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Interview with Author Russell James

Interview with Author Russell James

Russell James grew up on Long Island, New York, and spent too much time watching Chiller, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and The Twilight Zone, despite his parents’ warnings. Bookshelves full of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe didn’t make things better. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Central Florida.

After a tour flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales best read in daylight. He has written the paranormal thrillers Q Island, Dark Inspiration, The Playing Card Killer, The Portal, Lambs Among Wolves, and both the Grant Coleman and Ranger Kathy West adventure series. He has four short story collections, Tales from the Beyond, Outer Rim, Forever Out of Time, and Deeper into Darkness.

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Website: russellrjames.com
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Russell James – Author
Meet Russell at an upcoming convention in 2022!


What draws you to the horror genre? Apparently, you have a love for it going back to childhood.

Sometime early in high school, I picked up Stephen King’s The Stand. It was on the family bookshelf and I’ll admit that the size of it intimidated me. It ended up being the first novel I ever read that so engrossed me I could not put it down. I jumped on the rest of the King books on the shelves after that, and had the same experience. So, while I’d had a nice diet of horror movies and television shows growing up, these books cemented that link between scary stories and the written word. I am certain that one of the reasons I prefer this genre is that early influence.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?

For me, my greatest accomplishments might seem very small. They are the moments when a person tells me that the story I wrote moved them. One man told me that my high school buddies horror story Sacrifice made him look up his old high school friends. Once, a father told me about how I was his young son’s favorite author and his son did a book report on one of my Grant Coleman Adventure novels. Another time, a woman told me that the hero couple in The Portal reminded her of how she and her deceased husband used to be, and it made her smile. I’ll certainly never hit the NYT bestseller list, but every conversation like these inspires me to keep working on the next book.

Why do you write?

Anyone who writes enough to pursue publication will tell you that the desire comes from within, and that there is no other way to satisfy it. Stories and ideas and images bubble up and practically demand to be put on a page. To keep that creative urge from boiling too hard, I try to write every day. But sometimes life disrupts that schedule, like when I attend a four-day convention and that absorbs all my time. I can feel that unreleased storytelling rising inside and can’t wait to get back to the current work-in-progress. It’s the most satisfying job I’ve ever had.

What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)

I have a splendid workspace set up at home with a big south-facing window and a lot of desk space. That space is critical because my cat Timothy thinks if he isn’t close by, I’ll churn out drivel, so he needs his spot where the sun hits the desk.

I’ve found that I can productively create new prose for about four hours a day. After that, I start rushing through the writing process, and the next day it reads like a junior high composition assignment. So in the summer, I spend the morning doing something outdoors like yard work or working on the cars in the garage, and then after lunch when the heat really kicks in, I will write. In the winter, I reverse that order to take advantage of warmer afternoons.

After the creative part of the process delivers a complete rough draft, now comes the editing process. I’m not a pre-plotting kind of writer. My rough drafts contain a lot of notes about continuity errors from earlier I need to fix or foreshadowing I need to add now that I’m certain of what happens later in the book. The first pass fixes all those notes and typos.

The second pass skips through the book, landing on only the scenes a specific character is in. During this pass I work on character continuity and dialogue consistency. In the third pass, I listen to the book read aloud. Here I hope to catch repetitive words or sentence structure, as well as punching up some of the descriptive language.

After that, I can’t stand looking at it anymore, and off it goes to my cherished beta readers.

How do you come up with your ideas for novels?

Every novel springs from a different inspiration, usually from something I’ve observed or an article I’ve read. From that I get a creepy premise that gives me either a way to get a story started or a splendid climax to a conflict. The new release, Demon Dagger, is the only one inspired in the middle.

I love visiting the local Florida theme parks. They all have big, costumed characters for photo ops. I thought about how one never knows who is inside that costume and giant head. They could look like anyone, be any gender. As a horror writer, I of course have to look at everything through a dark lens. Normal people assume it is a benevolent person inside the costume head with the fixed smile, but what if it wasn’t? What if a demonically-possessed person was in that costume, ready to prey on the people who let down their guard in the safe fantasy world of the happy theme park?

That got my wheels turning. Who would the demon target? Well, the young son of a demon hunter of course, as revenge for previously sending the demon back to Hell. This idea turned into a short story, and the more I polished that story, the more I filled in the blanks on either side of it. Before I knew it, it had become the center of a novel.

