Q&A with Russell James

Today I’m one of the first bloggers on the blog tour for Demon Dagger. I’m sharing my Q&A with the author with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell for inviting me on the blog tour and to Russell James for answering my questions!

Have you always wanted to write?


I definitely came to this career later in life. I wrote some short stories in junior high that got into the school anthologies, but I never really considered it a practical way to make a living. It was only a little over ten years ago when I decided to give writing a try at my wife’s urging. I thank her for that initial encouragement and her continued, continuous support.

What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?


From age sixteen through graduating college, I had my fair share of low wage, low skill jobs to pay bills and tuition. Those experiences definitely informed certain characters and situations in my books, like the main character Pete’s work in a small restaurant in my novel Dreamwalker, or Patrick’s stint as a sanitation worker in Return to Q Island.

My first career after graduation was as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. That made me very comfortable writing military scenes and characters. Those are very common in the running backstory of the Ranger Kathy West Adventures novels, where she finds that some of our national parks were secretly founded to keep something dangerous within their boundaries. When those creatures threaten to escape, she has to go to work. Many of our parks have an early military connection, and I liked integrating that into the story.

Specific helicopter experience came into play in Dark Vengeance, where a helicopter pilot helps thwart the attack of the airborne longarex creature which a coven of witches sends to attack a town. That’s an example where the average reader won’t notice the technically correct action, but the pilot readers sure will. 

What was your inspiration for Demon Dagger?


I love visiting the local Florida theme parks where I live. They all have big, costumed characters wandering around, great for pictures. 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.

How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?


I may subconsciously use traits I’ve observed when I create a character, but I’ve never based a character on someone’s full-blown personality. I try to look at each character’s details as a reaction to the environment they’ve been in. Drew in Demon Dagger is a good example. He has the gift of demon sight all his life, and seeing demons as they truly are is scary, and something he naturally could not share with anyone without risking being labelled crazy. So Drew ends up being a very closed-off, compartmentalized person. These poor communication skills reflect in a lot of his reactions.

His wife Anna is another example. She keeps getting surprises about things Drew kept hidden. In addition, she has the scourge of rheumatoid arthritis to deal with. She ends up with some very bitter feelings and some harsh interactions with Drew, but can you blame her?

What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?


I’m a total pantser. I just get an inspiration and start writing and see where it goes. While I’m writing, I jot down notes, often in the form of temporary headings on future chapters, so I don’t forget little inspirations I have along the way. Once I’m about two-thirds of the way through, the story is too unwieldy for me to keep just in my head. Then I write enough extra chapter headings to build the bones of what the rest of the story is. That’s when I know if this is going to be a novel or a novella.

How did you research Demon Dagger? Did you enjoy it?


To start with, I love reading history and probably read as much of that as I do fiction. So any research that goes into a book is sheer pleasure.

Demon Dagger includes a fascinating true story about experiment by Dr. Duncan MacDougal in 1901. He weighed the bodies of people immediately before and after death to see if there was any difference in weight. If so, his hypothesis was that it was caused by the departure of the mass of the human soul. For the time, he used a very scientific method and took into account the weight of air leaving collapsed lungs and evaporated perspiration. He believed that three of his six tests were not invalidated by external forces. Those three recorded an average loss of 21 grams of weight, which he thought was the soul.

When Drew is learning about demons and soul-snatching, Lincoln references this story. It was interesting to research the whole episode and the splash it made in national newspapers. I was even able to read MacDougal’s original paper on his research which was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Who are your favourite writers? Are you influenced by them?


Lately, I’ve been reading the authors from the presses that publish my work. Their excellent novels keep reminding me that I have to up my game to keep from disappointing readers. For Gothic horror, you can’t beat Catherine Cavendish. For demonic possession horror, like in Demon Dagger, The Wakening, by JG Faherty is an excellent choice. And if you are a fan of cryptid tales, look no further than Hunter Shea, Master of All Things Monster.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?

I don’t mind living the horror writer lifestyle, but I draw the line at dead people around the dinner table.

Seriously, the history geek in me would love to have American presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan around a table for a chat. Washington led the nation at its difficult birth and Lincoln during the civil war that nearly destroyed it. Their thoughts on what that time was like and what their vision was for the country would be amazing. President Reagan would round out a more contemporary perspective, plus I like him and think he’d get a kick out of meeting the other two as well.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?


Anyone with poor personal hygiene.

Seriously, anytime I watch a movie about medieval times or life in the American Wild West, one of my first thoughts is how awful all those unwashed people had to smell.

Who would play the main character/s in a film version of Demon Dagger?


I see Drew as an Everyman kind of character. He couldn’t be superhero-fit, or dashing good-looking, so I just ruled out a long list of actors. Maybe Matt Damon would work.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I work in my garage on classic cars. In the book, Drew’s mentor, Lincoln, uses the restoration of his 1970 Chevelle named Gabriella as a teaching tool for instructing Drew on demonology. Gabriella was inspired by my own 1970 SS 454 Chevelle named Valerie. My free monthly newsletter has a section about what’s going on in my garage, as well as the latest writing and convention happenings. Someone can sign up for it here.

What is next for you?

I have two active series through Severed Press. The first are the Grant Coleman Adventures. He is a palaeontologist who keeps getting stuck on expeditions that end up discovering giant monsters. He’s very sarcastic and never happy about these encounters. His sixth adventure, Atoll X will be out later this year. In it he is supposed to evaluate fossils found on a billionaire’s new South Pacific resort island. But when he and others are shipwrecked on an uncharted atoll, they find a bunch of dangerous creatures that should have been extinct ages ago.

After that will come the second book in the Rick and Rose Sinclair Adventures series. It is 1938 and an antique store-owning couple turn treasure hunters when they find clues in the lots they purchase. In the first book, Quest for the Queen’s Temple, they went in search of the lost treasury of the legendary Queen of Sheba. In Voyage to Blackbeard’s Island, they will be searching for lost pirate gold. In both instances, you can be sure that giant monsters and supernatural forces defend the treasures they are in search of. That book will likely be out in early 2023.

Favourites:

Book? I’ll always love dickens’ Great Expectations. Miss Havisham is a masterwork in creepy characterization.

Film? Robin and Marian from 1976. Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn play the middle-aged versions of the title characters. Everything I think is important in life: loyalty, adversarial respect, and of course, true love, are all in this fantastic, overlooked film.

Band/Singer? The 70’s rock icon band Boston, hands down.

TV show? Supernatural. Fifteen seasons of consistent characters and fantastic world building around a solid horror theme.

Colour? Green. I ordered my Dodge Challenger, Olivia in the most spectacular metallic green and could not be happier.

Place? Will Rogers State Park in Los Angeles, CA. Once the famed actor’s home and working ranch, the family donated it to the state after the actor’s early death. The house is as he left it, as are the horse barns. The hiking/horse trails deliver stunning views of the city and the sea, and there are few smells that can rival the scent of eucalyptus.

Biscuit?  Girl Scout cookie Thin Mints, especially if they come straight from the freezer.

***

Demon Dagger is available from Amazon.

You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

2 thoughts on “Q&A with Russell James

  1. Thank you for the mention, Russell – and this is a great interview. I am glad I’m not the only one who has that reaction to watching TV shows/films set in the past. I also get it when I watch House of the Dragon and Britannia. Whew! Hand me the lavender pomander. Quick!

    Like

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