October 06, 2012

James Newman - retro interview, circa 2006

To help launch this blog, I am turning to none other than my pal, James Newman,who is probably the nicest guy in horror I know.  But don't let that fool you -   there's nightmares to be had in that there southern charm.

To steal the bio from his website:

I'm a writer of horror and suspense.  I live in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina with my soulmate, Glenda, and our two sons, Jamie and Jacob. 

My published works include the novels Midnight Rain, The Wicked, Animosity, the short-story collection People Are Strange, and the novellas The Forum, Olden, Revenge Flick!, and fan favorite Holy Rollers.

When I'm not writing or playing around on the Internet when I should be writing (don't tell Glenda!), I enjoy reading, watching movies, listening to blues and loud rock n' roll, and taking in some theater now and then.  I'm also a die-hard college basketball fanatic.
 And without further ado, here is the interview, originally published in the 2006 fall issue of Insidious Reflections.  Please forgive any formatting inconsistencies you may come across as I'm still getting the hang of this thing :}.

James Newman really irks me off.  Seriously, he can't seem to stop letting me down.  I mean, I've read a respectable chunk of the man's work, a great deal of which is downright nasty stuff.  Incidentally, I kept going back for more.  Every time James and I crossed paths I expected this brooding, acid-tongued bad ass son of a bitch.  I expected him to cast his sweet southern charm upon me and lead me by the hand to some dark and miserable place where pain and suffering are the only items on the menu.  However, time and time again I'm let down because I'm always so shocked to find the most kind and generous guy who usually rubs off as shy and humble to a fault.  But don't let his kind demeanor fool you.  James Newman will impress upon you his kindness and charm just as naturally as he'll have you gripping your pillow in the throes of a Newman sponsored night terror while you shiver with fright. And since his books were sufficiently keeping me up at night anyways, I figured I might as well use the extra time for picking at his brain and chancing a peek inside.

Richard Hipson - Thanks for finding the time to sit down with the likes of me today.  If you’ve got your drink of choice in front of you and your CD of choice in the stereo, why don’t we kick things off by having you fill us all in on what you’ve been up to over the past several months and what you’re currently work on?

James Newman  The last few months I've been working on a couple things.  First and foremost, I've been finishing up a collaboration with Jason Brannon that White Noise Press will be publishing later this summer -- a novelette called THE CHURCH OF DEAD LANGUAGES.  I also recently began work on my new novel, which is shaping up to be a fun one so far . . . possibly the most fun novel I've ever written.  I'm having a blast with it so far.

RH-     So if all goes as planned, what can we expect from you by the end of this year?

JN -     2006 is shaping up to be a really busy year for me.  Lots of cool stuff coming out!  As I mentioned, THE CHURCH OF DEAD LANGUAGES will be out this summer, and there are also plans for another chapbook to be released from Nocturne Press, a collection of my really whacked-out, sorta humorous horror stories called PEOPLE ARE STRANGE.  And then there's the one I'm most excited about -- my novel THE WICKED will finally see publication this summer, in a killer limited hardcover edition from Necessary Evil Press.  Good times. 

RH -    James, you have a number of books out there that are the result of some duel collaborations such as Love Bites with Don Gash that you were kind enough to send me, along with Night of The Loving Dead with James Futch, and Riverside Blues with Eric Tomblin, among others.  Is it a deliberate desire you have to mix and play in the creative minds of your peer, or is it just something that you happen to fall into as a result of like minds being drawn together?

JN -     Just so there's no misunderstanding, RIVERSIDE BLUES isn't a collaboration -- I just wrote the Foreword for that one (and I was damn honored to do it, as Erik's novella is one of the best debuts I've read in years, a really creepy piece o' Southern Gothic that impressed the hell outta me to say the least).  To answer your question, though, I love to collaborate.  It helps if you're good friends with your co-writer before you begin, of course, as well as a fan of his work, but I've been lucky to have found the best of both worlds so far.  Donn Gash and I have been best friends since we were fifteen or so, and of course his work blows me away.  As for Jason, I was a big fan of his stuff before we ever became pals. 

