Welcome to the four hundred and eighty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery author James M Copeland. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, James. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
James: Hello Morgen, I was born and raised in Alabama, spent twenty plus years in the west in and around Kansas City, Missouri, and the last ten years of my stay was in the Branson, Missouri area. I bought my first computer in 1991 with the full intent of writing a book. I wrote reams and reams of poetry. Finally started a book in 1995 of which I now see as a lesson of how not to write. My wife and I moved back to Alabama, to Winston County and bought a place, built a house and spent the last 8 years enjoying the lake we built on and writing full time.
Morgen: How lovely, to be so sure of what you wanted to do. Perhaps I could have one of your poems on my Post-weekend poetry page? What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
James: My chosen genre is mystery. I have written two love stories, four suspense / investigative journalism, one war story, and one novel about a gemologist who advanced to owner of a diamond mine because of her love of the man who was providing her working supply of diamonds.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
James: My first published book is titled “Bottom Bones”. It is one of my mysteries featuring my star character Frank Hawthorn. In the novel just before Bottom Bones (The Cusec Caper) Frank’s boat is shot out from under him on the ocean and he almost dies. When he replaces the boat in the next novel the boat is called “The Honey Do.” While his man Friday, (Ralph Smith) is cleaning up a spill in the galley he discovers a hidden compartment underneath the floor that has two sets of body bones. One was the mother of a child, the other the actual child. She had been pregnant when she was killed and placed in the compartment. The story is built around the investigation to find the original killer who murdered the young woman ten years prior.
The Escapes of Madlyn Witherspoon is a story about a young 13 year old runaway and the life she lives afterward. Just today I finished and set up for publishing another book called Emmy Lou Emerald. She is a young Jewish girl who graduates as a gemologist and takes a trip to Africa to visit a diamond mine. The family who owns the mine are murdered only days after she leaves and on her arrival in the United States she is arrested for murder and robbery. Both books are completely entertaining.
Morgen: You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
James: After 385 rejections I was a little bit disheartened. However, I have a plaque on my wall that states in poetry form, “Don’t Quit”. I didn’t! I rewrote the novel several times, discovering it to be better at each attempt. I am satisfied with the results and have another one ready to drop right away titled “The Escapes of Madlyn Witherspoon.”
Morgen: 385, wow. I’ve only had 28 so far and have self-published my eBooks. I’ll still be submitting and still be rejected, I’m sure (hopefully in between acceptances!). Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
James: The book is available as paperback or eBook through Amazon or Createspace. My ISBN # is1466451076. The first chapter is available at my web site along with the Q for purchase. The web site is: www.jamesmcopelandbooks.com.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
James: I would have to say at this moment that my first book is my favorite. I am leaning most heavily toward The Escapes of Madlyn Witherspoon. She runs away from her foster parents at 13 because of an overzealous stepfather. Finds a substitute in Jake Smith 75 miles from home and lives as a boy for three years until her womanhood overshadowed her attempts at being a boy.
If I were to have a movie made of Bottom Bones, I would want the young man who played the lawyer in The Lincoln Lawyer film written by Michael Connelly.
Morgen: I think that was Matthew McConaughey – I’d certainly be happy to have him as any of my characters.
James: If I had to say who has inspired me to write mysteries it would be Michael. My character Frank Hawthorn is similar to Connelly’s Harry Bosch.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
James: I developed my title and my cover. I think they are vitally important in causing someone to reach into the bookshelf.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
James: David Morrell gave a speech at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference in October 2011. He advised writers present to write about something they knew. I have been sitting on a story since 1985 about a circumstance that occurred in the underground caves of Missouri. I quit a 20-year career because of it. David’s talk caused me to start the novel. The title is “Death…Underground.” Frank Hawthorn is the investigator who is called from his agency in New York City to come to Springfield, Missouri to help find a college buddy who may be trapped underground in the freezer, of all things, of a wholesale food supplier. The novel is written, completed except for the proverbial rewrites. I had communications with Mr. Morrell concerning the novel and will for sure send him a signed copy when it is published.
Morgen: How wonderful that something so seemingly simple could change your life. I was hooked when I wrote my first short story at a college evening class seven years ago so I know how it must have felt. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
James: I write at least 7 hours each day in the winter. Spring sometimes pulls me to work on my lake property. I have a food garden, a rose garden, a 200ft gravel driveway, and lots of down hill areas to wash when it rains. When I have a slow mental day, I get up and do something else for an hour or two. It seems to clear my head.
