Q: Welcome! First off, if you could tell a little bit about yourself and what types of stories you enjoy writing as well as which genres you write in?
A: I’ve been a writer, artist and filmmaker for about 20 years now. Most of my work tends toward the dark side: I grew up loving monsters and as I got older that grew into an appreciation of gothic literature like Dracula and Frankenstein, horror lit pioneers like Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft, and classic horror comics like Tales from the Crypt, Tomb of Dracula and Swamp Thing. This fascination filtered into my painting and illustration work: which led me to writing and directing horror films, and finally back to writing dark fiction. I didn’t start my prose writing career until my early 40s, so I’m a great example of the “it’s never too late to start” adage.
Q: I’d love to share a bit about your most recent work ‘American Cryptic,’ if you could let our readers know about it?
A: American Cryptic collects thirteen stories and essays about unexplainable things I’ve personally experienced, some very creepy stories related to me by close friends, an analysis of several boogeyman stories endemic to Western Pennsylvania (where I’m originally from), as well as some histories of uncanny local places. More than anything, I wanted it to be about people’s need to pass these spooky stories down through generations. Why do we feel compelled to tell ghost stories? People have been doing this since we lived in caves, so what purpose do these myths fulfill?
Q: When you write a new story, what kind of research do you do for it?
A: It depends on what type of thing I’m writing. If it’s non-fiction or a fiction story that’s historically based, then I’ll do a good deal of preparation. I do tend to write a lot of period fiction, from Civil War era to the 1990s, so that does require accruing a lot of reference in order to get the accuracy required so my reader isn’t shocked out of the story by something anachronistic.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your work?
A: I’m from Pittsburgh, PA, and my years there had a huge effect on not only my creative work, but who I am as well. I grew up as the Rust Belt’s steel industry was going away, and in the case of Pittsburgh, was being replaced by the tech industry. I guess I learned that all things—people, animals, even factories and cultures—have a lifespan, and then they pass away into history. I think that had a lasting affect on me as well as my art. I also grew up surrounded by folk with a strong work ethic, and I think that instilled in me early on that success isn’t something that’s granted or magically happens one day, but rather something you work for and earn with your own sweat equity.
Q: When did you fall in love with writing and has anyone supported or detracted from your love of the craft in a significant way?
A: I got hooked on storytelling early on. I enjoyed taking the established narratives from movies and TV I loved—Star Wars or GI Joe or Transformers or Voltron—and continuing the story with my toys. I was on my own a lot as a kid, and this afforded me plenty of time to live inside my own imagination. As I got into my teens, my friends and I started shooting films on VHS, and crafting stories within the very modest limitations we had was always a fun challenge.
I think like many creatives, I had people in my life that encouraged me, as well as those who were convinced I was wasting my time. And there were definitely moments over the last two decades where I was convinced that the latter group was correct. It took me a long time to establish myself as someone who creates for a living. This is all I do, is to tell stories both with words and with visuals, be it for production or publication. I’m lucky to be where I am, but it took a lot of work and sacrifice to get here.
Q: What kind of scenes do you enjoy writing, which do you dread?
A: I enjoy dialogue immensely. Writing a clever and funny conversation between two characters is always a pleasure. I like painting a visual picture for the reader, so anything descriptive is fun as well. Sometimes I find describing how characters are moving around in relation to their environment (what we call blocking in film) to be a little tiresome: something like “She entered the room and moved towards the desk” is just a bit of mechanics necessary for the narrative, but it can be challenging to make interesting.
For me, story is all about character. The reader is following someone (or something) through an interesting part of their life, and if that main character, protagonist or antagonist, isn’t compelling or the reader can’t empathize with them in some small way, then the story won’t hold their attention. So really I like writing characters, human as well as the non- variety. That’s my in to any story both as reader and author.
Q: What was the first story that you published (and if it was a short story, where?)
A: I had a short story called “Warlock’s Eye” published by Amber Newberry Izzo’s FunDead Publications, for their anthology One Night in Salem, I think in 2017. It was a fun story about a Civil War vet returning home to Salem after the war with PTSD, and befriending a stray cat as he rebuilds his family home. There’s a neighbor who hates the cat and is trying to kill it, and the main character has to try to find a solution that doesn’t involve the violence to which he’s become so accustomed in the last few years. I’m glad it was the first bit of prose that got out there for people to read—it had a good balance of light and dark and I think it really emblemized what it is I’m trying to do as a writer.
Q: Where do you do your writing and how many hours a day do you write?
A: I split my time between my home office, my basement studio and my living room. I find if I change my environment from time to time it loosens up the creative flow. The hours I write differ depending on what I’m writing and for what media, and if there’s a deadline. I can write ten hours in a day for weeks if need be, but usually it’s about six or seven if I’m not otherwise occupied shooting or editing for my film work. Usually I like to work in the studio in the daytime, and the living room if I write later at night.
Q: We’ve all heard of writer’s block, but have you ever gotten reader’s block?
A: Like many other people, the challenge for me is to find the time to read. I’ve gotten to know so many great writers working right now through all the anthologies I’ve been lucky enough to be included in along with them. It’s nice to be part of a little community of creatives, and I always look forward to when one of them announces something they’ve gotten something new published.
Q: Thanks again, do you have any teases of what you’re working on next that you could hint at?
A: My first horror novella, Bloodsucker City, is coming out from Castle Bridge Media in November 2021, and I’m very excited about it. The story follows a Depression-era woman falsely convicted of killing her own son, who’s sentenced to Steelegate Women’s Prison, where all the wardens are vampires. It started out as a screenplay back in 2013, and eventually I turned it into a prose story. I hope to continue doing that with other stories, as a way to get them out there for people to read, if not watch.
Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
As I said, I struggled for a while to get where I now find myself, and I enjoy interacting with other creatives who are on similar journeys—both successful or still upcoming. In a virtual world that can be abusive or even toxic, I try to be a positive, creative force. So I’d invite folks to come find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube to not only keep up with my projects, but also hopefully have some good interactions. Thanks so much.
You can find Jim right here: