Thursday, October 15, 2015

Author Interview: Marcus James

Today I interview Marcus James, author of 'Blackmoore'.

Natasha: Tell me about yourself. How long have you been writing? When you are not writing, how do you like to spend your spare time?

Marcus: Well first and foremost I’m a writer. It is how I define myself, it is the lens I see the world through and how I navigate through this world. I’m a 31 year-old gay man who came of age and came into myself really at the height of AIDS and this emerging and yet still shunned and feared gay visibility. I became an activist at an early age, taking part in my first AIDS walks and gay rights marches as a kid, like when I was thirteen.  This was in 1998 when young people, especially teens, were not coming out. It was still very much a dangerous time to be out and this certainly informed me and my writing.

I started writing at the age of seven, and never really stopped. I wrote my first full-length novel at 17, and I landed my first agent when I was 19. At that time it was still pretty rare for an author to be so young, and to be signed-agent or otherwise-before the legal drinking age. It was a great accomplishment for me, and validated for me that this was in fact what I was meant to do. It was and at times still is an uphill battle, but to receive that kind of validation was life-affirming, especially when growing up whenever I said I wanted to be a professional author I was always told “That’s great, but what are you really going to do?” which could have been very discouraging and destructive had I listened.

When not writing I love to cook. Briefly before I committed myself to this path, I thought I wanted to be a chef, and I imagined that I would have had two restaurants in Seattle (where I live) and that I would have a cooking show on PBS, and attend the Culinary Institute of America. So I really threw myself into cooking at an early age and still pursued it in a personal way, to become an amazing cook, even if it was just to cook for the people in my life. I love documentaries, and I will watch any and all that I can. I used to go to a lot of live shows. Punk and hardcore shows especially, but as I’ve gotten older, and have settled down, it has really come down to the writing. I love wine and wine tastings, and traveling; even if it’s just walking onto a ferry and taking a day trip to one of our many islands here in Washington.

Natasha: Tell us a little about your current project. What was your favorite scene to write? What was your least favorite scene?

Marcus: Well my current project is actually not so current. My novel Blackmoore has just been released this month in its second edition. It is the first book in my series about a family of witches and the great evil they face that has hunted them down throughout the centuries. It has often been called ‘the scary adult Harry Potter series. It centers on Trevor Blackmoore-the chosen one in this dynasty of witches to face down this great evil and save his family, and the world essentially, from being wiped out.

 It originally came out in 2006, and was my second novel when I was 21, and I went on tour for it and had that real “I’m a published author my life has changed” experience. And in those almost ten years I was writing the sequel Symphony for the Devil, and during that time I produced two other novels, In God’s Eyes and Bloodlines. I gained a lot of wonderful fans for Blackmoore especially, and they have been patient as the second book has been coming together. It took a while for Symphony for the Devil to find its place. A lot of research had to go into it. 

My favorite scene in Blackmoore to write was this scene involving Trevor’s great aunt Mabel (affectionately called Queen Mab by the family) and her story about Sarafeene and Malachey Blackmoore first arriving in New Orleans from Ireland in 1788 and how they got involved in Voodoo and this curse placed on the family that resulted at this point. This curse is called ‘The Legacy’ and because of this curse anyone who has unprotected sex with a Blackmoore dies of a sudden brain tumor 12 years later. Now the American Blackmoores migrated West from New Orleans in 1845 and most of them eventually find themselves in Bellingham Washington (which is where the book takes place) and where I am originally from.

My least favorite scene to write was the death scene of a character that happens halfway through the novel and really changes the course of the rest of the book. It was so devastating that I cried when I wrote it and literally had to get up and walk away from my computer and the book for a couple of days. I have since heard from a lot of readers that they have a very real and emotional reaction to that scene. Many have told me that they have cried. I guess I’m doing something right.

Natasha: Why witches? What separates the Blackmoore books form other books out there?

Marcus: I have always been fascinated with witches, and I don’t mean Bewitched and Charmed stuff. But the image of the woods and the moon, and the dark images of Goya-who loved to paint witches-and the paintings, woodcuts, and engravings of the witches’ sabbat, and films like Haxen and the opening sequence of Hocus Pocus in 1693 Salem. Blackmoore is a ghost story really, mixed with witchcraft and voodoo, and this journey of this family. It’s an extensive journey and they have a very complicated family that at the moment goes as far back as 1345 or so. I have it all on my wall, and there’s a lot of branches from that tree. It’s a saga and Trevor who is about to turn 18 at the time and is a senior in high school, really is this sort of supernatural super hero.

Trevor is gay, and though there is an underlying issue with that in the first half of the novel, it isn’t a gay novel. It just happens to have a couple gay main characters. I actually have a lot of straight readers of the book who have had no problem relating to it. I read a ton, and growing up it was a needle in a haystack to find books with gay characters, and always I found these great books with great heroes and they were always straight, and the books with gay characters I found always portrayed them as tortured and helpless. Trevor isn’t that. He is definitely emotional. He is a sensitive person, but it’s that sensitivity that can make him dangerous. He’s a witch. Witches are not necessarily good. They are capable of dark things and the Blackmoores are essentially good people but that won’t stop them from killing someone who gets in their way.