Morgen: 7 hours, wow. I need to be more disciplined; less time on emails and more on writing. A 5pm fiction is pretty much it at the moment, although I’ve just had one of my novels back from my final reader so hopefully I’ll get that out soon. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
James: I’m a runner. I have written two novels with only the name of the book as a starter. One of them was Bottom Bones!
Morgen: And what a title. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
James: Yes, I worked on Frank Hawthorn for some time before ever settling down with a story for him. He lives in my mind! When I get to a part, I try to look at what he would do in a circumstance such as the one at hand. He stays true to character.
Morgen: And if you’re anything like me you’ll be doing all the gestures as you work it out – my dog used to think I was quite mad but he’s used to me now. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
James: As in, Location, Location, Location for realty, Edit, Edit, Edit is correct for writing novels. However, I have found my writing to have become better over the last 8 years.
Morgen: Life is all about practice, isn’t it. Do you have to do much research?
James: I do a great deal of research. The internet is a wonderful source for information. I actually knew the caves in Missouri first hand, but did not trust my memory. I have researched and gathered pictures of the whole setup and a history related by an individual who lived the story with me. He is a character in the novel depicted as the warehouse superintendent. He lives in Tupelo, Mississippi, not too far from where I live now. An awful lot of my stories are from my own history. I was a sales manager over 21 men for nearly twenty years until I purchased my own business. Those guys and their customers gave me sources of information that will last a lifetime, that is if I can continue to write.
Morgen: I temped for various companies over the years so have plenty of fiction fodder. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
James: I write third person. First person seems so redundant. I’ve never tried 2nd.
Morgen: Oh do, it’s great fun, although it works best with short pieces. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
James: I used too, and I could if necessary. I can compile on the spur of the moment.
Morgen: Me too, hence the story a day. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
James: Reams and Reams of poetry!
Morgen: Oh dear. I’ve written some poetry but, like you, I think most will stay in the folder/s. Earlier you mentioned your 385 rejections, how do you deal with them all?
James: I feel that a rejection is a statement that I should do something different. That’s what I do now.
Morgen: Or the right thing for the wrong person. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
James: I have! At present I am entered in an anthology of Hometown Memories from the good ole days. In fact I am an associate editor of the work. Not only am I involved, I have contacted several of my cousins who grew up in Alabama with me and asked them to enter the contest as well. A book will be born out of the work and I have close ties with my heritage and would like to have something on the shelf with a story of mine inside. I have been published in 4 poetry anthologies already. The work was lousy, (on my part) but never-the-less I have the books to prove it.
Morgen: I have a story in a charity anthology and it’s great having that on my shelf. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
James: At present I do not have an agent. I would love to have one. For traditional publishing you have to have one. No one has any time anymore to look beyond their nose without someone recommending your work. Your next question is what I am going to do to make my work shine.
Morgen: The $64,000 question… how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
James: I have a web site, I do a blog, I am on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedln involving myself in discussions. My future is scheduled already toward marketing my work. My wife and I are selling this beautiful home and grounds and going on the road for book signing, and contact work. I have already purchased a new 38ft Monaco Cayman motor home and as soon as the property sells we’re hitting the road. I have marketing tools, such as the name and address of every bookstore in the United States, all the national and local newspaper publishers and am doing post card mailers, business cards, and book markers advertising my work. I have sponsored a contest in my alma motto and went so far as to give away a complete computer set up to the deserving young writer who won. I have joined the Civitan organization and my wife has joined the local Women’s Club. I am scheduled to give a lecture and have a book signing to benefit the local library the first of next month.
Morgen: What an understanding wife you have, to give up her home. Sometimes though a fresh start can lead to something even better. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
James: Getting someone in authority to listen. I at least expected to get somebody’s ear concerning my work.
Morgen: Let’s hope you have some today. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
James: Write every day, even if it is only a few lines or pages. The more you write, the better you get. It’s exciting to see the words flow on paper.
Morgen: Absolutely, you can’t edit a blank page. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
James: I’ve already met Michael Connelly, David Morrell, Max McCoy, and Chuck Sambuchino. I would like to meet Earnest Hemingway, Ken Follett, Clive Cussler, Dean Koontz, and Tom Clancy. I’d serve chicken, that’s what we served when the preacher came on Sundays.
Morgen: Unless they’re vegetarian, you can’t go wrong with chicken. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
James: “Don’t Quit.”
Morgen: I won’t. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
James: I would deeply enjoy helping aspiring writers. It is a noble profession!
Morgen: I do sometimes feel noble spending pretty much all my time doing this blog. What do you do when you’re not writing?
James: I’m mechanically inclined and enjoy fixing things. I do physical work such as clean out ditches, move gravel, build brick walls, (I have over 1000 red rock retaining wall pieces around my property). I enjoy gardening also.
Morgen: I love gardening when I get out there, but I see it through my office window and can almost see the grass grow (it’s a mini-jungle at the moment). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
James: My favorite: Morgen Bailey’s interviews blog http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com
Morgen: :*) thank you
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
James: Facebook, Linkedin, gmail blogs. I find them ok.
Morgen: They’re very time-consuming but I think social media a great way of connecting with potential readers, and other writers (who are both, of course). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
James: If one is not dedicated to the process it will be very hard. The E-books and self publishing is a good medium except the writer has to be much more diligent than before when there were editors and copy people pouring over your work. Don’t think for a moment that your work is not being judged by the reader. Even in this forum a person should strive to do the very best possible. Lay your work aside and come back to it at some later date. It will change drastically, which is totally unbelievable at the time you put it away.
Morgen: Absolutely. There was a chap on one of LinkedIn’s groups’ threads (a self-publishing one, I think) where he’d announced that he was going to self-publish his novel without anyone else looking at it. Needless to say he was shot down in flames. I’d love to read it. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
James: www.jamesmcopelandbooks.com (click on my Bio, and my blog), www.Createspace.com, www.amazon.com and www.ingrambook.com, or phone: 1-800-937-8200 for customer service at Ingram Books. Title: Bottom Bones, ISBN #1466451076
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
James: How much I appreciate your willingness to advertise writers who have not had a voice. Thank you very much!
Morgen: Oh you’re so welcome, and there’s plenty more you can do here. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
James: Do you know any sure way to corral an agent who will sell your work?
Morgen: Following the guidelines on their website to the letter is usually a good start. Preditors & Editors’ agent page would be a good place to start and / or something like The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook / Writers’ Handbook (Writers’ Digest in the US). I interviewed Peter Cox back in November 2011 and help what to do and not (turning up on an agent’s doorstep in a radioactive suit is a definite no-no). Thank you, James.
I then invited James to include a synopsis of ‘Bottom Bones’…
Detective Frank Hawthorn is very pleased with his purchase of the 35-foot cabin cruiser whose name is “Honey Do.” He and his man Friday, (Ralph Smith) enjoys boating in the Hudson River and fishing out in the ocean. Ralph thinks a ‘honey do’ is a list of things you do for your woman. He and Frank never dream what could happen when a friend spills hot cheese on the beautiful teak wood floors of the galley after a party. Ralph works feverishly to remove the cheese when suddenly he knocks a gold insert loose in the floor in his haste to clean the teak. The resulting find starts a shocking investigation that upsets many lives!
James M. Copeland is a novelist, born and raised in Cullman, County, Alabama. Copeland was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Copeland. Henry was killed in the second world war, in France in 1945. James joined the Alabama National Guard in 1960. He went on to Warrant Officer Helicopter training in Camp Walters Texas. Later was trained as a commercial fixed wing pilot. He joined the John Sexton and Company Wholesale Food Supply. He spent twenty years, first as salesman, then as District Sales Manager. The next ten years were spent with Smith St. John, a wholesale restaurant equipment company, where he was the sales manager. He later opened his own company in Branson, Missouri named Continental American Food Equipment Supply Company. Later he added a subsidiary company called American Standard Heating and Air equipment, along with a full installation staff and repairmen.
In 2003 he sold the company and bought a two hundred foot waterfront lot on Lewis Smith Lake in Winston County, Alabama. He has been living there with his wife, Johnnie Kathryn Chambers, Copeland and writing ever since. His first book Bottom Bones is a mystery novel. It is about a detective who buys a boat for pleasure purposes and finds a very unusual circumstance.
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