But yeah . . . getting back to your question . . . I think that old saying "two heads are better than one" is certainly relevant when it comes to writing collaborations.  I know these guys have brought out the best in me, and it's always challenging to try to keep up with writers I admire.  If nothing else, it makes for a really fun ride, and if you've got that you're already on the road to a successful story right out of the gates.

RH -    It must be a bit of a challenge to keep your co-written tales flowing smoothly to the point where readers don’t notice the passing of pens, so to speak.  I had a hard time telling the difference - and believe me I tried! – but how do you ensure that the duel pens stay a true and consistent voice throughout so that a reader can’t suddenly shout out, “Hey!  This is where James stopped writing and his pal begins!”

JN -     I don't know how other writers do it, but I think the reason the collaborations I've been involved with have worked so well -- as far as, like you said, merging together so smoothly -- is the process itself.  Basically, someone will start off the project, then send it to his co-writer.  The other guy then takes what's already been written, tinkers with it just enough to add his own $.02 to it, and then writes the next part.  Back to the other writer it goes, and so on and so forth.  By the time you get to the end, and do those final revisions, it’s very much a "gelling" of two voices.  That's worked for my co-writers and me so far, anyway . . . .

As much fun as it's been, I do think I'm gonna step away from the collaborations for a while after I finish up THE CHURCH OF DEAD LANGUAGES with Jason.  Not that it hasn't been fun - I've enjoyed each project immensely, and had more fun than writing should ever be! - but I need to change things up a bit for at least the next year or two.  Don't wanna become known as the guy who does nothing but chapbooks with other writers, can't carry his own gig, ya know.  LOL

RH -    Who is left out there that you’d like to try co-writing with should you try that approach again in the future?

JN -     Simon Wood and I have talked about doing something together, at some point.  I'm a big fan of his work.  Also, Jeff Strand and I will definitely be unleashing something on an unsuspecting world at some point.  You know that'll be wild.  Donn Gash and I do have a few unfinished stories lying around that will see the light of day in the future, but I'm not sure when that will be.  Of course, I would love to work with Brian Keene one day.  But he can leave the groupies at home (just kidding, Brian!).

RH -    A collaboration with you and Jeff Strand has me smiling wide already with visions of scantily clad dead chics, terrorizing a nice college town.

JN -     Hahaha . . . well, I guarantee you when it happens -- and it WILL -- you're in for one of the most bizarre stories you've ever read.  I'll leave you with this, for now:  A country-music loving redneck, with wrinkled brown skin.  An eighteen-wheeler named "Big Mama."  And the death of a child in a strange little town called "Suicide Cove."

RH -    That does sound delicious and wicked!

            James, I think it’s very safe to say that you are much more than “just” an author.  You are also a working class taxpayer, a husband, and a father.  How the heck do you juggle the many hats that you wear while continuing to rock out those killer stories that we fans so love to gobble up? 
JN -     It ain't easy, bud.  At all.  And if I told you that I write every single day, I'd be lying.  Hell, if I told you I write every OTHER day, I'd be full of shit.  You just grab any free time you can, when you get home from the day job, gobbled down dinner with the family, helped your son with his homework.  If I can throw down just 500 or 1000 words after all that, then I feel I've accomplished SOMETHING.  Because gradually, those words add up to stories.  Those stories add up to books.

Now, if we could just work on the pay.   Heh

I need a raise.

RH -    Despite your many chapbooks, novellas and short stories in circulation, the only full length novel you have out at this moment is Midnight Rain.  I absolutely loved the chance to get to know your characters over the long haul as you force them to grow and evolved with the incredible, and often terrifying, situations that you cast them in.  When can we expect to see another full length novel pour out of that head of yours and onto a bookshelf?  Tomorrow, right?  *Laughs*

JN -     From your mouth to God's ears, my friend.  I appreciate that.

RH -    Okay, you're gonna make ME blush!

JN -     Well . . . I don't have anything new to report as far as mass-market deals right now, but I am proud to say that THE WICKED is finally gonna see publication.  That'll be a limited hardcover edition from Necessary Evil Press, as I mentioned earlier.  Should be out by August or September at the very latest, I'm guessing.  And then it looks like I've sold my next one, although that's not 100% set in stone yet so I don't wanna say TOO much . .

