Saturday, June 18, 2011

Still Man Fights By Justin Leeper- Q&A and Review

Justin Leeper is as exciting as his debut novel. This is first novel but he is no stranger to writing. He has written three video games which also tie into fighting. He wrote the story-content for three WWE games. He is a former Midwesterner but currently (and as he says for now) hangs his hat in California with the love of his life, Kate, his wife . To go along with writing content on the WWE games he has lived a very exciting life. He has worked for the heavy metal band Gwar, reviewed games for Game Informer Magazine, wrestled as angry German Helmut Von Strauss, performed custom karaoke mash-ups in front of dozens of drunk people, choreographed fights for History Channel, and designed WWE video games. And check out the beard. He is also a very nice person to talk with and very kind to do a Q&A with me so as follows Justin and for one question Kate kindly sit through and answer all my questions.

Robin: Describe your book in 5 words.
Justin: Time passes; we make choices.

Robin :This is your first novel but you have written other things. Can you tell a little bit about what you have written?
Justin: I've always loved writing. In high school, I wrote a short story about a monk who comes upon an evil fighting tournament. My love of writing got me a job with the heavy-metal band Gwar, writing copy for their web site. Later, I spent 8 years writing reviews and features for magazines, sites, and TV shows that cover video games -- Game Informer magazine, Yahoo, and G4 TV are just a few outlets. My last gig was writing all the story-based content for 3 WWE video games (WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009, 2010, 2011).

Robin :I know from your bio you have video game industry experience. Do you think Still Man Fights would translate well into a game?
Justin: It was impossible not to bring some video-game flavor to Still Man Fights. However, the way Idle fights -- staying still until the very last moment, almost like he's in slow-motion -- doesn't lend itself too well to action games like God of War or Zelda.
Some fights did remind me of a very popular iPhone game (and no, it's not Angry Birds). In Infinity Blade, you face off against heavily-armed knights, dodging and parrying in real-time. The battles in Still Man are not dissimilar, though instead of holding a sword Idle is more likely holding a tiny baby.

Robin: Did writing for the video games help with writing this?
Justin:The video-game-writing experience definitely helped with writing Still Man Fights. That was the most creative I had been to that point. I find creativity is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it gets. For WWE SmackDown vs. Raw, I had hefty deadlines, established characters I had to abide by, and several people critiquing my work. For Still Man Fights, I had a lot less restrictions. Some people find that openness imposing, but I really embraced it. Being unshackled was my motivation to write the book in the first place.

Robin: From your Bio I can tell you are a man of many talents and you have done quite a few exciting things. What was your favorite work experience leading up to being an author?
Justin: I've been fortunate to get to do a lot of fun, fulfilling things in the interest of keeping the lights on. I'll go with directing motion-capture on the WWE video games as my favorite. We have about 100 minutes of cinematic scenes (cutscenes) for every game, which we record in a big studio where the actors wear light sensors that dozens of cameras then read and interpret. The stories I wrote and the scenes I choreographed came to life in front of me. We had an extremely talented team of actors, wrestlers, and crew, and I was the one who got to stir the pot.

Robin: So many authors I have spoken to listen to music or make a soundtrack to the book. Did you listen to music while writing or is there a song or songs that you think fit the book?
Justin: I love music; I almost always have a song going in my head. But when I'm writing, I need to be able to listen to myself and the characters in the scene. As a result, I usually keep things pretty silent around me. At times I'll throw on something instrumental or low-key -- some Andrew Bird or Feist -- but I'm too easily distracted to keep a soundtrack on for long. Conversely, when I'm brainstorming ideas for fight choreography, I'll crank something aggressive to set the mood.

Robin: What message are you trying to send your readers?
Justin: Two come to mind:
Many characters in Still Man Fights are very powerful, but their powers are not infinite. We don't always weigh the cost of our actions until it's too late.
Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. That's a reason I'm not one. Growing up, I had three father figures. I also have a half-sister I was a guardian to for a spell. No parent is perfect, but children look up to and are influenced by their parents -- sometimes idolizing them. Still Man Fights has examples of good fathers and bad fathers. Their offspring don't necessarily follow that same path, but are definitely affected by the choices their fathers make. I want everyone to remember parents are human, and for parents to remember to consider their young fan clubs.

