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James Hunter Interview

James HunterToday on Fantasy-Faction we have James Hunter author, former Marine Corps Sergeant, combat veteran, and pirate hunter (seriously). A Colorado native, he is also an active member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and author of the Yancy Lazarus Series, MudMan, Viridian Gate Online, The Artificer, and War God’s Mantle.

And without further ado, on with the interview!

Your books are completely self-published, how have you enjoyed that experience as a writer?

Yep, I’m a proud indie-author, and for me the self-publishing revolution has been great. I’ve been super fortunate, and have managed to turn my passion for writing into a successful business that supports me and my family, which is just about the coolest thing in the world. And I really enjoy the process. I love writing, obviously, but the business aspects are just as interesting to me—from marketing and cover design, to editing, and data science. With that said, indie publishing, though amazing, is a crazy-amount of work and not for everyone. For authors interested exclusively in writing, traditional publishing is still probably the way to go.

With so many urban fantasy series out there, what makes Yancy Lazarus the MC to choose? What separates him from the rest?

Strange Magic (cover)There are a lot of UF books and series, but I like to think Yancy Lazarus has a special place as one of the grittiest, most down and out characters out there. He’s a former Vietnam vet, a blues hound at heart, and a wondering itinerant who just wants to keep his head down and be left alone. Though he might look forty, Yancy has been around for a while, and has a life time of poor decision making under his belt. If Harry Dresden had an older, grumpier, drunker uncle, it might be Yancy Lazarus.

What inspired you to start writing?

Honestly, boredom. I started writing while deployed overseas in the Marine Corps—that was back in 2007. I was deployed as a heavy machine-gunner in Iraq. I ran out of books to read, so in between missions, I started writing my own stories. Short fiction at first, though I began and abandoned a horror novel several times. But it wasn’t until 2014, while my wife and I were living overseas in Thailand, that I really buckled down and wrote my first novel, Strange Magic.

Did you read a lot of fantasy growing up, and who were some of your own literary influences?

Actually, I didn’t read that much fantasy growing up. Other than the Wheel of Time and Harry Potter, I was mostly a horror reader. I loved Stephen King and read just about everything by him. I didn’t discover Jim Butcher and UF until the Marine Corps, but those books opened me up to a whole new world of fiction—a thing I’m forever grateful of.

Aside from being a mage, and supernatural fix-it man, he also has a military background with an extensive knowledge of heavy artillery, and has spent quite a bit of time as a blues musician when the first book Strange Magic begins. How much of your own personal life made it in to Yancy Lazarus?

Mudman (cover)I have a lot of books out, but the Lazarus series will always have a special place in my heart, because there’s a lot of me and my own experiences woven into the stories. Although not a musician myself, my dad was a phenomenal blues man and played just about every instrument under the sun, music was always an integral part of my world. So, it only made sense for it to be a part of Yancy’s world, too. Like me, Yancy is also a former Marine, and though he served in Vietnam (well before me), my time in service—especially my deployments in Iraq and Africa—shaped much of his history.

Describe the out world, the hub, and a bit about the mythology behind some of the supernatural villains Yancy is up against in the series?

One of the compliments I often get from readers, is about the “inventiveness” of the world in which my Yancy Lazarus books takes places. The Lazarus Universe is a big, crazy, sprawling place where beings, monsters, and deities from just about every mythology come to rub shoulders together in the corridors of the universe.

Inworld is the mortal realm of earth, but that’s only the tip of a strange, Cthulhu-esque iceberg. Beyond Inworld is the Hub—a dark and dangerous supernatural city that exists inside its own secret pocket-dimension. And the Hub, in turn, acts as the bridge between Inworld and the other mythical locals located deep in the back waters of Outworld.

As for mythology, though there are lots of monsters and freaky-deaky, creature-features dotting the pages of my books, you’ll nary find a vampire or werewolf in sight. Not that I have anything against vampires or werewolves, but I go to great lengths to dredge up creatures from some of the far-flung regions of the world: Rakshasa, Leshy, Sirens, Bubaks, Naga, Ahuizhotl, and a hundred other things—some made from scratch, others from obscure mythologies. And my fans seem to appreciate seeing something a little different on the page.

One of the things I love about Yancy is that despite being a cantankerous jerk on the surface at times, he really does have a heart of gold and an overall strong moral compass. Do you think there’s an all-encompassing message coming out of this series?

Cold Hearted (cover)You know, I don’t really write themes exactly. Mostly, I write stories with a hope to entertain readers, but if there was an encompassing message it would be: stand up for what you believe, even if it’s hard, and even if it hurts. With that said, I also enjoy exploring the morally gray areas of human nature and choice. What lengths is a person willing to go to for their convictions, and at what point does a hero stop being a hero?

Aside from the five novels, you’ve also decided to publish a couple of novellas to go along with the series. Without giving too much away, where do these fit in to the overall story?

The Lazarus series is not a coming of age story. Yancy’s an old, disgruntled soul who’s already been around the block a time or two, so there’s a lot of unexplored history that has shaped him as a person. The Flashback Novellas—two so far, though I have plans for a third—are snap shots of important events in his life, which take place prior to the main series. They work as stand-alone stories and can be read before the main series, or at any point during the main series.

