Thursday, June 28, 2012

Author Interview: James Funfer

Today we have the oppurtunity to interview James Funfer, author of Crystal Promise (reviewed here). James, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
It's odd how this was the most difficult question for me to answer. Let's see...I was writing since I was old enough to read, and I knew from a very young age that it was something I always wanted to do. I find that some people express themselves more easily through the written word than they do in conversation, and I'm certainly no exception. I'm also a little bit of a nerd (aren't most writers?) and my main nerdy passion is role-playing games. I do a lot of hiking and barefoot-style running, and I love to cook. I'm a bartender at a local pub, where I make a mean whiskey sour. Ok, I lied before. I'm very nerdy.

Where did your inspiration for Crystal Promise come from?

My primary source of inspiration was early 20th-century European history, primarily the rise of socialism and fascism and their influence on the political climate. The Great Depression became a part of my research, too. My biggest source of material was William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but I was also interested in the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (and the later pretenders to her title), as well as the Roman culture (particularly Roman Catholicism). A bit of inspiration came from a video game called Valkyria Chronicles. Finally, I wanted to write about passionate, angst-ridden, hormonal adolescent relationships, but I wanted to make the stakes higher and add some class struggle, and, knowing that young adults might eventually read the book, I didn't want to present young love as something 'pure' or 'simple', but frame it in a more realistic fashion.

You chose a small press for your debut--what led to that?

It was certainly a conscious decision for me to start small. Instead of seeking an agent or sending the manuscript to bigger publishers, I wanted to get my feet wet in the industry and get a feel for how my writing would be received. Originally Crystal Promise was the winner of a writing contest and was supposed to be published through a group called 'Vicious Writers' (also known as 'Key Publications') but when that on-line community folded I was left with a manuscript I really liked and I didn't want to rest on my laurels. Fortunately I'd made a lot of good contacts through Vicious Writers, and two former members, Genie Rayner and Jim Vires, had started up a small press called Branch Hill Publications. The rest was the usual query process, then editing and so on.

What was your favorite part of Crystal Promise? What scene did you struggle to write?

It's tough for me to choose a favourite part of the story, mainly because I don't really have a favourite character either...I love them all. However, my favourite scene in Crystal Promise is probably the 'big reveal', which is also somewhat of a love scene. The best part of almost any novel, to me, is the twist - the crossroads of choice upon which the story rests.

Writing is often a struggle, I think, even for the dedicated and successful among us, but for me the toughest chapters to write were Julio's. The love letters were easy, but writing about a war is challenging when you've lived a life of peace in a first-world country that doesn't involve itself much in foreign conflicts, except in a peacekeeping capacity. Even with help from personal and literary sources, living through a conflict such World War I or II and serving in the military are experiences that change your very outlook on life.

Did publishing with a small press live up to your expectations, why and why not?

Absolutely. It's a compromise between self-publishing, where you do all the work, spend all the money and take all the risks, and working with the big publishers, who take a bigger cut and allow you less creative control. My expectation is to get my name out there, and through consignment and internet sales I should be able to do just that. The great part about working with a small press is that the editing process is still very professional, and the relationship with the publishers becomes one of trust. There aren't any hard-line negotiations. One of the best parts about publishing Crystal Promise was being able to choose my own cover artist.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process?

Well, I wrote most of Crystal Promise in a basement suite in my old brown housecoat. Nowadays I mostly do the stereotypical thing and take my laptop to a cafĂ©. I like the white noise. Honestly, my writing process is fairly linear. I start at the beginning and work my way to the end. I don't write outlines because I like things to be mutable and have a sense of fluidity. I let my characters take control of the story. They do unexpected things if you let them express themselves as you've imagined them, rather than forcing them to make pre-determined choices. I find that my writing becomes more organic, and I know that if I'm enjoying it because I don't know what's going to happen next, a reader will be even more thrilled.

I try to write two thousand words a day. Usually I work a little bit on something else first just to loosen up, like a blog post, poem or short story.
What's next for you in your career?

Well, the publication of Crystal Promise means a lot of pavement-pounding on my part, keeping up with social media and trying to do as many book signings and readings as possible. I'm currently working on the sequel, Crystal Empire, and once that manuscript is finished I'm planning on seeking out an agent.

Favorite dessert ever?

You know, I don't often eat dessert. My sweet tooth went away some time ago and left me with a deep-seated hunger for salty foods. Sometimes I enjoy a plate of sweet fruit, without whipped cream. I've never liked cake that much, but ice cream cake doesn't count as real cake, and I could never say 'no' to a piece of that.

Last question (everyone gets this one): One piece of advice you wished you had been given when you started writing?

Network. I always knew that you have to be dedicated to be successful, but nobody ever expressed to me the importance of knowing people in the industry. I'm only just catching up now. Things have changed with the rise of big social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but there's a value in having industry contacts that you can count on to answer difficult questions or help you with your career. Go to events like conventions and writing festivals, book signings by other authors, or volunteer to be a slush-pile reader for a publishing company. Make contacts and make friends. There is a false perception that, as a writer, you're a glamorous soloist, but in this industry nobody is an island.

Thanks so much, James, for answering our questions. And if you'd like to read Crystal Promise, it is available tomorrow from Amazon and Barnes and Noble! 


  1. Great advice, James. And great interview to you both. I just wish networking wasn't harder than writing for me.

  2. Interesting, and I've always heard about the need to network, but I guess it's one of those things that you feel a bit weird doing before getting published, even though it's important.
    Thanks for James and Elizabeth :)