Wednesday, October 14, 2015

THE GAL'S 31 DAYS OF HORROR: AMONG THE STACKS: James Newman


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, James.  Welcome to The Gal.  It's great to have you here!!  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

James Newman:
Without putting your readers to sleep?
            Well, I'm a forty-something fellow from North Carolina.  Married for 20 years to a wonderful woman named Glenda. We have a five-year-old, Jacob, and a sixteen-year-old, Jamie.  Great kids, who unsurprisingly are into this "spooky stuff" too.  I'm a rock n' roller (though I also love blues and have a soft spot for cheesy '80s pop), a movie nerd, an avid reader and irregular comic book collector, and ... oh, yeah ... I write dark fiction.  I say "dark fiction" not because I'm ashamed of the "horror" tag - no way - but because I tend to jump around between horror and some suspense/thriller stuff that's no less twisted, but can't really be considered "horror" in the traditional sense.
            So, yeah ... that's me.  Pretty boring, huh?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

James Newman:
I'm a Christian, but by definition a very liberal one.

Although I write primarily "dark fiction" (as I said earlier), I have at least three children's books written and ready for publication.  I just need to find an artist who's willing to work on spec.  I also have an idea for a YA time-travel tale that keeps picking at my brain.  Eventually, I will write it.

Every two or three years, I enjoy exploring another creative avenue aside from my writing: theater.  I've done a bit of acting (over the last few years, I've appeared in local stage productions of August: Osage Country and The Laramie Project), and most recently I'm the Assistant Director on an adaption of Night of the Living Dead.  It's been a blast.  We open October 28!

I'm so, so sick of zombies.  (I'm also a walkin', talkin' contradiction, right?)

Other than browsing the internet, I hate reading on a computer screen, and don't ever think I'll be a Kindle/Nook etc. person.  Give me a good old yellowed paperback any day.


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

James Newman:
Something called Butternut Bill.  I could read when I was four.  Oddly enough, I can even remember what the illustrations looked like in that one, nearly forty years later.
            The first adult novel?  Anne Rivers-Siddon's The House Next Door.  It's a favorite to this day, and one I re-read every few years.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

James Newman:
I'm currently finishing up a crazy-violent comic series called Big Man Plans, just started a collection from Nancy Collins called Avenue X, I'm about halfway through a nonfiction book called Funerals to Die For, and a few days ago I finally got around to starting Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts.  Yeah, I'm always reading too many things at once.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

James Newman:
I've been writing little monster stories as long as I can remember.  My mom still has some of that early stuff, going all the way back to when I was just four or five years old.  I originally wanted to write and draw my own comics.  It was only during my high school years that I decided I didn't really have a knack for artwork besides copying other artists' work.  Wasn't too long after that I decided I was meant to write short stories and novels.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

James Newman:
More often than not, it's just sitting on my sofa with my laptop.  Sometimes on the front porch with a pen and a spiral notebook.  If it's somewhere I can concentrate despite my five-year-old running around and SpongeBob blaring on the TV, it's "special."

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

James Newman:
None.  "Just do it," like the commercial says.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

James Newman:
Just making myself sit down and do it.  Getting away from bullshit distractions like Facebook (and five-year-olds, and SpongeBob).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired you writing style?

James Newman:
Stephen King made me want to be a writer in the first place.  Joe Lansdale taught me that a writer can have his or her own unique voice.  I learned from Ed Gorman and Ronald Kelly (another fellow from the South, and a dear friend of mine) that you don't have to show off.  Good writing flows, and doesn't draw attention to itself.  There's no need to be all highfalutin' literary to be a good writer - simply tell an engaging story, people will listen and more often than not they'll want to hear more!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

James Newman:
I honestly don't think there's some "secret formula."  But I'll tell you how I attempt to construct one.  When I write, the first thing I try to do is tell a story that I would want to read.  I'm constantly asking myself during the process, "Is this something I would want to read?  Would I be unable to put this one down, once I started reading it?"  If the answers to both of these questions is YES, then as far as I'm concerned I'm creating something "good."  So far, my readers seem to agree.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

James Newman:
Characters simply have to feel REAL.  That's all I ask for is what I choose to read, and it's what I strive for in my writing.  I don't have to love them - I don't even have to like them.  As long as they're not BORING.  In fact, I prefer characters who are flawed, because people are.  One of my favorite examples from the last few years is the protagonist of Gillian Flynn's wonderful Sharp Objects.  That young lady is an absolute wreck, and probably not the kind of person I would choose to hang around in real life.  And yet I loved every second I spent with her.  Because she was such an interesting, three-dimensional character by an immensely talented writer.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you.

