Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Interview with YA Author James McCann
12/15/2009 9:34:30 AM
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An interview with YA paranormal fantasy author James McCann, plus a chance to win one of his autographed novels!
James McCann Interview:
Here’s a special treat for fans of YA paranormal! Today, my guest blogger is the talented author, gifted creative writing instructor and fellow martial arts enthusiast, James McCann! James has the grand distinction of being included on the prestigious list of presenters at the hugely popular Surrey International Writers Conference that I frequent each October, but I actually met James for the first time during a book signing he was attending with other YA authors at a local Chapters store earlier this year.
Let’s start at the beginning, James. You grew up in Manitoba where the winters tend to be long and cold. Did your surroundings serve to fuel your imagination and has writing stories always been a part of your life?
JM: It’s funny that people always know that the winters are long and cold (they are – it is true), but what most people don’t know is that the summers are short but very hot. Unlike places such as Vancouver, Winnipeg nights don’t cool down. That more than anything probably fuelled my creativity, as it allowed my friends and I to cruise the streets in topless cars into the wee hours of the morning.
Anyone who has read my books knows that I tend to include flat prairies, fast cars and fantastical northern lights. These were all important things to me growing up – as they shaped the way I look at the world.
LTS: Did moving to the west coast of BC change your writing style or provide you with inspiration for new material?
JM: Not for the ‘Rancour’ series. I would say that living in Vancouver provided me with material for my new book, ‘Flying Feet’, which I’ll discuss later.
LTS: From Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ to Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’, these bloodsuckers have evolved through the ages. Now, mixing in werewolves and teen angst with vampires has become all the rage thanks to the popularity of the Twilight Saga, but in 2005, another YA paranormal thriller also hit the bookstores: ‘Rancour, Book One of the Rancour Chronicles’. With a growing fan base, your characters have developed quite the following, so much so a second edition of ‘Rancour’ will be released this December! What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonists?
JM: The inspiration behind this saga was while researching the myth of werewolves, and finding out that people have been executed for being such creatures. It all seemed very Salem witch-y to me, and I instantly got hooked. The most striking example for me was of a man named Peter Stubbs in 1573 – he was executed after he confessed during torture on the rack. I started to ask myself, why we would assume that werewolves would act any differently than real wolves? Wolves are pack animals (family oriented), great hunters – yet only hunt in ways that help our ecosystem – and they mate for life.
So, why would a werewolf be any different? When I created my werewolf, Rancour, these were the traits that I wanted him to have. In the first book, which is called ‘Rancour’, the reader is exposed to him in a way that brings about his better qualities – he is seemingly the hero. However, in Pyre I wanted to write a companion novel that could be read first or second, that would show Rancour’s darker qualities as unheroic. After all, if Rancour is the great hunter then he is a hero only to those he doesn’t hunt. To the vampires, his intended target, he has become quite the menace.
LTS: For fans of this particular genre looking for something unique, can you share with our readers what makes your novels, ‘Rancour’ and ‘Pyre’ standout from the other books on the shelf?
JM: My books are like a crystal ball into the human psyche. What makes someone good or evil? Is there a line that is crossed, and if so where is it drawn? And if you cross that line, is there ever any going back? Unlike other books of this genre, mine don’t set up characters as heroes or villains – I leave that for the reader to decide. I tell the story through action – fast-paced and lots of it.
LTS: I love it: A paranormal novel that forces the reader to really think about the characters and their motives! Your novels have received wonderful reviews that include words of praise from Quill & Quire and the Vancouver Sun Editor’s Top 8 Picks. Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open ‘Rancour’?
JM: ‘Rancour’ is the tale of a werewolf who falls in love with a girl in the middle ages. A vampire kills her, or so Rancour claims. There is also a prophecy, that if he waits for a thousand years for her to be reborn, and if he can find her and fall in love with her, he’ll grow old with her as a human.
LTS: ‘Pyre’ is the second book in ‘The Rancour Chronicles’. Is it safe to assume the fans of ‘Rancour’ will find Alix, Shay and Rancour in Book Two, but now they are faced with new and bigger challenges?
JM: ‘Pyre’ takes the story back to 1989 … in the same town of Minitaw. You meet Alix’s father who is struggling with his alcoholism, and preparing for the birth of his daughter. You also meet Bob the cook at Icy Shakes – but as a teen. As well, you meet Rancour – but that’s all.
