontum which is necessary in this world where iron is very rare. When taxes are raised, she ventures further than any other hunter to try and keep her family secure. This is when she accidently runs across an invading foreign army clad in steel. After escaping from this force she returns home to find these strange invaders have destroyed her village and kidnapped her brother and sister. As the village discusses rebuilding, Alcasia teams up with several friends to attempt a rescue.

Alcasia, Robyr and Trepuk lead a small band of villagers on this long mission to save their loved ones. The villagers head east toward the cities of the Plain. Alcasia will face the bigotry that people have to shadow trackers like herself as well the might of this great army of steel.

Alcasia and her band travel from the village on the edge of civilization and into the midst of a war. Alcasia moves among the armies to try and protect her loved ones. While she is known for hunting monsters, she finds herself facing a far greater monster.

An Interview with Jonathan Barnett, author of Shadow Tracker!

Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?

I wrote a lot of poetry while I was in high school and undergrad.  I never really thought of myself as an author really.  As a history major, I was most interested in spending time doing some research and writing a history book, probably something centered around American immigration.  I started writing fiction with this book.  I was really trying to encourage my teenage daughter to work on creating a work herself.  She is a very gifted writer and I told her I would write something if she did.  I got hooked once I started.  I would often spend days of my commutes to work just brainstorming ideas for new conflicts for my characters.  I kept getting home and writing because I felt I was leaving my characters stuck where I left them.

What is something unique/quirky about you?

I had the unusual circumstance of having gone from a seminary to the Army in a matter of months.  I was studying in a seminary and I knew it was not right for me.  I joined the Army to pay for school, but it was odd to go from daily morning prayer to bayonet training. 

Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!

Well, most of my very interesting stories are military related, but I do also have the honor of having tried a case that made national news.  It got called the Beer Battered Fish Defense Case.  It was not a big case, but the story was this guy claimed he got drunk eating beer battered fish.  That was a better story than the reality.  He had told the officer that the smell of beer might have been from the fish he ate.  If fact, the story got too famous and the defense attorney and I agreed that neither of us would mention it in the trial.  Headline the next day was “Jury doesn’t buy beer battered fish defense.”  They didn’t, since they never heard that story.

Among my military stories, I was once an officer in a Security Force in Kuwait.  I was required to run drills on my guard force to see how they would react.  We also had to tell the Kuwaiti military when I was going out to do this.  The problem was there were two Kuwaiti Colonels who were in charge of different sections of the Kuwaiti guard force and these two guys hated each other.  I went out one time to take photos of the base (big no no).  I phoned ahead to the Kuwaiti staff officer to warn them.  While out there in my U.S. Army uniform, Kevlar helmet, ballistic vest and carrying a weapon I was approached by a Kuwaiti soldier saying something and pointing his M16 at me.  Just stood there pointing at the rank on my chest knowing it was ridiculous to have this guy approach someone who was clearly an American officer like this.  I showed him I was erasing the photos and later found out that the one part of the Kuwaiti guard force had been prevented from providing the warning to the other half.  Lucky me.

While in the seminary I was once awoken by a drunken student coming back after bar time.  This is not an unusual thing for a freshman year of college, but it was the only time it happened in the seminary.  There had been an ongoing discussion about how too many seminarians were not making it down for Morning Prayer every day.  Two of the seniors on my floor had been drinking and came back yelling “Wake up everyone!  Time for Morning Prayer!”  I looked at the clock on my desk, realized he was wrong and just rolled over to go back to sleep.  The next day the guy who was yelling came around to every single room and apologized to each person on the floor.  It was strange and amazing. 

What are some of your pet peeves?

Most of my pet peeves are grammar and syntax related.  I hate when people say “between” when they mean “among.”  Also, people who say they are “anxious” for something when they mean “eager.”  There are plenty more, but I try to keep that to myself.  I will sometimes have a visible twitch though.

