Please welcome James D. Doss, author of the wonderfully charming Charlie Moon series!
James D. Doss spent his adult life as an electrical engineer, his work was dedicated to developing electronic apparatus, not fictional characters. But this engineer had a goal: he was determined to write and publish a book before his 50th year, and so he set out to do just that. And while his first book (Engineer’s Guide to High Temperature Superconductivity/Wiley) was a success, his initial attempts at fiction didn’t go over as well. His first two novels were rejected.
When I asked how he knew he might eventually be good enough, Doss replies:
“Well, I’ve never been convinced that I am.”
But he kept on trying.
“I was very fortunate when I sent the third manuscript to a literary agency where a young man (Jeremy Katz) happened to read it and liked it.”
His original idea for the series was centered on a small-town chief of police (Scott Parris), but after doing some research into the Southern Colorado area Doss got interested in the Southern Ute tribe and his series took a whole new direction, and so the magic began. And he’s the first to admit:
“Sometimes the story simply goes its own way. Much like the readers, the author is obliged to follow the characters and find out what they’ll do next.”
After the first mystery (The Shaman Sings) in the series, Aunt Daisy and Charlie Moon quickly, and somewhat unexpectedly, became center stage.
“Characters that were in supporting roles took over when Daisy Perika edged her way in as noisily and obstinately as she continues to do.”
How real are these great characters to Doss?
“Too real, I’m afraid. If there was a knock on my cabin door late at night and I opened it and there was Charlie Moon and Aunt Daisy, for a moment I wouldn’t be surprised. These fictional folk have become like people I know.”
Where does he get the ideas for his wonderful tales?
“It can be something someone says to me; about something interesting that happened to them. At other times, I’ll read an interesting newspaper article. In Grandmother Spider, one harrowing scene is based upon something that happened in the middle of the night at my mountain cabin. Or it can be the memory of an peculiar occurrence from years ago. I’m convinced that all of our lives are filled with fascinating, often mysterious events – though oftentimes we don’t notice them.”
Does he enjoy writing?
“Yes. Well, there are times when I get stuck and can’t do what I want to do with a scene. That can be very frustrating and it wears me out – just like breaking rocks with a sledgehammer. It’s so important to get the job done right. That’s why I rarely crack the covers of one of my books. I can open one of them up to almost any page and find something I’d like a chance to improve upon – but it’s too late.”
How does he approach writing a mystery novel?
“It’s much like building a house. You’ve got to start with a solid foundation, do a competent job of framing , roofing, insulating, dry-walling, plastering, wiring , plumbing, painting and the like. Hopefully you’ll end up a structure that will at least provide adequate shelter. But what makes a home a true delight are the furnishings, the touch-ups, and most important of all – the folks you share it with.”
Does Doss take his success for granted?
“Certainly not. I have to work hard six days a week and do my very best on every page. After the first draft, which typically takes about six months, I spend another six months editing, rewriting, and polishing.”
On his positive feedback from the top critics:
“I am delighted when I get good reviews – especially when the reviewer tells me specifically what they liked about the novel, but I pay just as much attention to reviewers and readers who offer constructive criticism.”
At Doss’s first signing only two books were sold. But things got better at subsequent stops on the tour.
“I was appalled at the very thought of signing books. I am delighted to meet readers and hear what they have to say, but signing my name on the title page still makes me a little uneasy.”
Doss explains how he chooses which books to read:
“I go into a store and pick up a book to read, open it up to a random page and pick a paragraph. If I like what I see there, I’ll generally enjoy the entire story.”
When asked how he views his readers when writing, Doss responds:
“I’m generally so lost in the story that I don’t think about anyone but the characters. But when reflecting about how a story may be received, I typically consider just one reader. (I won’t tell you who she is.) But I do see writing fiction as a partnership between author and reader. I have some very imaginative readers, who construct a somewhat different and often more complex picture than I had intended. These are very creative folks.”
Most of the characters in Doss’s novels are tough as nails. Regarding authentic acts of courage:
“I admire the so-called ‘ordinary’ people who face real dangers, and get the job done in spite of their fears – because the outcome is important.”
Did Doss ever try his hand at other creative endeavors? He did try playing the piano in kindergarten, to which his teacher music teacher had this to say in a note to his mother:
“Your little boy doesn’t have any behavioral problems, but he has no musical ability whatever and he’s driving me crazy! Please take him out of my class.”
And finally, if Doss had his druthers, what would they be? Well, turns out they’re something they have always been since he was a boy in western Kentucky:
“I wish life could be simple. I’d like to spend my time hunting arrowheads.”