Friday, November 9, 2012

Someone Else Who Isn't Me: Interview with Jim Webster

Now that Mitt Romney is President, I think it's finally safe to say what I think of all my liberal -- What?
But Fox News said... I mean, Karl Rove was positive... I just assumed...

Come on in!  I'm just waiting for the paint on the 
"NO WINNERS ALLOWED" sign to dry.

Did you bring comic books?

Well, that's just pickled peppered perfect. Not like I wanted to talk politics anyway.  As anyone who knows me (click here!) can tell you, my real passion is discussing other authors (or here!).  And today, I'm going to get passionate all over Jim Webster, a military historian, family man, writer of fantasy novels and, rumor has it, someone who has a tendency to ruin parties with terrible dictionary puns.

                                                   I'll interview the hell out of you, Jim, but
                                                   I'll be thinking of her.

Okay.  Let's get to it.  Hello Jim.  Big time fan here, so there's no reason to be nervous.  Just answer honestly and have a good time. 

First off, have you read  "I've Been Deader," and how much did you love it? 

Alas that I, a poor scribbler, have never dared to read too many of the works of the great masters lest I be either shamed into abandoning my pen, or worse still, cozened into writing some pathetic pastiche of the greater work.

You heartless bastard.  How did you start your writing career?

It was purely pragmatic. I realized I would need another income and writing was something I felt I could do. I even bought a typewriter (remember them folks.) My mother asked whether I was going to have lessons, and I replied with typical arrogance “Why, I already know my alphabet and can press buttons.”
My first sale was an article on the Peruvian/Chilean naval war of 1879 to a wargames magazine. 

I remember that war.  I believe the outies won.


                                        WE SURRENDER!

Peruvian wars of the 19th century are all the rage now, so why did you abandon such a moneymaker and gamble your fame and fortune on a novel?   Tell us about your current release.

To quote from the blurb, 'Swords For A Dead Lady'is a fantasy adventure. There is the discovery of the naked body of a woman hastily buried in a marsh, the quest to discover her identity and hunt down her killer leads our protagonists into ambush, civil strife and even light opera.

That sounds a little too highbrow for some of my readers (not you guys.  I meant those other readers.  You guys have excellent taste).   Can you tell us what it's about without all the Queen's language?
Really it’s a story of a couple of decent men trying to solve a crime, and then trying to bring justice. It’s set in a fantasy world where there is magic, but it doesn’t figure much or often. One reviewer said of the book “engaging and there's lots of action, some humour and a little pathos.”
Because untangling a mystery is central to the book, I don’t really want to give away too much of the plot. But rest assured, the world isn’t threatened by the forces of evil, and doesn’t need saving.  

That's more like it.  By the way, you think you can get me that reviewer's name, or should I just cut and paste yours?  Where do you dream of traveling to and why?

I like traveling, but frankly I’d as soon just walk there. If I have a dream it is of just setting off and walking for a few weeks. Starting from my own front door.

Why? I live just to the south of the English Lake District. From there it isn’t far to the Pennines, and from there in a few days more I could be in Northumberland. Places far too good to pass through at anything other than walking pace.

Is there one passage that you feel gets to the heart of your book? 

This is a passage from ‘Dead Man Riding East’ which should hopefully be available from Amazon before Christmas

As they drew level with the crowd they could see that it was a bookshop. Benor attracted the attention of a tall, elderly man at the back of the crowd.
“Excuse me sir, I’m a stranger in town and wondered what was going on.”
“It is a book launch. The poet Mortiquan has been reading his poetry and will at some point be selling signed copies of a new book of his verses.”
Benor exchanged a surreptitious glance with Kirisch.
“Can anyone go in?”
“Certainly, anyone who wishes to buy a glass of moderate wine at a more than moderate price will find himself gratified in this. For myself I have heard the applause of the sycophants who got their free glass earlier, and unless you intend to dung roll him or provide some further entertainment I shall be about my business.”
Kirisch looked perplexed.
“Dung roll?”
The old man smiled, “I see now you are both Urlan gentlemen and will not be familiar with our little ways. Should someone incur popular displeasure it is possible they will be taken up the Scarp, thrust into a barrel which is topped up with as much stinking, well-matured dung as can be managed. The barrel is then laid on its side and is allowed to roll down the Prospect until it either comes to a halt or shatters.”
“Is it normal to dung roll poets?”
The old man patted Kirisch on the arm.
“Not as normal as it should be young man, not as normal as it should be.”
Lifting his hat to the two of them he walked away. Benor tugged Kirisch by the sleeve and started to work his way through the crowd.
A plump woman was standing by the doorway; she supervised a table cluttered with bottles and cheap glasses.
“Wine, gentlemen?”
Benor felt for his purse.
“Two glasses please.”
The woman poured with a careful hand.
“That will be one half vintenar sir.”
Benor stopped and looked at his glass, surprised, if not shocked.
“I bought a bottle for less than that.”
  The woman looked at him with a pitying expression.
“Yes sir, but that wasn’t at a book launch.”
Kirisch felt he ought to get matters cleared up and asked.
“Does that mean you have to pay more at a book launch?”
The plump woman turned to face him, her hand still outstretched to Benor for his half vintenar.
“Oh no sir, if it was a real book that would sell, well the wine would be cheaper. But this is poetry and the only profit we’ll ever make on it is the wine sales.”

