Join me in welcoming Jim Hartley to Highlighted Author.
Hello, Jim. If you would, please, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a former computer programmer, but as the job market in that area changed, it proved better to go to a semi-retired status. And then, suddenly, there was time to get serious about writing. I had tried once or twice earlier, but never seemed to be able to concentrate enough on it. When I did get into writing, after a lifetime of reading lots and lots of Fantasy (I had dozens of Oz books as a kid) and Science Fiction, it is no surprise that this is what I write.
You’re an accomplished writer with an array of published works. Your stories have come out in e-zines and anthologies in addition to the novels you have written. Which do you enjoy seeing published the most?
I started out writing mostly short stories, and sending them to various markets. Of course, seeing your work published anywhere is nice, but I have always had a fond spot for anthologies. But now I am moving into spending more and more of my time working on longer, novel-length, stories, and I find these more satisfying than the short pieces. I won’t drop short stories entirely, but I do plan to concentrate mostly on longer works.
How do you go about writing a piece? Do you do a lot of planning and plotting, or do you catch an idea and let it flow onto paper?
The word everyone seems to use for the way I work is “pantser,” I do the stories by the seat of my pants. When I get everything I have figured out down on paper, I lean back and say, “Well, what happens next?” I usually have some kind of idea where things are going to end, but that can change if a good idea pops up. I tend to work by scenes, running a scene over in my mind until it’s ready. And if I find what I’m writing now calls for some changes to earlier parts of the story, no big deal, I go back and fix it.
Is there an area you like to visit that inspires you, or do ideas come to you at all moments?
I can’t truly say where ideas come from, just about anything can inspire a story. I like to listen to music while I write, often what I would call “oldies” (40’s and 50’s), and the titles and/or lyrics of some of those songs have led to stories. I have one book, Teen Angel, which came from the song of the same name.
When did you first realize that writing was going to become such a big part of your life? Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? The first person to notice your talent and encourage you?
My first attempt at writing was at age 11 when I sent a story, typed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, to one of the most prestigious magazines around. Rejected, of course. I did a lot of technical writing for my job and for graduate classes, and I found it fairly easy. When I decided to get into fiction, my first sale was a story called Alien Hunt to the magazine Sterling Web (long since out of business).
Out of all your writings, which is your favorite and why?
I think the book Magic Is Faster Than Light, which we are going to talk more about in a minute, is my favorite of everything I have done so far. Somehow it ends up in a very satisfying way. I imagine that sooner or later I’ll do something I like better, but for the moment it’s in the top spot.
What are you working on now?
I have two projects under way right now. One is This Wand for Hire (yes, I stole the title from an old movie), a sequel to The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge which came out last September from MuseItUp, one of Muse’s first books. I thought maybe it was finished, but I was told, “No, work on it a bit more,” so I’m doing that. The second thing I’m working on is a Sword-and-Sorcery story, titled Princess on a Quest. Of course you never know when some other idea may pop up, hollering, “Write me! Write me!”
Your latest work, Magic Is Faster Than Light, will release through MuseItUp Publishing. Where did the idea for this story come from?
This is actually a strange story. I was doing a little flash piece about a witch who wanted to be an author, and I had to give her some titles of stories she was submitting. I used the title Cauldron to the Stars, described as using a magic potion (Cauldron, get it?) to fuel a starship and travel faster than light. It was just going to be a “throwaway” but I couldn’t get it out of my mind … it was too good to waste, so I sat down and wrote it as a short story, and sold it to an anthology. But the idea still wouldn’t let go of me, and next thing I know I expanded it to novel length and submitted it to MuseItUp. Lea, the publisher, took it, but she was worried about confusion between the short story and the novel so we changed the name to Magic Is Faster Than Light. This book is a kind of mixed genre, what I like to call “Science-Fiction Flavored Fantasy,” and when people ask about it, I tell them, “Once upon a time, there was a spaceship full of witches …”
Will you share an excerpt with us?
Here is one of my favorite passages from the book, when Megan Bradley discovers that not only is her daughter Kendra a witch, but she is one too!
“Kendra, where are you going?” asked Megan Bradley one day when they had been in the camp about a year, “and when will you be home?”
“I’m going to a special witchcraft class, Mom. Don’t know when I’ll be home, there’s a Sabbat after, could end at midnight, might last until dawn.”
“Kendra, you’re not old enough for that. And besides, it’s terrible for a nine year old girl to be out that late. I forbid it.”
“Jeez, Mom, what are you going to do, call the cops? Report me to Social Services? Oh, wait, there are no cops–or social workers–here, are there? Too bad. But if you’re worried, come with me.”
“That’s silly, I’m not a witch.”
“You really are, you know. I saw the machine when they picked us up last year, you were way up in the orange. You just keep denying it. Our teacher says we should bring in anyone who tested that high. C’mon, it’ll be fun together.”
“Oh, shit, why not? Nothing else to do.” She hollered toward the other room of their apartment, “Mike, I’m going out with Kendra. You watch Julian and Susan.” She and Kendra walked out the door together.
Kendra’s prediction about her mother’s abilities proved correct. Megan found the class interesting, and when they got to actually trying spells, she followed the directions carefully and watched the small plant in front of her turn invisible. Kendra looked over, gave her a thumbs up, and said, “Way to go, Mom!”
Megan’s second spell worked equally well, and after her third successful spell, the teacher, a woman named Philistia, came over to Megan and said, “Congratulations. You are doing very well. Are you going to be staying for the Sabbat?”
“I really don’t know much about it. Am I allowed to? Should I?”
“You just qualified for the first part of the Sabbat, until midnight, with those three spells, Megan. The later part, midnight to dawn, is restricted to those with advanced powers.” She paused. “Or to those invited, sponsored, by an advanced witch.”
Megan pointed across the room to where Kendra was now sitting. “I’m here with my daughter Kendra, and she said she might be staying all night. Does that count?”
Philistia raised her eyebrows. “You’re Kendra’s mother? Well, she is certainly staying all night. Nine years old and far more powerful than many of the adults here, it’s amazing.” She caught Kendra’s eye and gestured her to come over. When Kendra got there, Philistia asked, “Are you sponsoring your mother for the second part of the Sabbat?”
Kendra looked at Philistia and said, “Well, duh! Why do you think I brought her?” Then, turning to Megan, “You are staying, Mom, aren’t you?”
Megan just nodded her head in agreement. She found the Sabbat interesting, and only encountered one moment of doubt. Sometime after midnight, the leader announced that the next part of the celebration would be performed sky-clad. Megan looked over at her daughter and asked, “What’s that?”
“Sky-clad? It means nude. Undressed. Time to strip, Mom,” said Kendra, as she started to remove her clothes.
Megan looked around and saw that everyone was undressing. She blushed a bit and hesitated. “Do we have to?”
“Yeah, Mom, you heard the leader,” answered Kendra, who was now, like many of those around her, completely nude. “Peel ’em off.”
Megan blushed more, then slowly, hesitantly, began to undress. By this time almost everyone was completely undressed.
Philistia saw Megan’s discomfort and came over. “Sorry, I should have warned you about this, but most of us in the after-midnight group have been doing it for so long we just don’t think of how it might affect a newcomer.”
Megan, by now also completely nude, clung to the remnants of her self control. It wasn’t helped when her nine year old daughter looked at her and said, “Gee, Mom, your blush goes all the way down to your boobs!”
Thank you so much, Jim, for being with us today.
Where can your readers find you?
You can purchase Magic Is Faster Than Light at MuseItUp Publishing.