Pay Me In Flesh–Interview with Nationally Best-Selling Author James Scott Bell

Happy Halloween! Today, I have a special treat for you guys. We have been talking about structure for the past few weeks and one of the greatest resources available to writers is James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure. But, we can talk more about structure tomorrow. Few holidays offer such a rare opportunity to rufie & coerce….um, interview successful writers like Jim. Who needs a legitimate appointment for an interview when you have Snickers loaded with Rohypnol?

They fall for it every time!

For those who don’t know, not only is Jim an awesome writing teacher, he is also a very successful fiction author, and, before he was a writer, he was a lawyer. Thus, he brings a unique perspective to the fiction table through the P.O.V. of *drum roll* …a zombie. Now you guys understand why Jim was perfect to kidnap interview for Halloween.

Me: Jim, you awake?

Jim: Ow. My head…

Me: I have Red Bull and some aspirin…if you cooperate.

Jim: Am I in a van? I AM. Wait…this is the same van that abducted Jim Rollins isn’t it?

Me: Hey, I can’t help it you guys keep talking to strangers with candy.

Jim: Fair enough. You could just ASK for interviews, you know.

Me: But then what would I use this van for?

Jim: Good point.

Me: Okay, I want to talk about your new book PAY ME IN FLESH. Aside from having to eat brains and human flesh, what makes Mallory Caine different from herself after zombification?

Jim: Other than those minor matters, she doesn’t have a soul. She doesn’t feel at home in the world. She feels that forces outside her are trying to control her, and if she doesn’t reclaim her soul before some zombie killer gets her, she fears she will spend eternity in hell. The stakes, in other words, are kind of high.

Me: Wow. Great answer. You are very coherent for someone who’s been drugged and duct-taped to a bench seat.

Jim: Law school training *shrugs*

Me: What are your “world rules” for this series and how do they differ from standard zombie rules? For example, what is the explanation for the zombies retaining their mental faculties?

Jim: One nice thing about paranormal “rules” is that you can make them up as long as you’re consistent. I mean, zombies were not flesh eaters until George Romero. Before that they were simply mindless and controlled. I combined all of that, but with the proviso that a zombie with a strong enough will can resist being controlled. Mallory is strong-willed, for sure. She is fierce and intelligent and witty. But there’s something else going on, too. A greater scheme of things she is only slightly aware of….

….Can I get something to drink? I feel like I have a sock in my mouth.

Me: Oh, yes, well you did have a sock in your mouth. Sorry I picked the fuzzy pair. You can have something to drink…after the interview.

Jim: Fine. You see, Lucifer has decided to set up war headquarters in Los Angeles. Which means: stuff happens. She’s caught in the middle, caught between worlds—the world of the living and the dead, and the world of demons and angels and talking owls and ancient gods coming to LA for a confab.

Do you have a thing for kidnapping authors named “Jim?”

Me: Maybe. Back to my questions. How high (or low) is the rate of decay? Will Ms. Caine begin to lose body parts throughout the series?

Jim: Mallory has to take care of her skin, because it is subject to drying and falling off. She has to put special cream all over herself each day, and ingest shark cartilage. Her jaw will sometimes become loose and she has to knock it back in place. When she is knifed or shot, it leaves a mark. Eventually she could look like a dart board if she’s not careful.

Me:  Are zombies able to reproduce? Will Ms. Caine have an affair that results in a zombie baby?

Jim: One of the poignant subtexts is Mallory’s desire to have children and be married, but now, in her present condition, she can’t be either. When she gets close to a man she’s attracted to, she can’t help but think what his brain might taste like. It makes her sad and angry at the same time. Is there a chance she can ever get out of this condition? She keeps hoping, but hope is beginning to run thin unless she can find out who is behind her condition.

Me: Fantasy readers are notoriously picky and clannish. What are you offering to entice them over to your “camp”?

Jim: Something different. It’s good to stretch the genre a little bit. This has never been done before: a zombie legal thriller series with a first-person voice and hard boiled attitude. It really lets me combine a bunch of things I love into one narrative.

Also, these are not throw away stories in the legal department. Real questions about law as it would apply to paranormal beings is a great field for exploration.

For example, in PAY ME IN FLESH Mallory defends a vampire hooker accused of murder. A few questions arise: if they county locks her up, is she entitled to blood as a civil right? If she can’t come out in the daytime, doesn’t that mean the trial has to be held at night?

And so on. And when we get into a courtroom, I bring my trial experience to the pages. How would the questioning of a vampire? What expert witnesses would be brought in? How would a judge rule on points of evidence law?

Me: As a former attorney, how much of this is a reaction to the way people tend to treat lawyers in general?

