Spotlight Interview with Author James Morris of "Melophobia" and "What Lies Within"
What better way to inspire other writers than with an interview by Kindle Scout's own two-time winner James Morris. For those unaware, Kindle Scout is a reader-powered publishing platform for new, never-before-published books. It's a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Morris has two books through Kindle Scout: What Lies Within as well as Melophobia. His latest book asks: what if music was a catalyst (with all of its subversive lyrics, anti-authority messages, and sexual freedom) that caused a war?
Keep reading to learn about Morris' writing process, his inspiration and his current projects.
You've submitted your second book to Kindle Scout and you were selected again. Congratulations! So, what goes through your mind as you develop fans and has being selected a second time boosted your ego a bit?
Whether it’s my first or second (or maybe down the line, a third?) campaign, it’s always hard. It’s hard to ask people to vote. You never want to feel as if you’re bothering people, let alone spamming them. So I feel very lucky, and Kindle Press has been great. They are really active with their authors, and you can watch your sales numbers rise when you’re part of an Amazon promotion. I have nothing against self-publishing, but knowing that an imprint of Amazon is out helping their selected authors is wonderful.
As for boosting my ego? Hah! My definition of a writer is someone with a huge ego (otherwise why think what you write has any value to anyone), mixed with extreme humility. I’ve been rejected so many times, it’s like I’m asking girls out for Prom as a junior high kid. So as far as boosting my ego? No way. But I am very grateful to the fans I’ve found (and hopefully gain and grow). And it was impossible pre-Internet. I’ve got fans in Brazil, Palestine, the UK, scattered everywhere. I’ll add: as a writer, you often feel invisible. No one is waiting for what you are writing; life goes on as you sit behind your computer. So it’s nice to know that my work has created these tiny ripples. I have to remind myself I’m not as invisible as I think I am.
Tell us how you came up with the concept for Melophobia and how long it took to write this particular piece?
Melophobia was initially born from a conversation I had with a friend when we were talking about the Vietnam era. Watergate. Assassinations. Riots. The police response in Chicago. Kent State. The music scene. The youth culture. Free Love. And my friend had a theory that the US was really on the verge of a revolution, that he thought there might be armed conflict, and it would be induced by the music that seemed to pit adults versus the younger generation. Maybe my friend was right; maybe he was wrong. But that idea intrigued me: what if music was a catalyst (with all of its subversive lyrics, anti-authority messages, and sexual freedom) that caused a war? Over the years, there has always been this push-pull culturally of what’s appropriate and what’s not. But who decides that? I thought of setting the piece during the Vietnam era, but quickly decided that route was too political, and too historical. Instead, I set it years later, and focused on a main character, Merrin, who has grown up in this world and finds it completely normal. Sounds easy in retrospect, but plotting and figuring it out led to a lot of wrong turns. The hard part is always getting the back story of any “alternate history” in place without either seeming like an info-dump, or telling too little so that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on. That’s a difficult balance. I like to think I found the sweet spot, but ultimately it’s up to readers to decide.
As for writing it: my process is generally a long time pulling at an idea like taffy; looking at all the different angles, whose point-of-view am I telling it from; the plot. That takes a few months. Maybe more. That, to me, is the hardest part of writing: knowing that the story makes sense, has momentum, and that it’s something readers haven’t seen before (or at least not in this way). The actual writing comes to me fast: I can have a draft in about two months. And then there are revisions, and beta-readers, and revisions, which take another few months. All in all, I “wrote this” in about a year, and I put quotes in “wrote” because some of that time is just thinking of solutions. And this book had the added stress of me tracking down and gaining permissions to use song lyrics from copyright holders, which is a process I would whole-heartedly tell authors to avoid if they can.
Have you attended many raves? Your description early on in the book brought me back to when I used to attend the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), Monster Massives and HARD Summer Fests ages ago. The sounds, visuals and overall feelings you describe through written words definitely captured what it's like being at an actual rave. Do you come up with these scenes through imagination, research or by actually attending?
I was never a raver, and I admit, I’ve never attended one. But I had friends who did, so I got my research second hand, and also, of course, my imagination. I have attended a lot of concerts in my time, some in underground clubs, and I’ve been in one or two mosh pits. Actually, let me revise: only one, because it scared the hell out of me. Here I was near the front just enjoying myself and suddenly, I’m in this whirlwind of people body-slamming. There was no warning, either. One moment calm; the next, a public pummeling. I tried to get out, but the people kept pushing me back in. It was terrifying. I lost my glasses (they went flying off my head, and I made the mistake of getting on the floor to pick them up.) It was this mob frenzy. I didn’t go there to get slammed; I went to hear the music. Mind you, I’m tall and built like a reed, and there were these big guys, people just bouncing off of them. After that, I watched bands from the very back. I had no idea people went to some concerts just to form mosh pits and beat the crap out of each other.
