Today it is my pleasure to bring you an interview with a talented author, and all round nice-guy, only too happy to work with me in reviewing his books and being accommodating enough to take part in this interview. Please be upstanding and welcoming to J.M. Richardson! Richardson is the author of The Twenty-Nine, A Line in the Sand, The Apocalypse Mechanism and his upcoming release, The Barataria Key – out on December 21st 2016.
Richardson and I crossed paths when he stopped by Books and Beyond Reviews, and asked if I would review The Barataria Key. Having read the blurb, I jumped at the chance, and when I discovered it was book two of a series, I had to buy the first part. You’ll find my review of The Barataria Key on the blog soon, but in the meantime you can check out my review of The Apocalypse Mechanism. Now, lets meet the man behind the books!
Books and Beyond Reviews: Welcome to Books and Beyond Reviews, and thank you for joining us for this interview. We would love to start out by getting to know you a bit better, so first up – who is your favourite author?
J.M. Richardson: I always have a hard time picking a favourite anything—colours, songs, movies, books. I have a handful of favourites. I’ve always liked John Steinbeck and Stephen King. I enjoy the imagination of Michael Crichton. I’m currently reading George R. R. Martin and loving it. But I think one of my all-time favourite writers is Anne Rice. It doesn’t hurt that she also uses New Orleans as the backdrop for much of her storytelling. She’s so imaginative and writes beautifully. She seduces you into her world like the vampires she creates.
BaBR: E-readers seem to be on the rise, allowing hundreds of books to be carried in a small, portable device. They seem to be loved and hated in equal measure. Do you see them as a positive step in the evolution of books?
JMR: I think they’re convenient. I’ve never really gotten into it. I’m one of those people who likes the page and binding. I like lugging around a bulky book to read in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, and I know I’m not alone. But I can see the benefit of having a hundred books in one lightweight device. I think paper and print will always exist, so I don’t know that I’d call this evolution. I think the invention of the e-reader has done more to evolve the industry. Big publishing houses with literary agents as the gatekeepers…that was the standard. As soon as Amazon and Barnes and Noble launched their ebook self-publishing projects, it was off to the races. Every aspiring writer in the world uploaded and were finally able to call themselves authors. Is this a good step? I don’t know. I think there are pros and cons. We have gotten to see some great work from some undiscovered authors, and frankly, they might never have been discovered. It’s damn near impossible to woo a literary agent. Sometimes it’s not even about the quality of your writing. It’s about your pitch. Then again, without any vetting from agents and publishers, unfortunately, there have been a lot of bad ebooks to come out. Bad writing with no editing. I’m not sure if there has been any detriment to the publishing/writing world from this. Perhaps the bad ebooks detract from the good ones. I could see a great ebook author getting less respect because of the rubbish that gets uploaded alongside it. I could see people making false assumptions that being self-published means that you’re not good enough for Random House to pick you up. Fortunately for me and many of my contemporaries, the ebook wave has sparked a publishing revolution where small publishing houses like mine have popped up all over to challenge the industry giants. There’s no need for an agent anymore. And these are traditional publishers operating with less capital, but with professional editors and smart business plans, they’re really challenging the big houses and offering an opportunity to people like me who have found it impossible to find an agent.
BaBR: When the spark of an idea for a new book pops up in your mind how do you approach it?
JMR: When I suddenly have a cool new idea for a book, it’s exciting. So I can’t wait to get it onto the page. But of course it’s more complicated than that. Honestly, I’ve found that the best thing to do is to just jump right into it. I write a first chapter or prologue to set the stage. I want it to be intriguing and to spark the imagination, not just for some future reader. It’s for me, as well. I’m trying to inspire myself. I’ll usually get two or three chapters into the book before I sit down and plan anything. And even then, it’s very bare-bones planning. I know where the story starts, where it ends, and usually a few milestones in between to give it backbone. But as I plan chapters, I’m just jotting down goals in the development of the story. The action is the product of spontaneity. All dialogue is spur-of-the-moment. Emotions are too. The actions of the characters are impulsive so the plot is driven by in-the-moment decision making. I choose their paths as if I were there making those decisions. To me, I feel that all of this gives the characters a realistic quality. This is how we all operate—organisms navigating life as we respond to our environment. So I approach my story and my characters this way with some structure to the plot along the way.
BaBR: And just before we talk about your books, tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
JMR: Normally, my answer to that question anywhere else is that I’m an author. I have a lot of interests. I’ve played guitar most of my life—my other passion. But probably the thing that people might find most interesting is that I like to brew beer. I have a small craft brewing operation set up in my garage. I’ve made everything from oatmeal blonde ales to my most recent pumpkin porter. I have a couple of beer enthusiast friends that come over and help me. We sit around, brew, and sample whatever obscure craft beers we all contribute to the table, and enjoy one another’s company. A few weeks later, I keg it, tap it, and enjoy with friends and family. (As a lover of a good craft beer, and American beers in particular, this answer is a winner! – BaBR)
BaBR: Now, on to your books – The Apocalypse Mechanism, and The Barataria Key which I am half-way through. In both The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key, you deal with historic events. Although I felt both books were in some ways reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, the historic events are more obscure. Was that intentional?