RH -    I'll be saving my nickels for the Wicked, that's for sure. . .

JN -     Awesome, man.  I look forward to hearing what you think!  Where MIDNIGHT RAIN was a coming-of-age thriller, THE WICKED is a straight-up supernatural horror tale.  Fun stuff.

RH -    Let’s switch up the pace with a few silly, but fun short answered questions, shall we?

            Now, we all know what a kind hearted, generous guy you are, but for argument’s sake, let’s say you get sent straight to hell anyways.  Some would argue that hell is living in absolute repetition of the very things that you hate the most, like never ending re-runs of General Hospital, for example.  But you’re smarter than that and somehow manage to trick the devil and end up being able to choose your damned destiny, to a certain degree.  If you had to pick one book, and one book only, to read for eternity, would that book be?

JN -     So this is a book I love?

RH -    Can be any book you choose.

JN -     Oh, that's easy . . . BOY'S LIFE by Robert R. McCammon.  My favorite novel of all time, and the only book to ever make me cry.  My God, what a masterpiece.  My wife and I both re-read it once every couple of years, and never get sick of it.

RH -    I happen to have that book in my large TBR pile...Perhaps it's time I bumped it up a few notches

JN -     Do it.  For me.  Now!  You will NOT be disappointed, my friend.  I promise.  If you enjoyed MIDNIGHT RAIN, which you've told me you did, then BOY'S LIFE is gonna blow you away . . . .

RH -    I will!  For you!

JN -     Awesome.  And I'll agree to do an interview for you sometime.   (doh!)

RH -    You're a man after my own heart, you is.

            What movie would you choose to watch for eternity?

JN -     If I had to pick just ONE, regardless of genre, I guess it would have to be LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL.  Man, I love that flick.

RH -    Cartoon?

JN -     Probably THE PRINCE OF EGYPT.  Dug that one a lot.

RH -    And which CD would you choose to have spinning in the devil’s player for all your soul burning pleasure?

JN -     Well, just so happens that'd be AC/DC's HIGHWAY TO HELL.  Could anything be more perfect for the scenario at hand?

RH -    Hell no!  Even Satan would wanna rock out with ya to Angus and the guys!

JN -     Favorite song of all time:  "Walk All Over You."

RH -    Nice pick!

            And if you miraculously found a loophole in the system (there’s always a loop hole, right?), and you were able to come back as any living creature, what would you come back as, and why?

JN -     You're gonna hate me.  I'm coming up with nothing clever whatsoever for that one.   LOL

RH -    Hehe GOTCHA!

JN -     Yep.   haha
RH -    And moving right along…If you could come back as any super hero, which one would you come back as, and why?

JN -     Batman!  I'm the biggest Batman nerd you've ever met.  He has no superhuman powers, which I think makes him even more interesting.  He's dark and brooding, which of course appeals to the horror-lovin' side of me.  And by day he's a millionaire playboy.  What's not to like?

RH -                I'd agree, you could do far worse than to be Batman.   Thanks for playing along, James!  There'll be a quiz for your fans on Monday.

JN -     Haha -- awesome.  I like SpiderMan too, but he's a nerd by day.  And I'm already that.  So I'll pass.

RH -    Fair enough!

            I know you’re a man who still very much in touch with the big at the core of your heart and that you haven’t stopped loving your old time rock n’ roll and horror movie romps.  Your pal Brian Keene has told me that he is in part a product of a media driven generation and thus his work is quite influenced by that fact.  What’s your take on the influence that the media has on your mindset when you get set to hammer out the Newman nugget?

JN -     Well, as you know I'm a huge movie buff.  Particularly horror movies.  I can't get enough of 'em.  And I think that shows in my work.  When I write, I picture the story as a movie in my head, and that's what I want to get down on paper.  I think Stephen King called it "skull cinema."  Every image, every scene, every character, I see on a big movie screen in my mind.  Not sure if this answers your question the way you wanted it answered, but hopefully that explains what a big influence movies are on my prose.

RH -    That answers it perfectly, bud.
I’m under the impression that you don’t currently use an agent, is that right?

