Navigating the fictitious forests of the literary world is no enviable task. Doing so alone is even more daunting. That was the case for enthusiastic first-time author Justin Hodder, who sought to give Newfoundlanders and Labradorians a new sort of adventure in his debut novel The Mists of Morne.
Written over a two-year period beginning in 2019 as something of a creative outlet, Hodder has handled all facets of this personal journey, from promotion to and self-publishing and all things in between. The Herald caught up with Hodder for a glimpse into his literary process: the highs and lows of the independent author, and his desire to create larger-than-life storytelling.
Embarking on a career in writing is quite the process in and of itself, but releasing your debut novel independently is something else entirely. How much more rewarding, yet scary, is that process for you?
“It certainly is. Initially, you feel as though you have nothing to lose. You sit down, you begin to write, and your ideas just pour onto the pages. But halfway through the process, when you get that first writers-block, that’s when panic sets it. And you quickly realize that you’ve invested all your time into a project where writing it is merely the beginning.
What happens when you’re “finished”? Who do you hire to edit it? What graphic designers are out there to polish your cover and typeset your manuscript? Who do you even contact to print this thing? These were all questions I had to ask myself weekly. Luckily, I’m not one to shy away from getting my foot in the door. I seized every opportunity and squeezed every contact I had to find each avenue I could to make this book a success. And it’s because of that struggle that I feel my book holds my passion within its pages. I worked my hardest for every word you’ll read inside. My reward is knowing you did!”
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As an emerging fiction writer based in NL, how important was it for you to create something that appeals to the readers of this province, while also standing out amidst a crowded block of talented authors?
“My goal for this novel was to take the Newfoundland readers on a journey around the world; take them to places they may never in their lifetime get the chance to visit in person.
A lot of Newfoundland literature embodies our heritage, our cultural past, or touches on our rural communities, and as much as I respect those stories and what they add to our literary scene, personally, I wanted to deviate from that until the story required it.
My novel will drop you smack dab in the middle of New York City, and before you know it, you’re on a mountaintop in Peru; one chapter you’re in a middle eastern temple, while the next your witnessing buildings implode to the ground. And after all the dust settles, just when you think you’ve got the whole story figured out, you’ll realize … you’re home.”
What were some of the major surprises for you – good or bad – about this debut foray into novel-writing?
“Mhmm. I don’t think I was prepared for the complexity of the process. I’d read my own work over 10, if not 15 times, and I’d be convinced it was perfect. Then I’d send it to my editor, and she’d return it with, oh I don’t know, 10,000 mistakes! All of which needed correction of course. I’d get emotional, thinking I had done something wrong, especially due to my being novice. Without having a literary background or English degree, I wasn’t prepared for how raw my piece of work would actually be to a professional. However, ultimately, that is the process. You do your best, make the mistakes, watch how they get corrected, and you learn from it.
That is something I’ll definitely be more mentally prepared for next time. Going in blind this on this first attempt, I had no idea what to expect. But now, my expectations will be set a little lower, and much more realistic (in a good way!)”
Now that you’ve finished The Mists of Morne, would you consider this to be the start of a series?
“Definitely! One thing I did not want to do with my first novel was back myself into a corner. I knew from the start that I wanted to create characters and situations in which I could expand on, continue forward with, or have the target audience crave more of. Without spoiling anything, everyone should know that there is much more out there in the fictional world I’ve built yet to be discovered. Think of this novel as the one that opens the floodgates, so to speak.
An Owens Odyssey is simply indicative that when someone strives to be successful, such as my main protagonist, Emily Owens, it’s never a one-and-done. There are so many angles and twists and trials and triumphs that must be achieved before you reach the pedestal in which you consider yourself deserving to sit.
As applicable as that is to my character’s story, so it is in writing. Making a name for yourself is one thing … upholding it is another!”
“My goal for this novel was to take the Newfoundland readers on a journey around the world; take them to places they may never in their lifetime get the chance to visit in person.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
“I’d like to thank The Herald for their generosity and willingness in helping me get this article out there to the wider public of readers. As hard as I’ve worked to craft an enticing piece of literature, in the end, a novel is only as good as its audience. As a self-publishing author, I call on you, the readers, to support me on the final stretch of my journey.
Success means many things to different people, so for me, I’ll consider it a win if even just one person reads this work and thinks to themselves: ‘That was mystical. That was thrilling. That was something I haven’t read before from a local writer.'”