JMR: To a degree. I’ll write about anything that intrigues me. It could be that later on, I’ll take on some bigger, more known events. My goal is to tell a unique story. In one way, I do like to tell some obscure, little known story. That was the case with The Apocalypse Mechanism. But The Barataria Key deals with Jean Lafitte, who isn’t very well known outside of Louisiana, but having grown up near New Orleans, Lafitte was always something of a folk hero. He was our very own local pirate, and even more, he helped General Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Since I was a kid, I had always been fascinated with him. When I was about thirteen I wrote a short story that involved him. So I had a lot of fun writing The Barataria Key. For me, and for Louisiana natives, it’s not so obscure. I guess I just wanted to share Lafitte with the world. Whether I write about little known history or something well known, the fun of it is playing with those events. I like to toy with the narrative; change things up a bit. I like to reimagine how people or places really were. I want to fabricate connections and ask, “what if?” I try to create an alternative history. That’s easy. Who knows if what we know about history is accurate? It’s fun to create your own version. Don’t politicians do this all the time?
BaBR: There is a clear and deep historic seam running through both The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key. Would you consider yourself a history buff, or was there a lot of research needed for the history elements in both books?
JMR: Both. I’m an educator by trade, and my original focus was history. I have always been fascinated with history and archaeology; to imagine how people of old might have lived. So you might imagine that I’ve compiled a lot of knowledge. This often becomes the inspiration for a story, but I always have to dig deeper if I want the story to be any good. I hate being inaccurate. You can’t speculate and toy with the historical narrative until you’ve gotten the facts right. For example, in The Barataria Key, I had to do an immense amount of research on Mayan history and culture, from their gods to their architecture and language patterns. I already knew a lot of this, but I don’t want to get things wrong. And I want it to be detailed. It would drive me nuts to get something wrong. And I have a vested interest in not appearing to be a fool. I try my best to get it right, and then I can have my fun. (I can confirm just how factual Richardson’s work is here. History is a love of mine, so I googled the pirate Jean Laffite early on in my read of The Barataria Key, and was ecstatic to find so much of the fact presented in the book is spot on! – BaBR)
BaBR: The Barataria Key is largely set in and around the Gulf of Mexico. As a Louisiana-native yourself was this intended, or a coincidence brought about by making Jean Laffite the historic focus of this book?
JMR: As you know, I introduced James Beauregard as a New Orleans native and descendent of a well-known American Civil War general. New Orleans history is something of a speciality of mine, and the city itself is probably my favourite place on earth. Nowhere on earth is quite like it. There is a blend of French and Spanish charm with Caribbean flavor that manifests itself in the food, the aromas, and even the way people talk in New Orleans. You always hear people say that you should write what you know. I know New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf South. I would say that my urge to write about my home gave rise to my decision to write about Lafitte.
BaBR: Would you consider these two books to be at all influenced by the work of Dan Brown, and like his books, will this be a Dr James Beauregard trilogy?
JMR: I don’t think so. I’ve read Dan Brown’s earlier Robert Langdon books, and really liked them, but I didn’t set out to emulate him or his stories. Rather, I had been drawn to his books because I already held interest in that kind of fiction. Really, Brown is one in a long line of artists to have used similar plots and archetypes. I always loved Indiana Jones, which was based on adventure serials of the 1930s. I loved those movies because they dealt with history and archaeology. When I write, I’m cognisant of the similarities between my books and Dan Brown or Indiana Jones. Even James Rollins or Brad Meltzer. I don’t want to be just like them, but I enjoy that kind of storytelling, so I would say that I fall into the genre, rather than being directly inspired.
I actually plan to write many more Beauregard books.
BaBR: Is Dr James Beauregard based on yourself or anyone you have come across?
JMR: James is part me, but he takes from several different people I know. He’s such a mess! Emotionally, he definitely has issues, and I wanted him to. My publisher was worried he was so messed up that no one would like him. He actually had to be tamed down. I fought like hell to retain as many of those imperfections as I could. I included in him some of my darker demons, and some lent to me by others I know. Writing is therapy for me.
BaBR: Are you currently working on a book, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?
JMR: I am currently working on the third James Beauregard book. I have an idea for a change in the story line that would completely alter what we know about James. It would also open the door for as many books I want to write about him. For now, I’m calling the new book The Keepers. Look for murder, mystery, and terrorism, all set in merry old London.
Thanks for taking the time to share some of your thoughts with us here at Books and Beyond. As an Englishman living just a 40-minute train ride from London, I will look forward to The Keepers and hope to snag myself a review copy!