Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Interview with Elliott James, author of Charming (Pax Arcana 1) - September 24, 2013

Please welcome Elliott James to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Charming, Elliott's debut novel, is published today. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Elliott a Happy Publication Day! You may read Elliott's Guest Blog - Hare Extensions - here.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery.

Elliott:  Thank You.

TQ:  When and why did you start writing?

Elliott:  If you mean on my own free will and time, I’d have to say around the 7th grade, probably because this was when I was discovering writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Roger Zelazny. I guess you could say that puberty and Fantasy Horror struck at the same time in my life. Assuming that puberty and Fantasy Horror are, in fact, two different things.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Elliott:  In regards to my writing habits, probably that I prefer to write early in the morning (as in 5.a.m. while I’m freebasing coffee) or at night out on my porch sipping cider. I seem to like being right on the edge of sleep, I don’t know why.

       As to my writing style, it’s probably my inability to keep my often inappropriate sense of humor from poking up like a weed or a whack-a-mole. Sometimes I find it actively frustrating. I mean, I’ll be trying to build suspense and having to fight down an impulse to make some irreverent comment about anal warts. Not that I would know how to make a reverent comment about anal warts. Perhaps you should make that a writing challenge.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Elliott:  Both, and that’s not me evading or trying to have it both ways either. I plot and create backgrounds for my characters and research, and as soon as I actually start writing it all goes awry pretty quickly. But I think I would have a hard time writing if I didn’t have a structure to rebel against.

       But just to prove that I am capable of a definite answer, I will say that I’m not a last minute packer, I’m an over-packer who has to jettison things later. If that wasn’t clear, some people underwrite and then go back and flesh everything out later, and some people overwrite and then have to go back and chainsaw their work down into something manageable. I’m one of the latter.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Elliott:  Those still points between pivotal scenes where it’s like the story stops to take a breath. Often this is where the most interesting bits are, but these are also spots that readers will sometimes skim over to get to the next plot development. These are the places where it’s really hard for me to find a balance between adding texture, moving the plot along, and being self-indulgent.

TQ:  Describe Charming in 140 characters or less.

Elliott:  A modern day descendant of Prince Charming, bitter, pursued, cursed, is led by love to stay and fight an evil new vampire queen.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Charming?

Elliott:  The truest and simplest answer is that I enjoyed it. But I also address that question somewhat in my guest blog.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Charming?

Elliott:  Mostly I researched myths and fables and had a lot of fun doing it. It’s hard to research one thing in isolation though. While I was researching werewolves I also started looking into Jungian psychology. While I was researching vampires, I looked into several theologies. When I was researching the Fae, I read a lot of history. While I was researching fortune tellers, I read a lot of palms. Buh dum bump. Rim shot. Hello? Is anyone still out there? Is this thing on?

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Elliott:  I’ve actually answered this question in an interview that’s going to be in the back of the book, and just saying the same thing or cutting and pasting seems lame, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to approach it from a different angle.

       At some point in grad school, I read Virginia Woolf talking about Jane Austen – I think it was in The Common Reader –and Woolf was commenting about how Austen’s characters had a sense of great depth even though you saw very little of them on the surface. I think at one point Woolf implied that part of this was that Austen was an astute observer who often met people who had greater opportunities for life experiences than she did. There are always parts of other people’s personalities that are formed by experiences we never see, but the effects of those experiences, the character formed by them, tend to show consistently through small, seemingly trivial details. I think Woolf meant that Austen realized this and made it one of her great strengths as a writer.
I believe Woolf also implied that Austen had a much greater understanding of her creations than she ever showed in detail, and because of this her creations always spoke and acted in a way that seemed true even if they only showed up in a few scenes of seemingly little importance. Please feel free to read The Common Reader and argue with me or correct me if you think I’m misremembering or simplifying or whatever, because I probably am. But in any case, that idea stuck with me when a lot of things from grad school thankfully did not.

       I’m not saying I succeed, but I at least try to reach some kind of understanding of where my characters are coming from before I start writing them. Sometimes that understanding of a character deepens as I go along, but very rarely (in my vast experience as the author of one debut novel) has that understanding contradicted my original idea.

       All of which is to say that there was one character in particular, Stanislav Dvornik, who was both easy and hard to write, and for the same reason. Stanslav is a type of psychic called a kresnik, and he is aging, bitter, burned out, and secretive by nature and by choice. So writing someone as a closed off enigma is kind of easy. But giving that character a sense of texture or depth can also be difficult, especially when the narrator of the story has a tendency to dismiss or not bond with that other character.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Charming?

Elliott:  I guess, y’know, that one that I like a lot….

