James R. Tuck


Faith here, with a wonderful guest. I met James—and his first book—last year, and fell in love with his character and his story concept, so much so, that I agreed to give him a blurb. Check out BLOOD AND BULLETS  (Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter book one) Kicking monster ass EVERYWHERE by Kensington. Chatting with James online, I heard his story, and it was so different from what we tell our wannabee-published writers here, that I started planning when we could do a MagicalWords post together. Do NOT stop reading before you get to Q and A number 3. Just sayin’.

Since then, we tried to find time to get together at Cons, but our schedules kept getting in the way. This year will be different, and we have definite diner plans (yes, the hubby knows I go on *dates* with fascinating and gorgeous men) so I can hear the full story of his road to publication (and fame and fortune, natch).

Blood and Bullets hit the shelves yesterday, BTW.

Q1.  Our readers always want to know, why did you decide to write? 

The writing bug bit me a bit later than most. I wrote BLOOD AND BULLETS in 2009. I had created the character of Deacon Chalk many years prior in a flash of inspiration. He just walked into my head, full blown and ready to go. I had him, his backstory, and the first scene to what became BLOOD AND BULLETS. (Which I left on the cutting room floor.) I wrote it all down in a flurry of inspiration. My muse had struck! It was lightning! It was magic! It was magic lightning! Shazam!

Then I put it away. I didn’t know what came next, and I damn sure didn’t know how to write a book. LOL.

Fast forward a few years, okay more than a few years. I just finished the most disappointing book in a string of disappointing books. This one was supposed to be dark. It was supposed to be gritty. It was supposed to be almost shockingly violent.

I set the book down and said out loud to myself: “I can write better crap than that.” (of course my language was a bit more colorful.)

I began looking into how to write a book, found Lilith Saintcrow’s blog where she gives some great advice on the fundamentals of writing, and then put my head down, my butt in the chair, and wrote what became BLOOD AND BULLETS from that scrap of inspiration I had years earlier.

Q2.   How much of yourself did you put into  your character?

Like I said, he just showed up. Deacon Chalk walked into my head, looked around, and said: “Point me to the monsters, I’m here to kick ass.”

Now, I’m not the writer who spins a tale by letting my characters do whatever they want. I’m not knocking it, it just isn’t how things work for me. I craft my characters and their stories. I am the merciless god of the Deaconverse. I put Deacon and his colleagues through hell as they fight evil.

I did put a lot of myself into Deacon. We share a lot of the same tastes and outlooks on life. But Deacon is a very damaged character. He is pretty flawed because of what he has gone through. His whole world was torn away in one violent, brutal event where he lost every reason he had to live. Deacon loved his wife and children. When they were killed he went a bit crazy.   

I have never gone through that, but I pushed myself into thinking about it, to really contemplate what that would do to a man like Deacon in a world where monsters were real. The result is a dark book that treats an urban fantasy world as if it were real. No punches pulled, nothing held back, everything as dark and dangerous as it really would be. It is exactly the book I wanted to read when I started writing.

And now you can read it too. BLOOD AND BULLETS from Kensington on February 7th. Plus there is a prequel e-novella called THAT THING AT THE ZOO that can be had for less than a dollar everywhere ebooks are sold!

Q3.  Blatant self-PR is fabulous! 🙂  Okay. This is the most important question I will ask. I know you took different route through the publication process and *that* is what our writer-readers will want to learn most. How did you get your publisher?

My path to publication is a bit different than most. I am an unagented author. Most of the time you write a book, get an agent, then they sell you to a publisher.

I couldn’t find an agent interested. I tried. I truly did. I polished that query letter until it shone like diamond crusted diamonds and I trotted it out. A lot. Everyone took a pass. I would love an agent, but do not have one as we speak. 

After months of rejection I actually put BLOOD AND BULLETS away. I started writing a new book called THE EXCALIBUR KEY. It was going well. I liked it a lot. My critique group liked it. (You will see it one day)

But my heart still belonged to Deacon and his story. So one day I was puttering about the World Wide Waste Of Time and I landed on a blog that listed romance publishers who take direct queries. On that list was Kensington. I zipped over, looked at the requirements, and on a whim popped my query off to the editor that was looking for urban fantasy.

