I met James at Awesome Con in 2018. We didn’t have a lot of conversation. He just opened up my book, read a page or two, then decided to buy it. Since then, he’s contacted me to tell me how much he enjoyed it, and we kept up on social media. He came out to Faerie Con 2018 as well, and Mark and I waved hi to him from afar at one of the Capitals playoff games earlier this year. (#ALLCAPS)
James has written a few books as well, so when I came up with the idea to add Behind the Books to the web site, he came to mind as someone I wanted to interview.
So, without further ado…
What did you want to be when you grew up?
James: I wanted to be an inventor and, frankly, I’m still into building stuff as much as when I was little. Heaven knows I can find ideas with communities like Make: around.
Emily: As a builder/maker, what would you build if you had unlimited resources? Why would you want to build this?
James: I’d probably have to say an arcade machine that I could load my own custom games onto. It was actually a project my college roommate and I tried to start during senior year. Given that we were both looking to get into game design and similar projects had been done before, it seemed like a cool idea for a senior project. In the end, we were able to connect most of the electronic parts together, but actually getting the system working still had a ways to go. Personally, I’m still hopeful of getting that project up and running one day.
What did you read last/currently/next?
James: I’m in the middle of revisiting Taran Matharu’s Summoner Trilogy. I just finished book 1 and am about to crack open part 2. The series is basically a cross between Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Pokemon and absolutely nails the RPG-styled mechanics it uses in the story. I definitely recommend it.
Even though I might not use RPG myself in my writing (at least for now), I do really like seeing authors put those mechanics in their work and executing them well because (1) they make rules for the story’s magic system and world pretty straightforward and (2) the mechanics are, for the most part, pretty fair. While characters may be starting from different points/levels, how fast someone advances is often directly tied to the work they put in. Many of the stories I’ve found that use RPG mechanics without breaking the narrative follow a main character who ultimately succeeds because they’re the type who works hard and are even a bit clever. They don’t get anywhere without putting in the effort for it while other characters (usually rivals or the story’s antagonist) end up falling behind because they’re too cocky or lazy to do the same.
What are you binge-watching?
James: I’m kind of obsessing over an anime called The Rising of the Shield Hero. The series breaks the mold with the whole “dude gets transported to an RPG fantasy world” genre in a ton of ways and does a phenomenal job with characterization and personal ethics.
I’ve seen on your Instagram that you’re really into game theory. Is this something you studied in school?
James: I took a course on Game Theory one semester in college. Really fun class and all. I think it was actually during that time that I first had the idea for the book I’m working on about applying Game Theory to writing (I know it’s where I got about half my notes for the book). The professor I had in that class, by the way, is the same professor I ended up collaborating with on some writing projects (ie the Raspberry Pi book we worked on last summer as well as showing him the draft of the Game Theory book).
In terms of general Game Theory, I just like it since it’s essentially the study of keeping conflicts interesting and understandable. The book I’m working on goes through all kinds of points like effectively establishing rules, win conditions, and what a person stands to lose or gain. I even dedicated an entire chapter to player psychology and how it can be applied to character interactions. Maybe it’s just how my mind works, but Game Theory really transfers well in how I approach writing.
Which of your books should we read first?
James: Tough choice…I’ll have to say The Guardians of Light. It’s the first book I wrote, so it has a special place in my heart and I like to think that it still stands up with my more recent works.
What's your book about?
James: If I had to pick an over-arching theme for my books, I’d probably say personal growth and friendship. Whenever I think about the characters in my stories, I always try to approach them in the most organic, human way I can. If I’m giving them a personality flaw, I make it relatable/understandable like having insecurities or being afraid of what they might not be able to understand in the heat of the moment. For more positive traits, I try to make those natural like someone just showing basic human decency without it being a big deal. I really like writing characters whose arcs have them realistically trying to overcome their flaws and helping each other to bring out their best.
What genre is it?
James: Fantasy, though I might throw in some Sci-Fi elements every now and then, but it pretty much always comes back to sword and sorcery in the end.
What have you read from middle school or high school that just stuck with you?
James: Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson and pretty much anything by Margrett Peterson Haddix. Those were books that got me to start writing my own stories!
Which Hogwarts House are you in?
James: Ravenclaw, and I have the keychain to prove it.
What's the last movie you watched?
James: I think the last movie I saw was Avengers: Endgame. Had to wait like 3 weeks before the crowds died down enough for me and my family to get tickets, but it was worth it. I honestly think I lost track of how many times that film just made me have a big dopey grin on my face.
What's your karaoke song go to?
James: I actually don’t normally do karaoke. Closest I think I’ve ever come was once getting roped into doing an Irish drinking song at a talent show in college (long story, don’t ask). If I had to pick a song, though, it’d be a toss-up between We. B’s cover of Bloody Stream and AmaLee’s rendition of Samurai Heart. If I’m playing Spotify in the car and one of those comes up, I’m so gonna start singing along.
