James R. Tuck: The Terribleminds Interview

Next up for the terribleminds interview — James R. Tuck, author of the recently released BLOOD & BULLETS, a Deacon Chalk story. James is the type to sell it straight and tell it like he sees it, so I’ll leave him to get right to it. Welcome him here at terribleminds, and you can find James at his website, JamesRTuck.com, or on the Twittertubes @jamestuckwriter.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

“Respect your elders boy.”

The young man looked at him, eyes bloodshot, a sallow cast to the whites of them. “My dad left before he even knew my whore of a momma was knocked up with me. Hell, he was gone before his drunk wore off.” Long brown fingers stubbed out the joint delicately; white smoke wisping out the side of his mouth he leaned forward. “My whore of a momma didn’t even have the courtesy to take me to my grandma before she split. Hell, she was gone before her drunk wore off too. My grandma had to take the crosstown bus for over three hours to come get me from the hospital. I love my grandma. I would kill for my grandma. I say ma’am to her, dress nice when I am over there, take her to church every Sunday and the Piccidilly afterwards. I do respect MY elders.” The Glock appeared, pointed at Leon’s chest. A smile with no humor touched the young buck’s narrow, pock-marked face.

“The rest of y’all are just old.”

Why do you tell stories?

Because I love it. Everybody says to write the story you want to read and that is exactly what I have done. I’ve been an urban fantasy fan for decades now, reading stuff that fit the genre even before I knew there was a genre. I’ve also always been an avid reader, always carrying a book and reading whenever the moment presents. I had just finished an urban fantasy book that was supposed to be dark, violent, and kick ass. It was the lamest, tamest, piece of crap I had ever read. Now I picked this book up because the reviews for it were off the hook. Many reviewers actually saying they were uncomfortable with the darkness of the book, the didn’t know how the author had gotten away with writing something so violent, etc., etc., blah, blah, blahditty blah.

The book sucked balls. Not just balls, but big monkey balls. The ashy gray, wrinkly, and covered-in-tiny-hairs-like-wires monkey balls.

I put the book down and said out loud to myself: “I can write better shit than that.” So I did. That made me sit down and write what would become BLOOD AND BULLETS, the first book in the Deacon Chalk series.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Quit using so many damn speechtags. Seriously, speechtags are of the Devil. They are lazy, worthless little filler words. I’m not saying never use them, but never use them.  If I see a whole page of he said, she said broken only by the occasional he exclaimed, then my eyes glaze over and I want to throw the book across the room. You can get so much more out of telling me what the character is doing instead of just telling me that they said something. Hell, that’s the job of the quotation marks. You throw those bad boys around some words and I just know they were said by someone. Double duty your writing and let me know something about the character who is speaking by having them do something or describing something. Ditching speechtags and making use of descriptors will not only boost your writing but you will discover a whole world of subtext that will give weight to what your characters are saying, punching a hole in the reality matrix and bringing them to life.

Get them out of the white room and make them do something. You can write a whole page on a character making a sandwich and if you do it right it will be gripping and compelling. Have your character make a banana and mayonnaise sandwich while they discuss killing someone, or divorcing their husband, or sleeping with their girlfriend for the first time. You can turn that sandwich into a load of character detail.

Not bad for two pieces of wheat bread, a smear of Hellman’s, and a banana.

(Don’t knock it, that shit is delicious.)

Oh, and free second piece of advice.

Pull your head from out your ass.

Quit thinking you are so awesome you don’t have to be polite to people. Seriously, a little consideration and manners will take you further than your talent will in some cases. Just take the two seconds to send a thank you email, or to repost the stuff put up by folks who help you out. Don’t be the dick author that goes to a blog, does your guest post, and then trots back off to your masturbatory abattoir (masturabbatoir?) until the next time you need something posted. Life is about the give and the take. You should give more than you take.

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

I love being a writer. I love meeting fans and reader and people who think I suck. My favorite thing is being able to go up to writers whose work I admire and talking to them without seeming like a crazed fanboy. I can chit-chat on fairly equal footing with writers whose books I have enjoyed over the years. It’s awesome.