Then I forgot about it. I didn’t have any high hopes. They had been pushed aside by months of rejections. I continued writing THE EXCALIBUR KEY. A few weeks went by.

In my inbox was an email from John (my editor). Could I please send over the whole manuscript? I felt a tingle, but didn’t get my hopes up. Others had requested the manuscript before him. They had all passed.

One month later I got a call from New York. My editor, John, loved the manuscript. Then he said the magic words. “I want to buy it in a three book deal.”

I made poo.

Not really. It was metaphoric poo. LOL.

Then the whirlwind began. I looked for an agent, still got rejected, even contract in hand, so I moved on without one. (I still want on though, a really good one!)

After the contract came the work. John only had one request editorially and it was a 2 sentence fix. So rewrites weren’t bad. I began cranking on book two BLOOD AND SILVER (out August 2012). During this I mentioned to my editor that if they had any anthologies coming up I could whip out a short Deacon Chalk story and it could be a great promotional tool. He suggested that maybe, if I wanted and had time, they could do a free piece on line as an ebook.

I sat down and wrote THAT THING AT THE ZOO in a two week flurry of writing. Wrote and revised 15,000. I sent it off to him. And waited. Things move slowly in the publishing world kids. Everything but copyedits takes weeks if not months. Be prepared. While I waited I worked on book two and I thought.

When John came back and said that he really liked THAT THING AT THE ZOO but didn’t quite know what to do with it I was ready with a suggestion.

At the end of the conversation I had a second contract for 3 e-novellas set in the Deaconverse.

So two contracts without one sale to my name. Also, this is a first for Kensington. They have never done e-book only releases and they have never contracted 3 e-novellas before, but they did it for me. I am pretty proud of that.

And since then, everything has been smooth sailing. I had input on my cover and it was done by Gene Mollica. I love it. I got to do Dragon*Con last year and be on not one but five panels. I have made some wonderful friends in the business, people who I have read and loved their books I am now friends with.

Faith Hunter blurbed my book!

Book 2 and e-novella 2 were both loved by my editor. So it has been pretty magical. I still have book 3 to finish (BLOOD AND MAGICK) and e-novella 3 to write and I still want an agent, but overall I have been blessed.

Q4.  That was the stuff I wanted everyone out there to hear. Totally cool! The best part is that you were ready to make offers and to negotiate all on your own. Amazing! You did, good!  Okay — Question: What are your five year goals?

Five year goals? Once I am done with e-novella 3 in the Deaconverse, then next thing I am going to write is a crime novel. I love crime fiction and I have a huge list of ideas. Real gritty, hardboiled stuff. Like the Deacon Chalk books, but without the supernatural.

After that it’s either another Deacon book or another Urban Fantasy title (possibly THE EXCALIBUR KEY) and then the next Deacon book.

What I want is to make my writing schedule one Deacon book a year and one book of whatever I want to write a year. The rest of my time would be spent writing short fiction and comic books. (You hear that DC Comics? Give me a call, I have stories for days for you.)

I won’t stop going to conventions I love meeting fans too much. Because of this one of my other 5 year goals is to host a small genre convention here in Atlanta. A nice, laid back convention where authors can meet fans and fans can meet authors. I want it to be the most hospitable convention for guests and geared specifically to writing and reading. I love big conventions with all their stuff and their varied tracks, but sometimes in all that noise writing and reading can get lost. So I want a convention of my own that has nothing but that.Plus I make a great host!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. I had a blast!
Please check out my website



28 comments to James R. Tuck

  • Welcome, James and thanks to Faith for luring him in. Fascingating stuff. If it’s not too confidential, can you say why you couldn’t land an agent after you already had a contract in hand? That’s very surprising to me. Thanks.

  • Good stuff, always fun to hear about other non-conventional successes. Congrats, James. I’m sure I’ll run into you at a con or three this year.

  • Ken

    Welcome, James!!!
    This was an interesting post. Thanks for sharing your story and thanks to Faith for bringing James to the fold 🙂
    Another fine example showing that there’s no one way to break into publishing.

    How much of an outline do you put together before you start writing (I gathered that you weren’t much of a seat of the pants writer) or does it vary?


  • Welcome, James! This was very interesting to hear, and very heartening, too.

    I’m curious about the intervening years between the initial idea and the time you wrote the book. Was that time away useful, too?

