When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing in the fifth grade. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who read books to us like we were first graders, and then she asked us to write our own stories to read to the class. This is where I learned that my words actually affected people like words in books affected me.
I wrote mostly silly stories to make the other kids laugh, and they did, and so did the teacher. I started writing seriously in graduate school. I think reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as an undergraduate might have had something to do with it. The idea of writing a book about cold-blooded murder and keeping these brutal killers at a truly human level really stayed with me (it still does). I think that Perry Smith is the most complicated and interesting character I have ever found in a book (“I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat”). Reading that made me want to try serious writing.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
I have always been a nocturnal being. Even when I was young I would watch late night movies in black and white. Somehow the flicker of the screen in the darkness brought me calm. This has carried over to my writing habits. I like the dark, quiet hours to write. Since I have a day job, I have to temper this with getting up in the morning, but sometimes the writing wins in the end. It is more important.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
When I first started writing, I thought I was supposed to come up with a story idea, flesh it out, and then write it down. I wanted to write like other authors I liked.
Little by little, I discovered my voice, one that requires a spare, precise style, and a strong rhythm and flow of words.
But the more I tried this, the more the process became bogged down because the voice I was trying to write wasn’t my own.Over time, I stopped looking across the story line and started looking deeper. I dropped the other styles I had been trying, and I started to write about what was important to me in words that flowed in my head. I also allow the process to dictate characters, content, direction, and book length. Not a plan. It was only after this did my characters take on a life of their own, and the words begin to actually come off the page for me.
What have you written so far?
I have written three gay literature novels, all published in 2015:
- Syncopated Rhythm is an intricate examination of a solitary life, an honest and sobering account of living in a world meant for other people, and the truly heroic hopes that make that possible.
- A story of elusive dreams, unexpected love, and unwavering persistence, Clifford and Claudia rips away the veneer of social niceties to expose the vulnerabilities that fuel the over-the-top characters in this remarkable story of one young man’s savagely funny and sometimes cruel coming of age during his desperate days of life with Clifford and Claudia.
- Compelling, sexually charged, and awash in anxious uncertainty, The Story of Teddy and Eddie follows Nino on his intricate journey, illuminating the indelible impact of childhood and memory on matters of the heart.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
I never write an outline or plot sketch. I start with a general idea, or in the case of my second book, Clifford and Claudia, I wrote down two names with no ideas attached. Just two names. At the time, I had no idea where it might lead, but those two names brought me to a narrative that strays from reality and into the realm of magical realism, and to two of the strongest characters I have developed to date. In general, I enjoy the writing process as an unscheduled series of unstructured exercises that lead me to places I would never be able to plan out ahead of time.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
My latest book is called The Story of Teddy and Eddie. Keen readers will notice immediately that The Story of Teddy and Eddie is actually a story about a young man named Nino. Nino is an unconventional kid who grows up in New Jersey during the 1960s and 1970s. He is attracted to other boys but has no plans to act on it. Instead, he manages to live a quietly detached existence with the help of a bottle of whiskey in his backpack and a look but don’t touch outlook on life. Then, one day, he meets a striking young man named Aki in college who upends his quiet detachment and sends him running into the arms of his best friends,Teddy and Eddie, for help. What emerges for Nino is a new future, a time, a place, a destination that can’t be located on any map. The Story of Teddy and Eddie is an intricate journey, illuminating the indelible impact of childhood and memory on matters of the heart.
Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?
He is a kid in a close-knit family who is gay when being gay is not a topic of discussion, and media portrayals of gay men all trend decidedly negative. Yet Nino doesn’t seem to notice that. He knows what it means, he knows there might be consequences if he tells people, yet he accepts who he is without questioning it. He just doesn’t know what to do with it. So he sets up his own future. Not the one planned out for him.
What is your next project?
I am in the process of writing my fourth novel, a follow-on to the Story of Teddy and Eddie. I hope to release it before the end of summer.
What do you like to read in your free time?
Recently, I have been reading the books of Haruki Murakami. The one I am on now is titled Colorless Tsukuru Tazaka and His Years of Pilgrimage. I was introduced to him when I moved to Tokyo in 2000. I was at a jazz bar when a Waseda University student came up to me and asked me if I liked any Japanese writers. I said I didn’t know any. He told me not to go anywhere, ran outside, hopped on his bike. He returned ten minutes later with a copy of Hear the Wind Sing, Murakami’s first novel, as a gift for me. I have been a fan ever since. Of both Murakami and students who do things like that.
Tell us something unique about you.
I don’t have a middle name. I am the fifth of five children, and unplanned. After my brother fought with my mother to name me, she said she was too tired to move on to a middle name. When my college friends found out, they felt sorry for me, so they gave me the honorary middle name of Queue. That way it sounds the same whether it is abbreviated or written in full.
How can you discover more about James?