Writerly Lifestyle

Perfecting Your Dialogue with Debut Author Johnny Compton

February 20, 2023 David Season 3 Episode 6
Writerly Lifestyle
Perfecting Your Dialogue with Debut Author Johnny Compton
Show Notes Transcript

Your Free Editing Outline
5 Minute Writer
Last week's interview with Liz Alterman
Johnny's Website
Connect with Johnny on Twitter
Connect with David on Twitter


  1. Perfecting your dialogue
  2. Developing an editing outline
  3. Finding your unique idea

It’s sometimes hard to notice when you’re reading great dialogue because you end up so sucked into the story that pages and pages go by and you’re just barreling through the story. 

All of a sudden you look up and think to yourself, “Wait, how did that author just do that?” 

Today’s guest is going to spill all his dialogue secrets. 

Johnny Compton’s (he/him) short stories have appeared in Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, The No Sleep Podcast and many other markets. He is an HWA member and creator and host of the podcast Healthy Fears. His debut novel, THE SPITE HOUSE is out now!

Tweet me @DavidRGwyn


Johnny Compton: [00:00:00] There's a lot of luck and everything involved, but if you can find something that's just a skew of what everybody else maybe is, is typically doing. That, that can go a long way. 

David Gwyn: It's sometimes hard to notice when you're reading great dialogue. Because you ended up so sucked into the story that pages and pages go by and you're just barreling through the novel and all of a sudden you look up and think to yourself, Wait. How did that author just do that? Today's guest is going to spill all his dialogue secrets. Plus a really interesting editing process. I haven't heard before, but I'm absolutely stealing. 

I'm David Gwyn, a newly agented writer navigating the world of traditional publishing. During this season of the podcast. I'm asking agents, book, coaches, and authors about the best way to write a novel. If you want the experts secrets. This is where you're going to find them. Last time on the podcast. I talked to Liz Alterman. 

Liz Alterman: I like to kind of [00:01:00] allow for that, like that magic that happens when you dig in. provided that magic will happen. , , kinda crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

David Gwyn: Liz talked about how to write the perfect amount of backstory. Which he demonstrated in her novel, the perfect neighborhood. 

See what I did there. 

When it comes to backstory, you want not too much, but not too little. I've linked to that interview in the description. If you want to check it out. Today's guest is Johnny Compton. His short stories have appeared in pseudopod strange horizons, the Knowsley podcast, and many other markets. He is an HWA member and creator and host of the podcast. Healthy fears. 

His debut novel, despite house is out now. In this episode, Johnny and I talk about his editing process, how he creates such great dialogue, how he worked with his agent and so much more, let's get straight to the interview because you're going to love this one. 

Johnny, welcome to the interview series. Thanks so much for being here. 

Johnny Compton: Thank you for having me. I am looking forward to this conversation. 

David Gwyn: Your novel despite House, which will be out by the time people hear this [00:02:00] is phenomenal. I can't say enough about it. So can you tell people who are listening what it. 

Johnny Compton: Absolutely. It's the story of father and his two daughters who are on the run for reasons that you, you find out later on as, as the novel progresses.

But in their desperation and primarily in the Father Eric's desperation to achieve some stability while he is dealing with his his fugitive status. He takes a job offer. He accepts a job offer to stay in a very haunted house, the titular SP house in a town in the Texas Hill country. And the owner of the house, a woman named Eunice has her.

Secrets and reasons for why she wants the the house to be occupied and explored. And we find that find that out as well as the story progresses. And we also find out that Eric has some, some additional secrets that maybe You might hopefully not be completely expecting. And some reasons why he's not as intimidated by the prospect of staying in a haunted house that [00:03:00] looks very strange and, and very bizarre.

And even if you didn't necessarily believe in ghosts, you'd look at this house as it's described and maybe assume that if any ghosts in the world exist, , they must exist here, but he still is not afraid. And there is a specific reason for that. And you find that out as. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. Like I said, I, I, this is a great read.

You scared the crap outta me. And it, and it's a spooky story, but it's not just spooky. And, and that's the thing I, I'm, I'm really excited to talk to you about today and, and, and have this conversation because it, it's an amazing story. It's so well written and, like I said, it's more than just scary.

Like it is spooky and it is creepy. It is scary, but it's more than that. And I know this is your, your debut novel. But it doesn't read like a debut. So like where the hell have you been? ? 

Johnny Compton: Um, Wasting time.

I've, I've been I've been writing short stories, not nearly as many as I'd, I'd like, but I've had some short stories published in the past, so I've, I've been doing that. And then also, I mean, honestly, Spending time trying to write a novel and I've, the good news is I've got a good back catalog [00:04:00] of of story ideas, but I went through, I mean, a couple of decades basically of writing stuff and getting about halfway through or maybe a quarter of the way through, and then doubting myself and ditching it and everything.

You know, you believe in everything when it's a fresh idea. , right? So when you first put the words to the page in your first 10 chapters or so, you're like, this is, this is it. And then you get to maybe chapter 15, at least for me, chapter 15. Chapter 20, somewhere in there. And I, or start thinking, is this, is this really the one that's gonna, you know, be the, the, the one that breaks down the door for me and gets me into the into the illustrious domain of professional author, or at least published, accomplished novelist?

