22 Jan 2012
by Jeffrey Thomas
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James Robert Smith is a man of numerous impressive literary accomplishments. He has written comic scripts for Marvel Comics, Kitchen Sink, Spyderbabies Grafix, and others. He was co-editor of the anthology Evermore, from Arkham House. His short stories have appeared in such anthologies as HORROR FOR THE HOLIDAY, THE DEVIL’S COATTAILS, THE BLEEDING EDGE, WHITLEY STRIEBER’S ALIENS, SINGERS OF STRANGE SONGS, RETURN TO LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, and CHILDREN OF CTHULHU. His first novel, THE FLOCK, was published in 2006 by Five Star, and a later edition from Tor-Forge appeared in 2010. His zombie novel THE LIVING END appeared in 2011 from Severed Press. His latest novel is HISSMELINA. Let’s ask James about all this and more.
Jeffrey Thomas: James, as an author of comic scripts, short stories, and novels, do you have a preference for one of these forms — is one more rewarding for you than the others?
James Robert Smith: Novels. No contest. After I started concentrating on novel-length manuscripts, it was years before I went back to the short story form. The past couple of years have been the first in a long time for creating short stories. Comic scripts have always been more of a purely for-the-money kind of work for me. There are things that you can only do with comics, but as I have to rely heavily on another creator’s interpretation of my ideas and that person’s own vision, it’s not my favorite form in which to work.
JET: What’s your writing process like? Do you have certain times in which you write, any idiosyncratic writerly rituals? Music or no music while you write?
JRS: I pretty much have to have peace and quiet and a certain amount of solitude when I write. I’d never be able to write in a shop window as Harlan Ellison so famously did. Also, I cannot write when music is being played. I’ve tried writing when playing music and it stops me in my tracks. Any kind of music just disturbs me. It doesn’t matter what kind—I have to shut it off. As for the time of day—I used to write mainly late at night, but now I write early in the evening because that’s when it’s most convenient to write. Unfortunately, my day job dictates when and where I can write.
JET: Tell us about your first novel, THE FLOCK. I love the premise but I want to hear you describe it!
JRS: THE FLOCK was a huge departure for me. It is neither fantasy nor horror but was instead inspired by a number of subjects close to my psyche: environmentalism and paleontology. Some years back it was theorized that the North American predatory ground bird, Titanis walleri had re-evolved arms in place of its rudimentary wings. This meant that it would have truly resembled the extinct theropods of tens of millions of years before. Around the same time there was an erroneous discovery that would have put the last of these creatures on the North American continent at the same time as the early Native Americans (roughly 15K years ago). These discoveries started swirling in my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. Thus, I ended up writing THE FLOCK, my first non-horror novel which proved to be my first novel sale.
JET: You sold the film rights for THE FLOCK; how did such an exciting development occur?
JRS: When the book came out and was a modest success in hardcover, I had a couple of inquiries for the movie rights. These were from East Coast sources and nothing ever really panned out. Then, one day on an old comic book artist’s website I accidentally insulted one of Don Murphy’s films (FROM HELL). I didn’t know the guy frequented the board and he was there and took offense to my criticism. So he went out and bought a copy of THE FLOCK, intending to read it and thereby authoritatively shred it in public. Instead, he loved the book so much that he teamed up with John (WEST WING) Wells and they optioned the novel through Warner Brothers.
JET: I hear there’s a sequel novel to THE FLOCK forthcoming?
JRS: I sold the sequel to THE FLOCK. It’s called THE CLAN and we rejoin most of the human characters from THE FLOCK in a new adventure. I’m not sure when Tor-Forge is going to release that one. They have the manuscript and I’m waiting for it to be scheduled.
JET: What other work do you have in the pipeline?
JRS: Next up should be FOUR FROM MANGROVE, a four-story fantasy collection set in my mythical nation of Mangrove, an Iron Age city-state. Over the years I’ve sold a number of my Mangrove stories to various publications and figured I’d collect them into one volume.
Tor-Forge has first refusal rights to my novel THE LOST CHILD, so I’m waiting to hear what they’re going to do. That one is a supernatural horror novel featuring a kind of werewolf. I’m also working on a Young Adult book my agent and I want to pitch as a trilogy—ISAAC’S QUEST.
JET: What’s your new novel, HISSMELINA, about?
JRS: HISSMELINA is a horror novel based on Lovecraftian themes. It’s not Mythos related, but does use some of the tropes we all pick up from reading HP Lovecraft in our youth. I wrote it partly because I got tired of reading horror novels with villains who were so evil that one had to laugh at them, and with heroes so good that they make you want to puke. So I created likable antagonists and mildly disreputable heroes. It’s my favorite novel and had the most near-misses at the major publishing houses of anything I wrote. It was past time for it to see print.
JET: How did you get into comic writing, and for Marvel no less?
JRS: I started writing for comics when I sold a couple of scripts to Steve Bissette for his infamous TABOO title. The TABOO stories led to other offers, including Marvel (CLIVE BARKER’S HELLRAISER) and New Comics, Fantaco, etc.
The comic book industry is a truly cut-throat and disreputable cesspool of a place and I haven’t worked in that format much in a long time. The last comics work I did was for Basement Comics when I did a CAVEWOMAN one-shot.
Currently, Mark Masztal and I are trying to piece together a comic book adaptation of my zombie novel, THE LIVING END.
JET: Who inspires you — not just writers, but creative people in general who fan your own creative flames?
JRS: Charles Bukowski, Robert Graves, Robert E Howard, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Portis, Barry Gifford, Boris and Arkady Strugatski, David Lynch, Peter Weir, Ridley Scott, Bertrand Russell, (comedian) David Cross…hell, I could sit here all day and write about inspirational figures.
JET: Do you have some concluding thoughts or any other projects you’d like to mention?
JRS: A lot of people ask me for advice since the movie deal was made public. I have to say that the best advice that I can give to anyone wanting to be a writer is the same that I kept hearing over the years: keep reading and don’t stop writing.
In addition to that, I like to tell younger writers not to be scared of rejection. If you can’t deal with rejection then you’re never going to make it as a writer or any other kind of creator.
JET: Thanks for the guest appearance, James!
JRS: Yer welcome! Thanks for having me on the blog!
Find JAMES ROBERT SMITH at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/James-Robert-Smith/e/B001JP7MG0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1327214090&sr=1-3
…and visit him at his official web site: http://jamesrobertsmith.net/