Where were you born/grew up at?

I was actually born in Sheboygan, WI and I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from about the age of four until eight.  Just before my ninth birthday my family moved to Stevens Point.  I really love Stevens Point.  It was where we really put ourselves down and stayed.  The community was always very welcoming to me.  I left after high school and came back when I finally had the chance.  It is a beautiful small city with a university, fantastic parks and a few great corporate citizens who provide some wonderful attractions.  It is right along the Wisconsin River and there is a 20+ mile bike trail that connects most of the major parks in the city.  It is big enough to have anything you need and small enough that I can be in a kayak and alone in just a few minutes. 

If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?

Cliché, I know, but I would want to be with my family.  I have five wonderful children and an amazing wife who keeps me in line.  I would also want to spend the day with my parents, my brothers and my in-laws.  My one brother lives down in Peoria, Illinois now and it is always sad to me that he is so far away.  He is doing well there and happy.  Of course, that makes me happy, but I wish he and his wife were closer because I miss them dearly. 

Who is your hero and why?

Probably Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  He was a general in the Civil War, but also an academic and scholar.  He taught himself Greek when Bowdoin College needed a Greek professor.  The guy was brilliant and went on to serve his country and his state in many ways.  I admire the drive and the dedication to service that he had.

What kind of world ruler would you be?

Yikes.  Well, I was an Army officer so I have some idea.  I would be a coalition builder.  I like to be surrounded by people who challenge me and force me to have a reason for what I believe and think.  I would likely seek out great minds and try to find better systems.  I like to have solid plans in place and get real leaders into positions where they can do real good for others.  In all honesty, I would hate being a ruler.  I would much rather be an advisor than a ruler.

What are you passionate about these days?

There is always the passion for the Green Bay Packers.  Unlike most fans, the link is very much a family one.  My great-grandfather was a lawyer for the Packers and a member of a group called The Hungry Five that helped keep the team afloat during the Great Depression.  He is rumored to be the man who fired Curly Lambeau.  He is in the Packers Hall of Fame.  I see that team as a legacy and a family emblem.  I love football and I love that team. 

What do you do to unwind and relax?

I play a few video games that I enjoy, but mostly I read or listen to music.  I love to sing and if I have time alone I am definitely blasting the show tunes around the house and belting out the hits. 

How to find time to write as a parent?

I do almost all my writing after I have the kids in bed.  That means I cannot start until after 9:00.  I try to set one night a week where I will stay up a bit later than I should.  Sometimes work can be a bit all consuming and then I try to focus on getting the sleep I need, but I like to take just one night and push the envelope a little.

I have years of military service and it definitely trained me to stay awake and still be effective.  Once I spent three days awake running continuous hauling operations.  My platoon sergeant and I kept telling each other that the other one should sleep.  It took us several days before we both admitted we needed the sleep.  We rigged up a cot in the back of a HUM-V and slept as much as we could.  Having to write at night and then still get up and get the kids where they need to go and get to work is something for which life has prepared me. 

I do like writing while having distraction and noise so sometimes I like to write while enjoying a movie with the family.  I can sit with the laptop and enjoy the time talking with my wife and kids while I write.  

Describe yourself in 5 words or less!

Husband, Father, Son, Soldier, Lawyer.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Probably in high school when I mostly wrote poetry.  I would not have considered myself an author, but I wrote quite a lot. 

Do you have a favorite movie?

I have lots of favorite movies.  It really depends on my mood.  My father is a librarian and he would always bring home movies from the library.  We watched a lot together and still do.  I enjoy movies.  I probably like historical dramas the most but I do like documentaries as well.  A good period piece makes me very happy since I can pick apart the things that are accurate or not.  I like to follow along with the Historians At The Movies (#HATM) group on Twitter as well.

Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?

I only have the one out now, but I am working on book two of the series as well as on an unrelated alternate history work.  I could see either being a movie, but I think the alternate history piece I am working on would likely have the better chance. 