Then I created a beginning to talk about how the demon hunter got into that line of work, and an ending with a climactic battle between the demon and the hunter, with the hunter’s family set squarely in the middle.

What is your background in literature? How much reading do you do? What do you read? How necessary do you feel it is necessary for an author to read?

I try to do some reading daily, usually after my creativity has been spent for the day. Lately I’ve been reading the works published by the other authors at the presses that publish my work. Flame Tree Press published Demon Dagger and they have some splendid authors there. You can’t beat Catherine Cavendish for gothic horror, JG Faherty for a white-knuckle horror thriller, or Brian Moreland for historical horror. At Severed Press, Hunter Shea is the Master of All Things Monster and the king of cryptid tales.

Writers need to read. It’s the only way to get a varied perspective about the craft. I met a girl at the last con who said she wanted to be a writer and loved to write but hated to read. That’s like saying you want to be a professional skater, but will never watch any skating competitions. If you don’t want to do read, you really don’t want to write.

Do you have anyone (friends, relatives, etc.) review your works before you publish them?

I am blessed with splendid beta readers. Donna Fitzpatrick and Deb DeAlteriis are huge horror fans who give me great input on the first version of every novel. Teresa Robeson is a fantastic author who was part of my first writing group. She has gone on to publish two award-winning children’s books and has also done beta reading for me.

Sometimes I’ll ask for specific feedback from one person for something within that person’s area of expertise. Demon Dagger got feedback on the family dynamic from horror author and super-mom Somer Canon, and on medical matters from professional nurse Josie Evans. It’s wonderful having friends willing to make me seem more knowledgeable than I really am.

Could you give us a general idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?

Demon Dagger comes out this August. In it, Drew is the main character, and when a demon possesses a person, he can see the horrific-looking demon that dwells within. This ability has made him a demon hunter, armed with the one weapon that can send these fiends back to Hell; the demon dagger.

A demon named Nicobar sets its sights on punishing this hunter. It starts by taking the soul of Drew’s son, condemning the boy to life as a psychopath.

This fast-paced, chilling novel follows Drew’s attempt to save his son’s soul and then use the blade to end Nicobar’s time on Earth.

My next Severed Press release is called Temple of the Queen. This is the start of a new series set in the 1930s. Antiques-dealing couple Rick and Rose Sinclair go out looking for lost treasures and find supernatural dangers and giant monsters in each adventure. Their first trip takes them to Arabia in search of the lost treasury of the legendary Queen of Sheba.

Several of your books deal with scenarios in which the protagonist must evade a mass of monsters (for example, Claws or Mammoth Island.) Then several are supernatural horror/ adventure. The Playing Card Killer concerns a protagonist coming off anxiety medication. In Demon Dagger you explain sociopaths using demons. There seems to be a trend from adventurous, Jurassic-Park-type adventures to the supernatural and psychological. What is driving this new focus? Do you have a growing interest in psychology? Is this shift only temporary?

Both types of books are still coming down the pike. The giant monster adventure books are published through Severed Press, who dominates that niche market. Demon Dagger and the more mainstream horror books are distributed through Simon and Schuster, a press better suited to reaching that wider market. Neither publisher would be interested in the works the other have published. I love writing both kinds of stories and I am very blessed to have found two publishers willing to indulge me.

What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?

No one likes getting bad reviews and I cringe when I see a review headline with very few stars. If it is a well-reasoned, insightful review, I can certainly read that with an open mind. I’ve read poor reviews that point out parts of my story that I had my own reservations about, or that highlight problems that I can admit I missed fixing.

Then there are one-star reviews that get me mad, like ones that say the price is too high, or the book was damaged in shipping. None of that has anything to do with the quality of the book. The worst are the reviews that claim there are things in the book that absolutely are not there, or that misinterpret characters in inexplicable ways. I’d love to be able to have those reviews removed, but you can’t.

The most important thing about poor reviews is to let them pass on by. Do not mention them or try to rebut them. All that does is give them oxygen so they can grow to find more readers.

What advice do you have for novice writers?

If you want to be a writer, then write. Sit down and put words on a page. If you are new to the whole thing, get some professional education on the craft. Take an online class, take an in-person class, check out writing self-help books from actual successful writers. Like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you will be.

How do you develop a character? How do you get an idea for a character? Some authors let the characters do as they will (so to speak) while others consider them galley slaves to do exactly as they are told. Where do your characters fit on that spectrum?