This particular book reminded me a bit of Farenheit 451. Did Ray Bradbury influence you at all?
Ray Bradbury is the king, and he was one of my first favorite writers. Still is, and his work holds up. I would recommend anyone reading this to check him out. I loved The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, and his semi-autobiographical Green Shadows, White Whale, and yes, of course the classic Farenheit 451. I’ll say it again: Ray Bradbury is the king, and I think he’ll be read for many, many years from now, and even being mentioned in the same sentence as him is a real honor. I like to think that Farenheit 451 and Melophobia are literary bookends; same themes in a way, but with different venues and different characters.
There are some moments that are extremely vivid, sensual and sexual, especially as you describe Merrin and Rowan's "first time." Similarly, your previous Kindle Scout book titled, What Lies Within, painted a candid visual of Shelley losing her virginity to Remy as well. Have you ever considered writing erotic novels or contributing articles to Playboy?
This question kind of cracks me up. I certainly don’t consider myself a writer of erotica (not that there’s anything wrong with it). I think, with anything in my books, I try to anchor the reader in what I think is real. I want to transport the reader to the event, whether it’s the raves you mentioned, or the sex scenes. I just try to make everything as grounded as I can so that you feel as if you’re there, as if you’re feeling what the character is feeling. And I try to veer towards what I think is more reality, rather than the purple language in bodice-ripper stories.
But now that you mention sex scenes, it’s interesting that some readers definitely reacted more to the sex scenes in What Lies Within, for instance, than the violent death that occurred in the prologue. Many readers judged Shelley quite harshly for that when nearly no one mentioned the violence. I think it all goes back to the old standard argument of America as more concerned about sex than violence, I suppose.
If your book was turned into a film or a play, who would you envision to cast the roles of Merrin, Tarquin, Anders, Val and Rowan?
You know, I try not to think about these things. I love movies, but it almost seems as if a book isn’t considered successful unless it’s turned into a movie – as if becoming a movie gives it a mark of worth. I would certainly be open to Melophobia becoming a movie, or even a Broadway musical like Wicked, but as for the actors who would play them, I’ll leave that up to the readers’ imagination.
Are you working on any new projects and where can our readers purchase your books?
I always have a couple things going on in the back-burner. My agent has another Young Adult drama/thriller out to publishing houses, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that one of them will say yes. Otherwise, I’ve got a “chick lit” book – which is a departure from most of my books, that I’m unsure what to do with. It definitely is against my “brand” of thrillers/drama, which makes it an odd duck. Still considering what to do with that one.
Of course, I can always be found at:
Have you considered doing a book reading for Melophobia? Why or why not?
I would certainly do a book reading for Melophobia or any of my work, but the simple truth is that no one has asked me! And I’m the type of person who is always afraid if I threw a party, no one would come. Isn’t that sad?
Both Melophobia and What Lies Within contain strong female characters, scorned exes, death and very unexpected endings. Can we expect another book to come out as a sequel (or prequel) to either Melophobia or What Lies Within?
You know, I’ve kinda been waiting for someone to ask me why I write female characters. And I’ll take this opportunity to tell you: I’m a guy, and I know guys; when you know something so well, it’s not as interesting. Women are more a mystery to me; it’s more interesting for me as a writer to delve into a female character. Maybe I get it right, maybe I don’t. Some reviewers really liked Shelley from What Lies Within, while others hated her (which certainly wasn’t my intention). I can tell you my own take on what makes men tick; it’s one of three things: sex, power and ego. That, to me, defines men. One of those three things is always brewing underneath. Maybe it could be said that’s the same for women, too. But I like to think there’s a bit more colors in the coloring box for women than there are for men. (Don’t get mad at me, guys – you know it’s true!)
As for sequels or prequels, I’m always open if a story presents itself and is worth telling.
Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping you get to where you are today?
There are always those small moments of people giving encouragement, people whose names you might have even forgotten, but they keep you going on this path. Teachers, friends, other writers’ work – all of them kept me from jumping off the ledge. But clearly, it’s my wife, Melissa, who has been the most supportive. There’s that cliché “behind every successful man there’s a woman?” I could say, “Behind every struggling writer, there is a supportive spouse,” and that certainly has been true for me. Let me rephrase that, though, “Standing aside every struggling writer, is a supportive spouse.” That’s what you call revision. Thanks for having me again!
For more coverage on James Morris, read the following articles: