Monday, June 2, 2014

James Newman **Horror Writer**

Photo by Kim White
K.N. Lee: I'm pleased to introduce one of my mentors, author of Midnight Rain and Ugly As Sin, James Newman!

Where are you from?
     Hendersonville, North Carolina, in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.  Born and raised, and I don’t think I’d ever want to live anywhere else in the world.

What inspired you to write your first book?
     Dreams of wealth and fame.  But things don’t always turn out the way we expect them to, do they?
     I’m totally joking.  I just love a good story, always have, for as far back as I can remember.  I guess it was a natural progression that I would eventually want to make up my own.

Do you write full-time or part-time? How do you balance your writing life with your family/work life?
     Part-time.   And I’m cool with that, because I have a day job that I love.  As for balancing the writing life with work and family, it’s never easy.  I have a toddler running around these days, so it’s probably never been as difficult as it has the last few years.  But you just have to find the time to write whenever you can.  Excuses don’t cut it, because plenty of better writers than myself make time to hone their craft every single day.  And if I tried to tell you that I don’t have the time, my wife would call me on it.  She would accuse me of having plenty of free time to play on Facebook when I should be writing. 

How did you come up with the title for your latest book?     Well, I’ve heard that phrase -- “ugly as sin” – my whole life (no, not directed towards me, har-de-har-har), and it just worked so well for this one.  In the Prologue, the main character of my novel, a professional wrestler by the name of Nick Bullman, is horribly disfigured at the hands of two psychotic fans.  I love the double meaning there – “ugly” as it relates to poor Nick’s facial disfigurement and the way the public views him now, but also as it relates to the bad business he finds himself caught up in after he gets a phone call from his estranged daughter.

Do you always write horror, or do you experiment with other genres?
       Actually, most of what I’m writing these days isn’t really horror.  That’s true where my long-form work is concerned, anyway.  I do still lean towards horror when I’m writing short stories or novellas, but more and more when it comes to novels I find I’m gravitating towards stuff that’s more suspense/thriller-oriented, although usually with a streak of pitch-black humor running through it.

What are your favorite horror movies and books? Which influenced your writing the most?
     A few of my favorite books (not just in the horror genre but “dark fiction” in general):  ChristineThe ShiningPsychoCage of Night by Ed Gorman, Lightning by Dean Koontz, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, The House Next Door by Anne Rivers-Siddons, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, University and The Store by Bentley Little, Joe Lansdale’s Mucho Mojo and The Two-Bear Mambo . . . I could go on and on.
     Movies:  Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’78, The ExorcistThe Exorcist III: LegionReturn of the Living Dead, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The FlyLet the Right One InSe7enRequiem For a Dream.  I’m also a huge Star Wars nerd, a Dr. Who geek, and a Tarantino fanboy.  Oh, yeah . . . and I have a thing for movies about bank robbery.
     As much as I love to read, I’d almost say that books and movies have influenced me equally.  John Carpenter, in his prime, was one of my biggest inspirations.  I’ve always been a horror film fanatic.  As a matter of fact, 2014 will see the release of my first non-fiction project, a book called 666 Hair-Raising Horror Movie Trivia Questions!.  That’s gonna be a lot of fun.

K.N. Lee: Yes! I recall bonding over the film Let the Right One In. It’s one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. Good choices!
So what book are you reading now?
     I just started reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep for the second time (I’m so in love with this novel; it’s the best thing he’s done in twenty years, in my opinion).  I’m also finishing up a few single-author collections, such as Koontz’s Strange Highways, Brian Hodge’s Lies and Ugliness, and a re-read of Richard Chizmar’s Midnight Promises.

K.N. Lee: I’m buying Doctor Sleep today! Stephen King is incredible.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?     I’m ashamed to say I’m very much out of the loop with the “new blood” coming up.  Let me get back to you on that.

What are your current projects?
     I’ve slowly but surely started work on the follow-up to Ugly As Sin, a new “Nick Bullman” story.  There’s also a long-overdue collaboration that I’d like to jump into soon, a novella that I’ve been planning with a friend and fellow writer I admire a lot.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.     My readers.  I was very lucky in that my first novel, Midnight Rain, was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to; it did well, and created a decent little fanbase for me that continues to grow with every new book.  So, at the risk of sounding like I’m kissing their butts, the folks who read my stuff and keep asking for more . . . they’re what keeps me going.  There’s no feeling like it, and it never gets old.

K.N. Lee: That’s not surprising at all. I enjoyed Midnight Rain!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
     The desire to tinker with it just a little bit more is always there, even after it’s published, no doubt about it.  Some writers probably struggle with it more than others – I’d be willing to bet I’m one of the worst.  I agonize over every word, every sentence, every paragraph, until I finally say, “ENOUGH!  It’s DONE.  You have to STOP now.”  Sooner or later you have to tell yourself that your work is as good as it’s going to be, and you can’t afford to miss another deadline.  (laughs)
     By the time each it’s published, though . . . I’m usually 99% happy with it.  There’s some “distance” between myself and the work at that point, so I’m no longer overthinking things or second-guessing myself. 

Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Why not.  Here’s a taste:
     Nick Bullman sat alone in his cell, breathing through his mouth so he didn’t have to smell the clogged-up toilet a few feet away, thinking on what he had done a few hours ago.
       He felt no regrets.  Would have done it all over again, if given the chance.
       In fact, as he recalled the look he’d seen on Darcy Devereaux’s face while his fists came down again and again like two meaty ball-peen hammers bludgeoning her husband’s skull . . .
       . . . he felt proud. 
       He knew that should have made him a little sick.  It should have turned his stomach more than the shitter full of putrid brown water left behind by the cell’s last tenant like a cruel gag gift.  But it didn’t.  He felt only a twisted sense of self-righteousness.
       What did that say about him as a human being?
       Nick didn’t know.
       All he knew was, he had to get out of here before Paulie “Pencil-Dick” Deveraux woke up in the hospital room.
       If he didn’t, if either Paulie or his wife talked to the boys in blue before he had a chance to do so himself, there wasn’t the slightest doubt in Nick Bullman’s mind . . .
       All three of them were fucking dead as Elvis.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
     Once upon a time, I would have told you that I struggle the most with creating realistic dialogue.  These days, though, I think dialogue is one of the things I do best.
     So, again, I’d have to say that I always find it difficult to stop tweaking, to decide that it’s time to let my “baby” out into the world ‘cause it’s as perfect as it’s gonna get.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? 
     Joe R. Lansdale.  I’ve always loved his “voice”, which is not only real, it’s about as Southern as it gets.  I can relate to that, of course, even though Lansdale is from Texas and I’m from North Carolina.  I also admire how he can describe something horrible, yet somehow leave the reader laughing out loud even as he or she squirms with discomfort.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?     With Ugly As SinI went into this book without an outline or anything remotely resembling an outline.  I’m usually a “plotter”, not a “pants-er”; at the very least I have a list of scenes that I plan to write (even if I do write them out of order, which I often do, I know what’s going to happen in every – or at least nearly every -- chapter).  This time, I didn’t do that.  For the most part I knew how Ugly As Sin was going to end, I knew who was behind the mystery, how it would all be resolved, all that stuff, but early on I decided I was gonna throw caution to the wind this time, and try flying by the seat of my pants as far as I how things would progress from point A to point Z.  It was scary, and although I don’t mind a little spontaneity – you’ve gotta have some, or it’s no fun – I’m not sure I’ll do that again.  This novel took me a lot longer to write than most.  I missed deadlines.  And I remembered along the way exactly why I need to have some sense of structure.  It’s just the way my brain works.  My version of an “outline” is not anything that’s set in stone by any means, but it’s at least a lighted path that keeps me from stumbling around in the dark, if you will.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
     Don’t fly by the seat of your pants anymore, Newman, unless you want to finish one book every ten years.  Get yourself an outline, ‘cause that’s what works for you.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
     Have a thick skin.  Be professional.  Negative reviews are going to happen, and you should know that going into this.  I’ve seen folks who have been in this business for years -- people you’d think would be above such behavior -- act like complete infants because of a negative review.  No good can come of arguing with someone who gave you their honest opinion.
     My second bit of advice:  read your work aloud.  Multiple times.  You think it’s ready for publication after a draft or two?  It’s not.  Read it aloud, especially the dialogue, and you’ll find the stuff that still needs work.

K.N. Lee: I personally want to thank you for helping guide me in my early days of trying to become a published author. Your advice really helped me!
Now, is there anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
     Yes . . . THANK YOU.  I’ve been writing “seriously” for about 13 years now, and it still blows my mind that there are folks out there – folks who aren’t related to me! – who not only buy my work, who not only enjoy it, but then beg for more.  That’s awesome beyond words, man.  I wish I were more prolific, and could give you what you want more frequently.

What do you think about e-publishing versus technical publishing?
     I know, as a reader, I prefer a good, old-fashioned book.  I want to hold it, feel it, SMELL it!  I have no desire to read on a computer screen.  But that’s just me.  It’s the wave of the future, and if that’s what folks want then we’ve gotta give it to them.  It took me a while to dive into the e-publishing pool, I guess because of my own bias against reading fiction in that format.  From a business standpoint, that was extremely foolish on my part . . . royalties don’t lie!

K.N. Lee: You’re right. Royalties don’t lie! But, an old-fashioned paper back will never go out of style! So, we’re dying to know if you have an agent?
     Not at the moment.  And I’m cool with that. 

Quick Fire!
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
     Like I said, right here at home.  I love it here.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
     To heal the sick and injured.  Imagine how cool that would be, and the smiles you could put on people’s faces.

Favorite food?
     When my wife cooks Mexican (fajitas, quesadillas, burritos, whatever that might be).  There is nothing finer on this Earth.

Favorite hobby?
     Hoops.  Despite a lifelong aversion to sports in general, I am a die-hard college basketball fan (go Tar Heels!!!).

Guilty pleasure?
     80s pop.  I love that stuff.  My favorite song from that era:  “Cruel Summer”, by Bananarama.
     No, I’m not kidding.

K.N. Lee: You’re not the only one, sir. That’s a great song!
Best movie you’ve seen this year?
     Well, it wasn’t a 2013 release, but one I saw recently that was just released domestically earlier this year was an Australian horror film called The Loved Ones.  Advertised as The Breakfast Club meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (believe it or not, that’s pretty fitting), it’s the scariest thing I’ve seen in years. 
     Movies featuring psychotic women usually strike a chord with me, though.
     What can I say.  You scare me.

K.N. Lee: Excellent! I cannot wait to see it!
Favorite book?
     Boy’s Life, by Robert R. McCammon.  At the risk of rambling on and on about it, I’ll only say this:  it’s PERFECT.  If you haven’t read it, folks, please remedy that as soon as you finish reading this interview. 

What could you not live without?
     My family.  My wife, Glenda, and our two sons, Jamie and Jacob.  They are my everything.

K.N. Lee: Thank you for sharing with us, James!

More on James Newman: 
 James Newman is the author of the novels MIDNIGHT RAIN and THE WICKED, and the short story collection PEOPLE ARE STRANGE. 2014 will see the release of the paperback and e-book editions of his novel ANIMOSITY, as well as a horror movie trivia book. By the time you read this interview, the paperback/e-book editions of his novel UGLY AS SIN should be available via Shock Totem Publications ( James invites readers to keep up with him on Facebook, Twitter, and his official website,

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