Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Interview With James Scott Bell
I’m privileged to have James Scott Bell as my guest. His latest novel, Deceived, will be released in March. Publisher’s Weekly has this to say about Deceived:
“Former trial lawyer and Christy Award–winner Bell (Presumed Guilty) hits his stride in this twist-filled suspense thriller… that includes the Los Angeles music scene, creepy canyons and a slew of cons. Bell, who also writes nonfiction books on writing, is a master of the cliffhanger, creating scene after scene of mounting suspense and revelation in this heart-whamming read.”
RM: To me, Deceived was like a snowball rolling down a hill—gaining momentum and force as it went along. And just when I thought it was winding down, here came a smash ending. Did you have all these plot twists in your head when you started, or did inspiration hit along the way?
JSB: I knew the beginning and the ending, some scenes in between, but mostly the "engine" of my story. Because I knew what was driving it, I was confident about designing the twists and turns.
RM: I was impressed with the way you were able to interweave the stories of several characters into the fabric of Deceived, making it all come together so well. Do you keep all this in your head, or do you chart character arcs and story flow ahead of time?
JSB: I keep a record of my scenes as I write them. Also, when I'm doing the first draft, I'm writing fairly quickly, to stay in the story, so it's all in my noggin, too.
RM: And that brings me to your classic books for writers, Plot and Structure and the companion work, Revision & Self-Editing. Do you ever look at a draft of one of your novels and realize that you’ve failed to follow your own suggestions? Or is it all such second nature now that you can write a clean first draft that’s publishable?
JSB: Wow, "classics." And I'm not even dead yet. Thanks, man. Yes, I actually follow what I teach. When something isn't working, I go through a mental checklist. Almost always I relate it to my LOCK system. That means I need more work on the Lead, or the Objectives aren't strong enough, or there's not enough Confrontation going on, for whatever reason. I can also look at my scenes with HIP and see whether I've got a Hook opening, enough Intensity, and if the end Prompts the reader to move on. When I edit, I actually use the Ultimate Revision Checklist that I have in Revision & Self-Editing. And so on.
RM: In addition to your Christian fiction like Deceived, you are also the author of the Ty Buchanan series (Try Dying, Try Darkness; Try Fear releases in July). These are published by a mainstream publisher and appear to be aimed at the general market. What motivated you to enter this arena?
JSB: Several years ago I found myself turned off by the direction so many general market thrillers were taking in terms of darkness, nihilism, language, explicitness in violence and sexuality, and so forth. I started to think, man, the great film noirs never did this, and they are better than what we have now. I also think a lot of readers out there are feeling the same thing. I wanted to write the kind of books I write, geared toward those kinds of readers. Every bit as suspenseful and contemporary, but not something that makes you feel like you have to take a shower afterward.
RM: Tell my readers about your acting career. Are any of the commercials you appeared in still around? And have you come close to fulfilling your dream of appearing in a movie?
JSB: You may remember me. I lifted that tray of McDonalds hamburgers and put them on the hot shelf in 1978. But mostly I was doing stage work in New York. I was almost cast in a TV series opposite Karl Malden. I went to the MGM lot and read with him (that was nervous time, boy), but as I was walking off the lot an assistant stopped me and brought me back for more. At the last moment, though, they went with a guy who had a "name." The series was cancelled pretty quickly. Several years later I bumped into that "name" at a fast food place and told him the story. He smiled wanly. He was looking for work at the time.
RM: You were an adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University and teach at a number of conferences. You have been an encourager and mentor to lots of writers, myself included. Do you have any idea how many people you have taught have ended up having their novels published?
JSB: It's getting to be quite a lot. Not more than fifty perhaps, but not under twenty. Just got word yesterday that it has happened for another. Not to say it wouldn't have happened without me, but I see what I do as saving people time. I give them tools they can apply immediately, then their own talent and work ethic take over.
RM: And, as one of those “less than fifty but more than twenty” you’ve helped on the road to publication, thank you. Any final words for my readers?
JSB: When it comes to medical, writing, or eating-out-in-Texas advice, do what Doc says.