Author James Beach is fascinated by science, politics and history and is magnetically drawn to the bizarre and the metaphysical. Through his writing, he takes aim at these subjects and fires arrows dipped in satire.
His work is perhaps best described as “tales for grown-up children.” His published works include My Undead Dad, Peas in a Pod, and his most recent book, The Hollyweird Show, which tells the story of cartoon characters and the world they go to once they’ve been rejected by their creators.
James is currently working on a novel entitled Two-Fisted Jesus Tales, a dark satire that explores the belief systems of conservative Christians. Readers can learn more about James and his writing at his website, www.jimbeach.net.
I don’t really miss a lot. I miss my grandmother, who died when I was ten. After she died, my rather difficult childhood became even tougher. I’m sure many others have had it worse. But I’m glad I was able to grow out of it. I think it’s easy for us alleged adults to forget how tough it was to be children — essentially, to be powerless. We all wanted to grow up and manage our own lives, and thankfully we can. Whatever the circumstances of our adult lives, we can make our own choices.
Creatively-speaking, who have been your biggest inspirations?
Science-fiction and fantasy authors first, they really spoke to me from a very early age. Not only as escapism — but also by offering hope and possibility. By giving me knowledge and comfort of how things really should be, and also of how people are with each other. By illustrating worlds with characters who expressed not only resilience but nobility, under difficult circumstances.
In particular I really enjoyed J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Piers Anthony, Alan Dean Foster, and Larry Niven. Later I also got very into Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Robert Anton Wilson — all great writers and, in their own ways, verbal Zen masters.
I also am very inspired by comedians, just in how they approach the world and how they think. How the best comedians manage to express how they feel the world should be, while not preaching. My current heroes are comedians, actually — Louis CK, Jon Stewart, Patton Oswalt. Other comedians I’ve been influenced by just in terms of worldview are Patrice O’Neal, Monty Python, Stephen Colbert, George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Finding out what I’m thinking, and what that makes me want to say.
What is your writing process? Do you start with an outline and work chronologically, or is your process more haphazard?
My writing process is basically: an idea occurs to me that I fall in love with, and then I pursue it : ) I’ve pursued ideas from either side of the plotting spectrum: meticulously work out a plot down to the scene level, or diving right in with no beginning plot structure at all. What currently works best for me is a hybrid of the two. I pick the main characters and know the beginning and the end, and let them wander in that general direction until they get there — or somewhere better.
The problem I have with meticulous plotting is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for discovery, happy accidents, and the ways that your own characters and world can surprise you. For me, that kind of plotting is really dependent on knowing for sure that your best ideas have occurred to you in the plotting stage. You can always rewrite, of course — but I find rewriting painful if it’s at a structural level, because anything you change affects everything else that’s already been written.
I think as story structure and conflict have become more familiar to me, I’ve been able to create a structure more easily on the fly. But an arc remains very important.
What’s the best piece of advice — writing advice or otherwise — that you’ve received?
Kurt Vonnegut said that his favorite thing about writing is, you can rewrite as many times as you like. So, after a while, you can’t help but say something at least halfway intelligent.
Joss Whedon, among many wise things, said that it can be useful to write the scenes that you love most first. And then connect them with the scenes you have to write. I don’t only write this way, but I’ve found it quite useful.
And once when I was complaining about some painful writing to a songwriter friend of mine, and wondering what project I should embark on next, she said to pick the idea that most lights me up. It seems simple and obvious perhaps, but it’s easy to miss. There are many ways we can weight ideas — which seem clever, or easy to knock out, or creatively daring, commercially viable, etc. All of those are fine qualities. But the key element is having an idea you love. Really, an idea that you can feel privileged to express, just because it’s so much fun. I find that outlook puts every other quality of idea, purpose, and element of craft into a proper perspective.
What are your goals with Two-Fisted Jesus Tales, and what challenges have you faced in bringing the novel to life?
My main goal was to explore this really fun, outrageous idea. : ) And pursue it on multiple levels — both as a straight-faced deadpan satire and an actual adventure novel. Left Behind meets Jack Reacher. And making it work as a pulp thriller. I’ve even coined a new potential genre for it — “Apocalypse Noir.”
Probably the biggest challenge has been making the title character likable. He’s been very fun to write, just in terms of expressing my own shadow. I get to say and do the most appalling things! But to readers outside my head, that could make him just a right-wing bully. It’s unpleasant to be with a character you really don’t like for an entire novel. So I worked pretty hard, and am still working pretty hard, on getting beneath that surface level. What would lead a man who’s not a sociopath into believing and being the way he is? How can we relate to what he thinks that he’s trying to do?
I’m really enjoying facing these kinds of challenges. I’ve already written through a first draft of the entire trilogy, and it’s one of the quickest as well as longest things I’ve ever written. It’s already a trilogy — a Trinity, if you will. And so much fun. It’s taught me so much about writing, and even more, what I want to write in the future. Having this much fun writing something is not only inspiring. It also sets the bar for my future works.
Which Game of Thrones character do you most identify with?
I most identify with The Hound. There’s something about his unflinching acceptance of very uncomfortable things, his total lack of pretension, that I find utterly relatable. At the same time, he’s a killer. But, for all his expressed cynicism and amorality, he only kills in defense of others or himself. So, in the couple of glimpses inside his armor that Martin gives us, we find his roughness and brutality exists to protect himself emotionally as well as physically. His lack of pretense is revealed, in a way, as a different kind of disguise — his way to pretend that he isn’t, at his heart, a man who wants to do good even though he’s been badly wounded by the world.
What’s the most memorable concert you’ve attended?
“Monsters of Rock.” That concert was a mess, and had a lot of bands who weren’t that good. At the same time, it was a lot of fun for those exact reasons.
One of the most enjoyable and good shows that I’ve seen, has been the Church of John Coltrane in San Francisco. They’re an actual church, ordained with an outreach and a homeless food drive. They consider John Coltrane to be a modern prophet of the gospel of Jesus, and they worship by jamming on his songs (quite well, with an accomplished jazz band with vocalists), interspersed with sermons based on his life.
If you were to be declared Supreme Ruler of Earth, what would be your first actions as leader?
Off the top of my head, declare that all children must be well-fed and well-educated first, and all the rest of the remaining resources going towards creating renewable energy systems. If and when the world is run entirely on renewable systems, we won’t need fossil fuels, which means our nations also won’t need (and create fig-leaf excuses for) a far-flung military to ensure our access to them.
As an afterthought, the development of a 100% reliable truth detector, that anyone in office must pass on a weekly basis. And, why not, you personally get all the ice cream you want for the rest of your life. Without getting fat. Unless of course you want to.