Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
Hi, I’m James. I got my BS in international studies from the University of South Florida, spent some time running around the mountains in Japan, among other things, and now I’m living in the wilds of West Tennessee while I write.
Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
Writing is my work now. Outside of that, my main occupation is reading (and taking trips into the future or the past.)
What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
My newest novel is Whispers of the Dead, the first in a trilogy, a dystopian espionage adventure set in a post-apocalyptic Japan. It hasn’t been out long, but so far the response from readers has been the best yet. Maybe that’s because the setting is farther removed from the ordinary than my other stories, or maybe it’s just because I’m becoming a better writer. Then there are my Watchbearers books, for those who might like a little laid-back time-travel adventure or two.
What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
I’ve been an avid reader since kindergarten, and a writer since junior high because I wanted to tell my own stories. But it was the revolution in independent publishing that really got me spending all my time in the kitchen cooking up these books.
Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
All my stories start from some speculative premise, because I don’t get excited unless I’m taking at least one step into Twilight Zone territory. But then I mostly consider them to be character-driven adventure tales, with dashes of mystery, suspense, action, sf, and any other genre elements that seem to suit the story. Sometimes even a bit of romance. All the genre spices are good, it’s just about knowing which ones will best enhance the dish you’re preparing.
Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
I think my writing is defined by a fundamental sense of optimism that comes through even in the bleakest circumstances. Add to that a dash of dry humor and a sprinkling of the wry, and you get adventures that aren’t quite cozy, but more comfort food fare than you usually get with SF.
Even the best of us find inspiration in the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
There are so many writers I admire, that inspire me, I don’t have time to name them all. But the only one I consider a real influence is Agatha Christie. Sure she’s known for her immaculate mystery plots, but she has such a deft hand with drawing great characters from simple sketches and propelling a story along at a good pace without putting too much description in the way. And she experimented with lots of different sorts of stories without losing her style or (for the most part) getting away from the type of dish her readers loved. She’s totally underrated!
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
Definitely tight third-person POVs for me. You get most of the benefits of first person but can maintain some objectivity at the same time. But spending so long inside my main characters heads means they need to be interesting and pleasant company – otherwise I won’t want to keep hanging out there.
Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to description. Heavy sauces are for covering up a main dish with mediocre flavor. Get good quality ingredients and prepare them properly, and then it only takes a little spice to bring out the flavor. Less is more, when you’re doing it right.
Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
Man vs. Self. We tend to be our own worst enemies, and it’s that struggle against one’s doubts, fears, uncertainties, and insecurities which I find really engaging. If a character can work out those issues while occasionally beating up a bad guy, even better.
What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
The main characters are more important than anything, because they give the essential life to the story and make it satisfying. You can have a great plot, but if you can’t care about the characters you won’t care about what’s happening to them. It’s like trying to bake a pizza without using yeast or fat in the dough – you just end up with flat, tasteless cardboard. Then it won’t matter what plot toppings you put on, it just won’t be very good.
We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
I like to start a story where something’s going wrong, where the main characters are facing new and unexpected challenges. Taking the time to setup how things are before the grease begins to pop only risks boring the reader – let them see your main characters struggling with sudden change from the get go and fill in the broader picture later, when readers have a reason to care.
The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
I’m a cobbler man. It’s the best of both worlds.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
I’ve gotten so much good advice I’d like to pass on. One tip is this – learn to touch type. Having to hunt around the keyboard is a hindrance to getting your thoughts onto the page. And even if you’re one of those who dictates your first draft and gets somebody else to type it for you, there’s still rewriting and revision. Being able to do that yourself, and fast, is a huge help. On a less mundane note – write what interests and excites you, without worrying about whether other people will or won’t like it. That way at least you can be sure to enjoy the story yourself, and you’ll end up with dishes that are uniquely your own rather than just a copy of somebody else’s recipe.