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Author Interview: James L. Weaver

October 1, 2017

This is the eleventh interview in my series of Author Interviews.

Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. Enjoy reading.

Today I am chatting with James L. Weaver – Author of Poor Boy Road and Ares Road

It’s a little creepy out here, surrounded by trees that rattle in the wind. My head snaps up at the bang in the distance. Was that a gunshot? Maybe from a rifle. Sheesh… The road, if you can call it that is nothing but dirt beneath my trainers. How long until I find this place.

Through the brush and waning sunlight I spy the boarded up windows in the distance. Eeeep.

 

Hi James, Thank you for chatting with me today.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself.

Unfortunately, I’m not a full-time writer…yet. I work for Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer in the role of a corporate safety director. I do a lot of technical procedure writing (not nearly as fun as fiction), safety metrics and training development. Much to the chagrin of my peers, I tend to get heavy handed editing their technical programs which I’m sure drives them crazy.

Hahaha!

In my free time, I’m either writing the next Jake Caldwell book, or spending time with my wife and two kids. I’ve been married for twenty years now and have a daughter who is a senior and a son who is in middle school. Still a lot of sporting events we’re bouncing around to. When I’m not doing those things, I’m working out or binge watching a series. I just finished Game of Thrones and have moved onto Shameless. Both are fantastic shows!

Oh I love a good marathon watching session! Now, tell me about your writing…

What age were you when you started?

The first real story I remember writing was in my sophomore year of high school in an English class. It was a fantasy story about a knight fighting some monster and it was absolutely horrible. I think I still have it in a box in the basement. Then in college I took a writing class as an elective and had this awesome instructor who let me know that I had some measure of talent I should really cultivate. I was an engineering major and didn’t do anything with it, but I remembered Nina Hajda and would eventually connect with her years later to have her read my first novel attempt.

Wow, what a great story.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was always a big reader. Stephen King was, and still is, one of my favorite authors and I always thought I would like to write like him. Then, in my early twenties, I read a horror book by a New York Times bestselling author (who shall remain nameless) and I honestly thought the book was one of the biggest pieces of shit I’d ever read. I said to myself, “I could do better than this guy” and banged out my first real attempt at writing. It was a cop/serial killer book called Dark Aura. I shopped it around to a number of agents, but gave up after my home office wall was coated with them like a wallpaper of failure. I found the manuscript a few years ago and as I read through it, agents were right to reject it! It was decent story, though lacking a bit in originality and the quality of writing just wasn’t good enough. I dabbled with three or four screenplays and a handful of novel starts that never blossomed into anything. Years later, I ended up writing another book called Jack & Diane that I eventually self-published and sold a decent amount of copies. I still love that story, though I’ve gotten much better as a writer since then. I think seeing Jack & Diane in my hands, something I could pass out (or even sell) was when I made the decision that I really wanted to pursue a writing career.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

How far back do you want to go? As a little kid, I always loved the Dr. Seuss story about the Star-Bellied Sneetches (which is still VERY applicable in today’s world). Jumping forward into my teens to the first book that blew my socks off, I’d have to go with The Shining by Stephen King. I still remember reading the infamous bathtub scene on the bus going to school and feeling scared! It blew my mind that I could actually feel that tension and fear while riding a bus full of screaming kids at seven in the morning.

Yes, books really can get the heart pumping, can’t they? Favorite book as an adult and why?

Oooh, that’s a really tough one…so many good ones. The Stand or It by Stephen King would rate up there – such well-written epics. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – brilliantly written, funny, touching, everything you want in a book. Anything by John Hart, John Sandford or Lee Child I will immediately pick up and devour.

Tell me a bit about your novels? Let’s start with Poor Boy Road. Where did you get the idea?

The best description I can use to describe my novels actually comes from a great review I received. The review called it “Redneck Noir”.  Loved that description. The idea for Poor Boy Road started with an idea I had for a character. I didn’t want to do a cop, but I wanted someone who fought for the good guys, someone with a strong moral compass who wasn’t afraid to break a few rules and bones if it was for the right cause. I had this amorphous blob of a man forming in my head for months before the details started penciling themselves in. A leg breaker for the mob…a rough childhood that led him down the path of violence…a desire to break out of the life that started haunting his dreams.  Once I had the basic character of Jake Caldwell down, I just needed the right setting to put him in.  When I went to Warsaw, Missouri in the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks for my grandmother’s funeral, the plotline for Poor Boy Road weaved itself in the fifteen-minute drive from the cemetery back to my dad’s house.

