If you're like me, the authors who make a living writing are a source of inspiration and in some way a role model for what is possible. Over the course of this continuing author interview series, there have been many such authors. James Reasoner is no exception. It is hoped you will enjoy and learn as much as I have in this fun and inspiring interview.
That started very early. When I was growing up in the late Fifties/early Sixties, my friends and I played mostly with toy guns. Instead of being content with running around and pretending to shoot each other, I had to come up with a story to explain who we were and why we were doing that. They probably thought I was crazy, but they put up with me. The first time I put pen to paper to write my own stories was in 1964 when I was in the fifth grade.
2. What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?
I wrote for my own enjoyment all through junior high and high school, started submitting to magazines, and trying to sell when I was in college but had no success whatsoever. I was just about ready to give up, but right after Livia and I got married, she told me that if it was something I really wanted to do, I should stick with it and work harder at it. Less than six months later, I sold my first story.
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3. Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?
My late good friend Ed Gorman once described a writer as somebody who sits in a room and types for 30 years. There’s a lot of truth to that, and in my case, it’s going on 45 years now. So maybe my lack of life experiences hinders my writing at times. Now and then, I get to work in something in which I have some direct experience, and that’s always nice.
4. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m mostly a plotter. I write fairly detailed outlines but try to give myself enough leeway to veer off if I want or need to. In a few cases, I’ve had to be a pantser, when I needed to write a book in a hurry. I’ve started books with only a vague idea of where I was going. They worked out fine, but the experience was a little nerve-wracking.
5. Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?
Life seems to be so busy all the time that it’s more a case of I write when I can find the opportunity. I always start by editing and polishing the pages I wrote the last time. On a “normal” day, I write for about three hours in the morning, break for lunch, and then write for three to five more hours in the afternoon. Recently, days like that seem to be rare, though.
6. If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?
I love books that are 40,000 to 50,000 words. I consider those to be novels, although some people refer to them as novellas. I’d spend the rest of my career writing that length if I could (unless I had some bigger idea that needed more words).
7. Is there a process where you find your next story or does the idea just hit you?
It’s really a mixture of processes. I work a lot in established series, so sometimes what comes next is just part of the natural flow of an overall storyline. Sometimes the editor will come up with a title or concept or both that he likes, and I take that and flesh it out. And then sometimes ideas just come to me, although those are usually for stand-alone books.
8. Do you write in other genres?
I’ve written in just about every genre there is. There must be at least one I haven’t tackled, but I can’t think of it. I started out to be a mystery writer and had written and sold more than a million words of mystery fiction before I wrote my first Western, although I always loved Westerns as a reader.
9. What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?
Mystery writer Dennis Lynds once told me, “If you work hard enough at it, all your dreams will come true. It’ll just take you ten years longer than you think it should.” As I mentioned above, Livia told me, “If it’s something you really want to do, you’ve got to work at it.” I think that sums up my writing philosophy: patience and hard work. In fact, if I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell myself to work harder and try to take advantage of every opportunity.
10. Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?
Oh, my, yes. The list would be almost endless. But some highlights . . . Robert E. Howard, who taught me it was possible to live in a small Texas town, not know any other writers, and still be a success. Mike Avallone, who taught me it was possible for a writer to have a distinctive voice and write books that didn’t sound like anybody else’s. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who taught me how to plot and write dialogue. Howard again, along with Lester Dent, who taught me how to write action. And a ton of Western, mystery, and science fiction pulp and paperback authors whose work I read and absorbed for many, many years. All that time I spent with my nose stuck in a book, flipping the pages so I could find out what was going to happen, I was actually studying and preparing for my career. I just didn’t know it at the time. (And let’s be honest. I probably would have read the books anyway.)
For more of James' work, visit his Amazon Author Page
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