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WF Author Interview with James Dutton (1 Viewer)

This month our WF author interview is with James Dutton (vranger) who has published four novels and is currently editing his fifth.

James Dutton -Author Background.jpg

Hi James, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I started out my career as a programmer and then systems analyst, and my entire career has involved software development on mainframes, mini computers, PCs, and web applications. Even though my first business was a gaming company revolving around interactive fiction, I wrote all the software used in the enterprise, including computer-aided games and an entirely computer-moderated game.

The first game, Silverdawn, was heroic fantasy similar to Dungeons and Dragons, but was a game system I designed. As time went by, we did a Star Trek game, our own sci-fi title: StarQuest, then a computer-aided game actually licensed from TSR for AD&D, a spy game, and an Indy style adventure game.

That business (started in the summer of 1981) became my entry into professional writing. The games were played through the mail, as interactive fiction. I started the business solo, and would write a part of an adventure story, leaving it at a spot for the player to plan strategy or a tactical response. Eventually I had a staff of game masters, and we did very well for several years. As PCs started to become common, the rise of computer games made our play-by-mail games obsolete, so I moved back into software development for a career.

In 2017 you published your first novel ‘Bone Kien: A Tale of Heroes’ under the genre, fantasy adventure fiction. Reading the book blurb it sounds quite an adventure! What was the inspiration behind the story?

I’d written 2.5 to 3 million words for Silverdawn and the other games, so it was natural to turn to heroic fantasy for a novel. I’d had an idea I called “Conclave” in my head, which would be about a group of heroes from varied backgrounds who came together to quest out of a central base of operations. The idea evolved into a group of heroes at the head of a mercenary organization, and then an idea the base of operations would be a haunted castle tamed by the original hero.

“Bone Kien” is the name of the castle. I have no idea how the term popped into my head, but it did and I liked it. As I got further into writing the novel, the original title idea “Conclave” didn’t feel right to me anymore, so I decided to use the name of the castle. I added “A Tale of Heroes” when I published to give prospective readers SOME idea of the subject, since Bone Kien means nothing to anyone who hasn’t at least started to read the novel.

As a new author did you plot and plan or let the story and characters decide their own destiny?

I wrote the first 12 chapters Seat of Pants, and then it got stuck there … for years. I started two more books at three chapters each. I finally figured out I didn’t like the situation I’d left at the end of Chapter 12, so I backed up and wrote a different ending. Not wanting that to happen again, I wrote an extensive chapter by chapter synopsis of the rest of the story. Not everything in the rest of the book is from that synopsis, and not everything from the synopsis is in the finished book, but anytime I felt stuck for how to proceed, something in that synopsis gave me material to keep writing.

Typically, I now write a synopsis with ideas for several chapters, and those notes help me keep moving forward, but a lot of scenes and events come right off my fingers, just “What Ifs?” as the action progresses. Many of the ideas I enjoy writing most come like that, and I think it’s because as I learn more about the characters and the story, I can be more creative about problems to raise and their solutions.

The sci-fi book was 100% seat of pants though. I never had more than ideas for the next couple of chapters in mind.

Please give us an insight into your main character?

There are a LOT of primary protagonists in Bone Kien, but there are two main ones. The first is the warrior (Teven) who “tamed the castle”, is now its nominal owner, and runs the mercenary organization.

The second is an older teen, name of Ket, who arrives at the castle hoping to “join up”, and is only able to do so because a ghost in the castle takes a liking to him and intervenes to let him stay.

Teven takes mercenary contracts, but stays on the fair side of things. They’re often working for an underdog with a legitimate beef. Ket is fresh faced and eager, and is gifted with a magic item which makes him rely on being clever, rather than being your normal martial or magical style hero.

In 2019 you went on to publish three Saga fantasy adventure books based on interactive fiction between you and thousands of players from around the world. The idea sounds fascinating but quite a challenge! Please expand on the concept re storyline, implementation through to publication.

The three books came from the game play of two customers I handled personally (save for a few moves for one while I was developing the computer-moderated game). One of the customers eventually added a friend and more characters to his adventuring “group”, and was the subject of an early “Anniversary Adventure” we published and sold mail order. That’s “Kaldarius”.

The other customer was primarily Marion (Mel) Viles, who played with her daughter and a group of her daughter’s friends, each with their own character contributing to one set of adventures. They were more “interactive” than most customers. Rather than responding with plans for the situation I left them, they would often write the next “chapter” of the story, and they were inventive and entertaining … sometimes hilarious. They had a few adventurer groups, and I picked the stories of two of my favorites.

Both of these were out of a group of about 50 files I’ve kept all these years … players who stood out to me as helping me push to above average stories.

Each of the three books is composed of several story lines. Generally an adventure would last eight to ten “moves” before moving on to something new. All three of those books go up into the 40s.

And yes, the whole original business wound up being quite a challenge. It involved creating and continuing dozens of stories every week, and writing a few thousand words a day. Thank goodness I got enough business to hire a staff of writers, because that kind of writing can easily burn you out. LOL

I published them on the Amazon US web site, but they propagate to sites around the globe. I see commissions from Europe, Australia, and Canada, for example. The commission report breaks out by which site book sales or Unlimited pages read come from.

I have a few more of those files in mind which may see publication one day.

Moving forward to 2021 you mentioned you are currently editing your fifth novel. What is the book about and when/where will it be published?

I’ve actually written seven novels now, and just finished a novella. There are the four books currently listed at Amazon, plus the sequel to Bone Kien (“Bone Kien: Roots”, which I need to buckle down and publish), the sci-fi book I wrote for my own satisfaction last year which I can’t publish unless I ever get a deal done with the IP owner of the original work, and “Part-Time Pagan God”, which is the one you’re thinking about.

It’s a first-person narration by the Olympian God of Luck, living in modern times. A few other Olympians are characters to greater or lesser extent, and the plot revolves around mystery and adventure as unknown enemies try to eliminate them.

The proofing and editing is done, and it’s ready to publish once I settle on a cover.

I’m about to start editing the novella, which I just finished two nights ago. It’s a 21K word fairy tale about a mouse who acquires magic powers. The mage who accidentally imbued those powers leaves on a mission, and the mouse helps his family out of a crisis.

A dilemma faced by many new authors is whether to take the indie, traditional or self-publishing route. Which did you choose, why and what advice can you offer new authors?

Well, I’m self-publishing, but I wouldn’t recommend that as everyone’s choice. Anyone who wants a NY house should work like crazy to attract an agent and try to work that system. I’m not a patient person, and I don’t need an income from writing. I enjoy writing, feedback I get suggests people enjoy what I write, and if I can pass the stories on to some number of people who enjoy them, that’s enough satisfaction for me. I finished “Bone Kien” in 2015, and did pursue some publishing avenues for it. I ran into the same roadblocks that 99% of writers run into. I thought, I’m not getting any younger, let’s publish.

My wife questioned this just the other night, and I realized that earlier thoughts of going through (potentially) years of churning submissions to maybe never even get a contract was holding me back from more writing. I wasn’t doing much writing in those two years. Why bother to spend the months and weeks it takes to write a novel just to get rejection slips for years, or even wait years for publication even if I DID get lucky? The practical answer to me was … that’s a waste of time and resources.

Yet I’ve wanted to write novels since I was a kid. Giving up the primary notion of a traditional publishing career was a key decision in freeing me up to write. There are a LOT of things I’ve done as hobbies over the years, and I have very little to show for those hobbies. They passed time in enjoyable hours, but produced nothing. Now I can spend that same time on writing as a hobby, and every so often I have a completed novel to show for it. And it’s a novel I had a ball writing, enjoy reading myself, and get a kick when other people tell me they like it.

But my biggest advice to new authors is to study, study, study and write, write, write. Even though I’m not trying to impress an agent, I take pride in what I write. I want it to be of similar quality to the better work you can pull off a shelf in a store, and particularly in the last several years I’ve studied numerous aspects of writing and worked hard to make sure what I learn is implemented in what I publish. I think it’s critical for writers to learn to recognize the holes in their skills and work on those things. Don’t wait for a beta reader. Don’t lean on an editor. Take charge of your own writing and be the best writer you can be so no one else has to point out all the holes. ;-)

I’ve gone from dry prose to purple prose and back to a happy medium … in my first novel. Backstory, overworked words, dialogue tags, passive voice, filler words, even exclamation points! (Oops). I had to work a lot harder on revisions to that novel, because I had several things I was concerned about, learned about, and fixed. The things people see me give advice on here are all things I studied and worked on myself.

And all that comes on TOP of being able to write quality sentences. That’s a pile of study and practice all by itself.

One last question. What have you found to be the benefits of joining a writing community such as WF?

The best benefit is making new friends, but anyone can do that on any community platform for any reason.

So, writers in a place like WritingForums.com?

First, it helps inspire me to keep production up. The thread Indianroads started on “Share your writing success today” is a big incentive to CREATE some writing success to share.

I enjoy being able to critique and give advice for writers who get something from it and use it to improve. Even if I give advice on something I’ve figured out for myself, it helps me to continue to focus on it as I write. You can fix anything in revision, but if you get it right in the first place, revision is SO MUCH easier!

There is a lot of good information on this site to help emerging authors climb that hill, and experienced authors to fine tune. Continuing to learn and grow as a writer is something every writer should strive for. Once someone writes a best seller, maybe they can relax. But until then, writers shouldn’t assume what they’re writing is best seller quality (or even mid-list) … if only they weren’t being unfairly overlooked. Some are—and I can point some of those authors out—better stuff than I normally buy, but they’ve never been “discovered”. But most writers still have things to work on, and need to be figuring out what those things are, then getting them right.

