Author Spotlight – James Eggebeen
James A. Eggebeen has published seven novels since 2011. He began writing at a young age, but it was only after he was disillusioned by a college course in poetry that he switched to creative writing class and was bitten by the fiction bug and hasn’t looked back.
Born into a Dutch farming community in Wisconsin, James served in the Navy and then worked as an executive in the high-tech sector. It was when his wife spent three months abroad that he began to think about writing professionally
When he’s not immersed in worlds of swords and sorcery, James works from home as a programmer, something he says helps avoid the daily commute on clogged Californian roads.
James has met many new friends as an active member in several writing groups and loves working with new writers to help them along on their journey. With his next series of novels already plotted, James’ goal is to just keep writing!
Thanks for joining us today, James. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’m reading Elizabeth Moon, Deeds of Paksenarrion. A friend recommended it to me as a great fantasy book with a strong female character that would be similar to my latest book. Like any new author, it took a few chapters to get into the world and the characters, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’d probably be a cleric. I have cultivated a calm demeanour in the face of chaos. That being said, I’d have a sword. I used to do karate and we learned how to use a sword. I had one of those practice swords around for a while. The aluminium bladed one with a nice ribbon on the handle. I’m sure if I ever needed to use it, I’d get my hands cut off in a heartbeat, but what’s cooler than a sword?
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I type. When I was in high school many years ago, I took typing class because it was supposed to be a great way to meet girls. There were so many boys who did that they created a class just for the boys. I learned to type on a manual because that was what my father had at home. I didn’t have enough strength in my pinkies to make the letters come out dark enough, so I learned to touch type without my little fingers getting involved. Even after 40 years of daily typing, I still have those pinkie fingers just sort of curled up out of the way when I type. Hand writing? Never. Can’t read my own writing. It’s worse than trying to use speech to text. I’d spend way too much time trying to figure out what I wrote.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Definitely music. I have playlists I create for each mood and pick one that suits the mood of the scene when I start writing. Lots of violins and classic rock for me.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
Architect. I’m a big–time plotter. I’m an engineer by trade and temperament and I just think that way. I have a friend who is a full-time writer. She’s a pantser. When I sat down to show her the outline for Indentured Magic, she said that I had told the whole story in the outline, and the writing the book was simply showing what was already figured out in the outline. My outlines are usually over a hundred pages long with detailed notes and photos of the characters. Whenever I try to pants a novel, I end up with half a book and no idea where to go.
I get up early to write. That means most often, I am in my bath robe or shorts and a T-shirt. I start by revising the last chapter I finished just to get my head into the story. Then I roll right on intothe next scene. Usually I do the opening paragraph with lots of scene setting detail, but as the scene gets going, it sort of come out in dialog. After that’s all on the page, I go back and fill in the details, gestures, physicality and emotions. The sort of stuff that takes a bit of thinking. When I’m happy, I move on, knowing that the next session will begin with my revising what I just finished.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Probably Disney’s Fantasia. I used to take the kids to Disneyland and watch it displayed on the water. It brings such a visceral feel to the magic and creates a sense of wonder. When I first started writing, I used those deep sensory impressions when the characters did magic. After a while, I backed off a bit, but my readers said they missed that, so now I try to invoke that deep feeling that comes when someone tries to do magic. I always strive for that sense of wow that I got watching that movie.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
Flyboys. It was a movie about a group of Americans who joined the French Air Corp in 1917. Lots of flying in vintage aircraft. I loved it. I used to fly and still miss it. When I write about the dragons in flight, It’s mostly drawing on my experiences of flying. There’s nothing like being up there all on your own and just “boring holes in the sky.”
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Other than napping? I like to do wood working to the extent that we need it. I built shoe racks for my wife and cabinets in the garage, but once that’s done, I write code.
You’d think that I get enough of that, but I’m fascinated by how software works. Right now, I’m writing Alexa Skills. We recently downsized to a new house and I replaced all the switches with wireless ones. All the lamps are in special sockets that are internet connected, even the thermostat and the sprinklers. I just love the idea of talking to my house and getting “her” to do what I want.
We had just moved in when it got cold enough that I wanted to test out the heater. I turned it on and let it run a bit, then turned it off. An hour later I was in my office writing and the heat came on again. I was sure I’d turned it off. I checked. Sure enough, it was on. Set for 76 degrees. I turned it back down and started to wonder if I had gone wrong with the whole home automation, but a half an hour later, my lovely wife came in my office and said, “I turned the heat on before I got out of bed. I just said, ‘Alexa turn the heat to seventy-six. And she did.'” At least I know my house wasn’t going rogue on me.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Semicolon. I can never figure out how they’re supposed to be used and I spend way too much time trying to figure it out. I can sit there for ages wondering if I should use a semicolon or make it two sentences. I usually just give up and split the sentence into two and let it go at that.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
The five elixirs each impart their own type of magic, but each elixir works like a different drug. Only a wizard who can handle magic while under the influence of an
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
If it were anyone in the world, I’d pick L.E. Modesitt. I picked up “Magical Engineer” because it looked like an interesting story, my being an engineer and all. I loved the characters. The way he showed the development of a technology based on magic and engineering was surprisingly cool, but it was when I read the Colors of Chaos that I gained a new level of respect for him. It was something I had never seen done and had a significant impact on the way I think of story. They always say, “the villain is the hero of his own story.” I knew that in my head, but after reading that book, it just drove it home. There is no “absolute bad guy.”
I think that was part of what influenced the antagonise in Indentured Magic. I wanted someone who could really be the hero in their own story, no matter how tortured and twisted he might be. I just couldn’t write another story where the bad guy is just a power-hungry evil monster.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write what’s in your heart and don’t worry about who’s going to read it.
I hear that so often. One of the most impactful books I’ve read is “Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing” by David Farland. He explains it pretty well. People read in certain genres because they have expectations for there to be certain things in a book. It makes them comfortable knowing that there is going to be magic, and inns that serve stew and dragons that eat people (or don’t).
This advice was reinforced by a friend who is also a fantasy writer (we all need those sort of friends don’t we?). She read something I had written and declared that it was just like every other fantasy inn in every other fantasy book and contained nothing interesting or distinctive. I went back and re-wrote that scene and added in a few surprising details and oddities that you’d never expect. Now that scene draws you in while you see all the little strange details and wonder what they mean.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Hands down Pompeii. When I was in the navy, we used to port in Naples Italy. I’d rent a hotel room just outside the gates to the ruins and spend days on end poking around the place. I don’t know if they still let you do that, but it was such a fascinating thing to see what it was like to live two thousand years ago. I used to sit there and try to imagine and what people did with their time.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
When those times happen, I recall a video Brandon Sanderson did when he was teaching at BYU. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like this. “Some days the words just flow, on other days, it’s like chopping wood with a dull axe. In the end you just have to do it. When the editing is done it evens out and the reader will never know which is which.”
When I get stuck, I just keep at it. Maybe make high level notes and not get bogged down into the details of a scene. I know I can come back and re-work it or even throw it out and start again. That’s comforting. It’s not like anyone is ever going to see those words. They are just a framework for the finished product.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I think in my library the one that nobody has read but me would be Ariel by Steven R. Boyett. For some reason it just stuck with me. I loved the story development and how the characters developed. It was such an emotional setup that I actually cried at the end. He did such a great job bringing such an unusual theme to life that I have gone back and re-read it over and over again until my copy wore out and I had to get the kindle version.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
You want something that feels like fantasy but drags you into the world of a modern problem with a magical twist? Indentured Magic brings human trafficking to a land where magic still works. You’ll get caught up along with the poor girls who were taken captive and are now sold to the highest bidder for their magic and their flesh.
Thanks so much for joining us, James, and good luck with your latest release!
James Eggebeen is the author of the APPRENTICE TO MASTER series. His latest novel, INDENTURED MAGIC, is available now.