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I did go to Stratford Upon Avon to visit the grave of William Shakespeare.  That was pretty amazing.  I was on a choir tour and I was one of only two people on the tour who walked directly across town to find the church where he is buried.  Most other people just took the chance to shop. I also had the chance to see the grave of Venerable Bede while in Northern England.  Interesting to see the spot where he lived and worked and then was buried.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

My spirit animal is definitely the Red Tailed Hawk.  They live all over Wisconsin.  I have found that in times of difficulty or times when I have most needed to know the mind of God I have shortly thereafter seen a red tailed hawk fly.  They are powerful hunters and beautiful creatures.  I feel more connection to them than any other animal (besides dogs, of course).

What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?

Dune by Frank Herbert, Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, To America by Stephen Ambrose, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Gone For Soldiers by Jeff Shaara, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, John Adams by David McCullough.

What book do you think everyone should read?

Lies My Teacher Told Me.

How long have you been writing?

Since high school.

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

They present themselves as the situations arise for them to be needed.  Couldn’t add some of them from the time where Alcasia is alone on the hunt.  Many had to wait for the main thrust of the storyline to kick off before they came forward. 

Do you see writing as a career?

That would be fantastic.  I love practicing law, so I would not likely give that up.  Still, I would love for my writing to be a way I can provide something more to my family and make it more valuable. 

Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?

I love fantasy works, but I still mostly read history books. 

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

I can barely think when it is quiet.  I need some noise going on or my mind just starts to wander. Not sure if it’s an ADD type thing, but if there is only one thing to focus on I start to day dream.  If I have music and writing then I can focus.

Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?

While writing Shadow Tracker I was only working on this book.  I am currently working on two though.  I am focusing on getting the second book of the series out, but I am taking some time away from Rhentsia to work on another project too.

Pen or type writer or computer?

I do outlines with pen, but I write the actual work on a computer.

Advice they would give new authors?

Just start it.  Write something.  You can decide you hate it later or you can add to it.  You can read it after you think you are done and find ten things to add.  Nothing starts until you start putting down words.  Just start writing and then refine as you go.  Also, have patience.  Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Describe your writing style.

I mostly do my brain storming in the car on my commute to work.  I come home and start editing that in.  I usually edit during the writing.  I actually went through and changed large sections in the story prior to finishing my first draft.  I also keep a running encyclopedia of all the animals I have created and all the people I have named at any point in the story. 

What makes a good story?

Characters who change and grow and villains with an understandable purposes and goals.

What are they currently reading?

The Premonition by Michael Lewis.

What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?

I tend to outline first and then start writing.  I know I will tend to rewrite everything once or twice. 

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Writing conversations is probably the hardest part for me.  Writing poetry as a starting point allowed me to work on being descriptive and flow into design.  Writing conversations has to maintain personality traits and I have to bounce between multiple people and their arguments or desires one after another.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

At this point I am trying to be more original.  My first audience is my daughters.  I want them to have a character they can follow and enjoy. 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Try multiple genres and sample more things earlier.  Write more short stories.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from other genders?

Having characters of other genders and other ethnicities is difficult because as a white man I know I have no idea.  I have to admit that and deal with that.  I cannot avoid it because that would be far more disingenuous.  I need to have those voices in my stories to challenge me.  Thankfully, I have been surrounded by strong women in my life.  My mother, my grandmothers, my wife and my daughters.  In many ways, I write the women in this novel to have many of the same desires as anyone else.  They want to protect their families and have jobs that give them a feeling of joy or accomplishment.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

It took a little over a year to get the first one through the process.  Some of that was bouncing revisions past others to get a sense of how it was going. 

Do you believe in writer’s block?

Oh yes.  Sometimes you have to walk away and maybe write something else for a bit to get in a different state of mind.  I also like to talk through it with someone else or talk out loud to myself in the car to get through it. 

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