    @Ken – for fun a few weeks ago, I used the Google search button in the top right corner of this site and searched, “there is no one right way to do this”. Nearly 400 MW results. Pretty cool, IMHO. 🙂

  • James, my friend, great to see you here. Thanks for joining the MW family. And thanks for sharing your career-path story with us. It reinforces one of the MW mantras: There is no single “right” way to do any of this. Wishing you and Deacon continued great success!

  • James R. Tuck

    AJ- very little about me is confidential. LOL so ask anything you want.
    Frankly I am not sure why everyone passed. Well, I didn’t query as widely the second round as I did the first. I didn’t want to let the contract sit for too long.
    I actually contacted an agent who I really wanted once I got my contract, one that had passed previously. I explained the new situation and ask her to consider me again. She referred me to a junior agent in her firm. I was fine with this. Contacted the junior agent, had a nice chat, zipped over the manuscript so she could look at it,……..and then nothing.
    I waited 3 weeks before sending a nudge. Literally just a short email asking if she had a chance to look over the manuscript. I think it was only 5 lines long.
    A few days passed. I sent another short email, not wanting to be a bother in any way.
    Still nothing.
    After two more weeks I sent an email politely rescinding my offer to be considered for representation. It was nice, polite, and professional.

    I wasn’t being a primadonna. I just have definite ideas of how I want my business relationships to go. I try to be considerate and polite, I definitely understand that everyone is busy and I am in no way the only person wanting attention, but I do expect the same in return.

    I then sent some emails to agents my editor suggested. Some did not respond. Some said no. One really liked me and the manuscript and I really liked her. i thought we would work really well together. She passed because she had a client who writes similar to me and she didn’t want to have a conflict if something opened up that might apply to both of us, so she passed to avoid that. I could respect that.

    But that was the end of my patience, I was almost 2 months out from the original offer and was ready to move on. I had the contract. It was pretty basic, easy to understand, and anything that was contract speak was very easy to use google-fu to decipher.

    So I negotiated it myself.

    And so far, I have absolutely LOVED working with all the folks at Kensington. They have been just aces.

  • James R. Tuck

    Ken- I am a reformed pantser. I totally winged it on the first book. I remember there was one point that I wrote Deacon into a room and it took me two weeks of thinking to get him out of it. lol.

    Now I do outline. Not detailed. more a list of scenes I have in my head and cool images I want to incorporate in the book along with notes on character and storyline developments I want to make happen. Plus the notes on new characters introduced. Each book so far has had new characters.

    But my characters don’t live in my head. They don’t talk to me. It’s more like I am watching a movie that is being shot as I go and sometimes it is just words on paper that I doctor for effect.

  • Wowie zowie, I love it. I’ve heard of writers going direct to publishers, but never knew the details. Thank you James; for the inspirational success story. I’m going to buy your book and read it. Can you comment on how many publishers you queried directly, or was Kensington your one and only? Best of luck on the new (and future) releases.

  • James R. Tuck

    Those intervening years were useful for my life and career as a tattoo artist, but other than a lot of reading completely not useful for writing. I didn’t plan to be a writer. It was a back of the head dream like being a cowboy, or an astronaut.

    Now I see it was kind of inevitable.

  • James R. Tuck

    David and John- THANKS!

    Pandora- Kensington is the only publisher I queried. I got lucky and I know it. 🙂 It was fate, kismet, the Hand of God that led me to that blog and let me know about them taking direct queries.

  • The Mathelete

    Welcome, James, and congrats on the success. Keep us posted on that writer/reader con in Hot-lanta. I get terribly lost at big cons in strange cities, but a focused one that’s close to home would be totally fun.

    Lots of MW people seem to be based in the south-east US — or am I just cherry picking geographic references because I recognize them? I live in Anderson, SC, and I know I saw a reference to Charlotte recently. I also think Lucienne’s agency is in Atlanta, and I’m pretty sure David mentioned something Tennessee oriented. I suddenly have an urge to do a GIS map plotting MWers 😐

    And yes, Metaphoric Poo! I hear fiber helps with that. . .

  • James R. Tuck

    Mathlete- I take my metaphorical fiber daily. lol. I am born and raised in the South. I love it here.