And so yeah, a lot of self-doubt is . I've been, I've been spending a lot of time in the limbo of, of self-doubt, and that is a kind of limited my progression. But I'm, I'm happy to be here now for for sure. Yeah. 

David Gwyn: That's cool. So tell me a little bit about the, the Spite house. Where did this idea come from?

Why was this the one you think that that stuck for 

Johnny Compton: you? The spite house idea came from an article [00:05:00] about spite houses and I, I, I can't remember where I read it exactly, but I know that the article linked back to the Wikipedia page on spite houses. So then I did a deep dive or. I shouldn't say a deep dive.

That's it's Wikipedia page. It's, it's , quite the opposite. In touch, a shallow dive , a very shallow dive, a very be careful the, you know, the, the little sign at the, the edge of the pool there. Hey, no diving. That's, that's where I feel . And but I, I did look into it and there were a lot of different types and varieties of spite houses, and a lot of just different in information that looked really fascinating and interesting.

And I thought this seems like an ideal setting. So if anybody's unaware of what a spite house is, a as, as the name would imply it's a house built primarily despite someone or to express dissatisfaction with. Whether it's a person, government, somebody that you have a dispute with but it's not really built to be lived in so much as to be hated from, which is a line i, I kind of steal from my own book there.

And so I read about that and all these, they're built strangely. They have all these weird shapes and all these incredible back stories, and I just thought this would be [00:06:00] an amazing setting for a haunted house story. And then I was surprised. I went and looked, looked it up, and at least from my research, I couldn't find any haunted house stories already set in a spite house.

So, That's, that helped this idea stick just from the idea that I might have an angle here that has not been explored or, or viewed previously. And you know, there, there's nothing completely original under the sun. But when you have something that at least has the the veneer of originality that.

That can boost your confidence a lot if you're, if you can feel like, well, I'm, I'm about as close to original as it, it gets these days. . Yeah. It's so 

David Gwyn: cool. I, I had never heard of spite houses until I read the book. And honestly, anybody, if you're listening, just look up the cover of the book. It's, it's . 

Johnny Compton: I feel like it does like 

David Gwyn: it does enough to, to set the, the tone for the, for the whole novel really.

And so tell me a little bit about the horror genre. What appeals to you about horror and, and have you always wanted to be in kind of the 

Johnny Compton: horror. I have ever since I was a kid, I I've loved the horror genre. I've [00:07:00] been kind of fascinated with it. It's always difficult for me to like really pinpoint exactly why I've, I've talked about it in the past and I feel like I've given maybe two or three different answers already.

But there are a lot of different different things, different motivators that, that came about when I was a kid. So it's hard to pinpoint precisely. Truly why I was so fascinated with it, but I just, I know, I know. The one consistent is I was basically introduced to the concept of telling ghost stories by my kindergarten teacher, Mrs.

Nina, r i p, who for a group of five year olds played a record in the class back, you know, I'm old enough. We, you played the, the records and stuff to, to listen to the audios and it was a record of The, the golden arm, which is a classic ghost story. Simple. Somebody gets, you know, for some reason they have a golden arm.

They get buried with it. The husband or the best friend in a lot of different retellings you know, digs them up cuz you're, you're buried with literal gold. I could, I could use that and the. Person. They're, they're the person that was buried. They are angry about it. They wake up from the grave and stalk the thief and [00:08:00] go to reclaim their golden arm.

And hearing the, the retelling of it, hearing it in the classroom. I, I grew up in Mississippi. You know, when, when I was a kid. And I think it was just the environment at, at least there, it felt very common, the idea of ghosts in haunted houses. So you hear it in the class, and I'm already captivated by it.

And then the, the areas just flush. Old stories and old houses and graveyards that I near, you know, lived near and, you know, don't drive past this graveyard tonight, the rock and roll graveyard. I'll never forget the rock and roll graveyard. You know, allegedly, Satan worshipers are allegedly there at, at midnight.

If you're drive past at the wrong hour, why would we be driving past at midnight? Who knows , but you're drive past at the wrong hour, then you know, they'll, they'll catch you. And so all these different crazy stories that we would hear and that we would share, and. You know, related to each other after school, all my, all my friends and hear from adults and, and teachers who love to tell these stories just kind of fed into it even more.

And I just, it just built from there. And it was always the story that I was most [00:09:00] fascinated by. This idea of this other world and this other existence that's hidden kind of in the shadows. And it's always lurking there, even after we die. I wanted to tell stories about, about that sort of thing. And now I'm fortunate enough that I'm, I'm able.

Yeah. That's so cool. 

David Gwyn: And, and so can you tell us a little bit about what you're working on now? 

Johnny Compton: Absolutely. I'm, I'm work, I'm working on a book too. Well, I'll tell you a little bit. I guess I've been keeping this one . I've been keeping it close to the vest. It's another one that I, I, I've had the idea for a long time.

And when I was able to present it to. My publisher, they, they seem to be very receptive to the, to the idea. I think it's a, it's gonna make for a pretty good pitch and a pretty high impact kind of storytelling and, and opens with a, you know, the spite house is more of a slow burn. This was opens with a much more dynamic and aggressive opening chapter.

Oh, interesting. Kind of jumps into business a little bit earlier based on kind of necessity a little bit, and also just the, the nature of the story. [00:10:00] Again, it's, it's an idea I've had for a long time. I guess what, what more can I say? But it involves without letting giving away too much, it involves a guardian angel that plays a prominent role in the story.

And You know, the, the angel I've, I've, one of my kind of dark horse favorite movies. Not like, probably Top Tanner, even Top 20, but maybe like Top 40 is The Prophecy with Christopher Walken. And there's a terrific scene in there where there's a. A kind of a fallen priest character who breaks down, I forget the exact quote, but he breaks down the idea that every, every time God in the Old Testament kind of wanted to send a message or do something horrible to a group of people, he'd send an angel and then he says, you know, do you ever really, would you ever really wanna meet an angel?

Think of this creature that spent its whole existence that he says with one wing dipped in blood. So that doesn't completely accurately reflect maybe, The, the story, but it does kind of capture, I think the vibe, the sense that I'm, I'm going for, for a certain point in the story before [00:11:00] Revelations come down of, Hey man, you know, the idea of having a guardian angel sounds great.

Until you start maybe looking at some of these some of these stories and, and the ideas of what angels really were about and what they were called upon to do. And think if this is somebody who's watching over you, what are they really capable of and what, what's the worst that they could do? So I'm excited about that one.

And that is that's what I'm working on right now and I, I've got some short stories in the work as well. Going back to my kind of college days of when I first started trying to take writing seriously, and I, I wanted to write screenplays, which you can't really do from San Antonio, Texas and become successful

But now I have an agent. Now I've, I've made, I've made some connections, so I, I. Dip my toe back into writing screenplays. I, I wrote one last summer that I'm really happy with that. I'm hoping to see what I could maybe do with that. There's a lot more you can do these days with independent filmmaking and whatnot.

And So I've got that, and then I've got a crime script that's been boiling in my brain for a while. Then I'm going to also try to try to work on that so that that's all what I've got going on. You. Oh, I, I gotta make it for lost [00:12:00] time. Like I say, man, I spent a lot of time where I've been. I'm wasting time, so now I gotta make up for it as best as I can.


David Gwyn: awesome. That's so exciting. So it sounds like you got a little bit of everything going on, which is super cool, I imagine keeps it fresh for you. . He never gets, he never gets old. That's super cool. Well I'm already looking forward to it, so this, this is great. So yeah, so speaking of your agent, whenever I have authors on here, I, I always like to ha have them give their agent a shout out.

I know you're, you're up by Lane Hamont of Tobias Literary, right. So can you talk a little bit about why you wanted to work with uh, 

Johnny Compton: Oh man. I wanted to work with Lane because Lane wanted to work with me. , he immediately believed in the story, and I, I did have, when I, I started querying I had some agents that did reach out and express some interest and wanted to see more.

So that, that was good. I had a lot of others, many more who passed which is all good, you know, you understand that's part of the process. I'm, yeah, I'm, you know, you're right. Especially for me, if you, if you're familiar with writing short stories at all you see a ton of rejections and you, you know, you count those as your blessings.

I've had stuff that, that got rejected by smaller markets and got picked [00:13:00] up by a much larger market. So, you know, that's part of the game and, and you kind of just kind of take it in stride. So getting the rejections wasn't a big deal, but lane when he reached out to me and said, send me more, he seemed very enthusiastic.

And then, First contacted me, and set up a Zoom meeting to say , that he, he wanted to represent me. I could just feel the energy there and the positive outlook he had for the story. And he was really convinced that this was gonna find a publisher and do really well.

And so far he is. He's been proven accurate, so I'm glad I rolled with my guy, my guy Lane. Shout out to Lane Lane's awesome. He's a really, really passionate about the horror genre as well, so that that helps. Yeah. That's cool. 

David Gwyn: Can you talk a little bit about what that working relationship was like with Lane? I mean how much of it was you and him going back and forth on edits? Like, were you guys or did you feel like despite house was pretty much ready to go out once you sent it 

Johnny Compton: over?

No, it, it. Entirely ready to go by any stretch. And he did have some, some suggestions. And then he found out I think in a, in a positive way, hopefully, that my editorial style is [00:14:00] very I don't do outlines to write, but to edit I am very, very thorough. And so I, I started going into, when he sent back the initial kind of general here are some, some suggestions.

And I, I brought back a bulleted breakdown of, okay, I wanna make sure that this is categorized and I broke it down by, okay, these are the character suggestions, these are the story suggestions, these are the, the setting. And, and even things that he hadn't mentioned that I thought, okay, well if we're gonna change this, then that means we have to change this other part as well.

And so start getting it organized well to, to the extent of if we're going to do this, we have to try to make sure that everything aligns and everything kind of makes sense. And even. You know, the biggest, one of the biggest changes to the story was based on a suggestion he made about a relatively minor character that had been the in the story initially where there was a police officer that actually had some dialogue and, and some more interaction with characters and just, He kind of pointed out, Hey, you know, this, this moment here with, with him and, and when he's talking to you know, somebody else who's more prominent in the story, is there any way [00:15:00] we can, you know, do anything to maybe beef it up a little bit?

And then that just maybe reevaluated and think, do we even need this guy if we're actually, like, if he's not even really contributing anything, maybe we should just ditch him, turn everything that he's doing, everything that he says, and d give it to somebody else and beef up this other character instead and sent that back to Lane.

And I. Presuming that was still a bit of a surprise for him because he had kind of suggested something relatively swollen. Now I'm like, let's just totally wipe this entire character out and then transfer all of this stuff to it. I'm assigning myself more work, far more work, . But that, that's kind of my, my process and my style was to look at it and.

Follow my, my kind of organizational chart that I developed for it and make sure that things were going to, to make sense there. So it was a, it was a very positive collaborative relationship, but it kind of got me, gave me a chance to really see how thorough I could be in terms of using, using that methodology for editing.

And it prepared me for when I had to then go back to the, the publisher and you know, when we got to [00:16:00] that stage. And, and the, the edits that you received from your actual, I was very prepared for that step that, that part of the process. 

David Gwyn: I love that. I've never heard of that though as like an editing outline that I think that's so interesting and something.

Then I'm like, where I'm at in my process, I'm like, wait, I need that. I, that's what I . I don't need another outline before I start writing. I need the one for after. 

Okay. I want to stop here because I've never really thought about an editing outline before. I'm really excited about the prospect of having a more organized way of going through edits. 

And I feel like there are so many systems for plotting, a novel before you start, but very few systems for getting from a first draft to a final draft. I'm at a place in my own writing where I've outlined, I'm a plotter through and through. And I'm starting to make plans for revisions. As I near the end of my first draft. 

So I'm going to use Johnny's suggestion to organize my edits and I'll be sharing that process as I go. So be on the lookout for that in the coming months, and be sure to subscribe. 

[00:17:00] Also, I created an editing outline that I'll be using for my current manuscript. I'm still in the drafting phase of this project, but I should be out in the next few weeks. So I took some time to reflect on what Johnny said, and I think I'm going to use this editing outline to organize my process, to go from first draft through to final draft. 

If you're interested, I linked that document in the description for you. You can download that for free. If you're in the midst of editing now, a previous guest, Chantelle Aimée Osman, who is an editor at lake union. Shared some really great advice for mistakes to avoid. All link her 50 mistakes authors make. 

In the description, so you can avoid them.

If you're trying to perfect your manuscript. And the next part of the interview, Johnny gives some really useful tips on writing dialogue. His dialogue in the spite house was so strong that I had to ask him how he did it. His answer provides some really practical steps. I think you're going to like this. 

What I really wanna talk to you about and, and, and one of the many [00:18:00] things that I thought was really well done about, about the Spite House is the dialogue.

And so you have multiple character points of view in this novel and. The ability to keep consistent dialogue for characters, whether they happen to be the point of view, character or not, made the story feel really real. Like it, it almost had like a cinematic quality to it because it felt like, even as I'm following, you know, the narrative from one point of view, I'm still getting those characters and their voices and they're staying really consistent throughout, and I'm dying to know if.

You have a system for working through and writing dialogue? Or is this something that just comes naturally to 

Johnny Compton: you? It def definitely, I wouldn't say it comes naturally, although I, I do think I am, I am pretty proud of my dialogue because when I first started writing it was, it was immediately the one thing that I was terrible at , just like, even when I was diluting myself way back when I was you know, trying to take it seriously.

18 years old or so in, in college, and I'm trying to write the scripts and even when I'm [00:19:00] diluting myself and I'm thinking, no, I can, I can write all this other stuff and it's all, everything else is perfect. Which obviously it wasn't , but even, even back then, I, I couldn't convince myself that my dialogue was good.

So, That's something that I've spent years and years just kind of really tackling and, and seeing as a weakness and then trying to turn it into a strength. And I think at this point I actually have turned it into a strength and, and trying to keep the characters consistent. I am very much the kind of writer who talks to himself aloud.

Invoice as the characters and everything. And so I'm, I'm kind of performing at my desk some of these, some of these lines and things and to make sure, is this something that this character would say? And I, I just try to be, try to maintain some cognizance of that. And there's a purpose to it, you know, when, when they speak in, in the way that they speak, the words that they choose, It's, it's easy to fall into the trap of just kind of making every character kind of sound like you and your own literary voice.

And I've probably, you know, done that in some, some different examples and some short stories for sure. From time to time, it's something you [00:20:00] kind of have to constantly work on. But for this, it, it was just really trying to, to lock in on every single character. I like writing about interesting people and part of what makes people interesting is just the different ways that they talk.

So even just paying attention to people around me friends, family, whomever, I try to pay attention to their speech patterns. The way that they maybe double back on certain sentences that they've already said, the way that they maybe rushed through certain, certain things, a particular word that you can tell somebody maybe just kind of found out at a meeting or something recently and now they've latched onto it.

