Author Interview: James Matlack Raney


This month’s Indie Author is the fabulous debut author James Matlack Raney. We adored and loved Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves, and we’re so excited to unleash it on you guys. James sat down and answered some questions for us.



For those who haven’t met him yet, introduce the blogosphere to Jim Morgan.

When we first run into Jim he ranks somewhere between a spoiled brat and an unholy terror.  He’s a real tyrant!  But that’s part of what makes him so much fun to write.   You know, he’s not that completely innocent kid that immediately melts your heart with pity – Jim’s got an attitude and maybe even a few delusions of grandeur.  But behind the eleven year-old bravado I think Jim’s like many of us were at that age: he’s a little lonely and just trying to figure out who he is and what he’s made of.  But unlike most of us, Jim goes through some really tough, really dangerous and fantastical obstacles on the way to figuring some of that out.

In three words, describe Jim’s personality.

He’s brash, proud, (and somewhere underneath it all) courageous.

If Jim’s journey had a theme song, what would it be?

Wow, what a good question!  This story takes place in the age of pirates and cutthroats, but it’s really making me laugh to envision Jim and all the street thieves in the old Michael Jackson “Beat It” video.  Maybe Jim and Big Red could tape their hands together and have a dance-off.

Talking ravens, pirates, magic and treasure. How does one come up with such a story?

Well, I think writers inject what they love into their books.  The stories I craved when I was young took me to far away places on all sorts of crazy adventures.  I loved the Three Musketeers, the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, the Hobbit, and Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the movies.  But for me as an adult writer, I didn’t want to just try and ape those great stories and haphazardly throw as much of that as I could at readers – I want each piece to have meaning and work with the characters to create a believable world that just might leave you with enough of magic to take back with you into your everyday life.

When Jim grows up, what does he want to be?

The King of England … seriously.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I tried to write my first novel with my sister one summer when we were on break. I was one year ahead of her, so maybe I was in the 4th grade and she was in 3rd (it was the same summer we tried to see how many balloons it would take to slow down a leap from a very tall chair, so you can be assured there were no early signs of success.)  I think the book (for which we did the illustrations as well – also bad) was about some soldiers on a space station who got attacked by a monster on the planet below – so my sister gave up on it day one.  I lasted until about day three.   You know, so maybe it was then.  But I started seriously throwing myself at writing when I was 23.  I always loved books and got really swept up in great movies, so I think the love of a good story has always been with me.

How many hours a week do you write?

Well, usually about 14 or 15 hours a week of actual writing when I’m really in the meat of a story, but I have to skew much of that towards the weekend because of work.  I’ve also been learning the hard way that when you publish a novel and have a full time job, it’s tough to squeeze the actual writing in there (especially if you like doing things like talking to other humans and eating.)  There’s so much to get done and you don’t really realize that when you’re just writing a thousand words a day and imagining the finished product just leaping into existence.  It’s hard work!

Besides Jim Morgan, who is your favorite fictional character?

I love Sherlock Holmes!  I’m not ashamed to say it, but Arthur Conan Doyle wrote such an iconic character – which is why Sherlock’s still around over a hundred years later.  My favorite thing about Holmes is not just the way he hurls himself at puzzles and mysteries (which I love) but that he’s also just so funny.  He and Watson have this great, humorous relationship even in the old novels.  It’s hilarious.  The BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch really captures that and actually lifts some of their conversations straight from the novels.

If you could live in any fictional world other than your own, which one would it be?

I write Middle Grade boy fiction, so let’s be real: If I could be magical I would have wanted to go to Hogwarts!  But if I had to be a muggle I think Narnia would have been pretty solid (and somewhat safer than Middle-Earth.)

You wake up one morning and realize you’re stranded on a deserted tropical island. A magic genie appears and tells you that although you’re stuck on the island forever, and can absolutely NOT leave, you can have three wishes. What are they?

Well, if I also can’t wish for world peace – then I would have to wish for a helicopter, a Ferrari, and Tom Sellick’s mustache.  Because then I would be stuck on a tropical island as Magnum PI, and he seemed to do pretty well for himself.

 Coffee or tea?

Tea, hot with milk and sugar.

Sweet or savory?

Tough one!  I’ll go with savory, I kind of agree with those commercials that say everything taste’s better with bacon.  It does.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve got a bunch of books going right now.  A Wrinkle in Time, which is a classic, but also The True Meaning of Smek Day, by Adam Rex and and The 4th Stall, by Chris Rylander.  All really good stuff!

What was the last movie you saw?

I’ll go ahead and reveal my fanboy geekdom: saw the Dark Knight Rises for the second time.  What a great movie!  The second time was actually far better than the first.  I think a lot of people will be surprised when they see it again at home just how deep that film was for a comic book movie.

Finish this sentence. “When I’m not writing I’m …”

Playing guitar!  Don’t let that fool you though – I’m still fairly terrible

Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves is self published. Some folks might not know what that means. Can you fill us in?

I think it might depend on who you ask, but for me, self-publishing is like making an independent film – there’s no big studio backing you or giving you loads of money for marketing.  It’s just you and the story you want to tell.  In many ways it’s difficult because there’s not a lot of support, especially in getting your book in front of customers, but in other ways it’s kind of great because you don’t have to write to the needs of an agent or publishing house.  You can write whatever story is living in your heart and fighting to break out and be heard.

Self publishing is a whole different world. What is your advice to writers thinking about publishing on their own?

There’s so much that I’ve learned that I’d like to share with authors just beginning their self-publishing journey, so I’m going to write a series of blogs about it on Goodreads.  But if I were to say anything from the get go, it’s write an amazing story.  Write the story that is in your heart and soul, but take the time to learn the techniques, forms, and language to tell that story in the most compelling way possible.  Writing a book is like anything else – it takes time, practice, and education.

As a debut author, I’m sure your journey to publication has been nothing short of epic. What are the three best things about it so far?

The best thing for me, and I suppose for most authors, is the joy of writing a story that inspires you as the writer and then sending it off to inspire others who are readers.  Just having that chance to add your voice to the human conversation is thrilling.  Also, I have met the most amazing people along the way: friends, authors, editors, artists, agents – talented and wonderful individuals that help you for no other reason than that they care about you and your story.  And finally, getting to return the favor for those same friends!  It feels so good when you realize you’ve been at this long enough to help a friend with their story or help market their book a little for them – it’s fun and rewarding!

Three worst things?

Lack of sleep (writing, publishing, and working a 9-5 is rough!) Thinking you’re done when you’re not – it happens a lot!  And lastly, realizing that there are some folks out there who don’t feel the same way about self-publishing as I do.  But those are folks I hope to prove wrong with JIM MORGAN.

And finally, our favorite of all the questions, what can you tell us about the next book in the series?

This is a tough one!  If I had an agent or a publishing deal I could totally pull the whole, “well, I’d love to talk about it but they won’t let me” card…but I can’t!  I want to leave some suspense, so let’s just say that things are going to get pretty tough for Jim and company and we’re going to see them enter a wider world and face far more dangerous obstacles than anything they’ve seen thus far.  It should be really exciting!

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