The basic plot is Jake is a leg breaker for the Kansas City mob who wants out. His boss gives him a choice – take out a competitor drug lord in his hometown and Jake can go free, or take a dirt nap. At the same time, his sister calls to tell him the alcoholic, abusive father who Jake hasn’t seen for sixteen years is dying and she needs Jake’s help. Add in a kidnapped teenage daughter of his childhood sweetheart, a charismatic hulk of a county sheriff and some dirtball small-town criminals and there’s plenty of action.

Redneck Noir. I love that. I think that is very accurate. Tell me about Jake Caldwell? Is he modeled off anyone?

Jake isn’t really modeled after anyone in particular, but rather an amalgamation of traits I found appealing in a character. He’s a tough man who came to realize the path of violence he was on was turning him into something he didn’t want to be – namely his alcoholic, abusive father. He’s spent his life running from the ghosts of his past and wants to turn the corner and become worthy of a better life. He’s physically imposing, knows how to fight and is supremely confident of his ability to bash his way out of most situations. One of my favorite lines of Jake’s is “I’d better scare you or you’re a lot dumber than you look.” But, behind that tough facade, there really is a good, but insecure heart. He wants the good things including the only woman he ever really loved, but simultaneously worries he’s not good enough for her and that his past will put her in danger, which (spoiler alert) it does. I find him to be an extremely likeable character.

Agreed. I found the scenes with his dad quite emotional. I love Bear… Where did he come from?

Oh man, I love Bear too. In my original outline for Poor Boy Road, Bear was going to turn out to be the bad guy, but the more I wrote him, the more I fell in love with the character and I just couldn’t turn him to the dark side. For those who haven’t read the books, he’s the Benton County Sheriff and Jake’s best friend growing up.  He is such a smart ass and probably reflects more of me than any other character in the series. I’ve actually laughed out loud a few times as I’m writing and my wife will ask me what’s so funny. When I reply, “Oh, something Bear just said”, she gives me a funny look like I’m crazy. My favorite parts of the books are the interactions between Jake and Bear. They have a great chemistry. I wanted a partner for Jake who shared his desire for justice who wasn’t afraid to not just bend the law, but break it if the ends justify the means. Bear is definitely a fan favorite and don’t be surprised to see a Bear Parley book in the not too distant future.

Oh yes!! I would totally read that. Sign me up now… and then there’s Halle?

Halle is the spitfire teenage daughter of Jake’s love interest Maggie. She’s beautiful and athletic with great situational awareness. I don’t want to say too much more for those who haven’t read Poor Boy Road yet.

Now tell me about Ares Road?

Ares Road is the stand-alone sequel to Poor Boy Road. You can read Ares Road without reading the first one, but you’ll miss some of the character backstory. I wanted to up the stakes from Poor Boy Road and experiment a bit with a more complex plot. I succeeded in the complexity piece as I ended up having to create a flow chart just to keep the character plotlines straight. While Poor Boy road basically wrote itself, Ares Road worked up a little more blood, sweat and tears to finish, but the end product was worth it.

The basic plot is Jake is trying to go legit and is in the process of learning the ropes of the private investigation business from an old friend. When they stumble upon the search for a silver briefcase containing something deadly that people are willing to kill for and his old friend is beaten into a coma over it, Jake and Bear find themselves wrapped up with the Russian mob, the FBI, terrorists and a bad, bad politician.

I love the final product of Ares Road. It’s faster paced than Poor Boy Road and introduces a number of characters you’re going to see in later books.

Yes, I found that Ares Road fairly thumped along!

What is your writing process?

I tend to write in spurts. I know they say you should write at least three pages a night, but I don’t usually work that way. I might pound out five hundred words one night, not write anything for a couple of days and then crank out 4-5,000 words the next night. I’m not a big fan of staring at a blinking cursor. If I have something to say, I put it down. If I don’t, I let the story percolate until something comes up. That said, as I hit the last third of my books, I usually will spend a couple of hours every night until I hit the finish line.