JN -     No.  I'm not at the point in my career where I can afford to give someone 15% of what I make.  Haha

RH -    Do you see that changing as your success grows?

JN -     I'm honestly not sure.  I'm not actively pursuing agents at this time, but I won't say that one day I wouldn't choose to have one.  I've heard many writers say they are very necessary, but just as many have found success without an agent.  One day, I'll probably go down that road.  It's just not for me right now.

For one thing, I think any agent worth his salt would like to have writers much more prolific than me in his or her stable! 

RH -    I'm sure it goes both ways.  Your pal, Brian Keene, doesn't have an agent so maybe it's not even about how prolific you are, but how it fits with your goals, eh?

JN -     I really think so.  Every writer has his own agenda, and plans for the future.  It varies from person to person.  Frankly, I've never had the slightest desire to have an agent . . . then again, like I said, that doesn't mean I won't have an agent ONE day.

RH -    As an aside, personally I'd much rather give you my money for entertaining me than some agent who had no part in your creative process

Now I sure hope this next question doesn’t come across smelling like old cheese, but I think anyone who knows anything about you would agree that you must be one of the most humble and generous guys in the horror bizz.  Seriously, I’ve looked deep and long into the messages you’ve posted on-line, chats we’ve had and everything in between and I’ve yet to find an egotistical trait in you.  I’ve even asked around, but no dice.  Either that or you’ve greased many a palm, though I have my doubts about that.

JN -     Yeah, the greased palm thing is definitely out, 'cause I'm po' white trash (LOL).  But seriously . . . I just try to be a nice guy, ya know?  I try to treat people the way I want them to treat me, and -- how do I say this -- promote my work, when it comes to online networking, in the way that I enjoy seeing others promote.  Not by beating you over the head with the fact that he or she has a new book on the market, not by spamming every message board in existence and always making every post about MEMEME, but just being a decent person.  That goes a long way in my book.  It's the way I was raised, it's the way I'm raising my son, and it's the way I want people to think of me.  Sounds like you think I've succeeded.  And I appreciate that, my friend.

My good buddy, Markus Euringer, recently accused, "Newman's whole humble pie thing is an act.  Don't believe it for a second."  But I swear it's not.

RH -    I wouldn't doubt that at all.  Nobody is that good of an actor and not making movies.  Unless you happen to have some adult stuff I'm unaware of?

JN -     John Holmes, eat your heart out.

RH -    Um...I won't ask for a copy of THAT one!

I think you have succeeded by the very principle of your thinking.  Seems like just a cool way to go about living, if you ask me.

JN -     Thanks, buddy.  The Golden Rule and all that.  It's worked for me.  So many people turn me off ever wanting to read their work -- and maybe I'm missing out on some fantastic work, but so be it -- simply because of the way they treat other people.  Snarky message-board posts, just being loud, obnoxious, opinionated assholes.  Why?  What do you have to gain?  Just be good to people.  That's my motto.

RH -    On that note, I recall you mentioning that as talented of a writer as you are and with as much support as you have from friends and fans alike, there have been moments of skepticism that have eaten away at you to the point of making you question your ability to write well and impress your fans and publishers.  Number one, where do you think this self doubt comes from and number two, how do you see your way through it so that you can keep on doing what you do so well – keeping readers up at night and happily letting you tug at their emotions as if you had a hand deep in their guts?

JN -     I don't know, man.  I've always been like that, in everything I do.  Pretty pathetic, huh?  I tend to suffer from all-too-frequents periods of self-doubt that will keep me from writing anything for weeks, sometimes months at a time.  I wish I knew why, 'cause I can't tell you how many fine folks have told me I need to get over that shit for good.

As far as getting through it -- honestly, it usually comes from the compliments and the support of my readers.  Maybe, in that respect, I'm a very needy, dependent person.  Always counting on that reaffirmation to keep me going.  Because once that starts rolling in, it fires me up.  I go through writing streaks like nothing I've ever experienced before.  Incredible highs that feel like they'll never end.  Hell . . . maybe it's some kind of bi-polar thing.  I don't know.

RH -    Well I think we're all pretty damn thankful that they don't last forever.