I restore classic cars as a hobby (you will see the influence of that in Demon Dagger for sure) so I am mechanically minded. In the same way that every part in a machine works to make it run properly, every character in a story kind of works the same way. Each one has to support and drive the plot, otherwise the reader will read that character’s part in the novel and say “Who cares?”

Looking at it that way, I know I need a protagonist and an antagonist to start with. Those usually come baked into the initial inspiration for the story. Drew, as an example, is the protagonist demon hunter in Demon Dagger.

Then a plot problem arises. How does Drew learn to be a demon hunter? The character of Lincoln is the solution, an older, experienced demon hunter to explain the gift Drew has to see demons and how to kill them.

Now I get to flesh out who is Lincoln. What’s his backstory, and how did that prepare him to be this boy’s mentor? Lincoln had to be tough and independent and a car expert, so he became an African American man who came up doing dirt track racing in the South. That will toughen someone up. Filling in the rest of his backstory details made him a credible person to train Drew. I’ll leave the specifics on that unsaid to not spoil the fun reading them.

Was Demon Dagger or any part of it based on a legend or myth? Is there a historical basis or belief behind this as there is for many works?

There are plenty of myths around demon possession, and facts if you believe the doctrine of the Catholic Church. I used those as a basis for the process of summoning a demon and becoming possessed. In the story, the demon feeds on human souls the owners trade for riches or success. This part I made up, as well as the impact losing one’s soul has, which is that without the moral compass a soul provides, they become a sociopath.

Part of the Demon Dagger story touches on the mission system set up in Spanish California in the 18th and 19th centuries. These settlements were government/church partnerships to pioneer the untamed California coast. I add an ulterior motive to the mission system’s purpose that I won’t spoil by mentioning here, and I also created the fictional missing 22nd mission as a location for the climax of the story.

Nietzsche once posed an interesting question: if you could live your life over and over again for eternity, but had to always live it exactly as you have lived it so far, would you do it? What is your response?

I’m fine with having the one life I’m living. I firmly believe there is a superior afterlife once we die, and that it will be even better than this amazing life I’ve had so far.

Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?

I have a pretty extensive convention signing schedule and I love to meet readers and authors on the road. Check out my tour schedule at http://www.russellrjames.com. While you are there, there’s a link on the landing page to sign up for my monthly newsletter that will keep you up to date on all the latest happenings.


Russell James’s new book, Demon Dagger, will be released on August 16, 2022. Watch for it in stores, online, and wherever books are sold.

“A thrilling game of supernatural cat and mouse.” — Publishers Weekly

“A hugely entertaining story of all-too-human heroes battling soul-devouring demons. James’ best novel yet!” — Tim Waggoner author of We Will Rise

“Demons. Possession. Stolen souls. And a body count that’s rising. Demon Dagger delivers all this and more as novice demon hunter Drew Price must stop one of Hell’s most powerful archdemons before the creature destroys Drew’s family. Russell James doesn’t pull any punches as this story races to a thrilling climax.”
– JG Faherty, author of The Wakening and Sins of the Father

Drew Price has a gift, or perhaps a curse.

When a demon possesses a person, Drew can see the horrific-looking demon that dwells within. This ability has made him a demon hunter, armed with the one weapon that can send these fiends back to Hell; the demon dagger.

A demon named Nicobar sets its sights on punishing this hunter. It starts by taking the soul of Drew’s son, condemning the boy to life as a psychopath.

This fast-paced, chilling novel follows Drew’s attempt to save his son’s soul and then use the blade to end Nicobar’s time on Earth.

Demon Dagger is an immensely enjoyable page-turner that wastes no time and will keep you engrossed right from the beginning. I hold out hope that there will be a sequel or two from James in the world of Demon Dagger, as he planted the seeds to follow it up with many more stories.” — Grimdark Magazine

DEMON DAGGER

Flame Tree Press — August 16, 2022

288 pages

Hardcover: $26.95 Paperback: $16.95, Kindle: $4.99

ISBN:  978-1-78758-693-2

FLAME TREE PRESS is the imprint of long-standing independent Flame Tree Publishing dedicated to full-length original fiction in the horror and suspense, science fiction & fantasy, and crime / mystery / thriller categories. The list brings together fantastic new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices. Learn more about Flame Tree Press at www.flametreepress.com and connect on social media @FlameTreePress

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