I’m having so much fun with this author interview series and getting to know other writers. This time I’m interviewing John Schembra, author of multiple novels including his latest, The List, Book 4 in the Vince Torelli police procedural series. I know John from a writing group and the Mt. Diablo Chapter of the California Writers Club. Enjoy the interview!
About the Author
John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970. His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book, M.P., A Novel of Vietnam. After returning from Vietnam, he became a police officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring as a sergeant after nearly thirty years of service.
John has six other published novels in the mystery/thriller genre, and one mystery, Sin Eater, has supernatural undertones. His latest book, The List, won the first place award in the Public Safety Writers Association 2021 writing competition, his ninth writing award. You can find out more about him and his books, read their first chapters, and find a couple of his short stories at his website, www.jschembra.com. John can be reached at his email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
John has completed writing his eighth book, Southern Justness (number six in the Vince Torelli series), currently in the editing process.
Who or what inspires you to write?
My inspiration to become a writer stems from my mother. She encouraged me to become an avid reader at a very young age, like five or six years old. I still am to this day. Because I read so much, in several different genres, it became a favorite pastime of mine. I became a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, not only with his Tarzan series, but his otherworld and inner-world adventure stories. I have always been amazed at his ability to create new worlds, creatures, civilizations, and beings. I thought it would be so cool to be able to do that, and have others read what I wrote!
I can relate to your mother inspiring you to become an avid reader at a young age, which ultimately led to you becoming a published author. My mom did the same for me. What is the best thing that has happened because of your writing?
The best thing is having a loyal following that has enjoyed my books and receiving email asking when my next book will be out. Second best is having won multiple writing competition awards for my books. Those two things keep me inspired and motivated to write more.
Congratulations on your book awards! Loyal readers definitely help to keep us inspired and motivated to write. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced about writing or publishing?
When I first started writing, I didn’t know the importance of showing, rather than telling the reader when describing people/places/settings. I became aware of it through my participation in critique groups and writer group memberships. I belong to four writer groups, and found I benefited from advice from my writer colleagues. The most difficult aspect for me was writing dialogue. I use a couple of techniques to get it right—reading it out loud to myself (sometimes recording it then listening) or using the Read Aloud feature in Microsoft Word—to “hear” how it sounded; was it natural and realistic? Does it fit the character and/or the scene?
The authors I talk to swear by their writers’ groups for improving their writing. What didn’t you do during your writing or publishing journey that you wish you had?
I have no good answer for this—perhaps “everything” says it best. But one thing was that after being published, I should have promoted my work more aggressively! In most cases, the majority of book promotion falls on the author, and the level of their writing success depends on the amount of promotion.
Book promotion is a challenge for most writers, and what many say is the hardest part of being an author. Do you have a publisher and/or agent, or are you an indie (self-published) or hybrid author?
I do have a publisher. Sandy Cummins, owner and publisher for Writers Exchange. She has been wonderful, very professional and is very good at what she does. I have six books published by her, and book number seven is being edited and should be released in the near future. I consider myself lucky she accepted my first book, M.P., for publication. You can visit her website to learn more about the company and books they have published. There also are links to purchase the books at https://www.writers-exchange.com/.
It sounds like you’ve found a great publishing home for your novels. Which genre(s) do you like to write in, and why?
Being a retired cop with nearly thirty years of experience, I like to write police procedural mystery/thrillers best. I have written five mystery/thrillers, but have also written a thriller with a supernatural theme, and a horror book about a police officer being possessed by a demon. My first book is titled M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, and is a fictional account of a young military policeman in the Vietnam War, based in part on some of my personal experiences during my tour as an M.P. in Vietnam. I am currently hard at work on my ninth book, another mystery/thriller, tentatively titled A Suspicious Death. I have published the first chapter of most of my books at my website, www.jschembra.com, as an intro to each.
Nine books since you retired—it sounds like you are a prolific writer. Do you outline your books before you write them?
I never was very good at outlining and developed a real dislike for it, so I do not outline. I am strictly a pantser. I write the first chapter, and a draft of the last chapter, then fill in the story between them. This may not be good for every writer, but I find it best for me. While writing, I often develop plot twists as I go that wouldn’t be in an outline. For me, being a pantser and developing the story as I go works better.
