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John began working in earnest on Sensei, the first Connor Burke thriller, in 2000. The sequel, Deshi, was published in 2005 and garnered strong reviews in USA Today, Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus, Independent Book Publishers Association.

John has always been fascinated with other cultures and was attracted to the Asian martial disciplines because of their blend of  philosophy and action. He began studying Shotokan Karatedo in college. He joined practical training with more formal education, completing a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His doctoral dissertation on the cultural aspects of the Japanese martial arts formed the basis for his first book, The Forge of the Spirit .

John has worked in the hospitality, advertising, and publishing industries, but for the bulk of his non-writing career he has been a higher education professional, working as both a teacher and senior level manager at a number of colleges--strapped, as he says, to the wheel of administrative karma.

Fusing the way of the pen and the way of the sword, while writing John has trained in the martial disciplines of aikido, iaido, judo, karatedo, kendo, and taiji. He has dan (black belt) ranks in both karatedo and kendo.

Interview with John Donohue

What's more difficult: achieving a black belt or getting a book finished and published?

In personal terms, I think that the experience of getting a black belt was far more difficult and fraught with challenges than writing a book. In part, it’s because I was not a very athletic person as a kid and my involvement with the martial arts helped change that. Any kind of significant change is difficult on both physical and emotional levels, and certainly training in the martial arts was a real (and long term) challenge. Writing, on the other hand, has always been something that I’ve enjoyed. I try to take real care with my craft, but writing has always been a very gratifying endeavor for me.

Now, getting a book published ... that’s a whole other issue. Ironically, the great martial arts teachers are much more accessible than agents or publishers. A good sensei is willing to help you along and invest some real time and effort into you as a person. Publishing is a much more cut-throat activity; very few agents or editors are interested in your potential as a writer. The nature of the game is now about moving product and not so much about the craft of writing.

So what’s easier: writing a book or getting a black belt: writing a book.

What’s easier: getting a black belt or getting a book published: getting a black belt.

Which deceased author would you most like to take out to dinner?

My first impulse was to say Joseph Conrad since I am such an admirer of his prose. Then again, he found writing excruciating and I wonder if he’d be any fun to be with (probably not, based on his biographers). So I’d say Robert B. Parker. He wrote the Spenser and Jesse Stone thriller series. He was someone who was originally in academia. He had an interest in a martial art (boxing). He also seemed to be someone who liked a good meal and a beer. I’d like to pick his brains and think we’d have a lot in common.

Did you ever read a book and then wish you had all that time back?

Unfortunately, yes. There have been very few books in my life that I’ve actually put down without finishing (no matter how terrible). But there have been a few that I’ve finished and said “wow, that stunk.”

What is the best contemporary novel you've read in the last year?

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Has your martial arts training helped you with your writing in any way?

It has, in the sense that martial arts training is a process of continuous improvement. You’re always striving to get better, to look at yourself objectively and honestly and try to figure out how you can improve. Working at being a good writer requires some of the same things: discipline, persistence, integrity.

And, of course, being a serious martial artist helps develop a sense of humility as well: you’ll never get as good as you want to be; there’s always someone better. You have to learn to find joy in the journey, not the destination. I think that attitude is very helpful for writers as well.

What was the book that most influenced your life and why?

Geez, I’ve read a lot of books and have been doing so for about fifty years ...

If I had to choose, I’d say Kipling’s the Jungle Books—they really engaged me and I liked the fact that he did both poetry and prose.

And on a more serious vein, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness—beautiful language and imagery, dense and significant meaning in under 100 pages. And English wasn’t even his native language!

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The book is imaginative, funny, sad. And the writing ... I read it over and over again just to enjoy his prose.

What is the best writing advice you've ever been given?

Just write. Don’t worry too much about it. I’ve taught writing and I often tell my students that one of the biggest blocks for writers is worrying about the fact that their writing isn’t good enough. It means that you spend all your time worrying and none of it writing. And since you’re not writing, you’re not getting any better at it and that means you worry some more ...

It’s like in kendo (Japanese fencing): if you spend all your time worrying that someone is going to hit you with the sword, then it paralyzes you and chances are pretty good someone is going to hit you with a sword ...

So first day of writing class I tell everyone, “Relax, it’s not Shakespeare. The fate of the Western world does not rest on our shoulders, Let’s just do some writing and maybe we’ll get better at it.”

What do you think of eBooks? Do you support digital publishing?

I think ebooks are here to stay (whatever the final format). Everyone ought to stop whining about it. I prefer the experience of reading a “real” book, but I also think that ebooks have their place and are excellent means to get more books into more peoples’ hands more easily. So I do support digital publishing.

If you could choose one superhero power, what would it be and why?

I think being able to fly would be fun. Things must look different from a bird’s perspective.

eBooks found: 3
Sensei ePub (Adobe DRM) download by John Donohue
John Donohue
YMAA Publication Center, August 2011
ISBN: 9781594392474
Format: ePub
Our price: $3.99
Kage: The Shadow A Connor Burke Martial Arts Thriller PDF (Adobe DRM) download by John Donohue
John Donohue
YMAA Publication Center, June 2011
ISBN: 9781594392108
Format: PDF, ePub
List Price: $9.99 Our price: $7.99
Man with a Pan ePub (Adobe DRM) download by John Donohue
Man with a Pan:
John Donohue
Algonquin Books, May 2011
ISBN: 9781565129856
Format: ePub
List Price: $15.95 Our price: $11.99