Q&A session – Questions: Natasha Johnstone – Answers: James Ross

The gorgeous Natasha Johnstone (married, boo! hiss!), who you can find at this website, recently put me under the spotlight and refused to let me go until I answered her questions. That’s why I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, I’m stubborn. Anyway, she gave me a copy of the transcript when she booted me out and told me not to tell anyone, clearly I just can’t be trusted… But you knew that.

1) Why did you decide on a pen name like Jams N Roses?

A while ago, when toying with the idea of setting up a website to showcase some screenplays that I’d done, I typed in JamesRoss.com (my real name) and discovered the domain name was already taken… by an author! Further investigation led me to find another two James Ross’ who put pen to paper, so an anagram of my name (and a borrowed N) had to do.

2) What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Scream. Shout. Throw things. Sleep (have nightmares). Lift weights (light ones). Promise myself that I’ll never try to write again. No, seriously, there is no one answer for that one. I would say, that leaving your work at the point you are blocked, and then coming back to it after a sleep, or anything else that takes your mind of it, can be the best thing to do. After wasting an hour or so writing next to nothing, I’ve gone back to the computer after a good sleep and carried on as if there was never a problem – struggling to even remember what the problem was, the night before.

3) If you could meet any person in the world, who would that be?

It would have been Christopher Hitchens, if he hadn’t passed away, of course. The guy was a legend in my eyes; super intelligent, quick-witted and not too timid to point out the wrong-doers in the world. There are many people alive who know much more than I do, so I’d be happy to meet anyone who could broaden my mind and open my eyes, that sort of thing. They wouldn’t have to be famous, just knowledgeable, honest and kind.

4) If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

The USA. Why? I’ve always had something in me that wanted to know more about America. It’s a major player on the world stage, and compared to other parts of the world, can be classed as peaceful. The variety over there also shouldn’t be ignored. It isn’t just the easy option either, because it is English-speaking, if that’s what you think! I’ve lived in Spain, I live in France now; I’m not scared of language barriers! I can just honestly say that America appeals to me.

5) Tell the readers something they don’t know about you?

I’m writing this whilst wearing only my boxer shorts. Seriously, it is uncomfortably hot in the south of France at the moment. The wind isn’t blowing at all and technical difficulties mean there isn’t a functioning fan in the Jams N. Roses household.

6) Who would play your characters in the movie version of your book?

I couldn’t tell you. I’ve thought about this question many times, probably over thought it, and still got no closer to who would play who. I’d leave that to the professionals. I had a guy talk to Ben Drew (Plan B) at one point, before he really blew up, to play the lead in Get Clean. Ben Drew is a star, but I thought he was too chubby to play a cocaine addict! Turns out he had bigger and better things to be doing anyway…

7) Who inspires you?

My son. Full stop. The little man, just being in my life, is the proverbial kick up the backside that I needed to get up and start doing things in my life. I owe him a lot, and have every intention in repaying him fully.

8) What was your journey to publishing like?

Long winded. I started out writing screenplays, and anyone in that game can tell you how hard it is to get noticed. I had good feedback, someone was interested in producing Get Clean, but funding fell through and that was the end of it. Amazon gave my writing a lifeline; it gave me the control I wanted in my writing, without having to satisfy the tastes of an agent or publishing house, not many of whom are keen to take a punt of a new name who writes in a brutally blunt fashion.

9) If you could give any advice to aspiring writers what would that be?

Sit down and write. Don’t stop writing until you’ve typed the last full stop and don’t think about going back over your work for at least a week. Then, you’ll see the obvious mistakes you’ve made, as well as general improvements you could make to every page.

10) Who is James Ross as a person?

I’m one of the good guys, a single dad, trying to make my way in a foreign country; doing battle with French bureaucracy and a crazy ex most days of my life. I’m an honest man, looking around and seeing the not-so-honest being rewarded for their shenanigans, wondering if lady luck will ever step in to relieve me of the struggle of the daily grind. I’m the one with his fingers crossed, which doesn’t always help, when I’m tapping the keys of my laptop, late into the night, hoping that my next book will be the one that takes off and changes the game.

Laters…

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How I let my life write my novels…

My first published novel ‘Get Clean’ has had a few a sales now, a few good reviews and so far, as a new writer, things are going ok. I’m not breaking any records, but importantly, my books are getting read.

This means so much more to me than perhaps some other writers, as the story is heavily based on me and my experiences. Lots of what fills the pages comes directly from my life, whether it is the descriptions of my tattoos, or the break-up with my long-term girlfriend, or the loss of a child.