What’s next for Yancy Lazarus? Is there an endgame in play already and if so when can we expect to see that play out?

I have two main novels left in the series, both of which I hope to put out this year. And yes, there is definitely an end game in plan. As a writer, I’m an outliner by nature—both in the individual stories and in the larger series—so I’ve been carefully dropping the different elements into play to create a spectacular (I hope) finale.

You also have another series called Veridian Gate Online, which despite not having played a video game since Street Fighter 2, I’ve found myself absolutely addicted to. James can you tell the uninitiated a bit about VGO and the litRPG genre in general?

The Artificer (cover)LitRPG (Literary Role Playing Game)—sometimes called GameLit—is a subgenre that revolves around gaming; specifically, a book that has RPG game-like elements as an essential element to the story. A couple of examples you might be familiar with are Ready Player One, a story that takes place largely inside a virtual reality game world, or the new Jumanji remake, where the characters are sucked into a video game-like world. Both are mainstream examples of litRPG. A few more slightly obscure references are Sword Art Online, or the USS Callister episode from Black Mirror (both on Netflix). The actual genre (sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, UF, etc.) can vary wildly, but the common element is that the world of the story will have these game-like elements. How that is executed is up to the author.

So, Viridian Gate is basically a high-fantasy/action adventure series but with a more modern feel, since all of the characters are from the not-so distant future (2042). There’s an extinction level asteroid that is going to wipe out a big chunk of humanity, but millions of people decide to digitize themselves (again think Black Mirror) in order to survive the end of the world. Unfortunately, the only server large enough to hold all of these digital people is the fantasy video game Viridian Gate Online, created by the tech-billionaire Robert Osmark.

The apocalypse elements take place in the background (they are a catalyst but not a focus at all), while most of the story takes place inside this fantasy realm, which is indistinguishable from reality. If you crammed Dresden Files, Lord of the Rings, and TRON together, that would be Virdian Gate Online. There are game-like elements, but you don’t need to be a gamer to understand the story—the series is modern action adventure/fantasy, the setting just happens to be a digital fantasy world instead of a real one.

You’ve only been writing for a few years but you’ve already released five novels and two novellas in the Lazarus series, four VGO novels, and a couple of co-written VGO tie in books with the promise of five or more books this year. How do you stay so prolific? I hope you’ve at least gotten to see The Last Jedi!

Cataclysm (cover)Hahahahaha. Actually, I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet. I was on the fence, then the mixed reviews came out, so I decided to wait until it leaves theaters. As for staying so prolific… Well, I just love to write. There are a billion stories I want to tell (seriously, I have a whole folder full of other novels and series I’d love to work on) so the faster I work, the more quickly I can tell those other stories too. To some people, writing that much seems a little crazy, but I genuinely enjoy what I do—I found a job that isn’t like a job at all! And, even better, the more I write, the better my books get, and the quicker the process goes.

What can we look forward to from James Hunter this year?

Pending life, I have a lot of different projects in the work this year. Personally, I hope to write three more Viridian Gate Online novels, two more Lazarus novels, and then several co-authored books, including the Legend of the Treesinger Trilogy (a new UF series featuring a Sasquatch Princess), and three more books in the War God’s Mantle litRPG series (the first book just dropped a few weeks ago), and maybe even start on one new sci-fi litRPG series—the Galactic Marauders. Time will tell, though.

On top of writing and self-publishing, you and your wife also run a small publishing house, Shadow Alley Press. Can you tell me about that?

Shadow Alley Press (logo)Sure! Shadow Alley Press was originally an imprint for my own books. Basically, it was a publishing house for one: me. But after doing this for three years and making a pretty good living at it, my wife and I decided to expand a little and bring in a few new authors. We’d like to see if we can replicate our success for other authors as well. Right now, we only have a few—its more an experiment than anything else—but if it goes successfully, we might be expanding in the future. You can find out a bit more about us, and all of our awesome books at ShadowAlleyPress.com.

Thank you to the awesome James Hunter, for the interview! If you’d like to learn more about James’ work you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @JamesAHunter13 and on Facebook.

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2 Comments

  1. G C Hammershaw says:

    Both of you need to see the last Jedi on principle. It’s kinda like going to a high school dance. It may or may not be painfully awkward, but it’s one of those steps in life that we all have to go through.

    James Hunter, I have a request to make. Reading how your life experiences have affected your stories, I think you should tell us a story about James Hunter. Like a semi-exaggerated autobiography of a somnambulant hakkoryu jujutsu expert who goes on secret missions while the rest of the battalion is asleep. And then swears he’s not sleepwalking when caught by the camp guard who was coming back from watch (a.k.a. me). I mean… that wouldn’t be much of a stretch since it happened – and then you swore up and down to me that you were not sleepwalking when you totally were. Yep. Such a liar. Or like that time Cpl Bement woke up find you hovering over him, watching him like a psycho killer. Or like when you’d wake up to discover that you’d written a ten page story on your laptop while sleeping and had no recollection of anything apart from a good night’s sleep.
    You have to write this – The James Hunter story.

  2. Jamie Davis says:

    Thanks for a great interview with James Hunter. It was a lot of fun getting to know some of what drives his writing and the creation of such strong characters.

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