The suck factor comes in for me  in that I have no idea how I am doing at any given time. The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. How you sell. That is what matters in the publishing world. Not your talent, not your art, not even your story. Just did the book make money. If you made money then you get to write again, if not, then you and Geno have a meeting in the back with a Louisville Slugger.

The Illuminati keeps those figures locked up in the vaults just to drive people like me crazy.

(Curse you, Illuminati!)

What do you love about the urban fantasy sub-genre, and what do you hate about it?

Urban fantasy is my great love in reading. It is tied with crime fiction. I have always been fascinated with mythology and religion so pulling that into the “real” world really works for me. It just gets stuff moving in my bloodstream. Monsters and guns, hell to the yeah.

The biggest problem I have with urban fantasy right now is the way a lot of it follows in trends and the way it pulls back from the edge, trying to be more paranormal romance.

Now the first part of that is it seems like: “You know what’s hot right now? Fairies. Vampires are dead, don’t write about them, write about fairies. Fairies sell.” Well, kiss my ass very much. I’ll write about fairies when I damn well want to and because I have a new spin to throw at it. I wanted to write vampires as the bad guys in my first book because they kick ass when stripped of their humanity and made into monsters. It’s a classic because it damn well works. I did hear that no one was buying vampires after the publishing world has turned against the Twilight franchise. People said to me. “Oh, vampires are over. Stephanie Meyers ruined them.”  “I wouldn’t write that, vampires are so cliché.”

Don’t be an idiot. Write a good book. Shut the fuck up.

Vampires are over is just another excuse for you to not write a damn book. Hush now, the writers are talking.

And the proliferation of paranormal romance into urban fantasy is old news. Now I like a good paranormal romance and love is a huge motivating factor in characters. Love has a place in urban fantasy, hell yes it does. However, there is a thing with paranormal romance, one of it’s defining characteristics, in which the love story IS the story.  All the other factors play second and third fiddle to the romantic element. If that is what you are writing, then go for it. Do it well and I will read it and enjoy it, but if you are going to write urban fantasy then write it. Give me monsters without redemption. Inject some horror in there. Make some characters who are totally screwed up, because if you had to deal with this crazy shit in real life you would be nine kinds of fucked up.

What’s it take to write great urban fantasy?

Brass balls. (Picture Alec Baldwin with a pair of shiny balls in his hand.)

Seriously, it takes a careful attention to character and propensity to write those characters getting fucked up. You need to be able to go there. Take the bus full of your characters and drive them to the heart of Weird Shits-ville and kick them out. Naked.  You need to be able to see that if you were writing reality these people would be damaged. You also need to keep your sense of humor, because unrelenting horror is, well, horror and not urban fantasy. But if you are writing urban fantasy then do yourself a favor and don’t hold back. It’s your job to tell me about the piece of gristle stuck in the canines of a Were-wolf. It’s your job to imagine just how a vampire who drinks blood and never brushes his teeth smells when it is in your face talking to you. It is your job to crawl through the dark and bring me a damn story worth reading.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

I really like the word eldritch. I have since I first read it used by the late, great Robert E. Howard. It’s a terrific word that I don’t get to use nearly as often as I would like since I am not H.P. Lovecraft.

(Side note: How cool is it that Lovecraft is now a descriptive word in its own right? Lovecraftian. You call something Lovecraftian and you have just shortcut a ton of description to one word.)

Favorite curse word…..hmmm. If you read my first drafts it would seem like it would be fuck. I use that like it’s my last name when I am first drafting. But my favorite would probably be cocksucker, which I haven’t used in a story yet, but in book two my main character does tell someone to “keep your cock-holster buttoned.”

So, if Lovecraftian is a word that describes work that feels like it’s been written by Lovecraft, what would the future adjective “Jamestuckian” imply?

Dark, violent, bloody, and a propensity to use sentences where the action happens before the subject.  I want folks to know what they are getting into when they see my name on the cover. It will really throw them off when I do write a paranormal romance. (Muwah-ha-ha) But I do think that my books will always have a high action content, even if they aren’t dripping blood from the page. I mean I’m 42. I’m not finding myself here. This is what I like dammit, and this is what I write. Trends can suck it.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

I love me some Red-headed Sluts. Takes about 15 to really do a number on me, but they are delicious and highly recommended.

