James R. Tuck (also known as Levi Black) is the author of Deacon Chalk Series (Kensington), an exciting Urban Fantasy that first brought him to prominence within the realm of genre fiction. Since then he has written extensively in the categories of crime fiction, horror, science fiction, and Sword & Sorcery. He was more than kind to sit down and talk about his past and future works while revealing a treasure trove of advice.
Sit.Write.Bleed. (SWB): James, you’ve written in a vast array of genres over the last couple of years, spanning from traditional Sword & Sorcery to Lovecraftian Horror, and are best known for your release in Urban Fantasy with the Deacon Chalk series (Kensington), and soon you will be releasing Red Right Hand through Tor (as Levi Black), and you have written extensively in crime fiction, zombies, and even fighting mechs. From a literary standpoint, where do you think home starts for you?
James R. Tuck (JRT): I write as widely as I read. Look on my shelves or in my kindle and you'll find a dozen genres. My home is pretty much anywhere I lay my head, metaphorically speaking. There is zero reason why I shouldn't play in any kind of genre I want. Some writers stay in one genre and that's cool for them, but no way could I do that even if I tried. I've found over the years that when I'm done with a project, whether it's a novel, a short story, a comic script, whatever I have to shake it off by moving into a new genre and style. It keeps me interested in writing to play in new worlds and new formats with different sets of characters. I'm polyamorous in my writing, taking on new lovers while never forsaking the ones who have held me before.
SWB: Tell us about co-authoring Robin Hood – Mark of the BlackArrow (Titan Books) with Debbie Viguie. Jumping into the waters with such a well-known cast of characters and lore, with another author no less, must have been an interesting challenge.
JRT: It was indeed. Debbie and I write pretty differently so it did take a minute for us to find our flow, but in the end we figured out that my strengths are her weaknesses and vice-a-versa. With our powers combined we forged the perfect author for this work. We also did some things very different than I normally do. This story is in 3rd person, I usually write in 1st, we have nearly 20 POV characters throughout the book, and I never ever get inside the villains head but in this series you get all of that. We really put a spin on the Robin Hood mythology that I enjoy.
JRT: Theok was one of the first characters and worlds I created, in fact, a large chunk of that collection is the first complete story I ever wrote almost 20 years ago. The Theok cycle is something I write episodically, much the way Robert E. Howard wrote Conan. The stories range the length of his life and are in no particular order. In one he is a mercenary, in another he is a manhunter, in another he may be a bodyguard, it gives me the ability to write sword and sorcery in whatever manner I want. I chose to give him faith in Yahweh because of my own interest in religion. Theok roams around a world that is pretty much the age of King Solomon if the Old Testament were written by Robert E. Howard.
Speaking of Howard, he is a great influence on me. His work was powerful in a way that few are. Images of violence and concepts fundamental and esoteric all handled in the manner of a grim poet. I truly hold him in the same strata of literature as writers like Cormac McCarthy or Ernest Hemingway.
JRT: Yes indeed. There is much Deacon planned for 2016. I know it's been a bit of a break, and there are boring business reasons for that, but Deacon is returning in short novel form. I plan to release his next adventures as novella sections until their arc is complete (4-6 per arc) and then they will be bound together for print. That way Deacon fans who e-read can get their fix on the regular and my print readers can still put a new Deacon book on their shelves. Plus, my plan is to do some work in the "Deaconverse" and I have stories featuring a young Father Mulcahy, Special Agents Bramble and Heck, and a Ronnie and Blair misadventure.
And there may even be a new adventure in comic format.
JRT: Thank you. I really only do my own covers for the things I independently publish. I've done some layout work for friends, but mostly it's for myself and spins out of the fact that I work as a professional artist in my day job (tattoo artist for 20 years) and I love having complete control over my indie stuff. I've done the artwork on all but one of them (LOVE AND VENGEANCE, with art by Karl Comendador).
Crafting the artwork myself really adds a new dimension to the book. I've had some beautiful covers done on the books of mine out through publishers, but they are all one step removed, someone else's interpretation of my story and ideas. When I indie publish that is all straight from my brain and into your hands.
It really adds to the feeling of pride I have when I hold my indie books. In my head I just hear the words 'I made this'. There is a power in the creative process for me, some kind of magic, a spark of the big bang, a syllable of the Word in crafting something completely. When I indie pub that book is exactly everything I have the ability make. It is not just my words and story, but also my skill in formatting and my artistic ability all combines to give you a small piece of me.
