James Robert Smith
- 1)When did you start writing and how long was it before you were published?
Well, like most writers I started pretty young. I was seven when I started writing stories and actually started a novel when I was eight years old. But that stuff doesn’t count, I reckon.
I got serious about writing shortly after I got married. So I was 25 when I started actively learning how to construct decent fiction. I began to place stories in various semi-pro magazines shortly after that and made my first professional sale within a year.
2)How did it feel to have your Five Star novel be optioned for film? Tell us about it.
That was a wonderful feeling. I can say that it didn’t hurt to see all of those zeroes behind the other numbers in the contract. I hate to sound venal, but after all every writer wants to be able to do this work full-time. When (or if) the film ever begins lensing, I can actually consider retiring and writing instead of having to be a laborer to earn the rent.
And of course the story behind the offer is a bit of an Internet legend at this point. I had insulted one of the producer’s film on a discussion board and he went out and bought a copy of THE FLOCK so that he could speak with authority when he shredded me in public. Instead, Don Murphy ended up loving the book so much that he assembled an option package for the movie rights through Warner Brothers.
3) What genre do you write in, if any? How do you feel about the genre, the future of it, and the authors in it?
I mainly write in horror. But occasionally I will stray from that to work in other types of fiction. THE FLOCK is not strictly horror—it’s been described by my publishers (Five Star and Tor) as “eco-suspense”, which is pretty good. The sequel to THE FLOCK (THE CLAN) proceeds along the same lines as the first book.
My second novel, THE LIVING END, is pure horror. A zombie novel, exactly. And my third, HISSMELINA, is also horror…kind of a modern take on Lovecraftian themes, but not a Mythos novel by any means.
4) Now that traditional publishing vs digital publishing has taken really different turns lately, how do you feel about authors going the small press or traditional publishing route over the digital route?
For a couple of years I’ve had friends who had been having some success in doing their own books via the ebook/trade paperback format. A couple of these folk kept at me to try it, but initially I was so opposed the very concept of ebooks that I resisted. “Resist” is probably too mild a term. Even when those friends began making so much money that they were able to quit their jobs to write fiction full time I still resisted.
But after a while I relented and figured I’d give it a shot. Of all of my work that remains unpublished, HISSMELINA is my favorite. HISSMELINA is a novel that had so many near misses with the traditional publishers that it would have driven some writers to suicide, I think. Fortunately I have a thick skin and kept picking myself up and starting over. But instead of submitting it one more time to a major publisher I did the last of many rewrites, had it professionally proofed by Neal Hock and typeset by Stephen Price and published through Kindle and Smashwords. We’ll see how it goes.
5) What are your thoughts on publishing today (in all venues--print or digital) and the chances it presents for new authors?
Publishing is in a tough spot right now. It seems almost like a doomsday scenario for the traditional publishers and for the traditional book outlets. I don’t know what to think right now. It’s possible that the industry is just going through a natural transition and that it will emerge on the far end intact. Or we could see something entirely new come on the scene. I never figured the digital age would be quite so rough on publishing.
6) What's the best book you ever read?
Good grief. I have to pick? OK, then. That would have to be I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves.
7) Who are your influences in literature?
Robert Graves, Charles Portis, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard, Howard Philips Lovecraft, Joe Lansdale, Barry Gifford…those are the guys who spring immediately to mind.
[8)] What is it about zombie fiction that you think makes it so popular today?
Zombie fiction is popular right now because it hits so many right notes to appeal to so many. The trope has just about every fear you could name wrapped up in it. One thing that I noticed early on during the zombie wave was that the form seems particularly popular among the right wing set. After perusing the blogosphere surrounding the zombie fans I noticed a disturbingly large batch of gun aficionados and racists among the lot. And of course I then noticed that there’s not a lot of difference between your average zombie novel and something like THE TURNER DIARIES. This caused me to step back for a bit and take a long look at the form and ponder the popularity I was seeing. I wrote an essay about it which caught me a lot of flak from reactionary writers who thought that I was singling them out—I wasn’t, but I still apparently trod on some tender tootsies out there.
But whenever society in general is feeling a bit paranoid, something like zombie fiction appeals to it.
9) What is your education and job, other than writing?
I’m a laborer. I graduated high school then mucked about with college before my parents got sick and died. After that I was a book retailer for a bit, then a collectibles dealer handling old comics and toys, and then a pure laborer once more before landing a job as such for the US Postal Service. Along the way I managed to get an Associate of Arts degree in English but never carried that further. Anything I learned about writing I did so by reading voluminously and writing whenever I could.
10) Do you ever, like Truman Capote confessed doing, take from real life, friends, and family situations or characters to use in your fiction? If so, do you tell them or keep it secret?
Yes. I don’t get so much from family, but I do Hoover up a great deal of stuff from people I’ve met and from folk I talk to in casual meetings. I don’t have to keep much of it secret because a lot of the folk whose impressions I’ve lifted are people I knew only briefly or who I will likely never meet again.
11) What do you think of the state of magazine fiction today?
I don’t know much about the magazine market. I work almost exclusively in novel length form these days. Now and then an editor will email me or phone me to invite to submit something to an anthology, so I keep my hand in the short story market that way. I can’t even remember the last time I submitted a story to a magazine.
12) Do you belong to any writer's organizations? If so, which ones, and how do you feel about professional organizations?
I recently rejoined HWA. Before that I had not been a member of any writers organization for over a decade. I’m thinking of also joining SFWA, but haven’t done so.
They have their place, I reckon. My dad used to say that a bad labor union was better than no labor union at all. I figure the same for things like HWA and MWA, etc.
13) Do you think networking on social sites has helped your career and sales?
Yes. I don’t think they help as much as they did in the past, when such things were new. But they do seem to get the work noticed maybe a little more than without them. But I don’t see the opportunities to find new markets as much as in the earlier days of e-networking, such as when Prodigy was a really neat gathering place for writers and editors. Those days haven’t been repeated as nearly as I can tell.
14) What is the hardest thing you've ever had to do concerning your work as a writer?
Making the time to write. As I said, I’m a laborer. I do physical labor to earn the rent, so when I get home I’m generally exhausted beyond words. I have to either make myself sit down at the keyboard to write for a few hours, or take a short nap and wake up and tackle the writing work. It’s really hard to do after you’ve lugged 35-lb sacks over ten miles of route in all kinds of weather. It’s hard.
15) Tell us what is coming up in the future for you. Signings, films, new novels.
I’m working on a three-book zombie series that I contracted to write under a pseudonym. After that I’m getting back to work on my science-fantasy novel, THE REZ. And I’ve got a young adult novel called ISAAC’S QUEST about a 38,000 year-old Neanderthal wizard who acts as a kind of Fagin for a group of magically enhanced teenagers. And INMATE B is another one that I’ve already started but set aside to work on the current projects, but I’ll get back to it in due time; it’s a more of a science-fiction thriller. I stay pretty busy and expect to for the foreseeable future.
Oh. And there’s a comic book version of THE LIVING END that I hope to do with artist Mark Masztal, and another comic book project called THE REVOLUTIONARY. We'll see what happens.
THE LIVING END: A ZOMBIE NOVEL