HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Jim Jackson is such a numbers guy! He's the only author I've ever heard who describes rejections by weight. And--because Jim can talk about math in a fascinating way--it actually makes sense.
And what do Sara Paretsky and peanut butter have in common? Jim can explain that, too.
After I finished my “practice novel” and had it rejected by tons of agents (I figure it at 7.5 tons: 100 agents at an assumed average 150 lbs.) I despaired. Mostly the feedback was a simple rejection, but on several occasions the feedback included a statement that they couldn’t sell it people my protagonist didn’t fit what people were reading.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take a master class from one of my favorite authors. Sara Paretsky taught the class in conjunction with a Love is Murder conference. She gave us an exercise to write using as fodder several seemingly random words. (I remember peanut butter being one.)
We shared our pieces aloud, and mine felt pathetic compared to most of the other offerings.
But after the class was over, Sara came over to me and told me that I had an interesting voice and I shouldn’t let people try to change it. At the time I had no clue exactly what that meant, but I knew enough to realize she was talking about my writing, not my dulcet baritone.
When I eventually understood what she meant by voice, Sara’s little pat on the back became only one of two gifts from her. Her second was her own example. When she wrote her first VI Warshawski novel (published 1982) people weren’t reading books about female PIs. A few such novels existed, and when it came to women, people seemingly cared more about “Charlie’s Angels” than about a realistic woman.
Which did not stop Sara or Sue Grafton. They wrote what they wanted and changed the rules for female crime protagonists.
I wanted to write about Seamus McCree—a good guy; a guy who cares deeply for his son, a guy who struggles with relationships; a guy with a strong sense of right and wrong, but who is faced with choices that are shaded in grays; a guy who abhors violence because he senses he is carrying anger inside himself; a guy who has succeeded financially in the world, but knows that isn’t really what matters.
I chose to write about financial crimes because those are what interest me, and I can explain complex finances in ordinary English that people can understand.
Sara by word and example gave me permission to write the kind of book I wanted to read, regardless of whether an agent ever wanted to represent it. After writing about Seamus for several years I now think of him as a mash-up of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport and Winnie the Pooh.
Midwest Review concluded its recommended pick review of Cabin Fever, “With its combination of social consciousness, political action, intrigue, and family relationships, Cabin Fever will satisfy any mystery or thriller reader."
To that wonderful black and white statement, I’ll add some gray. If a mystery reader wants a nice cozy they’ll find I use some bad language and show some violence. And I don’t write a superhero who singlehandedly saves the world. I do have faith though that there are enough readers who will like my protagonist and want to read my kind of writing.
If that’s the kind of book you’d like to read wrapped in a fast-paced story, then give me a try. I hope you’ll enjoy Seamus and his friends, because if enough of you do, I get to keep writing about them.
Regardless, I am enjoying my writing. So Reds, anything you were told is a waste of your time that you knew deep down was bad advice?
HANK: Bad advice. Huh. Still thinking about that. But good advice? How about this: Leave a comment for us, and we will give a copy of the Jim-book of your choice to one lucky winner!
James Montgomery Jackson
"Writing about when Honesty Isn't Everything"
CABIN FEVER (Seamus McCree mystery #2) Released April 8, 2014
BAD POLICY (Seamus McCree mystery #1) 
ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to start winning at bridge