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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

Delighted to share my interview with Verlin Darrow about his YA novel Prodigy Quest. He talks about his truly fascinating life, writing experiences, and offers words of advice to encourage others.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I’m currently a part-time writer and a part-time psychotherapist, both of which enable me to put my hard-earned, varied life experiences to good use. Woven into all my work are themes and concepts that I’ve learned help us all live better lives, such as the values of kindness, mindfulness, and creating congruence between our insides and the world around us. I guess I’m a secular Buddhist.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

In fifth grade, our teacher assigned us to write something every day for a month. I was immensely, unjustifiably pleased with what I came up with (I still have the cringeworthy notebook). The writing was grade appropriate,  but the emotional maturity expressed by the words was woeful. Anyway, the seed was planted. From then on, any writing assignment in school grabbed my attention.

When did you take a step to start writing?

I began writing books in a campground outside Naples, Italy when I was nineteen. My waiting-for-my-potential-to-manifest girlfriend and I were trapped by a solid week of rain in an awful campground just outside the city limits. Sex workers burned tires on the contiguous sidewalk to attract customers. I was cranky, bored out of my mind, and quite depressed.

The first novel that emerged from that twenty dollar tent was hideously amateurish. The quality of my writing progressed all the way up to just plain bad by the time I’d written a few more. That era of my life was characterized by an inability to learn much, since that would’ve entailed acknowledging that I didn’t already know everything.      

Prodigy Quest by Verlin Darrow
Prodigy Quest by Verlin Darrow

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

About nine months. The finished product reflected a lack of editing. After that, it usually took a year or two.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Two years. I labored on revisions and edits longer than any other project.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Prodigy Quest?

Intriguing ideas get me going. With Prodigy Quest, I thought: What if past lives passed on a multi-reincarnation mission to a first person narrator? Then it occurred to me that an arrogant child prodigy might need to transform to cope with what comes his way. I know something about prodigies, arrogance, and personal transformation. Everything flowed from this bare-boned beginning.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Prodigy Quest?

Keeping Tris’s voice consistent with a genius ten-year old’s was challenging. Also, as I often do, I wrote myself into a corner several times and drew a blank about where the plot could go next. Excited by how I managed to solve these, I had to backfill all that I neglected as I moved the plot along—description, attributing dialogue, etc.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

In a word, me. I had a lot in common with Tris. At his age, I memorized the Guinness book of world records, most of the World Almanac, and all the Sears catalogue prices. I missed no opportunity to show off what I knew.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

There are several antagonists, including two cult leaders. Once again, for better or worse, I’ve had personal experience with cult leadership. I was the first disciple and then an assistant guru of sorts in a small, benign cult a long time ago. While I benefitted in many ways, I also saw the dark side of such organizations.

Prodigy Quest by Verlin Darrow
Prodigy Quest by Verlin Darrow

What is the inciting incident of Prodigy Quest?

Tris remembers a past life while winning a TV quiz show.

What is the main conflict of Prodigy Quest?

The struggle to find a book of wisdom to publish it for the benefit of the world as creepy people try to get their hands on it for their own selfish purposes.

Did you plot Prodigy Quest in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I’m a high flyer—probably as seat of the pants as possible. After the initial concept, a book falls out of me, guided by more than my conscious mind. Once I thought I picked the color of a car at random, only to discover that was a key plot point seventy pages later. Of course, then I have to go back and create continuity, usually throwing away the first chapter.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Prodigy Quest need?

I have a great relationship with my editor at Wild Rose Press. This is our third book together. Eilidh MacKenzie didn’t accept Prodigy Quest until I made revisions, and then was instrumental in the subsequent editing process

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Don’t fight reality. It’s bigger than you are and it will win. Be realistic and work within the realm in which you have ownership. Let go of the rest–the outcomes beyond your illusion of control. Focus on a good faith process and find a way to cooperate with the way things need to be down the line As Stephen Batchelor says: Anguish emerges from craving for life to be other than it is. I think that this especially applies to writers, given the state of our industry.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I’m working on a fantasy story about a teenager fighting a sorcerer with the help of aliens—or is he?

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes. Absolutely. Even if my book was never published, the process of writing is an essential element in my well-being. I need to create to feel life is meaningful.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

On Amazon:

My website:


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