Sunday, June 03, 2012

Darrell James for Authors @ The Teague

I had the chance to host Darrell James, author of Nazareth Child, for Authors @ The Teague. The audience enjoyed his presentation, combining writing information with the background of his book.

In response to Darrell's opening question, he only found one person in the audience who uses an electronic device to read. He said usually when he speaks, it's fifty-fifty in the audience. He said he's still old school. He likes the feel of a real book and the smell of ink on the page.

Darrell said he was originally from the Midwest, northern Kentucky. He went into the engineering field, and worked as a sales engineer. He didn't do the designs because he was restless. He sold technical projects so he could be out of the office.

Darrell was always an avid reader. In 1995, he thought it would be fantastic to be one of the people who writes. He thought of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard. So, he told his wife he was going to be a mystery writer. He even labelled an envelope "1995". He was going to put his receipts in it so he could save his receipts and write off expenses against the income he was going to make as a writer. That's how naive he was. So, he sat down one Saturday, and started to type. He went on and on about the description of people out hiking, and then when he decided that maybe they should stay something, he stopped dead. He just froze. James realized he had no idea how to write a story.

James continue to write, and he even finished a novel, The Walking Man. He sent it out the next year. And, he received all kinds of rejection slips. They went right next to that envelope for his 1995 tax receipts. Then, he wrote a second novel, Well Dogs Don't Chill. It was about a cop trying to retire, but there was too much crime. That novel suffered the same fate as the first one. He sent it to the same editors and publishers, and received 60-100 rejection slips. Then he tried an original screenplay. It went around Hollywood, but no one was interested.

Finally, Darrell's wife encouraged him to go back to basics, and try writing short stories. He wrote a half dozen or so, and received rejection letters again. Then, in 2003, the editor of Futures Mysterious Anthologies Magazine bought a story. James had submitted it as part of a contest. He won third place in the mystery competition, and they bought the story for $10. He and his wife celebrated with a bottle of champagne that cost more than the $10 he received. Four to six weeks after that notification, he received a call from the same editor. He had sent them an earlier story, and they wanted that for the next issue. So, he had one story in the fall issue and one in the winter. Then Hardboiled Magazine paid $50 to publish a story. Futures Mysterious Anthologies Magazine went out of business, but in the meantime, Darrell was getting recognized for his short stories. And, he was getting invitations to submit stories for anthologies. He did a collection, Body Count, that contained fifteen of his mysteries. He won a Deadly Ink competition. One day he found his wife crying over one of his stories, "Something Heavy When You Need It." She later told him that's when she knew he'd be a success as a writer.

Darrell went on to talk about emotional content as the key component in writing. He said we don't connect if a piece doesn't have heart. He used the movie Rocky as an example. He said that story is well-written. He thinks it's technically perfect from a writer's point of view. He reminded us that Sylvester Stallone wrote it. He said we really don't care for Rocky at first. He's just a bum. Then, we see his relationship with his dog, then Adrian. When he gets the chance to fight the heavyweight champ, he looks at Adrian, and tells her he can't beat the heavyweight champion. The emotional content surrounds Rocky's quest to fight. The characters come alive.

To date, James has published thirty short stories. And, he showed us the collection, Vengeance. He has a story in that collection, along with Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, and Alafair Burke. They're all top storytellers in the mystery genre.

When people tell Darrell he has talent, he thanks them, and says, not really. He's just an experienced writer. Now, when he submits a story, he has a high degree of confidence it will be published. He's working his way up the food chain with a goal of being on the bestseller list.

Nazareth Child, Darrell James' first novel, came out last September. Then, in March 2012, it won the Left Coast Crime Eureka Award for Best First Novel. The story features a young female protagonist from Tucson who specializes in locating and retrieving missing persons. The emotional content surrounds Del Shannon who is gaining a reputation for the success of her job. The irony is she's so good at locating people, but the one person she can't find is the mother she never knew. She's been on a life-long quest to find her mother. Her father has maintained the secret, and won't tell her anything about her mother. He even went so far as to tear the genealogy out of the family Bible.

The case of a faith healer in Kentucky brings the feds to Del's door, surprising her, and raising her father's ire. There's a house there that belongs to her father. The house is in a fictional town, Nazareth Church in the hills of Kentucky. That faith healer might just have clues to Del's mother's past. The case sends her on a quest to find out if her mother is alive or dead.

Darrell has a contract for the first three books in a series featuring Del Shannon. His next book in the series, Sonora Crossing, is due out in September. Del's quest takes her into Mexico across the Arizona border. She's searching for a seven-year-old girl who doesn't speak, but is believed to be a clairvoyant. Del's on a quest to find her. At the same time, she's dealing with the death of a former lover, Ed Jeski, the man who taught her how to handle guns. Del doesn't accept the party-line about his death, and the seven-year-old might know something about his death.

Book three is due in to the publisher in August. Hopefully, Darrell will get contracts for books four, five, etc. Darrell put a lot of his wife's attitudes into Del. He created Del to be a woman he loved. He fell in love with his own creation.

When the audience asked questions, the first question dealt with Darrell's familiarity with Tucson. He said he's owned a house in Tucson for twenty years. He also lived in Pasadena for twelve of the twenty years, mostly because of his wife's work. When it came time to develop a series and decide where to set characters, he knew everyone writes about LA. He didn't want to try to compete with Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Joseph Wambaugh. So, he set his books in Tucson.