James Newman:
Leon Purdy, from Ugly as Sin.
            I'm kidding!  Never been a toothless meth-head.  Nor have I ever been skinny as a rail.
            Probably Kyle Mackey.  At least the childhood version of Kyle, from Midnight Rain.  The only differences are, my parents are nothing like Kyle's - Dad is a Vietnam vet, but he's alive and well and Mom is a good person, who's nothing like Mama Mackey (thank God!) - and I've never witnessed a murder.  But there's a lot of the young J.N. in Kyle's personality.  I'm not sure I've ever realized that before, until you asked me this question.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book cover?

James Newman:
I'm definitely turned off by a bad cover.  I shouldn't be, I guess, because that has nothing to do with what's on the inside, but that's what covers are all about - marketing.  And marketing works.
            I usually have some say in my book covers.  I'll throw ideas the publisher's way, or sometimes even have conversations with the artist directly, but ultimately the folks paying to produce the book are the ones making the final decisions.  I have yet to be terribly disappointed in any of my covers, although I obviously favor some over others.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

James Newman:
That it's never easy.  It can be - and often is - a lot of FUN.  But it's never EASY.  Frankly, I am murderously jealous of those who make it look like it's easy.  But I suspect they are moments when they struggle too.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

James Newman:
Answering that would mean I'd spoil a key scene in Animosity for those who haven't read it.  But let's just say it involved a tragic loss for the protagonist.  Folks who have read Animosity will know which scene I'm talking about, I'm sure.  I put off writing that scene for so long, and hated every second of it.  However, the aftermath - the subsequent burial scene - was the very first thing I wrote for Animosity, before I ever really knew what was going on in that story.  It was a scene I saw very distinctly in my head, these two characters having this tense conversation over a fresh grave, and the whole book just blossomed around that encounter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

James Newman:
I'd like to think it's simply my VOICE.  All of my favorite writers have their own distinct voices, something in what they write that makes their work uniquely their own (as I mentioned earlier, with Joe Lansdale - if there's a better example, I sure can't think of one).  You could pick up a page from anything they've written, read a paragraph, and know right away who wrote it.
            When I first started seriously writing, I tried to imitate my influences.  I think all writers make that mistake, but those who find success are those who develop their own voice, one that readers keep coming back to again and again because they like what they hear.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

James Newman:
A great title is very important.  I mentioned A Head Full of Ghosts earlier.  That's such a wonderful, vivid title that instantly conjures images to the reader's mind before he or she has even cracked open the book.  I also like titles that have a sort of "rhythm" to them - I'm thinking of something like Joe Lansdale's Down By the Sea Near the Great Big Rock.
            With my titles so far, I've tried to pick something that was short and sweet and - more often than not - mean.  The Wicked.  Animosity.  Ugly As Sin.  I'm sure you'll agree that anyone picking up a book with those titles shouldn't be too surprised to find anything but heartfelt romance between the covers.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

James Newman:
A novel.  Definitely.  Because, while one can bang out a short story in just a day or two (or sometimes just a few hours), a novel takes a big chunk of your time.  A BIG chunk.  When you write a slowly as I do, it can often take years out of your life.  There's nothing like crossing THAT finish line.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories?

