James Lawless

James Lawless

James Lawless

I’ve been doing a lot of reviews lately, but today I’m going to step away and go back to what I originally began Ink Drop Interviews doing – an actual interview. Today I talk with James Lawless, author of Peeling Oranges and other titles.

IDI – Who is your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?

JL – This is a very important question for promoting one’s work and a difficult one to answer. If one explores the themes in one’s work perhaps it will provide a clue. Peeling Oranges explores ideology, nationalism, love. For Love of Anna explores options to the monolith of corruption and capitalism. The Avenue explores the concept of suburbia. Finding Penelope explores the anima and true art. Knowing Women explores sexuality and my latest novel just completed American Doll explore how a great tragedy (9/11) impacted on the lives of people. I am interested in the why of things so my targeted audience would be men and women of any age who are interested in exploring the human condition and what motivates us and its corollary, what deters us in the brief time allotted to us. A non-fiction book, a study of poetry called Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World perhaps sums it up it is a striving to produce art in an individual and original way, of putting some order on the mess.

IDI – What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt maybe to tickle our tastebuds?

JL – I have recently completed a new novel American Doll (70,000 words) which is seeking a publisher. It is about how 9/11 opens a Pandora’s Box on an Irish/American family.

When Laura Calane of New York comes to Ireland to further her studies and to live in what her father considers a safer environment after 9/11, she discovers that the land of her ancestors is not the haven she had believed it to be. When she meets social worker Danny Faraday, she is torn between her attraction towards him and the emotional blackmail of her uncle Thady who is domiciled in Ireland and who never lets her forget that he saved her father’s life in a terrorist attack in New York in 1993.

The story is about loss, losing someone as Con the firefighter did with his wife in 9/11; it’s also about hope, never giving up and knowing when to give up and let go, and how the process is in danger of repeating itself in the new generation with Laura his daughter going missing in Ireland, and Danny’s parents who were also lost at sea. It’s also about coming into maturity as in the case of Danny with the help of Laura suffering the grief, and with Laura, herself growing out of her family-engendered chimeras.

Extract:

She had to go once a week, on Tuesdays as it happened, to visit her uncle Thady. She was mysteriously vague about the location. ‘What does it matter where it is?’ she said. She was after a lecture and they were sharing a bench in the afternoon sun across from the campanile of Trinity.

‘So what’s the big deal about visiting an uncle?’ he said.

She told him that he was her dadʼs older brother who used to work in the fire department with him. He saved her dad’s life in 1993 when terrorists drove a van into the basement of the World Trade Center, killing six people. Her dad was annoyed with the government, believing this was a precursor and warning which the government didnʼt heed and so were not prepared for the ʻBig Oneʼ when it came. Her mom was upstairs at the time of the explosion working as a waitress in Windows of The World. She wasnʼt injured; she got out okay (Laura strangely seemed to Danny to be speaking regretfully here), but her dadʼs leg got caught under a falling beam and her uncle Thady with his great strength lifted the beam off her dadʼs leg and carried him to safety over his shoulder in the firefighterʼs hoist.

‘So that’s it,’ Danny said, ʻthatʼs why you have to visit?ʼ

She sighed.

ʻDonʼt you like visiting him?ʼ

IDI – There is a lot of commotion about the effect ebooks are having on brick and mortar booksellers. Do you think ebooks have reached their climax or do you believe they still have room to expand in the market?

JL – Ebooks have many advantage not least the ease in which one can order a book and for school children it reduces the heavy load of school bags. I don’t see them as oppositional but as complementary to the physical book. Looking at the younger generation even newspapers are being read digitally now.

IDI – How important are your reading habits to your writing habits?

JL – Reading is the life-force of writing. I don’t understand how anyone can write if they don’t read. Reading provides the breath and insight to foster serious writing. It’s a form of osmosis. The more you read, the more you soak up subliminally into your own work.

IDI – What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing? How has this helped you as a writer?

JL – There are many genres of writing and I explored this in my novel Finding Penelope. It is about a successful romance novelist who was providing the de rigueur happy endings for her agent until tragedy struck her own family. Her writing changed after that as she then realized that with the brevity of life she could only be true to herself in what she wrote. That applies to me as well.

IDI – What genre do you write in and why did you choose it?

JL – I write accessible literary fiction. The fact that I’m also a published poet informs this. I am interested in language as much as plot— the beauty of it, the poetry of it, its lyricism. I don’t like the division of literature into highbrow and lowbrow. There is just good writing and bad as far as I am concerned, as there was with the pre-modernists, with Dickens and Hardy and the Russian novelists.

IDI – When did you decide to write a book?

Peeling Oranges

Peeling Oranges

JL – I was always into writing. I kept diaries since childhood. I studied Spanish in college and I was fascinated by the parallel between Spain and my own country Ireland as they struggled for democracy after two civil wars. I also was after I left school examining all the things I had been taught: religion, ideology, nationalism, the Gaelic language (I was taught everything through Gaelic at school). So all these things melded into my first novel Peeling Oranges which came out in 2007 and was republished and translated into several languages in 2014.

IDI – Who’s your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?

