Interview: James Matlack Raney, author of Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves

James Matlack Raney with his new book at SDSU.

James Matlack Raney with his new book at SDSU.

James Matlack Raney is a self-published author of Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves. He advocates for self-publishing, noting that it is a great option for authors unable to get beyond the slush pile and politics of the publishing industry. Raney was born into an army family and grew up all over the world. By the age of fourteen he had lived in Germany, Panama, Keny, and all over the US, which explains his ability to transport us across the globe, and yet always bring us back home with subject-matter concerning death, loss, friendship, family, integrity, and imagination. He started writing at the age of twenty-three, and has since developed a sense of wonderment that encourages and inspires his young spirited audience. Raney’s second book Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull was released on December 7.

CJLH: What led you to self publish?

JMR: I wish I had a deeper, more self-empowered reason for travelling the indie author road, but the honest truth is I ran out of agents to query! I went into self-publishing kicking and screaming, but in the end, I have to admit that it’s been a rewarding experience for me.

I’ve learned so much about the publishing industry in the last few years, which isn’t to say that I’m an expert, but I’m developing just enough savvy to move forward. Traditional publishing is still the way to go if you can land a deal (so query, query, query!) But I’ve also found that traditional publishing is less about being a good writer than it is about having the right idea at the right time, nor is traditional publishing any guarantor of success. But it’s still the best way to widely distribute your work.

I’ve been glad to develop the small fan base I have through indie-publishing, but I’m still working to go the traditional route one of these days. Fortunately for me, at the end of the day, I love writing and storytelling more than just about anything else in the world, so I’ll keep at it as long as I can, regardless of the size of my readership.

CJLH: How have you made people aware of your work as a self-published author?

JMR: This is probably the biggest differentiator between self-publishing and traditional. Getting your name out there is really tough! I may be biased, but I don’t think there’s an ounce of difference in the quality of the book manufacture or storytelling between my book and the many that will be released by publishers this year. But most literary blogs refuse to work with you if a publishing house doesn’t back your book. On top of that, most magazines and newspapers are fairly oblivious or indifferent to you as an indie author.

That being said, there are ways you can market yourself fairly inexpensively. Goodreads is a fine option, especially for the reviews and giveaways. I also have a Facebook page and Twitter account that grow slowly but surely. I do have a website, though I’ve found it’s much easier to drive impressions through the social networking sites. Finally, I do have the pleasure of working with Smith Publicity to promote my novels. Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves was featured on more than 20 blogs and various other publications thanks to their work, and I think the exposure will be even greater this time around.

Jim Morgan and the King of ThievesCJLH: Is there any horror in your writing?

JMR: There is definitely more horror in the new novel than in the first. Jim and his friends (and the readers, I think) are all a bit older this time around, so I thought it was okay to explore some more intense themes.

For me, great horror is more about what goes on inside our character than whatever is happening around him or her in the environment. In Pirates of the Black Skull, Jim is dealing with some dark desires, such as vengeance. There is a physical manifestation of this desire, and I think that’s where the horror elements come into play. That, and there is this Crimson Storm with a black skull face chasing our heroes around—so that may be somewhat scary as well!

CJLH: Was the sequel for Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves planned before you began publishing? Please explain.

JMR: Several years ago, when Jim Morgan’s story was first taking root in my imagination, I envisioned only one contained tale of a young boy who lost his father at a young age, and must make a long, perilous journey to discover his true identity. It was very important to me that the main character change his name partway through the story, to separate himself from who he was at the beginning and who he would become by the end. The entire trek to London, falling in with a gang of thieves, and eventually joining a pirate crew, was only supposed to take a third of the novel. It seems I’m even longer winded on paper than I am in front of a group of people! In fact, the original title of the book was simply The Adventures of Jim Morgan. But by the time I introduced the King of Thieves, I knew that this section of the story would need to be its own novel. So yes, I’ve had the whole story planned out from the beginning, but as it has grown, several of my original concepts have bloomed quite differently than I first imagined. As happy as I am with the way Book 2 has turned out, Book 3 is the one I’ve been waiting for. I can’t wait to start on it!

CJLH: You mentioned that you have written fiction for YA and adult audiences as well. What are the differences between that and writing for a Middle Grade audience, in terms of the actual writing process? Did you have to do anything differently?

JMR: While the Jim Morgan books are the only novels I’ve published up to this point, I have written several short stories and even a couple of unpublished novels aimed at older audiences. For me, the writing process doesn’t really change from project to project or genre to genre. In fact, I don’t believe the basics of storytelling change dependent upon your audience. Young readers are very intelligent; they can understand and digest a vast scope of the human experience. What does change however, is the intensity and complexity of the themes you might explore. That, and the intensity and complexity of the details the author might use in building that particular world.

Jim Morgan and Pirates of the Black SkullCJLH: What projects are you working on other than Jim Morgan?

JMR: I think Jim Morgan 3 is next on my agenda, but I have several ideas stewing once I finish the series. I have a new Middle Grade series that I’m developing, but I also have a darker YA story I’d like to tell, and a more literary story for an adult audience as well. There are a few advantages to being an independent author I suppose, and one of them is that you have the freedom to explore other genres and audiences on a whim.

CJLH: What books and authors have inspired you?

JMR: The list is far too long to fit into a single paragraph, but I love Ray Bradbury’s mastery of the English language, especially in Something Wicked This Way Comes. I’ve been reading so much Stephen King lately, and as much as I loved him before, I’ve been developing a new appreciation for his skills as a storyteller. 11/22/63 is a masterpiece. And as for something new that’s really grabbed me, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a great read and reminds me that I should never forget to have fun with the stories I tell.