Jim: I haven’t really thought of it in those terms. I did like the original spark: some people think there’s really no difference between lawyers and zombies! And I just felt a zombie was entitled to be a sympathetic lead character for change.

Me: In a comment on a recent interview, you mentioned J.J. Abrams, the director. Why was his the name that popped into your mind then as opposed to, say, Jerry Bruckheimer or even Joss Whedon?

Jim: That was in response to someone who said, “I think Zombie Lawyer in LA is one of the best high concept premises ever. I can already see the movies: Sandra Bullock as the lawyer, Scarlett Johansson as the vampire hooker and George Cloony as the Deputy DA.”

I said, “From your keyboard to J. J. Abrams’ ears.” Why Abrams? His record speaks for itself. He’s an outside-the-box guy.

Me: All the best fiction, be it written or film, teaches. What lesson do you want to teach with Mallory Caine as the instructor?

Jim: I actually don’t want to state the theme here. It is being developed all through the series. It will be much more satisfying for readers to get to it themselves.

But as for Mallory the character, her dedication to bringing justice to her clients is her passion. That’s what made the early Perry Mason books so popular. Mason was a fighter. So is Mallory Caine.

Me: Shaun of the Dead or Dawn of the Dead, and why?

Jim: Shaun, for sure. I like funny.

Me: For me to let you go, I need you to answer one key question.

Jim: What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Me: No, that was for the “Other Jim.”

Jim: Hmmm, and I’d been studying up on that just in case.

Me: Forget the swallows. If the answer is “42” then what is the question?

Jim: Life, the universe and everything, of course.

Me: I recommend tucking your body into a ball. The landing is easier.

Jim: Wha–? *door opens*

Me: NICE landing!

All right, I hope everyone enjoyed my interrogation interview with nationally best-selling author and awesome writing teacher James Scott Bell. Just so you know, no actual authors have been harmed during these abductions interviews. Oh, sure maybe there was a tad bit of psychological trauma, but just think of it this way. If they write what they know, their writing can only improve after such an experience. So think of this less as a “hostage situation” and more like…research.

Tomorrow we will resume talking about structure, and, if Jim forgives me for the whole “I drugged you then abducted you in a scary panel van” we might have him back to talk about writing and craft. I feel good about him returning, since everyone knows that writers are total masochists.

I hope all of you will run out and get a copy of PAY ME IN FLESH and EVERY WRITER needs a copy of Plot & Structure, especially those of you who might be new to the craft.

Do you guys have any questions for Jim? I can pass them on at my parole hearing. Any other authors you would like me to abduct interview? No, I will not abduct Bob Mayer. Research demonstrates that Green Berets only fall for the Free Candy thing 50% of the time. Too risky.

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of November, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I will announce the winners for last week and last month tomorrow.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left.


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  1. Love the Hitchhikers riffing. And last year I had the privilege to be in two workshops that Jim ran. They were fantastic. And his books too.

    • Mary Incontro on October 31, 2011 at 10:28 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for the post, Kristen. I will be at a workshop with James Scott Bell later this week!

  2. I just wanted to pop in and say how much I love James’s book, Plot & Structure. I bought it months ago and have encouraged other authors to purchase it, too. It’s a great reference tool.

  3. Very entertaining. Thanks for the fun interview and the chance to read more about Jim and his book. You two should do stand-up…or at least van-up.

    1. Yeah, the van has been very handy for making the boring normal interview more exciting…and illegal 😀

      1. Thank the cat-Gods my name ain’t Jim. LOL! Can’t wait for the next Jim-nasium interview.

  4. Thanks for this fun Halloween post. My well worn copy of Bell’s Plot & Structure sits between my dictionary and my thesaurus and of the three, I refer to Bell’s book more. I own four of Bell’s books on writing but have never read any of his fiction. I enjoy paranormal so this new novel sounds right up my alley. Like Bell, I’m a (“recovering”) lawyer so I’m intrigued to meet a female zombie lawyer.

  5. Bell’s Plot & Structure book is one of those I bought, read all the way through, and plan to read again. Excellent stuff. Enjoyed the interview. The novel sounds intriguing. (I was really pulling for him to get that 42 question correct, and he nailed it!)

    • Laurie Ryan on October 31, 2011 at 11:37 am
    • Reply

    What a hilarious, and timely, blog. I was at a writer’s conference this weekend and someone mentioned Jim’s Plot ans Structure book. I think I’m being sent a message. Time to go shopping…

  6. Kristen, great (& very funny) interview!! Thanks for inviting James Scott Bell to your blog!
    And, Mr. Bell, I’m a HUGE fan of Plot and Structure, marked that puppy up with all sorts of notes, pink highlights and dog ears…freaking fantastic book!!
    Your new novel sounds great, especially since zombies are so hot right now. I’m a huge Walking Dead fan (still have to watch last nights episode) and an undead story with the premise your novel appears to have sounds right up my alley.
    Can’t wait to crack it open and dig in:)
    Kristen, Mr. Bell, both of you have a very happy Halloween.
    Thanks so much!!