       Seriously, I like different scenes for different reasons. Romantically, there’s a scene with a first kiss that I like. I try to play off the contrast between the stereotype of Prince Charming as this kind of romantic pretty boy and the ruthless, pragmatic monster hunter who I’ve envisioned. I mean, part of the joke of Charming is that John Charming isn’t charming at all, or at least not smooth and urbane. Then there’s another contrast between this hardened survivor and the disconcerted idiot he becomes when he walks ass backwards into true love and doesn’t know how to handle it. That was fun.

       In terms of action, there’s a back alley confrontation that I l choreographed like a movie scene. I mean I literally used a real location, physically walked through it, then made little figures out of twist-ties and worked out where each person would be at each point as if I were recreating a crime scene or something. I think it reads a little differently than most action scenes.

TQ:  What's next? (in which an author shares whatever he'd/she'd like to share)

Elliott:  Well, I have this bad case of anal warts…no, stop! Just kidding! I’m working on the sequel to Charming right now. I’m thinking of calling it A Law for the Wolf in reference to that Kipling poem “The Law for the Wolves,” but there are two factors to consider: one is that this might be some kind of copyright infringement for all I know. The other is that it’s entirely possible that my editor is better at coming up with titles than I am. She came up with Charming and I like it because it works on a lot of different levels.

       I’ve also got the beginnings of an idea for another John Charming short story (I’ve written four) that I’m thinking of calling “Dog Gone” because I keep coming across all of these legends and myths about big demonic black dogs. Did you know that the Son of Sam claimed to have seen a big black dog that told him to commit murders? There’s also the popular story about Robert Johnson claiming to see a big black demonic dog at the crossroads although that’s inaccurate. Robert wrote a song about hellhounds on his trail which was actually about Tommy Johnson, another blues singer who actually did claim to have met a supernatural being at the crossroads. Not sure that’s the note I want to end on, but the French, English, Scandinavians, and Romans all apparently sacrificed black dogs because they thought their spirits would guard places or ceremonies in their afterlife. I think that’s fascinating and disturbing. So naturally I want to write about it somehow.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Elliott:  Thanks for inviting me :)


Pax Arcana 1
Orbit, September 24, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

John Charming isn't your average Prince...

He comes from a line of Charmings -- an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chainmail and crossbows to kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is-- until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn't change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar... Right?

And short stories:

Charmed I'm Sure
Orbit, August 15, 2013
eBook, 75 pages

This is the first in a series of short stories by debut author Elliott James. The first of his novels, Charming, will be out in September 2013.

When Tom Morris encounters a naked man walking along the interstate with no memory of how he got there, the smart thing to do is drive away. The only problem is, Tom Morris has secrets of his own. Like the fact that he comes from a long line of witch finders, monster slayers, and enchantment breakers, or that his real name is Charming. John Charming.

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls
Orbit, September 17, 2013
eBook, 75 pages

This is the second in a series of short stories by debut author Elliott James. The first of his novels, Charming, will be out in September 2013.

Nothing with the Cunning Folk is ever free. When John Charming goes to Sarah White for help with a minor ghost problem, he soon finds himself dealing with a restless spirit on a completely different scale. And the last thing you want to be when hunting a water spirit is out of your depth...

Pushing Luck
Orbit, October 15, 2013
eBook, 75 pages

This is the third in a series of short stories by debut author Elliott James. The first of his novels, Charming, will be out in September 2013.

Trying to make money off the grid, John Charming discovers an underground poker tournament where the hors d'oeuvres are made of human flesh and the players are gambling with much more than their money. All bets are off.

Surreal Estate
Orbit, January 14, 2014

[cover forthcoming]
This is the fourth in a series of short stories by debut author Elliott James. The first of his novels, Charming, will be out in September 2013.

The line between reality and dream is never entirely clear under the best of circumstances...and when John Charming finds himself being hunted through a nightmare house, it is far from the best of circumstances.

About Elliott

An army brat and gypsy scholar, ELLIOTT JAMES is currently living in the blueridge mountains of southwest Virginia. An avid reader since the age of three (or that's what his family swears anyhow), he has an abiding interest in mythology, martial arts, live music, hiking, and used bookstores. Irrationally convinced that cellphone technology was inserted into human culture by aliens who want to turn us into easily tracked herd beasts, Elliott has one anyhow but keeps it in a locked tinfoil covered box which he will sometimes sit and stare at mistrustfully for hours. Okay, that was a lie. Elliott lies a lot; in fact, he decided to become a writer so that he could get paid for it.


  1. Once you get past the author's fixation on anal warts (LOL) this interview is utterly charming! Ok, I think his sense of humor is infectious. I really want to read these stories now.

  2. These all look amazing. Can't wait to treat them like book Pokemon and read them all

  3. Thank you for sharing with us these pearls of thought. I think you may have something there regarding Fantasy Horror and puberty, never quite made the connection before LOL Congratulations on the release of Charming. It has been on my TBR and wishlist and I am looking forward to the read.