I just interviewed the fabulous James L Weaver and I’m so excited to share it with you!
James is the author of Poor Boy Road published in 2016, and I was lucky enough to talk to him about his latest novel Ares Road released just last week.
First, a quick look at Ares Road:
With his days as a mob enforcer behind him, Jake Caldwell’s trying to go straight.
But it seems his past won’t let him go.
His first job working as a private investigator turns up a teenage girl screaming down a dead man’s cell phone, and Logan, his mentor and the only man with answers, beaten into a coma.
Now Jake’s taking it personally.
The only clues Jake has to unravel the mystery are a Russian with a stolen silver briefcase and three names: Snell, Parley and Ares. Teaming up with his best friend Bear, the sheriff of his home town, and an attractive FBI agent, Jake quickly discovers they’re not the only ones looking for the briefcase and its deadly contents.
It’s no longer about seeking revenge.
The thrilling second book in the Jake Caldwell series is a heart-stopping ride that won’t disappoint fans.
So James, where did you get the idea for Ares Road? And why did you choose to set it in your home town?
SPOILER ALERT!! – The entire series will have ties to my hometown of Kansas City. Now, there may be some instances in future books where we branch out to other parts of the country, but I want to make sure the hidden gem that is my hometown gets as much love as possible.
As for the idea behind Ares Road, I wanted to increase the stakes from Poor Boy Road and try something a little more complex. Ares Road has a lot of moving parts and I had to storyboard the hell out of it to make sure all the stars lined up. In my original outline, instead of a bio weapon it was going to be a weapons system hack where the Russians could take control of our missiles, but the technological aspect of it got to be too complex.
In the end, I realized the story is about getting the briefcase and those behind it, not necessarily what the briefcase contained so I flipped the contents to the bio weapon.
That sounds like a great lesson in the art of re-drafting right there – sometimes the biggest changes keep us more on track than ever! So what’s the message you hope readers take away from Ares Road?
Like Poor Boy Road, I want readers to remember that it’s not where you came from or what you once were, but rather what you are and what you do now. But mostly, even if they don’t get that message, I want them to get to know the characters and have fun while reading. When someone tells me a book is a page turner, I’m more apt to pick it up and have a go than if it has some great theme or message. So yes, there is a redemptive message in the book, but mostly I think it’s just a damn good time.
That sounds like my kind of book! What inspired you to come up with Jake Caldwell’s story – was it a flash of insight or a slow dawning?
Jake really was born from a flash of insight. I knew I wanted to do a thriller book, but not a cop book or ex-military special forces guy as there are a ton of those out there already. I was looking for something that would eventually involve those types of characters, but I wanted it centered around someone looking to turn his life around.
Did your fleshing out of his character, motives and personality take long to develop?
While the idea of a mob enforcer with a conscience just popped in my head one day, his backstory took a little while to flesh itself out. He needed to have some involvement in the seedier side of society, but not so deep that it would be unrealistic that he could pull himself out.
How long did it take you to write each of the Jake Caldwell books?
For both, I’d say the original drafts probably took 5-6 months each. I’m a very sporadic writer. I know you’re supposed to write every day and have this driving, primal urge that drives you to write every day, but my life just isn’t like that. I have a full-time job, two active kids and am too much of a television junkie to do that.
I’ll go through periods where I don’t write for several days or even more than a week. Then, I’ll get an idea and splurge. This weekend, for example, I wrote about 6,000 words of the new Jake Caldwell book. If the flow is good, I write. If it isn’t, I’ll go do something else until the urge strikes again.
I have to admit I’m envious as that’s definitely a lot faster than I manage! While we’re on the personal questions… who are some authors who inspire you or influence your writing?
It’s very true that good readers make good writers, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Stephen King who really got me into reading. Such brilliant, complex and long tales. He is a master of the craft.
I’d say my other main influences would be Lee Child and his Jack Reacher series. When pitching Poor Boy Road to agents, I said that Jake Caldwell would be Jack Reacher’s black sheep cousin and I would love to pull Reacher into a Jake Caldwell tale someday.
