Menu

Suspense, Zombie Legal Thrillers, Historical Romance and More: My Interview with James Scott Bell

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

James Scott BellJames Scott Bell is, among other things, a professional speaker, a writing instructor, and an award winning and bestselling author. He writes in numerous fiction genres and has authored several highly acclaimed nonfiction works on the craft of writing.  I first heard about him on The Creative Pennpodcast, brilliantly hosted by Joanna (aka J.F.) Penn, the subject of my July interview titled Alter Ego.  I’ve been a big James Scott Bell fan ever since, reading his books and telling everyone else to do the same.  As proof, here are my reviews of Try Darkness and  Try Fear.  I know for a fact that copies of those books have been sold based solely on my recommendations.  Although I haven’t received any commission checks yet, I was thrilled and honored when Mr. Bell agreed to give me a few minutes of his time.        

 

Q:  Your most recent release is How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.  What would you say is the most common mistake new writers, or even experienced writers  make when writing dialogue?

A:  Not taking enough time to “hear” it in the characters’ voices. I often say that great dialogue begins before you write it, by how you “orchestrate” the cast of characters so they are sufficiently different from each other to create conflict. I also use a Voice Journal for the main characters, a free-form document that is all the character talking to me. I work it until the voice is unique.

 

Q:  Do you think it’s possible to overuse dialogue, even if it’s written well?    

A:  It’s a matter of taste. There have been books that seem almost all dialogue, like the Fletch books of Gregory Mcdonald. That’s a stylistic choice. If the dialogue is good, it can work.

 

Q:   I have one question that’s somewhat personal.  I think writing dialogue is one of my strengths but detail and description are often a struggle because I have very poor eyesight.  I usually can’t distinguish things like facial features, expressions, etc.  What advice would you give someone in my situation?

A:  Yours is a somewhat unique situation. Perhaps use your imagination to conjure up pictures and then describe those pictures in detail. Over-describe. Then edit those descriptions down to what works best for you.

Q:   In a recent interview with Joanna Penn, you mentioned that you took an improv class once upon a time.  Was that specifically related to your writing?  If so, what were you hoping to gain from that experience?

A:  I used to be an actor, and improv was the most fun. It trains you to become a unique character instantly, with mannerisms and voice. Flexing that “muscle” is good for a writer.

 

Q:  I haven’t read all your novels yet but I’m working on it.  In the Ty Buchanan series, which is fantastic by the way, one of the characters is a nun and Ty spends time living in a monastery.  In Final Witness, Rachel is rather outspoken about her faith.  Were the religious tie-ins deliberate, or did the stories just take you in that direction?

A:  Issues of faith, philosophy, meaning…the big questions, have always been part of me. It’s just who I am. When I write, those things are going to naturally emerge. Every author ultimately writes out of some view of the world, whether conscious or not. I try to come up with stories that are based on real conflict and high stakes, and stay true to what emerges.

 

Q:  Are you most proud of your work as a teacher and writing coach, nonfiction writer, or novelist?

A:  I feel I’ve worked hard at every aspect, and I’m proud of that. I’m not the most naturally talented writer, but I determined long ago no one would out-work me. I love what I do, but I am especially gratified when I hear from writers who I’ve been able to help through my teaching. That’s giving back to the craft I love.

 

Q:  Do your stories typically begin with a specific character, a general plot idea, or some combination of the two?

A:  I usually start with a concept, a “What if?” premise. I then come up with a main character to go through the wringer.

 

Q:  When you’re in the early stages of developing a new story, what method or methods do you use to get to know your characters?

A:  I get a visual. A head shot. I search Google images or stock photo sites until I find a face and expression that tells me this is the character. Then I do the Voice Journal. I want to see and hear the character as someone other than just an aspect of me. I do a little work on back story, but generally I let the character grow along with the story.

 

Most recently I’ve begun to depend on what I call “writing from the middle.” It’s a concept I came up with (and wrote a book about:Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between).   It concerns a “look in the mirror” moment in the middle of the book, and it’s really the key to finding out what your story is really about. So now I spend time working on that as well.

Q:  Is there a particular character, novel or series you are especially proud of?

A:  I think the Ty Buchanan books are the pinnacle of what I’ve been able to write.

 

Q:  I’ve heard that it’s usually unwise for an author to do a lot of genre jumping.  You, however, write suspense novels, legal thrillers, “zombie legal thrillers,” which I must admit is a genre I hadn’t known existed, historical romance, short stories and screen plays.  I apologize if I’m leaving anything out.  First, I can’t help wondering why you haven’t written any children’s books yet.  And second, would you say crossing so many literary boundaries has been more of a help or a hindrance?

A:  In the “old days” of publishing (pre-2007) they did not like you to spread yourself over multiple genres. That’s because publishing was slow and bookstores wanted to stock what sold before. So an author built a “brand.”

Times have changed. With self-publishing, things are faster and readers are much more likely to cross over with you in terms of different genres. It is good to have a main focus, I think (for me, it would be contemporary suspense) but then I’m also free to try other things if I so choose.

It’s a great time to be a writer.

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book reviews  blog.  You can also visit  michaelsova.com, or  find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova.  Please pick up a copy of A SHOT AT REDEMPTION, my debut mystery novel.    

 

 

 

 

 

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons