Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Interview: Jim N. Duncan, Author of Deadworld

I 'met' Jim online a few months ago when Seeking the Write Life was just kicking off.  He was kind enough to be a part of my Successful Queries Series.  He's since become a part of my daily blog-run with his blog Writing in the Dark  - and a fun tweep to have around.  So I'm excited to have the chance to interview him for the release of his book. 

Jim's been nice enough to offer a signed copy of Deadworld to one randomly selected commenter on this post - so read what Jim has to say, then jump into the comments for your chance to win!**  Winner will be announced next week.

Really great to have you back, Jim. Let's get the vital statistics out of the way: Your debut novel Deadworld is released today! Congratulations! What's it about and how did you come up with the idea?

Thank you. I'm glad to be back here today. Let's see. The elevator pitch would probably be something like, "Struggling FBI agent gets caught up in vendetta between two vampires." It's an oversimplification of course, but bare bones, that's what the plot is about.

As for where the story came from, it started with the germ of an idea about doing something different with vampires. I love vampire stories, but was well aware that the market is full of them, and to get much interest, it would have to do something in a different direction. That said, I started with an Old West sheriff who gets turned into a vampire after a big confrontation with another one, and the playing that forward to present day, where my heroine would get involved.

When did you start writing? Is it a full time job for you, or do you have an alter-ego with a 'normal' job?

I wish writing was a full time job for me. That would so rock. I'm a regular working "Joe" far as that goes, going to school to be a middle school math teacher, and raising four kids. I've been writing, off and on for a long time though. My grandmother was a mystery writer and published three mystery novels while she was alive, and spending summers with her when I was young got me into writing.

I've always been a creative sort, and writing turned out to be the outlet for it I loved the most. It was a very off and on endeavor though for about 20 years ( a lot of started and shelved projects let me tell you!) until I was in my mid-thirties, when I realized I was pushing forty and really should dig down at get into it if I was going to have a shot at making things work as a career.

Do you have a drawer full of manuscripts hidden away? (And if so, do you think you'll ever try to get one of them published?)

Actually, I only have one. Deadworld was my second completed manuscript. The first was an epic fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy, that I'd been working on over the course of three or four years, and Deadworld was my "break" from that novel and an effort to do something completely different. After years taken to finish the fantasy, I wrote Deadworld in 14 weeks (after about a month of planning it out). I certainly have ideas for other stories, and I'd like to do something with the fantasy at some point. I still really like that story.

Since this is your debut, there must have been a lot of new experiences for you in the past year or so. What's the thing you enjoyed that you know will stick with you, even when you're on the NYTBS List?

Getting those first copies of the book is probably the biggest. I think it felt a bit unreal up to that point, but being able to hold it in my hand and flip through the pages, kind of cemented it in my head that I really was going to be a published author. A lot of it though has just been learning to be patient.

Legacy publishing is a long process, and I had a long lead time for Deadworld due to when it was slotted into the schedule. However, book two, The Vengeful Dead is coming out six months later, so I had that one to work on in the meantime. Still, I've had the luxury of time thus far, with a year each to write book two and three. I've learned a fair bit about social media, and the incredible effort it takes to try and get noticed.

Honestly, that may be the biggest lesson out there. Selling is done best by word of mouth, and you need people to realize you are actually there in order to get the needed notice. I wish I'd started up my blog, and made a more concerted effort at it earlier than I did. I wish I'd had the money to go to some of the bigger conferences and such to mingle and get my name out there. Beyond writing a good story, connections to readers and other writers is the most important thing a writer can work on.

Have there been any experiences in the journey so far you'd rather forget?

Actually, it's all been pretty, damn cool. If I could change anything, it'd be the wait time. It feels like it has been sooo long to reach actual "book on the shelf." Nothing you can do about that mind you, unless you want to self-publish, but even that has been worth it. I honestly haven't had any negative experiences with this whole process to this point.

As aspiring authors we're often told to 'write what we know'. There are unique challenges to that when you're writing fantasy. Is there any part of Deadworld that epitomises this approach for you?

Well, clearly I've no experience with ghosts and vampires, or being an FBI agent, or any of the main elements of the book, actually. However, I was a psychology and social work major in school. So, I've read and seen a lot regarding emotional issues people can have and have to deal with.

