I recently had the opportunity to chat with novelist James Richard Larson, whose latest release is The Right Thing. Larson talks about his inspiration for this novel, his other multi-genre books, and marketing and promotion, among other things.
What was your inspiration for your horror novel, The Right Thing? What's it about?
The Right Thing is about a rejected novelist, and her unique way of dealing with literary agents who have spurned her work. The inspiration came from viewing my own file cabinet full of rejection letters. Rejections are the rule rather than the exception — ask any writer who has submitted a manuscript. It must be an extremely rare occurrence when an author's first work is accepted by an agent or a publisher. It just doesn't happen. Rejection is part of the game, and an aspiring writer has to have a very thick skin.
Many struggling authors who read your novel will probably sympathize with your villainess and enjoy reading about what befalls the agents in your story. What is it about struggling authors and agents?
Agents are the guardian at the gate. A potential novelist soon realizes that the way to publication is through a literary agent. Publishers aren't interested in unagented work, period. Agents sift through submissions, reject the vast majority of them, and pass on the few deemed acceptable. Agents hold the key to success, and they're stingy about it — they have to be if they want to make a living. At times they're perceived as cold, uncaring, distant, and brutal. Aspiring authors love them at the same time they hate them. There is no nice way to say, "Thanks for your submission, but your work really sucks!"
The agents in your story were really well drawn out. How do you create your characters in your fiction? Do you write profiles before doing the actual writing?
As far as The Right Thing goes, a few of the agents in the story are based on agents I've dealt with. When writing queries one can't help but picture an image of the person on the other end reading the proposal. Some Pee Wee Herman-looking geek peering over his half-glasses whining, "Shirley, come over here and look at this politically incorrect query letter from Ms. Winfrey". Agents show photos of themselves on their websites, so it was easy to form a personality around the person. I don't write profiles. Sometimes characters pop into your mind when you least expect it. They come ready made — all you have to do is look. You instantly know who and what they are. Writing is spontaneous. Outlining, in my opinion, is a waste of time.
Tell us a bit about your other books. What was your inspiration for these books? Which themes obsess you?
The Right Thing was my third published novel. My first, titled The Eye of Odin, is an historical fiction depicting the life and times of the Viking explorer Erik the Red. My second, titled Wolfgar: The Story of a Viking, is the continuation of the first book, the second of a proposed three volume set. I have yet to begin the third Viking novel, because at the present time I have other projects in the works.
I recently acquired an agent for my latest completed manuscript, a fantasy novel titled The Mirror. (Actually he's my third agent and hopefully I'll be with him for a long time).
Presently I'm working on my fifth novel, a contemporary story about an outlaw motorcycle club.
What are your writing habits? Do you work on an outline before starting the actual novel?
The historical fiction novels required the base outline of history, so the story had to be chronologically accurate. Also, the first book spanned three generations, so in the research I had to list births and deaths, events, etc. The second book chronology is only one generation, so it wasn't as difficult as the first. Although I didn't outline the plot, it had to correspond with history.
Once I become committed to a project, I have a daily ritual whereby I write a minimum of 500 words. No less. I keep tally of the word count on an Excel spreadsheet. It might go as high as 1000 to 1500 words a day, and on rare occasions 2000. At 500 words a day, you're looking at a 100k novel in 200 days. My first two novels were well over 220k words (200k words after editing) – – or around 500 pages on a 9 by 6 inch trade paperback. The Right Thing and The Mirror each topped out at 100k words after editing.
Which element of fiction writing comes more naturally for you — plot, characterization, description, dialogue? Which one gives you the hardest time?
In my experience, characterization, description and dialogue are relatively easy. Once you know your characters, the rest come almost naturally. Plot can be difficult at times, and I believe plot is the culprit with most writer's block problems. You want to resolve your story and tie everything together at the end in a comprehensible, nice tidy package. That part isn't always easy to do.
What goes on inside the mind of the horror writer?
Well, I've only written one novel in the horror genre, so I'm new to this scene. I wanted to create trepidation, anxiety, and that feeling in the pit of the stomach that something bad is going to happen. I wanted to create a character that was pure evil, and have him interact with everyday people, with the reader knowing that something really bad was going to happen, over and over.
Why do you think so many people enjoy horror fiction while at the same time loathing death and violence in real life?
Because it is fiction, and they know they're safe. Having to face that gut-wrenching fear in real life — well, that's something entirely different, isn't it?
How much time do you spend promoting your novel? Any strategies you'd like to share?
As much spare time as time allows. Promotion never ends. For my first novels I've given speeches and held book signings, with more planned. The internet continually opens doors to promote. Amazon reviews, blogs, interviews and reviews from newspapers, magazines and other sources make your work visible. Asking bookstores to stock your work, etc. – the possibilities are endless, really. But you can't sit on your hands – you have to hustle.
Would you like to share with our readers some of your current or future projects?
My latest completed novel, The Mirror, is a story about a rather despicable character who inherits a run-down old house when his only living relative passes away. Among the interesting things he finds in the house is an antique mirror. Soon he'll learn what he has discovered in the dusty, ancient attic is indeed far from ordinary.
My current work, titled A Biker's Story, is a tale of an outlaw motorcycle club whose members discover that one of their trusted club brothers is in fact a Federal Agent.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?
What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are trying to break into the horror genre?
Read every day, write every day, hone your craft, write that great horror novel, edit it until it's perfect, query agents, get a good reliable agent, get published with a big house, and see your book as a #1 best seller on the New York Times list! Best of luck to you!
Thank you, Mayra — it's been my pleasure!