Guest Post – J.M. Richardson

Guest Post – J.M. Richardson

So just a few short days after sharing my very first Guest Post from the fantastic A.K. Alliss, I have the great pleasure of bringing you my second post. Today, I would like to welcome back an author of four books, someone who is an old friend here at Books and Beyond having had two of his brilliant books reviewed here and having kindly sat down with me for an interview as well. I present to you author of The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key – J.M. Richardson. Today, he presents us with a post on writing. Or more specifically writing a sequel soon after the launch of the prequel, and the work that goes in to a book whose main location is not one familiar to the author.

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So I’m writing a new book. I almost forgot to. My newest novel, The Barataria Key, was released on December 21st, and as you might imagine, I was elated. It was my fourth full novel, and the second in its own series. That feeling never gets old—the excitement over a new release and the anticipation of how it will be received. Still, I hunger every day for new feedback, reviews, and the chance to talk about my stories with readers. Sometimes, however, you get to a point where you’re so caught up in promotion, social media, and in-person events that you have little time to actually write. At some point in the last couple of months, I realised that I’m going to need another instalment in this series. I forgot. That was a terrible feeling because I knew full well that this book was going to take at least a year to write, and once that manuscript is delivered to my publisher, so many other things have to happen. I have to wait for the contract, and then edits begin. That takes quite some time because there are other books in line for their own edits. This takes months. Then we get into the fine tuning. They’re editing, I’m editing, we’re approving each other’s changes, and we haven’t even begun to talk about cover art, cover reveals, proofing, galleys, and typesetting. Imagine my anxiety to realise that from that moment, a new James Beauregard novel would not make it to readers for at least a year and a half. So I set to writing.

I remember when I had only one book. It was easy to say, “Hey, read my book”. It was a fresh story. A reader didn’t need to know anything prior to it. There were new settings and characters, fresh from my imagination. But when I wrote the next book, a frightening thought occurred to me. How do I get people to read the second book if they didn’t read the first? That thought was terrifying. It seemed like my market had just shrunk from literally everyone (potentially) to the relative handful that had read the first story. So I had to look to other storytellers on how to make this work.

It’s pointless to ignore how much influence I take from Indiana Jones. Sometimes I hate to admit it. I know it’s not literature. I wish I could say I was molded in the pages of Hemingway or Tolstoy; something classy. But I loved Indy as a kid. It was fun, and it sparked my imagination. I found myself in another time and in another place. Even when I wasn’t watching, I obsessed about ancient civilizations and faraway lands. That’s when I started writing stories of my own. I always say that reading (and writing for me) allows you to travel for the price of a book. One thing the Indy movies taught me was that you could watch any one by itself and still have fun. You could start with the second or third, and go back to the first. It didn’t matter. It was perfectly clear that there was a common back story, and it surfaced in every new movie. The viewer is reminded of it in common, but subtle ways, and you still get to enjoy the new adventure. They were all loosely connected along the line; stand-alone but part of a chronological story line. That’s what I did with The Barataria Key as a continuance of the story from the original book, The Apocalypse Mechanism.

Each book can stand alone even as I hint at situations from the previous book. There is an underlying narrative that continues with some mainstay characters and background story. An example would be the loss of James Beauregard’s family. It was quite central to his character development in the first book, and so it had to be present in the second. It’s part of who he is. But if you didn’t read the first book, I had to drop that into the story through dialogue, both internal and external. It works, and if you read the first one after, then great. But it doesn’t take away from your experience to read them out of order.

I would say that to some degree, one of those commonalities that give each stand-alone book some voltage from release to release is setting. The city of New Orleans, Beauregard’s home, is a character in itself. The city bursts with trumpeting jazz riffs on some molasses-slow French Quarter street and fragrances of a gumbo roux someone is nurturing around the corner. But just as New Orleans is present in each book, James finds himself exploring the mysteries and forbidding shadows of human history. From ancient cults in The Apocalypse Mechanism to secret societies and Mayan mystique in The Barataria Key, he ends up in locales that lend a different set of flavours to the story.

I have always been a bit of an Anglophile. As a kid interested in history and anthropology, medieval England fascinated me, followed later by other eras of interest. I swoon over thoughts of how people lived in distant times and places. I obsess. I’m the type of person that could spend all day in a single museum or historic town just marveling over artifacts and buildings, trying to imagine life for those people way back then. I don’t know why England interested me so. Maybe it was the common language, despite the sprawling distance. Maybe it’s in my DNA. The ancestors of my namesake can be traced to early fifteenth century Hertfordshire, in the tiny town of Westmill. Nevertheless, I could not wait to visit, and last year I did for the first time.

My time in London was one of the greatest travelling experiences of my life. I made sure to experience all that I could, from visits to the British Museum to enjoying pies and pints at some of the most colourful pubs in the city. I hit the big attractions in Westminster and the Tower. But I was sure to duck into the alleys, and hunt down nearly forgotten sections of the old city wall. I visited the location of William Wallace’s execution. I viewed the historic books and documents in the British Library. I have officially fallen in love with the city. As I sat to begin the next chapter in James Beauregard’s adventures, I needed him to be far from New Orleans, as the last book hit far too close to home. What better place to carry on his story than in London?

It helps me to set a book in a place that I’ve visited. I’m from the New Orleans area, I’ve been to Galveston, Texas many times, and I’ve seen the Mayan World, so these were natural places for me to set The Barataria Key. I do write about places I’ve never visited, but that’s where research comes in. I want the historical references and locations to be factual, at least in foundation. I always imagine that I’ll look like a fool if I get it wrong. There will always be that person who pulls up Google while reading my books, and I want to be prepared for that. But I also research because I personally want to know. I want to know as much as I possibly can about anything and everything that piques my interest. For years, I dreamed of visiting London. I read full histories of the city, how it’s laid out, how it grew, and who influenced it. I wanted to know the neighbourhoods, especially as I was about to travel there. I wanted to know the Bayswater area in which I would stay. I studied the Underground maps and how to get around. I sought out maps and researched little-known churches and museums. I wanted to drink where Dickens did. I wanted to see an altar where Richard II prayed and a chamber once occupied by Edward I. I walked the streets. I conversed with the people. I took in the culture.

This next book will be a testament to my love affair with London, its history, and its people. James will not have as leisurely of a time there as I did. I only hope that I can do it justice. Either way, at the end, I’ll raise a glass and toast this fine city. I’ll clink a pint glass with Beauregard and enjoy the renewed adventure inspired by yet another amazing city. Cheers.

The Barataria Key by J.M. Richardson

The Barataria Key by J.M. Richardson

It lurks in the shadowy recesses of the French Quarter, among the flickering gas lanterns and Creole courtyards. In the humid, teeming swamps of Barataria. A dark secret. An ancient force. The will to remake one’s history. James Beauregard finds himself at the centre of an insidious conspiracy, two hundred years in the making. From the backstreets of New Orleans to the once pirate-infested waters of the Gulf Coast, the race begins to unravel the mystery of The Barataria Key.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

J.M. Richardson is back with his latest book. On December 21st 2016, Dr James Beauregard returns in a new adventure, The Barataria Key. As I mentioned in my previous review, this was the book Richardson contacted me to review. I purchased the first book in this series, The Apocalypse Mechanism, to get the complete story, and loved this book. You can read more about it here. In my view, that set the bar pretty high, so I had high hopes and even higher expectations for The Barataria Key. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to visit New Orleans, though it is on my bucket list, though I felt I was there such was the description and clear love the author has for the area.
baratariakey_flatforebooks The subject matter this time really caught my attention. Richardson has focussed in on a local legend in the area of New Orleans, namely the French privateer Jean Laffite. Local lore has him as a privateer working out of the bayous of the Mississippi River. He became involved in the War of 1812, approached by both the British and the American sides. Reading this book, I became intrigued in Laffite and read up a bit more about him. Definitely an interesting character who made his home in an interesting city.

