Welcome back to another Author Interview! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and today’s guest is Joshua Lee Ronin. I ran into Josh in the Writing Community on Twitter and he’s been a super positive, supportive voice there and I really appreciate his presence, so conducting an interview with him just made sense. I’ll leave a link to his blog at the end of the interview so you can check out his stuff!
First, tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey Peter! Thanks for having me, my friend! I appreciate what you’re doing, helping out other artists, and I just want to take a moment to honor that kindness. You’re awesome.
My name is Joshua Lee Ronin. I’m a science fiction and fantasy author, martial artist, and military veteran hailing from Denver, Colorado! I’m a mental health advocate, an indie artist promoter, a podcaster, and a proud dog dad. If it isn’t obvious, I’m known in my circles to be the guy who never stops doing stuff.
I can tell! Were you always kind of this go-getter or was this a character trait that slowly emerged in adulthood?
I’ve always been like this. I have bipolar disorder my whole life (though I wasn’t diagnosed until 2015). The hypomanic episodes it comes with appear to be the reason I’ve always stacked a lot on my plate. It’s just who I am!
What was your first favorite book to read that you can remember?
Oh, man. Y’know, despite the controversy surrounding it in recent years, the Harry Potter series stands on a pedestal in my reading mind. I remember standing in line for midnight releases of those books and reading them in one-sitting sessions. There was more than one occasion in which I read the book all the way until I had to go to class that day, getting no sleep whatsoever, fueled entirely on the magic and wonderment Rowling was pumping into my brain. Say what you will about her personal politics and the content of the books through that lens. Harry Potter was, for me and many others, an absolute literary awakening. It fueled every single creative endeavor I took on all the way up til now.
It’s definitely not my favorite book anymore. I’ve grown up and some of the themes I now explore, on a personal level, are just more adult. But I’ll never forget the impact HP has had on me.
JK Rowling is definitely a controversial figure right now in the literary world. I take it you’re the kind of person who can separate art from the artist?
I am. I know there’s a lot of debate around the topic, but I try to take any art as a singular thing occurring in a sort of vacuum. My connection to HP is because of my translation with the work, not because Rowling told me how to feel about it. Obviously the artist is important in crafting the art, but that’s only one half of the equation. Plus, artists are people and they change, sometimes wildly between one work and the next.
Your new release “Dhaiigo: Peacemaker, Volume 1” is coming up in October. Where did the inspiration for this story first come from?
Yeeesss! So excited.
DHAIIGO is the first in a series of samurai epic fantasy novels and I could not possibly be more pleased with how the book has turned out. I’ve always loved samurai fiction – from old Kurosawa movies to anime to the genre influence in the work of Quentin Tarantino. I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My personal idol is Miyamoto Musashi, widely considered the greatest swordsman in Japanese history. I literally have him tattooed on my arm and even went on a trip to Japan in 2019, on which I followed the path of his life.
I’ve always been a fan of fantasy, too, but I fell off reading it around 2011. I just wasn’t finding anything all that different on the shelves, and every book I read felt like the same setting and characters. Euro-fantasy with lots of White people and Western interpretations of philosophy and themes. I wanted to read an epic fantasy that investigated the soul in the way the old Miike or Kurosawa films did. The character was deep and the pace was almost poetic, broken now and then by brutal action that didn’t hide the ferocity of warfare. I wanted something that didn’t shy away from the realities of war and the impact it had on people. Being a veteran, that was important to me.
But, unfortunately, there was just nothing on the shelves that met that need. So I said, “Screw it. I’ll write it, then.” I drew on my personal experiences with war and my love of samurai history to craft something different than your normal epic fantasy, and I think it works really well. I can’t express how excited I am for people to read this book.
So after Dhaiigo, what do you think will be next for Joshua the writer? Will you again try to plug some holes you see in what’s offered in bookstores today?
You know it! DHAIIGO is the first in a series of a planned seven books. (May be more or less.) I’m working on fantasy and sci-fi focused in other non-European fantasy as well, including some Carribean, Medditeranean, and Middle Eastern settings. If I can keep up my speed, I should be pushing out between 1-3 books a year, all of them with the intent to fill some gap on the shelves.
If you could go back to your first days of writing and give yourself some advice, what would that be?