Emily: Yes or no: the Irish song was the Unicorn song.
James: No, I’m afraid. Don’t think I’ve heard of that one. If memory serves, I think the song was Mountain Dew by the Clancy Brothers. I think the entire time they were playing it over the speakers and I had to sing along, I was just shaking my head, laughing under my breath, and wondering “How did I end up doing this?”
Who's your Doctor?
James: Matt Smith (though David Tennant is a VERY close second).
Emily: Why Matt Smith?
James: He brought a lot of boyish energy to the role (similar to Tennant, but just a step or two further). Whenever he’d get excited and act like a kid in a candy store, it’s hard not to smile along with him. When scenes got tense, he’d still act eccentric, but not so much that it’d be jarring or inappropriate for the situation. For me, Matt Smith was just a great Doctor to watch and enjoy seeing him go.
What’s you preferred game class?
James: I love playing as a rogue character. It’s a class that just lets me have plenty of range and play room with how my character acts. Back when I played D&D, my main character was a Shadow Demon Rogue and I could be anywhere between a gentlemanly devil and a sardonic goofball at any given moment.
Finally…which of your characters (and from what book) should I interview?
James: Another tough one… I’d probably have to say Trevor Ellington from Magus Veritus. He’s not the main focus of the story, but he’s one of the characters I had the most fun with while writing the first book. Plus, his backstory along with his character arc (both what’s in book 1 and what I have in mind for later) could make for an interesting Q&A.
Interview with Trevor Ellington from Magus Veritus
I’ve never been to Triesgard. It’s the capitol city not far from where Trevor lives, so I’ve asked him to meet me at a small park. He’s punctual with an easy smile and hands me a card as he takes a seat on the bench next to me.
Emily: What’s this?
Trevor: A card from my sister. She’s a big fan of your book—and she particularly loves Kalia. You wouldn’t believe how excited she was when we heard you wanted to talk to me.
Emily: Oh my gosh, this is the sweetest thing ever. Thank you! Please let her know that I promise I’m working as hard as I can to get the second book finished.
[He gives me a small nod.]
Emily: So tell me where you’re from, and how you came to live here.
Trevor: My family had a small farm on the eastern edge of the Dracholm. It was about half a day’s ride north from Callow, but ever since my sister and I were taken in by the Ellingtons, we’ve lived with them here, near the capitol, Triesgard.
Emily: Sounds like there might be some intriguing backstory there, but you seem so young. How old are you?
Trevor: I’m fifteen, ma’am.
[I’m a sucker for good manners. Points for Trevor!]
Emily: You must be a student then. Let’s hear what your average day is like.
Trevor: An average day at the academy…let’s see. I wake up and jog a few laps around the arena. Then I head to breakfast with my friends in the dining hall followed by classes. Depending on the day, I’ll usually try to squeeze in some extra physical training or practice my magecraft between my last class and dinner. Finally, I’ll do some studying and homework before bed. [He chuckles.] As you can probably guess, I stay pretty busy.
Emily: Sounds like it! What’s your goal in life?
Trevor: Right now? Mostly just staying on top of my studies and making a name for myself after graduating from Hawthorne.
[I remember a time when I couldn’t see beyond school either. Ahh, youth.]
Emily: You seem so easy going. Is there anything that irritates you?
Trevor: I suppose messing up during an exercise in class. Messing up a spell. Getting trounced in a sparring match. It always just feels like a kick in the teeth after putting in so much effort, you know?
Emily: Totally understand. Once, I worked for months just to gather the materials I needed for an alchemy related spell. When I finally executed it, the thing blew up in my face. Still, you just get up and try again! So what motivates you to keep going? What brings a smile to your face?
Trevor: Being able to spend time with my family.
Emily: Wow, you’re a good kid. What’s more important to you: wealth or fame? Or something else?
Trevor: Between the two, I’d say wealth. Can’t hurt to have some extra coin, right? Honestly, though, I put family before anything else.
Emily: I can tell that you’re super loyal to your family. That’s a wonderful trait. What about other relationships? Are you a sappy romantic or a sensible companion?
Trevor: I like to think I’m pretty sensible. Besides, I don’t have much time for romance between all the school work and training they give me at the academy.
Emily: Family-oriented and school-focused. You are every parent’s dream child! So, no romance, what about friends? Tell me about your best friend.
Trevor: That would probably be Catherine Soria, though I’m not sure if she’d be willing to talk to me right now. Sweet, sweet girl, don’t get me wrong. After the Ellingtons took us in, she and her family were the first nobles my sister and I met. It was a bit of a tough time for us, so them welcoming us and treating my sister was a relief, to say the least.
There’s so much more I want to ask Trevor about the tough time he and his sister had, but being the good student that he is, Trevor has to get to classes. He waves good-bye and jogs off to the academy.
For more information on James and his books, check out the links below:
James West Amazon Author Page