Welcome, Jim. Can you tell my readers a little about the plot of PLEBS what inspired you to write it?
On the surface Plebs is a tale of three intrepid young men, intoxicated and in good spirits after a night out for a friend’s birthday, who find themselves wandering far away from their usual stomping grounds. Along the way they encounter a band of mysterious and potentially dangerous women who promise to keep the party vibe going with the lads on the provision they do them one little favour. Of course, this little favour isn’t such a small thing after all and consequently leads the happy go lucky slackers into a world of pain, death, tragedy and utter violence.
From that point on, the hapless men find themselves becoming more and more entwined in situations of escalating peril and bloodshed as enemies from both their past, and current ones they’ve made, roll into the picture in a series of snowballing events of horror. Then of course there are the Plebs themselves, which are freakish entities who share the same domain as the fugitive women who drag our original protagonists into an expedition into hell.
Initially Plebs was supposed to be a short story; that was the first plan I had for it. I was in the midst of writing a whole bunch of shorts and had rudimentary ideas and outlines for them, the general gist of Plebs being one of them. However it soon became pretty evident as I wrote it, that it was going to be a lot longer than just a brief story, there was so much more I wanted to do with the characters, and so many more ideas and concepts occurring to me that could be brought to life. Nothing in particular served as the catalyst to inspire it as I almost always have a whole host of different twisted ideas running through my head, and I like to try and get as many of them written down and potentially fleshed out into stories as possible, even if they turn out terrible after I do.
Wow, that sounds interesting! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to first put pen to paper and share your experience with the world?
I have been writing stories of all varieties ever since I was a very young child. I started reading young and started writing tales of my own not too long after that. Reading and writing were both highly encouraged in my household growing up and I indulged in a whole lot of both. My early writing ran the gamut from space stories to adventure, through westerns, monster tales and all kinds of things, but once I started reading horror fiction I knew exactly what direction I wanted to go with it.
I wrote two books in my late teens, my first a bit of a mish mash of influences and ideas from all the horror authors I was reading at the time, with the second much more of my own style with the writing honed and altered after discovering the late, great Richard Laymon.
I sought to get the latter published, though back in those days there were none of the social media sites and methods of direct communication we have today, so I wasn’t too clued up on which publishing houses were likely to accept, or even be interested in work of that nature.
After a whole lack of success in that department and a pile of polite rejection letters or advice on where better to send my manuscripts, I gave up the idea, at least for a while.
Some years later I became involved in the extreme metal scenes and was running a site with my wife for the promotion of worldwide metal acts, which involved gigs, distro, interviews and so forth, and here I was also writing hundreds of reviews for material from bands.
Eventually we put that on hiatus, or more appropriately closed it down, and I went back to read a few unfinished stories I’d started several years prior. Here I rediscovered my passion for writing horror, reignited my desire to finish some of them and consequently the desire to publish returned.
I submitted the first three chapters of Plebs to J. Ellington Press after answering a submissions call in a Richard Laymon group searching for the potential next Laymon, and was offered a contract within hours.
Now Plebs has been out almost six months, I have stories appearing in several anthologies, and both a collab novel (written with five other excellent authors from JEA) and a collection of my own horror shorts/novellas will be appearing some time down the track.
Is there a message in your novel(s) that you wish your readers to grasp?
There are certainly myriad themes in Plebs alone, some which are fairly obvious and others which are more underlying and perhaps not as noticeable, but they are there all the same. I won’t relay all of them here, that can be something for readers to discover themselves and draw their own conclusions about things, and what particular messages or points might be there to be relayed, but there are aspects dealing with friendships, relationships, the blurring of lines between man and monster, along with a few more stronger adult themes and peoples reasons for doing what they do etc. On the surface it might be a pure horror story liberally splashed in copious blood and violence, with some pretty strong language and sex stirred into the mix, but underneath all of this, the various themes are there to bolster the story. Anybody can write something to shock or disturb with a deluge of gratuitous violence, but there must be a strong storyline in there as well and I’m confident I’ve accomplished this with Plebs.
Much of my other work also revolves around various themes (my story Sinister Cavan in the Axes of Evil anthology for example, is primarily about the extreme measures that people will go to silence others who don’t share their ideals, or in fact, who they believe need to be censored and not allowed to present their own views. This one is a juxtaposition of things traditionally recognized as good or evil, with censorship issues and how one person’s fervent belief in one thing may make them completely blind and blinkered to somebody else’s choice), though some of my pieces are merely for entertainment purposes or from a seed of an idea I had needing to be written and don’t really require any in depth analysis.
What do you find to be the hardest part of writing a novel?
The only hard thing for me is finding the time I want to dedicate to writing. I have two little children who love to monopolize my attention during the day, along with a host of other daily things which mean I can’t be sitting at my laptop writing feverishly twenty four hours a day, as much as I might like to. When I actually do get to sit down and write there is never any problem getting the words flowing, they almost always do, it is just a matter of being able to get to it. Sometimes I will have the right words in my head, or what I think sounds just about perfect, for the current section I am writing, yet by the time I get to actually writing, the whole structure of what I might have had in my head has either vanished or comes out entirely different. Sometimes it turns out much better than envisioned, other times I know it would have been better if I’d gotten it down as soon as it occurred to me.
Aside from that, I suppose my only other problem would be trying to keep my novels from blowing out to massive word counts. Some people might have an issue trying to reach a certain word count, or are more used to writing the novellas and shorts which are all the rage these days, but for me, it’s a matter of writing a lot. Back when I was a kid reading, a big book with a whole lot of story and a variety of involving, engaging plots and happenings was magic, something to really get stuck into and immersed within and I love to write those types of books myself. Consequently most of my work turns out to be pretty lengthy, even my short stories end up long unless I’m confined to a specific maximum word count.
Besides your own writing(s), what other new Indy titles are you excited about in 2014?
Ah there are so many great things coming this year, mentioning one would probably do a disservice to those I might forget to mention, so I will just say everything, especially in my own favourite genre of horror. There are great novels, novellas, anthologies, so many potentially excellent titles on the horizon that it is a wonderful time for writing.
What’s next for you? Any new projects in the works?
I almost always have something new happening, when I get that time to write I write consistently. Next up from me will be a story in the Terror Train anthology from the superb James Ward Kirk Fiction which has to be one of the finest and most professional presses out there at the moment consistently releasing top shelf material. That will be out in a couple of weeks at most and I’m incredibly excited about sharing a TOC with the list of fantastic authors who are also appearing in it. Another month or so down the track will see the release of the collab novel Feral Hearts from my press J. Ellington Ashton who of course have been brilliant to me, loaded with wonderful authors and wonderful helpful staff, and the excitement of getting this one out there is pretty sky high as well. Writing this novel was a challenge for everybody involved, but immensely fun as well and taught me that I can adapt and flourish when writing to guidelines or with specifics to be adhered to already in place.
JEA is home to a whole bunch of talented writers, editors and artists and working with them has been nothing but beneficial and excellent for me, I can’t praise them all highly enough.
In terms of what I’m writing currently I have two novels I’m working on, one which is an undead foray into extreme metal scenes and another revolving around a bunch of disgruntled ex carnival employees and some pretty nasty secrets and reasons for their former place of employment being taken over.
Because there are so many great horror anthologies appearing which are too good to pass up, I’m also writing a host of short stories amidst novel work for these particular calls when I can. Ideally I’m attempting to resist the temptation to submit something to all of them and get my zombie novel finally squared away, but some of them have themes which suit me right down to the ground. It is a little start stop on the novel due to factors like this, but I’m gradually closing in on the finish, albeit looking at having another monster of enormous word count once again.
The aforementioned horror carnival story is also a giant one. With only half finished at a word count of approximately 180 thousand I will need to turn that into a series, two books at the minimum.
Finally, do you have any advice for other writers who are just starting down the self-publishing path?
I am actually with a press (the exemplary J. Ellington Ashton) and most other things I have out, or coming out are, if not with the same press, with others. I suppose if I’d not had any success with getting accepted for publishing with a house somewhere I may have considered the self-publishing route, but since I did I’m not too sure what advice I could dispense to those seeking to self-publish. Never give up is always something I like to say, if you love to write, just write. I don’t really know too much of what is involved with the whole self-publishing business, but I would definitely advise anyone thinking about delving into self-publishing to always have an editor, always have at least one other set of eyes to look through your work. Don’t rush it just because you want to have your book out there, if you want it to be noticed, you want it noticed for all the right reasons, not the wrong ones. I think that probably applies to anybody, and of course, a great book cover is important (I never get sick of looking at the cover for Plebs, artwork by the excellent Catt Dahman, and the compliments are consistently coming for that), blurbs, a well thought out synopsis that makes people want to read your book. I’m hardly the expert or the best person to ask about this, but I’d say these would be pretty standard pieces of advice most would be inclined to give to others starting out.
Thank you for stopping by today, Jim, and providing such a great interview. I’m sure my readers appreciate your taking time out of your busy writing schedule to be with us!
The following are links to Jim’s novel and other works. (You can also find my review of PLEBS right here on this website.)