J.S. James, author of River Run

What inspires you to write? 

At a macro level I write for the sheer fun of stringing words together, and then restringing, and restringing, and . . . At a micro level, taking up the thread each day can be exhausting. I’m one of those writers who sweat bullets for a while, then spray my computer screen with .22 caliber words, then slave to edit them up to .45’s. But I do that every day for two to three hours. I may get down a paragraph, or even a couple of pages, but I like what I’ve done better than when I had drafted copious amounts of schlock to maintain a wordcount. If I get stuck, I might still use a five-minute countdown drill, where I spew out sentences—usually pure dialogue. Another daily inspirational option is to handwrite, answering one of several prompting questions like, “Who opened the door and yelled what? One or the other usually gets me going again.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

My fascination with lying on paper began with oral story telling for a merit badge in the Boy Scouts, something about a burglar trying to escape the police from a bathroom window, only to get his foot stuck in a toilet with the seat up (a great source of mirth for ten-year-old’s and a lesson about putting the seat down). Later, when I wrote grants to fund projects in Education, my colleagues often suggested I was writing fiction. So now here I am, fully converted to a second career in prevarication.

What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre that they need to know?

In my view, a complete mystery story isn’t just about who, how, or whydunit. My most enjoyable mystery reads contain cross-genre elements of romance, suspense, action, and more. The challenges faced by the protagonist in my debut novel, River Run: A Delia Chavez Mystery, reflect these elements.

What are some day jobs you have held?

Strawberry and bean picker where I rubbed elbows with seasonal migrant workers; grocery store clerk, an inspirational and character source for The Long Tail, my most recent work in progress; speech and language pathologist, where tone of voice took on new meaning, research professor in early childhood education, working with families of migrant agricultural workers who provided a wealth of character development insights for the protagonist in my first novel. Delia represents the grit and stamina of some of the most hardworking members of our society. 

Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?

My synapses crackle during a couple of morning hours, sandwiched between dog-walking and my wife, Carole’s honey do’s. Speaking of dogs, if you don’t know about Vizslas (a Hungarian pointing breed), you should. Our second is a real Lulu. Hence, her name (Lulu Longlegs). Once persecuted by the communists for being considered “the gift of kings,” these sleek red exercise machines are making a steady comeback. Though gorgeous and loving, our version is a mischievous tease and a relentless thief. She’s so talented, I’m working her into my next novel as a supporting character for the antagonist.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve developed a high regard for the critiques of my writing colleagues and have learned to more fully utilize their feedback. I consider myself to be most fortunate to have fallen in with a group of serious writers, and attribute their help toward getting my first novel published.

What have you written so far?

River Run: A Delia Chavez Mystery, the first novel in a series, was released by Crooked Lane Books and is distributed through Penguin Random House, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, as well as other booksellers. As to works in progress, I have outlines and multiple chapters completed for the second and third books in the Delia Chavez series. In Like Father, Like Son, Sheriff’s Detective Delia Chavez learns firsthand about the five hundred-year-old maxim: “all things are poison and nothing is without poison.” In Hurricane Hole, Delia vacations with her long-lost brother in the Bahamas, only to find herself puking seawater and clinging for dear life to a cabin door amidst the burning wreckage of his bomb-destroyed charter boat.

In addition, I’m nearing completion on a road mystery set in the 1960’s that was inspired by wild times at Serra Catholic High School. In The Long Tail, four misfit teenagers drive coastward to crash the class of ‘60 high school jocks’ senior skip day party. On the way they spark a dropout’s compulsion for revenge and end up running for their lives down Highway 101.

Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?

I’m a plotter and a pantser. I walk around, often falling into stretches of rumination over the substance of scenes and chapters, and the order they should take (loose plotting). Then when I sit down to write, I set those plans aside and let the characters take the story wherever they may (pantsing).

How did you decide how to publish your books?

I’m no marketer, and I suspect most authors aren’t either. New York publishers have extensive track records, and so I decided to hold out for one—through 83 rejections—then follow the guidance of a book publicity expert as I learn the book-promoting ropes. We’ll soon see how that approach pans out.

Did you make any marketing mistakes that you would avoid in the future?

Underestimating the importance of building a targeted mailing list in advance of publication. Friends and relatives are great for book launches but I should be tapping into much larger mailing list options, as I am presently undertaking.

Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book? 

River Run: A Delia Chavez Mystery evolved over fifteen or so years from many drafts of three run-on stories (280,000 or more words), and several completely different characters (one called The Riverine). Delia emerged as the obvious choice to tell this story after a colleague shocked me with the simple question, “Who am I supposed to root for?” Here is a book jacket-style overview: 

Newly promoted sheriff’s deputy Delia Chavez has worked hard to get where she is. Without any family to speak of, law enforcement is all she has. But just a few days into her new job, Delia finds the body of a hunter washed up on the banks of the Willamette River missing his trigger finger. Soon, more bodies are found–all hunters without their trigger fingers. Waterfowl season often means clashes between hunters and animal rights activists, but could someone be killing to make a statement? Petrified, but invigorated by the opportunity, Delia dives head first into the case. Soon, she catches a whiff of something foul and it’s not the dead bodies–man or bird.

What starts off looking like a simple case of a ruthless vigilante quickly devolves into something much more complex. Facing evasive killers who stop at nothing to conceal their crimes, Delia must bring the criminals to justice because everyone knows, if you’re not the predator, you’re prey.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?

River Run had origins in my adventures and misadventures hunting and fishing with my brother in the Willamette Valley (e.g., you need to get dumped out of a boat only once to learn one of Nature’s fundamental lessons). As many avid readers might muse (e.g., I can write schlock like this), I figured I might easily (big mistake) apply my academic writing skills to fiction writing. Also, my curiosity in a writer’s program led to a short story, The Concentrics, inspired by an incident experienced on the Columbia River that had to do with a pair of irate characters who thought they owned a public hunting blind (e.g., The worst way to conduct an argument is when parties on both sides carry loaded shotguns). I was encouraged by my writing colleagues at the potential of both setting and subject. Little did I realize it would take years to bring the story to fruition.

What one person from history would you like to meet and why? 

Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary who brokered the Republic of Ireland with the British and was assassinated for his trouble. It was most interesting that he brought about the Republic even though he knew he had, “signed my own death warrant.” In case you might wonder, my great grandmother Curry was a Collins from County Cork.

Want to know more about J.S. James and get the book?

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