I tend to edit a bit as I write, re-reading previous chapters and revising a bit as I go. By the time I finish the rough draft, it’s half-way polished. Then, I have an ever growing list of words that I use the “Find” function in Word and start cleaning up the manuscript. My list has words like “that”, “was”, “looked”, “nodded”, “grinned”, etc. I replace the passive words with action where I can. My characters tend to swear like sailors, so I’ve added curse words to the list to limit their use to places where I really feel they’re needed. Sometimes, nothing quite captures the moment like a good ‘ole F-bomb. My novel checklist is well over a hundred words and it usually takes a good couple of weeks of steady effort to work my way through it. Then, it’s one more read through to catch the simple stuff, then off to beta readers and eventually my publisher.

How long did it take you to write Poor Boy Road? What about Ares Road?

Poor Boy Road took about six months from start to finish. The story flowed really well for the most part as I had most of it mapped out in my head before I even typed the first word. Ares Road ended up being about nine or ten months in the making. It was a much more complex plot with a lot of moving parts that I had to make sure played well together. I had a major snag where I couldn’t figure out how to get from Point A to Point B without re-writing major portions of the book and it took a good two to three weeks to figure out a way to get past it.

I hear you have finished book three? can you give us a hint about it?

Book three in the Jake Caldwell saga is, indeed, “finished”.  It’s been through my editing process and through a few beta readers. It now sits in my editor Kate Foster’s very capable and talented hands where I wait for her to slash it to pieces (in a good way). After she’s done, it goes to another awesome talent named Rebecca Carpenter for the copy editing.

A hint? I will tell you it’s called Blackbird Road, and that Jake and Bear will find themselves caught between two deadly Russian spies at war with each other over a technological weapon that could kill a lot of people. It’s an even more complex plot than Ares Road and took over a year and lots of flowcharting to complete. I’m very excited to see what my publisher comes back with on the draft. I’m hoping for a pre-Christmas release, but we’ll have to see how the revision process goes.

Wooooooo I will keep an eye out for it. 🙂 Are you working on anything new?

I’ve started drafting Book 4 of the Jake Caldwell series. I can’t give away anything about it just yet as I’m only a couple of chapters into it and it jumps off immediately after the “oh shit” last line of Blackbird Road. My plan is to write as many of these suckers as people will read. I’m thinking about doing a Bear Parley book for my fifth novel in this world, but we’ll see how it goes.

YAY!! More and more books. Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

Stop whining that you don’t have time and just do it. I have a full-time job and two active kids so I’m busy too. You just have to make the mental leap that you’re going to do it, then sit at your computer and type “Chapter One”. Set some goals to have X number of words by X date. You might also start creating some character biographies of your main players – what’s their background, what’s their physical and mental characteristics, what do they like or don’t like? Knowing your characters and what they’ll do can drag you through the rough patches. I also like to make a rough outline of the plot of the story. It doesn’t always end up as you plot it because the story goes where it wants to go sometimes, but plotting a general course will help put the wind in your writing sails. And, if it’s a month or two down the road and you can’t seem to get anywhere, maybe your story idea just isn’t good enough for a book. Twist the circumstances around, put someone in peril, have someone fall in love with someone they shouldn’t, kill off a character. Play with it until something sticks. The key is to not give up.

Thanks so much for your time, James. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

 

Darkness is falling, and I wanna get off this road before full dark. A pebble makes its way into my trainer forcing me to stop and empty it. I hop around for a moment and snag my jacket on a tree branch. Damnit.

A twig snaps behind me. Shit. I run…

 

You can read my review of Poor Boy Road Here

You can read my review of Ares Road Here

About the Author

James L Weaver is the Kansas City author of the Jake Caldwell series featuring IAN Thriller of the Year finalist Poor Boy Road and the sequel Ares Road from Lakewater Press. He makes his home in Olathe, Kansas with his wife of 20 years and two children. His previous publishing credits include a six part story called “The Nuts” and his 5-star rated debut novel Jack & Diane which is available on Amazon.com. Author note: a handful of the raters are actually not related to him.

His limited free time is spent writing into the wee hours of the morning, playing parental taxi cab to his kids’ sporting endeavors, and binge watching Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Current favorite TV shows: The Walking Dead, Westworld, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Game of Thrones and Shameless.

Current favorite music artists: Alter Bridge, Rush, Sara Bareilles, Halestorm

Last best book read: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Favorite comedians: Bill Burr, Louis CK, John Caparulo, Kathleen Madigan, Mike Birbiglia, John Mulaney

Twitter: @jlweaverbooks
Amazon links:
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