I'm thrilled to be one of the blog tour hosts for a good friend of mine, James L. Weaver, to celebrate his latest book release, ARES ROAD. This is book # 2 in the Jake Caldwell thriller series and makes for an absolutely explosive sequel to the award-finalist POOR BOY ROAD.
You should go out right now and buy James' books, and here are some links that will help!
Poor Boy Road on Amazon
Ares Road on Amazon
Anyhow, here's a great interview with James himself!
Do you recall when writing become a part of your life that you had to indulge?
I’d have to say the writing bug didn’t bite for me until my late twenties. I had already written a novel that was justifiably rejected by a myriad of agents and I gave up for a while. Having a stack of rejection letters tacked to your wall tends to kill your confidence. I’d say the need to indulge in writing something came with my novel Jack & Diane, a coming of age love story written from the point of view of the boy. I wrote it, shopped it and then let it sit for years before I found it in the bottom of the drawer. It’s a great story and when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted nothing more than to get it in her hands and let her see something she always encouraged me to do. I knew it wouldn’t happen with traditional publishing so I self-published. Unfortunately, she died in a matter of three months from her diagnosis so she didn’t get to see it, but that really launched my desire to write and to think about it as a potential career.
What were you like as a kid at school? Was English a subject you excelled at, or at least loved?
I was pretty middle of the road in junior high and high school – good student, a good amount of friends, maybe partied too much. Most of my friends that I hung out with went to other schools. I played baseball with them or they were friends from the old neighborhood, and we’d spend the weekends cruising around looking for parties. In terms of school, I did pretty well without putting forth a ton of effort (a tactic that didn’t work out so well in my freshman year of college). As far as English goes, I hated (and still hate) poetry and Shakespeare – a hatred recently renewed when my daughter had to read Romeo and Juliet last year, but I really enjoyed the creative writing portions of English. I think the first spark and encouragement came in my freshman year in college when I took a creative writing class as an elective and the professor was super supportive. When she asked me if she could use something I wrote as an example for her other classes, I was stoked. Thank you, Nina Hajda at Kansas State University.
Can you remember the first thing you ever wrote that you could call a decent piece of work?
The first decent thing of substance I wrote was the unpublished novel I named Dark Aura which was a serial killer/cop thriller set in Kansas City. I was in my early twenties when I finished it and it’s a good story with some great scenes, but too clunky (which was why it was rejected). Still, I had written an entire novel and it at least gave me the confidence that I could do it, that it is not an impossible undertaking. I have so many people that say they would love to write a book, but let that self-imposed wall stop them from doing it. The next thing was probably my short story series about a poker player that was published in Bluff Magazine. It was the first thing I wrote that I was actually paid for!
So, why crime thrillers?
The simple answer is that it’s what I love to read. I’ve always been drawn to stories of society’s seedy underbelly and those who battle against it. I told my wife the other day that if I had to go back in time, I’d probably go into the FBI or something. While Jack & Diane is a love story, it has a ton of me in it and my experiences, albeit a bit embellished, of growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. But it works because it’s what I know and love. Years ago, I found John Sandford and devoured every Lucas Davenport novel I could get my hands on and followed up with Lee Child and binged on Jack Reacher. I knew I wanted to do a series with a different kind of protagonist and had my Jake Caldwell character bouncing around my skull, but I didn’t have the right circumstance to put him in. When I went back to my dad’s Lake of the Ozarks hometown for my grandmother’s funeral, that circumstance clicked and I knew exactly what I was going to do. So my advice to writers is to write what you love and for me it was crime thrillers.
What's been the hardest part of your writing career so far?
Without a doubt, it has been building an author brand. I thought I could just write the books and word of mouth about them would grow. Nice try. In truth, the writing part is easy. The hard, but extremely necessary part is all the self-promotion, building a website, blogging and tweeting that you need to do. Working with the folks at Lakewater and their publicist, it’s really been an eye-opener for me about what you need to do to build yourself up. It makes total sense because nobody knows who the hell you are and if you have ever gone to a bookstore or scrolled through Amazon or Barnes and Nobles book titles, you realize you are but one fish in a large damn sea. Not so much with Twitter because it’s way less personal, but I always feel guilty posting something on Facebook promoting my work. But, you need to attack the author brand on multiple fronts if you want people to know you have something out there worth consuming. I’m still working on it.
And the best?
