The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Marcus James
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for interviewing with us! First, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Marcus – I’m thirty-three, I live in Tacoma Washington, outside of Seattle, in the historic Stadium District. The neighborhood is one of the places I spent a big chunk of my life growing up. It is filled with historic mansions and beautiful Victorians right on the water, and the high school was made famous as the school in Ten Things I Hate About You. I’ve been a professional author since I was 21. I was signed with my first literary agency when I was 19. I love to cook, and if I hadn’t been destined for writing, I would have been a chef. That was my plan until I was eleven, then my passion switched. I had always written creatively, but it didn’t call to me as my vocation until then, but once it happened, there was nothing left for me. I’m the author of seven novels, I’ve written for various publications throughout the years, and I’m constantly amazed that my husband is so supportive. It’s not easy being with an author, especially if you are not one, and when he and I got together, my career was already long ago established, so the fact that he was supportive and didn’t treat it like a hobby (which a lot of people who are not authors or artists themselves can do) was pretty mind-blowing.
Selene – How long have you been writing, and what draws you to horror?
Marcus – since I accidently answered the first part of the question in the first one, I will answer the second. Haha. Horror is everything to me. I have been a horror fanatic since I was about three years old. That was the first time I ever saw Halloween, and I just fell in love with Michael Myers, Laurie Strode-the whole package. There’s a pic of me my mom has when I’m like four pretending to be Freddy Kruger in one of her Fedoras. I was really lucky in a lot of ways, my mom was 18 when she had me, her younger sister was 14, and her older brother was like 21 or 22 and my cousins were teens. It was the eighties and they were the typical eighties slasher demographic. We all hung out together as a family, listening to Guns n Roses, Motley Crue, Metallica, etc. And often watching horror. Many in my family read Anne Rice (my patron saint of authors as I see her) and just living for it. Horror has literally been apart of my life from day one. I love everything about horror. It can go where other genres can’t go. Fear, rage, sex, joy, sorrow, loss, hope, resilience, survival, it’s all in there! I started out in Bellingham Washington (where most of my books are set) and all of the houses, the ghost stories, the history, it’s all real and a part of my history. In my Blackmoore novels, the main character Trevor Blackmoore, his great-aunt Mabel aka Queen Mab as the family calls her, lives in my great-aunt Alice’s house. There is a lot of Alice in Queen Mab, and that house is full of ghosts. In Bellingham, much like Salem or New Orleans, the spirit world is right next to you. Almost every house, every street corner and building has a ghost story or twenty! The things that go bump in the night have always been a part of my life-my identity. Horror is where I find my home. If done right, horror can reach inside of you and take you to the shadow side of yourself and really make you feel a range of emotions.
Selene – What books and authors do you like to read, and what do you consider your writing influences?
Marcus – Well, Anne Rice first and foremost. Charles Dickens, Gore Vidal, Jim Grimsley, Edmund White, Poppy Z. Brite (who has transitioned and is living happily with his partner and sadly, due to the trauma of Katrina, no longer writes.) And Tori Amos. The things that influence my writing are actually musicians and songs more than anything else. Anne Rice helped me develop and find my writing voice in those early tween years, and her son Christopher Rice actually taught me that it was okay to write about gay characters and the gay experience. Before A Density of Souls came out when I was sixteen, I wasn’t writing about gay people at all. I wasn’t bold enough to do so in my writing. I was out by then and was very proud and bullied a lot for it, but in my writing, up until that book, I was so scared to explore the queer aesthetic on the page. I will forever be indebted to Chris for that. I’ve told him more than once. Haha.
Selene – In addition to your own work, you host Brews & Books, and Queerly Spoken. Tell me about these events.
Marcus – Well, my friends own a Brewery in Seattle called Ravenna Brewing Co. And their beers are incredible btw, if you are ever in Seattle you have to check them out. When my novel-the second Blackmoore book-Symphony for the Devil came out, I wanted to do something different from the regular bookstore signings, so we decided to have it at the brewery, and the concept came about, what if we had authors come, drink delicious beer, be relaxed, and have a discussion about their books, career, and writing? So that’s what we did. Starting with me. Haha! It had a really great turn out and my editor asked me questions and I got to drink beer and sit. That was the nicest part. Most of the time you’re standing forever. From that point on, I hosted, and feature other authors.
