A lover of graphic novels and the occult fiction of the late great John Bellairs, James gravitated towards the paranormal world from an early age. Watching the first episode of The X-Files with his older brother was a transformative experience, as well as an education in great storytelling and myth-making.
Since “growing up,” James has devoted his time to finding his voice through writing, publishing short fiction in The Portland Review, and winning two international short story competitions for science fiction and horror. When he’s not writing, he tours with his incredible wife Amy as “The Crooked Angels,” an Americana duo specializing in rocking your socks off.
1. Please share how you came up with the concept for your story?
To be honest, I’ve really benefitted from Xchyler’s writing prompts and challenges. There. I said it! I’m naturally driven to
come up with my own plots and ideas, but sometimes it’s nice to have the the little external prompt to force me to produce a project in a deadline. That last part is crucial. Whether self-imposed or an external deadline, a deadline is crucial. It’s the buzzer saying put down the hot potato. After I published my first story with Xchyler in Terra Mechanica, I was hungry to start building my “brand,” or at least my small corner of the writing world, which I’m still working at. I’m not the best read when it comes to American Literature, but I’m not the worst. I started writing a project earlier this year involving a young Edgar Allan Poe and his band of detective misfits, The Cellar Rats. When the opportunity came up for a steampunking of AmericanLit, I think my natural instinct was Poe. He was such a visionary. Even reading that line “such a visionary,” sounds like an afterthought, like the advertisement on the bus of his genius that just went smoking down the road. Researching his work a little more in depth since, I’ve read in the collection The Best 19th Century Mystery Stories that the reading population around Poe’s time was basically zilch. How can you become a phenomenon when the medium you are working in is unintelligible to the mainstream? I’m honored in my small way to pay homage to a very brilliant, maligned soul who, like many artists, wouldn’t receive his due until much, much later.
2. Please name some of your other published works?
In the Xchyler stable, I’ve published “Dr. Pax’s Great Unsinkable Bird” in the anthology Terra Mechanica,
as well as “Tower Gods” in The Toll of Another Bell
. I’ve won The Portland Review’s
Flash Fiction contest, as well as Short Story HQ.Com
‘s Flash Fiction contest in the genre of Horror. I’m currently working on, um…well…like seven new projects! Dios Mio!
3. What is your preferred writing genre?
I love this question because it makes me really critique what is at the heart of what I take my voice to be. I would say Young Adult, or Middle Grade, but those terms don’t really mean anything these days, right? Stephen Colbert just made the assertion that “A YA book is just a book people actually read today,” and I think there’s some truth to that. To risk cheeziness, and I am definitely in my heart of hearts a cheezeball, I would say, “Whatever sounds the drum of Youth in the most quietest of places.” There’s an unbridled energy inherent in young people, a fearlessness which is only balanced by a considerable timidity. It’s the quintessential existential time when the question: Who am I living for? is first asked. Incidently, Who Are We Living For is the title of an album by the band Dispatch, the first band I ever opened up for as a fifteen year-old musician. They sell out Madison Square Garden now. Beautiful buggers!
4. And preferred reading genre?
Same. However, as my wife has observed: “You only read history text books and comics.”
5. What are your top 3 favorite books?
Great question…and hard. Too hard. I would say that James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had the most profound effect on me as a teenager, although since I’ve come to see the protagonist Stephan Daedalus as this cold, calculated individual that I cannot relate much to anymore, although his expression “I will learn to fly by those nets” (the nets of country and religion, etc.) is still a halcyon cry to my Soul. A Man for All Seasons, the great play by Robert Bolt also had a profound effect on me – Sir Thomas More’s struggle for freedom of spirit and conscience. If I can be a total egoist, I’d say maybe my upcoming novel for Xchyler may be my favorite third book. But you’ll have to read it to find out why…
6. Do you have any particular writing habits?
Not particularly, but I love mornings. I write music – with whiskey! – at nights. Morning is coffee and keyboard. Night time is whiskey and guitars.
7. Do you have a playlist that you created while writing your story?
As much as I love music, I don’t really use it for inspiration for writing. I see writing and music as separate worlds – creatively – for me. However, they are part of the same coin. I really dig the graphic novel Alabaster: Wolves. Check it out. It’s the first piece of literature (yes, I consider graphic novels literature, and I can give you twenty reasons why) where there is a small subscript at the bottom of the page that says: “Written to this album by The Decembrists; or, colored to [this album.” Very cool and the publisher, Dark Horse, didn’t have to include that, but they did. And I respect them more for that.
8. Panster or plotter?
I rarely wear pants and I’m actually plotting the success of Mechanized Masterpieces 2 at this very moment. So you tell me.
9. Advice for writers?
Love it or leave it.
10. What’s up next for you?
How long do you have? There’s so much. I’m just starting up the first leg of the mountain. I just pray for time and health and lots of years to keep climbing.
11. Character Casting: Who would you cast for your main characters and why?
There are too many characters here in my mind to cast. But I will just say that my main protagonist in my upcoming novel for Xchyler, Pneumatica, would be the raddest chick to set foot on film. I’m confident that the novel would be so much fun as a film. I hope to see it reach that point someday.
12. Author Favorite Things:
So many lines from The English Patient. Something about “there are bodies we swim up like rivers of wisdom.” Amen.
– TV show
Forced into a corner, I’ll say it’s X-Files.
– Comic book character
Run-off between Batman, Wolverine, and Hellboy. I know, right? A real winner picker, huh?
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Really, it’s Cool Hand Luke. But for “this blew my mind and started me down a path to exploring history” I would say the former.
Any of those mentioned above. But I would also add Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman’sDragonlance series. It’s D&D and the characters are rad. It’s not Shakespeare. But it’s as fun now, twenty-five years later reading it.
– Candy bar
Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut along with Scotch got me through a serious hiking trip in Scotland in my younger years. To that, I am eternally indebted.
– Junk food
I have a major guilty pleasure for Frito’s Scoops.
– Place you visited
Greece. Hands down. Whoa.
Anywhere the people make you feel like they want you there.
That small island in Connecticut where that childhood friend and I washed ashore during a mini squall – or maybe we didn’t know how to sail. That place. The island where we were kings for a day!
‘Rise of the House of Usher’ scared the pants off of me. Through a series of letters Potter unveils the dark deeds done in the house of Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination. It really drove me to investigate the source from which Potter’s story was inspired. In contrast to my other spotlight, this is one of the darker moments of the anthology, a kind of darkness that can only come with steam, cogs, and automata of a maddening quest for life eternal. Read in a well lit room…