James Ryan Daley is a writer, editor, and digital designer. After earning an MFA in fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2004, James has spent most of the years since teaching writing to college students, creating websites about video games, and editing anthologies of fiction and political rhetoric. When he’s not glued to his computer, James can usually be found skiing the slopes of Vermont’s famous mountains or sailing the harbors of Rhode Island. He lives in Newport, RI with his wife and two daughters.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Jesus Jackson. What was your inspiration for it?
A: While the plot of Jesus Jackson centers on a murder mystery, at its heart, it’s the story of a young man searching for answers to the same huge, impossible, unanswerable questions that we all ask ourselves all the time: Is there a god? What happens after I die? How well do I really know the people in my life? How do I make sense of all the crazy, sad, frustrating, and unfair things that life is constantly throwing at me? These are all questions that I struggled with quite a bit when I was a teenager (and still struggle with, frankly). Jesus Jackson was a fun and intriguing way of exploring them.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: In this story, Jonathan is in a sort of philosophical limbo that I think a lot of people experience: he has come to conclusion that he doesn’t believe in any type of god or religion, but he hasn’t yet figured out how to deal with life’s challenges without a belief system to guide him. This story is largely about Jonathan coming to understand how to live his life in the absence of any specific religious faith.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: Writing the first draft of Jesus Jackson was actually a fairly smooth process: I woke up early every morning, wrote a few pages, and repeated until it was done. Revising the story was a whole lot less smooth. I had to go through multiple revisions (some of them quite extensive, and none of them easy) before I wound up with a finished product that I was really happy with.
A: I just always try to ask myself what would be fun to read about next if I were the reader instead of the writer. Usually that leads me to jump right into something exciting.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: I’ve always found that the best way to deal with that kind of anxiety is to avoid it. For me, that means waking up as early as I can stand to, and sitting down to write before I have enough time to start worrying about it.
Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: Most of my other work is done on a freelance basis these days, so my schedule is pretty flexible. That flexibility can be just as much of a curse as a blessing, though, because it’s easy to get caught up in other projects, especially when you’re approaching a deadline. That’s another reason why I try to write in the morning, before I have a chance to get distracted. If I’m approaching an immediate deadline for my writing, though, then all bets are off: it’s just wake up, write, and keep writing until it’s time to go to sleep again.
Q: How do you define success?
A: As an author, I would define success simply having an audience. If there are people who read your book, enjoy it, and want to read your next one: that’s success.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: That’s a tough one. I’m extremely fortunate to have a wife who has always been supportive of my writing, and who happens to be an amazing editor, as well. I honestly don’t know what advice I would give to someone whose spouse is actively against their writing, except to say that, sooner or later, they’re going have a pretty serious decision to make.
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: Absolutely, though I tend to equate writing more with an incurable addiction than a painful illness. I feel miserable when I don’t write. I feel great after I’ve just finished writing. Most of the time, the actual writing itself is mildly disappointing, but every once in a while, it feels absolutely amazing.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: Yes: that they should all go check out the trailer I made for Jesus Jackson. I basically spent half of my summer learning how to use professional film-making software, and the other half actually making this trailer. The response to it has been really amazing, so I am sure that they will consider it a well-spent 80 seconds. Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/iD3nMqCzjxo