J.D. Cunegan introduces Behind the Badge, the third installment of the Jill Andersen series, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that re-introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, enjoys reading, and is an avid auto racing fan.
This week, we had a chance to meet with author J.D. Cunegan and ask him a few questions. A writer of thrilling super-heroic tales of a female detective named Jill Andersen, he has three books now available for your reading pleasure. To buy one, just click the cover below.
So here's what J.D. had to say to our questions.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I know one of the biggest traps I fall into is the desire to be perfect right out of the gate. Logically, I know when I’m working on a first draft and I know that whatever I write now is going to go through a multitude of changes before the book is publish-worthy – yet I still insist that whatever I crank out on the first draft be the exact thing I have in mind, and if it’s not, I frustrate myself over that. Even with three books already under my belt, I still have this unrealistic mindset that I should be gold on the first draft – when I know even the bestsellers and the legends aren’t perfect – or even good – on the first draft.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think, on some level, being original is a fool’s errand; there is no such thing as an original idea anymore. Everything is a take or a twist on something else. What I do instead is two-fold: 1) I focus on the characters. I learned a long time ago that if I can get people emotionally invested in my characters (this does not mean they have to like them; you can root against a character as easily as for them), then they’ll follow me for just about anything; and 2) sometimes, something as simple as a genre mash-up or twist of trope can give you the originality you’re looking for. On the surface, my Jill Andersen books (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge) are your typical murder mystery: they take place in a large city, they star a small team of hard-nosed detectives, and things always open with a murder. But then you learn that one of these cops is a superhero, and she’s actually part cyborg, and then the comic book and sci-fi elements are rolled out and this garden-variety murder mystery becomes something else entirely.
How have other authors helped you become a better writer?
A large part of it is networking – not just in meeting the authors themselves, but seeing who they use for such services as editing, cover creation, and the like. But when speaking with the authors themselves, it’s a motivational tool. Sometimes, the motivation is overt – they support my efforts, and I support theirs in kind; R.R. Virdi, in particular, is one of the most uplifting indie authors I’ve met. Other times, it’s a simple case of validation. Finding out that my struggles as an author are not unique to me, that there are others who are encountering the same issues… that helps. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of having someone with whom to commiserate. Others, I might find a solution I hadn’t otherwise considered, simply from asking another author how they handle a situation.
What is one thing you wished you had known when you first started writing?
Just how crowded the indie and self-publishing market is – and, by extension, just how difficult it is to get noticed. The marketing aspect of being self-published is the only part of this I wish I could completely outsource, because I have yet to find a marketing and promotions strategy that works and it feels so often like I’m shouting into the wind. I was never under any illusion that my first book would immediately take off and make me a star, but I vastly underestimated the market in which I was setting foot.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I actually research as I write, partly because I’m a pantser. It’s also because I often don’t know what I need to research until I come across it in my story. Most of my research right now revolves around the city of Baltimore – ensuring locations are accurate and trying to give as much of a feel for real-life Baltimore as possible. I keep a map of the city open as I write, whenever I visit I take a ton of photographs, and I make sure to take in media centric to the area… some readers have said they view Baltimore as a character in and of itself, and that tells me the research pays off. I also research police procedure, though I do occasionally take liberties when the story calls for it, and for the fantasy novel I’m working on, I do a lot of research into pagan lore, superstitions, and other such phenomenon whenever the narrative calls for it.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do, partly out of sheer curiosity and partly to see what strikes my readers the most. The positive reviews, on top of making me feel good about myself, often give me an insight as to what it is about my books that works – what connects to them. Who are their favorite characters? How did they like that plot twist? Are they interested in seeing where the series goes from here?
The negative reviews – the non-trolling ones – can also be instructive. Why did this reader not enjoy my book? Is it simply not their cup of tea? Did a character not resonate with them? Did I miss a lot of spelling errors and typos, despite the numerous rounds of editing? I might not ever notice these things without checking out my reviews.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Until recently, I was looking at six months from the start of the first draft to publication. If all goes according to plan, I can knock out a first draft in a month. From that point on, I go through several rounds of edits and re-writes – each one with a specific purpose – and then involve my editor. I take breaks between steps, and it’s during those steps that I work on things such as the cover, the blurb, securing promotion… that way, once the manuscript itself has been properly edited and formatted and is ready to go, the other particulars are in place. Two of my books that are currently out – Bounty and Behind the Badge – started as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) projects, and using that month to knock out the first draft just became habit for me.
You can find out more about J.D. Cunegan and what he writes by visiting him at the following links. Thanks to J.D. for taking the time to speak with us.