James D. Young recently published his novel, RERUN. It is the story of a U.S. war veteran who experiences a series of mysterious paranormal events.
Also in print is a collection of his short stories, Time Passages, and an English language version of Jonathan Marsh’s Japanese novel, Bounty Hunter, about a wannabe who soon regrets becoming a rookie member of that profession. He also wrote the screenplay. In the following Q&A, he shared with me some creative insights for other writers and readers.
SYM: You began writing RERUN December, 2007. How long did it take you to complete it?
JDY: About five months. The ideas came faster than I could put them into coherent sentences. It has taken five additional years to mold it into its present form. Just this past summer, I was ruthless in the elimination of over 8,000 words and 30 pages of unwanted narrative and repetitive dialogue.
SYM: Yet you told me last spring you also managed to add a new character. Why?
JDY: Most novels have a protagonist and an antagonist. Unless you consider paranormal events as the latter, mine had no real human antagonist, other than several characters who appeared briefly late in the book. Bobko “the Bohunk” provided an additional element of dramatic tension, just enough for readers to remember him and to say, “Ah, that creep...”
SYM: Pretty much like you used barfly Earl Nagy for needed comic relief?
JDY: As ol’ Earl would say, “Correct-a-mundo.”
SYM: So how did you know in April, 2008 who would win the U.S. Presidential election later that November?
JDY: Not having access to a crystal ball, I used an “X” in boldface type for the winner. When the primary nominees were selected during the summer, I put in all their names. In early November, Barack Obama was the eventual victor here.
SYM: RERUN has elements of sci-fi and the paranormal. What is C.H.I.P.S. and is it real? I read what it can accomplish and want one if it exists.
JDY: C.H.I.P.S. (Comprehensive Historic Integration of Photography and Sound) is a fictitious super-computer I devised in the hope something like it would be on the market by summer, 2011, the beginning of the story. It is a small-sized unit that can clean up the pops and clicks of your old LPs and 45s, reproduce film up to 35mm, and restore and arrange photos in any order the operator selects. In RERUN, the machine functions as a background character, and is virtually the only sci-fi element I retained from the original.
SYM: What was the impetus for the original storyline?
JDY: Other than having an old college photo of me unexpectedly published in a historic book about New York, it more or less began as a “what if” question that developed in stages as the novel progressed. But more than two years after finishing the book, I had a “RERUN moment” of my own in the still open-for-business Borders bookstore over Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. I was perusing a book about a Brooklyn neighborhood near which I was raised. One house pictured looked all-too-familiar. It turned out to be the one my grandfather had purchased in 1903. Standing on the porch steps in this 1919 photo was my grandmother as a young lady with three of her children, including my then five-year-old mom. My jaw dropped to the floor. For that moment, I was in Joe Bello’s boots, and that really rattled me. (Joe is the main character in the story.)
SYM: Without revealing the name, you killed off a memorable major character in Part One. Why?
JDY: There was never a Part Two in the original outline for a novella. When the doors opened for a full-blown novel, I felt I could not undo the dramatic shock effect of that death, but still had to do something to remedy it short of a miraculous resurrection. Every chapter in the second half contains a reference or flashback incident to fix my mistake and to keep the memory of that character alive. Preview readers have told me that it has worked for them.
SYM: Have you ever been to Selah, Yakima or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest?
JDY: Nope. Pure invention and research on my part to include in the story.
SYM: And that includes the bars – the Dèjá Vu Lounge and the Casbah?
JDY: Yep. Think I got the names out of a San Diego newspaper ad and integrated them into the storyline. Too bad I couldn’t use “The Alibi Club,” one which a late relative of mine frequented years ago in Brooklyn. What a terrific name for a gin mill.
SYM: There are 27 chapters of varying length, each containing 3 to 19 numerical subheads. Why did you use these?
JDY: For two reasons. They act as scene changes in a movie, and also to allow for shifts of time more seamlessly for the reader. The entire timeframe of RERUN covers only five months, but spans almost a century due to the “events.” I didn’t want to begin any early sections by italicizing “January, 1934” or “Summer of 1921” for whatever happened at those times. The use of subheads, along with clear, straightforward narration, prevented me from creating unnecessary confusion which might lose some readers along the way.
SYM: Late in the story, Joe Bello, flawed with a mercurial temper, is confronted by two Homeland Security agents and questioned. His reaction is argumentative, almost violent. How realistic was this scene? Wouldn’t he get into big trouble in real life?
JDY: Probably. However, true to character, Joe Bello was not about to cower to bureaucratic bullying by this pair because he had done nothing wrong, and that was the essence of his defense, later quoting the passage of the well-intentioned but misguided Patriot Act: “Turning citizens into suspects since 2001.”
SYM: How much of RERUN is autobiographical?
JDY: A little, especially Bello’s Brooklyn childhood. We writers – and this includes the highly interesting material of yours which you’ve shared – seem to insert a little of self wherever that can work effectively for the story. I gave the protagonist my love of trains. It was easier to write about and ended up being integral to parts of the plotline.
SYM: You also seem to enjoy old movies, music and memorabilia, much like your protagonist. Am I correct?
JDY: Guilty as charged. By the way, the 1957 hit by the Coasters, “Searchin’,” takes on additional significance within the story, as do a few others.
SYM: Throughout the book, there is drama and mounting suspense, along with clever, comedic dialogue, and even a few incidents that can cause some heartfelt tears.
JDY: Thank you. I wanted to reflect real life situations concerning human characters. I’m hoping readers will identify with many of them in RERUN.
SYM: The novel has good flow and smooth pacing. How difficult was that to achieve in a three-hundred page manuscript?
JDY: Honestly? At times, almost impossible. There were three separate occasions when I lost interest and was about to consign the unfinished draft to the trash. Patience won out.
SYM: In one sentence, would you provide an “elevator pitch” for potential readers?
JDY: A career Marine who has fought in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf has one last battle in retirement against paranormal events which force him to “rerun” significant and often painful periods of his life.
SYM: Thank you, Jim. You may find RERUN on Amazon.com.