I’m so happy to welcome another Seton Hill MFA graduate to my blog today. J.C. Mastro has managed to successfully combine writing and being a stay-at-home dad. Below are his responses to my interview questions, followed by his bio and contact/buy links.
First off, congratulations on the release of the anthology, Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales Featuring “Spirit of the Dragon”, for which you served as both one of the editors and contributors. Can you tell us a little about how this project and your involvement came about? What led you to decide on the theme of dragons?
Thank you very much, Lynn! It is my first official publication and I’m very excited about it. My friend and fellow Seton Hill MFA in Writing Popular Fiction graduate Marx Pyle approached our class and other writer friends earlier this year with an anthology idea that involved telling stories about dragons in a new and unique way. Throw out the old tropes of fire-breathing, Western/European treasure-hoarding dragons and write them into plots and settings that were different than what we usually see. His idea also included doing something different from typical anthologies by including critique rounds between the authors, and behind-the-scenes essays.
I was instantly onboard, being a fan of dragons and seeing the opportunity to be part of a fun and unique project. As the project went on, I stepped up and volunteered to serve as an editor. That was a somewhat new experience too, which allowed me to flex the skills I’d learned at SHU and help to craft a great anthology. The experience from start to finish was wonderful, and we’ve all created a book we’re very proud of.
Tell us about your story in the anthology and what inspired it.
My story is titled “Spirit of the Dragon.” It’s about a dragon-loving heavy metal band called DragonFraggen who are seeking something special to inspire their next hit song. They discover an ancient book that tells of the magical imprisonment of a dragon named Tympanagon—and the spell that binds him. They write their song, and perform it live at a huge music festival. As you may guess, what could possibly go wrong?
I pulled in multiple influences for this story, and you can find a more detailed description in my behind-the-scenes essay in the book. But basically, I took my love for the rock and metal music genre and started by writing the actual song. After that, I created the band and used my fascination with real-world exploration to research the location where they find the book. I knew early on they would perform the song in the story, so it then became about capturing the feel of being at this concert. I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say I had a blast writing this story!
I know you are also a young adult writer of a sci-fi novel, Academy Bound. Can you tell us a bit about Academy Bound?
Academy Bound was my thesis novel at SHU. It’s about sixteen-year-old Zach Aurelian who earns a spot at the Earth Alliance Space Fleet Academy to train to become an officer. Not only is it his dream, but he is convinced it’s his best way to learn what happened to his mom who went missing eight years earlier while on her Special Forces mission that suddenly ended a system-wide civil war. Political and military tensions are once again high, and Zach learns very quickly that he’s going to be tested in ways he never imagined.
It’s a concept I’d been working on since my undergrad program and was inspired by my love for sci-fi TV classics like Star Trek and Babylon 5. It is also inspired by the boarding school setting, and is a planned series corresponding with each year.
You earned your MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Did you find that the program significantly contributed to your growth and development as a writer?
Without a doubt! At my very first residency, all nerves and self-doubt, I knew right away that I’d found a home among like minded and supportive people. Not only was I able to hone my writing craft to levels I didn’t even know I was capable of, I was also able to learn from experts and successful authors who’ve been doing this a long time. I built fantastic networking relationships and made the most wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime. I wouldn’t trade my experience with SHU for anything.
Are there books, movies, or television shows that inspired you as a child? As an adult?
Oh gosh, yes! Those influences are why I write these stories. I grew up in the 80’s, when sci-fi and fantasy, action and adventure movies and TV were huge. Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Goonies, Rankin/Bass cartoons all had a major effect on my genre interests. Around middle school I began reading more advanced books like Dune and the sequels, Jurassic Park, Anne McCaffrey, and even some Stephen King.
As an adult, that love has continued with the more recent Star Trek series’, movies like Lord of the Rings, and a love for YA books like Harry Potter and anything by Rick Riordan and Brandon Sanderson.
I understand that you are a stay-at-home dad. Has that been challenging in terms of finding time and space in which to write?
It definitely has its challenges. When the kids were little, it felt like there was no way I could return to school and earn my degrees. Once they were all in school, I found I had the time and earned my BA online from SNHU, which led to attending Seton Hill. Once I began writing in earnest, it became very difficult to sit at the kitchen computer desk with a bustling house around you—not to mention I have an anxiety that someone is reading what I’m doing over my shoulder. So, last year with everyone home 24/7 during the pandemic, I had to create my own private writing space, and it was the best thing I could have done.
What are you currently working on writing-wise?
I’m currently working on self-publishing my thesis novel Academy Bound. It’s in the final production phase, I guess you’d call it, with professional editing, cover design, and working with an audiobook narrator friend of mine. I hope to release it sometime next Spring, fingers crossed!
I’m also co-writing a Middle Grade adventure novel with my friend and critique partner from SHU. We’re still in the plotting and outline stages, but our intention is to create a fun adventure that’s part Indiana Jones and part The 39 Clues.
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked, but I didn’t?
I’d just like to share a little encouragement to anyone who is a writer or wants to be. Ignore that voice in your head that tries to tell you that you aren’t good enough, your idea stinks, or you aren’t a real writer. You absolutely are a writer, and you can achieve your goals if you just keep moving forward and working hard at it! Use every little victory along the way as motivation to reach for the next, and the setbacks or tough feedback as learning opportunities to improve. You can do it!
Terrific advice, J.C.! Thanks so much for visiting today.
J.C. Mastro is a visually impaired stay-at-home-geek-dad and science fiction and fantasy author with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. He enjoys reading, binge-watching, and gaming. He hopes his stories will inspire and entertain readers as much as he was through writing them. His short story “Spirit of the Dragon” appears in the anthology Dragons of a Different Tail, and stay tuned for his upcoming debut YA sci-fi novel Academy Bound.
Connect with J.C. on his website: www.jcmastroauthor.com or on Instagram @jcmastroauthor
Dragons of a Different Tail can be purchased for any ebook platform or in print at www.books2read.com/dragonstail