Interview with James Lovegrove
James Lovegrove writes exactly the sort of books the reviewers here at Elitist Book Reviews love to read. Gods, monsters, aliens, power armor, and more. Having just recently topped 100,000 in sales of his Pantheon series and with a new book just hitting the shelves… well, it was the perfect time for an interview. James was kind enough to oblige, here is what he had to say.
Elitist Book Reviews: Hello there, James. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to make an appearance on our infamous blog. EBR tradition dictates that we give the authors we interview a chance to brag. So have at it! What makes you and your novels so great?
James Lovegrove: You mean aside from intrinsic awesomeness? Indisputable brilliance? Unerring originality? Spectacularly handsome physical appearance? Nope, can’t think of anything.
EBR: You’ve been writing for a little more than twenty years now. When is it that you knew you wanted to be an author?
JL: I’ve read loads of interviews in which an author refers to a particular Damascus moment when, as a child, he or she realized that books are actually written by people, and this revelation set him or her on the road to writerdom. All I have to say to that is, “Duh!” It never occurred to me that books weren’t written by people. Where else were they supposed to come from? Magic Pixie Land? But I think, even armed with this insight, I always knew I was going to write fiction for a living, almost from the day I realized I could read and enjoyed reading. I wanted to be lots of other things when I grew up–mostly a multimillionaire rock star surrounded by countless of shaggable groupies–but deep down the literary calling was there, nagging and gnawing at the back of my mind, telling me that this and only this was what I was made for: writing. It is, I’m fond of saying, the thing I do least badly, and therefore it is what I now do.
EBR: Can you give us a little insight into the process of getting published? Any useful tips for writers looking for a publishing deal of their own?
JL: I was lucky, in that my first novel (The Hope) was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. I never had to go through the soul-sapping but character-building process of rejection slips and getting oneself noticed. That isn’t to say that I haven’t struggled and worked hard. I spent years honing my craft and getting on in the publishing biz, but I didn’t have that initial knockback which–given my personality type–might well have deterred me from ever trying again. I would say the best way to get published is to write your damn book, make sure it’s the best damn book you could have written, and then get yourself an agent and make sure he or she is the butt-kickingest agent you could have and is doing the very best he or she can on your behalf. Oh, and submit a “clean” manuscript, well laid out, paginated, the works, with the least possible number of typos and punctuation errors. A busy agent or commissioning editor will always look favorably on a tidy manuscript, as it’s indicative of a tidy mind. Messy manuscripts end up in the bin, unread. It’s a fact.
EBR: With the Pantheon series you seem to have carved out your own sub-genre some are dubbing “godpunk”. What inspired the Pantheon series and the very idea of this sort of urban-mythology?
JL: Very little inspired the first Pantheon novel, THE AGE OF RA, other than an invitation from Solaris Books to pitch an alternate history idea to them. Of the three ideas I submitted, the one I (and they) liked the most was the one that involved a world where the Ancient Egyptian gods had taken charge, carving the continents up into their own individual power blocs. I didn’t know much about the Egyptian pantheon at the time other than that these were gods who all had animal heads, were more than a little mad, and slept with their siblings. This seemed to me very fertile territory. Welding a military-SF plot onto that scenario was the next step. I didn’t have to think about it very hard. It just seemed a natural, logical extension. And hey presto, alakazam, I had the first book in what has turned out to be a pretty cool series.
EBR: Having recently published an exclusive to digital eNovella, AGE OF ANANSI (Amazon), how do you feel about the impact of eBooks as an author and a reader?
JL: I don’t have an e-reader and probably never will. I like books made of paper and card and ink and glue. I like the proper, physical object. I like to be able to bend a book back, chuck it around, peruse it in the bath, do what I want with it, safe in the knowledge that I’m not in danger of breaking a costly piece of kit which I will then have to replace and restock. Also, every book on my shelves (and there are many thousands of them) has meaning for me. I can remember more or less how old I was when I bought it, where I bought it, what buying it meant to me… I don’t want a piece of software, I want a thing.
Having said all which, I’ve got nothing against e-readers at all. I appreciate that they’re great for busy people, for people going on holiday, for people who like tech, and I appreciate, too, that they’re becoming the lifeblood of the publishing industry, the new paradigm. May they live long and prosper. Just not in the Lovegrove household.
EBR: Solaris is responsible for publishing your supernatural thriller, REDLAW (Amazon). What is it that separates your vampires from, say, TWILIGHT?
JL: If I was going to be flippant, I would say the difference between me and Stephenie Meyer is that I can write. But that’s not at all fair. She has done what she has done, reimagining vampires (and indeed werewolves) as kind of idealized boyfriends, and firing the romantic dreams of millions of teenaged girls and selling a kajillion books. More power to her elbow. But I like my vamps old-school. I like them creepy and predatory, recognizably human but still alien and nasty and “other”. That way, when I depict them as an oppressed minority in the novel, as I do, I can play on people’s sense of prejudice and then whip the carpet out from under the reader’s feet when I reveal that the vampires are actually sympathetic and that it’s humans who are the real monsters. REDLAW is a thriller but it’s also satire, a reversal of the norm, and I’m continuing that theme with its sequel, REDLAW: RED EYE, which I have just completed.
