Q&A with James A. Hunter, Strange Magic Excerpt

Strange Magic (Yancy Lazarus #1)

  • By James A. Hunter
  • Editions: ebook, paperback
  • Published: January 16th 2015 by Shadow Alley Press
  • Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
  • Yancy Lazarus is having a bad day: there’s a bullet lodged in his butt cheek, his face looks like the site of a demolition derby, and he’s been saran-wrapped to a banquet table. He never should have answered the phone. Stupid bleeding heart—helping others in his circles is a good way to get dead.
    Just ask the gang members ripped to pieces by some kind of demonic nightmare in LA. As a favor to a friend, Yancy agrees to take a little looksee into the massacre and boom, he’s stuck in a turf war between two rival gangs, which both think he’s pinch-hitting for the other side. Oh, and there’s also a secretive dark mage with some mean ol’ magical chops and a small army of hyena-faced, body-snatching baddies. It might be time to seriously reconsider some of his life choices.
    Yancy is a bluesman, a rambler, a gambler, but not much more. Sure, he can do a little magic—maybe even more than just a little magic—but he knows enough to keep his head down and stay clear of freaky-deaky hoodoo like this business in LA. Somehow though, he’s been set up to take a real bad fall—the kind of very permanent fall that leaves a guy with a toe tag. Unless, of course, he can find out who is responsible for the gangland murders, make peace in the midst of the gang feud, and take out said dark mage before he hexes Yancy into an early retirement. Easy right? Stupid. Bleeding. Heart.

    ~ Bewitching BT

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    The piano keys bobbed and danced under the pressure of my fingers. Music—low, slow, and soulful—drifted through the club, merging and twirling with wandering clouds of blue-gray smoke. So many places have no-smoking laws these days, it seems like there’s nowhere in the country where a guy can take a drag from a cigarette in peace. Everyone is so worried about their health, they make damn sure you stay healthy by proxy.
    Not Nick’s Smoke House, though. Nick’s—like some rare, near extinct animal—is the kind of bar where you can die unmolested by laws or ordinances. You can burn yourself up with cancer, drown yourself into liver failure, or binge on a plate of ribs until a heart attack takes you cold, and no one will say boo. And you can die to music here: the beautiful, lonely, brassy beats, of the like only ever found in New Orleans.
    The house band was on a break, so I sat thumping out an old Ray Charles tune in the interim while I watched the man standing offstage in a pool of inky shadow.
    I’d never met the guy before, but I instinctively knew he was looking for me, or rather The Fixer—a shitty alias I’ve been trying to ditch for years. It was in the way he stood: chest forward, back straight, arms crossed, chin outthrust. He was a man used to intimidating others, used to being obeyed. In short, he was a thug. A thug sporting an expensive suit, a three-thousand dollar watch, and a pair of loafers that probably cost more than most people paid on rent. At the end of the day, though, he was still just a thug—somebody else’s trained pit bull.
    I don’t know why, but thugs are always looking for The Fixer. Either they’ve got something that needs fixing or they’re looking to fix me. I didn’t know whether this guy wanted option A or option B, but I figured he’d get around to it in his own sweet time. So, instead of tipping my hand prematurely, I continued to pound out melodies on the black and whites. My Ray Charles faded out, and I started up a gritty, ambling version of Meade “Lux” Lewis’ famous “Honky Tonk Train Blues.”
    My left hand hammered out the thudding, rhythmic, rock-steady pulse of a driving train pushing its bulk across the rolling open space of some forgotten Midwest wilderness; the bass notes offered a mimicry of the ebb and flow of pumping gears. My right hand flitted across the keys, touching down here and there, sending up a rusty whistle blowing in the night. The dusty clatter of track switches being thrown. The braying of hounds, while bullyboys searched for stowaways. If there was ever a song to make a man dance his way onto the boxcar of a rolling train, it was this funky ol’ honky-tonk rhythm.
    I let the beat roll on, hoping the thug would hop and jive his way right out of Nick’s Smoke House and out of my life, no harm, no foul. Though a whole helluva lot a people think of me as The Fixer, really I’m just an old rambler trying to get by and enjoy the time I have on this spinning little mud ball. All I wanted was for this overdressed clown to walk away and leave me be.
    The man in the black suit just glared at me like I’d offered him an insult, and I knew then things would not end well between us. Still, I mostly ignored him. I should’ve been worried, but I wasn’t.
    I’ve been around for a good long while, and I don’t scare easy.
    After what felt like an age, the hulking suit stepped up to the stage and into a pool of soft amber light, illuminating his features for the first time. He was enormous, six and a half feet of pro wrestling muscle, with a pushed-in nose and military cropped blond hair. His face was a mosaic of scars, though the thick tissue on his knuckles put them all to shame. One meaty paw lifted back a coat lapel, revealing the glint of chromed metal: a Colt 1911.
    A Colt 1911 is a big gun, not the kind of thing a person normally chooses as a concealed carry. The things are too large to conceal easily, and they can be awkward to draw on the fly, so he probably wasn’t here to assassinate me. A pro assassin would never have used something as ostentatious and conspicuous as this McGoon’s 1911. A hitter would’ve chosen a sleek, nondescript .22. The kind of gun that’s easy to hide, would go off unnoticed, get the job done without much mess, and could be disposed of in a dumpster somewhere. This guy’s choice of weapon told me he was intimidating muscle, but likely better with his fists than with his piece.
    “Yancy Lazarus?” he asked with a low voice like grating cement. “You the guy who fixes things?”
    Yep, a thug.
    I could’ve denied it, but the guy had found me fair and square, so it was safe to assume he already knew the answer. I nodded my head a fraction of an inch. That was all. I went right on playing as though I hadn’t noticed his veiled threat or didn’t care. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suicidal and I’m not a pompous jackass—at least that’s not how I see myself—but I knew I could take this guy. I had an edge, although Macho Man Hulk in the other corner didn’t know it.
    I can do magic and not the cheap kind of stuff you see in Vegas with flowers, or floating cards, or disappearing stagehands. People like me, who can touch the Vis, can do real magic. Although magic isn’t the right word: magic is a Rube word, for those not in the know, which is precisely why we who practice call it the Vis in the first place. Vis is an old Latin word meaning force or energy, nothing fancy about it.
    There are energies out there, underlying matter, existence, and in fact, all Creation. As it happens, I can manipulate that energy. Period. End of story.


    Hey folks, my name is James Hunter and I’m a former Marine Corps Sergeant, combat veteran, and pirate hunter (seriously). I’m also an Urban Fantasy writer—not that you’ll catch me making that confession in public. I’m the author of the Yancy Lazarus series, which revolves around the adventures and various shenanigans of Yancy Lazarus, a magical, wet-works man turned rambling blues hound. I’d just like to take a quick moment to thank the butterfly team for having me on their excellent blog.

    1. What was the source of inspiration for your protagonist? What about your antagonist?
    Yancy Lazarus—a Vietnam era, magical fix it man turned itinerant blues-hound—was based partly on my, now deceased, father, who was himself a rambling, itinerant blues-hound. Well, my dad and Bruce Willis as officer John McClane from any of the Die Hard movies.

    2. Your all time favorite book?
    I’m going to go with Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World: Book One of ‘The Wheel of Time.’

    3. What made you pick that one above all others?
    Eye of the World was my first real exposure to adult high fantasy, and definitely had a huge influence on me as a reader and writer. In fact, my first novel—a terrible high/epic fantasy novel, which will never, ever, ever see the light of day—was loosely inspired by that The Eye of the World.

    4. What’s the longest time you’ve spent working on a project?
    My first novel—that terrible one I eluded to above—took more than four years, though that was in my early writing years, when I worked sporadically. These days, a book usually takes four or five months from beginning to release.

    5. Was there ever a time, during your work on the e-book/book, when you felt like giving up? What made you change your mind?
    Honestly, I feel like quitting all the time. Writing is awesome. Editing, sucks the soul from my writerly body. But worst of all is release times. There’s always a million things to do—most of which are administrative or marketing—and it can be really draining. Plus, there’s a lot of excitement mingling with anxiety that can grind you down. Usually I feel like quitting during releases … but the writing bug always brings me back.

    6. What does your day-to-day life consist of? What else do you do, aside writing?
    Right now, I’m a stay at home father with a toddler, and boy let me tell you toddlers are a crazy-pants amount of work. My little girl is a beautiful, awesome, destructive ball of chaos, dedicated to undoing anything I attempt to do. When I’m not doing housework, cooking, watching my baby girl, or writing, I really enjoy reading and sleep—generally in that order.

    7. How do you deal with bad reviews or acid criticism? What would you advise other authors to that effect?
    I’ll admit, negative reviews can be awfully painful to receive as an author. If you’re an author, you’ve spent months or even years crafting this thing and then someone comes along, and in two poorly spelled sentences, rips apart all your hard work—it hurts. With that said, it is never appropriate to respond to those reviews. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t have thick skin, don’t read the reviews; just stay away. If you do have thick skin, you might be able to learn a thing or two.
    Mostly though, you should remember that reviews aren’t really even for you. They’re for other readers. When you write a book, you’re making art. When you publish a book, it becomes a product—a product no different from a vacuum or a blender. If someone buys your blender/book, they have the right to say they didn’t like it. If I buy a blender and it sucks, I’m not going to think, Gee, I bet the folks who designed and built this blender really put a lot of effort into it, and that should influence my review. Nope. I’m gonna think, This blender is terrible, I’m going to tell other potential blender buyers why this product wasn’t for me.

    8. Is this title part of a series? Without giving us spoilers, of course, what can we expect from the next e-books/books in the series?
    Yes this is a part of a series. More action, more wise-cracks, more shoot-‘em-up goodness, and lots of crazy twists. Overall, I’d say the other books are also much better books. I still think Strange Magic is a great book, but I’ve grown a lot as a writer and storyteller since then and I think it shows in the next several books.

    9. What do you have stored for us in the future? What are you working on/planning on next, aside this title/series?
    Currently, I’m working on a new Urban Fantasy series—a spin off novel that takes place in the same “universe” as the Yancy Lazarus series. The book is called “Mud-Man” and I’m hoping to have it out by the beginning of February. Here’s a little teaser:
    Levi Adams is a soft spoken, middle-aged, Mennonite man—at least he tries to be when he’s not murdering people.
    Levi’s a Golem, a Mud-man, crafted from the muck, mire, and corpses of a World War II concentration camp—killing is just a part of his DNA. He doesn’t like it, but unfortunately he’s been saddled with a divine commission to dole out judgement on those who shed innocent blood. After a lifetime as a cold-blooded, murder machine, however, Levi’s trying to change his grisly nature. And the AA meetings and church services are helping. A little. But when he runs across a wounded girl during one of his “hunting expeditions,” he realizes self-help may have to go on the backburner.
    Someone is attempting to revive an ancient godling and the road to rebirth is paved with dead bodies. Lots and lots of them.
    Now, Levi must protect the girl—the key to an unspeakable resurrection—and defeat a Nazi Mage from Levi’s murky past. But the shadowy Mage holds a terrible secret about the Mud-man’s unorthodox birth, one offering insight into Levi’s morbid compulsion for blood shed. It’s a secret Levi would pay anything to discover: maybe even the innocent girl in his care. If Levi isn’t careful, though, he may end up as the Mage’s final sacrifice.

    10. What made you decide to go the self-pub way?
    I like being in control of the content I produce—I like deciding what to write, what to cut, what to keep, what my cover will look like—and all of those influenced me to self-publish. I also like that I can make my products inexpensive (normally priced books are only $3.99) while still making more per copy than a traditional author. Most of all though, I decided to self-publish because I hate waiting. Traditional publishing is so S.L.O.W. Everything takes months and months and months, and then even if you sell a book, it can take a year or more before it releases. As a self-published author, I’m free to produce and release as much (or as little) content as I choose.

    11. What would you say was the toughest part?
    All the admin stuff—marketing, taxes, business reports. As an author publisher, you don’t have the luxury of being just a writer, you need to be a business person and a small business owner, which can be tough if you’re not ready for it.

    12. Did you hire professionals for editing, cover design, formatting?
    Yes, absolutely. Again, to me self-publishing is a business and if you expect to make money you need to treat it like a business, which means investing in your business. It’s true that you might not recoup your investment (many small business fall flat), but if you produce a bad product (lousy cover, terrible editing, unreadable formatting) and expect people to pay you for your work, you’re not likely to succeed.

    13. How did you decide who to hire, if you worked with pros?
    I went on a lot of different self-publishing forums and checked out the KBoard Yellow Pages. My cover designer—Dane at EBookLaunch—has been great and I’ve used him from the beginning. Finding a good editor was a bit trickier. I’ve gone through three editors so far and I’ve finally found one that I feel like is worth the money: Tamara Blain (http://www.acloserlookediting.com/).

    14. How long did the production part take, from the moment you began working on the manuscript to self-pub to when you hit ‘Publish’?
    Strange Magic took roughly a year to produce, but I’ve refined the process a bit and now I can finish a book—writing through release—in about five months. Maybe four.

    15. Where is your work being distributed, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, AllRomanceEbooks/Omnilit, some other distributor? How did you decide which one(s) to go with?
    My books are exclusive with Amazon. I know there are some healthy markets out there, but Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program has really been beneficial for me. A substantial chunk of monthly revenue comes from KDP Select.

    16. If you were to recommend one article, blog, post, or book to someone hoping to self-pub, what would it be?
    For anyone considering self-publishing, I’d recommend buying the Indie-Author Power Pack (three books technically). Read Write. Publish. Repeat. by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt and Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran.

    17. What’s one characteristic of an author who self-publishes, one word that would describe them?
    Fun facts:
    1. Name your favorite fruit.
    Longan—it’s a strange, but delicious, fruit found in South East Asia.
    2. Coffee or tea?
    I love tea (nice cup of Earl Grey? Oh yeah) but in a contest? Coffee all the way.
    3. Favorite season?
    Fall. It’s nice cool, jacket weather, but not necessarily cold. Plus you get all the great color from the leaves changing—also Halloween.
    4. How about fav time of 24 hours?
    I love the morning—the 7 AM to 9 AM window. I usually feel rejuvenated, plus that’s the time I tend to write, which always makes me happy.
    5. Favorite food for breakfast?
    McDonald’s Sausage and Egg McMuffin, and please, no judgment.
    6. Latest book you’ve bought and read?
    I just finished The Blues Blazes by Chuck Wendig. A really amazing book (lots of strong language, so be warned) that I would highly recommend.
    7. Drama or comedy?
    Comedy, because laughter is just so good for the soul.
    8. Cats or dogs?
    Tough one, it really could go either way I suppose. I guess I lean slightly toward cats because they’ve got a lot of attitude and don’t take crap from anyone—I can respect that.
    9. Dinner by candlelight or a night out clubbing?
    Though I’m only twenty-nine, I’ve been married for nine years, so my clubbing days are well behind me (who am I kidding? I never had clubbing days, not even in the Marines). I’ll gladly take a candlelight dinner—or really any dinner where my toddler isn’t trying to stab me with a fork—over the club any day of the week.

    About the Author & Links:

    Hey all, my name is James Hunter and I’m a writer, among other things. So just a little about me: I’m a former Marine Corps Sergeant, combat veteran, and pirate hunter (seriously). I’m also a member of The Royal Order of the Shellback—‘cause that’s a real thing. And, a space-ship captain, can’t forget that.

    Okay … the last one is only in my imagination.

    Currently, I work as a missionary and international aid worker with my wife and young daughter in Bangkok, Thailand. When I’m not working, writing, or spending time with family, I occasionally eat and sleep. Strange Magic is the first novel in the Yancy Lazarus series—the third, full-length novel, Wendigo Rising, just released on November 3rd, 2015.

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