Robin : What is your all time favorite book?
Justin: If you asked this question every day for a month, I'd probably give you 20 different answers. Today, I'll say it's Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender is perhaps the deepest character I've ever run across; he simultaneously evokes pity and admiration. The story itself has such tension and drama, and pays off in spades.
Robin: When and why did you begin writing?
Justin: I've always written; I have examples dating back to 2nd grade. It's such a pure, simple form of expression and creativity. It's the ideal chronicle of any event or emotion you want to document. It's therapeutic for any highs or lows you experience. So yeah...writing is basically the BEST THING EVER. I'm always encouraging friends and family to write about things going on with them -- whether it's my best friend pondering retirement from pro-wrestling or my mother struggling with the death of her dad. Just writing it out puts things in perspective and can make you feel better.

Robin: How did the design come about for your book cover?
Justin: Robert Goodwin is my martial-arts instructor of 6 years, and an experienced fight guy in Hollywood. He was a big inspiration for the Idle character. When it came time to do a cover, I didn't just want a simple still-life like most e-books. After all, finishing a first novel is a big deal and should be commemorated as such!
The original thought was to have Robert/Idle standing still, holding the baby while a punch flew toward him. My friend Tim Dax is a heavily tattooed actor/bodybuilder, so I thought he'd be a great puncher. Once Tim got to the shoot, I realized I'd be a fool to only use his arm. We took a bunch of shots of these two, with Robert holding the baby and Tim menacing him. My wife had created a mock-up of The Answer, a nasty weapon from the book, and we incorporated that.
Once we finished, I gave all the shots to Zoe Flint, my talented artist friend. She waved a magic wand (or Photoshop) over everything, and it turned out cooler than I could have imagined. I've been meaning to turn the image into a poster. Or t-shirt. Or billboard. I love it.

Robin: I guess your Martial Arts Training and movie battles helped with the writing of fighting scenes. What types of fighting styles have you trained in?
Justin: I have been training in film-fighting/stage combat for over six years. Every week, we work in several styles: Kali, jeet kune do, many weapons. We're always perfecting existing fights or making new ones. Four years of pro-wrestling gave me a basis for choreography, and I also earned a red belt in taekwondo as a teen.
I worked very hard on the fight scenes in Still Man Fights. I wanted it to be possible for experienced fighters to physically act them out if they wanted, but also to allow the average reader to visualize what was going on. When Idle fights, it's like the world slows down -- though he's actually moving quite fast when he counters and strikes. I had to give proper attention to both the detail and the speed; hopefully, I succeeded.

Robin: Who are some of your writing influences?
Justin: Frank Herbert's Dune is such a great piece of literature; he melded a unique world, great characters and this kind of mystical essence together and threw in some satisfying action. Those are all things I was shooting for.
Steve Perry's Matador trilogy is one of my favorites, and he really uses his martial-arts background to thrilling result. As a long-time martial artist, I wanted to emulate that.
I love how Orson Scott Card wrote the children of Ender's Game, because they weren't merely dumbed-down adults. Children play a big role in Still Man Fights, so I wanted to pay them the same respect.

Robin: I noticed the cover reads "A NewHome Novel," which leads me to believe that there will be more. Will you revisit characters or will it just be set in the same world as this one?
Justin: Those who make it out of Still Man Fights -- both characters and readers -- will see the opportunity to do more in NewHome. As this story is so character-driven, I think it'd be nice to expand upon the world itself in another book. We'll see if readers agree.

Robin: I like how you wrote accents. Was that to show just how diverse newhome is?
Justin: One of the aspects of creating characters is establishing their ancestry. Since everyone on NewHome is only three generations removed from Earth, they have ties to various Earth locations. For example, I gave LJ and his area a Brazilian influence. The rural town where Idle lives is more Southern US. But of course, the people of NewHome have their own phrases and pop culture that has evolved over the years.
You may notice some of the more paternal, authoritative characters speak in very proper language, rarely using contractions. That's my way of showing them as more powerful, or at least them trying to give off that aura.

Robin: I have also heard that you are super good at karaoke. What is your fave song to perform?
Justin: Karaoke is a passion of mine. I'm an abysmal singer, so I've come to perform custom mashups where I perform hip-hop songs to the music of other songs. It's a lot of fun -- not only to perform, but to watch the faces of people when they figure out what's going on. First they prepare themselves for the song that comes up; then they're confused why I'm rapping different words; then they may or may not get it. It adds some creativity to karaoke. My favorite mashup is probably doing Beastie Boys' "So Whatcha Want" to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." If you search "Justin Leeper Karaoke" on YouTube, you'll come across a few videos.