EBR: How much research do you typically do for one of your Pantheon novels? You seem to have an extensive knowledge of ancient mythology, how do you decide what to use and what to cut out?
JL: I like to read at least two or three books devoted to the particular mythology I’m shamelessly exploiting–ahem, I mean lovingly exploring. I was well versed in only one pantheon, the Greek, before I started this series. I knew a little about the Norse gods, mostly from old Lee/Kirby Thor comics, but otherwise learning about each pantheon is a voyage of discovery, and a very pleasant one at that. Basically I’m reading stories, not dry facts, and that for me isn’t research at all, it’s fun. The difficulty comes later, as I rework those stories into a new context, make the pre-existing mythical characters fit the novel’s scheme, and attempt to craft a story that will reflect the themes and tone of the pantheon concerned. I say difficulty, but it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun.
In fact, I’ve just realized: my job involves pissing around all day making stuff up and reading other people’s made-up stuff. Is that even a job? In theory, when it comes to writing each book I would like to include everything I’ve read about the relevant pantheon, not least because I hate even a minute of research time going to waste. In the event, though, it’s a case of filleting out the really juicy material, the bits too good to leave out, and using whatever best illustrates both the nature of the pantheon itself and the subtext of the novel.
EBR: As an author who do you consider your influence?
JL: Just about anything I read is an influence, for good or for ill. If a word in a book I happen to be reading at the time seems to me just the right word I’m looking for in my own novel, I’ll use it. Sometimes that goes for a whole phrase. My writing influences are a number of authors but mostly Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Stan Lee, Alan Moore, Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Furst, Colin Wilson and Alfred Bester. But anything in the environment around me has a bearing on what I’m working on–news reports, interesting things people might say to me, random thoughts that occur at odd hours of the night, my home, my family, my cat… Everything feeds into the mulch from which ideas grow. It’s a continual, ongoing process.
EBR: You’re in a bookstore, in the SF&F section, and a customer mistakes you for an employee. He/She asks you to recommend a novel. You can’t recommend your own novels (because OBVIOUSLY the customer has read them all). What book/series do you recommend?
JL: I’d steer this person towards the works of Alan Moore (assuming there’s a graphic novel section nearby) and suggest he or she try Promethea, which is one of the Sage of Northampton’s unsung triumphs. But should this bookstore be one of those lousy ones that doesn’t sell comics collections, I would waggle Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and/or The Stars My Destination under this individual’s nose and say, “This is cyberpunk long before William Gibson dusted off his manual typewriter. This is space opera and future extrapolation and adventure SF and bebop jazz all rolled into one. This is mainlined imagination at its purest and most inventive and explorative, and please stop staring at me like I’m a madman, I’m really quite normal, honest…”
EBR: What do we have to do to have cameos in your next book where we die violent deaths?
JL: Well, a large bribe would never hurt. That or pissing me off royally. In REDLAW: RED EYE there’s one secondary character who is named after a concert ticket promoter who ripped me off for quite a large sum of money last year, and has hidden behind this country’s bankruptcy laws in order to get away with not repaying me and his other creditors. This crook’s namesake has all sorts of hideous indignities committed upon his person in the book, and I took exquisite delight in inflicting each and every one. Personally, I wouldn’t want a character with my own name to meet a hideous end. Peter F. Hamilton abused a character called Lovegrove in one of his books, and thought it amusing, but I did not. Perhaps I’m worried that there’s some kind of sympathetic voodoo magic involved, but I wouldn’t want to harm the fictional proxy of anyone on whom I didn’t wish harm in the real world.
EBR: Can you tell us what you have planned for writing in the near future? Any more Pantheon novels or super secret projects?
JL: There’s at least two more Pantheon novels in the offing, but the only one I can say with any certainty is going to happen is AGE OF VOODOO, because I’m just about to start work on that. There’ll mostly likely be another couple of Age Of… e-novellas too, since the first, “Age Of Anansi”, seems to be selling well. But the super secret project which I pitched for earlier this year and which has just been given the go-ahead, is a couple of Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan Books. I’ve been dying to write a Holmes story ever since I was a kid, so this is the proverbial dream come true. They’re going to be steampunkish takes on the standard Holmes adventure, fast-paced and action-y but with plenty of deduction and detection as well.
EBR: Thank you so much for finding the time to answer some of our questions. Do you have any final words for readers?
JL: What are you doing looking at this when you could be reading my latest?
A special thanks to James for dropping by the blog. It’s always awesome to hear behind-the-scenes stuff that makes an author “tick”. If this interview doesn’t make you want to read his work, you are dead inside.