Queerly Spoken is a storytelling series like Mortified or The Vagina Monologues, where the only requirement is that storytellers tell a story about when they were young and queer. It’s an attempt to preserve our legacy of LGBT storytelling. In the seventies through the early two-thousands, LGBT literature and storytellers and publishing was just exploding, and we have a legacy of just celebrating who we are and our history, our experiences, and our culture-our various aesthetics-LGBTQ visibility, culture, activism, outness, owes so much to the queer writers and story tellers. They taught us who we are, what it means to be us, and most importantly, that what we feel is normal and that WE ARE NOT ALONE. That last one is THE MOST important. It’s why, despite the stigma and the challenges that come along with it, I write with gay main characters. We are here, we exist, and some kid feeling scared and alone reads one of my books…. They will feel less alone too. They need to know that they can be heroes just like straight people. They can save the day.
With Queerly Spoken, just like in my own work, it’s about continuing to share our stories, to keep that message alive. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Don’t give up. There is nothing wrong with you.
Selene – How would you say a “live” story setting differs from reading and writing on the page? Do you get a good audience response?
Marcus – I do. I love the readings, I love connecting in that way. I know a lot of my colleagues who loath it, but I love it. As long as you enjoy yourself they will enjoy themselves.
Selene – Your website mentions a Virtual Book tour. What is that? How did it go for you? Are you planning more?
Marcus – the tour happened this past summer, and I did one again for Halloween. The first one was for Rise of the Nephilim, which is the first part of a two-part Blackmoore Prequel which follows Trevor’s mother, Kathryn Blackmoore back in LA in 1987 when she is in her mid-twenties, and it gives insight into her motives in the actual main books, why she kept her son in the dark about who he is and the truth about their family. They are two novellas though, along with part two, Fall of the Nephilim, that are geared towards women, very much erotic paranormal romance/horror. I didn’t feel these smaller books merited a real physical tour, so I did a virtual book tour, which is a thing where you do different interviews, guest blogs, giveaways, etc. On various book sites. It was booked through Bewitching Book Tours.
My next novel, Instructions In Flesh, which comes out in October, will be a hybrid, both physical and virtual book tours. It’ll be a very busy couple of months in the fall.
Selene – Your main body of stories so far, if you’ll permit me that generalization, is the Blackmoore Legacy series. Tell us a bit about the Blackmoores.
Marcus – The Blackmoores are a family of witches who live in the historic and cloistered old moneyed neighborhood of South Hill in Bellingham Washington. The family comes originally from Ireland, where centuries and centuries ago, they betrayed a very ancient and bloodthirsty god who is bent on regaining strength and power and wiping out the family and take over the world. Some witches are on his side, others are not.
Two Blackmoores, Sarafeene and Malachey (who were cousins and married) came to New Orleans in 1788, as poor, indentured servants, though they were lucky enough, being married to be able to live on their own and not in the home of employment, in the Irish Channel. They found their spiritual traditions mixed well with the voodoo of the slaves they worked with and incorporated that into theirs. It was the only way they were able to find a sense of community in a strange new world full of hardship and struggle and abuse.
They were cursed by a woman who was devoted to the Dark God of the Wood, that through copulation they would kill. So, it was that anyone who had sex with a Blackmoore (unprotected) would die seven to twelve years later of a sudden tumor which would cause an aneurysm. Every choice a Blackmoore has made to have a child meant willingly killing someone. Their granddaughter Katy Blackmoore ran from the family to Spain, and when she returned, she had married an aristocrat and gave her family an EXTREMELY large fortune to stay away from her, thinking if she didn’t use her witchcraft and had nothing to do with her family, the Legacy, as they call the curse, would not touch her. She was wrong obviously. So, Trevor is the chosen one, he breaks the curse, but in doing so, the Dark God begins to gain strength and his devotees and other nefarious things begin to come for Trevor and his family.
The books are very much steeped in history, lore, witch traditions, paganism, myth, but it all takes a back seat to the characters real human struggles. They are very gothic and very much set in the real world. No wands, flying broomsticks, or things you’d find in Harry Potter. Though some call Trevor the gay adult Harry Potter, all the spells, the rituals, the deities, all come from history and tradition.
Selene – How does writing a series differ from writing a stand-alone novel? What about a character or setting inspires you to revisit, through sequels and prequels?
Marcus – well, I never intended on a series. Blackmoore originally wasn’t going to be about witches. It was simply a novel about Trevor Blackmoore who has a very powerful spirit named Jonathan Marker who becomes dangerous and vengeful, all wrapped up within the story of these four kids, three of whom used to be best friends with Trevor, but then once they are in middle school and it is obvious that Trevor is gay, they abandon him and become his tormentors, then in high school they concoct this Dangerous Liaisons (or for those reading and not familiar, you’ll know it by it’s more recent interpretation: Cruel Intentions) plot to humiliate him. All of those elements are in Blackmoore, but it became so much more. I didn’t plan it. Trevor showed it to me. My characters-the Boys as I call them-are very real to me and dictate everything, and from the get-go Trevor was saying “There is more to it than this. So much more. I’m going to show you the depth of the forest, I’m going to take you into the dark night and the witches sabbat. I’m going to show you how deep these roots go. Just trust me and tell my story.”
