Ten Plus One Questions with Author James M Jackson

21 Aug

james-m-jacksonJames M Jackson is the man behind Cabin Fever and the Seamus McCree mystery books. He has also written a book that bridge players may find useful as well. So without much further discussion lets get on to the questions as his words do a much better job of telling you his process and who he is.

Question 1: When did you realize you first wanted to be a writer?

Creative juices bubbled below the surface for a long time before I became a serious writer. The first short story I wrote was “The Case of the Red and Green Striped Zebra.” I was in fourth or fifth grade. In high school I wrote poems and took a creative writing elective. I had a few poems published in college as well, and then I poured all of my energy into work.

At retirement, I gave myself six months to decide what I wanted to do next. I bought books on finding your life’s work and took their quizzes and filled out their worksheets. What kept coming up was that I wanted to write. Since my favorite fiction is crime novels, that’s what I decided to concentrate on. (As it turned out, my first published manuscript was actually a nonfiction book for intermediate players of the game of bridge: One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge.)

Question 2: How did your friends/family take the loss of your time as you wrote the book?

Friends fall into two camps: those who fully support me spending time doing something I enjoy, and those who think I have a marble loose. To the second group I would be more productive spending the time I devote to writing instead working at McDonalds, since I would be financially ahead.

In our family we have always had together time and apart time. Writing is a combination of both. The writing itself is a solo activity. But Jan, my better half who reads more books than I, and I enjoy attending writers conferences together. We’ll often use them as excuses for extended driving vacations.

Question 3: What inspired you to write Cabin Fever?

Soon after I retired I became a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I love the land and very much appreciate its residents, who are, in the truest sense of the word, characters. It made sense to write about an area I knew and cared about. Because I write about financial crimes, I tailored the exact crimes to something that fit with the darker side of the U.P.

Question 4: During the initial writing process where did you get the idea for the book and its characters?

Cabin Fever is part of the Seamus McCree series (Ant Farm, Bad Policy, Cabin Fever and my current work-in-process, Doubtful Relations). Seamus arrives at the end of Bad Policy physically and mentally beaten up. I decided to allow Seamus to retreat to his remote camp in the U.P. to spend the winter and recover.

But characters don’t get to do what they want to do or there is no story. So I provided him with new challenges and “opportunities to grow.”

When I first started writing the series, I knew I wanted to write about financial crimes. I had worked in the finance industry and knew it was a fertile ground for nefarious deeds. I wanted a protagonist who was a basically nice guy, someone who could fight evil primarily with his brain, not his brawn. But I also wanted the stories to be more than simply rip-roaring stories. I wanted depth to the characters, so Seamus has a broken marriage and a son in college (who has since graduated).

Because I write a series, once I develop a cast of continuing characters, I am stuck with my choices. I can’t, for example, undo Seamus’s marriage. However, each book allows me to invent a set of one-time characters. For Cabin Fever that included all the Yoopers (what residents of the Upper Peninsula are called). I am delighted when lifetime Yoopers tell me they know “exactly” who I used for this character or that. It means my creations are realistic because I never met the individuals they have in mind as my “models.”

Question 5: Who were some of the authors that inspired you as a child growing up and their books? 

Most writers when asked this question come up with great literary names. When I think back to high school, three authors stand out, none of whom I learned about in my English classes. John Le Carre introduced me to the world of espionage; Leon Uris wrote historical fiction with heart; James Michener combined multigenerational family sagas with place as a major character. Each of them transported me from my basement bedroom in Greece, New York to their story’s location.

Question 6: What was the feeling like when you saw the first completed version of your book?

I am a pantser rather than a plotter. That means I begin writing with an idea, and when I finish the first draft I finally understand what I really wanted to write about. It’s always a celebration to write THE END. It means I can embark on the real writing process, which is rewriting.

Question 7: Do you continue to write and in what genre? 

I continue to write the Seamus McCree series. Doubtful Relations is with my beta readers to get outside feedback. I know the basic premises for the next two books in that series, Empty Promises and False Bottom. I continue to noodle on an idea for a YA trilogy set 100+ years from now, taking place in a country where corporations and governments have merged.

Question 8: Who do you imagine being the people reading your book?

My books appeal to readers who enjoy nuanced suspense and thriller novels with reasonably realistic characters, locations, and crimes. Because women read more fiction than men, more of my readers are female than male. Because the protagonist is old enough to have a young adult son, my readers tend to be middle aged or older.

Question 9: Any good suggestions for those who want to try writing their own book?

I’ve found there are two requirements for writing a book. You must read and you must write. If you don’t read, you’ll have no idea how to write. If you don’t sit butt in chair (or stand at a desk) and actually write a first draft all the way to the end, you’ll never have a book.

Question 10: When not writing how does you like to spend your time?

I enjoy being outside wandering through woods, binoculars in hand to check out the birds. We are currently without pets and are catching up on traveling all over the United States and Canada by car and train. I’ve always liked playing games. My current favorite is tournament bridge. I average reading about seventy-five books a year.

The + 1 Question

If you had any one place in the world you could travel to for a book tour, where would that place be, and why?

Seamus McCree grew up in Boston, but his ancestral roots are Ireland. I’ve never been, so I think it would be a hoot to bring him back to the Emerald Isle via a book tour.


Where to find James on the web:

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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Interview


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