On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today James M. Jackson joins us to celebrate the launch of his novel, ANT FARM, a Kindle Scout winner published by Kindle Press.
In this thrilling prequel to BAD POLICY and CABIN FEVER, when 38 retirees meet a gruesome end at a picnic meant to celebrate their achievements, financial crimes consultant Seamus McCree comes in to uncover the evil behind the botulism murders. But the deadly picnic outside Chillicothe, Ohio, isn't the only treacherous investigation facing Seamus; he also worms his way into a Cincinnati murder investigation when the victim turns out to be a church friend's fiancé. While police speculate this killing may have been the mistake of a dyslexic hit man, Seamus uncovers disturbing information of financial chicanery, and by doing so, puts his son in danger and places a target on his own back. Can Seamus bring the truth to light, or will those who have already killed to keep their secrets succeed in silencing a threat once more?
- What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book, and what came easily?
While the time between first word written and publication of ANT FARM is almost thirteen years, the most challenging aspects of writing this book relate to publication rather than writing.
I lost sleep while deciding not to sign with an agent (now well known) who “loved my book” because I was uncomfortable with several contract terms. I never received another offer of representation, but I am so glad I made the decision I did because in retrospect that version of the book was not yet good enough to publish.
What has been easy for me is taking constructive criticism and using it to rewrite, revise, and polish to improve the story. Many writers love the initial creation process and dread having to revise. I’m just the opposite: I thoroughly enjoy the process of turning a lump of coal into a polished diamond.
What I struggle with now are the promotional aspects of publishing. Tooting my own horn was frowned upon when I was a kid. And I know I am turned off by self-promotion that is all about me, Me ME! I tune out that kind of promotion and actively ignore whatever they are selling. I’ve discovered a tradeoff that does feel comfortable for me: I am okay with a bit of self-promotion if it comes along with something that can also provide value (as I hope folks will gain from my answers to Jenn’s questions).
- Tell us about your main characters and what drives them.
My protagonist is Seamus McCree. He’s had three careers. For a short time he was a professional soccer player before being injured. He went back to school, ended up on Wall Street working for an investment bank and became an acclaimed banking stock analyst. He quit in disgust when his bosses modified one of his research reports because it reflected unfavorably on one of the bank’s clients. In his third career he developed into a financial crimes consultant helping police tackle complex financial crimes.
He’s driven by a combination of wanting to help people, bring justice to the world, and (he’ll admit after a beer or two) because he really enjoys figuring out stuff that other people can’t. He’s much more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he has a wonderfully complex relationship with his son, whom he loves fiercely. He’ll do whatever it takes to protect his family.
- Can you describe your journey to publication: the torment and elation, the times none of it made any sense, the moments when it all came together?
After years of writing and rewriting, an agent wanted to represent ANT FARM and I ended up rejecting the offer. No other agent expressed interest. That was when agents actually sent you a communication that rejected you; now many believe they are too busy to respond with even a form email to reject your hours, months, years maybe, of work.
I never doubted my decision, but I did not enjoy opening envelopes containing rejection slips or reading emails indicating they did not love my story. While I was searching for an agent for that book, I began writing the next in the series, BAD POLICY. As I worked on BAD POLICY I had the idea for a nonfiction book about contract bridge. In between drafts of BAD POLICY, I wrote a book for intermediate contract bridge players. I looked at my bookshelf to see who had published the bridge books I enjoyed the most and concluded I’d like to be published by Master Point Press.
I sent them a proposal, with a sample chapter. They responded within a week asking to see the whole manuscript, and within two or three weeks more we had a signed contract. Wow! What a difference between that and my mysteries. It took another year of back and forth with edits (Ray Lee is an excellent editor) before the book was published. ONE TRICK AT A TIME: HOW TO START WINNING AT BRIDGE received wonderful reviews from BRIDGE WORLD, the NEW YORK TIMES, and the CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
While those edits were going on, I abandoned my efforts to find an agent for BAD POLICY. Because I believed that book was good enough to be published, I decided to consider small presses. After research, I sent queries to three presses. Two immediately responded with offers. (I pulled the third query.) Again, what a different reaction than from the agents. People wanted my work. Yippee!
BAD POLICY (2013) and the next in the series, CABIN FEVER (2014), were published by Barking Rain Press. They received excellent reader reviews; however, limited distribution was the impetus for entering ANT FARM (totally rewritten from the abandoned manuscript) into the Kindle Scout program. I wanted a larger group of readers exposed to my writing.
We are about to see whether being published by Kindle Press brings that larger audience.
- You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?
Ben Franklin is my pick. No matter how long that tunnel or how slow the walk, I wouldn’t run out of things to ask him.
He embodies the prototypical American success story writ large. Born working class, he hobnobbed with kings and queens (well, more with the queens, I think), was instrumental in the creation and sustenance of the United States (and the Continental Congress before it). His two years of schooling, combined with an incredible intellect and insatiable desire to read and learn, allowed him to develop into one of the leading physicists of the day (recognized more in England than in the Colonies), inventor (lightning rod, Franklin stove, and bifocals), and politician (Postmaster under the British, Continental Congress delegate, ambassador, governor of Pennsylvania).
He became wealthy as a printer and publisher. He was erudite, yet witty, which made Poor Richard’s Almanac a great success. He helped start fire departments, subscription libraries, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Because of his postal interests he was concerned with the time it took mail to arrive from England. That led to an interest in sea currents, which resulted in his charting and naming the Gulf Stream.
His home life was another story. He ran away from his apprenticeship under his brother (breaking the law); his marriage was common-law because his wife was married to a man who ran away from his debts to Barbados; he had at least one illegitimate child; his legitimate son became the governor of New Jersey and sided with England against the American Revolution.
With such a rich life (much of which I have refrained from describing, despite Jenn’s desire for in-depth answers) what couldn’t we talk about?
- Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.
There are three published books in the Seamus McCree series: ANT FARM, BAD POLICY, and CABIN FEVER. I am in the midst of rewriting the fourth in the series, DOUBTFUL RELATIONS. Seamus McCree’s ex-wife’s husband has gone missing and she snookers Seamus into helping find out what happened. Soon all the relatives are involved. When you get an extended family together, some of them could indeed be doubtful relations.
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM (Spring 2015), a prequel to BAD POLICY (2013) and CABIN FEVER (2014), recently won a Kindle Scout nomination. Ebook published by Kindle Press; print from Wolf’s Echo 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. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: HOW TO START WINNING AT BRIDGE (Master Point Press 2012), as well as numerous short stories and essays.
His website is http://jamesmjackson.com where you can find more information about him (including social media links) and his books (including purchase links).
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