Interview with Author Seeley James
I am thrilled to have interviewed author Seeley James, who shared with us details of his writing life, his book ‘Lies: A Jacob Stearne Thriller‘, which was released on 14th December 2022, and answered a few fun questions. This post contains affiliate links.
His near-death experiences range from talking a jealous husband into putting the gun down to spinning out on an icy freeway in heavy traffic without touching anything. His resume ranges from washing dishes to global technology management. His personal life ranges from homeless at 17, adopting a 3-year-old at 19, getting married at 37, fathering his last child at 43, hiking the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim at 59, and taking the occasional nap.
His writing career ranges from humble beginnings with short stories in The Battered Suitcase, to being awarded a Medallion from the Book Readers Appreciation Group. Seeley is best known for his Sabel Security series of thrillers featuring athlete and heiress Pia Sabel and her bodyguard, veteran Jacob Stearne. One of them kicks ass and the other talks to the wrong god.
His love of creativity began at an early age, growing up at Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture in Arizona and Wisconsin. He carried his imagination first into a successful career in sales and marketing, and then to his real love: fiction.
1) Where did the inspiration for your book come from?
There are many layers to a book, or should be, so my inspiration comes in several forms. The easiest one to identify is the central plot. For all my central plots, I spend hours jotting notes working out the problems the future holds for society at large. Eight years ago, I did this exercise after reading how cavalier pharmaceutical companies had become about following the law. I wrote a book about a company that designed their own virus and created a pandemic that only their patented drug could cure. Years later, I got hate mail from people thinking Covid had been my idea!
LIES: A Jacob Stearne Thriller is the second in a trilogy (don’t worry, it stands alone just fine) about the pursuit of becoming the richest person in the world. This stems from seeing the pearls of insanity posted by some of those atop the Forbes list of richest people. Considering how obtaining uber-wealth makes some people nuts, I wondered how far they would go to acquire the next big thing. For this book, our hero Jacob has been sent to recover a new technology that could upend the world’s economy. Eco-capitalists want it, fossil fuel
profiteers want to bury it. Hilarity, violence, and betrayals ensue. That’s all standard thriller stuff.
What separates “standard thriller stuff” from “exceptional” status is the underlying character stories. Finding inspiration for those themes always comes from my personal life and my observations of how people treat each other.
When I was nineteen, I was adopted by a three-year-old girl. (For details, visit https://seeleyjames.com/adopted) Throughout the forty-seven years I’ve been raising her, I’ve learned there are multitudes of abandoned children in this world. I don’t mean abandoned by the side of the road; I mean emotionally, financially, and spiritually abandoned. Imagine families who’ve suffered trauma, financial collapse, alcoholism or drug abuse, scorched-earth divorce, mental illness, or some other destruction of protective family bonds. All too often, children are being left alone in the world at twelve or fifteen. I wanted to illustrate that condition in this book, but in the early planning stages, didn’t have a good catalyst.
One day I read a shocking article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ” Before and after Sandy Hook: 40 years of elementary school shooting survivors.” Reading the personal stories broke my heart. There are 250,000 survivors of school shootings in the USA. I knew then how my characters would interact with each other. The teenaged character I had envisioned changed and the responsibility our hero had for that teenager (metaphorically us) changed overnight. Since publishing it in December, I’ve been getting emails from readers about how this subtext blew them away.
2) How did you plan out the plot?
Before beginning any book, I use Microsoft OneNote to accumulate research, ideas, thoughts, quotes, concepts, and other source material. I also deconstruct novels, movies, and plays that have admirable situations for their characters. When I’m ready to begin writing, I create a spreadsheet I call “Storytecture*.” It’s not an outline, it’s a frame. In it, I jot eighteen pivot points my story needs to take. I’ve taken concepts from The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell; Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, and Story Grid by Shawn Coyne and melted them into a slagheap of my own design. But it gives me signposts for the directions I need to take the story while allowing room for a good deal of serendipity as I write.
I loved hearing James Patterson say that he writes a chapter-by-chapter outline before starting – only to throw it out halfway through because it no longer works. I’ve been there. I find my signposts keep me on track without having to be thrown out. Most of the time. I’m not opposed to redefining those signposts when a better idea rises up.
The second part of my spreadsheet is my chapter-by-chapter outline. This is written AFTER I write the chapter and meet my signposts. It allows me to track the annoying details that can trip up a story like the timeline, the introduction of characters and clues, the time of day, weather, and so on.
*My father was an architect, so I see similarities between writing and architecture: the story/building must look good; the story/building must serve the needs and desires of the readers/occupants; the story/building must hold up and not have the ending/roof collapse on the readers/occupants. Thus, Storytecture.
3) When did you choose the title for your book?
Usually, I use a placeholder until the story takes shape. Then I tease out the theme’s best one-word summation and work that into a title. But in this case, I started with the idea that we lie to ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves we’re happy in a relationship or job when we’re not. We lie to ourselves about all kinds of things to get through the day. Big life changes are usually made when we stop lying. In this book, I knew our hero would be waking up from a lie: that his boss was sending him on a mission for the good of the nation. He wakes up to the fact that the mission will make her the richest woman in history. Given that it might ruin her mental health, should he stay on task?
4) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
Easy question. My hero’s name came from a purpose-driven exercise to get something as definitive as James Bond without resorting to the overused trope James Stone, Jared Steel, Jerome Iron, etc. My man is stern, Jacob Stearne. But the rest of the characters come from a
fun tradition: I hold a drawing of my fans and let the winners name characters. In one book, I had the big bad guy named after a woman’s ex-husband! Another fan who won twice (three years apart) insisted both times that the bad guy be named after him. Loads of fun.
5) Can you give us a hint to any sections that you removed?
I should have removed scenes in some of my early books. The downside to being an Indie: no one tells you, “that’s self-indulgent and dilutes the plot. Cut it. Now.” But as I’ve gotten ten years into this, I find myself diagramming a scene* and deciding from that exercise that it doesn’t belong. Saves oodles of time. *Yes, I diagram scenes. To get the most out of point-counterpoint and to maximize character conflict for a logical scene, I make a five-point diagram revolving around what moral dilemma the character faces. I can then see what needs to lead us into that dilemma and what decision the character faces as a result of it.
6) What made you choose this genre?
I love mysteries and thrillers. My earliest memorable read was Treasure Island. Adventure, mystery, and betrayals around every corner. From Agatha Christie to Dashell Hammett, from Ken Follett to Lee Child, from Lucy Foley to SA Cosby, from … I could go on all day. I’m
constantly reading in this genre.
7) How long did it take you to complete your book?
I keep a journal for every book so I happen to know this exactly. From first typed word to last edit before sending to the formatter (which was twelve days before release), was 261 days. This was a lot longer than usual because of several family events that diminished the number of available writing days.
8) Can you describe your book in three words?
*I wouldn’t be a failed short-story writer hacking away at 400-page novels if I could be concise. I wax verbose with birthday wishes.
9) What’s the hardest part of being a writer?
Working for months with no idea whether people will love or hate your pearls – not to mention those dry periods between deposits into the checking account that rise and fall with that love/hate ratio.
10) Why should our readers pick your book up?
Because it’s the best book ever written. Well, if I didn’t think so, who would?
Seriously, I personally guarantee some passages will make you pause for thought; others will make you laugh (the rooster scene, you’ll know it when you get there); you’ll purse your lips or frown when the character does the same; likewise, you’ll clench your fist; and most
important, you’ll get to the last page and say to yourself, “Is it really 3:00 AM? Damn.”
Publisher – Machined Media
Pages – 418
Release Date – 14th December 2022
ISBN 13 – 978-1737322375
Format – ebook, paperback
Jacob Stearne’s Top Secret mission to secure the nation’s future is thrown into chaos by his arrest for murder.
A group of young physicists sequester in Latvia to finalize a green technology worth trillions of dollars. Billionaires want to steal their work. While oil-rich nations want to destroy it. The president has tasked decorated veteran Jacob Stearne with bringing their research back to the US—which he intends to do as soon as he can break out of jail and beat a murder rap.
With an over-zealous police captain running the manhunt in dead-or-alive mode, Jacob is forced to find the real killer while fleeing the law. With ambiguous help from a dubious crew comprised of a young stripper, a claimant to the Russian throne, and the naïve physicists, he quickly discovers: everyone lies.
As the Latvian dragnet closes in, and betrayals come from friends and foe alike, Jacob must rely on Stearne’s Law for survival: Paranoia is the result of acute situational awareness. To save the scientists and repatriate the research, Jacob must outwit a Russian oligarch. But this time, as he holds a bomb with a ticking timer, he may have run out of luck.
Purchase Online From:
1) Do you have a writing buddy (i.e. a pet)?
Yes, and I’ve enclosed a picture of her. She’s at my knee wondering why I’m taking her picture. Her name is Eggs. Her breed is what we call an American (like the rest of us, a little of this and a little of that). Although my sister calls her a golden coyote. Yesterday, she chased two coyotes out of my backyard at full gallop and barking like a mad dog, so I’m not sure if Eggs is fond of that branch of her family.
2) Do you have any writing quirks?
In general, I tend to be a bit quirky at the core, so my writing habits end up all over the place. I write in the mornings, afternoons, while hiking mountains, and so on. Change is a constant quirk, I guess. Although, I’ve noticed one thing over the years: my most productive sessions are often between 4 PM and 8 PM. That includes the hour in which my wife insists we go out to dinner or at least I “get away from that stupid laptop for a second.” Maybe it’s the sheer joy of annoying her that spurs my creative juices.
3) Where do you write?
I’ve attached three pictures of where I spend most of my time: my home office, my living room, and my patio. From time to time, I seek out public spaces like coffee shops or civic plazas (if there is WiFi) because the hustle and bustle of others fires my imagination.
4) Your book has been made into a movie, you’ve been offered a cameo role, what will you be doing?
I have cameo roles in most of my books, so I’d insist on doing one of those. My role in the books is that of a biographer trying to document our hero’s actions. He and his comrades see me the way a celebrity sees the paparazzi – disdainfully. In LIES, the hero finds me
lurking in an alley, trying to glean some tidbits, which pisses him off. He grabs me and makes me stand as lookout while he ransacks a room for clues. I get beat up by the bad guys. As he passes me writhing on the sidewalk, he says, “Serves you right, vulture.”
5) A talking owl has just finished reading your book, what’s the first thing he says to you?
He shakes his head sadly and says, “You call that wit? I’m with the raven on this one, dude. Nevermore.”
A big thank you to Seeley James for sharing his writing life with us and for a wonderful interview.