Interview with Jonathan Blundell, Author of St. Peter’s Brewery

St. Peter's Brewery by Jonathan BlundellWay back before Christmas (seems like years ago) a friend of mine, Jonathan Blundell, announced that he’d published a novel. Intrigued, I ordered myself a copy and finished it before the end of the year. It’s called St. Peter’s Brewery and it’s pretty good. [Update: Score 30% off St. Peter’s Brewery when you buy at CreateSpace using the code “3YK4MGUP”. Offer valid until Feb. 24.]

It tells the story of a young man running from his problems and finding refuge in a church converted into a pub. But sometimes it’s still a church. The story represents faith in a unique way (church in a pub!)—my only complaint was a little heavy-handedness in spots.

Being a fan of the self-publishing process, I wanted the inside scoop. So I interviewed Jonathan. He pays the bills as a web site content coordinator for the Dallas County Community College District. He also blogs and podcasts (is that a verb yet?)—the podcast is worth checking out, except that he did interview me once. He currently lives just south of Dallas with his wife and dog and is hoping to foster-to-adopt in the near future (woot, woot!). So, interview!

You wrote a novel! Why?
I’ve been wanting to write a book of some sort for quite some time. I wrote two short fiction books (20 pages or so in length) in elementary school but I’ve wanted to publish something far more substantial in recent years. Since I don’t read much fiction I assumed I’d always end up writing non-fiction but I could never settle on a topic and always felt unqualified to write an extensive non-fiction work.

I started a couple different novels over the last few years but I never made it past the first or second chapter.

When I heard about the NaNoWriMo 2008 (National Novel Writing Month) challenge (I think from your blog) I figured—what the heck—let’s see if I can do it. Putting a deadline on my writing really forced me to focus on the writing itself, rather than rethinking myself throughout the process and never moving forward.

In the end I found it to be a great way to express many of the ideas I’ve had swirling around in my head in a very non-threatening manner.

You wrote a novel! How?
I wrote this as part of NaNoWriMo, which is a national challenge to write at least a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. It’s a challenge for sure. In order to complete the task, you need to average writing around 1,600 words a day.

The key to NaNoWriMo is simply—write! No editing. No proofing. No correcting along the way. Simply write.

I went into the process with not much more than a basic idea—a postal worker who runs from his troubles and ultimately finds community in a local pub. The story really found a life of its own from there.

Throughout the month I woke up early, stayed up late and wrote over my lunch break and on the bus to and from work. Some days the ideas and words flowed easily, other days it was more of a struggle.

I also found some great pointers along the way from the NaNoWriMo community, including the Write or Die website that helped me stay focused on writing several days throughout the process.

I believe I finally capped the challenge off on Nov. 30, finishing with just over 52,000 words.

You wrote a novel and self-published it! What does that process look like and why did you decide to go that route?
From the beginning of the process I figured I’d opt for the self-publishing route. From all I’ve heard, there’s not a lot of money in fiction writing unless you’re uber-writer popular like Stephen King.

I had also heard most publishers prefer you to send ideas for manuscripts before they’re written—I assume so they can be more of a guiding force along the way. I already had my manuscript in hand so figured that was a no-go.

I’ve also heard that publishers don’t usually pick too many authors unless you already have a large following of some sort.

I figured the self-publishing route would give me a chance to test my writing wings and see what happens, without the stress of a publisher/editor changing up what I wanted to say. There’s definitely more freedom in self-publishing but you’re also taking on added responsibility such as editing, layout and marketing.

I primarily focused on the two “top dogs” in the self-publishing business before I decided on one, CreateSpace and Lulu. I ultimately went with CreateSpace because of their pricing and their partnership with Amazon.com. They offer a free publishing package that not only gives you a unique web site for selling your book but also adds your book to Amazon’s online catalog for free as well.

Once I finished the book, I did opt for the pro-account ($40 or so a year) which gives you a few more add-ons and now includes listing your book in several other trade publications. With the added listings my book is now available through multiple online sources (including BarnesandNoble.com and Indiebound.com). I believe it’s also being made available for libraries and brick and mortar stores to order at discount as well.

As far as the process itself, once the book was written I took a month off and did nothing with the book. I wanted to take a break and try and come back to it with a “clean slate.”

I then sent out copies of my draft manuscript to several friends and family members and asked them to read it over and help me edit. I think I received three or four of them back. All the comments were positive so I began the process of editing the book.

It took me till early summer to finish re-reading and editing my manuscript myself. I then began the process of correcting the book with my edits and the edits others had suggested. Both the editing and correcting process was dragging on far longer than I wanted it to (just out of pure procrastination).