In the companion novel, I introduced a new character named Jonathan Pyre - a regular high school student that just wants to play his guitar and gawk at the head cheerleader. What he doesn’t realize is that the head cheerleader is really a part of a vampire cult that has sworn off humans. They are trying to assimilate back into humanity – except that they have this killer werewolf hunting them down. So they offer to make Pyre something that can defeat the werewolf – not a vampire, but not a human either.
LTS: You have a new novel slated for release in 2010 by Orca Sports. Can you tell the readers about ‘Flying Feet’ and how this novel differs from your first two works?
JM: ‘Flying Feet’ is the story of a Korean teen living in Canada with his mom to master English. After being disqualified in a tae kwon do tournament, he is scouted by an unscrupulous mixed-martial arts agent and convinced to enter the underground world of unsanctioned fights. It’s his struggle to realize what he’s gotten himself into, and how he tries to get out.
I got the idea for ‘Flying Feet’ based on the underground mixed-martial arts culture in Vancouver. Unlike sanctioned mixed-martial arts tournaments (such as UFC), in the underground clubs there are no rules, no doctors present, and no governing boards to which fighters are held accountable. As well, there are often no refs (or no trained refs) who will stop a fight if it goes too far.
There’s been a lot of discussion on these clubs vs. UFC, and whether or not it is time to lift the moratorium on mixed-martial arts tournaments. (Currently in Vancouver they are illegal under the prize-fighting law.) I wanted to write a book that would be a way of telling people that it’s time to shift the argument away from the morality of violent sport, and into the more realistic realm of making a violent sport safe for those who choose to do it. Mixed martial-artists are athletes who train hard, and they deserve to have a place to show their talent where they are protected by the same rules that protect any other sport.
LTS: After 25+ years studying various forms of martial arts, I’ve found training and teaching has helped me immensely in writing fight sequences. As a fellow martial artist, have you found your training useful in writing the fight scenes in your novels, particularly in your latest title? What was the inspiration for ‘Flying Feet’?
JM: I first got into tae kwon do as a teenager and spent four years trying out three different schools. The third school that I attended, Kang’s Tae Kwon Do Academy in Winnipeg, was by far some of the best experiences that I had as a teen. This year, I returned to tae kwon do as an adult at Peak Performance Academy in Coquitlam.
In terms of writing fight scenes, I’d say this training has helped me immensely as well – not only in setting up realistic fight scenes, but also in understanding that not every person in the story has to be a martial arts master. While I was a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it always bugged me a little that every vampire became a master ninja. In my writing, I try and choose a specific style of fighting that my character may know – be it street brawling, judo or tae kwon do.
LTS: Becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, so we’re always pleased when a fellow writer lands a book deal. Can you share that moment when your agent told you he/she sold your story to a publisher?
JM: I actually don’t have an agent. I’m just a writer who submits his work to the slush pile – and hopes for the best. I had a lot of rejection in my early days as a writer – but what I will say is that I would have had much less rejection had I taken more time to research the way publishing houses work. Submit only to places that are looking for your genre, and only to those who are currently seeking submissions. A great way to learn the former is to find published books like what you write in your local bookstore, and see who published them. Write down a list, and then research them on the web.
My first professional publication was Rancour – published in May 2005 by Simply Read Books. This happened while I was working at a children’s bookstore in Vancouver called Vancouver Kidsbooks. It so happened that my publisher frequented the bookstore, and one day I asked if he’d read my manuscript. He agreed, and a couple of weeks later offered to publish me.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
JM: I used to beat myself up because I’ve always wanted to be one of those writers who sit down and write their 4-5 daily pages. I’ll be honest and say I am not. I’ll often write only one page a day (incidentally, this is the same for Kate DiCamillo!) and once in a while spend an afternoon writing nonstop. Deadlines are great motivators to get me working, as I am very easily distracted.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your storyline in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
JM: ‘Rancour’ I wrote as I went and allowed the characters to tell the story. I wasn’t on a deadline, as I was writing it only for me. No publisher had yet offered to purchase it, so I was free to write it any way I chose. That’s my preferred way of writing. However, when I pitched ‘Flying Feet’ I did so with the first few chapters and a story synopsis. It was the first time I had to plot out a story first, and while I managed to do it I found myself constantly straying from the original plot.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
JM: I venture out of the house to a café and make myself comfortable with a latte. I need to be surrounded by people, and chatter and noise. If things are too quiet, I feel sort of claustrophobic and can’t write.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
JM: Can you imagine if you took your car to your mechanic and he told you that while he’d love to change your power steering pump he just wasn’t feeling inspired to do it that day? I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think writer’s block is a myth we tell ourselves as an excuse to not do the work. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever feel uninspired, or that I don’t feel like writing. But when you have a deadline, there is no luxury of not doing the work.
