Interview: Elliott James on Being a Social Media Idiot & a Character Dossier

October 29, 2013 Author Feature, Interview 8

Elliott James, debut author of Charming – an amazing new urban fantasy series agreed to be interrogated by me recently.  I hope you enjoy the fun. If you’re looking for a taste of his work there are also a good group of short stories he has released in this series!

Pax Arcana shorts

Read my review of CHARMING!

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Hello Elliott and welcome to your torture session…err Interview yes *sparks the jumper cables behind her back* – Thanks so much for joining us at My Shelf Confessions!

To the fun shall we?

Your book Charming was a lot of fun and indeed I can’t wait to see more from your characters. So how about we give the readers a lil taste of them with a character dossier? I’ll start us off with a side character: Molly (bcuz I love her)! And you can give us your own rendition of her as well!

Molly: Ex-Priest, small in stature – big in metaphysical oomph, scaredy cat who combats the eebie jeebies with Christmas carols.

Jon: Knight-in-exile, werewolf lite, sarcasm as a coping
mechanism, old soul but young at heart. Professional assassin.  Amateur human being.

Sig: Valkyrie.  I’m not a dumb blonde, I’m just drawn from myth that way. Warrior maid.  Dates down.  Good in any crisis except an identity crisis.  Sees dead people.

Dvornik:  Veteran monster hunter.  Seen too much, done too much, burned the tee shirt.  Smarter than he grunts.  Precognitive clairvoyant.  Complex character treated as non-complex character because he represents a lot of the things the narrator fears or doesn’t like about himself.  The ghost of John’s Christmas Future.

Choo: Full time exterminator, part-time monster hunter. Post traumatized, stressed, disorderly.  Herbal remedies.  Good with his hands.  Army vet with military surplus connections.  Spiritual crisis.  Practical.  Searching.  Simmering.

Ted: Cop, unhappy, sexual addict, survivor, shrewd, divorce waiting to happen, pragmatist, or a romantic who doesn’t have the cojones to admit it.  On the verge of a breaking point in just about every aspect of his life, for better or worse.

Parth: Enigmatic, immortal, knowledge addict.  Intelligence is a given, wisdom is a question.  Man of contrasts: ascetic but a materialistic collector? Meditative but signs of OCD?  Claims of pacifism, hints of a darker violent nature?  Entire existence seems a balancing act or struggle.

Tweedledee & Tweedledum…you know Andro & Adrej
I’m going to break pattern here and just note that these are the least developed characters, not because they don’t have any background story, but because they don’t share any more information with my story’s narrator than they have to.  Their mother was killed by a vampire when they were young and they went into their uncle’s (Dvornik’s) tutelage as if entering a holy crusade.  They grew up obsessively keeping their occupation secret under the Soviet Empire until that kind of behavior is in their DNA, but I don’t go into any of that because John has no way of knowing it.

Seeing as Jon is working as a bartender when we first meet him. Do you have any bar stories for us? Anything involving a puddle, a man named Bubbles and a pool cue? No? Ok, then whatever you’ve got is good then.

I actually rarely drink.  It’s not really a moral judgment thing.  There’s a history of alcoholism in my family, and I saw a pretty ugly side of drinking close up and personal when I was growing up.

Then when I was older, someone I cared about got killed by a drunk driver.  On the flip side, I have spent some time in bars because I have questionable taste in friends, but I’ve usually been the person keeping people from getting in fights or driving drunk or calling their exes.  In college, I was sort of the patron saint of drunken idiots.

I have seen some pretty outrageous or shameful things, and some things that are funny in that comedy is tragedy+time sort of way, but most are confidences I’d be hesitant to betray or kind of pathetic behavior I wouldn’t want to glamorize.  And to be honest, the funniest things usually happened after the bar.  Sometimes my friends and I would do things like pretend to climb into an invisible car and all bend down as if we were sitting and go down the street making vrrrrm noises all the way to a Hardees while the guy in the front right position pretended to steer.  We’d go up through the drive through, and my friend pretended to roll down an invisible car window, etc.   The pseudo-game the people are playing in Rigby’s during the scene where Cahill and John talk is drawn from real life.

By the way I LOVED the way each chapter started with it’s own little title.  One of my favorites: “A Blonde and a Vampire Walk into a Bar…” What sort of pickup line should a man never say to a woman when attempting to hit on her at the bar?

Hi, I write fantasy novels.

Now that we’re all acquainted, I have to tell you I loved Charming but I and several others I know weren’t huge fans of the cover and tagline. I know that must sting to hear it – man up man! *sounds of sparking* Hey I adore the covers on the short stories! My opinion is that Jon soo should have been holding a wakazashi or something else am I right? That was my only real beef with the cover actually was that sword*

I didn’t actually have anything to do with the cover or tagline other than to approve them, so you’re not hurting my feelings.  On the other hand, I would be much more willing to criticize or make fun of my own work than I would that of someone else associated with the book, especially since I can’t draw more than stick figures and my original title was “Once Upon a Time Bomb” and I like “Charming” a lot more.

My favorite writer, Jim Munroe, was alienated by the whole publishing industry as a process and became an indie press author, and I was prepared to feel like a cog in a soulless machine, but I have to say, the people I’ve dealt with directly at Orbit have treated me well and seem like good people.

My editor, Devi Pillai, is being really patient and nice while we try to find a title that we both like for the sequel.  I’m the one being kind of a pain in her postscript at the moment.

Could you give us a few other taglines that you think would also fit with Charming?

Some names you live up to
Some names you live down
Some names you just try to survive.

In respects to covers and how they are targeted at a certain reader demographic depending on the book – what group of readers do you think your cover is targeted at?

I think the cover is meant to have crossover appeal to fans of both Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy genres, but that’s just speculation on my part.  Again, I’m not in Orbit’s marketing department.

Do you have beta-readers? I know some authors use their spouses or a writing group. How did you end up with the beta-readers that you have? What kind of feedback do you get from your beta-readers? Is it editing feedback, storyline feedback?

I had three beta-readers, mostly for content.  One of them primarily reads young adult fiction for fun, one of them reads high falutin’ Literature with a capital L, and one of them reads sci-fi, so they all had different perspectives.  Thank God the one who reads young adult literature read the book, because she complained the most about the amount of history and lore, and that’s where I’ve seen the most complaints in reviews. I mean, the last time I checked Goodreads, which was a while ago, the book had something like 94 percent of the readers saying they liked it or loved it, 4 star reviews being almost half, but the most common complaint was that sometimes my love of lore and mythology got out of hand.  And that’s after I edited *tons* of historical info out.

So I reluctantly took that into account while editing the sequel. Although I still have a hard time grasping that someone could read about a Malaysian death trap and not want to know how to make one or the historical context that created it.  But, you know, I’ve accepted it.  My reader who doesn’t read Urban Fantasy kept pushing me to make John more unlikable and flawed for the sake of realism. I try to make him kind of obnoxious because I’m playing *against* the whole Prince Charming type, but I also want him to conform to some of the archetypes below the surface level.  That’s a tough balancing act.  The Sci-Fi reader was too easy on me.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard it somewhere, that authors are their lead characters. What do you think about that? Just how much of you is John? *the sounds of something sparking and the smell of burning waft ominously toward you* Be honest now.

Well, John is probably an adolescent power fantasy of mine though I wouldn’t want to have his life.  He’s like Sherlock Holmes or Jason Bourne or Batman in the sense that he’s an introvert who hasn’t had much of a social life and has obsessively developed a wide arrange of skills to compensate.  One step away from being a sociopath really, although it’s an important step.  And he’s fighting really hard to retain his humanity.  He’s different from those characters in that he’s half dark and half snark.

As to me, I‘m no Chuck Norris.  I grew up an army brat and haven’t stayed in one place after college either, and I’ve always been interested in martial arts.  I’ve boxed, wrestled, kick boxed, done Aikido, Karate, Tae Kwando, Kung Fu, Judo, Chinese boxing, and mixed martial arts.  The thing is, I’ve always gone to whichever local dojo or studio I’ve liked regardless of what discipline it was because martial arts is a mix of good and bad like anything else.  There are a lot of awesome people involved, but there are also some macho power trippers and deluded flakes calling themselves sensei.  We’ve had two men who ran dojos arrested in my area in the last four years, just by way of example. So I’ve wound up starting over a lot rather than stick with one fighting style so I could move up the rankings.  The learning is more important than the earning if that makes any sense.

And when I’m not moving, my instructors are.  Yoga and martial arts often tend to attract nomads in my experience. So I have a year in a discipline here, two years there, three years there.  The whole Jack of all trades and master of none syndrome, which is useful when you want to know just enough about a lot of things to write about them, but it probably would have been more practical to stick with one fighting style in some ways.  I like to say that I know enough to get my butt kicked in many different martial arts.

I have a nomadic perspective like John, read a lot like John, tend to be very straight forward like John – probably more frank than I should be, honestly – and have a wiseass default setting like John.  On the other hand, I’m a skinny (cough cough) I mean, *ropily muscled* distance runner type.  I’m much more openly geeky in my enthusiasms. I don’t look like the guy on the cover of the book. And John can do a lot of things I can’t.

If you were a magical creature – because lets face it the big magic whammy is going to hit someday, rather than an asteroid – what would you end up as?