Oh, great question. Definitely the biggest piece of advice I’ve learned over the years, as I’ve transitioned into writing full time, is to trust myself. I’ve written since I was a kid, but I’ve never published anything because I was worried the work wouldn’t do well for this or that reason. The writing was bad or the genre wasn’t marketable or whatever. But I’ve learned that people will buy things for a variety of reasons. If I wanted war fiction with heavy character and non-Western casts, other people probably do too. I can’t get hung up on the details.
I just have to write what I like and put it out there. Some people will dig it, some won’t, and that’s cool. I guess I’d tell my younger writer self to chill out, worry less what other people think, and just make cool stuff.
Following this advice isn’t always easy, but it’s made me a much happier writer.
That’s excellent, and I think most authors would offer that same advice. And speaking of advice, there’s a lot of it out there, a lot of agents and publishers with their do’s and dont’s. Do you take much of what you hear into your work, or do you filter it through your personal preferences and say, “Nah, I don’t think this is a good idea”?
I will always follow the advice of Bruce Lee: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.” Much like the martial arts, writing advice and techniques vary so much. There’s no such thing as a “correct way” for all writers. There is only what is correct for you.
Now you also run a podcast. How did that start?
I do! The cast, RONIN UNCENSORED, is really a protest against elitism. Mostly, elitism in the art world, but really elitism everywhere. I have this super strong urge to break down the barriers between people and bring us all closer together. I’ve been lucky to have a diverse group of people in my life that have helped me grow and be a better person. I think the world needs more of that – listening to different people, from different places, and finding where the common ground is. I also think many of those important voices are artists whose work is getting looked over because it doesn’t fit the mold.
So, the inspiration behind the podcast was basically: what if I sat down with total strangers and just talked to them about their lives? What would I learn? How would I grow?
Turns out, the answer to both those questions is: a s**tload.
Do you have a favorite podcast episode you’ve done so far? Or a handful of favorite people you’ve talked to?
That’s like picking favorite kids! I learn so much from my guests that it’s hard to tack down a favorite interview. (Though, not impossible. I do have a favorite, but it’s a secret.) I’ve interviewed bee intelligence specialists, engineers, addicts in recovery, saxophonists, Olympic fencers, graffiti ninjas, and more. This list gets crazier every week. My favorite thing about the podcast is that diversity. I’m so humbled and honored to be doing this.
Besides writing, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
Well, I got a puppy last year and have just been having a blast training and playing with him. His personality comes out a little more every day and I feel blessed to have the little guy in my life. He’s teaching me a lot about how to live a happier life.
I also love video games – action RPGs in particular – and pretty much anything to do with martial arts. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I can’t stand still for very long. It’s not uncommon to have conversations with me while I shadowbox or work or some technique as I listen. Martial arts saved my life, has helped me maintain sobriety, and is just a fun hobby.
Aside from that, I try to get outdoors as much as possible. I love hiking and camping and practicing outdoor survival skills.
Hiking and camping are no-go’s for me since leaving the military but I still do martial arts, namely Krav Maga. What kind of martial arts do you practice?
I think that’s a bigger question than what I write! Haha. I started with a traditional arts background: Kyoshukin Karate and Tae Kwon Do. Dabbled in wrestling as a kid as well. In the military, I briefly worked as a Combatives Instructor, which is where I picked up my ground game. That took me into Judo, Hapkido, Aikido, and Jiu Jitsu. I added boxing and Muay Thai to my game in recent years and have been re-establishing my wrestling skills so that I’m as complete an artist as I can be. But my first love will forever and always be the standing arts. Elbow strikes, knees up the middle, and question mark kicks for the win.
Let’s end this interview with a bit of whimsy: you’re marooned on a remote island for 30 days. You’ll have food, water, and survival gear already. You can only bring 3 things with you, what are they?
If the necessities are met, the choices are easy: my pup, a copy of Eiki Yoshikawa’s Musashi, and my fiancé. Aside from food and water, those are the things I can’t imagine living without. Plus, if I’m trapped on a deserted island, I’d prefer to share the experience with someone else. Let’s face it: Wilson was the reason Cast Away was such a good movie, you know what I mean?
You can check out Joshua’s website here, and learn more about his podcast and his upcoming projects!