But that story only gets better with the creative license and embellishments that Richardson introduces to The Barataria Key. Mixing in elements of Mayan history and mythology, the story holds mystery and intrigue. This book is where J.M. Richardson, for my money really distances himself from any comparisons to Dan Brown. As with the previous book, there is the element of a university professor investigating centuries-old mysteries. But the thing I found with the Dan Brown series was the fact that they were always seeking to save the world from a plot to destroy it. This book does centre around a plot, but it is not a world ending, cataclysmic plot. It’s a plot to undo the wars of independence in America, and bring the North American continent back under British rule.

This time around, Richardson doesn’t have his characters running all over the world in pursuit of answers, rather keeps them in and around the Gulf of Mexico and the sites of ancient Mayan civilisations. This allowed the story to really grow and develop as things moved at a great pace. Nothing felt rushed, unnecessary or over the top, and by keeping things in a smaller part of the world allowed space for the story and characters to build. As with The Apocalypse Mechanism, Beauregard and the other core characters unfold further, and we get to feel the depth of their personalities, their ups and downs, and the little human elements that we all deal with.

Once again, Richardson has hit the ball out of the park with The Barataria Key. I have grown to love James Beauregard and his cohorts even more, faults and all. Having talked with J.M. Richardson in my recent interview, I have learned he is working on a third book in this series, set in London. If it turns out anywhere close to as good as the first two books, I cannot wait for it.

My score
4.5

An Interview with J.M. Richardson

An Interview with J.M. Richardson

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!

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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!

You can connect and keep up to date with what J.M. Richardson is up to on his website, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Apocalypse Mechanism by J.M. Richardson

The Apocalypse Mechanism by J.M. Richardson

Brilliant New Orleans Professor James Beauregard’s life is spiralling into complete despair when a startling discovery is made halfway across the globe that requires his expertise. Is there really an ancient machine that could push civilisation into the throes of oblivion? As he attempts to unlock the secrets of this waiting apocalypse, Professor Beauregard is hunted by an archaic fundamentalist cult determined to bring about humanity’s end-of-days. Will he find the key to stopping the world’s oldest weapon of mass destruction, or will the Cult’s wish to purge all evil be the Earth’s demise?

A short while ago J.M. Richardson contacted me through the blog, asking if I would like to read and review his latest book, The Barataria Key which is published on December 21st. In chatting with him, I discovered it was the second book of a series featuring the main character. And while the books are to some extent stand alone, I had to purchase and read the first in the series.
apocalypsemechanism I am so happy that I was contacted, as The Apocalypse Mechanism did not disappoint. I would say this book felt very much like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon work, which I enjoyed very much. But I think I preferred this book! I found the lead, Dr James Beauregard was more real – a man with a personality, plagued with his own demons that we get to know throughout the book. Robert Langdon in Brown’s works feels a little wooden.

Early on Richardson introduces the mystery that unravels throughout the book. It’s a complex, but not unnecessarily complicated mystery that couples with it plenty of suspense and tension as the story, and the main characters travel the world to uncover a sinister, centuries old plot and ultimately bring it to an end.

The core characters are introduced and built upon cleverly, slowly layering up their subtle intricacies allowing the reader the chance to feel like they really get to know the characters. This really hit home when I found myself rooting for them when things really went against them. The mystery that they unravel was made more plausible because it is rooted in history, and the author went to good length to explain the history well enough to build a good level of context to things. However accurate or embellished the history may be, Richardson presented it witch such confidence as to imply a great amount of research had been done in the writing of the book.

The action was intense without being overly gratuitous, the characters were engaging and human, and the the “villains” were believable. As an overly devout religious cult, they weren’t portrayed as they so often are in Western media, Rather, they seemed deeply pious, courteous even and most importantly, it was clear they truly believed in what they were doing. This, in some respects, made them even more unnerving.

The book is well paced, and although it involves a bit of globetrotting, nothing feels forced or rushed making for a fun, action-packed book that while initially feeling like a Dan Brown novel, in my opinion The Apocalypse Mechanism actually outdoes them!

My score
4.5