It also appeals to the maverick inside me to write and create stories and books that don't fit into the system of publishing. I get to put those out and it is so very satisfying.
|Cover by James R. Tuck|
JRT: Truthfully? I feel like publishing is the quiet chaos. There are so many things that counter-lever against each other to keep the status quo that I keep waiting for the next big thing to rock it loose. Traditional publishers are working their asses off to keep the authors who sell on board while at the same time pumping money into the retail book space to keep Amazon from complete domination. Amazon is playing a long game that I think they will actually win.
Do I think all traditional publishers will die? Absolutely not. We had a similar implosion with the advent of MP3's and Itunes (the Amazon of music back in the day) and yet we still have a Sony and other record labels. Traditional publishers will maintain because they do something that readers want, but they are going to have to adapt.
Do I think all authors will go indie? Of course not. It's not for everyone and it's hard to make a living at it, but a lot will, just like a hardworking band can stay indie and make a good living for its members because the margins are better, an author with some talent and hustle can pay their bills and go to the movies on indie publishing alone.
Things are vastly different than they were even 5 years ago. By 2020 it'll be even moreso.
SWB: Tell me about Red Right Hand (Tor), which is arriving in 2016.
JRT: I love this book. It's a Lovecraftian horror novel masquerading as an urban fantasy. It's extremely dark. So dark. In fact, this book is so dark that as my agent was shopping it an editor for a major publishing house responded that it was well written but was far too disturbing for her to ever consider buying it.
Jonathan Maberry said he “couldn't put the fucker down.”
I'm proud of it.
It was a hard book to write.
Charlie Tristan Moore, the main character, is a young woman who suffered a terrible assault as a young teen, one so bad that after a decade of therapy it still haunts her. The chaos god Nyarlathotep arrives on her doorstep, turns her into his Acolyte, and enlists her help in tracking down elder gods who are leeching their way into this world, seeking vengeance on humanity for imprisoning them eons ago. Is he the hero, or simply wiping out the competition?
SWB: Let’s talk about Hollow Earth (Pro Se Productions) and anthologies. You are a veteran of editing anthologies, so how would you explain the appeal an anthology to today’s reader? How does Hollow Earth fit for you?
JRT: Hollow Earth is a new thing I'm doing. Basically it works off an old pulp concept that the Earth is hollow and inside it is a separate world that lays on the inside of the earths crust and there is a sun in the center that acts as a gravitational pinpoint for the world's rotation. In my version the world is called Hyperborea and contains humans along with a few other species, most notably the Kurg, a species of intelligent, bloodthirsty lizard men. In real history, the Nazis made a military installation in WW2 in Antarctica, in Hollow Earth history, they encountered the Kurg and took them under their wing, instilling in them all the ideals of the Third Reich and giving them the military might to begin conquering all of Hollow Earth.
Just as the world was about to fall the greatest mage cast a spell, resetting the world and calling to it potential champions from all of time and space, heroes of all stripes from a 1970's private eye, to a cowboy, to an astronaut, to a viking, the options are endless. This spell also pulled into Hollow Earth things like the city of Atlantis, the colony at Roanoke, Camelot, and more.
I wrote a novella set in this world, featuring the appearance of Big Jim Magnum, a Harlem ex-cop turned private eye. The anthology will have other writers playing in this world, telling stories in it, and then I will return for a follow up novella. It's my first licensed property and I hope to have it expand into other anthologies and even novels set here by other writers interested in the world.
As to the appeal of anthologies, I love them. You get to try several new authors in one easy place. I've found some great writers by reading anthologies. Plus, the short story is one of my favorite forms of storytelling, there is no room to drag and you can get a helluva impact from a well-crafted short story.
SWB: Taking away the majority of writing advice, what piece of wisdom would you impart on those wanting to write better?
JRT: Let go of any preconceived notion of how to tell a story and write it. Quit worrying about agents and editors and publishers and even readers and write exactly what YOU want to see in a book. You have heard there is no new story under the sun and that is the honest truth, so the only thing you have is your ability to tell the story. You have to do you in this regard. It's called finding your voice and the only way to do that is to shut out everyone else's.
So get to writing. Stop worrying about anything else until you get that part finished.
Develop your ability to be completely honest with yourself. Not only do you have to be able to see when you suck, but you have to be able to see when you rock. Then you have to learn the ability to parse between the two.
SWB: I always end the interview with this question: what tropes in genre fiction could you NEVER read again and be completely happy with it?
JRT: Tell it in an interesting way and I don't care. Tropes exist and, truthfully, I'd rather read a well-done story with a well-used trope than read some cockeyed attempt at subverting one. Don't be smarter than your story, just entertain me and make me think if you can.
I do love some tropes and keep reading and writing them myself. The hero damaged from some personal tragedy. Loss of family as a motivator. Barbaric nobility. Personal codes of honor in thugs, criminals, and outlaws.
Check out James R. Tuck/Levi Black's other work at these links:
Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you all again soon!