JN -     Thanks, man.  They don't.  Thank God!  I just have to get over myself, and sooner or later I'll get back in the groove.

RH -    How confident werehttp://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6335662343832230766#editor/target=post;postID=3178324721699484003 you when you sold your first novel, Midnight Rain?   Did you know that you had just created your first salable piece of work or were you totally shocked when you got the call?  Take us through that time in your life if you would, when you finished writing it and when, finally, you got the acceptance from Leisure.

JN -     I always enjoy telling this story . . . .

RH -    Excellent!

JN -     When I was about halfway through the first draft of MIDNIGHT RAIN, a buddy who knew a couple people in the publishing business told me that Leisure were getting ready to start a new "Thriller" line in addition to their popular "Horror" line.  I had told him a bit about 'RAIN, and he thought it'd be a perfect fit for Leisure.  I agreed, but I remember telling him, "Yeah, but I'm a nobody and this nobody's book ain't even finished!"  He suggested that I send Leisure a query anyway, asking if they'd like to see the novel when it was done.  I did.  Leisure got back to me in record time, asking to see the finished manuscript.  A few months later, I finally turned it into them.  A few months after that, I came home to a pile of mail on the dining-room table.  Didn't pay it much attention at first, 'cause I assumed it was all junk-mail.  But then, when I started thumbing through it, I saw the envelope from Leisure.  I remember yelling into the other room to my wife, "Well, here it is, babe!  My rejection from Leisure!"  But when I opened the envelope, I soon saw that it wasn't a rejection  And, of course, I nearly hit the floor.  Definitely a great evening, and one of the highlights of my writing career so far . . . . as if I have to tell you.

RH -    Guess we both have a lot of thanks to give to that friend of yours.

JN -     Well, he turned out to be sorta a goober, but I do thank him for that.   LOL  (for the heads-up, I mean, not for turning out to be a goober)

RH -    Gotcha!

JN -     Oh, and special thanks to Jenny Orosel, too -- your readers will know her as the writer of several kick-ass essays in the last couple issues of IR.  Jenny is one of my closest friends in the world, and she was also there that evening.  She was a very important part of my giving Leisure a shot, and also the number one reason I finished MIDNIGHT RAIN in the first place.  She wouldn't let me quit, no matter what.

RH -    That's it....Jenny, we now sentence you to never leaving us!
Have you noticed any major changes in your writing ways since you pounded out that first salable piece in comparison to what you are currently writing by way of schedule, style, or otherwise?

JN -     Oh, God, yes!  Hopefully I've improved!

I think -- and I've had others agree, friends and family who don't just blow smoke but give me the honest, constructive criticism they know I always want from them -- that the thing I've come the farthest with is my dialogue.  I think I've most improved in that area.  At one time, I thought my dialogue was my biggest weakness.  These days, if I may say so, I think it's my strongest.  I'd like to think I've grown leaps and bounds in that area.  I have so much fun writing dialogue these days, and I hope it shows!  (you've read ANIMOSITY, so you know what I'm talking about)

RH -    I sure do know what you're talking about.  Animosity took my emotions through the wringer and I think a big part of that was the way you had the main characters interacting and speaking with each other.

JN -     Thanks, bro.  I definitely think ANIMOSITY is some of the best stuff I've ever written, and I can't wait for folks to see it.  I'm stoked to know that they will, and soon . . .

I don't think I've asked you (if I may):  Which did you like more?  'RAIN or ANIMOSITY?  Just out of curiosity . . . .

RH -    Damn, now that's a tough question....

JN -     Ha!  Turning it around on you.

RH -    Truthfully...I think Animosity....As much as I dug the hell out of Rain, Animosity was just so much more powerful.  Maybe the fact that it is much shorter and therefore moves at a greater speed had a part to play in how it got to me, but yeah, Animosity has been my favourate round of Newman thus far.

JN -     Woohoo!

RH -    I feel very lucky and honored to say that I am one of the few chosen to have read a copy your newest Novel, Animosity. I put up a review of this on a few message boards and the boards went just crazy with all the good sentiments and excitement that this project wrought from your fan base. At the time I made the boards crazy with news of the best story I have read of yours so far, it had yet to be picked up by a publisher. Can you fill us inquiring minds in on the status of Animosity now?

