Writer's Block

The John Utley Interview

author of Smith Mills

Why did you decide to write this book? A. When I married Kathy, she would occasionally hear stories about my past. Then we had children. They asked questions, as kids do. Over time, they were either fascinated with my upbringing or didn’t believe it. For me, it wasn’t that special since I had lived it. As the years went by, I continued telling stories to friends and drawing huge reactions. I began thinking maybe it would make a decent book. After I sold my company and retired, I decided the time was right. So, I sat down and dug in, hoping to leave a record of me and my family’s presence long after we’re gone.

How long did it take you?  A. Five years, maybe seven. It seems like a lifetime because I actually wrote two books. And the second book is so large it’s basically two books in one. That makes three books. Also, I lost parts of chapters to technological glitches. Several times I lost whole chapters. A few times, it felt like I rewrote the same story three or four times. It definitely took a lot longer than I planned. Thank God my health held out!

What kind of research did you conduct? A. I had to look up what certain products cost. I also researched the places I had been, studying their maps so I could make sure my memory was still intact. Since I lived every minute of the story, it wasn’t as much research as most books. But it still took some time.

What surprised you about writing or publishing your book? A. The number of times I reread the manuscript. Over and over again. It was maddening. Then, when the manuscript was finally done, I had to get the interior of the book designed. And the cover designed. There were so many details and decisions I had to make besides just getting the manuscript right. Just when I thought I was done, I found a few grammatical errors. I could still be working on it if I hadn’t pressed the launch button.

Why did you choose the Kindle Direct Publishing platform to publish your book? A. Amazon seems to be the 800-pound gorilla. With Kindle Direct Publishing owned by Amazon, it was an easy decision. Plus, Amazon owns Goodreads. Goodreads connects millions of readers with books they may like. After studying the various choices, it appears Amazon has a hammerlock on the publishing market. Finally, I receive the most royalties from Kindle Direct Publishing than anywhere else. For me, the decision was clear.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you change? A. I would have had a better handle on technology, so I didn’t have to rewrite certain passages over and over.

(7) What advice would you give to new writers out there? A. There are readers out there for your story. With technology today, a reader who likes historical fiction about Scotland in the 1600s can connect to books on the subject. And with the Kindle platform able to sell books for $3.99 and deliver them instantly, you can’t lose. Just sit down and get it out there.

Is there anything else you want to say? A. Yes. I haven’t been the easiest person to live or work with. It is my sincere hope that all of you who know me now understand where I came from. Being a young kid raising himself, dodging crazed serial killers and other hazards, shaped my reactions to problems and stress. When I faced a problem, I couldn’t sit down and wish it away. I had to go straight through it. I didn’t have a dad to raise and mentor me. No one would take the time to teach me anything. For those out there who are facing or have faced the same treatment, I hope my books inspire you.

John M. Utley tells the incredible true story of his struggle to escape dirt-poor poverty by raising himself as a child. Lacking parents who cared whether he lived or died, and demanding he pay rent to live with them, Mr. Utley survived hunger, loneliness, an insane serial killer, bullies, and a system hellbent on keeping him down. Yet he climbed to breathtaking heights, building a massive business from nothing. Today, he is retired, living in Dallas with his wife, Kathy. Smith Mills and The Road From Smith Mills are his first two books.

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