It's another Monday, so I must be talking to another author! And boy oh boy, did this one give you some MEAT for your Monday interview!
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Let's start with the basics: I got to talk to Daniel James. Daniel is an author of dark fantasy, thrillers, and horror, from Liverpool, England. He first began writing as a hobby and creative outlet to distract himself from the mundanity of completing his Bachelors of Science at Liverpool Hope University. Growing up, he spent perhaps a little too much time daydreaming about superheroes and horror movies. In his mid-teens he got his first bass guitar and joined his first band. No points for guessing the quality of their output. But growing up he maintained his interest in music, playing in several better bands and gigging locally. After experiencing a mugging at 18 (and some serious procrastination), he decided to take-up kickboxing and jiu jitsu. Despite loving the thrill of getting soundly beaten-up several days a week, this bruising hobby fell by the wayside. And that left only the writing, the one hobby he couldn’t shake. His noir thriller novel Pigs landed him a New York literary agent in Ethan Ellenberg, who subsequently released it through his in-house imprint. Although Dan is currently an independent author, his previous involvement with a professional agency drove him to continue his writing pursuits unabashed. He has since released Hourglass, Fable, Heathens, and the upcoming sequel to Hourglass, The Ferryman's Toll. His character-driven, action-packed urban fantasy novel, Hourglass, received a Kirkus Star from Kirkus Reviews, and was voted one of their Best 100 Indie novels of 2021. When not writing, he loves reading genre fiction and comic books, watching movies, listening to music, and playing guitar.
Q) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A) Quite late actually. I recall that when I was a little kid, I impressed one of my English teachers with a creative story I wrote in class, but truthfully I was always so scatterbrained whilst growing up (still am most of the time) that I never considered writing as a hobby. I was always creative, at least potentially, as a kid. Teachers and classmates always harped on about drawings I did, but again, same as the writing, I was always deeply negative about everything I did that I’d dismiss compliments as if they were poisonous. So I’d spend all my free time playing computer games, seeing friends, watching films, or reading. But in my mid-twenties I was bored in university, and working evenings in a mental health hospital when I found something quite strange: clots of shed hair all over a counselling room, and pets were not allowed on the premises. Now, for all I know it was probably just someone with a chronic case of alopecia, but at the time, I’m all alone and my imagination started working overtime, and like any logical individual, my mind immediately thought werewolf. And from that simple thought I started thinking about a government facility beneath the hospital which recruited monsters and certain talented individuals to oppose the shadier forces plaguing the earth. And I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. And so I started thinking of all these characters and just had to write it. And I loved it! That was my first book, and though it was terribly amateur and blessedly expunged from this realm, parts of that story were transplanted into Hourglass. But to think if it wasn’t for some shed hair I might not have knuckled down to write my first book.
Q) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
A) Quite sporadic. I work full-time as a domestic at a children’s hospital, so I try to write in the afternoon when I get home, or on my break in work. On my days off I prefer to write in the morning, otherwise I'll go through the rest of the day feeling moody and distracted, which is no way to spend one’s time off.
Q) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A) I’m a dabbler of various long-time hobbies, playing guitar, some drawing, but my inattentive spells always cause me to put things back down relatively quickly. I think I’m only able to fixate on one creative outlet at a time. Maybe I should adopt a strict regimen of creative output.
Q) What does your family think of your writing?
A) I rarely ask them, ha-ha. I treat it like a shameful secret.
Q) How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
A) Since I started taking this whole writing lark a bit more seriously — and adopting a pseudonym — I have written 5 books, the fifth of which is the sequel to Hourglass, due out some time early in 2022. I have a real soft spot for Fable because everyone who has read it mentions how weird it is, but in a good way, as opposed to just being weird for the bloody sake of it. I’ve always been fascinated by American teen culture and bullies due to certain horror books and movies making an impact on me at an impressionable age, not to mention my own experiences with bullies. And so Fable was me feverishly creating this small-town coming-of-age horror story about an ex-stoner high school outcast (and his two still very much pot-positive pals) surviving the drug-peddling school thugs and their gangster connections with the help of a murderous, synthetic drug-induced Mr Toad.
But as much as I’m proud of Fable, I suppose I have to say that Hourglass is of course my favourite since it’s a series, and therefore has a lot more scope.
Q) Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
A) The obvious answer is write. Like any hobby, if you want to improve, practice is key. So instead of regurgitating the same-old same-old, I’d say that writers should stick to what they enjoy. I’ve on occasion considered writing in a genre which, upon further mulling, felt like a bad idea because deep down I knew I wasn’t interested in the subject matter enough to do it justice. Therefore, don’t chase down popular genres. Pay zero attention to what new clothes the Emperor is wearing, and focus on writing the stories which mean something to you.
Q) Do you like to create books for adults?
A) Exclusively. I have a violent mind and a dirty mouth, so I don’t think I’d do well telling bedtime stories to ankle-biters.
Q) What do you think makes a good story?
A) Characters you want to spend time with. I’m all for tight plotting, high stakes, and some chin-stroking themes on the complex philosophies of humanity, but if I don’t care about the characters involved then it just reads like a chore.
