By Jamie Rush
James R. Tuck is the author of the Deacon Chalk series, a Professional Tattoo Artist, and a heckuva nice guy. Or so he says. (I saw that picture of the tattooed, gun-toting guy on the website … ) I wanted to get to know a little about James and see what the hype was all about.
So of course we want to know about the new book, BLOOD AND SILVER. What’s the book about and why do you love it?
Deacon Chalk is in the fight of his life after he rescues a young girl from a group of rogue lycanthropes. He winds up caught in a war between two Were-lion brothers that leaves the people he loves in danger.
Now Deacon has to put everything on the line to save them.
Let the bodies hit the floor.
This is book two in the series and the fourth release total. (Previously published are THAT THING AT THE ZOO, an e-novella; BLOOD AND BULLETS, book one, and SPIDER’S LULLABY, e-novella two.) I have upped the ante. More violence and more danger. Plus you get a wide look into the way lycanthropy works in the Deaconverse, which is to say it works unlike anywhere else. The book is a ton of fun, less dark than the first one but still packed with high-octane action and thrills.
Is there a theme in your books, a thread that you see coming up in your stories often? For instance, underdog fighting for justice?
I write these books from a different point of view. I look at this crazy supernatural world I have built and say: “If this stuff REALLY happened, if monsters truly did exist, what kind of man would decide to hunt them down.” The result is a man like Deacon who is damaged, hurt, and truly screwed up.
As for big themes, the sweeping one is always good vs evil. Plus I grapple with what it means to be human and how religion fits in a world gone supernatural. I also explore Deacon’s death wish, which is his driving factor in monster hunting.
And there are things that just keep appearing in my work. Not even in the Deaconverse, but all over the place. Dead families, dark men trying to do good, dead children, characters who suffered torture and abuse in their past, priests, Biblical mythology, guns, small tough women, and missing eyes. These things come up over and over again.
Mm, missing eyes, eh? Okay, so all that naturally leads to the next question: I’m always interested in what draws a writer to the dark side. Ever since I was a kid, my stories leaned to the dark side of human nature. Why you were drawn to what you call Dark Urban Fantasy?
It really works for me. I think it’s the good vs evil metaphors that occur in urban fantasy. It’s pretty clearly defined with the humans against monsters.
Here is my best illustration. In my opinion the definition of a horror novel is that a monster shows up and begins to systematically stalk and kill each character until the end where the monster, in some way or form, wins.
In an urban fantasy novel you have a monster that shows up and begins to systematically kill each character until one of them stands up and says: “Not this time, pal.” And then proceeds to fight despite the cost.
My early influences were horror novels that my mom allowed me to read without censorship, Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels, and Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan books. If you read my work you can see where it all mixes together.
I also love being able to take a character who is deep down a noble person, a hero, and putting them in situations (monsters) where they have to be more bloodthirsty or violent than the monster they are trying to stop, and because they are noble at their core they will do these horrible, violent things.
It’s like soldiers. They will shoot a fellow human being in the face for your safety. That is an interesting thing to explore and push as a writer.
You describe Dark Urban Fantasy as being like normal urban fantasy with a shot of anabolic crack. You warn readers not to fall in love with characters because they might die. Have you killed off a character that made readers react—and that made you react?
“Spoilers.” – River Song.
There is a lot of regular urban fantasy that holds their characters safe. Readers love these characters, the authors love these characters, so they rough them up a bit, but at the end of each book everyone is safe and sound.
I am writing some damn good monsters. Big, badass, scary as hell monsters. Things that will lap your blood from the floor and never blink. My characters are human for the most part. If a human truly tried to stand up to a monster they would never come out unscathed. They will be hurt, permanently injured, damaged, and yes, they would be killed. People will die in this series. People will be hurt. It’s part of the story I am telling.
In book one there are two major characters who have injuries in the big battle at the end that they carry through the rest of the series. It leads one of them to actions that bring about a betrayal.
In book two (BLOOD AND SILVER) a major character has something happen that changes their story.
I just finished writing book three (BLOOD AND MAGICK, out March 2013) and something so shocking happens I expect readers to scream out my name.
Deacon’s a cool, kick-ass character. What inspired you to write him?
Deacon pulled a Conan on me. Robert E. Howard once said that Conan walked into his mind fully formed. Deacon did that to me. In a flash of inspiration I knew his character and his past. It took a minute to find all his character traits, but he is an interesting guy.
He was a normal guy, a bit of an outsider but normal. Had a wife he loved, two kids who were his world, owned a small business, had a house in the suburbs, a dumbass dog, and a part-time job to make ends meet. Went to Mass on Sundays, had friends over for Sunday dinner, never in trouble with the law . . . just a good guy with a good life.
Until the night a monster ritualistically slaughtered his entire family.
With his whole world destroyed he did the only thing he could do, hunt down the thing responsible.
In writing these books I did want to write something different than what was out in the market. I wanted a character who is unapologetically the alpha male and has all the good and the bad characteristics that come with it. Yes he is noble, and brave, and capable….he is also violent, anti-social, and blinded to solutions that don’t involve gunplay.
That damaged nobility again, it plays in my work over and over and over again.
You have monsters and demons and all sorts of evil creatures prowling the pages of your Chalk books. Do you subscribe to a standard mythology or have you created your own?
I like to work with Biblical “mythology”. Taking the things that appear in the Bible and the folklore based on it, the weird nuggets of monsters like Nephilim, and relics like the Spear of Destiny and its immortal carrier Longinus who appear in book one.
I also like to twist the same old monsters. My vampires have a new origin that is tied to the Crucifixion. My lycanthropes are not all the stereotypical ones. In the Deaconverse I assume that if lycanthropy existed that it would not just be the cool animals that had it. Instead of everyone being a wolf, or a panther, or other cool predators, there would be Were-chickens and Were-possums, and Were-spiders.
Everybody loves Charlotte the Were-spider.
I also have a wide range of things that show up that are just odd. Ivan Dragonovich, Russian hitman extraordinaire who is actually a 1500 year-old dragon in a human suit. A girl who shares metaphysical space with a totem rhinoceros. Spring-heeled Jack Jr. works for Cirque Du Soleil. A family of Tengu (Japanese raven demons) own a drive thru sushi joint downtown. And there are many more.
I love monsters and I am always looking for new ones and new ways to fit them into the Deaconverse.
Is there a book you’re longing to write that you haven’t had the opportunity or time to yet? Something completely different from what you’re writing now? (Come on, admit to that romance novel lurking in your desk drawer … )
LOL. I am working on a steampunk/pulp action adventure with a HIGH romance element to it.
I am pretty all over the board with my writing. I have urban fantasy, which is my mainstay and my greatest love, but I also have a zombie short story published in ONE BUCK ZOMBIES, I have a superhero story that will appear later this year or early next in an anthology called BIG BAD from Kerlak. I just hit send on an “elder gods in space” scifi/horror short story that will hopefully see the light of day (or dark of moon) in one of the biggest sci fi magazines. I have a straight crime collection called HIRED GUN set in a town called Culvert City where bad people do bad things to each other.
And the list of story ideas I have is much longer than the amount of life I have left to write.
But before it is all said and done you will probably see a bit of everything come from my pen (or hunted and pecked keyboard).
I know writers aren’t supposed to love any of their “children” more than the others, but some of our characters just reach out and grab us by the heart. Is there one character who did this to you?
Well, Deacon is one of my favorites, just because there is a lot of me in him.
But the main character in the “elder gods in space” story, her name is Molly, is a tough, scrappy woman with a spine of steel (metaphoric steel, not actual steel). I like her. She’s been beat to hell by life and she’s cantankerous, cranky, and downright damn angry all the time but she is a fighter.
What’s your best reader comment? The funniest?
One of the members of my writing group told me she put my book down and hadn’t picked it back up because she read it at night and had gotten to the scene in the middle of the book (BLOOD AND BULLETS, the vampire jack shack dungeon scene with Gregorios) and it was so creepy she hadn’t worked up the nerve to go back.
I was like: “Thank you very much.”
What does your writing space look like? I’m picturing walls covered in strange-looking knives, maces, and posters of monsters.
Actually my writing space is wherever I have time. Usually I am on my laptop in my station at the tattoo shop I own. So you are kind of right. There is art hanging on the walls but it’s mostly comic book art, pictures of guns, and the Last Supper.
I will have an office at home in a month because my daughter is off to college and I am converting her room. So that will be very nice. But there still won’t be strange looking knives and maces, that’s my son’s room. LOL.
Was there one person who influenced or inspired you most where writing is concerned?
Again, early influence would be Robert E. Howard. He was amazing. You can definitely tell he had a poet’s soul when you read his writing.
As for inspiration it was Lilith Saintcrow. I had decided to write a book after reading one that was supposed to be dark, and gritty, and amazing. Reviewers were saying things like: “I can’t believe she was able to go this dark!”
The book sucked.
It was terribly written, about as thrilling as a used napkin, and nonsensical at best with the plotting. So I wanted to write one that was what I was looking to read. Something dark without being horror. A book that had characters who faced change and consequence and death. But I wasn’t a writer. Then I found Lilith Saintcrow’s blog where every Friday she dispensed writing advice.
The clouds parted and the heavens opened up.
I realized I could write a novel. She convinced me that with some discipline and effort I could write the novel that lived inside me. It was practical, no bullshit, advice that she gave. So I sat down and I wrote what became BLOOD AND BULLETS.
I was done and querying when I discovered another book by Jessica Page Morrell called THANKS BUT THIS ISN’T FOR US. It changed my world. She was the one who told me how to write well. Her book is an eye opener and hands down the BEST book on writing I have ever read.
Following her advice in that book is what got BLOOD AND BULLETS sold.
Thank you, James, for filling me in on your latest book and your life. Can’t wait to read it!
For more on James R. Tuck and Deacon Chalk, and James’s rather wacky sense of humor, I encourage you to visit his website.