Does travel play in the writing of your books?

So far yes, but it’s travel for a purpose. Characters travel to get to places to meet people and occasionally kill them. But then equally occasionally they might end up getting married. 

There's a difference?

The next book ‘Dead Man Riding East’ follows the adventures of the central character of the first book. Benor Dorfinngil is a middle aged cartographer and ladies man. In the second book we follow his further adventures as he travels east with a couple of companions. Again I think it follows the first book in combining action, humour and pathos, certainly the proof reader described it as ‘a really great adventure story with a few 'Ahhhh' moments.’

To be honest, what I want to write is a good story that grips the reader while they’re reading it. Amuses and entertains them, and when they finish it they say “I enjoyed that” and feel better for having read it.    

Has someone been instrumental in inspiring you as a writer?
Who is your favorite author?  Here's a chance to redeem yourself.

These two questions sort of run together. I really love the books of Jack Vance. Especially his Dying Earth and his Lyonesse books. They have been an inspiration to me.
Another author who I really rate but who isn’t read as much as he should be now is Ernest Bramah whose Kai Lung stories I re-read almost every year.

You blew it.  Where do you research for your books?

I do read an awful lot of ancient and medieval history. And I’m one of these people who just has to know how systems work and how you do various jobs. So I’ve stood and watched someone forge a sword blade and make arrowheads. I always try and make things ‘real’ when I’m writing about them. I’ve even worked iron myself.

What does your significant other and family think of your writing career?
Does your significant other read your stuff?

Whilst my wife doesn’t read my books, I was writing articles and suchlike long before we were married, so she’s used to it.

Do you have critique partners or beta readers?

Not as such. When you’re a freelance writer submitting to papers and magazines you soon learn not to be ‘precious’ about your manuscript, and I’ve had useful criticism over the years. But frankly for the books I have a professional editor and a saint who then proofreads it.

How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?

One of the joys of a good walk is you have time to think without being interrupted. It is then I will work out a plot. But equally importantly I can look at the plot from all sides, trying to keep it coherent. Then with the main outline in place I can look at how the various episodes have to hang together.
Effectively I have a framework, a rough skeleton, but then when I sit down at the keyboard I’m flying by the seat of my pants to fill out the skeleton.

What book are you reading now?


‘The Creativity of Crete. City States and the foundations of the modern world.’
The next book in the heap to read is ‘Medieval Mercenaries, the business of war.’

Sonofabitch!   Other than buying my books, do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

Don’t start off by writing an indie book on Amazon. I’d recommend the magazine/newspaper freelance route as a way of learning the craft of being a writer. Not only that but you’ll be told very firmly how good it is or isn’t. Better still, they even give you money for it.
When you do write your book, find a professional editor. Don’t just go to the companies who’ll edit it for a thousand dollars or whatever. Ask around and find a professional who’ll do the proper job (for an awful lot less).
Working with a good editor you’ll learn so many lessons, every penny will be well spent.

That's actually good advice.  I'm not sure I've ever had good advice given here.  Memo to self, ask Jim to write a brief article for my blog on advice to beginning writers.
What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?

Humility. I remember one very accomplished journalist saying of herself “I decorate the papers they use to wrap fish and chips in”
If you write immortal prose, it will be as an accident, just do what you can and produce something people can enjoy. 

I agree completely!
                                                            Humility personified!

                                                 (see how I used a small pic?)

What hobbies do you actively pursue?

Military history, wargaming, roleplaying and walking/cycling

Morning Person? Or Night Person? How do you know?

I’m a morning person. Getting out of bed at 5:30am to milk cows for thirty years ensured this. How do I know? My lady wife is a night person and you can spot the difference.

What one word best describes you?


Do you have a favorite quote, quip, or saying? What is it?

It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Do you have a Website or Blog?

I’m pretty awful with social media. I enjoy chatting on forums etc, but never got round to blogging.  Until now:  My Web

Hate to say it, but I’m the sort of person who would far rather sit and talk to people over a nice pint or over a really good cappuccino.

If you're buying, I'm listening.  Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?

You are the only person you can be. Don’t bother trying to be anyone else. 

That's kinda depressing for someone like me.

Considering you're someone else who isn't me, I think this interview went pretty well.  Thanks!

If you like fantasy and crime, and the warden's granted you internet access, you could do a lot worse than buying Swords For A Dead Lady.

In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Webster, in addition to not reading my book, did not provide me with a free copy of his, or even  a key chain or refrigerator magnet.  Not that I'm complaining, and if I were, who'd listen.


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