Thursday, 21 February 2019

Guest Interview: Russell James

This week on the blog, I'm talking to my fellow Flame Tree Press author Russell James about his new release The Playing Card Killer, which looks something like this:

Brian Sheridan may be losing his mind. It’s getting hard to know what’s real.

He’s plagued by dreams of women strangled with a red velvet rope, their corpses left with a signature playing card. And while awake, he’s hallucinating a strange man who appears to be stalking him. Brian hopes all this is driven by his sudden withdrawal from a lifetime of anti-anxiety medications.

Then the victim from one of his nightmares shows up on the news. She’s been murdered and Brian immediately fears he may be the unwitting killer. Detective Eric Weissbard thinks the same thing, and starts to build a case to get Brian behind bars and stop the string of horrific murders by the man the press have dubbed The Playing Card Killer.

Can being proven innocent be worse than being found guilty? That may be the case as the truth about The Playing Card Killer sucks Brian into a whirlpool of kidnapping, torture, and death.

And without further ado, here's the interview...

- How much of yourself and your own life went into The Playing Card Killer? Do you like to draw on what you know or would you rather make it up from whole cloth?
I am proud to say that nothing about being a serial killer sprang from any real life experiences. And I’m going to stick to that story.

However I will admit to spending a lot of time in the story’s location, Tampa, Florida. It’s a great city and the varying locations make it a super background for the novel. Selecting the locations to wrap the story around grounded the tale in a level of reality and forced some of the storytelling into directions I hadn't specifically planned on. But I think that sparked more creativity, which probably gave a better result than if I’d just invented a convenient city from scratch.
- Do you have a favourite character in The Playing Card Killer? Who was most fun to write and are they the same person?
The killer (to be vague and avoid spoilers) was a fascinating character because of the twisted process that made him who he ended up being. But I really like Detective Weissbard. He’s a fish-out-of-water in his new job with the Tampa PD. Being a good detective, he’s dedicated to finding the truth, and follows the leads where they go. He gets to be almost as confused about the killer’s identity is as poor Brian is. I also got to give Weissbard more depth through his interactions with his wife, and that was fun.
- Did you have an elevator pitch, and would you be willing to share it?
Could discovering you aren't a serial killer be worse than discovering that you are?
- What most motivates you to hit the keyboard and get writing? If you had to pin your impulse to tell stories down to one thing, what would it be?
There’s always an itch to get a story down on paper. An idea I think is interesting or a certain storytelling twist that I want to incorporate into a novel. But the real kick-starter to writing it is getting some positive feedback from readers. Sometimes it’s a review, sometimes an email. The best is when I meet someone at a convention or signing who really enjoyed what I’d written.  Knowing that what I’d written made an impact on someone makes me want to stop whatever I’m doing and get back to work. 
A great example was when I got a note from a man who’d read my novel Sacrifice. In that novel, a bunch of high school friends get together after thirty tough years to vanquish a demon they thought they’d killed decades ago. He said it inspired him to look up all his old friends and get caught up. That made me very happy.
Q Island spawned a lot of other examples. I got a lot of positive feedback from parents of autistic children very satisfied with how I portrayed Aiden, the autistic child in that novel.
- You've worked across quite a range of genres. Was that a conscious decision or simply a case of telling the stories that came to you?
An idea tends to suggest a genre, and that’s the way the writing goes. I did specifically seek out a genre with the Grant Coleman adventure series through Severed Press. Some of my horror novels would earn a hard-R movie rating, and at conventions I would have to steer parents away from them when their kids asked them to buy it. But I had nothing to steer them to. So I decided that I wanted to write some monster books like the ones I loved as a kid, keep any sex out of them, and tame the language down to what can pass on network television. The writing style and plot twists aren't dumbed down, though. Severed Press has a fantastic fan base for giant creature books, and I specifically wrote one to try and crack that market. Lucky for me, and Professor Grant Coleman, I did.
- Do you have a dream project? Are there tales you've been itching to tell but not quite figured out a way into?
I have a story about  a teenager and an old priest who are battling demons across France and Italy to keep Lucifer from enslaving the world. The Exorcist meets The Da Vinci Code. Still trying to pull that one off.
- Of everything you've written, what would you most like to see made into a mega-budget Hollywood movie? And what are your thoughts on dream casting and an ideal director?
I’ll officially go on record and offer ANY of the stories I've written up as a movie or mini-series.
I’d really like Q Island to make it to the screen. In it a virus breaks out on Long Island, New York that turns people into crazed killers. The government quarantines the island. A woman is trapped there with her autistic son. He gets infected, but he does not get sick, and his autism gets better. She realizes he could be the cure to two things, if she can get him off the island. She had to get past the government, past the crazies, and past the gang leader who has his own plans for the miracle boy.
I think this would be a great miniseries with the big cast of characters, After seeing Bird Box, I cast Sandra Bullock as the hero mom. And put anyone who directed any Avengers movie in charge.
- You've written three books now following your paleontologist hero Professor Grant Coleman. Is that a profession that particularly interests you?
I've loved dinosaurs since I was a kid and thought it would be amazing to discover the fossils of ancient animals. When I needed a continuing character for my adventure tales from Severed Press, palaeontology seemed like the profession that could get wrapped up in a bunch of stories like that. So through Grant I could vicariously pursue a career that I could never do in real life.
- What’s up next? What are you working on and what’s in the pipeline that you’re allowed to talk about?
I have a short story coming out in March in the Flame Tree Publishing American Gothic anthology.  It’s wedged in there between Edgar Allen Poe, Ambrose Bierce and a bunch of excellent contemporary authors. I feel like a weekend jogger suddenly running the hundred meter dash in the Olympics.
The next novel is about two National Park Service rangers at Fort Jefferson National Park, out west of the Florida Keys. They encounter rogue spies, a conspiracy dating back to the 1960s, and end up in the fight of their lives with giant crabs. It’s the start of a new series set in our wonderful National Park system. I also have a couple of novels and a novella out making the rounds, and we’ll see what happens with those.

Russell James grew up on Long Island, New York and spent too much time watching late night horror. After flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales, including horror thrillers Dark Inspiration, Q Island, and The Playing Card Killer. His Grant Coleman adventure series covers Cavern of the Damned, Monsters in the Clouds, and Curse of the Viper King. He resides in sunny Florida. His wife reads his work, rolls her eyes, and says "There is something seriously wrong with you."

Visit his website at, follow on Twitter @RRJames14, or say hello at

THE PLAYING CARD KILLER is available at:

...and everywhere else!

No comments:

Post a Comment