Jim Jackson is a Calgary Herald bestselling author, vintage leather jacket enthusiast and dabbler in the dark arts of blues music. Jim’s mission is to show how the stories we all grew up with – the heroes, the monsters, the adventures – are still solid, muscular realities that shape our lives.
He’s the author of How to Tell a Really Good Story about Absolutely Anything in 4 Easy Steps, Stones in My Passway: A Novel in Blues, and Kiss of the Cockroach Queen. Find out more at www.reallygoodstory.com.
Jim, thank you for agreeing to this interview. You have a phenomenal—and diverse—collection of publications. What were some of your influences that inspired your storytelling?
Honestly? Movies when I was a kid. And TV. Like, watching old G.I. Joe cartoons – what was the difference between bad ones (like when the Joes and Cobra Commander were chased by giant push mover) and the good ones (like when Dusty was caught selling secrets to Cobra to pay for his grandmother’s operation)?
It was story elements. So, I started playing my action figures that way – having complex story arcs that would unfold over months on top the regular mission stuff.
That’s where it started, I guess. And I’ve just continued telling stories from there – whether in prose, songs or presentations.
Your first release, How to Tell a Really Good Story about Absolutely Anything in 4 Easy Steps, seems like a great resource for anyone writing a book to telling a tale around a campfire. Besides what we expect to be a four-step program, what should readers expect from this handbook?
A lot of the day-job work I do is teaching public speaking. To accountants. I always tell them to open their presentations with a personal story – you know, like a TED talk.
But not everyone can just do that – especially if it’s a technical topic. That’s where the idea came from – how can you take anything and storify it to make your message memorable and meaningful.
Basically, readers can expect a no-nonsense look at what makes people want to read or listen to a story. Any story. I don’t go into inspiration or feeding the muse or anything. Just the nuts and bolts, distilled from centuries of storytelling, supported by a little modern neuroscience and underpinned with the mythic structure of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
Because this has consistently been my most popular title, I’m currently working on a follow-up aimed specifically at writers. This one focuses on how you can deepen your writing using mythic structure. Look for that this summer.
Stones In My Passway has a great tagline: “a folklore-laden, bluesy trip to the devil’s crossroads with bluenotes and hellhounds tripping behind the beat”. Give us some insight how you blended music and writing to craft this story.
Music has always been a central part of what I do. I first started writing so that I could write songs. My prose came much later, but still kept some musicality in its DNA.
I had this idea of writing based on the blues myth of making a deal with the devil at the crossroads. When NaNoWriMo 2016 came, that was the idea I went with.
And sure there’s blues imagery – crossroads, hellhounds, the whole thing – but what I really enjoyed was the blues cadence in the prose. To keep up the word count for NaNo, I’d set up my dictation software then noodle around on some blues guitar as I wrote. I think that really brought some flavor into the writing.
Since then, whenever I do a book reading for it, I like to take a guitar and add some mood music, so the audience can get a feel of what I heard when I wrote it. You can check out a sample .
Admittedly, your Kiss of the Cockroach Queen, looks like it would be right up my alley. Credited as a fantasy noir and old-style pulp story, I suspect I would have a hard time putting it down. Did you have problems keeping the suspense and tone of the story at par to meet the expectations of readers? Will we see more old-style pulp fiction from you in the future?
You know, this was never meant to see the light of day. I wrote it for fun, but had so much fun writing it, I figured people would have fun reading it, too. I’d always wanted to write something set in Hong Kong, my favorite city in the world.
As for pacing, suspense and that – because I was just enjoying the writing so much, it was pretty easy going. (Certainly not like all books).
I love writing that kind of hard-boiled pulp, especially mixed with creatures from world myth. I call it pulp mythology. And yes, there will be quite a few more in this vein. In fact, the second book featuring this world and this character, Bones by Breakfast, comes out in March.
Tony Phillips has co-written Dispatches from an Accidental Sex Tourist with you to be released soon. The fact that you placed this story in the center of Communist China sent me into a fit of laughter, hinting at the comedic nature of the book. Any news you can share on the release date?
“Soon” might be an exaggeration. The thing with co-authors is that they have lives and won’t just drop everything when I’m ready to take the next step with the book. Selfish. 😊
I really hope we can get back to it soon – it’s really quite a blast to write. If there’s anything better than writing comedy, it’s writing sex comedy!
But, if anyone’s interested, I read an excerpt for an annual un-Valentine’s event we do called Bloody Offensive at an indie bookstore in town – a selection of writers trying to out-offend each other. You can check that out below. (For adults only. And if you have a heart condition, please be warned.)
We must discuss your music album, Flypaper Motel. I listened to I Left a Woman Waiting Blues (and a half dozen other songs), and could not stop thinking about how much of this style is lost on the modern generation. Tell us what you can about your music and how you began your musical journey.
I was pretty awkward in junior high. Well, who wasn’t? Until I found an old vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits in my father’s record collection. I had no idea you could do those kinds of things with just words and a guitar! So, I traded my Sega Genesis (yeah, I go back that far) for a Fender acoustic, ready to be cool and meet girls.
Turns out it’s pretty hard to learn guitar.
But, with the help of the wonderfully supportive open stage community, I learned. I was going to be a folk star.
Then life happened.
I gave it up for a long time. Or at least, I tried. Music always flitted around the edges of who I was. Until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
After writing Stones in My Passway, I got heavily back into acoustic blues. I dusted off some of my old songs. I went to some open stages.
And man! I was rusty.
But again, I stuck with it. And, in the modern world, it’s easier than ever to put out an indie album. Releasing Flypaper Motel was a huge bucket list thing for me. My 15-year-old self would be proud.
Musically, I like to describe the record as Robert Johnson meets Leonard Cohen on the high prairies. It’s the kind of music you listen to on a road trip alone. The kind of music that reflects the melancholy of driving, tinged with the hopefulness of destination.
What can we expect from you in 2019? Will you be publishing any more stories?
Like I mentioned – the second King Wong book, Bones by Breakfast, following up on the heels of Kiss of the Cockroach Queen comes out March 2019. Then, the summer sees Elemental Tales: How to Deepen Your Writing Using Mythic Structure released.
Past that, I have a few magazine pieces and am starting a series of videos to help people get their message across called Your Message, Your Way. You can check out the first one below.
It has been a pleasure, Jim! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
The pleasure’s mine! I’ll be at Creative Ink at Burnaby BC at the end of March and at When Words Collide in Calgary in August – both times talking about how you can deepen your writing using mythic structure.
Or you can always find me at www.ReallyGoodStory.com and Facebook.com/jim.jackson.author.
Plant you now, dig you later!