The Kendall Reviews Interview
Miranda Crites talks to James Newman
Last year, I had the honor of interviewing James Newman. This was so much fun!!
Who is James Newman?
I’m a husband and father from North Carolina who loves spooky stuff and rock n’ roll. I’ve written some stuff that folks seem to like a lot, which makes me happy. My published work includes the novels Midnight Rain, Animosity, The Wicked, and Ugly As Sin, the short story collections People Are Strange and The Long n’ Short of It, and the novellas Odd Man Out and Ride or Die.
I frequently collaborate with guys named Mark. I wrote a novella called Dog Days o’ Summer with Mark Allan Gunnells, followed by In the Scrape and The Special with Mark Steensland. That last one was made into a movie not too long ago.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
My mom says I started making up little monster stories from the moment I could read and write. Those stories would usually have illustrations to go along with them; before I focused solely on writing, I remember I wanted to be a comic book artist. Problem was, I didn’t have the artistic talent to pull that off. I can reproduce just about any piece of art you put in front of me, but that’s the extent of it.
What was the first story you ever wrote? What was it about?
The first one I remember was a story called “Four-Eyes.” It was a revenge fantasy about a guy who always goes around calling people who wear glasses “four-eyes”. One day he says it to the wrong person, a weird dude who places his hand over the bully’s face and mumbles something unintelligible. The bully stumbles home, feeling sick, and when he looks in the mirror, he discovers that he now has – literally – four eyes. In the final sentence, he decides he can’t possibly live like this, and he slowly reaches for the scissors in a drawer beneath his sink . . .
How do you make time for writing?
It’s not always easy! I’ll grab a few minutes while my son’s busy doing his homework or playing video games or when my wife’s cooking dinner. Sometimes I’ll roll out of bed a little earlier than everyone else or stay up late to finish a chapter or do some editing. The time’s there, you just have to make the most of it when’s it available.
How has your writing style changed over the years?
I would like to think it’s gotten leaner and meaner. I tended to overwrite a lot in the early days, didn’t yet grasp the importance of that old saying “kill your darlings”. These days I’m all about economy of words. I go back and read some of that early stuff now and I can’t help but cringe a little (I’m looking at you, Midnight Rain). I think a lot of writers do that — if we don’t get better over time, we might as well hang it up, right?
Which novel/story that you’ve written is your favorite?
That’s a tough one. At the moment it’s probably Ride or Die, but doesn’t that feel like when a band says their newest release is the best thing they’ve ever done? Of course it is. Jeez . . . I really don’t know. I will say that Animosity and Odd Man Out both have a special place in my heart because of the social commentary.
Which was the most fun to write?
Ugly As Sin, without a doubt. I really want to revisit Ugly’s main character, Nick “The Widowmaker” Bullman, one of these days. Matter of fact, I had expected to long before now – and I’ve had quite a few readers demand it — but other projects took priority.
My latest release, Ride or Die, ranks a close second. I had a blast writing from the POV of teenage girls, as challenging as it proved to be at times, and of course the fun ramped up even more once the villains were introduced. The “mixed media” approach, for the interstitial stuff – the text messages, etc – made Ride or Die a different experience too. I love inserting epistolary stuff into my prose when the opportunity presents itself.
Which, if any, of your stories is the most autobiographical?
The one that comes the closest is Odd Man Out. Now, before my readers start thinking I was involved in a murder at a summer camp when I was a teenager, let me stress that I’m only referring to the framing story, the bit occurs in the present. That really happened, almost word for word. The only difference was, in real life my girl didn’t vote with the majority — she’s nothing like the protagonist’s wife, thank God. In fact, she suggested we excuse ourselves from that situation before it had reached its conclusion (if memory serves, her exact words were, “I’m not gonna listen to this shit anymore”). So, we did.
Rituals: You’re getting ready to write. Do you pour a favorite beverage, light candles, crank up the music? Basically, what do you do to prepare yourself before diving into your writing world?
I usually have a cup of coffee on-hand and a playlist full of instrumental music like Lustmord, John Carpenter, and the soundtrack to The Guest. Beyond that, I just grab my laptop (or a notebook/journal on those rare occasions when I write longhand) and I get to work.
Do you have a designated writing space, or do you write in different places often or just wherever it’s convenient at the time?
It used to be wherever and whenever I could find a little peace and quiet. As of this week, though, I have an office for the first time in years – my oldest son moved out and I have converted his former room into my domain. Creativity will ensue, let’s hope.
Are you an outliner or a pantser?
I’m an outliner usually, because I’m terrified of painting myself into a corner. However, the whole thing is malleable – it’s a loose list of scenes, conversations between characters, and other bits and pieces required for the project, more than a rigid outline per se. I do prefer to know ahead of time how I plan to get from point A to point C even if I’m not 100% sure what B will look like until I start writing it.
What are some of your favorite hobbies?
I tinker around on the guitar but I’m not any good at it — as much as she loves the Cult’s original, I’m pretty sure my wife is sick of hearing “Edie (Ciao Baby)” ten thousand times a day. I love hiking, biking, spending time outdoors. I’m a voracious reader, it should go without saying. I’m a huge movie nerd. A music fanatic. I also love watching college basketball, especially when my UNC Tar Heels are playing.