And I try to pay attention to myself when I do all these things because I'm just like anybody else. And I a hundred percent do these things. And I'll catch myself listening back to some of the podcast interviews I've done, and I'll think. Damn. I, I was really locked in on a certain term there. Huh. And for whatever reason that day I was, I was fixated on saying X, Y, or Z.

Yeah. So I try to pay attention to those things and then just plant that into the, the, the characters. They're human beings and so they're gonna have that as well. And at the [00:21:00] same time, you wanna still make the dialogue interesting and intriguing. So all of those things kind of combine. That's another area where actually I got some really good advice.

Lane initially. Cuz Eric, you know, the, the protagonist, kind of his co protagonist is his older daughter Dess. And initially I had, and this was with a purpose, but I had them kind of sounding similar a lot more similar than they end up sounding or, or reading on the page when the final product you know, I was, I was able to, to create the final version of the book.

But initially I had them sounding similar because I thought, well, they've been on the road together. She's starting to kind of pick up his vocal mannerisms, you know parents and children kind of, they, they kind of tend to have that. But Lane just kind of suggested, well, what if we give her her own voice a little bit more, just, just to give her some kind of verbal tics.

And so then it became a matter of how do you go about finding out how an 18 year old girl is going to talk? And I'm, I'm a 43 old man, 41 or 42 or so at the time. So I that, [00:22:00] where do I to go to research that? Well, the good news about anything like that these days isn't, you know, kind of my fallback, my crutch that I anybody can kind of use.

 If you need to find out how somebody talks and you know, their, their mannerisms and any age bracket, any demographic, everybody's putting their own information out online these days. Mm-hmm. , you can go and find a vlog of anyone, any variety of person that you need. So if you're writing an 80 year old who's seen some things that you're like, I can't relate to any of this, and they're from, you know, At the middle of Tennessee and you're wondering how you could probably find that person's vlog or interviews or something somewhere and you can pick up on that and say, okay, this is how they would speak.

And so for me it was, okay, 18 year old black girl, she's got this level of education. She's an athlete, all these different things. So go find. Precise vlogs that kind of match this up. Not completely steal, you know, what the trendy language is because stuff is gonna become dated if [00:23:00] you do that.

But just look for some, some patterns of speech, just different characteristics of the way that they communicate. And then try to, Transfer as much of that as I reasonably can into the character. And so that was the way to do that for, for Des and kind of a similar methodology that, that I used for basically every other character that I needed to kind of get some assistance with to make sure that I got the voice correct and got it and maintained consistency with it.


David Gwyn: No, I think that's so interesting. And so I'm wondering, because you talked about your kind of editing outline process. Is, is dialogue something that fits into that editing process? Was that something that as you were going through, you were paying attention to? Or is this something that happens a lot on the front end?

Johnny Compton: No, that, that definitely is something I was paying attention to, even in the dialogue process, in the editing process. So as certain characters. As we were editing and as I was assigning myself probably, you know, greater work based on some of the feedback as I realized certain characters maybe have a different background [00:24:00] or a different interest than maybe they initially did, then I needed to go back and address that in the dialogue and make sure that they are going to use terms that fit with.

Where I think the character is or what they've seen in the past and how it's going to, fit in with their, their developing characterization. So the villain of the story essentially the antagonist, Eunice, for instance her earliest iterations, she was, I would say, a little bit more sympathetic and probably.

Had a, a bit more of a, in my intention there, I thought had a warmer kind of tone in her dialogue and her word choices. And then as we developed it and as , my, my beta reader had told me this way before I even submitted it to Lane or anybody. She was like, I hate Eunice. And I was like, really? And she, she didn't say that in like a bad way.

She was just like, you know, she was like, you really created somebody really, like I can really, I can root against her really hard. And I was like, really? That's, that's kind of not exactly what I was going for. . But I was, I was apparently just the only person who didn't realize this, because then Lane told me, then my editor, Daphne, [00:25:00] shout out to Daphne, she told me as well.

I kept getting it consistently, like, Hey man, Eunice is, is kind of the worst, like in a good way. She's, she's kind of a despicable person. And I was like, really? I thought, I kind of thought I'd given her like a, a sympathetic backstory. They were like, he did, but also like she still makes a terrible decision. , her decisions are indefensible pretty much. And she's, she's gotta be aware of this. And I was like, well, she is, but she's torn up about it and they're like, yeah, but it, it, it just makes you hate her kind of more the fact that she's like, you know, trying to be like, oh, but I, you know, so I was like, you know what, let's, let's just lean into this then and make her more, a little bit more sinister.

So then though, you have to go back. I, I noticed that in, in my in, in my OneNote. I use Microsoft OneNote for a lot of that. And okay, we need to go back and revisit pretty much all of her dialogue and as I'm c combing through it and say, okay, now how would she say this? Now that she's a, a bit darker, little bit more clinical how's she gonna convey certain things that before maybe she'd have been in denial about what her role in all of this is.

So she's going to maybe [00:26:00] use weasel words that are not as intentional, versus now she's more cognizant of it. So she still might use some weasel words and, and try to talk around her own guilt, but she's deliberately doing it now. And so she's gonna use different, different words and she's gonna have a different voice now because of that.

And so I try to pay attention to that as well. When. That comes up with the dialogue. So that's just one example of it. But I definitely, in my editorial chart there that I created for myself, definitely used that to keep track as well of, of the dialogue and, and what needs to be done there.

David Gwyn: It's funny to hear about the, the process you went through to create units cuz I, I feel like that same way, like I, I really liked her first scene and like, I liked her in the first scene. Like I'm really like rooting for her and. Slowly, things start turning. I'm like, wait, what happened?

Like, where, where, you know, and, and it's so, it creates such a unique antagonist and I, I really, really enjoyed reading her scenes. And I think that's really interesting hearing it now because. It totally came through on the page, like exactly the way you, you wanted it to.

And, [00:27:00] and how much work the dialogue does for you when creating a character. Like even just that, that minute word choice. And I'm hoping people are listening or thinking about , about their own characters being like, what words do I need to, you know, how do I, how do I need to color the language of a, of a particular character to make sure that it's coming through?

I think that's so 

Johnny Compton: cool. It was just, interesting and fun, and during the course of the rewrite, I actually had somebody ask, who was your favorite person to write the, the perspective of. And I, I came to the realization when they asked, I was like, I, I think it was Eunice actually.

It ultimately ended up being my favorite one , especially during the rewrites because she got to be a little bit more sinister. And so it was more fun to kind of delve into that. And she also gets to tell a lot more of the kind. Spooky backstory events that, that have happened in the house and there are stories that didn't exist in the original draft and in the, some of the earlier drafts of the book.

And then as she grew darker, it was like, well, if she's, if she's darker, then her history has to be a little bit darker even. And so if [00:28:00] that's darker as well, then what's a good. And one of my favorite, and I'm not gonna spoil it for anybody here, but one of my favorite, like, I think possibly my favorite little side story from the book is something that she, she conveys to Eric.

And it's just, I think a, is a brief scene, but it's, it's just extremely spooky to me and just haunting. And again, you get to play with a dialogue in, in the sense of, okay, how is she going? She knows, she has to tell a scary story to someone who she's also trying to convince to stay. Horrifying house. How is she going to convey this story in a way that makes it seem like she's trying to show them that she sympathizes with them and understands the gravity of the situation that she's asking them to, to remain in while at the same time dance around.

The, the scariest elements that might chase him off and getting to kind of play with that and figure out, again, what's the word choice? How's she gonna try to do this? It, it opened up an entirely different avenue that I was, I was really kind of eager to explore.[00:29:00]

David Gwyn: The other thing I was wondering about is this, this is a story that takes place in Texas, right? And there's, it felt like there was enough.

Southern dialect to make, you know, you were there, but not so much that it was distracting. And I think some writers at times, like fall into distracting, where you can't quite follow along, where it's, it's hard work to, to keep up. How did you even find the balance there? Like, I, it's, it was clear that you wanted to make it feel like it was in Texas.

But not in a way that, that overwhelmed me or distracted me. Did you have an idea of how you wanted to balance that as you were. 

Johnny Compton: You think of the stories that you've read as a text in myself and you think of stories that maybe, like you said, go overboard. And I was thinking, kinda keeping that in mind, okay, we don't want to do this too, too much in this direction with some of the vernacular.

And at the same time, Like you said, you wanna make sure that it's also, you know, they, they can't just have completely blank neutral dialect. There's gonna be some evidence here of, of where they're from that's gonna bleed through. I try to be present, listen to people.

I'm, I'm a [00:30:00] big eaves dropper in public and listen to, to the way people speak and, and really kind. Feel confident that I'm not missing out on something. In, in terms of when I go to some of these places in the Hill country and I hear the locals let's say locals like I'm, you know, , 10 hours removed from them or something.

It's like an hour drive. But when I, when I hear people that actually live in, in, in some of these smaller towns, cause I'm in San Antonio, here are some of the people living in these smaller towns talk amongst themselves. I'm not. An abundance of y'all's and partner or whatever, you know, whatever the, the stereotype would be that people would think of.

Right. Especially, I mean, it helps, it's, it's the Texas Hill country talked about this. I I, I did a, a podcast with Agatha Andrew. Shout out to her, me and her talked about this cuz she's a native Texan as well. A lot of people I think, also think of Texas primarily when they think of Texas. If they haven't been here, they're thinking of Far West Texas.

And even then they're thinking of specific places in far West Texas. So not even necessarily like the actual city of El Paso, but the idea of what El Paso [00:31:00] might have been like in their mind, dusty and, and old and in a certain timeframe. And everybody's. wearing boots and, and there, there is, some truth to, to some of those things obviously, but it's a huge state.

There's a lot of different terrain. There's a lot of different People, varieties of people. And so in the Hill country, you know, it's wine country kind of for Texas as well, there's some, kind of slight hipster vibes in certain little towns there. And I actually had more of that in, in my earliest, earliest draft, and I actually removed some of that even before I started.

Putting it out there. Cause I was like, I'm kind of getting too bogged down in, in that, in my, my focus got too much into the idea of, I, I wanna dispel the myths of, of Texas being all like one thing. And really it's, it's this, you know, strange little pocket of the hills and the wine and distilleries and stuff like that.

And So I, I just kind of embedded myself a little bit and I became right before I started writing the book, became more fascinated with the hill country. Cause it was a place I had not really explored much of, even though I'm a native Texan and it's right on, you know, the, the doorstep before I live basically.

I was able to start getting more into that and [00:32:00] realizing that this is an entire kind of dynamic and culture of Texas that hasn't really been put on film or, you know, I, I say film because that's like the thing that informs most people's , immediate ideas of what a place is like. Right?

Books are influential, but film is probably 20 times more influential or so. Mm-hmm. So I haven't really put on film, I hadn't really read too many books that really capture that. Even some of the paintings that I've, I've looked at, you know, typically of, of Texas. It's less there's a lot less of a, a presence in the art world of capturing the hill country, which is beautiful.

So you'd think, man, we should have a lot of cool paintings of the Texas hills. And instead you still get a lot of old dusty landscapes at the, the cow skull , you know, like baking in the sun. So I, I wanted to, to capture and convey that. And so it, it, doing that made it easy for me to find that balance because the balance just kind of exists already there in these places.

And you can go there and you can kind of hear the slight twang in somebody's tone, but at the same time, [00:33:00] It's not as overboard as maybe somebody who, who hasn't been in this area before would presume it would be. And then of course you have Eric and, and his daughters are from an entirely different region of the country.

So I, I did try to put that as well, capture that in the. Early stages of the book that to them, this does sound really like a heavy twang. Because I have encountered that when I talk to people from outside of Texas and they'll comment on my accent, I'm like, I don't think I have an accent. They're like, well, you do say y'all.

I think people , nobody else says, y'all we're the only ones that say y'all. And they're like, I, it's, it's kind of a southern southwest thing. And I'm like sitting here thinking like, I don't know, man. I, I got a lot of hip hop records . Some of y'all were saying yes, yes. Y'all in New York. I mean, was that just, you only say that at the club

You don't, you don't say y'all anywhere else unless it's a colon and response thing at the club. Okay, I got it. I got, I got guess. I guess it's just escapes regular conversation though, so I, I, I can see the perspective, so I wanted to also capture that as well with, you know, you don't have to go overboard with it because you established with these characters that are from the northeast.[00:34:00]

To them, it's, it'll, it is gonna sound like an ex extraordinary twang anyway, so you, you don't have to really go too overboard with. 

David Gwyn: I mean, it feels like a masterclass in, in dialogue in like in like 15 minutes. I feel like I'm like making notes over here for myself as if I'm not about to listen back to this

So I, I just got two questions as we wrap up here. My, my first one is a lot of the writers who, who interact with me, who listen to the podcast, they're people who, you know, have a few manuscripts in the drawer. They've, they've been around the block a little bit. They're, you know, getting around to the process where the, you know, the one that they're on feels like the one.

You know, they've learned a lot about the, the writing process and the editing process, and, and they've, they really wanna make the one that they're on the, like, the one that, that helps them break in the door the way, like, it sounds like spite house was for you. And so if, if you could have one thing to kind of say to those people as they've listened to us now for a little bit, one thing that they can just go about their day, thinking about 

what do you think that. 

Johnny Compton: Oh, man. Can I say two things? Of course, two, two things. Jump into mind. Because I, I've been there. Don't fixate too much [00:35:00] on your, your most beloved idea. Which I, I totally get it. But I, I, part of my year spend the wilderness wasting time was fixating on a particular idea that I wrote like three or four different drafts on him.

And I'm talking, blew it up. Like, not, not even drafts probably not the right word. I'm talking, blew it up, start over from the ground up after I got like 50,000 words in, and then get another 40,000 words in and, and blow it up again and start over again. And we're talking about basically half of a novels.

you know, two or three different times. Because I was just determined. I was like, this is the one. And then I've let that go. And after I let that go, I was able to get more short story writing done. I, I just became so fixated on this is the one, and it just wasn't, it just wasn't. But I, I felt like I'd invested so much in it that I, I was afraid to let it go and start over.

So, there's a difference between dedication and, and fixation, right? be dedicated to it if it's, if it's the right idea, and you're still feeling confident in it. I knew at certain intervals, [00:36:00] this is probably not it, I need to just look elsewhere. But I, I was fixated on it.

I couldn't escape this and because I had my blinders on. I couldn't look elsewhere. It. It kind of took over a good, I don't know that, that one alone probably occupied at least a good seven, eight years of my, my writing process, basically. So, you know, just be wary of that. Just be, just be c cautious about that.

And then the, the other thing would be I mean the lesson I learned from the spite house is just, you know, there's a lot of luck and everything involved, but if you can find something that's just a skew of what everybody else maybe is, is typically doing. That, that can go a long way. I mean, I wrote a haunted house story that I love, I think is fantastic, and I've, I'm able to use it to launch, hopefully, a career out of this and, and hopefully get people to see the things like you mentioned, the dialogue.

I, I can't thank you enough for complimenting the dialogue. Like I said, I've worked so hard on it and the characterization, all these things I've worked on the, the good writing that I, I feel like I've developed [00:37:00] over, over the years. . The thing that got me in the door was not the good writing.