A significant part of Deadworld is the heroine's struggles with her self. She's kind of falling apart as it were, and has been ignoring that fact for most of her life. I tried to apply a lot of what I know and learned to Jackie's issues, how she would have to deal with them, and what the consequences would be. Some of the more intense scenes in the story revolve around her personal issues. Also, I think the way this develops over the course of the series is one of the more interesting elements. It's going in a direction that I don't think readers will necessarily expect, and this is particularly true in book three. I'm really looking forward to writing Jackie's character development stuff in that story. After I get copy edits done on book two here, I'm going to be diving into that full steam ahead.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give authors still on the road to gaining an agent, or getting that elusive contract?

Patience and persistence. We don't live in a patient culture. People want what they want and they want it now. It doesn't work that way in publishing. Without patience, you likely end up with a failed effort. You can't expect a "yes." Knowing you are good enough to get published and expecting it are two very different animals. So, you keep writing (because that's the only way to get better) and you keep trying.

Try not to have that knee-jerk reaction to self-publish because an agent you really want rejected you. I still believe that avenue is really, really hard for new authors to find any kind of success. Basically, if you aren't in it for the long haul, and willing to wait, and willing to accept "no" for an answer, don't do this crazy writing thing, because it will make you crazy otherwise.

And finally, if I ran into you on the street, what's the one thing I could say that would make you want to talk to me?

"So, I hear you wrote a book?" Lol, actually you could probably just get away with, "Hi," but talking books is always fun and interesting.

It's been great getting to know you and hear about Deadworld, Jim. Here's your last chance for a shameless plug!

Thanks for having me here today, and for everyone to check in and read my post. I hope Deadworld sounds intriguing for you, but if you like dark, urban fantasy, or as I like to call it, "a noir'ish paranormal thriller," I hope you will check out Deadworld. If you like your heroines a little rough around the edges, with as much chance to succeed as fail, then I think you'll enjoy my story, and future books in the series as well.

Feel free to ask me questions here, or you can contact me over on my blog, at jnduncan.wordpress.com. Deadworld is out now and available at all of the usual places.

YOUR TURN: Do you have any questions for Jim?  (All comments are eligible to win the signed copy of "Deadworld"**)

** Postage to USA / Canada only


  1. Two questions actually:

    First (really a multi-part): How did you find Kensington? Did you query a lot before signing wit them?

    How do you manage your time given the demands of teaching and family?

  2. Thanks for the questions, K. Kensington is one of those publishers that still takes unagented material. I just added my ms to their slush pile while I was querying for agents. I'd received about 60 rejections I'd guess from agents before I heard back from Kensington.

    As for the time management, it can be tough. For a long time, I had a job (laid off from it at the moment, and looking for new one) which luckily for me, allowed me to get writing time in while I was at work. It's a lot of evening and weekend time otherwise. School interferes at times, cutting my writing time down to almost nothing, and if/when I graduate and get an actual teaching job, I'll have to see how that goes. Many writers work around the constraints of full time job and writing. It's not easy, but if you really want it, you find the time, which usually means, all of your free time for other things gets focused on writing.

  3. Deadworld sounds like a great read. You've definitely piqued my interest with your description of Jackie's internal battles. So my question is: when and were will it be available in Australia? :-)

  4. Sounds like a GREAT read! In my opinion there can never be to many vampire stories! Congrats on the book release and thanks for the great interview Aimee!

  5. Congrats Jim! I can't wait to get to see your book on the shelf (and read it, which should happen shortly thereafter).
    How was that first 'in the wild' sighting?

  6. Cally, as far as I know, it's out in AU on May 1st, but I think you can actually order from www.thebookdepository.com which has free, worldwide shipping. I might be wrong on that, but worth checking into.

    Julie, I had a little snafu about seeing my book in the wild on release day. It was only at booksamillion, which I didn't travel to, and not at B/N which I did. So, sadly, I did not get my own release day sighting. The B/N in my general area aren't stocking it yet, but hopefully will be soon. Seems kind of silly to not stock it in the author's home area but have it in other parts of the country. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story when get the chance to read it.

  7. A belated congratulations on your debut release! What can ground a paranomal are struggles with personal issues--it's a nice oasis in a sea of vampires and werewolves. Can't wait to see Deadworld in the wild. :)