Russell R. James

headshot-q-island-tour-2015Since it’s Monday, I thought I’d invite Russell R. James into the Isolation Tank. What Monday has to do with it, I have no idea. Seemed a good enough excuse at the time.

Why writing?  What drew you to it? Why do you continue?

On long car trips, I used to tell my wife stories that I’d thought of. Eventually she tired of listening and said ‘You should write these down.” I told her that no one would ever pay to read something I’d written. She gives me a hard time about that all the time.

Writing started as a great creative outlet. Now it’s become a part of who I am. It’s part of every day. The people I’ve spoken with who are serious about the craft say that it is more compulsion than choice and I agree.

If you were freezing to death and the only thing left to burn were the books in your library, what 5 books would you burn last?  (And yes, everything else burnable has been burnt.)

I’d have to save books that were inscribed gifts. While the literary accomplishment between the covers is important, the handwritten note on the flyleaf is irreplaceable. Those books say something about who you were when you got them and something about the person who gave it to you. I just went through the shelves after painting a room and found books inscribed by my grandmother, others by other family members. Those were replaced with great reverence. I have a friend who had a catastrophic house fire. She misses those books the most out of everything she lost.

What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done (in life or in writing (your choice))?

Completing U.S. Army flight school was the biggest challenge I ever faced. It was a demanding combination of book learning and mastering a physical skill. And of course, not mastering the physical skill could get you killed, so that raised the stakes. Add in the transition from being a college student to being a military officer and the stress level went to eleven. That was a rough year.

What’s one word or phrase that drives you nuts?  Why?

“Literally” just literally drives me nuts. Half the time it is being used incorrectly. The other half the time it is unnecessary. Do you need to say “That literally blew my mind!” Unless you are talking about firearms, then, yes you do. Plus, it’s an adverb and they are universally evil. Unless I use them judiciously. Like “judiciously” and “universally.”

Do you have a favorite character you’ve created?  If so, who is it and why?

Wow. Do you ask parents to pick a favorite child, too?

In my last book, Q Island, I like Melanie Bailey, the single mother with an autistic son. They live on Long Island, NY and a virus that turns people into crazed killers makes the government drop a quarantine. Her son is infected, but is one of the only people who doesn’t get sick. In fact, his autism gets better. She realizes he might be the answer to two cures, if she can get him off the island. I like her because this parental imperative is the crux for her personal transition from the passive wife of a real jerk to a strong, resourceful, independent woman. Writing her character arc was very satisfying.

Creepiest place you’ve ever been?  Has it appeared in your fiction?  Why or Why  not?

We had a basement in a house I lived in as a kid that scared the hell out of me. It was always cold. The lighting was a single bulb in the center with a pull string, so at night when you turned it off, you had to race the darkness to get back to the wooden steps to upstairs. There was a second stairway that went up to the garage. The metal door there was always ice-cold and usually stuck closed. The concrete stairwell there seemed like an abyss and stepping down into it felt like walking off the edge of the world. My parents never used that stairway, even during winter snows.

Years later, after we moved, they told me that the previous owner had committed suicide in the garage by closing the door and turning on his car. He was found dead at the base of the stairway. His wife also died accidentally from fumes that had seeped into the house through the wall. I asked my parents why they never told us about that when we lived there. They said it would scare us.

Yeah, well, the ship had already sailed on that one.

What’s the best rejection you’ve ever received?

I got a personal rejection from a major Hollywood studio for Q Island only because a similar themed work was already in production. That was a nice near-miss. I’ve also had a few rejections where editors or agents love the style but the story has too narrow a market, and they ask to see the next thing I write.

How did you get that scar?

Prior relationship. The remaining damage is cosmetic and the heart still beats fine though. Love heals all.

What song would precede your entrance into a room if we all had personal soundtracks?

Vader’s Theme from Star Wars if I’m in a bad mood, the Christopher Reeves Superman theme if I’m in a good one.

Promote yourself and/or your writing

The novels I write are more paranormal thrillers than slash-‘em-up horror. There are six out there and you can shop between zombies, witches, demons, sorcery, all sorts of genre high points. I also have several short story collections, two horror/Twilight Zone type, and several sci-fi and time travel. Most are charity benefits for Doctors Without Borders. Everything is on Amazon, the novels are everywhere.

Say hi on Facebook

Or visit the rarely up-to-date website

Final thoughts before you run screaming for your life?

I’ll be at a bunch of conventions over the next year:

Drop by and say hello!

Mr. James, it was very kind of you to visit the tank. While I am avoiding Florida in the foreseeable future (don’t worry, not your fault), I will say hello at next year’s Scares That Care. Follow the spastic kitten out through the corridors. Perhaps he will lead the way to safety, or perhaps he’ll lead you into crevices where you cannot follow. Maybe you should take some chalk to mark your way…and don’t go into the basement.