Robin : Two Part questions, one for you and one for your wife if she is willing: In the acknowledgments you thanked your wife Kate. When you decided to start writing this what did she say and how did she encourage you along the way? For Kate: What was the best part of taking this journey with him?
Justin: I am blessed to have the best wife I could ever hope for. She's been nothing but encouraging throughout, as she has with everything in our 9-year relationship. I think she felt some uncertainty at times -- as did I -- but she was instrumental in helping me every step of the process.
Kate: For me, the best part of taking this journey with Justin was in getting to know these characters he created. Through conversations with Justin over the last several years, I started to know these people (characters) in ways that aren’t even represented in the novel, but the plot was still very much unknown to me until I read a close to final draft. So it was exciting to see what happened to the characters and how they dealt with different situations.
I think too, as an avid reader, it was the first time that I really saw the writing process and it had me thinking about fiction in a different way… the choices an author makes about character development, character choice and especially plot. How deliberate and yet unwieldy the process can be. I found myself wondering, with awe “How does the writer know how to progress the story?” So in the end, this journey not only deepened my appreciation for my husband’s abilities, but also deepened my appreciation for literature.

Robin: What inspires you?
Justin: I am inspired by creativity. Let's face it: Our country is having some troubles. People are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. Money is tight all over. But some people take the risk of going outside the box, doing creative or artistic things, and hoping others will appreciate and embrace what they do. Risk and hard work are the two paths to reward. I am inspired by those who tread either path.
I am hoping people will risk $2.99 to sample my creativity with Still Man Fights. If they do, I would love to hear what they think. Still Man Fights has its own Facebook page, and my Twitter is @StillManFights.

Thanks so much to Justin for answering my questions. I had a blast talking with him about his book and his life.

Synopsis: Idle, a decent man in a lawless world, made up of Earth's cast offs finds an abandoned baby in a cave. Taking it upon himself to care for her he takes her with him and together start on a journey together. Idle not sure what the future or destiny holds other then that he knows there is something special about this child. This is also the story LJ, the son of the biggest crime boss on the planet who has a power that he is sure makes his destiny great. There world collides in ways no one can foresee.

My Thoughts : For honesty's sake I will tell you I was a bit intimidated by this book. The cover itself told that it was going to have some serious fighting in it and I am not a huge fight fan but It is easy to get into the fights. They are exciting and descriptive and you sort of hang there with Idle as he fights. I love how he mentally keeps track of the fight. It is an amazing device to bring you closer to the event. But really there is so much more to this book then fights. Intertwined is the story of Idle the man and the story of Dahl and how he became the man Idle.  The glimpses at the past really make you understand him so much more.
Idle is smart, fast thinking and caring and quite witty at times. He makes you root for him. He makes you smile. He is a character you genuinely can like and can almost feel his sadness. happiness and conscience pouring out. Who could not love a Hulking warrior that literally pours his heart and soul into caring for a Child that has no one else. The trials and adjustments he makes for this Child is priceless.  Idle's beliefs and values are a nice addition to the story and sheds light on who he is.
The book itself was a nice blend of Action, humor and humility. Idle is witty and wise and there were some awesome lines like  "Best to make weapons of your body and mind, which none can strip from you." "It was working about as well as putting a bonnet on a grizzly bear."  "It was as though she was a human slot machine: either needing to be fed, cleaned up, or just paid attention to at random." "Get caught up on the past, and someone may steal your future." Were among some of my favorites.
There was actually several scenes where I was so surprised I gasped out loud. I love a story that makes me cry, sit on the edge of my seat and care about the fate of characters and this one was able to do all three. I found myself with tears in my eyes and rooting for the characters I had come to like.
This story as much as it is Idle and the baby's story it is also Julio Muerta III, LJ for short, story who despite being young he has been through quite a lot especially being the Patron (NewHome's Most powerful crime boss) son's and finding he has a power that he is not quite sure what to do with. His story intermingled among Idle's brings this character to life.  He is a true troublemaker but maybe there is more in store for him then the people in his life would think.
When the two stories, Idle and LJ come together the action and story get intense and exciting. There are twist and turns and unexpected events that will leave you wanting to continue on with the characters.
The author has done an amazing job creating characters and bringing them to life. The descriptions of the world and people are mesmerizing. I look forward to more books in this world NewHome.  I think there are many more adventures  to tell. I would love to see the story of Shadow Walker or the Ship that began this new world to explore. I would recommend this not only for people that like fantasy and action/adventure but also for people who enjoy a story filled with love, compassion and hope.

Where to Buy: This is available as an E-Book in many different formats for just $2.99.

Barnes & Noble

Author and Book Information:
Justin Leeper
Still Man Fights
Twitter @StillManFights


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