If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Interview with James Montgomery Jackson

After ten labored steps, I turned around to block the wind and
wipe the snow from my goggles. The shore, a scant twenty-five
feet away, was almost invisible. I could picture the headline in the  Iron
County Reporter: “Snowmobiler Finds ‘Tourist’ Frozen on Shank Lake.”
I retreated to the shoreline and followed it around toward my place.
James M. Jackson
Cabin Fever

Although James Montgomery Jackson blogs for Writers Who Kill, when his first novel Bad Policy came out, I interviewed his main character, Seamus McCree, a private financial  investigator. Yesterday, Barking Rain Press released Jim’s second Seamus McCree novel, Cabin Fever. This time I wanted to interview Jim, not Seamus, because I read this book as one of Jim’s beta readers and wanted to talk with him about the book and his writing. Jim characterizes Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but he set the timing during dead—cold—winter, a killer onto itself. We’ll start with the first character he introduces, the U.P.                                           E. B. Davis   

In Bad Policy, Seamus’s Cincinnati home is destroyed. He decides to overwinter at a cabin he owns in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Midway through the winter his significant other, Abigail, left. I know Jan (Jim’s S.O.) and you overwintered in the U.P. one winter. You’re both still alive. Neither of you died from weather exposure, isolation, boredom, or gunshot wounds. Would you do it again?

We spent the 2006-7 winter at our U.P. camp. In mid-February that winter Jan looked out at a flock of 100+ pine grosbeaks eating sunflower seed on our deck, beyond to the pristine snow unsullied by salt and pollution, the sun shining in an azure sky and asked, “So, what season did we think we didn’t want to be up here?” With that encouragement I figured we would repeat our one-time experiment maybe every fourth or fifth year—at least until we became too feeble to risk it.

However, Mr. Unintended Consequences made a strategic error. I suggested we change our “southern” residence from the gray, bleak, useless winters of Cincinnati (where there is not enough snow and cold to do winter things and too much cold and ice to do anything else) to the lovely, (relatively) warm winters of Savannah. Jan agreed and now no longer has any interest in staying up north past October.

Do you cross-country, downhill ski or snow mobile?

I love to cross-country ski. It’s great exercise and a fine way to check out what wildlife has been around since the last snow. It can be a Zen-like experience when you get into a good rhythm, but that usually requires maintained trails rather than the backwoods skiing I like best.

I injured my knees playing soccer in college, and the doctor told me I was free to downhill ski if I wanted to try it out some weekend. However, he suggested I call him before I went. That way he could pre-schedule my surgery for the following Monday. Even my teenager know-everything-thank-you-very-much brain got that message.

Snowmobiles are noisy; I prefer quieter activities and ways to travel through the country.

The setting encumbers Seamus, but it also assists him. Have you ever written setting as character before Cabin Fever?

Until your question, I never actually considered winter as a character in Cabin Fever. I thought of it as a metaphor for Seamus’s internal condition. He is emotionally frozen as the story opens. By the conclusion he has thawed, but he’s still an emotional mess—just like mud season. With time and sunshine he can heal, but that’s for later books in the series.

When Seamus finds a naked woman suffering from frostbite on his cabin’s front porch, he eventually gets help, but Iron County Deputy, Sgt. Lon Bartelle suspects city-slicker Seamus may have harmed the woman. The woman’s skin shows evidence of rope burns. Did you interview law enforcement officials in the U.P.?

I spent a wonderful afternoon on our deck talking with Sgt. Wade Cross of the Iron County Sheriff’s Office. I have to say he was appalled at the level of mayhem that I planned to (fictionally) commit in the county. I also spent a couple of hours with D/Sgt. Jay M. Peterson of the Michigan State Police in the crime lab in Marquette, Michigan. Among other things, he’s their fingerprint expert and gave me a tour of the lab. They helped me understand what roles, based on the crime and their expertise, time and available material, the county and state police would play.

Iron County’s Sheriff, Mark Valesano, gave me a tour of the county jail. I showed up one day,
talked with the admin and then waited for fifteen or twenty minutes. Turns out they were checking me out to make sure I wasn’t related to anyone housed in the jail, and that I was in fact a writer.

I also spent time in the Iron County Courthouse watching the trials. The Clerk of the Court and Presiding Judge both spent time helping me understand how things work in a county court.

