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Interview with Epic Fantasy Author Jim Melvin

Jim Melvin, 50, was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., but spent more than forty years of his life in St. Petersburg, Fla. He now lives in Clemson, S.C.

Jim graduated from the University of South Florida (Tampa) with a B.A. in Journalism in 1979. He was an award-winning journalist at the St. Petersburg Times for twenty-five years and retired in 2004 to become a full-time novelist. At the Times, he specialized in science, nature, health and fitness, and he wrote about everything from childhood drowning to erupting volcanoes. But he spent the majority of his career as a designer, editor, and supervisor.

Welcome to Beyond the Books, Jim.  Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published?

The six books that make up my epic fantasy series are my first published novels. But I was a journalist for 25 years and have published many features and columns.

Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?

Book One is entitled The Pit and was available September 2007. Book Two (Moon Goddess) was available October 2007. Book Three (Eve of War), November 2007. Book Four (World on Fire), December 2007. Book Five (Sun God), January 2008. Book Six (Death-Know), February 2008.

What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

I wrote my first novel when I was 20 years old. It was a Stephen King-like horror novel entitled Sarah’s Curse. An agent who was a family friend shopped it around, and though it received some nice responses, it never found a publisher. But I wasn’t overly concerned because I believed my second novel would be the one to hit it big. In the meantime, I started my career as a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. For me, the rat race officially began. Soon I was working 50-hour weeks and raising a family – and there never was a second book. Twenty-five years later, I was fortunate enough to be able to semi-retire. In September 2004, I wrote the first word of Book One of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy. Seven-hundred-thousand words later, I’m in the final revision process of Book Six. 

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it? 

My agent and I shopped hard for a publisher. First-time fiction is an extremely difficult sell nowadays, especially in the glutted genres such as epic fantasy. I received a lot of nicely worded rejections (about 10 in all) from the major houses. I was very lucky and happy to sign with Rain, which is a mid-sized, traditional house based in Canada (www.rainbooks.com).  

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows? 

A lot of successfully published authors would have you believe that the only secret to being published by a big house is to write a better book. I don’t believe that. For one thing, 80 percent of what you’ll find in the big bookstores doesn’t seem that great to me. For another, how can your work be truly judged when the editors at the big houses are so swamped, they don’t have time to read it? The rejections depressed me, but not because I believed my work wasn’t of high quality. It was because I believed that the odds were too highly stacked against me. I received a lot of nicely worded rejections from the major houses, most of which only have one or two slots for literally thousands of entries. In some regards, it would be easier to win the lottery, buy the publishing house, appoint yourself president, and then publish your book than it would be to gain an acceptance in the traditional manner. I know this is an unpopular point of view, but I’m just being honest in terms of how I feel.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them? 

I signed with Rain in March 2007. Not only have they treated me respectfully, but they were willing to publish all my books in a very timely fashion. No waiting until 2009. That was as big a selling point to me as anything else.  

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

To be honest, I was at first more stunned than happy. Prior to my signing with Rain, the publishing process had been filled with pitfalls and disappointments. However, once it sank in that I had achieved my goal, I changed my attitude and became very excited. My wife and I went out to a fancy restaurant and shared a bottle of expensive champagne; and we liked the champagne so much, we did it again a couple of nights later!

What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time? 

The first thing I did was to start up a blog. Since then, I’ve had more than 5,000 hits. I know I’m not setting records, but I’m pleased by the response in just a few short months.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published? 

Is there another one? In January 2005, I acquired an agent, which most people say is even more difficult than getting published. After that, I followed my agent’s guidance. I don’t know what else I could have done.

Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author? 

All six books of my series are being published by Rain. During the writing of the series, I have grown considerably as an author. My style is a little different in Book Six than in Book One: smoother, less staccato. But it’s not so different that the reader will notice. In some ways, it has worked to my advantage that Book One of my series wasn’t picked up immediately. I’ve been able to go back into the earlier books and make revisions that the big-name guys such as Stephen Donaldson aren’t able to do. Once Donaldson finished Book One of his latest series, it went right to print. I’m sure that in writing Book Two, there were times he wished he could go back into Book One and make touch-ups.

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided? 

The only thing I could have done differently to speed things up would have been to debut a standalone novel instead of a series. That would have made things easier on my agent and me. But The DW Chronicles were in my heart, and I went with my heart.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published? 

I rank two things equally: an impressive talk/reading/signing at the prestigious Times Festival of Reading in St. Petersburg, Fla.; and a very positive review from the Tampa Tribune, one of the largest newspapers in Florida.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be? 

I’d love to be an incredibly hot, sexy rock star with a fantastic voice who also can play about a dozen instruments.

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds? 

This will sound crazy to most people, but I would rather be a best-selling novelist than a rock star. However, I’d rather be a rock star than a novelist who doesn’t sell very well. (Ha!)

How do you see yourself in ten years? 

Some people don’t like to be known for just one work or one role. But if I were known only for The Death Wizard Chronicles, I’d be the happiest person alive. The characters in my series are like family to me – and I love them.

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day? 

Write from the heart. Pull no punches. Don’t try to guess what readers want to read. Write what you want to write, and then let the chips fall where they may. Write with passion about large issues. And cry real hard when you’re finally finished. Then, do your best to get an agent, and work hard every day at getting published. Even then, there’ll be no guarantees. But at least you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you’ve given it your best shot.

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