I know, it sounds weird. But, that’s how it was. And the thing is, Trevor had always been there. He’s always been with me. I look back on moments in my life as a kid, and I can see that his shadow was there in the background, just waiting for the right moment to come forward in all his form. It just took till I was twenty.
Selene – Let’s talk about setting. The Blackmoore saga is set in Washington state, where you live. But the setting in the book has a very old world Gothic feel (so much so, I thought you were a Brit, for some reason!). Other than the “write what you know” advice, how would you say you approach creating a setting for the story?
Marcus – well, that’s Fairhaven/South Hill in Bellingham. You’ve read them, so you know the history. That’s where it all began. The old Victorian mansions were built by the founding families, Fairhaven was the original shipping port. I grew up in this world where history is simply alive. The ghosts walk with you. You feel the past everywhere you go. Ghosts standing behind maples and oaks and you feel them staring at you.
I grew up in those houses. My aunt’s home was filled with antiques from the 1800’s-1940’s. Old tins, paintings, teddy bears, the portrait of Queen Victoria in black hanging above the fireplace mantel in the dining room. Everything described in the books is all real in that regard of setting.
How could I not write about this? If you live in a place like New Orleans Garden District, or Savannah around Forsythe Park, or Salem, or if you know of them and their strangeness, you’ll understand what I mean. Bellingham was crying out to be written about in this way.
Selene – The first book, Blackmoore, features legacy witches and a ghost. Do you believe in the paranormal, and have you had any ghostly experiences?
Marcus – well, I’ve established this! Haha! But yes, I do. Very much so and I have no shame in that. I absolutely do. I’m a pagan author. So, the witch/pagan/voodoo, etc. Is deeply revered and greatly respected in my work when it comes to the Blackmoore books. And I research like crazy on everything. The spirit world is very much a part of my world.
Myself and my family have had many encounters with ghosts. I myself have. Had a ghost attached to my dining table my roommates and I named Pearl. She just felt like an old lady who was very stern. She would get very active if her dining table got dirty. She’d begin throwing things and stealing things. Once you cleaned her table though… it all came back or stopped.
My favorite though, isn’t mine it’s my aunt Alice. She told me about how for years after her mother in-law died, she would get up early in the morning, like three am, and she would sit on the sofa and talk with her mother in-law! She would come down the stairs, and there she was, sitting on the sofa. It just kept happening, and always the same time. So, she just started talking to her after she would fade away, my aunt would just sit down and start talking to her. Eventually it stopped.
I always get a kick out of that one.
Selene – Your work is classified as “erotica.” As a writer, I’m usually not so great at writing sex scenes. How do/did you get past any reticence, and what are some tips and techniques for writing erotica?
Marcus – I wouldn’t say my books are erotica, with the exception of Rise of the Nephilim and Fall of the Nephilim, which are erotic paranormal romance. Every sex scene has a purpose. Blackmoore for example, has three and each one reveals something about the inner workings of a character, or something profoundly intense and defining for the characters involved. Symphony for the Devil has four, and other books I’ve written have one or two. And that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned about writing sex scenes; it has to move the story or the characters forward. It has to define a tone of the book. Even if it’s a hookup, it has to define the characters and expose them to the reader.
I got my start writing erotica for various anthologies for Alyson Books, who were at one time, the Knopf/Random House of LGBT publishing houses. Sadly, as with most queer publishing houses that were offering the big advances, they no longer exist.
But, the power of erotica, and its difference from pornography, is that it is sex for the sake of the story, not story for the sake of the sex. Meaning the sex contributes something to the story that surrounds it, not just making up some type of story just to get to the sex.
If the sex scene isn’t needed, then leave it out. Fade to black. But, if you feel that it is needed. It’s that kind of chapter or that kind of story, then just write what you feel. Don’t be afraid of the words. Write with the intensity. It will translate to the reader and make them feel it too. You better be turned on as well when you’re writing it! If you are not in heat while writing it, then it is not right. It is not organic. It probably isn’t needed. You’ll know when it is. Your characters will tell you. Trust them. Always trust them.
Selene – Do you feel that there’s a difference between LGBTQ literature and other types of writing? (I think we’ve come a long way to mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ culture, but there’s still a long way to go!). Is there a difference in how you approach your gay and straight characters?