Well, I’d like to say a Bonnacon, a kind of Chinese bull that fights by firing flaming balls of dung at enemies out of its rear end while running away, just because I’m immature enough that jokes involving poop still amuse me.  But I don’t actually have any kind of flaming irritable bowel syndrome, and if I did, I wouldn’t admit it.  Or I like reading in a hot bath (so much so that a female friend says I’m transitioning), and there’s a ghost called an Albastor that lives and materializes in the steam of bath houses.  But the truth is, I’d probably be one of the cunning folk because folk lore fascinates me.   Always has, ever since I was a wee spriggan.

Now, onto the painful part – we are all about confessions *looks up at the blog name* So let’s have one of yours! Preferably something achingly embarrassing because I could use a good snort of laughter right about now. I would give you one of mine, but oh darn I’m fresh out, maybe you better give me two to make up for my inadequacies.

Okay, I really do have flaming irritable bowel syndrome.  No, just kidding!  I call take-backs!

Let’s see.  I guess the thing that I’m feeling kind of ashamed of or inadequate about right now is that I am a complete moron when it comes to social media.  I should be out there on the internet peddling and hawking and socializing and aggressively marketing my book all over the place in a way that’s organic and friendly, but in this regard I completely suck at life.

I told all of my friends and family NOT to go on Amazon or Goodreads and write reviews about how great my book is because there’s a part of me that just feels like that would suck.  And maybe it wouldn’t.  Maybe it would be practical or healthy, but I just can’t go there.  Whatever reactions my book generates, I want them to be honest and unbiased even if that’s bad marketing.  At the same time, that makes me feel like a bad team player for Orbit.

And you know, my very first review for Amazon, somebody who reviewed my novella “Charmed I’m Sure,” gave the novella one star and complained how it was just an opening joke about  a blonde and a vampire entering a bar that didn’t go anywhere and isn’t even a story.  The thing is, what’s being described isn’t “Charmed I’m Sure,” it’s the preview for my novel, Charming.  The person apparently thought the preview was a short story.  So I’m sitting here, realizing that people are going to avoid my story like the plague because it has one star on it, and I really wanted to have some friends post some five start reviews up there, just to even the playing ground, sort of, or do it myself, or post something responding to the reviewer.  But I didn’t.
Because I’m a social media idiot.

I’m just getting my web site set up *after* the book has been published and only because I have to.  I’m just getting my Facebook page set up because I’m one of the nine Americans who doesn’t currently have a Facebook page.  And I don’t know where this internet phobia of mine comes from, exactly.  I’m not criticizing people who are adept at utilizing social media.  I’m in awe of them.  I think it’s probably a necessary survival skill for the information age, and I’m having trouble evolving and adapting.

I wrote some blogs for Orbit half a year ago, and I finally looked them up the other day and found out that a lot of them were published on web sites months ago.  And back in September people were responding to the blogs as if expecting me to be a forum host or something, and I had no idea how to even log on to the sites, or if I would have to contact an administrator, or what.  I feel like I’ve been rude to people who were being very nice and sociable and supportive.

Social.  Media.  Idiot.

The day my book came out in book stores?  I should have thrown an online Facebook birthday party or something.  Instead, some friends and I went bowling and they made me a cake with one candle on it.

Probably not the kind of confession you had in mind, but it’s what I’m struggling with at the moment.
So thank you for helping me take some baby steps here.

Thanks so much Elliott for being a sport during this interrogation. Don’t be a wuss it wasn’t that bad!


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?

Charming (Pax Arcana #1)

Find: Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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8 Responses to “Interview: Elliott James on Being a Social Media Idiot & a Character Dossier”

  1. Suz Reads

    Loved this interview! I have never heard of this author or his books but after reading this, I can’t wait to read them! I’m a fan of fantasy books and think these books offer a new twist with creative characters! Thanks for sharing this info 🙂

  2. Tammy

    Great interview, although I think you were a little harsh about the book cover/tag line, Tabitha:) I don’t really have a problem with either one. Although since we’re talking about covers, I’m a bit confused about the short story covers and how completely opposite the style is from the novel. That to me was a strange marketing choice.

    I am a little bitter because I was turned down for this title on Edelweiss, but that doesn’t mean I won’t read it. Dying to, in fact!
    Tammy recently posted…Tammy’s Top Ten Scariest Book CoversMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I know I feel bad – I don’t think it was THAT bad. I just loved the book so much and was disappointed in the cover. Mostly with that broadsword he’s carrying because he doesn’t have a broadsword at all in the book its a wakazashi! Completely different look.

      Isn’t it still up on NetGalley? I swear I saw it there last week.

  3. Charleen

    I haven’t read it, but I really like the alternate tagline from the interview:

    Some names you live up to
    Some names you live down
    Some names you just try to survive

    The pick up line was good too.
    Charleen recently posted…Not-So-Random ReadsMy Profile