Of course, this is a fiction novel, and I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that my life is worthy of a book or a film to be made celebrating it, but I firmly believe that everybody has a little something in their life that’s worth writing down.

We are very interesting, us humans. We are smart and we are dumb, we are brave and scared and weak and strong, all at the same time.

Great stories are often given praise for their believable characters, which is a clear indication that although we love fiction, we want to be able to recognize at least a part of what we read, and this would tend to be the human side of things.

I feel in tune to this as I’m quite an emotional person, not that I’m going to break down in tears when writing this, but I am conscious of my feelings and like to think that I am compassionate to others around me. Again, these give me direct life experiences that I am able to translate into my stories, and because they are ideas or feelings that come from real life, they hold that air of believability.

For me, the emotional journey of a character, his inner motivations and conflicts, is just as important as his outer motivations and conflicts, meaning, ‘how is he coping with it all?’ is just as important to me as the ‘will he get to save the girl?’

My point is that for me, the plot aside, a story is really built up from the characters within it, and we all know enough people, or watch them on television, or read about them in newspapers to have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. The trick is to sift out the boring, and keep those characters that make you laugh, make you cry, keep you entertained or even offend you.

Yes, placing these characters into a plot that works is a skill that is learned and never mastered for most, but it is achievable. Writing a book isn’t easy, writing a good book is even more difficult. Nevertheless, we all have the ingredients to make something pretty special, and the type of life that you lead will clearly dictate as to what genre you write in, in my humble opinion.

After two crime related novels including tales of drug abuse, pain, deceit and murder, maybe things will change for the better in my life. Who knows, if I meet the right person, my next novel may even be a romance!

Buy ‘Get Clean’ here – http://amzn.to/102Y7nv

Buy ‘Son of a Serial Killer’ here – http://amzn.to/102XHxk

Creating a character from scratch?

Looking back, after two published novels, a collection of shorts and a few screenplays stashed in the drawer, I’m not sure if I’ve ever created one of my fictional characters from scratch.

In fact, each of the characters that I’ve placed in my stories was conceived using the characteristics from people I know, or people I’ve briefly interacted with or more often than not, myself.

Even for those who think they have created a character from the bottom up, I bet if they really thought long and hard about it, they’d discover that their creation resembles someone a lot closer to home than the fictional town or planet that the narrative is set.

One of my favorite characters so far, who is by no means likeable, is Jason Dorris from my contemporary crime fiction novel, Get Clean.

Jason is a straight up asshole and has only one person in his life that he wouldn’t push past to get out of a burning building, and she happens to be the woman he wants to get in the sack.

He is selfish, arrogant, manipulative, violent and devious. Not nice traits in anyone, and surely if these were the characteristics of ‘a friend’ then I’d probably do well to avoid him totally. But Jason isn’t a carbon copy of someone I know or once knew. He is the worst of a few of the people in my life, me included. He is the collection of negativity that makes a good ‘bad guy’.

When I was younger, and had a different view on life, I knew and engaged with people who sold drugs, and people who took drugs. I knew people who would fight someone for supporting the wrong football team. I knew thieves. I knew people who would chat up the girlfriend of a ‘mate’ behind their back, with no concern of the possible consequence. I knew people who would go to prison for three months to a few years and come out and gloat about it.

Thankfully times have changed; I have matured and seen the error of my ways, and the ways of many people who I have now turned my back on. But, also thankfully, I have retained the memories of those dangerous times.

Importantly for a crime writer, I have firsthand knowledge of how certain aspects of the bad life go down, and this really helps when I’m ‘creating’ the villain of a piece. It would be mad not to use past experiences to add to the believability of my characters and storylines.

Contrarily, I hope that we have all been loved at least once in our lives, and the positives should equally be pulled from these times and places and faces and molded into a hero, heroine or love interest.

The above points are just for starters, because as we well know, nobody is just nice, and not many are completely bad. Mixing the good and bad traits of people you know
or knew and creating a new character altogether is where the fun really begins.

That girl you thought that loved you unconditionally, was she really faithful? Did you trust every word she said to be true? Why did she stay in touch with the guy who treated her badly in a previous relationship?

And that friend of yours, the one you’ve known for most of your life and who had your back when trouble started, why was his car spotted just down the road when your house got robbed? Was that really just a coincidence?

Taking a good character and giving them a flaw is what makes them believable and interesting, and that’s the stuff that good books are made from.

Ciao for now…