Marcus – There is absolutely no difference between the gay and straight characters. I love them as much as I love my gay characters. The thing is, my books are not gay books. Sure, the main character is, and usually the love interest, but the novels are never about being gay. Now, some of my books are. My novel In God’s Eyes is about coming out and religious conversion therapy, but my other works simply have a gay main character, and obviously the queer experience is in there because that is the lens that the character(s) is coming from, but the books are not about that.
That’s a really important point to make, and part of the stigma and uphill battle that my books are often faced with. This stigma from the majority that these are “gay books” so there is nothing to relate to, and so often, they are passed by without readers giving them a chance. I, like most queer people grew up in a predominantly heterosexual world. My novels reflect that. Aside from the main character and the love interest-if there is one-are the only ones in the books, all of the other characters are straight, and they are just as detailed and complex and given just as much attention as the main character.
Queer people spend our entire lives reading books, watching movies, t.v. shows, listening to songs, etc. That are about straight people, and we still find something to love and connect to, but that’s because we’ve had to, from day one, since the beginning, and if we have no problem doing it, then a straight reader should have no issue reading a novel where the only difference is that the main character is lgbtq, there is something for everyone. But, it’s this mindset from the majority that has made it such a struggle for queer authors to get their voices out there. Especially with the big houses, many of them put it all in a “genre” and one that the masses aren’t buying. What’s more, the books they do take on, are usually specific narratives, coming out, AIDS, drug addiction, etc. But books like mine, books not actually about those things, books that are about whatever else, only with a queer main character, forget it. The struggle is real on that front. It frustrates me. We should be past that. But honestly, our representation is very limited in the media. Until you can go to your suburban megaplex in whatever town and city and see at least one movie at all times on the marquee that has the lead character being a queer person, regardless what the movie plot is about, then we are not there yet. We are far from it. A few television shows and a couple indie movies every couple of years is not good.
Selene – What advice would you give a new writer?
Marcus – Write the book you want to read. Plain and simple. That’s how my books have always come about. I looked at the horror scene and said “where am I in all of this? Where’s my reflection? Why can’t we be the heroes? Why can’t we face the hounds of hell and the forces of darkness and save the world? Why can’t we be Buffy, or the Charmed Ones, or Harry Potter, etc?”
We need to be able to see ourselves as heroes. We need to see ourselves as the ones with the power. It honestly is an issue of life and death for so many to have this message, to know that they are strong, and they can save their own worlds. They are not helpless. They are not less than.
Selene – You’ve got plenty on your plate, with Brews & Books, Queerly Spoken, several novels in print, and other writing. As you can probably tell by how long it took me to get these questions to you, my own motivation is quite low this time of year. How do you get and stay motivated?
Marcus – honestly, it’s the only thing I have. Writing saves you. It saved my life. These stories I have to tell, the Boys won’t leave me alone. It takes a long time before I start writing, though a novel will formulate years and years before it happens. The research process takes months. For the next Blackmoore novel, The Beckoning One, I have 53 books for research to read and compile my notes from before I can sit down and start writing it. I love the research process, and yet, it still takes time to get there. Days where I’m putting it off-procrastinating-but eventually, they begin to invade my dreams, then eventually the Boys won’t let me sleep, until I get back to work, even if it’s just researching. The point for them is that I’m working on it in some way.
Never give up on yourself and your work. Treat it always like a job. You have to commit yourself, even if for just an hour. A page a day is a book a year. Never forget that.
Selene – What have you got planned for 2018? Is there anything else you’d like to talk about here? Thank you again for taking the time to answer some questions for us!
Marcus- In October, my vampire novel, Instructions In Flesh comes out. I’m really excited about it. Think L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries meets Anne Rice’s The Queen of the Damned and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls with a coming-of-age twist. It’s not puppy dog vampires. It’s bloody and arresting. Originally it was published under the title Bloodlines back in 2012, but unfortunately the publisher was not a good fit, and wanted the novel to be a gay Twilight, which it is far from it, so it was never properly promoted and went out of print, and the publisher in question no longer exists, so the rights reverted back to me. Thank God, so it has been given the breath of life, and is coming back exactly as originally intended.
I’m also in the midst of a retelling of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (The Dangerous Liaisons) titled Those People: A Study of Revenge, Deceit, and Affluenza. Which, like the 18th century original, will be an epistolary novel (a journal or series of letters) only in this it is through emails and DM’s.
Later this month I will be returning to San Francisco (where I once lived) for a research trip for The Beckoning One and Those People. Those People is set in S.F. and parts of the third Blackmoore novel takes place there. So, I’m really excited about that. I feel 2018 will be even better than 2017 career-wise. I can’t wait.
You can find out more about Marcus at the below links: