Interview with Adam-Michael James

Welcome to sffworld.com, Adam-Michael. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Well, first, let me say that I’m very honored and excited to be reviewed and interviewed on Sffworld.com. This is a very definitive sci-fi/fantasy site and to be included on it…well, like I said, it’s an honor.

About me…such a simple question with such a complex answer! Um, I’m from Fairbanks, Alaska, I’m 33 years old, brown hair, brown eyes…why do I feel like I’m composing a personal ad? I love to write, but I also love listening to music and occasionally creating it. I love Bewitched and Madonna and I like to think of myself as a non-conformist that’s always trying to grow and evolve.

Are you a fan of the speculative fiction genre, and if so, who are your favourite authors.

I’m much less of a reader now than I used to be when I was a kid, I’m kind of ashamed to admit. I’d much rather write than read, and it’s hard for me to stick to something longer than a magazine article. I will say that I’ve always been more interested in televised and cinematic sci-fi and fantasy. I like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager (not too fond of Deep Space Nine or the original series) and I absolutely loved V. I’ve had authors like Octavia Butler and Harry Turtledove recommended to me, so I might be checking out some of their books when the spirit moves me.

Undo The Deed appears to be your first major publication; have you had any other publishing successes?

Nothing that’s really worth mentioning. The rare letter to the editor or commentary. Undo the Deed is indeed the first. Hopefully not my last!

The issue of Time Travel is a major part of your novel. What are your thoughts on the so-called “Grandfather paradox”, where if you went back in time and accidentally killed your grandfather, would you still exist and therefore even be able to go back in time in the first place?

Good God, that’s complex. I didn’t even know that concept had a name.

I guess it depends on how you look at it. One would think if you had the means to go back in time, you’d be careful enough not to endanger your own existence. I actually don’t see the paradox in that. If you killed your grandfather, then you, also, would cease to exist; end of story. The time line would rewrite itself and all evidence of you would be erased. That was big in Back to the Future, wasn’t it? That Marty’s presence had prevented his parents’ romance, so he was in danger of zapping himself and his siblings out of existence? I had a little of that in Undo the Deed, but not to where it dominated the story. Amanda has a moment during the drag race scene—in which both her future parents are involved—that if one of them dies, she might disappear. She doesn’t really stop to think, otherwise, “Oh, I might be keeping my parents apart and preventing my own birth”.

The interesting thing was, as the story sort of told itself—I mean, layers that ended up in there are only now making themselves known to me—that whatever’s supposed to happen is going to happen despite our best efforts to change it. The only difference is in how we get there, and what we learn in the process. I loved how they handled that in the movie Sliding Doors; here you had one benign moment split into these parallel universes, each seemingly so different from the other, and yet it all came down to the exact same thing happening anyway, albeit at a later date. And I think that brings us back to the “grandfather paradox” you spoke of—if you have the power to go back in time, then you’d better respect it—kind of like the Temporal Prime Directive onStar Trek—because one tiny thing can have an enormous impact on other things you wouldn’t even connect it to. Isn’t that what happened in Frequency? See, I told you I’m much more into movies!

I suppose another way to look at it is to delve into the parallel universe idea, but we’d be here all day if I get going on that!

What was the genesis of Undo the Deed?

Back to the movies thing…I was really into Back to the Future and I’d just seen Peggy Sue Got Married, so I had time travel on the brain. I mean, this was in 1986. One day I decided I wanted to write a child abuse story, and it somehow occurred to me that it had never been done through the context of time travel—not as far as I knew, anyway. And it just really snowballed from there.

The tragedy and heartache of child abuse features prominently in your novel. Were the issues in your novel inspired by a real life experience?

Well, you just hit on the main reason I said I decided to write a child abuse story in 1986. I’d grown up fairly normally at first, but then my mother remarried, and suddenly she and my brother and I were thrust into this totally foreign world of alcohol and violence. And there was a lot of emotional and psychological abuse, too, and I had no outlet for it, which is what really sparked Undo the Deed—it was a purely selfish outlet for my own pent-up thoughts and emotions. But I’d also ended up attracting friends that were being abused in their own ways, and I realized how prominent abuse was, and I felt I needed to tell all our stories somehow, with the hopes of helping others that felt like us to not feel so alone, like we did, and with the hopes of maybe somehow preventing abuse in some way—if that’s even possible. It was interesting because the whole first half of the book was written between 1986 and 1989, and by the time I took the manuscript out of mothballs in 1993 I’d gained a whole new perspective with the help of 12-Step programs and therapy, and it just took the story to a level I never expected it to go. I had to rewrite that whole first half to match the tone of the second. And I was toning down melodrama even up until the final rewrite last year. I’d watched too much Dynasty, I suppose!

I want to point out that my first instinctual response to this question was “Yes, the issues were inspired by real life experiences, unfortunately”. I still tend to come at those years with that sense of regret and negativity, with a feeling that it just shouldn’t have happened. But, to kind of go back to the whole time thing, I guess it was my destiny. If I hadn’t gone through what I went through, I never would have felt I needed to write a book about it, and what kind of life would I be leading then, you know? Maybe better, maybe worse—but there’d be no Undo the Deed. That’s been a big part of my recovery—learning to integrate that part of my past into my life experience instead of just wishing it had never happened, which I spent a lot of years doing.

If asked to describe Undo The Deed, how would you explain the novel to someone who has not yet read it.

My stock line is “it’s a time travel story with a child abuse theme”. That’s gotten a variety of reactions! Many people make faces; I guess it makes them uncomfortable. Or they’re figuring it’s going to be something very dark and depressing. I guess what I would want people to know is that, yes, it can be exactly that—dark and depressing. I didn’t pull any punches…ooh, no pun intended, there…I didn’t mince words; let’s rephrase that. Abusive environments are gritty and disturbing, and I pride myself on not sanitizing anything in that regard. But there are also many other facets to the story. Other, lighter lessons. And fun! God, if I had to write something that was all dark and depressing, I’d have to kill myself! Plenty of light banter and biting sarcasm and lots of anachronistic humor. So people who are put off by that short description, I would want them to know that there’s so much more to the story than that.

Do you have plans for any new projects, and if so, when are we likely to see something new from Adam-Michael James?

I haven’t had a lot of time to commit to writing, but I do have an idea for the next book that I’m laying down the groundwork for. It has time travel elements again, but on a whole ‘nother level. And no child abuse this time. As for when…I don’t really know. At least a year. Hopefully not more than two.

What are your thoughts on Print-on-Demand publishing and do you see it as a useful alternative for new authors who have had trouble securing a mainstream publishing contract but still wish to get their books into print and seen by the world?

I didn’t really know much about POD when my agent first secured my publisher. I didn’t know there was any kind of difference. It definitely has some advantages. The problem with POD is that it has this reputation—if your publisher is POD then people think you don’t have a “real” publisher; they think you’re self-published. Bigger than that, POD publishers seem to have “no-return” policies, meaning that bookstores are reluctant to stock your books because they have to take a financial risk on you, and many of them shy away from that. It sort of creates this vicious circle. I’m sure POD publishers have their reasons for the “no-return” policies, but I think they’re only doing themselves a disservice by enacting them. They need to create some kind of relationship with buyers from bookstores that makes those buyers more apt to stock their authors’ books. At least we have the Internet, but the bottom line is, if our books don’t get into bookstores, we lose money and the publishers lose money.

Other than that, I have no way of knowing if POD is a “useful alternative”, only because I’ve only had a POD publisher and have no other frame of reference. As far as I know, the other publishers my agent shopped Undo the Deed to were traditional, but I wasn’t paying attention to that at the time. All I know is that I had trouble securing a mainstream contract—to my knowledge, anyway—because I had one very controversial story point that made some publishers very squeamish. The publisher I got didn’t have that problem; they didn’t ask me to change it, although I ended up doing it anyway by my own volition. I’m going to put my “deleted scenes” on my web site one of these days…but I’m still forming my opinions about POD. I’m learning as I go along.

What research was needed in creating the situations described in Undo The Deed?

I assume you don’t mean the abuse situations, because we already covered that…in terms of the time periods…I myself was 17 in 1987 so there was no problem there. The tricky part was 1965, since I wasn’t born yet. I tried really hard to make it authentic; I hope I succeeded. Writers now have no idea how lucky they are; they can just jump on the Internet and find out just about anything. Not me, not then! We had to do it with mircofiche! That and poring through old newspapers and magazines, and asking people who were around in 1965 if this was plausible or if that was said, and how much was this and how would you have handled that. You can’t beat getting first-hand accounts from people, but I’m definitely using the Internet for the next book. No more microfiche for me! Do they even still use that stuff?

Do you have any advice for new authors out there?

Well, don’t forget, I’m considered pretty new myself. But I guess I would say “Write what you believe in”. Have something to say—and not say something just to be saying it, but because you have a message that only you can say in the way that you’re saying it.

If asked to name your all-time favourite novel, what would it be, and why?

Nothing yet has taken the place of The Bridge Across Forever, by Richard Bach, maybe for sentimental reasons. I think I would have to list Richard Bach as my favorite author, too. I’m a major-league romantic and here you had this love story that crossed into these cosmic territories. It was about learning to be open to love and taking the risks that really loving someone—and allowing yourself to be loved—involves. I also loved Illusions and Running from Safety—although the first time I read Running from Safety it went way over my head; when I read it 5 years later, it made a hell of a lot more sense. He has this other great book, too; Nothing By Chance. All that time line, destiny stuff…everything happening for a reason…I guess I’d already believed in that stuff before I read his books, or it wouldn’t have made its way into mine.

Thank you for your time, Adam-Michael James, and good luck with both this and any future projects.

Thank you. I hope your readers will also check out my book’s official web site, http://www.undothedeed.com, for updates and special DVD-style features I’m adding all the time. Thank you for asking such interesting and intelligent questions!

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