Q) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
A) A child in an adult’s body. It’s important to set attainable goals.
Q) What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
A) Biographies/autobiographies about the talentless wretches who comprise all of reality TV. These people should be stranded on the moon where there’s no sound and, ideally, no cameras to record their desperate need for attention.
Q) Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A) Both actually. It is a job, even if it’s a poorly paid job. And it’s incredibly hard to switch off. Even during “down time” I find myself getting distracted by thinking of plot points or characters or even just breaking down an action scene. It sounds like a pain in the neck, but I’ve always been a very distracted guy, and everytime I make a breakthrough in a book I’m writing, it’s such a incredible boost, just splurging your imagination across the page…in a neat and none disgusting way.
Q) Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
A) I think a big ego can help writers in certain capacities. Nobody likes an arsehole, but when it comes to promoting yourself and your work, an ego can only help, providing it’s reined in. The uber-shy quiet types — like me when sober, or just in a quiet mood — need to come out of their shell in order to get their voices heard. Though it is difficult for introverts to overcome their internal nattering, it is essential if they want to make any kind of a splash.
Q) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
A) I already do, and I’ll be taking my real name to the grave.
Q) Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
A) I think there’s very little “original” anything at this stage. I’d say humanity has been around long enough to wring the collective imagination dry. Now it’s all about spin, and trying to merge various older ideas and concepts into colourful and meaningful new ways. So I don’t trouble myself with being innovative, because for me its more important to chase down whatever ideas get me fired up. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving readers what they want, providing it isn’t some soulless, trendy cash-in. A writer knows when their work means something to them, and so if they can channel that heart and passion into a book (even if it’s a book full of monsters and guns) its something pure, and then being original or not becomes irrelevant.
Q) Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
A) Not sure. Some writers are bound to be sociopaths. And as for me, I’m powered purely by the bitterness and disgust of a thousand and one curmudgeons. I’d say if you can get a handle on at least ONE emotion then, sure, give writing a go.
Q) Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
A) I’ve kept the first two Hourglass novels as mostly stand-alone works, but I make no secret of the fact that this is intended as a growing body of work. Going forth, I’ll still try to keep them neat and self-contained, but the connecting threads are only going to grow thicker.
Q) If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A) I’d say try not to stress too much over your writing projects. But I’m just as stressed nowadays as my younger self.
Q) As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A) A can of Strongbow cider.
Q) How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
A) None actually. For better or worse, when I start working on something I tend to finish it.
Q) What is your writing Kryptonite?
A) I don’t relish writing lots of nice and cosy family scenes. They always feel forced to me. I can dabble of course, but I try to make these scenes hit the right emotional beats and then swiftly move on to something darker or action-driven.
Q) What does literary success look like to you?
A) Its always nice to imagine earning the riches to scrap your day job, but you might as well piss your money away on lottery tickets for a similar likelihood of success. For me, success is simply finding a fair-sized following who enjoy my books and who are eager for the next one. If you manage to find that, I’d say you’re successful.
Q) What do you have coming next?
A) The Ferryman’s Toll. It’s the second book in the Hourglass series, and I’m very excited to get it out there. Even though it’s part of an on-going saga, it’s self-contained enough for dark fantasy/urban fantasy fans to enjoy on its own. Clyde, Kev and their more experienced Hourglass team are now operating out of New York’s the Madhouse facility, and contending with the Cairnwood Society’s plot to build an army of paranormally-enhanced madmen and operatives to bring down Hourglass. Of course, that’s only the nutshell version of the tale. For all the twists and turns, you’ll have to grab a copy.
DON'T STOP READING NOW!
Clyde Williams just wanted to draw comic books. Life and death have other plans.
Brooklyn-born artist Clyde Williams has spent his life obsessing over comic books and chasing his big dream to one day break into the industry as a hot new artist. But chasing the dream isn’t easy. It’s tiring, dispiriting work.
And that was before the ghost of his recently murdered best friend and roommate, Kev Carpenter, showed up at their apartment. Shocked and confused, the pair have been trying to establish some sense of their old status quo, of normality, but normality left town and isn’t coming back.
Instead, they get a knock at their front door. Rose Hadfield, agent of Hourglass, has some understanding of what it’s like to commune with the dead, living with the ghosts of her former military unit, and offers them the choice to educate themselves and train their abilities, or remain under Hourglass’ scrutiny in the name of public safety.
Clyde’s long-held distrust of all things military and federal, has him prepared to decline Rose’s offer. Kev, however, has other ideas. Being restless and detached from the world, he sees this as his only real option. A purpose. Wracked with sympathy for his best friend’s plight, Clyde accepts Rose’s offer on one condition: upon completion of his training, he will remain a civilian. A fair compromise.
Unbeknownst to Clyde and Kev, their acceptance of Rose’s offer has catapulted them on a collision course with an ex-KGB officer turned necromantic monk, and the ancient, wealthy, and morally dubious Cairnwood Society. Clyde and Kev will soon learn that death is only the beginning.
YOU FOUND IT! DOWNLOAD THE PROLOGUE TO HOURGLASS RIGHT HERE!