John Austin worked as a senior toy designer in the Boys Research and Development Department at Hasbro Toys. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and currently lives in Illinois with his wife and son. His latest book, MINIWEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: Build and Master Ninja Weapons, is now available from Chicago Review Press.
The Writing Life Questions
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was totally interested in movie special effects when I was young, purchasing tons of “The Art Of…” books, in which the pages of those books pointed me into the industrial design field. While studying industrial design, I took an internship for toy design at Hasbro and fell in love with the industry.
What are you doing when you’re not writing books?
Drawing toys, lots of them—toy vehicles, action figures, and anything with guns! Most of the projects I take on are for boy properties, concept sketching, pattern drawings, plastic colors and graphics… the complete package! I usually try to work on book projects between toy projects, fills the gaps and mixes up the creativity!!
What did you learn in school that helps you as an author?
Presentation! While taking a variety of art, design, engineering, and one creative writing class, every project came down to presentation, which is probably my favorite part. I love putting a ton of elements together for an impressive package. Next to seeing the book completed, doing the first 30+ pages of a proposal is probably my favorite part, shaping a book out of thin air and translating the art, layout, and design of the book is really rewarding!
How long have you been writing, versus how long have you called yourself a writer?
I actually don’t consider myself an author or writer, which is kind of funny. When people ask me what I do, my first response is “toy design, and I work on some other projects on the side.” I rarely name-drop “writer” or “author” in a sentence.
Do you have any superstitious writing practices?
I have to start with a clean home office before any major project, and it may take days to clean (procrastinating). Once I start, I want time…10, 12, 14+ hours consecutively until I’ve broken the initial wall and start making progress. Trail mix is also recommended during this time.☺
Do you share your work-in-progress with anyone other than your agent/editor?
Outside my wife, I try to avoid divulging any information during the conceptual stages of any projects to avoid derailing the vision. It’s like telling a room of people your first choice for a baby name. Everyone knows a “Dan” they hate, dislike, or is just weird.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Put it on paper, talk is cheap.” If you want to write a book, do it. Don’t talk about it. When I first decided to try my luck at publishing, my early findings pretty much told me to just write the damn book… so I did.
What was the inspiration for your new book?
We’ve had great success with the first books in the series and wanted to venture into another great category, however we couldn’t decide if it would be Ninja or Military. We did a little voting on the Facebook page and Ninja stood out, and with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other various ninja toy lines coming out, we decided to go forward with Ninja, and the finished projects rock!
How did you come up with the title?
The title for the series has always been a double-edged sword. Kids love the aggressive nature of the title, while some venues shy away from the word “weapons.” Past the title, this series illustrates easy-to-do projects that “dabble” in innovation, experimentation, and material exploration with loads of engineering… skills kids can latch onto for life! Homegrown innovation is important.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I enjoy the process of building and testing the projects prior to starting the art. I lay out all the potential projects, then build several test MiniWeapons to perfect the design, reduce the materials, and have clear steps for anyone to follow. Some projects take hours, while others will be shelved and revisited over the month or so I’m in the phase. While doing the 40+ projects in each MiniWeapons book, I will sometime get hung up on designs but then the next day crank out four amazing projects, so I just ride the wave.
What is your favorite way to connect with readers?
I love fan mail! It’s pretty cool to receive physical mail forwarded by the publisher, with kids drawing up ideas and sharing stories of projects. Many of my projects have been used to win physics competitions, which is pretty cool! I’ve mailed MiniWeapon stickers to every fan that has ever written me!
Visit John at JohnAustinBooks.com, and read his earlier installment of Inside the Authors Studio here.
MINIWEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: Build and Master Ninja Weapons is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and wherever books are sold.