The best is the feedback from my readers. When someone says they laughed or cried or can talk in detail why they loved a certain character you created from thin air, it’s an amazing feeling. When one of my beta readers told me they physically cried when one of my characters died, I did a fist pump. To know you evoked that level of emotion from something you crafted is euphoric. And it’s also very validating. I mean, there’s not a ton of reviews out there, but Jack & Diane is sitting at 95% five star reviews, Poor Boy Road has an average of 4.5 out of 5 and the early reviews of Ares Road are at 4.88 so I know I’m doing something right. I’m a junky for reviews and I check them almost every day to see if there’s a new one out there because it’s that kind of feedback that makes you want to write the next book. It’s a pretty masochistic habit, but I can’t help myself. For those who are reading this, go write a review of the last book you read and do it NOW! The authors want and need that kind of encouragement.
Is Jake Caldwell based loosely on people you know? How did he come about?
As I said before, the idea of doing a book with a leg-breaker for the mob had been rolling around in my head for some time, but I couldn’t put him in the right setting to make the story click for me. He was going to be this bad ass who got in over his head with the mob, but I just couldn’t come up with a premise that spoke to me. When I went back for my grandmother’s funeral and heard some stories about my grandfather (who died before I was born), Jake morphed and the story changed to not what he did, but why he did it – what led him down that path of violence and now that he found himself in a place he didn’t want to be, what was he going to do about it? I wanted him to be a bad ass, but a bad ass with a good heart who could travel down this road of redemption and emerge a changed man.
Bear is Jake's sidekick and has turned out to be an extremely popular character amongst readers. Do you have a favourite character in the books so far?
Oh my God, I freaking love Bear. He is such a great character and is so fun to write. I have to say that even though Jake is the protagonist, Bear is my favorite. He’s so down to earth and just tells it like it is. While Jake is a much more complex character, I love that people love Bear. In fact, dear readers, there is a Bear Parley book rolling around in my head. I have the follow up to Ares Road already plotted and the fourth one in the series planned, but the fifth could very likely be a Bear Parley book. But, it’s up to you if you want it. If you keep buying them, I’ll keep writing them.
Where do see you and Jake 5 years from now? Where would you like to be?
If all goes well, Jake and I will still be together five years from now. I have some general thoughts about where Jake will be by then, but I don’t want to spoil them here. For me, doing the writing gig full-time would be my dream, but we’re still a ways from being able to do that!
Can you share a snippet from your WIP?
Oh man, you’re putting me on the spot, but I’ll give you a taste. Please keep in mind that this is the rough, rough, rough draft, my eagle-eyed editor hasn’t even seen it and there’s some sensory details I need to add in. If you will grant me that, you may proceed.
Given Jake Caldwell’s extensive experience in seedy, out of the way bars in the middle of nowhere, Rattler’s did not disappoint. On a scale of one to ten, with one being an avoid at all costs atrocity of humanity, Jake had to give Rattler’s a zero.
He sat a table in the corner of the smoky bar with his broad back to the wall, clear sight line to the entrance and a partially blocked exit to his right adorned with a sign that read “Open this here door and you get your ass kicked. This meens you.” He hoped the alcohol in the grimy mug killed any lingering parasites as he peeled his arm from the sticky table and took a drink with a wince. Might as well be drinking luke warm piss.
Dexter Swofford walked in from the northern Oklahoma heat, a cloud of parking lot dust trailing him like Pigpen from the old Charlie Brown cartoons. The sunlight ripped away the darkness for a blinding moment, swirling the cigarette smoke above the padded bar. The plywood door slammed shut behind him and the dimness settled back on the dozen patrons scattered about Rattlers who resumed their drinking with all the enthusiasm of someone about to get a root canal. Dexter waded through the sea of misaligned tables, shook hands with a couple of leathernecks playing pool on the opposite side of the bar and settled on a bar stool. The anorexic bar tender with cropped locks battling for color dominance between blonde and black, trudged over and placed a fresh mug of the same swill she gave Jake in front of Dexter without a word.
Jake checked the photo on the flyer Pedro had given him even though he was 99 percent sure the guy at the end of the bar was Dexter and punched a text into his phone. Even though partially obscured by a grungy hat reading “Wine ‘em, Dine ‘Em, 69 ‘em”, the gaunt, pocket-marked face and mashed nose matched the picture to a t. He took inventory of crowd and wondered how many were packing. It was a bunch of Oklahoma rednecks. Probability was high that most of them had guns, or at very least a big ass knife shoved in their back pockets. His phone dinged, he checked the message and rose to make his move. Thank God because John Anderson’s “John Deere Green” started warbling on the broken speakers of the juke box. Jake hated that fucking song.