Hey folks, my name is James A. Hunter and I’m an Urban Fantasy writer—not that you’ll catch me making that confession in public. I’m the author of the Yancy Lazarus series, which follows around Yancy Lazarus, a magical, wet-works man turned rambling bluesman. Today I have five pieces of sage, writerly advice that I’ve gleaned from authoring my first* published novel Strange Magic.
*I wrote three novels—all bad enough to make your eyes bleed—and a legion of short stories, before I got around to Strange Magic.
1. There is NO Perfect Book:
First time authors often spend years working on their first novel; endless writing, rewriting, tweaking, and polishing until their book is as sparkly and “perfect” as the Hope Diamond. Here’s the reality, though: no book is perfect. You can spend a life time working on a book and still find things to tweak and change. What’s more, you can fiddle with a story indefinitely, but there are still going to be people who don’t like it—who’ll say your characters are one dimensional and your plot’s as thin as bad toilet paper. At some point, you just need to abandon your work and send it out into the world, for better or worse.
2. Writing Books Begets Writing More Books:
I’ve been writing on and off for years, but the more books I write, the more quickly it comes. It took me four years to pen my first, terrible, novel. It took two years to finish the second. By the time I got to Strange Magic, I was down to a year. Cold Hearted, Yancy Lazarus Episode Two, took four months, as did my third book Wendigo Rising, Yancy Lazarus Episode Three. Writing is a little like running: it might be painful at first, but the more you do it, the quicker and easier it becomes.
3. Book Writing is About You …
Writing is an art form, and when you’re writing it should really be about you. Don’t worry about writing to the market, don’t worry about chasing trends, don’t worry about anything except writing the book you want to read. You, ink-slinger, are an artist and never forget it. Strange Magic was a labor of love for me, a book that I always wanted to read, and mostly I wrote it for me and no one else.
4. Publishing isn’t About You At ALL …
Publishing, on the other hand, isn’t about you at all. The writing part is about exploring what you want to do and writing what you want to read. Publishing is all about the other, about the reader. So, if you’re considering publishing your work—whether indie or traditional—think about readers. What are the reader expectations for your genre? Edit your work to meet those expectations. Did you try experimental writing techniques? Great. Now evaluate those strategies not as a writer, but as a reader and alter your work accordingly. Moreover, publishing is also a business. If you’re only writing for you, it’s totally cool if your work is as rough as new sandpaper. But if you’re selling it to people, make sure you put out a quality product.
5. Get A Good—Nay, an Excellent—Book Cover:
There’s an old saying, that everyone is familiar with: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” As great as that might sound, the reality is that most people do judge books by their cover. And why shouldn’t they? There are a bajillion books competing for our attention, and the cover is your one chance to grab a potential reader’s eye. Of all my covers, Strange Magic is still my favorite, and I firmly believe that it’s been one of the factors in my success as an author.
What are some of the covers that you most love, and why? Post in the comments below.
A Yancy Lazarus Novel
Yancy Lazarus Series
James A. Hunter
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Shadow Alley Press, Inc.
Date of Publication: January 16th, 2015
Number of pages: 221
Word Count: 75,000
Yancy Lazarus is having a bad day: there’s a bullet lodged in his butt cheek, his face looks like the site of a demolition derby, and he’s been saran-wrapped to a banquet table. He never should have answered the phone. Stupid bleeding heart—helping others in his circles is a good way to get dead.
Just ask the gang members ripped to pieces by some kind of demonic nightmare in LA. As a favor to a friend, Yancy agrees to take a little looksee into the massacre and boom, he’s stuck in a turf war between two rival gangs, which both think he’s pinch-hitting for the other side. Oh, and there’s also a secretive dark mage with some mean ol’ magical chops and a small army of hyena-faced, body-snatching baddies. It might be time to seriously reconsider some of his life choices.
Yancy is a bluesman, a rambler, a gambler, but not much more. Sure, he can do a little magic—maybe even more than just a little magic—but he knows enough to keep his head down and stay clear of freaky-deaky hoodoo like this business in LA. Somehow though, he’s been set up to take a real bad fall—the kind of very permanent fall that leaves a guy with a toe tag. Unless, of course, he can find out who is responsible for the gangland murders, make peace in the midst of the gang feud, and take out said dark mage before he hexes Yancy into an early retirement. Easy right? Stupid. Bleeding. Heart.
PRAISE FOR STRANGE MAGIC:
"Move over Harry Dresden because there's a new wizard in town. Yancy Lazarus a chain-smoking, take no prisoners S.O.B. with a heart of gold and a fistful of primal power. A stellar debut novel from James Hunter, the next big name in Urban Fantasy." —Rick Gualtieri, Author of Bill the Vampire (The Tome of Bill)
The piano keys bobbed and danced under the pressure of my fingers. Music—low, slow, and soulful—drifted through the club, merging and twirling with wandering clouds of blue-gray smoke. So many places have no-smoking laws these days, it seems like there’s nowhere in the country where a guy can take a drag from a cigarette in peace. Everyone is so worried about their health, they make damn sure you stay healthy by proxy.
Not Nick’s Smoke House, though. Nick’s—like some rare, near extinct animal—is the kind of bar where you can die unmolested by laws or ordinances. You can burn yourself up with cancer, drown yourself into liver failure, or binge on a plate of ribs until a heart attack takes you cold, and no one will say boo. And you can die to music here: the beautiful, lonely, brassy beats, of the like only ever found in New Orleans.
The house band was on a break, so I sat thumping out an old Ray Charles tune in the interim while I watched the man standing offstage in a pool of inky shadow.
I’d never met the guy before, but I instinctively knew he was looking for me, or rather The Fixer—a shitty alias I’ve been trying to ditch for years. It was in the way he stood: chest forward, back straight, arms crossed, chin outthrust. He was a man used to intimidating others, used to being obeyed. In short, he was a thug. A thug sporting an expensive suit, a three-thousand dollar watch, and a pair of loafers that probably cost more than most people paid on rent. At the end of the day, though, he was still just a thug—somebody else’s trained pit bull.
I don’t know why, but thugs are always looking for The Fixer. Either they’ve got something that needs fixing or they’re looking to fix me. I didn’t know whether this guy wanted option A or option B, but I figured he’d get around to it in his own sweet time. So, instead of tipping my hand prematurely, I continued to pound out melodies on the black and whites. My Ray Charles faded out, and I started up a gritty, ambling version of Meade “Lux” Lewis’ famous “Honky Tonk Train Blues.”
My left hand hammered out the thudding, rhythmic, rock-steady pulse of a driving train pushing its bulk across the rolling open space of some forgotten Midwest wilderness; the bass notes offered a mimicry of the ebb and flow of pumping gears. My right hand flitted across the keys, touching down here and there, sending up a rusty whistle blowing in the night. The dusty clatter of track switches being thrown. The braying of hounds, while bullyboys searched for stowaways. If there was ever a song to make a man dance his way onto the boxcar of a rolling train, it was this funky ol’ honky-tonk rhythm.
I let the beat roll on, hoping the thug would hop and jive his way right out of Nick’s Smoke House and out of my life, no harm, no foul. Though a whole helluva lot a people think of me as The Fixer, really I’m just an old rambler trying to get by and enjoy the time I have on this spinning little mud ball. All I wanted was for this overdressed clown to walk away and leave me be.
The man in the black suit just glared at me like I’d offered him an insult, and I knew then things would not end well between us. Still, I mostly ignored him. I should’ve been worried, but I wasn’t.
I’ve been around for a good long while, and I don’t scare easy.
After what felt like an age, the hulking suit stepped up to the stage and into a pool of soft amber light, illuminating his features for the first time. He was enormous, six and a half feet of pro wrestling muscle, with a pushed-in nose and military cropped blond hair. His face was a mosaic of scars, though the thick tissue on his knuckles put them all to shame. One meaty paw lifted back a coat lapel, revealing the glint of chromed metal: a Colt 1911.
A Colt 1911 is a big gun, not the kind of thing a person normally chooses as a concealed carry. The things are too large to conceal easily, and they can be awkward to draw on the fly, so he probably wasn’t here to assassinate me. A pro assassin would never have used something as ostentatious and conspicuous as this McGoon’s 1911. A hitter would’ve chosen a sleek, nondescript .22. The kind of gun that’s easy to hide, would go off unnoticed, get the job done without much mess, and could be disposed of in a dumpster somewhere. This guy’s choice of weapon told me he was intimidating muscle, but likely better with his fists than with his piece.
“Yancy Lazarus?” he asked with a low voice like grating cement. “You the guy who fixes things?”
Yep, a thug.
I could’ve denied it, but the guy had found me fair and square, so it was safe to assume he already knew the answer. I nodded my head a fraction of an inch. That was all. I went right on playing as though I hadn’t noticed his veiled threat or didn’t care. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suicidal and I’m not a pompous jackass—at least that’s not how I see myself—but I knew I could take this guy. I had an edge, although Macho Man Hulk in the other corner didn’t know it.
I can do magic and not the cheap kind of stuff you see in Vegas with flowers, or floating cards, or disappearing stagehands. People like me, who can touch the Vis, can do real magic. Although magic isn’t the right word: magic is a Rube word, for those not in the know, which is precisely why we who practice call it the Vis in the first place. Vis is an old Latin word meaning force or energy, nothing fancy about it.
There are energies out there, underlying matter, existence, and in fact, all Creation. As it happens, I can manipulate that energy. Period. End of story.
About the Author:
Hey all, my name is James Hunter and I’m a writer, among other things. So just a little about me: I’m a former Marine Corps Sergeant, combat veteran, and pirate hunter (seriously). I’m also a member of The Royal Order of the Shellback—‘cause that’s a real thing. And, a space-ship captain, can’t forget that.
Okay … the last one is only in my imagination.
Currently, I work as a missionary and international aid worker with my wife and young daughter in Bangkok, Thailand. When I’m not working, writing, or spending time with family, I occasionally eat and sleep. Strange Magic is the first novel in the Yancy Lazarus series—the third, full-length novel, Wendigo Rising, just released on November 3rd, 2015.