Talking to influential authors is one of my favorite activities. Today have award-winning James R Callan here chatting with me. I believe you will find his experiences and insights fascinating.
Jim, let’s provide a level set for readers and start with some basics. Please share a bit of your background.
I took a degree in English, expecting to write. But I soon found I could not support a family with writing. So I returned to graduate school in mathematics. That led to a thirty year career in mathematics and computer science. Then one day, I said, the kids are all grown and supporting themselves. I’m going back to my first love – writing.
I truly enjoy having you visit. Was there a specific event in your life that convinced you writing was the right direction for you?
After 30 years in science, an unusual thing happened. By mistake, someone put a book in my car, apparently thinking it was someone else’s car. Curious, I picked it up and read a page. I finished that book about two in the morning. It reminded me that I was going to write. And I began the transition from technology to fiction.
These days what is the biggest inspiration to your writing?
Other writers. And reviews from people who express their gratitude for presenting them a good read, characters they can like (or hate), and hours of entertainment. Those are truly inspiration.
Jim, I know your professional career in computer sciences and mathematics many times made you the smartest man in the room. How did your work efforts, grants, and listed as one of two thousand notable Americans influence your writing style?
Less than you might imagine. I entered the fiction writing field as a complete novice. I was a freshman again. The technical writing I had done was little help. But having switched from English to mathematics successfully, I did have the confidence I could switch back to writing.
Fictional works centered on mystery and suspense is the majority published works. Is there an element of conspiracy theory in some of your works?
I have generally stayed away from conspiracies. The closest I’ve come would be Over My Dead Body which deals with the abuse of eminent domain.
Several of your stories have strong female lead characters. Are your characterizations based on people you know?
Many of my characters draw some of their traits from people I know. But I make a conscious effort not to model any character after someone I know. Happily, I’ve never had a person say to me, “That character sounds like me.” Since you specifically mentioned strong female leads, I must say I have been fortunate to know and work with some strong women. And there is much to learn from them as they often have had to overcome more hurdles.
You have a couple of series. Which one of these is your favorite and how did you design it. That is did you know it was going to be a series initially.
That is very close to, “Which of your children is your favorite?” If I were forced to pick, I would have to go with the Crystal Moore Suspense series. First, even after a hundred readings, I can still get emotional in A Silver Medallion. And part of it is set in Mexico, and I do love Mexico. However, having said that, my readers get more attached to Father Frank and can be vocal in calling for another Father Frank Mystery. When I wrote the first book in each series, I did not know at the outset it was going to be a series – only after the first book was finished.
Your covers are distinctive and complex, where do you get your ideas for them?
Except for Cleansed by Fire, each cover has been a struggle. They usually go through a number of versions. And I always have help from a cover designer. Often I have a slip of an idea. For Cleansed by Fire, I knew it would have a church burning. But for Over My Dead Body, well, the designer almost quit before we got the final. For the Crystal Moore Series, I wanted a woman’s face on each cover, and then capture some of the story. And I don’t shy away from changing a cover when it doesn’t work.
You have done some other genres. Should be see more from you outside of murder and suspense any time soon?
My wife would like that. It could happen down the road.
Tell us a bit about your writing process and how it has evolved over time?
I start by spending a lot of time just thinking about the book – the characters, the inciting incident, the setting, and the direction the book will take – at the beginning. This could be days or weeks or months. When I begin to hear in my head snippets of conversations related to the story, I know it’s time to put fingers on the keyboard and start typing. When I first started writing, I skipped this part. As a result, I made a lot of false starts and threw away lots of opening chapters.
Who are your biggest fans, and do you leverage them as beta readers?
They are a mix of women and men. And yes, I do use a few as beta readers. I also ask them for opinions on both title and cover ideas. At times, I present them with two choices and ask them to vote. They have changed a few things, such as a title, over the years. In fact, A Plot for Murder was not my first choice for the title. But these readers suggested a change and I took it.
How many hours a day do you put into your writing?
I’d like to say a fixed number of hours. But in truth, it varies all over the place. I try not to let writing shut out the rest of my life. So on some days, life gets the bulk of hours. Other days, writing is the winner. But once I’m into a book, I want some writing time on it every day.
I know this is right up with asking which child is your favorite, but which book ranks up with the one you are most proud of?
The last one always spends more time in my mind. Emotionally, A Silver Medallion still has a hold on me. And after many hours, days, weeks of struggling with the ending, A Plot for Murder ranks pretty high.
One of the reasons I was so excited to chat with you is around your new release, A Plot For Murder. Can you share how this story came about?
I was the director of a writers conference for many years – maybe fourteen or fifteen. NO. We did not have a murder in any of them. But we did have some unusual speakers and some rather interesting events. I had long thought I should set a book during a writers conference. 2020 was to be the year.
How long did it take you to put this story together?
Over a year. But there were some unusual circumstances. On May 25, when the book was nearing completion, I went into the hospital. Near the first of July, I returned to my home to spend another month mostly in bed, with a physical therapist coming in to help me recover from three operations. I had lost 25% of my weight and my brain functioned at half speed. Curiously enough, my left brain came back to life first, but the right brain lagged behind. So, for several months I could sit with fingers poised over the keyboard, but nothing (worthwhile) came out. Eventually, the right brain decided it was time.
How are you alerting fans that this new release is available?
I have a mailing list that I am utilizing. I will put out some information on a variety of websites that reportedly have mystery readers.
What formats are your books available in?
This book will initially be available in paperback, mobi, EPUB, and PDF. It will be in audio, but not for a couple of months.
Are any of your books published in multiple languages?
Tell us a little about your current work in progress.
Currently, I am just working on getting A Plot for Murder launched. It is due to release on February 2, 2021. And I’m still not back to full speed. But, I do have a setting, inciting incident and a few ideas rattling around in my brain. But, no conversations yet.
Do you read your book reviews?
Yes. I want to hear what resonated with the readers and what did not.
I know you are an award-winning author. Which award for your writing are you most proud?
Awards are nice and I’m always glad to get them. But I’m most proud when someone writes to say they loved this character and can’t wait for another book featuring him or her. If I had to pick an award, I think it would be the Readers Favorite Award, as it comes from readers and not a panel of judges.
What sort of groups are you involved with and why?
Over the years, I’ve been in a number of writers’ groups. I found them helpful in many ways. It is nice to share time and ideas with people who are interested in the same things you are. I have been in critique groups because if the group is well chosen, it can be very helpful. I helped organize a civic theatre because I love theatre. And I helped organize the Winnsboro Art Center and served as the president in its second year, to make certain that the literary arts were represented.
Most authors I come across are readers, does this apply to you? If yes, do you have a favorite genre to read?
Yes, reading is very important to me. Mystery and suspense are my favorite genres, although I read across many genres. When I’m writing a mystery, I shy away from mysteries. If I’m working on suspense, I don’t read suspense.
You are asked to speak at a luncheon of authors (living or not) what question would you like to ask of two authors who wanted to hear you speak and why?
Probably I’d ask, “Why on earth did you want to hear me speak?”
Where can people find and follow you on social media?
I’m not a big social media person. But I am on Facebook
My author page on Amazon
Thrillers, Suspense, and Mystery Readers Group
The Dream Team Network
The Mystery Readers Book Club