Monday 11 May 2009

An Interview - James E Cherry

James E Cherry is the author of Shadow of Light, a novel from Serpents Tail Press. He resides in the USA where he serves as Artist in Residence at a high school for troubled youth. His collection of poetry, Honoring the Ancestors (Third World Press) was nominated for a 2009 NAACP Image Award.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a collection of short fiction tentatively titled, Ghosts of Salvation. Its 15 stories, half of them crime in nature but all of them dealing with lost and longing in some form or fashion

Q2. Can you give us an idea of James E Cherry’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

Man, I’ve got more ideas than time. Because I’m trying to express myself in two different genres, I usually find myself writing something at some point during the day. I’m also in the process of compiling another collection of poetry that hopefully will find its way into print by the Fall of next year. And I’m beginning to put flesh on a skeleton of a novel idea that should keep me busy as well. I cant see the light at the end of the tunnel for that project. But I know I’m headed in the right direction. And hell, there’s a non-fiction project I would like to get started on as well . . . but like I said . . . more ideas than time.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read. I read everything I can get my hands on. Reading and writing are both part of the same creative process. I’m a big jazz enthusiast. The improvisation of that art form has a big influence on my writing. Often times when I write, whether poetry or fiction, its to the cadences of Bird, Monk, Diz and Trane. Guess I’m a bebopper with words.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

My advice would be to study the classics. Not just the classics of crime fiction. But the classics of fiction in general. Take the best literary devices and techniques from the masters at your disposal and apply them to your original ideas. And from there hone your craft, which involves paying some dues (rejections.) Just make sure that your writing is as tight as possible before you submit and if crime fiction is what you want to do, your breakthrough will come.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

I keep returning to the usual suspects: Mosley, Pelacanos, Maggie Estep, Jake Lamar. But I’m old school. So I like Edgar Alan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and I always read a little or a lot of Chester B Himes whenever I get the chance.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Right now its Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, based on a real life hostage situation in South America featuring an opera singer. The book was the winner of the 2001 Orange Prize.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Man, I need to get out and see more of the world. Travel has a way of making you a better writer and a better human being. The people, culture, the food. I’m looking to hop a plane with hopefully a stop in the U.K. My bags are already packed.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

Honestly, I don’t think I would. Just as in my life, I’ve made mistakes that I wouldn’t take back because they were instrumental in who I have become today and I believe the experience from those mistakes has made me a better person. Serpents Tail came along at the right time in my development as a fiction writer and they saw something in my writing that other publishers failed to see. And that goes back to my earlier comments: its incumbent upon the writer to study his craft, hone his skills, write as much as possible and send the work out. When and how the work will be published is often times beyond our control. We simply must have a body of work ready when the opportunity presents itself.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Except for a couple journals wanting me to surrender my copyright to my own short story (don’t ever do that. Pull the story and find somewhere else to submit) I have no major complaints. I have a chapbook of poems, Bending the Blues, a full collection of poems and a novel in print and more is forthcoming. For more details about my work visit: So, thus far it's all been good.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

Gerard, man I really want to thank you for this opportunity. Crime Scene NI is an invaluable tool for those who love to read and write crime fiction and hopefully your readership will pick up a copy of Shadow of Light. I’ll see you when the plane touches down at Heathrow.

Thank you, James E Cherry!

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