Interview: James M. Jackson

Please welcome James M. Jackson, author of the Seamus McCree mysteries and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day would occur at our “camp” in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. [Note: “camp” in the U.P. can mean anything from CabinFever-Cover (200x300a rude fishing shack, standing only because it doesn’t have enough ambition to fall down, to a Rockefeller-type hunting lodge with a gazillion rooms. Ours is a nice house with all the amenities.] I awake after a good night’s sleep to the call of a loon on the lake. I write in the morning, taking a break to watch the sun rise over the hill behind me, and then turn around to observe how it paints the opposite shore with its light. I breakfast on the deck, my editing frequently interrupted as I watch birds flit in the woods and gather the sunflower and thistle seeds I have provided for their sustenance and my entertainment. I gently scold the hummingbirds to “play nice” when they perform their aerial duels around their feeders.

Later in the day I take a leisurely stroll through our woods with camera in hand to capture butterfly pictures, or interesting mushrooms, or moss, or shadows, or nothing at all. I go for a run or bicycle ride and cool off in the lake. After dinner I sit on the screened-in porch and read, frequently interrupting myself to watch light play on the water and later to marvel at the sky as it turns pink, orange, red, and purple.

And I fall asleep to the yip of coyotes and howl of the resident wolf pack.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Oh gosh, I wish this question had been later in the interview, because I always get strange looks when I fess up that I am particularly fond of applesauce on pizza. The best is my partner Jan’s homemade applesauce on her homemade pizza.

I do not yet have any signature accessory. I will be wearing a boa to celebrate the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime at the SinC annual Malice breakfast, so who knows…?

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Sara Paretsky for three reasons: (1) Because she had the courage to break with “tradition” and write a strong female character succeeding in roles previously restricted to men; (2) for founding Sisters in Crime; (3) for pulling me aside after a masters class and telling me that my writing had an “interesting voice” I should keep.

Early Robert B. Parker for his tight writing.

My son’s 9th grade English teacher who I overheard say that no work is ever finished; the author finally chooses to abandon it.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I often write in silence—the better to hear character voices. Early in the morning before the rest of the world has risen is my preferred time to write because I am a morning person and it’s quiet. However, if others in the house are making noises that intrude, I’ll stick on headphones and play either classical or new age.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Cabin Fever would be a box of mixed chocolates with the identifying sheet removed. The outside of each piece (character) suggests what might be inside, but the consumer (reader) can’t always tell what the filling is, so there will be surprises.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Jan and I overwintered at our camp in 2006-7 and loved it even though we were isolated deep in the woods, fifteen miles from the nearest place you can buy anything. I wanted to use the isolation of the remote U.P. during the winter to reflect Seamus McCree’s internal state. To that character and landscape setting I added the mystery elements necessary for a good story.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Fundamentally it is all about relationships. I also reflect on the problem of seeing a grey world as only black or white. Thirdly, I’m interested in exploring when ends do or do not justify the means.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
At a young age, Seamus McCree lost his father, a Boston cop. It made him angry. He’s sublimated that anger: first into joining a gang, then into becoming a pro soccer player, and finally into being a successful hard-charging businessman. He is principled and impulsive. He quit a lucrative job on Wall Street on the day he found out a boss had changed one of his reports to please a client, giving up a six-figure bonus he could have earned if he had waited a short while before quitting. Because he’s bottled his feelings inside, he has difficulty forming close relationships—although so far he has succeeded with his son, Paddy.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Robert B. Parker’s Spenser + John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport + A.A. Milne’s Winne-The-Pooh

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Nevada Barr, Barry Eisler, Graham Greene, Laura Lippman, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker

What’s next for you?
Cabin Fever’s official launch is April 8th. I’m currently working on the third Seamus McCree novel with a working title of Doubtful Relations. This year I will also return to writing a few short stories. My previous short stories have been both mysteries and literary.

***

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mysteries, Bad Policy (March 2013) and Cabin Fever (coming April 2014), published by Barking Rain Press. Bad Policy won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. 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 Upper Peninsula of Michigan woods and Georgia’s low country. Jim has also published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge (Master Point Press 2012).

Website: http://jamesmjackson.com
Facebook: (http://on.fb.me/17NSLhC)
Twitter (@JMJAuthor)

He regularly blogs at Writers Who Kill (http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/)

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21 thoughts on “Interview: James M. Jackson”

  1. Got an email from someone who couldn’t quite figure out how to post a reply, so here it is:

    “Great questions; wonderful answers. Both nostalgic and inspiring. I wish I had the summer house of my youth.

    I am going to have to get better at this internet stuff. As usual it wouldn’t take my comment.

    KB Inglee”

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  2. Mary, If I can bring a smile to someone’s face, then it’s a good day for me. And that applesause thing? You can start small at home with a spoonful or two on a portion of a slice. You never know if you don’t try. 🙂 ~ Jim

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  3. I’m wondering how many of those perfect days you’ve had. Sounds ideal to me! What a thrill to be praised by Sara Paretsky! That could keep a person going for a long, long time. I agree with her, by the way. Nice interview–thanks!

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    1. Kaye,
      The hardest part of that perfect day is convincing the loons to visit. They are in the area, but not resident on our lake. But if they have come to fish, then often I’ll hear them giving that long, haunting “rain song” of theirs. The lake can be a bit nippy until summer so swimming is somewhat limited, but the rest of it occurs very frequently. ~ Jim

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  4. Jim-It takes courage to be a writer, and you demonstrated it by outing yourself as a future boa-wearing Malice Domestic attendee! I love how well you know Seamus’ backstory. Best of luck with him and with your short stories!

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  5. It seems to be tradition. After you have your first series running successfully with 2-3 books, it’s time to start another. What and whom would that be, Jim? Would you write a few short stories to let readers “test” your Seamus series and put them up on Amazon?

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  6. EB — okay, I’ll think about your question and hold off on the answer. I will mention that Seamus has appeared in a short story published in the first Guppy anthology: Fish Tales. For the price of the anthology you can read the story or go to my website and download a recorded version for $0.99. ~ Jim

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  7. You had me at boa! (Will Seamus ever wear one, I wonder?)

    What were the literary short stories? I’m intrigued.

    Congratulations on your successes…I’m looking forward to reading CABIN FEVER asap.

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  8. Cynthia, I’m having trouble picturing Seamus in a boa — but you never can tell, particularly if Paddy puts him up to it some how. I have a few of my short stories on my website (http://jamesmjackson.com/Shorts/short-stories.html) .

    They are different than the mysteries I write. I enjoy writing short stories, but I spend very little of my writing time doing them. I generally find I needed a larger pallet to deal with characters. People who can write great short stories are a marvel to me.

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