An Interview with James Newman & Mark Steensland

Published June 14, 2019 by MommaCat

Welcome to Cat After Dark, Mark – and welcome back James!

First things first. Let’s talk about this second book the two of you collaborated on. After THE SPECIAL how much beer did it take to decide that writing together again might be a good idea? How did you overcome the obstacles of being on opposite ends of the country?

James:  No beer required on this side of the table (I prefer Jack-n’-Coke anyway). Mark’s a dear friend and a fantastic “idea man”. The latter has worked to my advantage because it seems he’s always ready to collaborate at the perfect time – when I’m in a creative rut and desperately need an idea to grab hold of me and refuse to let go.

As far as my co-writer living on the west coast while I’m here in North Carolina? It’s not a problem, because I’ve been involved with quite a few collaborations over the last few years and none of them were “in person” (before I started IN THE SCRAPE with Mark, I just finished up SCAPEGOAT with Adam Howe, who’s located in the U.K.!).

Mark: Believe it or not, no beer was involved in either decision. Even though In the Scrape is very different from The Special in terms of subject matter and tone. James and I have known each other at a distance for a long time. I adapted his novel Animosity into a screenplay and have repeatedly tried to get it made into a movie. No luck, so far. But maybe after the movie version of The Special comes out, someone will be interested. Best part about right now is that location is not an obstacle anymore. Even with my filmmaking. My films have been scored by composers in England and in Italy. All via the internet.

Separately or together, what are you each working on for future release?

James:  I’m working on a few solo projects, mostly shorter stuff, like a novella I’m excited about called HOMEWRECKER. I’m itching to jump into a new novel soon as well. Most likely the novel will be another collaboration. It’s too early to run my mouth about that project right now, but I will say it’s a vampire novel and it will be the first time I’ve collaborated with this fellow.

Mark: The paperback of Jimmy the Freak (which I co-wrote with Charles Colyott) should be out later this month. Then I’ve got a longish short story called “The Black-Jar Man” which has been accepted for an anthology coming out later this year (I think).

What are some of the things you enjoy doing when you’re not working? And what are some of the items on your bucket list?

James:  I read constantly. Watch movies. My wife and I collect those silly Funko Pop figures. I enjoy spending time outdoors with my family, hiking and biking, except when college basketball season comes around (go Tar Heels!).

I don’t really have a bucket list. I’m not what you would call an adventurous sort, with a desire to jump out of a plane or swim with sharks or anything like that. I would like to go to Europe one day, to see Stonehenge if nothing else, so I guess that applies here.

Mark: Sleeping. Otherwise, I am working. Even on vacation. Especially on vacation. I’m gathering new information about people and places and whatever else I can so that I can figure out a way to write about it in the future. My bucket list is being able to do it full time.

If you could spend the evening having drinks with any one person in the history of the world, who would you choose and why?

James:  Jesus Christ.

If drinks are a must, He could turn water into Jack-n’-Coke instead of wine, I suppose. All joking aside, once that was taken care of . . . I would love to know if He feels like there’s anything mankind is doing right. Anything at all. Because I know there’s got to be something.

Mark: My dad. He died when I was six-years old, so I hardly knew him. Now that I know so much more about him, I wish we could talk about it. He served in World War Two and was decorated for being injured and for bravery (Silver Star). He worked in radio and television in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I’d love to find out more about that. Then he became an Episcopal priest and did all kinds of stuff, including marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., at Selma, Alabama after Bloody Sunday. I’d probably need more than an evening.

If you could swap bodies with one person for one day who would it be and what would you do?

James: Batman. I would just do what he does, ‘cause Batman is the coolest.

You didn’t say this person had to be REAL.

Mark: I’d switch with Stephen King and spend the day tweeting about what an awesome writer Mark Steensland is.

What five books would you like everyone to read? And what are you reading now?

James: 

  1. BOY’S LIFE, by Robert R. McCammon. It’s my favorite novel of all time, and the only book that ever made me cry.
  2. CHRISTINE, by Stephen King. Although it’s rarely cited as one of his best, this one’s probably my personal fave of King’s work, if I was forced to pick just one. CHRISTINE perfectly captures what it’s like to be an angry young man who’s bullied endlessly, a fragile soul who’s easily sucked in by something that ultimately will be his undoing. I can relate to that, as I hated high school with a passion and it left scars that remain to this day.
  3. SHARP OBJECTS, by Gillian Flynn. Aspiring writers who want to know how to craft flawed characters, characters your readers will root for even if they don’t always adore them or agree with the decisions they make . . . well, it doesn’t get much better than SHARP OBJECTS.
  4. LIGHTNING, by Dean Koontz. Man, how I loved his early work. This one’s a prime example of how a master craftsman can successfully mix multiple genres and transcend them all to reach mainstream success. Is LIGHTNING a thriller? Sci-fi? A spy novel? Romance? It’s all of the above, and it’s wonderful.
  5. TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFIT, by Lawrence Block. The best “how to” book on writing fiction, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a master magician pulling back the curtain, showing you all his secrets. I can’t recommend this one highly enough to anyone wanting to make a go at this writing game.

As for what I’m currently reading: THE FRIGHTENERS by Peter Laws (a nonfiction book about what it means to be a horror fan in “polite society” and why we dig this stuff, written by an ordained Baptist minister!) . . . an unpublished novel called DEVIL’S CREEK by Todd Keisling (this thing won’t stay unpublished for long, though, ‘cause it’s fantastic) . . . and I’m finishing up RECEPTION by Kenzie Jennings (think Bentley Little through a woman’s perspective, then ramp up the craziness tenfold – so much fun!).

Mark: Only five? Okay. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevksy. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. Ghost Story, by Peter Straub. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. I’m currently reading Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson. Again. But Yorgos Lanthimos is making a movie out of it and I can’t wait to see what he does with it.

Is there another author’s character that you identify with? Or one you wish you could go on an adventure with? Be specific!

James:   The Losers’ Club, from IT. That was my gang, back in the day. From building dams in the “crick” (as we’d call it down South) for no reason, to awkward interactions with the opposite sex (I never thought girls were “gross”, but that didn’t mean I knew what to say to them without looking like a fool), to being pursued by bullies hefting armloads of rocks (in our case, instead of a labyrinth of sewers, we were chased onto the excavated cliffs near a local bowling alley, a place that still exists today less than a mile from where I sit) . . . I lived through it all and I wouldn’t change a thing, because those experiences made me who I am.

For the record, there was no ancient entity that took the shape of a child-eating clown in my story. Although that would have made things even more interesting.

Mark: The Three Investigators, by Robert Arthur (and lots of other authors). I started spending summers with them when I was in third grade. And for years, I wanted to actually be them. I even tried to start my own detective agency when I was nine. Didn’t work out, fortunately. And I discovered I could write about adventures and have even more fun than reading them.

If you were unable to be a writer, what would you like to do to make the world a better place?

James:   Although I rarely write nonfiction, nor am I a filmmaker, I think in an “alternate reality” I might be a documentarian. I imagine that would be a great outlet for creativity, while also making people think. As a fan of documentaries myself (I watch almost as many of these as I do horror movies), I’m especially impressed by those that can either inspire me to research a topic further, or can actually change my mind on that topic, destroying any preconceived notions I might have had from the beginning. I think if a filmmaker can pull that off, it’s a powerful thing.

Mark: I teach film classes in college when I’m not writing. So I am doing something to make the world a better place: teaching them how to make better movies.

How would you like the world to remember you?

James:   As a good father and husband who occasionally wrote twisted stuff that people were stoked to read, and who kept his readers consistently surprised at how different each story was from the one before it.

Mark: I hope people remember the work, not me. That’s what counts more as far as I’m concerned.

Check out Mark’s page here!  It has all his links (like IMDB and YouTube)  Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook.  

Follow James on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and his sometimes updated website.

IN THE SCRAPE is available at Amazon.com

InTheScrape

IN THE SCRAPE  is a coming of age thriller/horror story about two brothers set in rural North Carolina.  The boys are picked on and dream of nothing more than getting out of of their bad situation.  Their father is abusive; at 9 and 13 years old they woefully ignorant and unprepared.  James and Mark work seamlessly together crafting a tale that’s believable, horrifying and gutwrenching.  Available from Silver Shamrock Press in paperback and kindle.

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