Another big influence would be John Sandford and his Prey books with Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport. Sandford helped show me how to blend in the backstory from previous novels without repeating the entire story.
I’d also have to say James Patterson as he showed me the power of short chapters. I’ve had several people tell me they love having short chapters as they feel it increases the pace and they know they can get through a couple chapters when they don’t have a lot of time to read.
To whom would you hope to be compared?
If I would be compared to any of them, I’d be flattered as hell.
What made you choose an Australian publisher (besides flattering us!) before one from Jake’s (and your) home country?
I wanted someone who would love my book as much as I did and Lakewater Press convinced me that they did. Kate Foster at Lakewater and I ‘met’ when I submitted Poor Boy Road through the #Nestpitch writing contest. Poor Boy Road made it to the last stage of the contest, but wasn’t selected for the agent round. Kate was on a team that didn’t select Poor Boy Road at all, but after the contest was over, she got in touch with me and let me know how much she loved it and wanted to publish it.
We exchanged multiple emails over a period of several months and I was intrigued by her passion about publishing and my work. In the end, it was very easy to sign the contract with them, no matter where they were located. Whether you go with a big publishing house or a small one, you have to feel they are as invested in your work as you are as the author.
I’ve found no bigger cheerleader for my stuff that Kate and the Lakewater team.
What is your favourite* part of being a writer?
My favorite* part is writing that sentence you know is gold. That one where you write it, then physically lean back in your chair and marvel that those words came from your fingertips. It’s an incredible rush.
And your least favourite?
The least favorite part for me is the self-promotion. I know that I need to get my name out there, but I always feel guilty posting repeatedly on Facebook and Twitter. It’s part of the job as people won’t read what they don’t know about. I’ve come to realize though that people don’t read every single post and despite how much I feel I’ve posted, I still have friends and people I’m friends with on Facebook say “You’ve written a book?”. So, I try to balance out the book posts with other relevant and funny material so they don’t think I’m a one trick pony.
I like that idea of balancing your posts – I hope you don’t mind if I try it! What about pitching – do you find it easy? Or is it harder than writing the book itself?
Oh my God, I hate pitching. I’d rather pluck my eyebrows out one at a time with wet, slippery tweezers than craft a query letter. I mean, you just wrote a 70,000+ word novel with complex characters and crossing plot lines. How hard can it be to craft a three paragraph letter???
Well, the answer is incredibly hard if you want to do it right. I took a Writers’ Digest webinar on crafting a query letter several years ago and finally came out with something good. I shot it back and forth with the presenters of the workshop who thought it was great. Then, I got almost zero bites on it when I sent it out to prospective agents.
Did you find it difficult to sort through conflicting help and tips in the process?
When I later hooked up with some agented authors at a writing seminar, I talked to them and ended up sharing that query and they said the query letter was the problem and slashed it to pieces.
In truth, I don’t think any of them were wrong and that while there is a somewhat standard format for pitches, it comes down to the incredibly difficult task of matching what you have with what they are looking for at that moment in time.
My tip? Write the query or pitch, rewrite it until your eyes and fingertips bleed, send it out to several peers for feedback, and keep rewriting until it’s so tight that you could bounce a quarter off the page.
Well, thanks for your time today James – you’ve given us a lot of useful tips. Before I let you go – where to next for Jake? Can you give us a teaser?
Oh, Jake and Bear are going to find themselves in quite the predicament in the next novel which is going to be entitled Blackbird Road. Jake is delving deeper into the private eye business and will find himself caught in the crossfire of two foreign agents out to kill each other. We’ll spend some more time in Warsaw, and jump into Jake and Maggie’s relationship a bit deeper to find out if she truly wants the life she could potentially be getting herself and their daughter into. You’ll see a return of some of the cast of Ares Road – those that survived that is!
I love that title! How long will we have to wait to read it?
I’m about 10,000 words into it, but it’s still in the early stages of development. My hope is that we can have the novel out by Christmas, but part of that depends on the fine folks at Lakewater!
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* Not a spelling mistake – just a cultural difference 😉