Wednesday, April 24, 2024

An Interview with Author James M. Jackson By E. B. Davis


What you don’t know can kill you.


The Happy Reaper, notorious for his chilling efficiency and “Results Guaranteed” calling card, escapes prison. Instead of killing Seamus McCree on sight, he offers a diabolical bargain with a heart-stopping proviso. To live, Seamus must help the Happy Reaper find and eliminate the upstart impostor who’s trashing the assassin’s reputation.

And Seamus must act quickly. Should the Happy Reaper’s bad heart give out or any harm come to him, the criminal underworld will wreak carnage on Seamus . . . and his loved ones.

Can Seamus outsmart the impostor and appease the Happy Reaper without staining his soul with blood? The only thing Seamus knows for sure is that time is running out for him and his family.


James M. Jackson does not write fluffy books. There is no cozy in Hijacked Legacy, his eighth Seamus McCree novel. My words are not complaints. He packs action into every page and his endings are spectacular to the point of cliffhanger—for which I now will have to wait for the next book to calm myself. Reader beware—binging snacks, drinking wine, or partaking of other substances may be necessary to cope with the tension Jim presents.


His mastery of technology (and what is technically possible in his setting—not that I can actually verify it) isn’t a surprise. The setting is a strong character and is one he is familiar with since he owns such a place in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan (U.P.), like his main character, Seamus. Jim’s plots remind me of the adage “torture your characters.” Poor Seamus.


Please welcome Jim to the flip-side of WWK.                           E. B. Davis


Can you give us a little summary of the last book so that readers understand that Seamus and his sister Colleen are in trouble if the DA wants them to be?


In Granite Oath, Seamus McCree’s granddaughter, Megan, employs a “pinky-swear” to get Seamus McCree to learn what happened to Megan’s best friend’s missing mother.


Seamus uncovers a tangled web of drugs, prostitution, and dummy corporations, and soon finds himself the target of killers. Anyone sane would wash his hands of the mess or turn it over to the police. But Seamus has given his word, his granite oath, to learn the truth . . . even if it kills him.


Well, it didn’t kill him or Colleen Carpetti, his half-sister, who was also involved in learning what happened. At least one bad guy was not so fortunate, leading the Iron County police to arrest Seamus and Colleen. The county prosecutor brought charges because of that death.


Your story is shown via six POVs. Do you map out your plot in detail before you write? Prior to this time, you’ve said you were a pantser—in this book though, how can that be possible?


I am 100% pantser. I start writing with an idea of what the story is about. The first draft allows me to discover what the story was really about. I rewrite until I have the story exactly as I think it should be (after input from others, of course.) If I recall correctly, in the first draft, I think I also had six POV characters, but in the third draft, one of them lost their POV, and another character gained their POV. I made those choices to make the story stronger.


This is a story with three sides: Seamus and his people, the Happy Reaper, and a group of Happy Reaper Imposters. There are two POVs from Seamus’s camp. Three POVs from the Imposters, and one—the Happy Reaper’s representing himself. What is significant about the numbers?


Mathematicians know six is a perfect number. Its factors 1,2, and 3 add up to itself. The next perfect number is twenty-eight (with factors 1,2,4,7, and 14). Twenty-eight were too many POVs.


Okay, so the real answer is I choose the minimum number of POVs possible for me to tell the story as best I can. This story required six; Granite Oath used only one, Seamus.


The Happy Reaper Imposters was started by a cop named Charlene with two buddies who are not cops—Zach has the computer skills of an IT professional. The other, Tyler, was a former military sniper, who was dishonorably discharged. Why would Charlene start such an assassin’s group?


Charlene is frustrated by the ability of rich and/or powerful people to get away with crimes that others cannot. She had an opportunity to correct one such wrong and, with her friends, took it.


Why do the Imposters have Seamus on their hit list? Why not Colleen, also?


In his memoir, the Happy Reaper holds Seamus responsible for his capture and life imprisonment, and states that he wants revenge. The Imposters decided since the Happy Reaper couldn’t do it, they would.


How does the Happy Reaper find out about the Imposters?


Even in prison, the Happy Reaper has wealth and contacts. His underworld friends let him know.


Seamus observes a trumpeter swan on his property. Wouldn’t they have already flown south for the winter? It’s October.


Our trumpeter swans wait until just before the lake freezes up to leave. That’s usually late October. One year during a sudden cold snap, we were afraid a pair would become iced in because they need a lot of open water to take off. They swam around to keep the water open and took off at first light. Even with that effort they had to break through some skim ice.


What does Squirrel! mean?


Squirrel! means a distraction. I had to look up its origin for this interview. Apparently, it comes from the 2009 movie Up, in which Dug, a dog, is easily distracted by a squirrel.


What is the KP index for the northern lights?


The KP index is a measure from 0 to 9 that describes the brightness and range of the aurora borealis (northern lights). The higher the number, the farther the aurora moves from the poles. Where Seamus and I live in the U.P., we can sometimes see northern lights with indices as low as 4, provided you have a clear view of the northern sky.


Seamus says he feels like the character Tommy, the deaf, dumb, and blind kid, from The Who’s rock opera? Why?


Seamus often has a jukebox playing in his brain. Sometimes he sings along. It’s never purely random and often provides psychological clues to his feelings. In the situation in which he channels The Who, he’s wandering around in the dark of night in a perilous situation with no clue what is happening.


Please remind us who Owen is? Why is he so protective?

Readers first met Owen in Cabin Fever (Seamus McCree #3) and again in Empty Promises (Seamus McCree #5). He’s a hardscrabble ancient Yooper (someone from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, da U.P., eh?) In Cabin Fever, he delivered weekly supplies to Seamus, became a friend, and has looked after Seamus ever since.


Niki is so far deep undercover only one man in the NSA knows how deep her cover is. Who authorized her position and her in it?


The backstory on that will have to wait until you can read Niki Undercover. I’m hopeful we’ll publish that novel later this year. It just went through a beta reader process and needs a few tweaks yet. Suffice it to say, Niki takes assignments for the US government no one else can. Her current cover is as a US Marshal, for which she has bona fide credentials. However, that causes real problems when traditional marshals come sniffing around to recapture the Happy Reaper.


Clem is the Happy Reaper’s insurance to get Seamus to work with him to get rid of the Imposters. But at some point “Clem” disappears. Why?


Dancing around plot points here: The Happy Reaper holds Clem over Seamus’s head to make sure Seamus doesn’t turn him back in to the authorities. While that threat remains throughout the story, it becomes less critical as other, more immediate, threats loom.


Patrick, Seamus’s techno-savvy son, and his former business partner, Lisa, come to Seamus’s camp to help ferret out who has infiltrated the Happy Reaper’s websites and Clem’s identity. Lisa is a pregnant General in the Army, CyberOps. Is there such a thing? What is a brevetted rank? How did Lisa end up in the Army?


The US Army Cyber Command is real. Here’s their website. To stay out of jail for youthful hacking exploits, Lisa agreed to join the Army as an officer and remain for six-years. She likes the work and re-upped her service. She’s done rather well for them, so they keep promoting her to more senior positions. To do that, however, requires leapfrogging the traditional promotion system, which requires minimum times in rank before being eligible for the next promotion.


That’s where brevet promotions apply. Brevet ranks give the individual temporary rank and pay, while keeping intact the permanent ranks that follow the more stringent time-in-service requirements for promotion. Currently, the US Army does not brevet officers to brigadier general or higher levels, so fictional Lisa is leading the way.


What kinds of tools do Lisa and Patrick use to help Seamus?


They use standard hacking tools, including taking over a botnet (internet-connected devices from around the world that you have infected and can control) to attack the Imposters’ websites to learn who they are.


But they also want to know what the Happy Reaper is up to and find out who Clem is. For that, they segregate the Happy Reaper’s computer onto a separate network, allowing them to monitor everything he does. They also erect a fake cell tower that monitors all cellular communications coming into or out of Seamus’s property.


But Seamus has a few tricks up his sleeve as well. He employs multiple trail cameras around his property to spot wildlife. He strategically relocates them to keep watch on roads and paths for unexpected visitors. Some of the cameras upload pictures to the cloud and alert his phone in real time. Others require him to pull the memory card and view the pictures with a card reader.


What is Telephone Time?


TT, as Telephone Time is locally known, is a talk show on WIKB in Iron River (you can stream it) that allows individuals to buy, sell or trade their items or look for stuff or services they need. Go into any store in the greater area while it’s on air, and that’s what you’ll hear. Seamus uses TT with unexpected consequences. I’ve never called the show, but I was the subject of a call. It’s a funny story at my expense. If someone wants to hear it, I can tell it in the comments.

What does a sandboxed browser mean?


Think of a sandbox you played in as a kid: four walls low enough to climb in with your pail and shovel, but high enough to keep the sand from killing the grass outside the sandbox.


The same concept applies to your browser: you bring an application or file into the sandbox to test it. If it is infected or has other malicious properties, the sandbox contains the damage, (which you can sanitize), not allowing it to cause mischief with the rest of your computer/network.


So, what is the story on Kingsford Charcoal?


Kingsford Charcoal was the go-to brand for grilling when I was growing up. Seamus is waiting for Colleen at the Ford Airport in Kingsford, Michigan and looks up its history.


I looked up the history of Kingsford charcoal on Wikipedia. I had recalled Henry Ford had come up with the charcoal idea to deal with the voluminous scrap generated by the sawmill he owned that produced wood products for Ford cars and trucks. Kingsford was the real estate guy (his wife was a Ford cousin) who bought the land and managed the manufacturing process. Got the city named after him. Now I knew.


What’s next for Seamus? Yes, this is a pointed question!


Um, did I mention I’m a pantser?


  1. Having had a chance to read an arc, I can attest that Hijacked Legacy is an excellent addition to the 7 preceding novels in this series. Good interview.

  2. Thanks to Elaine for once again creating interesting interview questions that are challenging and fun to answer.

  3. Okay, Jim, you MUST tell your TT story since you teased us about it.

    1. Love it! I also love his honesty.

    2. Exactly, and that for $2 he went out of his way to find a method of contacting me, relying on the community to get the message to me.

  4. Hope you have great sales with your latest Seamus book, Jim. And this wouldn't be a Jackson post without some number in it or without some explanation of how something works in nature. Ha!

    1. Thanks, Susan. You know the rubric that if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail? I guess for me I'm a nature lover and math guy and that's how I see the world.

  5. A cliffhanger, Jim! Really! Not saying a word, but if I were, I'd say--get writing the next book now!

  6. Love the Chainsaw John story and look forward to reading your latest.

  7. Congratulations on Hijacked Legacy. I was a lucky beta reader of this book and I loved every word.

    I have to ask, Jim, how did you learn hacking skills? Did you have a sideline you can talk about before you became a writer/publisher?

    1. Thanks, Kait. My hacking skills are completely theoretical. I learned what can be done from reading and talking with folks, but I don't have sufficiently in-depth knowledge or interest to do them myself.

  8. You are always an education, Jim. My hat is off to you and all your books.

    1. Molly is my always being an education similar to Chainsaw John knowing I was a college guy?