Russell James was raised on Long Island, New York and spent too much time watching Chiller, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Dark Shadows, despite his parents’ warnings. Bookshelves full of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe didn’t make things better. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Central Florida.
After a tour flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales best read in daylight.
He has published six paranormal thrillers with Samhain, as well as the novella Blood Red Roses. He has published the short story collections Tales from Beyond, Deeper into Darkness and authored and edited the collections Out of Time, Still Out of Time, Centauri Station, and Outer Rim. His short stories appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Tales of Old, Encounters, In A Land Far Away… He founded the Minnows Literary Group.
His wife reads what he writes, rolls her eyes, and says “There is something seriously wrong with you.” They share their home in sunny Florida with two cats.
Drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview with Jadis Shaw – March 2012
originally published at Juniper Grove.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what your book is about?
In my paranormal thriller, Dark Inspiration, a couple escapes New York for an old estate in the country. But the previous residents are still there; the ghosts of two sweet twin girls that appear to wife Laura, and something much darker that begins to influence husband Doug. It leads him to a hidden attic where he finds his dark inspiration. Laura and her psychic friend Teresa end up in the fight of their lives against evil incarnate.
How long did it take you to write this book?
This book took almost two years to complete from the first day I started it. I’ve gotten more disciplined since then and my upcoming second book, Sacrifice took a year.
What was your inspiration to write this book?
My wife and I lived in a small town like Dark Inspiration’s Moultrie for six years. There was something about the isolation of living in the country that I thought would put a reader on edge, especially when the characters are also psychologically isolated by moving from a large metropolitan area, and their failing marriage has them isolated from each other.
Taxidermy had a big role in the story. There is something naturally creepy about that art. Seriously. Skinned, mounted animals with glass eyes? Ew. During my research, I actually read the old taxidermy text referenced in the book. It was a very matter-of-fact text about a hobby few people would embrace today. Taxidermy was a great dark path for Doug to choose to follow.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a published author?
Write every day. No matter what. A gift for writing is not enough. Olympic athletes are gifted, yet they still train and practice for years. You have to carve out a set time in your life to devote to your craft. Then get some critical assessment of what you write, either through a critique group, a coach or a formal writing class. Put those two things together and actively work to improve what you are creating.
Above all, never give up. Keep writing, keep submitting. Good stories are rejected every day. Keep thinking that the next submission will be the winner.
Do you ever experience writer’s block and if so, how to you overcome it?
I had a big hunk of writer’s block creating my upcoming novel, Sacrifice, which releases in July. I knew where the story was going so I just skipped the section that was tripping me up. I put in chapter headings and a sentence about the action that would happen there. Then I wrote the section I was excited about. Later I went back and filled in the blank chapters and they came much more easily.
Do you have any writing projects you are currently working on?
My third novel is called Black Magic. A sorcerer named Lyle Miller arrives in a dying rural Florida town and opens up a magic shop. Four boys buy some seemingly innocuous tricks, but strange things start to happen around town and Lyle has plans for something terrible to transpire across south Florida.
Do you have critique partners or beta readers?
I took an online writing class from Gotham and there were several other really talented writers in the class. I started the Minnows Literary Group with six of them. They are truly a unique group with diverse backgrounds. Each week one of us submits a short story and the others critique it. Since we started, I have published two novels and three short stories and the others have published short stories and guest blog posts, won poetry contests, and started an internationally recognized literary blog. Their honest feedback and moral support has made my work much better.
Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?
I listen to hard classic rock exclusively, but not when I write. I work best in silence so I can focus without distractions. My wife is a saint for enduring those empty hours when I have to hit a deadline.
How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?
For my third novel, Black Magic, I was in St. Augustine, Florida and saw a storefront that sent a chill up my spine. On individual pieces of paper in the store front window were letters that spelled M-A-G-I-C S-H-O-P . The store was empty, the walls bare. The sign on the door said “Be Back Soon.” Nothing about the whole scene felt right. The story started spinning in my head right then.
I do not do outlines. I have ideas in my head about some events that will happen and some of the people involved, and then I just write and see where it all takes me. Needless to say this method leads to plot dead ends and more re-writes than outline-writing people have to deal with.
If you could travel into the past or future, where would you want to go? Why?
I prefer that the future remain Shakespeare’s undiscovered country. The surprises that await around every corner make life interesting. So I would go visit the past.
I have a few ‘70’s era muscle cars. Given the chance to travel into the past, I’m afraid I would not try to prevent World War II or convince the Founding Fathers to ban slavery. I would take a sack of money back to 1970 and buy new, fully-optioned Corvettes, Challengers, etc. and store them for retrieval when I returned to the present. Seriously, how much could that screw up the timeline?
If you had to have one word or phrase written on your forehead for an entire week, what would it be?
“Don’t ask about this tattoo.”
Are you a Morning person or Night Owl?
I am a major morning person. I wake up by 4 a.m. every morning without prompting. I use the time to exercise and get a jump on the day’s projects. Of course this means I am dead tired by 9 p.m. each night, so I am every party’s wet blanket.
What was the scariest moment of your life?
I was at Yellowstone National Park one summer. It is a geothermal wonderland filled with geysers and bubbly pots of scalding mineral water. The park is large land mammal heaven. Elk, antelope, bears, bison. You have to stop your car to let herds of them pass.
I did a little solo hike out from a parking area among some steam vents. In a relatively open area, a young bison appeared behind me along the trail back to the car. He stood his ground and gave me the once over.
Every National Park warning flashed through my head. This quarter-ton creature could out run a horse. Solo young males were always looking for a fight. Those two horns were needle-sharp. The last warning I read at the trailhead came back loud and clear. “Do not leave the trail. The ground around the steam vents is unstable.”
I was surrounded by Mother Nature’s minefield and facing the bison-equivalent of a teenage gang member looking for his stripes. I’d never appreciated how physically puny homo sapiens was until right then.
I took two tentative steps off the trail and stood behind the only cover, a pine tree, a six inch wide bean pole with green fringe at the top. I felt like an idiotic cartoon character.
The bison took a few steps closer down the trail and let loose a rumbling snort. I started wondering how long it would take someone to find my body. He stared me down with big black eyes.
He snorted again and walked off in another direction, apparently uninterested in both me and the warnings about trekking through the steam vents. I hugged the tiny tree until he was out of sight and high-tailed it back to the car.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. I got a scholarship and was commissioned as an Aviation officer after graduating from Cornell. I was assigned to the 101st. One night I sat at the controls as we loaded troops in the back of my Blackhawk and realized that I had done what I had set out to do. It was a bit daunting when I realized that I didn’t have a second goal lined up after that.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I like to sail. Salt air, sun and the sea are an unbeatable combination.
What would we find under your bed?
I write horror stories. Do you really want to know what I think is under there?