  7. What a great post to bring us on halloween. You do bring us some awesome quality Kristen, thanks!

    • Cindi Kerr on October 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for the abduction, er, interview with James Scott Bell. I haven’t read any of his fiction yet, but my dog-eared copy of Bell’s Plot & Structure is within easy reach. He has the rare ability to keep my attention even after I’ve written copy and chased kids all day.

  8. Great interview. Pay Me in Flesh definitely looks worth checking out.

    • Trish Loye Elliott on October 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm
    • Reply

    Great interview. I was lucky enough to take a couple of writing workshops taught by Jim. He’s an excellent teacher and his books are fantastic. I’ll definitely be checking out this one.

  9. You are hilarious. Poor Jim, he never had a chance. Anyone who chooses Shaun of the Dead is on my list. Love his Plot & Structure book ~ will definitely pick up Pay Me in Flesh.

  10. Thanks for all the kind words about Plot & Structure and workshops. I love teaching the craft. If you write, you are my friend!

  11. Kristen, your unique approach to interviews makes my day! Your wit is gripping, as well as the flow of the interview. Fantastic. And I am intrigued by his new book.

    If readers of this blog are in the Houston area, check this out. “THE STORY MASTERS featuring: Donald Maass, Christopher Vogler, James Scott Bell. November 3-6, Houston, TX. But hooray for the Pacific Northwest. The seminar is coming to Seattle in 2012.

    • Alicia Street on October 31, 2011 at 1:30 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for this, Kristen! Just what I needed today! Also, Plot & Structure is my absolute favorite craft book. I keep going back to it again and again. Jim’s book on editing is also great.

  12. Fun interview! Jim sounds like a great guy…I think has something to do with the name ‘Jim’. (My husband’s name, too) I love his writing books and his fiction, but I’m one those who just can’t take paranormal stories seriously and so can’t get into them. I wish him all the best, though, with his.

    I’d love to see you interview Jeffrey Deaver, John Grisham, Daniel Silva or Michael Connelly; or Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, Kristin Hannah, Kim Edwards, Barbara Delinsky, or anyone else you’d like.

  13. Kristen, you bring it like no one else. Great interview. I’m especially partial to all things zombies so I love hearing people talk shop about them, especially someone with a mind like your victim, er, interviewee.

  14. Wow. Interesting. And here I thought Jim was one of the ‘normal’ ones. Oh well. There goes that theory. And dang if I didn’t want to put a vampire hooker in my next book. On to the next idea I guess. By the way, Kristen, if you ever want to interview me, could you just email me? I have an aversion to duct tape, confined dark spaces and fast-moving vehicles.

  15. Sparkling blog. Will get Bell’s book. I never stop learning. We can always use information to hone the craft. Not into zombies but Shaun of the Dead was a hoot. As always your blog serves to motivate me to press on. Thanks.

  16. Great post, Kristen. You were definitely channeling your inner zany for this. (And I can’t believe all these rockstar authors have such a candy fetish!)

  17. Great interview, Kristen and Jim. When I purchase a future book (PAY ME IN FLESH was written before the abduction, right?), and the beginning dialog is “Hmmph, Grgle. Mumph,” can I assume it was started while under scary-red-van-arrest? Or, are those the sounds a zombie makes while consuming human brains?

  18. Wonderful interview- very fun and the book sounds great! I hope you remembered to exhale when you hit the ground it makes the landing less painful.

  19. Great kidnapping, er, interview! I’ve read Jim’s writing books and “Pay Me in Flesh” as well. I highly recommend the writing books to every writer and “Pay Me in Flesh” for anyone who is interested in paranormal fiction. It’s lots of fun.

  20. Where have I been? Clearly I need plot and structure and PAY ME IN FLESH. I cannot wait until this semester ends so I can take a break from reading student papers and read more about writing. (This is not to imply I don’t love my students’ papers…) 😉

  21. D’oh! PLOT AND STRUCTURE. *stupid cap lock.*

  22. Zombies are awesome, and so was this interview.

    Me: For me to let you go, I need you to answer one key question.

    Jim: What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

  23. Where do I get a creepy halloween van?

    Tell Jim “thanks” for not revealing his theme.

  24. I love your interviews. 🙂 And the 42 question? Priceless.

  25. I checked out PLOT & STRUCTURE from my local library last week & it has proven to be a real lifesaver. I plan to purchase a copy in the near future, as one read-through just isn’t enough. I didn’t realize until this “interview” that JSB writes fiction, so I am def. gonna check out this zombie series. Sounds fabulous! 🙂

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