Well, of course! I always have the coffee pot on for guests.
I sent Jim a list of questions, which he graciously answered. Before we get going on the interview, let's see the new book, BAD POLICY. (It's available in trade paperback, too. This was just the picture I pulled out of Amazon.)
Now then, let's get to the Q and A:
Quick, give us the Reader’s Digest version of your life story.An Upstate New York native who worked for twenty years on the East Coast before landing in Cincinnati for the last ten years of employment, I was (prepare to yawn) a consulting actuary who designed and determined the funding for pension plans and post-retirement medical plans for large corporations, not-for-profits and governments.
My life-partner, Jan, and I now split our time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country near Savannah. Between us we have four children and four grandchildren.
I confess, I haven’t read Bad Policy YET (it’s on the list). Can you tell us a little about the story?Seamus McCree returns to his Cincinnati home from a business trip to discover someone has planted in his basement the body of an acquaintance. The victim suffered an IRA six-pack (shots to the elbows, knees and ankles) before being shot in the head. Police suspect Seamus and so he searches for reasons someone tried to frame him.
He soon uncovers a trail that leads back to his Boston roots and a poisonous family feud dating from the divorce of Boston’s Irish mafia and the Provisional IRA in the 1970s.
Driven by the chilling realization that there was more behind the death of his policeman father than he ever knew, Seamus ignores warnings from the police, friends and enemies and continues to dig for the truth.
As the body count climbs, all trails seem to lead back to him, and Seamus is forced to go underground to find out who is framing him—and why—before he becomes the next victim.
How did your character, Seamus McCree, begin life in your head?My twisted mind sees a financial transaction and in its spare time tries to figure out a way to game the system. Fortunately a combination of decent morals and being sufficiently scared about being caught kept me from implementing any of the schemes I came up with. (Oh, and none of the nefarious transactions would have gained me $10 million, so temptation was never really tested.)
When it came time to create a protagonist, I wanted that person to be (1) a basically good person and (2) someone who understood financial crimes. That’s when I decided to create an alter ego who quit Wall Street in disgust (and so had the requisite financial acumen). I dislike single-dimension characters or caricatures. I wanted Seamus to be totally comfortable around money, but not into it. Since that aspect of his life was healthy and he’s smart and tall and ruggedly handsome, he needed some flaws.
Seamus decided on his own flaws as I wrote the novels.
His father died when he was young. As a result he has anger and self-image issues. He’s divorced and hasn’t figured out female relationships as well as he wants (or should). He has a challenging relationship with his mother, who does not speak, and an interesting rapport with his son, who has just graduated college.
What’s your writing process like? Are you an outlining guy, or a pantser?I am a big-time pantser. Even when I try to plot out in advance, my characters have minds of their own and take the story to places my plotting had not anticipated. Consequently, I start with an idea, an opening scene and initial expected conclusion. From those I write the first draft, which may or may not contain the expected conclusion. The second draft makes sense of the plot changes my characters have caused.
You’ve also written some nonfiction. What goaded you into writing a book about playing bridge?There are a gazillion bridge books, each focusing on a particular aspect of the game (bidding, playing the contract, defending against the contract), and I read a lot of them as I was learning the game. I wanted someone to whisper in my ear, “If you concentrate on improving these particular things, you will improve your game.”
Through trial and error (many, many errors) I figured out which gems really helped me quickly improve my game. Those are the things I wrote about. It includes practical tips on better bidding, declarer play and defensive play.
Is your process different for nonfiction than for fiction?In fiction I am a pantser, but with nonfiction I outlined the book before I wrote word one. The editing process is also different. The editor of my bridge book was an expert player and able to point out technical problems with some of the examples I chose, allowing me to find better examples. Also, the publisher wanted the book longer than I had first written, so I added extra material.
My self-editing with fiction often involves cutting from the manuscript. I want to start the story as late as possible and also eliminate scenes that aren’t sufficiently strong. After BAD POLICY got to the publisher, I only had to modify a couple of very minor plot points, correct a few grammar errors and insert a lot of commas because the editor wanted the last comma in a sequence and I leave them out.
What job would you absolutely hate to do?Being a steelworker on a skyscraper like these guys building the RCA building in 1932. They had no safety harnesses, but I’d be a blithering idiot even with a harness.
What’s your go-to curse word (you can use asterisks – we’ll fill in the blanks)?My writing may be sparse, but my cursing seems to require multiple expletives. Most common under my breath is sh*t, p*ss, f*k.
Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe? Why?I kept coming back to this question and finally decided Philip Marlowe. Sam Spade is known as the original hard-boiled detective, but Marlowe strikes me as a bit more nuanced. Given my druthers, I spend my time with more modern PIs such as Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski.
What’s one of the words you always have to yank out of your novels because you’ve used it too many times? (Hint: Apparently, I use “apparently” a lot.)
So, I was thinking about this for a nanosecond before the answer became obvious.
Is your glass half-full, half-empty, or twice as large as it needs to be?In 2005, I gave a homily on that exact question. I knew I had always perceived the world using the half-empty glass philosophy. At first I decided I needed to concentrate on filling the glass, only to later realize that was still focusing on the empty aspect of the glass, not its contents. Since that “aha” moment, I have been much better at reflecting what is in the glass and not worrying about how big the glass can be—unless I am caught off guard, then I slip back to half-empty before I catch myself.
Would you rather be a sock or a shoe? Why?Shoe, they last longer.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?Today.
What’s next on the horizon for James Montgomery Jackson?CABIN FEVER, the sequel to BAD POLICY is scheduled for 2014 publication. Seamus is spending the winter alone deep in the northwoods of Michigan. His solitude is broken when a naked woman suffering from exposure and Legionnaire’s disease arrives at his cabin.
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Thanks, Jim, for spending a little time on my blog today, and good luck with Seamus and Bad Policy!
Bio: JAMES M JACKSON is the author of BAD POLICY, for Barking Rain Press, which is available at your favorite online retailer or from Jim’s website. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country. Jim has published a book on contract bridge, One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays.
His next appearances are at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD (May 3-5) and the SC Book Fest in Columbia, SC (May 17-19)