  • Ken

    @Laura: Wow. That’s cool. I’m sure I’ve seen it before, but up until now, I’d never noticed it 🙂

    @James: Thanks. I completely bounce back and forth between pantsing and outlining. I need the structure, but part of me rebels against it. It’s like I’ve reformed, but have ZERO resistance to temptation.

    @Mathelete: Metaphoric fiber?

  • James R. Tuck

    Ken- the fence of my outline is pretty shoddily constructed so I go off the reservation pretty frequently.

    Plus, what good is temptation if you don’t give in to it.

  • James> such a cool post! I’m getting ready to send a novel out to agents right now, and I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do if it comes up with nothing. This gives me some ideas about submitting directly to publishers. I also find the stuff about what happened AFTER the offer really interesting. I kinda figure that if you had an offer, an agent wouldn’t be that hard to get. (Sort of an “I’ve built the better mouse trap, now where’s the beaten path to my door?”) thing. this makes me less paranoid about sending out my stuff to agents in the “if it fails here, there’s nothing else…” because it’s not true. 🙂

    Mathlete> I know I found MW via Con Carolinas in Charlotte (great con, if you’ve never been). Lots of the MW folks were there, and it is a fairly local conference (lots of folks from the South). We’ve also had MW followers stuff at CC–last year we had a little soiree thing. 🙂 If you’re able, you ought to come to CC in June! It’s a lot of fun, and we always have MW get togethers! (You too, James, of course!)

  • Hi James! It’s great to e-meet you! I hope we have a chance to say hello in person.

  • Carrie

    Hi James, and welcome!
    Just picked up the novella and B&B at Amazon.
    As a reader, THANK YOU for getting more publishers to wander into the wilds of ebook publishing!
    Can’t wait to go get dirty with Deacon. Congrats on the success, and here’s to much more in the future. 🙂

    Faith – thanks for introducing us to James on your Facebook and here. I love checking out new authors.

  • James R. Tuck

    Misty- Nice to meet you too.

    Pea Faerie- I will be at Con Carolinas this year! I am really looking forward to it. We will have to make sure we meet in person!

  • Hey James, I think we were on a panel together at Dragon. Great to see you here at MW, and thanks for sharing your story!

  • James R. Tuck

    Kalayna- I think you are right. Great to see you again!

  • James R. Tuck

    Carrie- Nice to e-meet you too. Hope you enjoy the book.

  • Carrie

    James, I’m reading through TTATZ – in the beginning of Chapter 2 you describe Dr. Critter as “pale sea-green eyes moved as quick as his camera-worthy grin”. Then a couple of pages later before the third person comes into the room, you describe him with “Anger flashed over Dr. Critter’s face, crawling from one side, under those ice-blue eyes and across those sculpted cheekbones.”

    His eyes go from sea-green to ice-blue.
    Did I catch an oopsie or did Deacon just miss something?

  • Yaaay, another ConCarolinas person! Mathlete, if you can make it, you totally should. I’m making the trek again and I’m most definitely not from the area. 😉

  • James R. Tuck

    Carrie- I am always and forever screwing up eye color. lol. I didn’t know about Critter’s colored contacts, that sneaky SOB! lol.

    He’s not the only one who uses them in my books though. A major character has an eyecolor change in BLOOD AND BULLETS. (Nope, not gonna tell. You will have to see if you spot it.)


  • Welcome to MW, James! Your cover looks kickass, I gotta read it. (I’m a sucker for a good cover) Was the artist a Kennsington in-house guy, or did you contract out for it?

    You mentioned that you work with a critique group. Is that online or in person?

    Who are your favorite authors/books/stories?

  • Wayne McCalla

    Thanks, Faith, I forgot about James and his book. I saw him at least one panel at DragonCon and thought the book sounded interesting. Already have the book in the cart to get on the next purchase from amazon. Hopefully will meet up at a future con.

  • Carrie

    James – If I tracked it right, her eyes went from yellow to blue to brown to yellow to black-red. She’s talented! We should make up a new rule: the more times your eyes change color, the more you need killin’. *grin*
    LOVED the book. Deacon is a genuine badass. Really looking forward to the next one; the preview at the back of B&B was a great teaser.

  • Yes definitely thanks for sharing your story James. It is another reminder of the old mantra, “There is more than one way to get your book out there.”

    You can bet I have added the book to my must read list now.