It was all great background, but since Cabin Fever isn’t a police procedural or legal thriller, I took shortcuts to keep the story moving.

What’s a Yooper?

A Yooper is someone who hails from the U.P., eh? For a bonus answer, do you know what Yoopers call people who live in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan (also known as the Mitten)?

I’ll bite, what?

We call them trolls because they live below the bridge. (The Mackinac Bridge is the world’s fifth longest suspension bridge and connects the Lower and Upper Michigan Peninsulas.) We like being called Yoopers; for some reason that I just can’t quite understand, they’re not so fond of being referred to as trolls.

Seamus tells Bartelle that Abigail left because she couldn’t stand the isolation. Seamus remained because he had some issues to work out. Was it guilt due to his last escapade in Bad Policy, which resulted in Abigail sustaining severe injuries, or was it about him?  

Seamus doesn’t realize that he’s suffering from a midlife crisis. He quit Wall Street where he was outstanding but didn’t fit the culture, and landed a job to create the Financial Crimes Unit for Criminal Investigations Group. That done; CIG still uses him as a Financial Crimes Consultant, but he’s an alpha type guy and he’s bored. His son is well launched and Seamus doesn’t know what he should do with the rest of his life. Nor does he realize the depth of his anger issues (something you pointed out to him when you interviewed him last year, which he tried to brush off).

Seamus goes inside himself to find answers. That behavior shuts others out and causes misunderstandings—as becomes clear later on in Cabin Fever.

Your secondary characters are memorable, like, jack-of-all-trades eighty-two-year-old Owen. Is there someone you modeled him after?

Thank you. I have a lot of fun writing secondary characters. Owen is an amalgamation of Yooper traits. He wouldn’t live anywhere else if you paid him. He has done about every job one can do in the U.P. to make ends meet and, despite his considerable skills, he just scrapes by. If someone is in need, he’ll drop everything to assist them, but he’s an independent cuss who doesn’t want anyone telling him what he can and can’t do. He’s the Northwoods version of the Southern storyteller. I just love listening to the Owens of the world talk of times past or what happened earlier that morning.

Do you believe that power corrupts?

With very few exceptions (probably just you and me) we humans are flawed when dealing from positions of power. As people rise in a power structure they think their brains, their skill, and their otherwise being special got them there. Once we set ourselves up as special, it’s a short step to deciding we know better than others. From there a quick downhill roll finds us justifying our actions as “for the greater good” or “legal.”

The emphasis in the West on individual exceptionalism certainly contributes to this thinking. I’m not a sufficient sociologist to know if it is only Western Culture that sets up this construct or it crosses cultures. Once our justifications start, they don’t end well. I think it is true in government, business, churches, family.

Seamus became disgusted with Wall Street, but he has his own flaws when it comes to making decisions without consulting others and about what corners he chooses to cut to accomplish what he thinks must be done.

Some authors write short stories as promotion for their series. Do you plan to write more short stories featuring Seamus?

The one short story that featured Seamus, “Accidents Happen,” appeared in the first Guppy anthology, Fish Tales. I wrote another featuring Abigail, but it hasn’t found a home. It would be great marketing if I could write more Seamus shorts. My problem is that I think of him over a long arc. I know his past; I know what’s going on in his life in Doubtful Relations and I even have a good feel for trauma I have in store for him in the book after that. (I don’t yet have an “E” title in mind.)

Short stories I want to write often relate to a new shiny interest I want to explore. I don’t naturally gravitate to thinking about Seamus side stories that illustrate his character or fill in missing pieces of his history.

What’s next for Seamus in your third novel, Doubtful Relations, a work-in-progress?

Albert Cunningham III, the husband of Seamus’s ex-wife (Paddy’s mother) goes missing. The only thing the ex- claims to know is that someone is using his ATM card in the Savannah area. The police don’t consider it a missing person case because of the cash card transactions, so the extended family must determine what is going on.

The whole family becomes involved: Seamus, his ex-, Paddy and his girlfriend Cindy Nelson, and Seamus’s mother, and Al’s son. Each one has a support cast and not everyone is on the same page. As with all of my novels, relationships are a key theme, and in this case some of them are, let’s say, doubtful.