Trevor is reactionary and his witchcraft can have devastating results. He’s a great strong-willed character who does what he wants and is never a victim. The minute he gets put into a situation of being victimized he says “fuck this” and goes to war. In a review from Literary Pride, they called Trevor a new kind of hero, and I have to think this might be true. That’s definitely how he has felt to me.

Natasha: What is your process? What inspires you?

Marcus: First and foremost music; Tori Amos especially.  But any song, any band, any artist. I never know when it’s going to come. But it will always be a song, it could even be a song I’ve never heard before and it’ll pop up on my Pandora or something, and everything stands still. Time stands still and I see it. Most of the time it’s just one scene, a fragment of something. But it plays like a movie. I’m seeing it, I’m hearing it. I’m feeling it, and I know my Boys have stepped forward and a new book is ready to go.  I call my main characters my Boys, Trevor Blackmoore and his love Braxton Volaverunt (Volaverunt is actually a nod to a Goya sketch titled ‘Volaverunt’ which means ‘they have flown, or gone away’ and it’s one of his many paintings depicting the queen of Spain at the time as a witch who was also rumored to be his lover and it ended bitterly so he painted her as a witch as revenge.) they come to me and tell me their stories.

Next then comes the research, and that can take forever. I research like mad, and with Symphony for the Devil I had to research the violin and music theory, and there’s a novella within the novel that takes place in 1909 and follows the life of Michael Donovan, who we’re introduced to as a ghost in Blackmoore, and who was a brilliant prodigy violinist, so I actually found books on violin theory from the 1900’s and read them all so I could understand how music was taught back then. All of this research in the end may only be a paragraph or a page, but the work is all there to get it right.

I listen to music constantly. I create soundtracks for every book. A song for every chapter and a signature song for every character. I view books as albums and each chapter is a song on that album.

Natasha: Do you have any other exciting projects coming out?

Marcus: Well as I mentioned Symphony for the Devil, the second book, will be out later next year, and this winter will be the first novella, Rise of the Nephilim, which takes place in 1987, and follows Trevor’s mother Kathryn Blackmoore and her summer in L.A. on the Sunset Strip when she is 21. There are so many amazing and strong Blackmoore women, and to tell this great coven’s story in the main series is just impossible as it really focuses on Trevor’s journey towards this collision with this evil, and I really wanted a chance to hang with some of these women. I guess these novellas would be my B-sides. Still very scary and also highly erotic; my editor has really responded to it. She’s calling it “Horrorotica” and “Horrormance”. Apparently it’s perfect for that market of horny housewives who want to get turned on and scared shitless at the same time.

Natasha: What can we expect to happen in the future books?

Marcus: More deaths-for sure more deaths. No one is ever safe with me. A deep and rich journey through the history of the Blackmoores and these other witch families-it’s all really an intricate web, and things that are mentioned in passing in one book-could be the smallest most incidental thing-will be of big importance in another book. It’ll definitely be an adventure.

Natasha: Do you have any other advice for other authors trying to get published?

Marcus: Get it done. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Don’t give up. If you send it out and send it out, and get rejected, then publish it yourself. What’s more punk than that? Listen, if you believe in it, you’ve had people in your life tell you honestly that it really is great, but an editor tells you “I can’t publish this. It’s not marketable, tone down this or that, etc.” or an agent says “I can’t represent this. Etc.” then do it yourself. I’ve been published by both traditional houses and I’ve done it on my own. To be honest, my most heart breaking experience was with a traditional house. The editor bought the book,  which was my vampire novel-he was super thrilled about it, then suddenly a year in, out of nowhere I get all of these notes and stuff from the copy editor and they wanted to change everything. Just butcher it and basically write a gay Twilight. I was livid. I began to question if the publisher had actually even read the novel before buying it. He didn’t like that the characters fed on people. It was ridiculous. I mean they’re vampires! Not fluffy bunnies.

This was my fourth novel and the publisher was abusive in emails, basically acted like I had never written a book before (at this point I had been published in a dozen collections with Alyson Books, I had written for magazines, done book tours, etc.) and I fought tooth-and-nail to protect the work. In the end it came out and the publisher buried it. Never promoted it.

You can never compromise yourself and you can never compromise your characters. If you believe in it then you owe it to yourself and your characters to get the story out there. Don’t ever think “no one’s gonna read this.” Trust me when I tell you, there is always someone out there in the world who is waiting for your book-who needs your book in their life.  Will you be a best-seller? Who knows? Writing with a gay protagonist has almost assured me I will never see my name on the best-seller list here, but who cares. When Blackmoore came out it was number one on Amazon Germany for gay and lesbian horror and thriller, and did well on amazon Japan. (The Japanese and the Germans like it really dark.) But you write because you love it, because you need to do it, not because of the money. 

Natasha: What is the best way for readers to reach you?

Marcus: Facebook for sure. I have a Twitter, but I only tweet once every couple of days or so. The whole 120 or so characters thing really limits me. Facebook is where I’m always at. Much more engaging and simply wonderful

Twitter: @MJamesbooks

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