Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for January include: (1/5) Jennifer J. Chow, (1/12) Amy Pershing, (1/19) Heather Weidner, (1/26) Marilyn Levinson.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

James M. Jackson Interview

In this prequel to Bad Policy and Cabin Fever, Seamus McCree escapes his desk-bound duties as a financial crimes investigator and takes the field to combat the evil behind two heinous crimes.

In his first official field assignment, Seamus breathes life into a moribund investigation
of the botulism killings of thirty-eight union retirees at their annual Memorial Day
picnic outside Chillicothe, OH.

Seamus also worms his way into the Cincinnati Police Department's murder investigation of a church friend's fiancé and determines police have developed neither suspect nor motive and are speculating the hit may have been the mistake of a dyslexic killer.

In each case, Seamus uncovers new, disturbing information of financial chicanery and in the process makes himself and his son targets of those who have already killed to keep their secrets.

 Jim Jackson’s main character, Seamus McCree, investigates crime or potential crime in the financial realm. The results of Seamus’s analysis reveal motive for murder. Jim put Ant Farm in a drawer for thirteen years while he improved his writing skills. This act of discretion amazed me because the book captured my attention, grounded his series, and introduced me to characters that I’d met before but from whom I felt alienated. In Ant Farm, those characters come alive.    

I have to admit, when you start reading Jim’s series, I recommend reading Ant Farm first. It sets the stage for Bad Policy and Cabin Fever. The cases presented in this book ricocheted, catapulting the action and kept the plot moving. It’s my personal favorite so far.   

Please welcome Jim Jackson as author, not blogger, to WWK.                                                                                                                                                 E. B. Davis

Why present a prequel to your readers, Jim, or was that novel lying in the drawer just bugging you?

For years I had referred to Ant Farm as my practice novel. I actually abandoned it in 2006. I knew many series authors used their first novel as a marketing tool. Not having that flexibility because of my traditional publishing contracts, I wondered if Ant Farms’s basic story had legs. It did, but needed a total rewrite to reflect my much-improved writing skills.

However, I would not publish it unless it was at least as good as Bad Policy and Cabin Fever. Early readers agreed with your assessment that it passes that test.

Paddy and Seamus are often at odds. It’s not surprising given that Paddy is a younger, college-age student, but they lie to each other at times by omission. Why, and why doesn’t Seamus trust Paddy?

Seamus is once burned, twice shy. When Paddy was in high school, he hacked a defense department computer system and published some embarrassing expense reports. The FBI did not look kindly on that escapade. Paddy cooperated and showed them how he accessed the data. They threatened to put him away if they caught him again. Seamus is in some ways an overprotective parent, and in Ant Farm Paddy is still working to be independent.

When a younger member of Seamus’s church choir asks him to help solve her fiancé’s killer, Seamus doesn’t want to take the case, but he does. Why?

Seamus knows he is not a licensed investigator, but he loves to solve problems—especially if other people can’t. And he likes to help people. The combination in this case is too much to resist once he figures out how to work under the auspices of the Cincinnati police department.

CIG, Seamus’s employer, is hired to investigate the botulism deaths of twenty-eight people at a company picnic. Why does the Ross County sheriff’s department suspect anything other than accidental death?

They are sure the botulism deaths are murders because the only foods infected were those at one particular Labor Day picnic, even though food used at other picnics had been prepared at the same time and place. What they can’t figure out is the motive. They ask Criminal Investigations Group (CIG) to investigate the company’s financials to see if there is anything suspicious.

Lt. Hastings and Detective Bear are wonderful secondary characters. They are in comparable positions, but the large, urban Cincinnati police department employs Hastings, whereas Bear is a detective in the smaller, more rural Ross County Sheriff’s department. While Hastings not only welcomes Seamus’s help, she also gets a contract for his company. Bear thinks of Seamus’s involvement as interfering even though his sheriff requested help. Tell our readers about these characters and why they have such different approaches?  

I love creating interesting secondary characters. Lt. Hastings is the first female African American to head the Cincinnati homicide division. Bear is a local sports hero come home. Hastings is overworked, understaffed, and has had success with Seamus and CIG on a previous case. She’s not particularly interested in bureaucracy; if someone can help her out, she’s all for it.

Bear works for a small county sheriff’s department beset by a huge murder investigation. The sheriff (a politician) crams CIG and Seamus down Bear’s throat. He takes it as criticism of his abilities. I doubt any of us would be too happy under those circumstances, but to Bear’s credit after Seamus gives him an out, he admits he could use help understanding who might have financially benefited from the murders.

In previous books, Seamus and Abigail have a romantic relationship. You introduce her in Ant Farm, explaining how the two came together. From the start, there is mutual attraction, but then Seamus also has a flirtatious relationship with Lt. Hastings. Is Seamus a typical middle-age divorced male on the prowl?

Seamus was divorced when Paddy was young and for years shied away from any permanent entanglements. He didn’t want to do anything that jeopardized taking care of Paddy. (I think many real women have made similar choices.) Paddy is now in college. Seamus was interested in Hastings when they first met (a bit before Ant Farm), but Hastings was hooked up with a Cincinnati Reds baseball player. She’s available now and starts to return the interest. Seamus is not sure how to react.

He has an active libido, but he’s not really on the prowl. He knows something major is missing in his life; he’d like to have a lasting relationship, but he’s not sure how to go about it.

Your motive for murder is totally reprehensible and amoral. A slap on the face. Explain the annuity balance sheets and stock price affects for our readers. Was your case based on any true-crime?

I’ll answer the second question first. I made this all up. However, I am aware of people who have manipulated pensioner databases for criminal purposes.

If you don’t like spoilers and have a good memory, skip the rest of this answer.

Annuities are promises to pay a certain amount each (usually) month for as long as the annuitant lives. There may be death benefits, but let’s ignore those. If a private employer or insurance company is on the hook for paying your annuity, they have a financial incentive to kill you. If you die prematurely they don’t have to pay you any more money. As a corporation, that gain adds to their profit. Increased profit generates increased stock prices. In this case, the folks who sell annuities are insurance companies. Therefore, if an insurance company killed its annuitants, it would reap additional profits, and its stock would go up.

Seamus’s life is threatened many times in Ant Farm. Most of the book he is trying to heal from a car accident, which wasn’t really an accident. His shoes, tires, SUV are destroyed. He picks up the tab for several airfares and pays out of pocket for many items while on the case. Is he rich or does he have a large expense account?

Seamus earned a lot of money when he worked on Wall Street as a stock analyst. Not the huge sums investment bankers earn now, but still enough. He quit when his bosses changed one of his reports because it was negative about a client of his employer. While not super-rich, he doesn't have to worry about money and can afford to accept financial expenses that regular people cannot.

A contract killer has been employed to execute Seamus. Your book is mainly written in first person. However, you chose to acquaint the reader with the professional hit man by writing his chapters in an anonymous third person. Why? What compelled you to write him into the story in this personal way?

I included the Happy Reaper’s perspective for two reasons. Readers know things Seamus does not, and that makes them worry about what will happen. Second, Seamus and the Happy Reaper have a lot in common, which suggests the question whether Seamus could go over to the “dark side.”

I couldn’t help but think of Rand, Seamus’s boss at CIG, as sort of a John Bosley in Charlie’s Angels. He’s not a hands on sort of guy but calls the shots from over the phone. Seamus likes to make his own decisions, which defy Rand’s decisions many times. Why doesn’t he fire Seamus?

Funny you should notice that similarity, E.B, because I had it in mind when I created Rand. We never see him, yet he has a presence. I think of Rand as something of a father figure. He is so prim and proper, yet he cares deeply for his employees—as evidenced by his behavior toward Seamus. He gave Seamus a meaningful task (to create the financial crimes group for CIG) when Seamus left Wall Street in a huff.

I suspect Rand tears his hair out when Seamus veers off the path he wants him to travel. Like a good parent he gives Seamus room to grow, but then worries he has provided too much space so Seamus will come to harm. Eventually Rand and Seamus will either have to agree on limitations or Seamus and CIG will need to part company. Stay tuned.

Would you like to explain the symbolism of your title, or would you rather leave that up to reader interpretation?

Seamus and Paddy are talking and Seamus describes what he does as a financial crimes consultant in terms of having an ant farm:

“The financial records are like the glass walls: they make everything transparent. Any business activity leaves accounting trails. You can see where people are currently working, where they worked in the past. It shows traces of abandoned work where the ant trails are partially caved-in. You can anticipate where new trails are headed, even before the ants get there.”

“And the ants don’t know you’re watching them,” Paddy added.

You leave the relationship between the contract killer and Seamus open. Will readers meet Mr. “Guaranteed Results” again?

I know the basic plot of the “E” novel (Empty Promises), which will take place in the Cabin Fever environs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (this time in warmer weather), and “F” (not titled), which revolves around Boston. I don’t want to give away how, but the Happy Reaper and Seamus will meet and compete in that story.

Did you regret that your first book in the series ended up coming third in sequence but not time?

If you alphabetically line my books on a shelf you’ll read them in Seamus order rather than publication order. Fortunately, each book is not only part of the series, but a standalone novel. Readers can enter the series through any book and go back and forward in time.

What’s next for Seamus McCree, Jim?

I am working on the (I hope) last rewrite before submitting Doubtful Relations to my publisher. Seamus’s ex-wife’s husband goes missing and the whole extended family gets involved searching for answers. I have the premises for two more sketched in my mind.

In Empty Promises Seamus stumbles over the body of a guy who works for an organization that is planning an open pit mine near Seamus’s home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That novel will address mining and drug issues in the U.P.

In the “F” novel, Seamus’s “Uncle” Mike is murdered. Seamus is his executor, as he settles the estate he uncovers unexpected assets and history relating to his family (naturally, while trying to find the murderer).

I’m having a great time writing about Seamus and friends. Of course I can continue only if people enjoy reading what I write. I’m so glad you liked Ant Farm¸ E.B, and thanks for the great questions.

~ Jim


Warren Bull said...

My first novel was so messy that I have been unable to salvage anything from it. Even at the beginning of your writing career you wrote pretty well. I'm impressed.

Jim Jackson said...

Warren, I forget exactly how many drafts that book went through before it went into a bottom drawer -- a dozen? Some people learn to write using multiple novels before they are good enough to be published. I kept working over the same story.

~ Jim

KM Rockwood said...

Fascinating, Jim.

Your perseverance has paid off. I've read your other books, and now I'll have to add Ant Farm to my TBR list.

You make me wonder if I should take a look at the writing I have stashed away over the years & see if it can be reworked.

Gloria Alden said...

I can't wait to read ANT FARM when it comes out in print, Jim. It's kind of ironic that my blog tomorrow will be about ants.

I have a question for you, Jim. I have an annuity and get a monthly payment from it depending on my balance which stays pretty much the same. From what you said, will my kids not get that amount still in there when I die? You made it sound like those in charge of the annuity want people to die.

Jim Jackson said...

KM -- One thing about reading old writing: you quickly realize how much better you now are!

Of course, if I wait ten years after my first published book, will I say the same thing (actually I hope so).

~ Jim

Jim Jackson said...


No legal advice being provided with my answer. If your annuity is for your lifetime only, then when you die it dies.

However, if the annuity has a death benefit (and there are a gazillion different kinds) then some or all of the remaining value of your annuity will continue to your beneficiaries. Sometimes this is by a lump sum payment; sometimes by a continuation of the annuity for a specific time (or remaining years since it was issued) and sometimes it is a percentage of what you were receiving.

I could tell what your benefits are if I had the contract, but without that I have no idea which camp your annuity is in.

The annuity documentation should be clear on the issue (in fact it is probably on the declarations page often stapled to the front of the actual annuity or at least in the first few pages).

I hope that helps at least a little.

~ Jim

Kara Cerise said...

Terrific interview! I'm impressed that you put your book away for thirteen years while you worked on your writing skills, Jim.

I thought it was clever how you (Seamus) described what a financial crimes consultant does in terms of an ant farm.

Jim Jackson said...

Kara -- The thirteen years was from inception to publication. The actual mothball period was less than half of that -- so you don't need to be nearly as impressed!

Seamus and Paddy are the clever ones; I am merely their scribe.

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

Glad that you're bringing Paddy and Seamus back - I loved them in Cabin Fever. Your UP setting and wonderful writing about the natural world were just a couple of the pleasures of that book.

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks Shari.

Ant Farm and the next one (Doubtful Relations) are staged outside of the U.P. The following one, Empty Promises, will bring us back to the U.P., but in better weather than Cabin Fever.

~ Jim

Ricky Bush said...

Great interview with Jim, E.B. and great interview with E.B., Jim. Glad that you unshelfed the prequel and put it on the shelf.

carla said...

I think going through all those drafts is the only way to learn to write a novel. Aren't we all, essentially, self-taught?

E. B. Davis said...

I thought Ant Farm was the best of all Jim's books. Not that I didn't like the others, but this one had so much depth. I understood and liked the characters. The tension level was great. I'm not sure of the difference in this book, but I think that Jim's steadfastness in learning his craft and improving--shows. It's proof that releasing a book before its time doesn't work. He persevered and produced the best. You're a terrific teacher, Jim. I'm watching!

Jim Jackson said...

EB -- I'm blushing.

~ Jim