Writers who take critique and learn from it, or read advice and learn from it, can shave years and hundreds of thousands of words off the time it would otherwise take them to become truly effective authors. There are several quality mentors on this site who pitch in to help with just that.

For more information and availability follow James Dutton Author Page on Amazon.com
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Cool to get an insight into the person behind the handle :) My question: what does "vranger" mean, and how is it pronounced?
It started out MANY years ago as VetteRanger ... in tribute to the car (pictured at left) and a friend who was once an Army Ranger. Eventually, as I registered at some sites, I started to find that handle in use. Either it wasn't as unique as I supposed, or someone else decided they liked it and beat me to those sites. So I started using Vranger, which I have never found to already be in use. I don't try to say it, just read it, but I suppose it would be "V" and then "Ranger". I should update it, because for many years now my closest friend, more like we're adopted brothers, is a former SEAL. I'm not sure how I attract former Special Forces, but it's a safe feeling having one close at hand. :)

About 30 years ago a business associate and I were installing a network at an Air Force base, and there was a unit of Army Rangers on the base for some combined training. The building we were in was like a bunker ... massive concrete block walls, generous stairwells with oversized, heavy metal doors. The nearest Coke machine was in the stairwell, behind the door. I'm standing there buying a drink when a Ranger shoves the door open, slamming the edge of it straight down the middle of my back.

"Who'd I just kill?" he says.

He pulled the door back, and with an innocent expression, I answered, "What're you talking about?" The guy thing. I'm not about to let it show he almost just split me in half. This guy is about 6-6, twice as wide as me, and all muscle.

So he buys his drink, we exchange "Have a good one"s, and once he's out of sight I limp back to the server room. This story has nothing to do with the Ranger in my handle, BTW. I'm just proud I survived the incident and maintained face.
Very nice interview. Lots of information and it's nice to see what you look like! :)
Or did look like, anyway. :) The goatee is long gone, preceded by a full beard I kept having the urge to shave, but took it in steps. So I had the goatee for a few years. Very professorial. ;-) I'm the photographer in the family, so there aren't really that many pictures of me. That's one of the ones that came out the best, regardless of how far back. Plus, it's good PR that I like puppies!

Here's one with the beard, from even farther back ... Betty and me on the way out to a dive site in the Bahamas.

Your book covers are stunning! And they all play off of one another wonderfully, each unique in composition, but complimentary as a greater design. I can imagine all four of them in poster size, in a row, on a large white wall somewhere. Did you plan it that way? What role did you play in the cover design?

I have to say I'm green with envy but totally inspired...
Your book covers are stunning! And they all play off of one another wonderfully, each unique in composition, but complimentary as a greater design. I can imagine all four of them in poster size, in a row, on a large white wall somewhere. Did you plan it that way? What role did you play in the cover design?

I have to say I'm green with envy but totally inspired...
Thank you, Taylor!

The two Bone Kien covers are supposed to fit a theme, yes. They're simply pieces of art I found at CanStock photo. I think I said clip art in a post elsewhere. I meant stock photo ... but you find clip art there, too. Then I went out and found a font using bones for the title design, used a stock Fireworks font for my name, and Old English for the subtitles on the Silverdawn products.
(* Fireworks is similar graphics software to Photoshop. It came with my Dreamweaver software, which I use for web development).

For the tree, I had to squeeze what started as a square photo to make it tall and narrow to fit the cover and leave room for the text. The tree is an important character in the story. :) I thought the tree photo fit the theme started with the castle photo, so I bought it and integrated the tree into the story. That's one way to make sure your cover art is relevant! LOL These were the candidates, the original of the one you see on the cover being in the upper left below. Given the location the tree would have to occupy in the story and its lone nature, that was the best fit.

I have a choice of similarly themed photos for the third book in the series, when I get around to it. A main character in the series travels on a flying horse, so "Sanigis" the flying horse could be in two of the photos. There are mysterious teleporting dark horses in the first book (which can show back up in Book 3), and I REALLY like that image. Should I decide to use the lady with the sword, I'll have to brainstorm how she fits into a story. It could be Teven TacMarough's warrior-mage lady friend, Liara, though. These stock photos are embarrassingly inexpensive ... $7 for the large size at 300 dpi. You do not have exclusive rights to the image, but I imagine the odds of the same image being used for another book cover is low.



The other two covers came one each from two different stock cover sites. I spent HOURS searching until art struck me as right for each property. Then I added the text. The lady at the portal (Saga of Astor) was the most expensive art I bought, and there happened to be a matching scene in the book. The Kaldarius art was, I think, $40.

I'm by no means an artist, but if I have good elements, I've got a decent eye for layout. Thanks again for the compliment. :)


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Great stuff! Like said above, good to learn about people on the forum. My only complaint would be, where is the amazon link to your books?
And please tell me it's available on amazon.ca!! :D