JL – This is a very important question for promoting one’s work and a difficult one to answer. If one explores the themes in one’s work perhaps it will provide a clue. Peeling Oranges explores ideology, nationalism, love. For Love of Anna explores options to the monolith of corruption and capitalism. The Avenue explores the concept of suburbia. Finding Penelope explores the anima and true art. Knowing Women explores sexuality and my latest novel just completed American Doll explore how a great tragedy (9/11) impacted on the lives of people. I am interested in the why of things so my targeted audience would be men and women of any age who are interested in exploring the human condition and what motivates us and its corollary, what deters us in the brief time allotted to us. A non-fiction book, a study of poetry called Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World perhaps sums it up it is a striving to produce art in an individual and original way, of putting some order on the mess.

IDI – How much time/effort do you give to social media as a means of self-promotion?

Clearing the Tangled Wood

Clearing the Tangled Wood

JL – Too much time of late; it is eating into my creative energy. I find myself looking at emails before I start writing in the mornings. I am new to it; I have set up a blog that no one responds to; when I post it on Facebook or LinkedIn I get some responses. I seem to have built up a large clientele with positive feedback and excellent reviews but it is frustrating in that it doesn’t seem to improve sales. Some of my books are being translated and Paula Sanchez who translated Peeling Oranges into Spanish even set up a Facebook page totally dedicated to this book https://www.facebook.com/esjameslawless . However, pressing a like is mere tokenism. I wish I knew the secret to successful promotion. Maybe it’s a slow process and I need to me more patient.

IDI – What’s the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?

JL – Two pieces of advice if I may. One I received when I was an undergraduate; my lecturer in Gaelic, a kindly matronly lady commented on my essay by announcing to the class, Tuigeann sé cad is filíocht ann– he understands what poetry is. This had a hug impact on me; it boosted my confidence at a tender age and inspired me to write.

Another was when studying for my MA later I asked the professor when we were doing construction theory if there is such a thing as a universally accepted work of art. The professor winked. That wink made me think of so much stuff— sometimes mediocre— orchestrated by media and rich benefactors which otherwise might not have seen the light of day. Which brings us back to power and the flowers born to blush unseen. So much good material is produced but because it does not have the back up of media or clique elites. it doesn’t gets it due reward. So that professor’s wink spurs me on as it made me realize that just because something is extolled in the media, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best of its kind.

IDI – Have you ever wanted to give up? What stopped you?

JL – Yes I am nearly at that stage now with frustration and failure to make it as they say. It is a really hard slog and sometimes, despite my getting great commendations for my work, I realize talent is not enough. You need a thick neck or luck or cuteness and then you have to lick up to the people in the know. I find those thing very difficult to do. Despite being a hybrid writer and being published by small publishers, I might as well be independent, as a small publisher does very little to promote one and naturally is limited in resources. And the big publishers are mere conglomerates now and take no risks for art’s sake. They seem for the most part to churn out tried and tested works. I sometimes think I am in the wrong era firstly because I am a middle-aged heterosexual male writer and also perhaps because a few generations ago publishers were less agenda-driven and were more personable and adventurous.

IDI – I think we’re all looking for that magical combination or the day when all of our stars align. I too have won awards, but have yet to see J.K. Rowlings-type fortune. I write for myself… the money I make is a bonus. I hope  you stick it out…

Tell us a little about yourself. (What you do for a living, for fun, to relax.)

JL – I write full time now. I used to teach but took early retirement. I like to garden, play tennis and walk every day either along the canal bank in County Kildare or in the mountains of Wes Cork where I reside sometimes. I seem to be a person who functions two thinks at a time. Even as a kid when my aunt would call, and my father would be at work, I would eavesdrop on her conversation with my mother, conspiratorially delivered in those patriarchal days. And later as a young adult I remember in Germany playing the card game Schnoutz while simultaneously reading Jude the Obscure. It’s almost as if one reality is not enough. That’s why I’m a writer, I guess, creating alternative worlds.

IDI – One last question. In your opinion, what defines a great book?

JL – To find a great book can be serendipitous. To establish it in the canon requires influence. A great book is one that sticks with you over the years. From my childhood reading, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain are like old friends. Then on maturing there are writers one returns to time and again, Turgenev, Chekhov, de Maupassant, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Joyce, Woolf. So what have these writers’ books got in common if anything and are they great or have they been made to appear great? Are they universally accepted as works of art. All I can say with any certainty is that a great book has staying power. It may not even be recognized in its own time which gives hope to all aspiring writers— how often do we realize the worth of things in hindsight. These writers I read at a pristine time in reading before the ubiquity of technological interference. Books in my maturing years held a hegemony over one’s mind. So will future generations see things in the same way? Will there be a dumbing down or perhaps a greater honesty? If Joyce were to submit Ulysses to publishers in the present climate, would it be accepted?  It is for each new generation to answer that question.

IDI – I would like to thank James for appearing on Ink Drop Interviews and share a few on his contacts links with readers.

http://www.amazon.com/James-Lawless/e/B001JOXD96.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Lawless/e/B001JOXD96/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

http://jameslawless.net

https://www.facebook.com/james.lawless.33

https://www.facebook.com/esjameslawless

https://twitter.com/vanthool

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/james-lawless/15/689/a0a

http://www.pinterest.com/knowalll/

Kathy Reinhart is the author of the award-winning Lily White Lies, The Red Strokes, and other works under the pen name Nova Scott.

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