Sometimes it means making maps of your character’s surroundings – and this is what I do most to get me inspired. I’ll even find some real place that looks like what is in my book and take pictures to hang on my desktop. Interviews with characters, write a scene as a graphic novel, scribble a picture … do anything except turn away in hopes the muse will strike. The muse strikes those who are working.
LTS: Excellent advice, James! Now I’m going to put you on the spot: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
JM: Not that she’s my favourite author, but KA Applegate’s series “Everworld” (now out of print) inspired me to try and write for a YA audience. Before that, I saw myself as an author of adult fiction. But after reading that series, I thought to myself, “This is what I want to do!”
As for favourite authors, I’d say I owe different authors for different parts of my writing life. It was OR Melling’s Druid’s Tune (also out of print) that turned me onto reading, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend that taught me how to write great characters. John Saul introduced me to horror (I actually prefer him to Stephen King), and Joss Whedon inspired me to write better dialogue. I’d say that I have favourite books, but not one favourite author.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
JM: I don’t know that I’ve made any profound discoveries. I want to say something awe-inspiring that will change the way your readers think and make them all want to run out and perform a random act of kindness … yet my mind is blank. I feel so shallow.
LTS: You’re not shallow, James. And by sharing in your experiences and offering advice to the writers reading this blog, you are touching lives at this moment! Plus, you have fans that love your works and become immersed in your imaginary world, so you are being modest, not shallow. This leads to another question: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
JM: No matter how original your idea is at the time, someone else somewhere else is imagining close to the same thing. I learned this when a certain, ahhh, “other” vampire book came out in October 2005 and had a very similar storyline. I’ve been both accused of “stealing” her work, and asked if I felt she stole mine.
Truth is, humanity is all drawing from the same well. If you have an idea, you need to write it now or risk having it done by someone else. And if it turns out you publish a book at the same time as a similar (much better publicized) book comes out – see it as a positive. Another author’s success will eventually draw attention to your work.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
JM: Most of what I read is for an on-going creative writing class that I teach. Instead of talking about those books, I’ll tell you one that I read recently for fun. I’ve been a huge fan of Darren Shan – particularly the Demonata novels. He’s begun to publish his adult mafia series again, The City, and I’ve been reading them. Fantastic books!
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from YA into other genres? Can your fans expect a trilogy in ‘The Rancour Chronicles’ or a sequel to ‘Flying Feet’ in the near future?
JM: ‘The Rancour Chronicles’ should wind up being a four-part series, if all goes well. Unfortunately with the publishing world, it isn’t easy to tell if things will go well. ‘Flying Feet’ was never meant to be a series, and I think if I tried to write it as one it would just wind up becoming a “fight of the week” book.
I would like to write more books set in a realistic world, but I’m remaining open to see where my characters take me. As for branching out into other genres, I’m pretty happy in the YA world and would love to stay awhile. It’s much harder to write for teens than it is for adults, in my opinion, and I feel pretty special that I am able to do so well enough that teens are seeking out my next books.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your works, writing experiences and for providing sound advice for aspiring authors, James! No doubt, I’ll be seeing you next year at the Surrey International Writers Conference. And for those of you looking to sink your teeth into an action-packed paranormal written with style and flair, enter to win one of James’ novels. Check out the contest details below!
For more information about James McCann and his novels check out:
Follow James McCann on Twitter: .mccannjames
Where to buy the book: Everywhere.
Win an autographed novel by James McCann!
Just visit James’s website at www.jamesmccann.info and click on the “email me” button to contact him. On the subject line enter: Win a Book Contest.
Tell James you read his guest blog on the official Imago website (http://web.me.com/imagobooks) and you’d love to win a copy of one of his YA novels. Also include the title of the book you’d like to win and James will be happy to autograph the book of your choice, if you’re the lucky one!
The contest begins Dec. 15th and closes at midnight on Dec. 19th, 2009. One entry per person, please. The winner will be chosen by random and contacted by the author on Dec. 20th. The prize (an autographed book) will be snail mailed to the lucky winner.
This contest is not restricted to entries from the USA and Canada. James invites all readers, wherever they are, to enter for a chance to win.
Due to the volume of entries, the author will contact the winner of this contest only. The winner’s name will be posted on his website as well as the Imago website. Good luck!
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