Another pantser—I’m beginning to think there are more pantsers than plotters. Either way leads to success. How do you define success as a writer?
When I get a reader review that says how much they enjoyed the book, and they want more books from me, that is success. When I get an email from a fan who says they are anxiously awaiting my next book, that is success. When I get compliments on my books from my writer colleagues, that is success. It makes me proud of what I have accomplished, and energizes me to write more.
You should be proud, you have an incredible body of work as an author. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?
It would have to be Edgar Rice Burroughs, my absolute favorite author. Because my uncle, who was a Burroughs fan, turned me on to the Tarzan books, I also became a huge fan, as mentioned above. I currently own forty-eight of his hardbound Tarzan/Mars/Moon/Jupiter/Pellucidar series, and a half-dozen stand-alone adventure books. I continue to collect them as I find them. All were published in the early 20th century.
I would love to talk with him about his writing process, where his ideas came from, his writing style, and learn about him personally—his childhood, his education, family, and what inspired him to become a writer.
I love adventure, so I’ll have to check out those books. Tell us about a great adventure you’ve had.
Well, the greatest adventure in my life was one I did not choose. In 1969 I was drafted into the Army and after twenty weeks of training, was sent to Vietnam as a young, naïve military policeman. I spent a year there, not doing a lot of police work—we had a multitude of duties as described in my book, M.P.—but being in a war makes one grow up quickly. The experience opened my eyes to parts of the world much different than the US. It matured me, and though it was not a good or pleasant time in my life, I don’t regret my time in the army and in Vietnam. I believe it helped me see the world through different eyes. It made me much better prepared for the rest of my life, able to handle the bad things I would face, and appreciate the good things.
It sounds like you have a wonderful attitude about your Vietnam War experience. I’m sure it was a very difficult time. John, thank you so much for helping my readers get to know you and your books better.
Readers, you can find out more about John and his books at his website, www.jschembra.com, and purchase his books at https://www.writers-exchange.com/John-Schembra/. His published books include:
M.P. A Novel of Vietnam
Coming soon: An Echo of Lies; A tale of Demonic Possession
Homicide Inspector Vince Torelli has a reputation for solving the toughest cases in the city, but this one is unlike anything else he has faced. Initially, the killings lack motive, and with hardly any evidence, Vince struggles to determine why the victims were killed and identify the very smart, deadly killer.
Readers, did you become a big fan of any authors when you were younger? Let us know in the comments!
12 thoughts on “Author Interview–John Schembra”
I’m a friend and a fan of John and have read all of his books. Great interview. As for your question, I loved all the Nancy Drew books when I was a kid–had no idea the author was different people.
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Thanks for your comment, Marilyn! I’m happy you enjoyed the interview. I also loved the Nancy Drew books as a kid. I remember I couldn’t wait to read the next one. Good memories!
John is a terrific writer and a true ‘American patriot. His service in the army and on the PD speak to this. He exemplifies the best of us. I love the way he brings his experiences into his writing. If you haven’t read him yet, do so. You won’t be disappointed.
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Thanks for the comment, Michael! I feel privileged to have received some of John’s writing and PD expertise when he was part of my writing group.
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Thanks for the comment–glad you enjoyed the interview!
I’m another fan and friend of John’s. We spent most of the last four or so years working together in a great critique group where I had the opportunity to read his series as he wrote. It was a great experience, and I know his readers are in for a treat. Thanks John!
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Thanks for the comment, George. John has many fans!
Excellent interview! I have read several of John’s books. Always entertaining, well written and page turners. Also, John was kind enough to write a review of my book on Amazon. I’m looking forward to reading his latest book “The List”. Thanks again for a great and thorough interview.
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Hi David, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. I am also looking forward to reading The List. Thanks for the comment!
I enjoyed the interview with John Schembra. He sounds like a prolific and good writer. Your questions to him were thoughtful and gave the readers a sense of who is how and how he finds inspiration to write. The author that inspired me when I was young was J.R.R Tolkien. I loved his imagination and his way of creating an entirely different and believable world.
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Thanks for the comment, Julie. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. Tolkien was a master, for sure.