The thing that got me in the door that got people's eyes on what I was writing was, this is a haunted house set in a spite house. What's a spite house? Mm-hmm. , like you said, you didn't even know what a spite house was. Before you read this, I actually, before I really started, Working on the book, I just did it an informal survey of just as much as I could for about a month.

Everywhere I went. I would just ask you, have you ever heard of a spite house? What is that? I mean, to a person, I, I did not speak to a person for a month who had heard of a house, and I thought not only do I have a haunted house idea. That's never been, nobody's ever put one in a spite house. Most people don't even know what this is, and when I started explaining it to them and showing them examples and show them Wikipedia page, they were like, this is crazy.

Are you serious? People like people actually build an entire house just to like put it right next to their neighbors, to to somebody else's other house and block their view. Yep. This has actually happened. This happened more than once. This happened countless times. Dozens, at least maybe hundreds, not just in the United States, all over [00:38:00] the world.

and so I knew I had something, I knew I had a, an angle and it's not, again, there's nothing completely brand new, super original under the sun. At the end of the day. Like I say, it's a haunted house story and I I love it. I think it's very well told. You know, there, there's a lot of haunted house stories.

What got me the, the attention and got me the agent and got publisher's attention was the fact that I, I had a haunted house story that was just in a, in a different setting, and I feel like I can confidently testify to this from a horror perspective.

There's a lot that's out there that's. Either unexamined or completely unexamined. The, the variety of the types of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, all kind of different international flavors, all kinds of different flavors from where you are probably locally if you're in, in whatever town you're in, there's probably some kind of crazy story.

Nobody's really pursued this angle on it before there's some kind of version of a spirit that, or a poltergeist or something that is different from what other people have done. So [00:39:00] if you have an opportunity to even just work that in, even if it's not the primary focus of your story, if you have an opportunity to work something like that into be able to present that as the angle.

That can help the good writing. Hopefully, hopefully for anybody listening, I, I'm rooting for you. I hope that the good writing is going to be enough. Nothing wrong with leveraging the good writing with maybe something that's you know an an angle or perspective, a feature that is unique to your story in terms of, oh, I've never even heard of this subject before, and you, you can present that in a way that's gonna captivate.

Yeah, that's cool. What 

David Gwyn: a great thing for people to think about as they, carry on their day. I think that's awesome. A way to end this, but my last question for you is just where can people find you? Where can people look you up? 

Johnny Compton: My website is johnnycompton.com. So by all means, feel free to go to to the website.

You can find anything you wanna find out about me as far as my social media, my events coming up, all the above there. I am infrequently but present on Twitter and Instagram. [00:40:00] At, at Compton Rights on both platforms there. So at Compton, w r i t e s all together on Instagram and on Twitter.

And so you can find me at, at all those different places. . Nice. And so 

David Gwyn: yeah, if you're listening and you wanna get in touch with Johnny, I'll link that stuff below so you have quick access to it. Johnny, this was phenomenal. I, I had a blast and like I said, I hope everyone goes out and gets a copy of the spite house.

It was a, it's a great book. Like I said, I, I'm shocked that it's a debut. So well done and thanks so much for being here. 

Johnny Compton: Thank you. 

David Gwyn: I'm serious. When I say that the spite house was an absolutely phenomenal read. I enjoyed the characters, the scares, the tension, and obviously the dialogue. 

I'm really looking forward to everything else. Johnny Compton has in store for his career. Remember to check out the 50 editing mistakes authors make shared by an editor at lake union publishing. 

And download the free. 

Editing outline inspired by Johnny's process. 

You can find that linked in the description as well. And before [00:41:00] we leave. 

I want to tell you that next time on the podcast, we're talking to Austin as a hunter. Hunter con and after that, Aaron, Phillip Clark, you're going to love these guests. Don't miss out. Make sure you subscribe.

Ausma Zehanat Khan: Back in 2020 and we saw the nationwide protest, perhaps the most significant social justice protests in the history of the United States after the civil rights move. And I could see how polarized Americans were, how differently they were viewing what, to me seemed like a very obvious case of police misconduct and police brutality.

And that got me interested in these questions of why policing is so divisive in the United States. And I wanted to write about that, not just in terms of how it impacts the black community, but also how state power Im it impacts the undocumented in this country, how it targets other vulnerable minorities.

Muslims which is my own background, and I wanted to look at how these communities intersect and the kind of solidarity we have been trying to build and continue to try to build. So that's kind of the overall picture of why I've been so interested in writing a, a story like Black Waterfalls.

Aaron Philip Clark: Well, I think a lot [00:42:00] about the characters. So I always started there and I think there's a universal quality to Trevor Finnegan. And you know, while folks may say, well, I don't identify cause I'm not a cop, or I don't identify because I'm not a black male.

Or I didn't grow up in California, Southern California. But I think there's a universal quality. That exists within how he interacts with his father and how he deals with past trauma and the death of his mother, and all these things that people can can understand and relate to. And that's kind of where I start.

And then the themes, I think, emerge from, in his case, how he operates as a charact. 

David Gwyn: I'll see you next week.