Asked if he was familiar with another author who used Tucson as a setting, J.A. Jance, he said yes, but their styles are different. She writes a police procedural. He writes mystery/thrillers. The mystery is embedded in his books. They're not whodunnits. Readers know who the bad guy is up front. Silas Rule in Nazareth Child is not a nice guy. The story question in these books is how does the conflict resolve itself.

When he was asked whether he knows how his books will end, Darrell said different writers have different techniques. Some write the opening and closing, then the parts in between. Some use outlines. James doesn't use either technique. He starts with a core idea that intrigues him, and then starts writing. His characters are in place, though, now that he wrote his first book.

He told us that Elmore Leonard was the greatest influence on him. He loved his voice on the page. The stories are simple, however his characters come alive. Leonard doesn't know it, but Darrell James studied at his feet. He compared his writing. He listened to the stories on audio, sometimes ten or twelve times. He gets a rhythm on the page. When people tell Darrell that his writing almost sounds like music, he takes it as a compliment. He hears a beat, a patter in his head.

Asked about writing another series, Darrell said his first three books are under contract. Book three is due in August. Once he submits it, he hopes to negotiate the next contract for that series. He has another book in a different series almost done. It's 95% complete. He had to stop writing that to meet his August deadline. When he finishes this one, he'll send it to his agent, and try to sell that series.

When he was asked if his editor makes a lot of changes, Darrell told us he has four editors with his publisher. The first is the acquisitions editor who buys the book. That person also edits it for revisions, for the big concepts, such as they don't like the ending or a character. Everyone with James' publisher reads the book. Then, they have a visionary meeting to decide how to market the book, what it will look like, even the title. The production editor checks the book's details for accuracy. The copy editor looks for typos and spelling. The packaging editor decides how it's going to look, even the font style.

His editors did have one revision. In Nazareth Child, there's an ATF agent assigned to the FBI named Frank Falconet. Darrell didn't write him to be a series character. But, people loved Frank, and the editors wanted a revision to book two because it didn't mention Frank. Frank is coming back in book three.

Darrell was asked if he ever considered self-publishing his books. He said he used a subsidy publishing company for his story collection, Body Count, then it was sold through iUniverse. He paid for an editor. But those stories has already been published in other venues. He's said there's a lot of propaganda in the marketplace about self-publishing. His opinion is that it's a bunch of hooey. If a writer is unknown, they're not selling many copies. If they're doing it electronically, they're limited to one or two venues. However, if a writer is published by a traditional publisher, their books will be purchased by libraries, bookstores. They'll sell foreign rights, and it will be sold on Amazon. He never considered self-publishing his mysteries. There are so many channels available to someone published by a traditional publisher that are not available to the self-published writer. There's already a marketplace. James' books are eligible for awards because he's with a traditional publisher. He won the Eureka Award. He's seen at conferences.

How many hours a week does Darrell spend writing? He writes six hours a day, seven days a week. Right now, he takes vacations when he goes to conferences. His first book, Nazareth Child, was written while he was still working. He had an hour over his lunch hour to write, so he'd sit in his truck at a Starbucks and write. Then, he'd write on the weekends. He said he spends a month or so on a short story, but they don't pay as much as a novel. Vengeance might be different, though. He's one of twenty authors in that, and with the names like Lee Child and Michael Connelly, it's selling well. He gets a 1/20th share of that book, and he might do well with it.

In response to a question, Darrell told us he's lousy at choosing titles. His publisher picks the title. They design the covers, and choose the titles. Nazareth Child was called The Evangelist originally. When the publisher held the visioning meeting, they asked him for five or six titles suggestions, and they picked Nazareth Child.

He was asked how much research he does. Darrell said he does quite a bit of research on setting. Del's books open and close in Tucson with a quest to bring someone home. But, he pulls photos online to get images of the settings in Kentucky or Mexico. The third book is set in the bayous of Louisiana. He even researched the wildlife. He said he doesn't know how authors researched settings before the Internet.

Darrell did say he needed to do research for Nazareth Child while writing about Silas Rule. He wanted to write about how a charismatic faith healer influences people. So, he downloaded letters of David Koresh, letters he had written to his congregation. Those were terrifying in their arrogance. Those people believe in themselves, and project that belief. Darrell wanted a sense of how they talked, both publicly and privately. He wanted to convey that arrogance in the story.

Before asking Darrell to sign copies of Nazareth Child, I assured the audience that he had conveyed that arrogance in the book. It's an engrossing story, one that kept me up thinking about it after I finished it.

Darrell James' website is

Nazareth Child by Darrell James. Midnight Ink. 2011. 9780738723693 (paperback), 350p.


Beth Hoffman said...

Darrell sounds like a very nice and fascinating man. When I read that he was originally from N. KY, I wondered if perhaps he was raised in my area. I agree with him about books vs e-readers, I too prefer the feel of a book in my hands.

I really enjoyed reading this, Lesa. What a terrific event.

Lesa said...

Beth, He was raised in northern Kentucky, right across from Cincinnati. I'm with both of you about traditional books.

Thank you!

Judith Starkston said...

I was sorry to miss this event. Darrell is a very entertaining speaker. Kudos to you for hosting so many great writers at the Teague!

Lesa said...

Hmm. I don't know why my note didn't take. Thank you, Judith!