What is your favorite food?
Tacos. Can’t get enough of them. Followed closely by chocolate-covered raisins.
What is something your readers might not expect about you?
One of my all-time favorite writers is Jodi Picoult. I’m sure it murders my “scary horror guy” cred to admit how much I adore the work of someone who’s been praised by Oprah, whose work has been adapted on more than one occasion by the Lifetime channel, etc., but I couldn’t care less. Picoult perfectly captures what it means to be human, showing the POV of every character and ultimately making you feel at sympathy even for the people you despised when you first started reading. She makes you look at life in a different way. She’s amazing.
Why do you write?
Because I like to make stuff up. I love to see a story come together from the seed of an idea to publication. There’s no greater feeling in the world.
Who do you write for?
Myself, first and foremost. And if I’m having a good time with something – if I think to myself, “Man, this is something I would love to read” – then I usually know I’m on to something cool.
Why horror? What spoke to you and lured you into the horror genre?
Wow. That’s a great question. It might have started when my parents took me to see The Incredible Melting Man and Halloween when I was four or five years old. Those movies terrified me but fascinated me at the same time, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve always been intrigued by the darker things in life. I’m curious about the creatures that lurk in the shadows, as well as the real evil that lives inside of some people. Maybe it’s superstitious – some primal, subconscious belief that, if I keep up on such matters and don’t let the monsters sneak up on me, they can’t get me or my loved ones. Forewarned is forearmed. Sounds corny, I know, but I like that answer.
What is the best book you’ve read so far this year? (2021)
COME WITH ME, by Ronald Malfi. In fact, it’s the best book I’ve read in the last FEW years.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
Boy’s Life, by Robert R. McCammon. The only book that ever made me cry (although Malfi’s came close).
What advice would you give to a new horror author?
Ditch unnecessary words. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Less is more. Read your work aloud to make sure it flows as smoothly as you think it does – usually it doesn’t and needs another pass or two. Cut stuff that makes you too proud of yourself — if it sounds like WRITING, no matter how beautiful it might be, it needs to go. You want your reader to be fully immersed in the world you’re creating, to the extent that she forgets she’s reading altogether.
Also, be humble. Self-promotion is great, but don’t be obnoxious, dude. And never respond to negative reviews. They’re gonna happen. Wanna be a professional? Act like it.
You’ve just been offered an endless amount of money. It NEVER runs out. You can use it any way you choose, but you can never write again. Do you take the money?
Probably. I’m a whore, and a lazy one at that. I’m sure I’d eventually find some way to cheat, though.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
A collaboration with a bigshot in the horror genre, a guy I grew up reading (!). I’ll leave it up to my readers to guess the identity of my co-writer (although I think some have already figured it out, based on a few social media posts). It’s a gritty road-trip revenge novel that hits on so many different emotions. It’s horrifying, it’s violent as hell, it’s heartbreaking. Folks are gonna dig this, I promise. It’ll be a while, though, as we’re barely a third of the way into our first draft.
Talking about “The Special,” how does it feel to have a movie based on a book you co-wrote with Mark Steensland?
Unreal. That’s the best word for it. And that feeling of disbelief is made even stronger by the fact that the adaptation is pretty great! Mark and I couldn’t be happier with the finished product.
Are there other movies that have been based on your books?
No, as far as adaptations. A few years ago, an original screenplay I wrote called Still Waters was filmed by a local indie production company. It was a for-hire project about a serial killer who preys upon women who can’t swim. It was a super-low budget project, but it turned out really well.
Thank you for taking time to answer my interview questions.
The pleasure’s all mine, Miranda. Thanks for caring about what I have to say! I value your support, but I value your friendship even more.
James Newman lives in the mountains of North Carolina. He is the author of the novels MIDNIGHT RAIN, THE WICKED, ANIMOSITY, and UGLY AS SIN, the collections PEOPLE ARE STRANGE and THE LONG N’ SHORT OF IT, and the novellas ODD MAN OUT, RIDE OR DIE, and IN THE SCRAPE (co-written with Mark Steensland). His novella THE SPECIAL (also w/Steensland) was adapted as a feature film in 2020.
Miranda Crites is a reader, writer, book reviewer, photographer, artist, and lover of horror from the ghostly woods of rural West Virginia.
She has a Writing for Children and Teenagers diploma although most of her current work is horror fiction and poetry.
Miranda is a member of Team Kendall Reviews at www.KendallReviews.com where you can find her horror book reviews and her monthly feature, Miranda Snaps, which generally contains horror fiction and photography.
She has artwork, including paintings and/or photography, published in the following books: “Black Dogs, Black Tales – Where the Dogs Don’t Die: A Charity Anthology for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand” edited by Tabatha Wood and Cassie Hart; “The Boy Whose Room Was Outside” by Steve Stred & The Kids; and “Of Witches…” by Steve Stred.
Miranda is one of “The Thirty,” which is a group of thirty authors who have each taken a turn in writing a chapter of a horror novel. “He Has Stayed Too Long”
You can follow Miranda on Instagram miranda_crites
Follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaCrites
You can find out more about Miranda via her website www.mirandacritesreadsandwrites.com