Friday, April 20, 2012

Author Interview with Brett James

Today I have with me Brett James, author of the 2009 thriller The Deadfall Project.  The story revolves around a devastating nuclear device, a failed bombing attempt in Paris, and one man’s mad dash to find out the truth before yet another war breaks out in the Middle East—this time with Iran.  You can find my review here (it was excellent, if you were wondering), but right now it’s all about Mr. James.  He’s the reason we’re here today, so without further adieu, allow me to extend a warm welcome to the man of the hour. 

Hi James, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions.  It’s great to meet you.

B.James:  Hello, Jonathan. Thanks for having me.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

B. James:  Certainly.

Q1)  Prior to our interview, I Google-stalked you a little bit but wasn’t able to turn up much in the way of a bio (evidently the Google-fu is weak with this one).  Without internet voyeurism to lean on, I’m now forced to do the old fashioned thing and just ask you.  So with that in mind, can you tell us a little about yourself?

B. James:  It's been a meandering life so far.  I've worked in computers, film, photography, built giant sculptures, and, of course, been a bartender—which I believe is a prerequisite for all writers.   

Q2)  Hmm.  I’ve never been a bartender, but I did work at Wendy’s once.  Does that count?  Anyway, I understand that you’re a longtime filmmaker, but The Deadfall Project is your first novel.  What about this book inspired you to write rather than turn to your traditional medium?

B. James:  I had already made the shift from screenwriting, and was busily pumping out half-finished novels when I hit on the idea for Deadfall.

Q3)  Were you influenced by any other works or authors?

B. James:  The biggest influence for Deadfall was Ross MacDonald, but the seed came from Ian Fleming. I had often thought, “Whatever happened to the hard-boiled genre?” and when I was re-reading Dr. No, it seemed that Fleming had been a part (or maybe even the cause) of the shift. I decided that spy-fi had evolved from hard-boiled, and wanted to see if I could get back to those roots.

Q4)  I absolutely love Ross Macdonald.  You couldn’t have picked better inspiration, IMHO.  Now, I hope I don’t give too much away in saying this, but the plot of the novel centers on some… well, let’s call it some pretty significant duplicity in regards to the justification for war.  Was that a jab at certain real life politicians to be left unnamed?

B. James:  It didn't end up being as much of a jab as I had originally intended. Back when I started writing Deadfall, I was quite opinionated.  But by the time I had finished, things didn't feel so cut and dry.

These days I feel like both sides hold some responsibility: those who pushed and those who didn't resist. I tried to get that into the book, and also threw in a mention of the Bay of Pigs—no politician or party has a monopoly on bad behavior.

Q5)  Different brands of the same asshole, I always say—but moving on.  When reading your novel I was struck by some of the fine detail you included about different locations in Europe.  At times it even felt like I was standing there alongside the characters.  Did you gain this insight through your own travels in Europe, or are you just a good researcher?

B. James:  Research would be one way of putting it. In 2003, I was abandoned in France for two weeks. I wandered around and, to entertain myself, made up stories about everywhere I went. Grey's journey parallels my own, except no one was trying to kill me. I don't think.

Q6)  Heh, that’s completely insane and cool as hell all the same time.  And speaking of insane, one of your novel’s main plot points is the possible war with Iran over nuclear ambitions, is extremely timely given current events.  Let's take a moment to put on our political pundits hats and discuss.  What do you think is going to happen with Iran?  Do you think it's going to end in armed conflict, or do you think cooler heads will prevail?

B. James:  Iran is geographically distant from America, so it's hard to appreciate the immediacy of the threat. If I lived in Israel, I couldn't imagine being cool-headed about a neighbor who has missiles, is probably building nuclear warheads, and wants my country to, "vanish from the page of time."[1]

That said, I think very few people are gung-ho to start that fight. It could easily become one of the worst.

Q7)  Your story involves a NATO intelligence agency called (I think) the NSC.  I'd never heard of this organization, so I did some brief research on it and couldn't find reference to it.  Did you create this agency on your own, or is it a real entity?

B. James:  The NSC is completely fictional, but it was inspired by the OSP. I wanted my book to have the same inter-agency struggle as what happened in real life. Here's a juicy quote from former CIA officer Larry C. Johnson:

“[the OSP was] dangerous for US national security and a threat to world peace. [it] lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam. It's a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality. They take bits of intelligence to support their agenda and ignore anything contrary. They should be eliminated."[2]

Q8)  I know that this next question is a bit off the beaten path, but given some of the promotional materials I received, I couldn’t help but ask.  Y’see, some of it I felt was a bit misleading. is a good example of what I mean.  The graphic shows a nuclear explosion going off in Paris, but in the book this never actually happens.  Granted, it’s a very minor misrepresentation and certainly not anywhere near some of the blatant lies I’ve seen promoting other books, but what are your feelings on this type of marketing?  How do you walk the line between making your promotional material sensational enough to draw the reader in but still foster appropriate expectations?

B. James:  Ugh... marketing is a catch-22. I had initially insisted that the marketing remain emblematic and stick to the theme from Enamel's book design. I optimistically felt that people would buy it just for the content, without the use of scary or disturbing images. A lot of money was spent without a lot of results. Since shifting to the 'nuke' campaign, sales are up and—judging by the reviews—so is reader satisfaction.

The lesson here is that authors should never be allowed to handle their own marketing, or even give input on the subject. We're too concerned with approval. I remember getting a particularly damning review on Amazon not long after the book was released. I felt so bad that I tried to offer a refund out of my own pocket.

I do feel better about the current ad campaign now that it's proven itself, and I've become more comfortable with self-promotion. But you can never predict who is going to like what—I can only cross my fingers and hope not to lead anyone too far astray.

Q9)  Do you have any other works forthcoming?  Anything else that we should be looking forward to?

B. James:  The Drift Wars will be out in late fall (there should be an official release date by the end of May). On the surface, it seems like a big departure from Deadfall, it being a military sci-fi. But there is a thread: Deadfall was about how we go to war, The Drift Wars is about fighting it.

Q10)  Sounds like something I would eat up like candy.  Be sure to drop me a line when it comes out.  Finally, what motivates you to do this gig?  What keeps you writing through all the ups and downs of a creative life?

B. James:  If I could stop writing, I probably would. A nice boring data entry job sounds very attractive these days.

I hear you loud and clear on that.  Well, that’s pretty much it.  You can rest easy now, the torture’s over.  Thanks for stopping by and also for allowing me to read your wonderful book.  It really was a blast.

B. James:  Thanks for having me and I'm glad you enjoyed the book. That's one less thing I have to feel guilty about.

If you would like to learn more about Brett James or his work, you can check out The Deadfall Project website or his personal website,  Oh, and check out The Drift Wars, too.  I know that’s what I’ll be doing here in just a few minutes.


1 – I understand this translation to be a bit sensationalistic:

2 -