James Newman:
I tend to jump around from genre to genre, like I mentioned earlier.  If I was a writer working in the mass market, that would probably drive my publisher insane.  Midnight Rain is a coming-of-age suspense tale about a boy who witnesses a murder in the woods bordering his hometown ... The Wicked is a supernatural horror, my tribute to those "evil in a small town" novels that were all the rate in the '80s ... Animosity is a thriller about a horror writer whose life is turned upside-down after he finds the body of a murdered child not far from his front door ... Ugly As Sin is a Southern noir story about a former professional wrestler who is horribly disfigured after a run-in with two psychotic fans (and thats just the first 10 pages!).
            I don't really have a "target audience."  Let's just say ... anyone who thinks the aforementioned synopses sound intriguing?  That'll do!
            I just want readers to take away from my stories that I tell a cool tale.  And maybe they'll want to hear me tell another.  That's usually a sign that I'm doing something right.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

James Newman:
I only have one, to date.  It was a scene I wrote for Animosity and it never really worked.  I'll leave it up to those who have already read the book - so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't - to go find that scene.  I posted it in its entirety a while back on my website, so interested readers can check it out at their leisure by digging back through my older posts.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

James Newman:
There's a book I wrote a long time ago that is basically complete, but it needs a lot of work to make it publishable (I wrote this thing YEARS before I was even halfway serious about being a writer).  I've just been trying to decide for a while now if it's something folks would want to see.  I've even considered releasing it under a pseudonym.  It's a really simple premise, a really corny nod to those old slasher movies I grew up with.  That's all it is, just a slasher movie in book form - a trashy tale of a creepy clown stalking horny teenagers.  I go back and forth on whether or not I want to put that out there for folks to read, or if they would even want to.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

James Newman:
I have a  number of titles on the way in the next few months from Cemetery Dance Publications, mostly reprints of my out-of-print novellas and collections.  There's also a new short novel on the way soon that I can't quite talk about yet, a collaboration with my pal Mark Allan Mark Allan Gunnells.  It's a coming-of-age story with a werewolf.  I think folks are gonna dig it.  I know Mark and I sure do.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

James Newman:
I'm always on Facebook.  And although it's definitely nothing fancy and I update quite irregularly, readers can find occasional movie reviews, free fiction, publication updates, etc on my official website.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks so much for being a part of The Gal's 31 Days of Horror.  Before you go, do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

James Newman:
I can't think of anything profound to leave you with, so how's this: If this is the first time any of your readers have heard of me, I hope they'll consider picking up one of my titles.  That would make me smile.
            Also, thanks so much for having me, Meghan!  This was a lot of fun.


About the author:
James Newman lives in the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and their two sons.  His published works include the novels Midnight RainThe WickedAnimosity, and Ugly As Sin, the collections People Are Strange and Death Songs From the Naked Man (w/ Don Gash), the novellas The ForumOlden, and Love Bites (also w/ Donn Gash), and the quizbook 666 Hair-Raising Horror Movie Trivia Questions.

About the books:

Midnight Rain
Genre: Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Coming of Age
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Publication date: 4.26.2011
Pages: 354

Do you remember the exact moment your childhood ended?

1979.  Jimmy Carter is elected America's 39th President.  New York police apprehend the "Son of Sam," and the King of Rock n' Roll has permanently left the building.  In a town called Midnight, North Carolina, twelve-year-old Kyle Mackey couldn't care less about any of that.  He has his own problems to deal with, as he ventures toward a strange new world called manhood...
            Kyle's older brother Dan is going away to college.  Several years ago their father was killed in Viet Nam, and Mom is an alcoholic devoted more to the bottle these days than to her family.  Kyle has never felt so alone.  The night before Dan's flight leaves for Florida, Kyle visits what he calls his "Secret Place."  All boys have a Secret Place, he believes, and his is an old shack in the woods bordering Midnight.  Kyle's love for his secret place is shattered, however, when he stumbles upon something that proves his favorite spot in the world is neither as private nor as innocent as he once thought...
            It begins with the naked, battered corpse of a young woman.  And, standing over her, a man Kyle knows...

MIDNIGHT RAIN is a dark coming-of-age novel in the vein of Robert McCammon's BOY'S LIFE and Stephen King's THE BODY (STAND BY ME).  It is a tale of growing up in the South, a reflection of boyhood and all its wonders, and the story of how one boy deals with a terrible secret that threatens to tear apart both his family and hometown.

Wicked
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Shock Totem Publications
Publication date: 5.13.2012
Pages: 352

An ancient evil rises...burns...kills...

After a fire consumes the Heller Home for Children, the residents of Morganville, North Carolina though they knew evil...
            They were wrong.
            Unaware of the turmoil in their new hometown, the Littles - David, Kate, and seven-year-old Becca - are moving from New York City to Morganville in hopes of repairing their own lives, which were recently shattered by an act of sexual violence.
            Before long, David realizes that his family's troubles are worse than he could ever have imagined.
            An ancient demon lurks beneath the town of Morganville, an unholy creature conjured into existence by the Heller Home tragedy.
            Its name is Moloch.
            It is hungry for the souls of the townspeople.
            But most of all, Moloch wants the children.  It will not rest until it has them.
            All of them.

Animosity
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Publisher: Permuted Press
Publication date: 3.17.2014
Pages: 194

ANIMOSITY is the story of Andrew Holland, a bestselling horror writer whose life begins to mirror the fictional nightmares of his novels after he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Andy's wife recently left him for another man.  To keep from getting too depressed about that, Andy has thrown himself into his writing more vigorously than ever, when he's not spending as much time with his daughter, Samantha, as joint custody allows.  His neighbors seem proud to know him (although none of them would admit to reading "that kind of stuff").  The author is the closest thing to a celebrity most of Poinsettia Lane's residents will ever meet.  Everything changes, however, the day Andy discovers the body of a murdered child just several hundred yards from his front door.
            Almost instantly, his neighbors start to turn on him.  Though the authorities clear him of any wrongdoing, as weeks pass with no arrest the local media insinuates connections between the gruesome subject matter of Andy's novels and his tragic discovery.  His neighbors' derision is subtle at first - a nasty look, a friendly wave that is not reciprocated.  Ben Souther, with whom Andy once enjoyed cold beers and baseball banter on warm summer nights, offers the writer advice which now hints of something more unsettling than the sly wisdom normally found in his quotes-for-every-occasion: "Let us not make imaginary evils when we have so many real ones to encounter."
            His neighbors soon take their disdain to a frightening new level.  His phone rings, and when he answers muffled voices curse him, spitting vile accusations.  They vandalize his home, trash his vehicle.
            And just when he thinks things can't possibly get any worse, another child's body is found.
            Andy is no longer sure if he will survive this ordeal with his sanity intact...assuming he does survive.

ANIMOSITY is a disturbing look into how otherwise good people can allow themselves to be misled by gossip, rumors, and a mob mentality.  It is a retelling of the "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" for the modern age, a mortality-play-meets-horror-story in which the monsters wear all-too-familiar faces.  Rather than bloodthirsty vampires or brain-eating zombies beating at the door, they are our own friends, our families, our peers...and what in any horror writer's twisted imagination could be more terrifying?

Ugly As Sin
Genre: Horror, Noir, Thriller
Publisher: Shock Totem Publications
Publication date: 11.1.2013
Pages: 192

Nick Bullman was a wrestling superstar.  His alter ego, The Widowmaker, was the monster heel all the marks loved to hate.
            Now, after a brutal encounter with two psychotic fans left his face horribly disfigured, he's just a monster.
            Yanked from the spotlight and thrust into the shadows, these days Nick tries to live the life of an average Joe.  He avoids mirrors.  He's angry.  He's alone.  And he likes it just fine that way...
            Until he receives a desperate phone call from a young lady he barely knows - his daughter.
            For the first time in over thirty years, Nick returns to his hometown of Midnight, North Carolina.  There he will come face to face with old demons, forge new friendships, and make enemies far more dangerous than those who ruined his face, all in a quest to save the granddaughter he's never met ... and maybe find a little bit of redemption along the way.
            UGLY AS SIN is an electrifying tale of "white-trash noir," a taut page-turner that skates the razor edge of a familiar, horrifying reality.  At times heartbreaking, funny, and terrifyingly suspenseful, UGLY AS SIN is Newman's best work to date.

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