James M Jackson is a mystery writer and Kindle Scout winner. He’s in the midst of writing a series of books, three of which are available on Amazon. I was recently poking around his website and became curious. He was nice enough to answer my questions.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Some authors say they always knew they wanted to be a writer. I may have been called at an early age, but I have a problem listening to people who tell me what to do. So, if called, I shouted down the voices in my head. I always enjoyed reading, and in grade school I did write a short story titled “The Mystery of the Red and Green Striped Zebra.” (Spoiler alert, the paint washed off when the kids gave it a bath.)
My poetry was good enough to be published in the high school and college literary magazines, but I considered poetry more as a means to impress girls than my creative spirit clamoring for an outlet.
I was a math guy (BS Mathematics, MBA Finance) and made my living with numbers and computers and eventually by explaining difficult financial concepts in ways that allowed executives to understand the important points so they could make decisions.
So, when did you figure it out?
In my early fifties I had an epiphany: while my job was math-based, what made me excel was the ability to tell stories about the numbers. In 2002 I finally figured out I wanted to be a writer.
I loved reading mysteries, knew a series could sell easier than a standalone, and so I started writing, and writing, and writing until I had a finished novel. I proudly gave my work to some trusted friends. They told me they liked it a lot. But it did start too slowly. Its middle was muddled and action slogged down to a crawl. The dialogue was chunky. Descriptions minimal. They couldn’t connect with the characters. But, gee, the plot was terrific.
Do you consider yourself trained as a writer or self-taught?
Those friendly critiques taught me the hard reality of Justice Louis D. Brandeis’s statement that, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” With the help of the Cincinnati Writers Project’s Wednesday night critique group and immersing myself in writing books, classes, and conferences, I gradually learned to write.
I rewrote the first book in the series many, many times over the next three years. That book received an agent offer of representation, which I ultimately turned down because of contract provisions. I’m glad I did because in retrospect neither that book nor that agent was quite ready for the big leagues. I eventually put it away and worked hard on the second in the series.
The second book in the series was published first?
Yes, but that was not my first published book. My outlet while working diligently learning to write mysteries was to learn to play competitive bridge. I decided to write a bridge book for intermediate players. I wrote the book in about three months’ time, sent out a proposal to the largest English-speaking publisher of bridge books, and in a week’s time they offered me a contract. Just like that.
That book, One Trick at a Time: How to Start Winning at Bridge was published in 2012 and received excellent reviews in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Bridge World Magazine.
While I was making edits for that book, I landed a contract for the second book written in the Seamus McCree series, Bad Policy. It was published in 2013.
So, it took me ten years from deciding to become a writer for my first book publication and eleven years for the first fiction. I had had short stories and an essay published in the intervening years.
After your first mystery was published, then what happened?
The next Seamus McCree novel, Cabin Fever, was published in 2014 by the same small publisher as Bad Policy. Then I decided to revisit that very first novel attempt. My friends were right, the plot had been strong, but the writing no longer met my standards. I improved the plot and applied all I had learned when I totally rewrote the book for the final time.
The Kindle Scout program had just started. (Here’s a link if you are unfamiliar with the program https://kindlescout.amazon.com/) I figured it would be better to have Amazon, rather than a small publisher, help market my book. Ant Farm was selected for publication and Kindle Press brought it out in 2015. As it turns out, Amazon has a promotion running through March 15, 2016 on the Kindle version of Ant Farm, marking it down to $1.99.
What are you working on right now?
I am in the final rewrite of the fourth in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, which will be published in 2016. I have a completed first draft of the fifth Seamus McCree novel, Empty Promises, and I have written the first 20,000 words of the sixth novel, False Bottom.
What is your favorite thing about being published?
I get a thrill anytime I meet someone or get an email and they tell me how much they have enjoyed my book. I write to entertain, and knowing I have done so is a great pleasure.