JN -     Wow!  That's a lot to live up to (LOL).  I appreciate it, man.  Yeah, ANIMOSITY will definitely be published, although not in the mass-market.  But it is very close to being a done deal (or will most likely already be, by the time this issue of IR goes to press).  I'm in talks with a wonderful publisher who have some really kick-ass things planned for this novel.  I'll give you a hint, but this is all I can say for now:  Said publisher IS one I have worked with before.

And if everything goes as planned, you'll see the book around this time next year.  I can't wait!

RH -    You're such a tease!

JN -     Hahaha . . . .

RH -    Is there any advice that you’ve gotten that you still use to your success today?

JN -     Never give up.  Don't let rejection get you down.  Because, if you do, you'll give up long before you have a chance to get ANYWHERE in this business.  Rejection is a part of the writing game, and it will always be -- even after you've had a taste of success, it still happens.  You've got to keep on keepin' on, never let the bastards get you down, and you've got to WANT it.  You've got to want it so bad you'll let NOTHING get in your way.  That's what I did.

More advice, as if I know what the hell I'm talking about (and this is something I stand by to this day, best piece of advice I think I can give those just starting out, 'cause it's always worked for me):

Always think about the FLOW of your writing.  Know that old saying "Less is More?"  Truer words were never spoken.  Trim the needless fat.  Trim it mercilessly.  Trim stuff you LIKE, even.  Make it hurt.  Read your work aloud, to catch clunky passages and sentences that don't flow smoothly.  Not to mention awkward, unrealistic dialogue.  The best thing you can do, if you want to make it in this business, is to read your work aloud before you start submitting it to publishers.  Because, I promise, you'll find then that it's not quite as ready to go out into the world as you thought it was.  Polish, polish, polish.  I can't stress this enough:  It's all about THE FLOW.
Did I mention it's all about the flow?

I usually cut somewhere around 1500-2000 words of every 6000 I write, in the final editing stages.  No shit.

Make it flowwww, baby.  Fluid.

RH -    To your suggestions, I cut about 300 or so words from a piece I wrote of about 2000 words and I must say, it does flow a lot smoother without all the extra crap that was there before

JN -     Right on -- doesn't it just seem so much tighter, so much leaner n' meaner?

RH -    It does....I read somewhere about Stephen King saying that you have to learn to kill your children.  It does hurt, but I think a final draft demands it.

JN -     Absolutely.  I mean, I've cut PLENTY of stuff in my final drafts that I LOVED.  That I thought was so damn clever or "cute."  That should be the first stuff to go.  Get rid of it.  If it draws attention to itself, and you -- the WRITER -- appear in the story, you've just broken the cardinal rule of writing.  The writer should never appear in the story.  The reader should forget he's reading, just like you lose yourself in a good movie.  Total immersion.  That's what I strive for, anyway.

RH -    Any advice that you think is bullshit?

JN -     Sorry, can't really think of an answer for that one . . . .

RH -    I guess that's a good thing, eh?

JN -     Ha!  True!  Of course, I'll think of something 20 minutes from now, smack myself.

RH -    Is there anything that I've left out, something that we didn't cover that you had hoped to?

JN -     No, I think that just about covers it.  Watch for THE WICKED, THE CHURCH OF DEAD LANGUAGES, and PEOPLE ARE STRANGE this summer.  I also have it on good authority that HOLY ROLLERS may briefly come back from the dead in the next year or so.  But that's all I can say about that for now.  Till then, everyone should keep reading INSIDIOUS REFLECTIONS.  It'll make your penis grow.  (Unless you're woman, then . . . never mind.)

RH -    I keep waiting for that to happen, but I'm told I'm a slow learner

JN -     Hahahahaah

RH -    Thanks a heap for spending all this time with us tonight, James.  I truly appreciate it.  And in the words of Bonn Scott, if you want blood, we've got it!  His name is James Newman, and how sweet the blood of his craft is.

JN -     Niiiice.  Thanks again for having me.  I had a blast!  We'll definitely have to do it again sometime.

Check out his website for more on James Newman, check him out online HERE.