By Daniel Ford
Author Jason Pellegrini got out attention in one of the more innovative ways that we’ve seen:
One of his readers even started a poll!
The Internet had spoken, so we agreed immediately!
Like any good author, Pellegrini had a good hook, but an even better follow through. His debut novel The Replacement is beloved by readers on Amazon and Goodreads, and he’s hard at work on his next book. He took the time to chat with me about his path to writing, his inspiration for The Replacement, and why writers can never stop learning.
Daniel Ford: Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be a storyteller or was it a passion that developed over time?
Jason Pellegrini: I would say it was always there, but it took some time to surface…
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a storyteller, but I’ve always been creative. I guess the desire to tell stories started to surface in 2003 when “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” ended. I didn’t think it got the ending it deserved, so I wrote an entire 22-episode season. It wasn’t anything impressive. Just episode highlights. But it was certainly a start. Then in college I took a creative writing course, and really enjoyed it. I wrote a short story about a modern day take on the Headless Horseman that really sticks out to this day. I think that was when I really noticed my ability to create. It was a few years after college that I decided I wanted to give writing a go.
DF: Who were some of your early influences in the crime genre, and which modern crime writers are you currently hooked on?
JP: If I’m being totally honest, I’m not the biggest reader of crime/mystery/thriller novels. I know that comes as a shock, given my first novel was a thriller. It was just the idea I had that I decided to go with.
As far as authors that I enjoy go, I’m a fan of Dennis Lehane. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read by him. I also just finished Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy, which I’ve had mixed emotions about.
DF: What’s your writing process like?
JP: It has certainly changed drastically from when I wrote The Replacement to writing this upcoming novel. I guess that part of evolving as a writer. The thing that has remained the same, though, and will likely always stay the same, is that I always sit down with a pretty strong idea of what it is I’m setting out to write in the chapter. I don’t think I could be one of those authors who sits down in front of their computer screen, and creates as they write. I think things tend to go off track that way. I like to have my guiding light.
I also don’t try to force it if it’s not there. I try to write a frequently as possible, but if I’m mentally burnt out, I’m not going to try and force myself to write. I’ll just end up writing garbage. When I do sit down to write, I aim for at least a thousand words a sitting. Usually I hit it. Sometimes I do less. Sometimes I do more. Sometimes I write one sentence in a half hour, absolutely loathe it, and then delete it. When the latter example occurs, I usually close my laptop after deleting that horrible sentence, and call it a night. I consider it living to fight another day.
DF: What inspired your novel The Replacement?
JP: Well, in 2007, two friends and I decided to try out writing screenplays. We thought we had what it took—we didn’t—and thought we had a golden idea—we definitely didn’t. That ended quickly, and the end result was something that I hope never get unearthed…ever.
However, during that time I came up with an idea for a movie about a rookie detective coming in to replace a retiring detective, and the two work a case together, chasing a sadistic serial killer. I also had an ending worked out, which I won’t mention here. When it came time to decide what I wanted to write my first novel about, that specific idea stuck out above the rest. I expanded on it, and eventually it became The Replacement.
DF: The crime genre has certain built-in tropes that can deter some writers from taking the plunge. How did you ensure that your tale was original?
JP: So I’m a firm believer that every story that can be told has already been told. You just have to find a way to make it your own. I forget who said that, but it’s true when you think about it. Look back at my last answer to the question of what inspired The Replacement. My original barebones idea sounds exactly like the movie, “Se7en.” I just took that basic idea, and made it my own. For starters, I added my own twist at the end. But the thing I think makes any story original is the characters. They are what breathe life into a story. If you have strong and original characters, you can tell any tale you want. Even if it’s been told in some form a thousand times before.
DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters? How do you develop your characters in general?
JP: I’m a human being. I have experienced emotions all across the board. From happiness to anger to depression to hatred to love. All of it. You name it, I’ve felt it. So I’d say I pour a lot of myself into the characters. I’ve done good things in my life, and I’ve done some shitty things, too—yeah, I’ll admit it! I just take a specific attribute, and apply it to my character accordingly. If I need to, I’ll turn it up a bit, or even dial it down. Not every character is a reflection of myself or my beliefs, but the raw emotions, like love or hate, come from me.
As far as developing characters go, I try to figure out early on what defines a character, and what drives them to do whatever it is they do in the story. I view developing characters a lot like getting to know a person. When you meet them, you know only a few things about them. But as you spend time with them, you learn more about who they are. Even though I am creating these characters, I’ll sometimes find myself at a point in the story where my character has to do something that I never expected they’d ever do until I’ve reached that point. It’s a strange, yet very interesting, process.
DF: Do you have to work at avoiding clichés when depicting New York City and the surrounding area, or do you feel comfortable in your knowledge of it that you don’t really think about it?
JP: Well luckily most of my story takes place in suburban Long Island, and only select flashbacks are in the city. I never felt like I was writing clichés. I have been to Manhattan enough to feel comfortable with creating an accurate portrayal of it. Some of those things portrayed happen to be clichés, but sometimes that’s what a cliché in. An accurate portrayal of something.
DF: When you finished your first draft, did you know you had something good, or did you have to go through multiple rounds of edits to realize you had something you felt comfortable taking to readers?
JP: As far as the content of the story went, I felt like I had something I could present to the public. I like to believe I have a pretty good ability to mold and then present a story on paper. I know my strengths. I also know my weaknesses, or my insecurities.
As far as the writing was concerned…that is where I had the most issues. With The Replacement, there were parts I really liked, and thought were well written. There were also parts I hated, and felt embarrassed having written them. Even if they would never be seen by the public eye. I visited and revisited chapter to try and get them to what I felt was something that could be seen by the public, and even now, after the book’s publication, I’m sure I would cringe at certain parts if I was to read the book again. I feel the writing part of creating a story is something I will constantly be self-conscious, and always work to better myself at.
I am working closely with an editor for my upcoming book, so hopefully she can catch things that I missed the first time around, and help strengthen weak links throughout the story.
DF: As we’ve discovered, you have passionate readers who have given your novel high praise on both Amazon and Goodreads. What has that experience been like and what’s next for you?
JP: It’s something that cannot be described. I know that sounds bad coming from someone who calls themselves an author, but it is the truth. I knew I had something good that people could enjoy, but never did I expect people enjoying what I created at such a consistent level. To go on Goodreads and Amazon, and see so many four- or five-star reviews is amazing. People daydream about what it’s going to be like when their book is published or their album is released. We all like to think it’s going to be well received. For it to become a reality is just such an amazing feeling. These people are the reason I find the motivation to keep going.
What’s next is simple…I have a book coming out later this year. After that’s done, I’m going to get started on a new one! Just got to keep on keeping on!
DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors?
JP: Read On Writing by Stephen King. It was the first piece of advice I ever received, and I’m glad I did. Two things he discusses that I want to mention here are 1) constantly read, and 2) don’t let the fear of what others might think affect the story you tell or the characters you create.
As far as advice form me…Never stop learning. Constantly evolve. Find the mistakes, even in your successes (because they’re there, trust me!). Just be aware of your weaknesses without letting them destroy your strengths.
DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?
JP: I was born on Halloween!