1 oz Jagermeister

1 oz peach schnapps

2 oz cranberry juice

Preparation:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

Shake well.

  1. Strain into a shot or old-fashioned glass.

Of course if I am drinking straight then give me a nice bourbon, rum, or Southern Comfort. I hate beer, hate wine, and can’t drink straight vodka anymore. I will take a nice moonshine if you have it though, I mean I am Southern-born and Southern-bred, we don’t turn up our noses to the bathtub brewery.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

There is no better film than The Princess Bride. Seriously, everything works in that movie. The perfect blend of acting, directing, storytelling, and unicorn blood. Virgin unicorn blood. That damn movie is infectious like a rhesus monkey in the CDC.

Book- The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The language in that book makes me weep in shame. True, the story is really not worth telling, you don’t know shit that is going on, and the lack of character definition can be maddening, but the LANGUAGE is just breathtaking.

I also love the book and the film for High Fidelity.

I can’t recommend a best comic book ever. I love comic books. I am a fanboy from way back in the day. I love comics like I love my spleen. Hello, spleen, good day to you, I love you so much. Closest I can come to a best comic ever may be Preacher by Garth Ennis. That is  a comic book that is not for the faint of heart.

I can’t recommend a game because (gasp!) I am not much of a gamer. I play vidjah games to unwind about once every 2 months. I want a game that I can run and gun, no thinking, no figuring shit out. Just give me a lot of stuff to destroy and I can veg out for a few hours. To illustrate, the only game I have ever beaten was Devil May Cry.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

I do carry a gun in real life and am a better than decent shot with it. My true skill though is a complete and utter lack of conscience. I could do the most jacked up stuff, the stuff you need to do to survive, and never once feel bad about it. I can be the go to guy for fucked up shit that has to be done to survive.

I am sure most folks here are watching the Walking Dead on AMC. Have you noticed how utterly badass Rick Grimes has become? It’s like that Dave Chappelle thing that gets stuck in everyone’s head: “I’m Rick James bitch!” has now, in my head switched to: “I’m Rick Grimes bitch!”. If this was zombie apocalypse I could make that switch in your head to: “I’m James Tuck bitch!”.

You like guns, huh? What’s your go-to gun in any situation?

My Colt .45 1911. I have one and it is, hands down, the finest handgun ever made. The pistol is absolutely intuitive. When you snatch it out of the holster your finger just slips over the safety in a gentle caress. If you carry it cocked, locked, and ready to rock (hammer back, safety on, one in the chamber for those of you who don’t know) then you can have your firearm ready in seconds.

Plus the gun is just gorgeous. I get it that some folks aren’t into guns but I am in a big way. To me, the 1911 is a work of art. You see it in movies a LOT because it is so damn cool looking. It’s a big, shiny handful of badass.

What do most writers get wrong about guns in their stories?

Same thing as Hollywood usually. They forget to count bullets. They have bullets flying and the characters not reloading.

Plus, it seems most writers have never fired a gun. You can tell when you read that most writers have never blown that black shit out of their nose after an afternoon at the gun range.  And I have read a lot of odd mistakes. Safeties being flicked off of semiautomatics that don’t have them, hell, safeties being flicked off revolvers, hammers being pulled back on Glocks, that kind of thing. It’s fine if you write your character as not knowing about guns so you can skim some stuff, but there are basic levels of research that can’t be gotten online. Hell, if you are a writer and have a question about a gun drop me a line. Unless the floodwaters of deadline are sweeping away my house, I’ll answer.

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

The seared flesh of my enemies.

Or a really nice steak and a Dragon roll.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

Crime. I am writing the 3rd Deacon Chalk book now and after that I have the 3rd Deacon Chalk e-novella to knock out. After that I am writing a crime novel. Something really dark and violent like Tom Piccirilli’s stuff. I want to switch things up with one Deacon book a year, which is urban fantasy, and one other book a year of my choosing. The rest of my time I want to fill with short fiction, comic book writing, and maybe some screenwriting.

But next up is crime. I have a list of crime fiction ideas as long as my freakishly gorilla length arm.