Have you planned a second series?

I’ve considered spinning off Abigail into her own series. She’s strong enough and interesting enough to be a series character, but I haven’t taken that idea past something to think about as I jog.

I do want to do a novel (probably trilogy) set in the near future that explores what happens when government no longer functions and corporations are the only entities that can get things done. I started the first book, wrote 40,000+ words, and realized I had started in the wrong place and some characters needed to change. That is one of the risks of being a pantser rather than plotter. I hope to get back to it once I turn Doubtful Relations in to the publisher.

Is the aurora borealis visible from Iron County, Michigan?

You betcha, but it’s more readily visible during winter than summer. We’re currently near the peak in solar activity cycle so right now there are many sightings. For anyone interested, there’s a great website for finding out in which parts of the country the aurora is present. They allow you to sign up for alerts if you are interested. http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast

I’ve praised you in person for what a great job you do in your interviews. Readers, don’t you agree that Elaine has a special talent for this? Thanks for having me and spotlighting Cabin Fever.

You can order a signed copy of Cabin Fever from Jim's website, or buy the books from your favorite retailer (especially through your local indie store!). Thanks for the interview, Jim. I've enjoyed your books and can't wait for Doubtful Relations.


Warren Bull said...

It sounds like an interesting plot and setting. Thanks for sharing it with us. Also thanks for blogging at WWK.

Ricky Bush said...

Most excellent interview. I guess Jim would be considered a part time "Yooper". Or "Yooper In Residence". Got it on my Kindle. Just need to wrap up what I'm reading and dig in to it.

Jim Jackson said...

Ricky - thanks for the purchase. Hope you enjoy.

~ JIm

KM Rockwood said...

I read Cabin Fever, and it's a book I just couldn't put down. I read on in increasing dismay and horror as Jim wove his intricate, but totally believable, plot.

I've now got Bad Policy on my Kindle, next on my TBR list.

E. B. Davis said...

I enjoyed being one of Jim's beta readers. So much, that I keep his original script and took a quote that I liked. Unfortunately, my favorite quote was edited by his publisher and eliminated from the script. Wish that hadn't happened. I changed the beginning quote so readers wouldn't hunt for missing narrative. Oh well, the penalty writers pay. Thanks for the interview, Jim.

Jim Jackson said...

KM - so glad you enjoyed Cabin Fever. I hope your find Bad Policy to your liking as well.

~ Jim

Jim Jackson said...

EB -- the editing process is so interesting to me -- What changes and why.

I liked the snippet you had chosen, but in the end it wasn't quite right for the scene.

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

Terrific interview, Jim and EB. I was also lucky enough to read an ARC and I must say, Jim, the UP and winter are true characters in the book. And your nature writing is superb - I felt like I was right there with Seamus!

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks Shari -- Cabin Fever is the first time I ever used weather to such an extent, but the story called for it and I'm so glad people think it works so well.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Great interview, Jim and Elaine. I finished Cabin Fever this week and it had me in suspense and worry throughout. My mouth fell open when I realized something about a certain character that I didn't expect, but I won't reveal that here. As I mentioned to Jim earlier, I lost a lot of sleep reading this book because I couldn't stop reading. As for the mud season in the UP, I'm going through that here right now. Anyway, I highly recommend this book for anyone who hasn't read it yet.

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks for the kind words Gloria. Yes, mud season isn't limited to the U.P. - especially in a hard winter like this one. Usually now is the time for it at my place, but we're still frozen with lots of snow still on the ground. Soon though...

Shari Randall said...

I know what you mean about that "certain character" Gloria! Definitely a "whoa!" moment.

Kara Cerise said...

Wonderful interview, Jim and EB. I have Cabin Fever in front of me and I'm ready to read. Bad Policy kept me reading late into the night because I had to find out what happened next. I anticipate Cabin Fever to be as absorbing and I won't be able to put it down.

Sarah Henning said...

Big congrats, Jim!

Jim Jackson said...

Kara -- I'm thinking of linking up with one of those energy drinks--you know a promotion buy Cabin Fever and get 50% off CaffeineUnlimited so you can function the next day after staying up all night reading.

LOL ~ Jim

Ice Charades said...

Congrats on the new book. Loved your short "Homework" by the way.