Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Interview With James Newman

CHHR: Please give a brief introduction here.

     I live in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina with my wife, Glenda, and our two sons, Jamie and Jacob.   I’m best known for the novels MIDNIGHT RAIN, THE WICKED, UGLY AS SIN, and ANIMOSITY, and the novella ODD MAN OUT.   My original screenplay STILL WATERS was produced by an indie studio a couple of years ago, with more on the way soon (including an adaptation of ODD MAN OUT).  Cemetery Dance Publications recently released my short novel DOG DAYS O’ SUMMER (co-written with Mark Allen Gunnells), and by the end of the year fans will also get to read another collaboration (with Adam Howe) called SCAPEGOAT.

CHHR: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

     My mom says I’ve been scribbling down scary stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil and craft coherent sentences.  For as far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a storyteller in some capacity, although my earliest memory of wanting to do it professionally involved dreams of writing and illustrating my own comic books.  Alas, I decided sometime during my high school years that I had very little artistic talent.

CHHR: What does your writing schedule look like? 

      No set schedule.  I do it whenever I can, wherever I can.  Usually that’s on my laptop, with headphones on, while my wife is watching something like AMERICAN IDOL or MY 600-LB LIFE.  

CHHR: Do you have any interesting writing rituals? If so, what are they?

      Not really, although – going back to what I said earlier – I almost always have to have headphones on.  That’s not to block out AMERICAN IDOL or MY 600-LB LIFE, though.  It’s to set the mood with some good, creepy music.  OK, maybe it is to block out AMERICAN IDOL just a little bit . . . hearing somebody belt out “I Believe I Can Fly” for the ten-thousandth time isn’t really conducive to crafting tales of terror.

CHHR: Do you like writing short stories or novels?

      These days I find that my preference lies somewhere in between.  Personally, I love the novella format.  I love to read them, and I love to write them.  Somewhere between 15-25,000 words is my fave.

CHHR: How is the horror scene where you live?

      There isn’t one.  Unless you count big loud trucks with Trump stickers on the bumper and confederate flags billowing from the back.

CHHR: Do you use outlines or do you go with the flow?

       I usually try to have some kind of “structure” – not really an outline, per se, but a very loose list of scenes.  I know what I plan to do in each chapter, even if there are a few blank spots here and there.  And it’s very fluid, can change at any time.  So, again, I’m probably somewhere in the middle.  UGLY AS SIN was the first thing I’ve ever written that was totally fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants.  It was fun, and spontaneous, but also terrifying.  I don’t mind stepping outside of my comfort zone, normally, but it was pretty scary knowing that at any time I might paint myself into a corner and realize I had written thousands of words that were unusable.  Not sure I’ll ever do it again to that extent – I like some kind of structure, a path from A to C even if I’m not 100% sure what B is gonna look like until I get there.  Does that make sense?

CHHR: How did publishing your first book or short story change your writing process?

      It gave me the confidence to keep going.  My story is a rare one, in that the very first novel I ever wrote was submitted and subsequently accepted by the first publisher I tried.  I understand that’s not the way it happens, usually.  So that really gave me the confidence I needed, made me realize that maybe I could do this after all.  Then, once the book was published and folks actually liked it?  Man, there’s no greater feeling in the world.  And it never gets old, really – whether we’re talking about the first book or the tenth.

CHHR: What do you think makes a good horror story? 

      I can’t imagine you’d get very many writers who wouldn’t say THE CHARACTERS, first and foremost.  Even if they’re not entirely likeable, you have to create REAL PEOPLE who are interesting.  The reader has to care about what happens to them, before you ever insert something “scary” into the narrative.  One of my favorite examples of this is Camille Preaker, the protagonist of Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS, which I’ve said on more than one occasion is my favorite debut of the last 20 years or so (for the record, Mrs. Flynn is one of those writers who’s so good she makes me murderously jealous).  Camille is an absolute wreck.  But by no fault of her own – everybody has a story, and there are reasons this young lady is so sefl-destructive.  In any event, she’s so incredibly interesting.  I couldn’t stop reading.   I cared about what happened to her, every step of the way.  That’s fantastic writing.

CHHR: What are you currently working on?

      I just finished the screenplay adaptation of my novella ODD MAN OUT, which will be a locally-shot indie production happening within the next year or so.  Really excited for that.  I’m also working on a self-produced audiobook version of the same story, with sound effects and original music (by Wayne Hoefle of national recording artists Winter Calling) – all proceeds from that will go to charity.  Meanwhile, I’m a day or two away from jumping into some short stories I’ve been asked to submit to upcoming anthologies, and I’m also trying to get a new novel off the ground.  

CHHR: What is in your TBR pile?

      Too much to list!  My pile is actually two whole bookshelves.  But I can throw a few titles at you that I plan to get to next (as soon as I finish Michael Rowe’s ENTER, NIGHT and Bentley Little’s THE CONSULTANT):  KILL CREEK by Scott Thomas, THE NARROWS by Ronald Malfi, and the entire run of PAPER GIRLS graphic novels.

CHHR: What is the last book that scared you?

      Robert McCammon’s THE LISTENER wasn’t scary, per se, but it sure was a nail-biter in terms of suspense.  Sooooo good.  That’s the first one that immediately comes to mind.  One of those books you try to savor, but then it just flies by and you’re bummed that you can never again read it for the first time.

      Believe it or not, the last thing to really give me goosebumps was a comic book.  There’s this new title on the scene called GIDEON FALLS.  I’m in love with it.  Creepy, creepy stuff.  Highly recommended.
CHHR: What is your favorite horror book?

      Well, my favorite book of all time is BOY’S LIFE, by – again – Robert McCammon.  But that’s not a horror novel.  So, lemme think . . .  

      If I had to pick just one, I’d probably say King’s IT.  But then, tomorrow I might say THE SHINING.

CHHR: What is your favorite horror film?

       I’m gonna cheat.  Gonna say a three-way tie between THE EXORCIST, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and John Carpenter’s THE THING.

CHHR: What type of music do you listen to? What’s your favorite album?

       Primarily hard rock and heavy metal, but then I love just about everything.  Just depends on my mood.  Some days I love blues or weird electronic/industrial music just as much as my old-school headbanging stuff.

       Favorite album?  Probably AC/DC’s HIGHWAY TO HELL.

CHHR: What is your spirit animal?

       The wolf.  Got one tattooed on my right forearm, in fact (above a banner that reads “WOLF CHILD”, as inspired by one of my favorite bands, The Cult).

CHHR: What is your favorite beer?

       Never been a beer guy at all.  If we go out for drinks, just keep setting a glass of Jack-n’-Diet-Coke in front of me when the last one goes empty and we’ll get along just fine.

CHHR: If you could have a beer with one author, who would it be?

       Stephen King.  Hands down.  I can’t even imagine how cool that would be . . . .

        My official website is http://southernslick.blogspot.com/, but I’m ashamed to say that I very rarely update it.  The best place for fans to interact with me is on Facebook.  I’m very active over there.  

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