By Sean Tuohy
In a market place filled with similar plot lines and leading characters, it is always refreshing when you discover an original voice from an author who has a true desire to tell a real story.
Seeley James brought readers to the edge with his Pia Sabel thrillers and brought the fiction world a leading female character that broke the mold. James has never fit in to the crowd of standard thriller writers, always setting himself part by writing hardened thrillers with true heart to them.
He took a break from creating a new thriller to sit down and talk about his writing process, his passion for writing, and his future.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Seeley James: As long as I can remember. In school, I wrote what today would be called flash fiction: short, satirical reflections on school life. When teachers would assign creative writing projects, I would write a batch of them and sell them to my friends for $10.
ST: Your Pia Sabel thrillers are fantastic reads. Where did this idea come from and how long did you have the character of Pia before you started writing?
SJ: The character was inspired by the resilience of my first daughter. When I was 19 and single, I adopted a 3-year-old girl and raised her up (long, boring blog about it here). When she graduated to adult life, and my second daughter began to exhibit similar character strengths (I married at 36 and started over), I reflected on how resilient young women can be in the face of my many parenting mistakes. I started to write stories featuring a similar, but larger-than-life, heroine. At first I wrote YA stories about a teenager, but I never had the right voice for that genre, so I brought Pia Sabel up to age 25. That journey has been about nine years total.
ST: Pia Sabel stands out as a female lead because does not pine after any man nor does she whine about how tough things are. She is a very real and down to earth character. When can we see her again in a new adventure?
SJ: Thanks, that means a lot to me. I’ve just published the second novel, Bring It, Omnibus Edition, which consolidated six serials. I’d written the serials because many readers thought Pia was too aloof and should pine, etc. I used the serials to experiment with observing Pia through different lenses. Jacob Stearne quickly emerged as a fan favorite.
While the experiment took longer than I’d imagined or would’ve liked, I learned a good deal about how to present Pia. I’m now about a third of the way into a first draft of the third book and am pleased with the shape it’s taking. I think Blue Death (sneak peak) will achieve the voice and pace I’ve been working toward for a decade. I hope to have it published by the end of summer.
ST: What is your writing process?
SJ: That has evolved a good deal over the last couple years. I’m a trial-and-error kinda guy with a heavy emphasis on error. As I write this, I feel that I’ve hit the better scenario: I keep a fluid, light outline going in Microsoft OneNote that keeps my eight-sequence climax points in focus. I add, subtract, change that outline at the beginning and ending of every writing session.
I write in two-hour blocks, sometimes without moving from my chair (which causes stiff joints in these old bones), and intersperse those blocks with book marketing, wasting time on social media, mountain climbing, lunch with pals, bank robbing, and chasing women. I try to put in three to four writing blocks a day. I think it’s like playing the piano or soccer; the more you do it, the better you get.
ST: Do you do a lot of research before you start writing?
SJ: No. Not a ‘lot.’ I think deep research can be an excuse or a time suck, but rarely a good thing. Stephen King said he spent half a day doing a ride along with a cop and that was all he needed for the rest of his career. I read some name-brand authors who constantly fall into the research pit. They want to regurgitate every detail they’ve learned regardless of how unrelated to the story it really is.
Now that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in research. I do a good deal of research. However, that’s all based on my reading and writing. First, I read a lot of non-fiction. Last year, I read Ali Soufan’s Black Banners (a must read for every American citizen) and decided to make waterboarding a plot point in Bring It. So there was a certain amount of organic pre-writing research (I read plenty of other books that don’t inspire me, but teach me something).
As I wrote Bring It, I looked up memoirs of World War II soldiers who were waterboarded, diaries and court cases, treaties and historical documents, and so on. But I only looked up those texts that were directly related to the scene I was writing at that time. I might spend an hour or two on scene-specific research, but only if it is a critical element. In that case, the scene at the end of Episode III has garnered many accolades in reviews, so I think I got it right.
If you go out and research for days, you’re going to regurgitate extraneous crap that will bore the reader. If you already know certain amounts through your every-day interests, then the research is more natural and specific to the story. The readers appreciate that kind of research.
ST: The ebook market place is a great place for a new writer to publish their work, but how does a writer make their work stand out in such a crowded market place?
SJ: It takes time. The Kindle Gold Rush is over. You have to develop an audience, develop your writing to fit that audience, constantly hone your craft, and participate in genre-specific forums as a reader. If you’re not keeping your ear to the chest of your readers, feeling and hearing the heartbeat, you’ll never stand out. At the same time, you can’t pander to them. Readers don’t like weasel-writers, they like strong, confident, bold writers who know them well.
ST: What is your advice to writers who just starting out?
SJ: Humility is your friend. Listen, try, read, try again, study, try harder. Hire a content editor and a copy editor. Seek out harsh critiques and learn from them. No amount of marketing or advertising or word of mouth will sell a bad book. The art of writing is something we’ll never perfect but can always improve.
ST: If you had the chance to sit down and have a meal with fictional character would you share the meal with?
SJ: Hmmm, good question. I’d like to say something intelligent and witty, like Quasimodo before he pushed Frollo. But I like to be honest and I’ve spent a lot of time with one guy lately: Jacob Stearne, my new leading character. He constantly surprises me. He tells me a different story about his past every day. I have a whole childhood-Christmas-disaster story in my head even though our circumstances couldn’t have been more disparate. Most of these stories have nothing to do with the Pia Sabel novels so I’m always wondering why he brings them up. Maybe he thinks I care.
ST: What is one random fact about yourself?
SJ: Just one? How about a slew: I’ve never killed anyone with malice aforethought. I grew up in a tent in the desert. I hiked the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim in ten hours with a pack of young studs and out-paced the whiny, little brats by a long shot. I’m happily married but not sure my wife is. My friends won’t let me drive their Ferraris because of one simple effing miscalculation. I’m a huge fan of your site.