Finally, as November 2009 rolled around I decided to get with it and began knocking out all the corrections and editing the book several more times. Ultimately I did five or six edits of the book and I hear there are still some things I missed (one of the disadvantages to self-publishing).

At the end of November I finally decided to call it a wrap. I figured I wasn’t catching anything new along the way. So I did the layout of the book in Adobe InDesign, finished the design of the cover and sent my files off to CreateSpace for my first proof.

It was an excellent feeling getting that first copy of the book in my hand. Feeling satisfied, I immediately went to the computer and OK’d the book for publication.

If I write again I’ll probably keep to a similar process but ask at least one or two more people to proof the book after my own final edit. In my experience, once you’ve read text of any sort too many times the text really starts to run together and you can overlook some simple/silly things.

I’ll also try and be more diligent in getting the book from draft manuscript to final publication in less than a year.

There are a lot of ideas in this story about the shifting nature of church. Did you set out to make some bold statements about that, or did it just come out more naturally?
Great question and observation. When I started writing Nov. 1, I don’t think I planned to delve as deep into the idea of rethinking church but in writing about community and the group that meets in the pub it just came along naturally in the story for me.

As I started thinking through the kind of church/community I’d want to be a part of it brought out a number of the ideas.

In the end, I really hope this book does a few things for people:

  1. Challenges their views on grace and forgiveness.
  2. Challenges their views on church and what “church” means.
  3. Encourages people to build spaces of grace and sanctuary where people feel at home and feel comfortable sharing their story and listening to the stories of others.

How closely do the characters in the book resemble real people? (After all, you did name drop your own podcast in the novel.)

Ha. I do drop a few podcast names in there! Homebrewed Christianity, Bored Again Christian and my own—Something Beautiful podcast.

The section from the Homebrewed Christianity podcast is actually a part of an episode in 2008. I had listened to it about the time I  began writing the book and as I worked through that portion of the story it just really seemed to help drive my point home—so I was glad to give them and Just Pete (Bored Again Christian) some props in the book.

As for the stories in the book, there are a number of pieces in the book that are biographical. A number of the stories and ideas came from my own experiences or experiences of folks who have shared their story on our podcast.

G.T. is largely based on my good friend, former pastor turned truck driver, Frank Schutzwohl (aka Trucker Frank) but I took some artistic direction with his story as well.

I also threw in some “cameos” from various friends like my co-host on the podcast, Thomas Mathie, who’s an active member of the Salvation Army in Scotland—but who’s probably never picked up a tuba, my best friend Matt who loves playing music and my sister Amy to name a few.

How closely does St. Peter’s Brewery resemble an actual location? Do you attend a church community (or bar) like that? Or is it more wishful thinking?

I sure hope there’s a place like St. Peter’s Brewery out there. It’s definitely somewhere I’d want to hang out.

However, in reality it’s just a combination of places and some wishful thinking in my mind’s eye that brought it all together—including the regular patrons and the Sunday night dinner/church gathering.

There is a pub in a former church somewhere in the Philly area (it was mentioned in the Ordinary Radicals documentary) that kinda sparked the idea of actual location in the book. And from what I hear, there are more and more churches over in the UK that are being converted into pubs and other places of business but (luckily or unluckily) it hasn’t become very common place here in the U.S.

Along with the pub in Philly, the inspiration for St. Peter’s Brewery (the place) also came from some of places I’ve seen and experienced along the way.

As I wrote, I saw two different places in my mind—a great little brewery my wife and I visited in Pagosa Springs, Colo., on our honeymoon and a bar I used to visit in Temple, Texas.

And overall idea of “a sanctuary for all” came from my hopes and goals for our community of faith. We typically call it a “space of grace” but I think “sanctuary for all” suits St. Peter’s just a tad better.

Now that you’ve written one novel, would you do it again?
I spose the “correct” answer would be, “We’ll see how this one does. If enough people buy this book I’ll definitely write again. So go buy my book and five copies for your mother.”

But regardless, I’m quite certain I’ll write again, no matter how many copies this book sells.

Laurie (My Life) has been suggesting I write a kids book next. I’m also considering taking a stab at a biography or some church history topic.

In November 2009, I started to take another shot at NaNoWriMo but decided to spend the month getting my book finalized for publication instead.

Either way, I’ve got a couple ideas rolling around in my head, we’ll wait and see which one rises to the top.


Thanks Jonathan.
If you have any questions of your own for Jonathan, stop by his blog or the St. Peter’s Brewery site. Be sure to grab your own copy.

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