James Michael Rice is the author of Rebel Angels, A Tough Act to Follow, The Still, and For Those Who Worship The Sun. He began writing at a young age, completing an early draft of his first novel, Rebel Angels, while he was still in junior high school.
In addition to writing, he is also an avid traveler. In 2011, he visited the Peruvian Amazon, a breathtaking experience that would later spawn the idea for his new novel, For Those Who Worship The Sun.
He grew up, and has lived much of his adult life, in Southeastern Massachusetts. He also appears in a feature-length documentary titled "The Bridgewater Triangle", which investigates paranormal reports in the region.
For more information on James and his books, visit the "James Michael Rice Author Fan Page" at https://www.facebook.com/jamesmichaelrice.
Hello James, how are things with you?
I’m doing well, thanks, although the summer cannot get here fast enough for me. But I won’t get started on that!
Let’s get the quick basic getting to you questions out of the way first. What is your favourite book, album and film?
My favourite book is Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. But that’s not really horror, so I will say my favourite horror novel is Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. My favourite album... it depends on my mood, I suppose. Beth Orton’s Central Reservation is just timeless and beautiful. Every song is a poem. As for my favourite film, I have favourites in different genres... Stand by Me, The Goonies, the early Friday the 13th and Halloween films, The Descent. I have too many favourites!
What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
Travel. I love the process of planning and researching a new destination, and then actually going there and seeing how my preconceived notions are shattered.
Describe yourself in three words.
Curious. Creative. Adventurous.
What is the one thing that annoys you about the genre?
Well, when it comes to movies I am annoyed by the lack of character development and the fact that teenagers are always portrayed as selfish, obnoxious, and petty. Or that every story seems to have that one asshole who predictably makes the most idiotic decisions imaginable. Why would anyone choose to chum around with such a person? If I don’t care about the characters, then I’m only there to watch the lambs march themselves to the slaughter. Oh, and remakes. They also annoy me. As far as literature goes, I think it annoys me that there are some authors who can pump out terrible books and still make a fortune based on name recognition.
Much like independent films, there are a ton of great writers out there who never receive the recognition they deserve because they don’t necessarily write “blockbuster” fiction or have the connections that can help them get the word out.
What would be your last meal?
It would consist of a shitload of Indian food, probably chicken tikka masala and saag paneer, extra-extra spicy.
Comics played a large role in your formative years. What is it about comics and Americans, we don’t have the same affection to them over here as you guys do?
Hmm... I’m not sure. Perhaps there was more availability here in the States? Every grocery store and corner market used to sell comics when I was growing up. There were also a lot of toys available that were based on the popular superheroes. I’m not sure if this answers the question, but I used to spend my summers on Cape Cod when I was younger. I was friends with some kids from England who would come over for the summer and stay in the house next door. We used to collect soda cans to cash in at the local market, and we’d spend the money on comic books and penny candy. We’d trade the comics back and forth and sometimes sit around for hours, drawing our favourite characters. Maybe it just goes back to availability?
What were you must reads?
Oh, I loved Marvel, mostly. The Avengers, Hulk, Spiderman, The Black Panther, the list goes on and on. I also really liked some of the old horror comics, although they really got under my skin sometimes.
It was your love of comics and the mysterious The Bridgewater Triangle that first inspired you to start writing. Can you remember what your first story was about?
My first story, which was handwritten in a spiralbound notebook, was about a group of kids who try to unravel the mysteries of the Triangle. It definitely had elements of The Goonies, only scarier.
You revisited some of your very first attempts at writing with your debut publication Rebel Angels, did you have to do much reworking of the original story?
Yes, I had to do a lot of rewriting. I was five or six years younger than the characters when I first wrote it. What did I know about the trials and tribulations of a high school student? At twelve years-old, nothing.
But I also had to find a balance to make sure that the characters and the spirit of the story did not change. I did not want it to come off as a book about teenagers as seen through the eyes of an adult. I hope I was successful in that.
Your first attempts at writing were all kept in a ring binder, who were you writing for, yourself, or did you have an audience in mind?
I was mostly writing for myself, although I did share some of those stories with a few close friends. One of them went on to woo a girl with a story I’d written, claiming it as his own work. I was actually flattered by this, and it made me wonder if maybe I was good enough to show more people my work.
Back tracking a bit, what exactly is The Bridgewater Triangle?
The Bridgewater Triangle is an area of Southeastern Massachusetts that has a reputation for being a paranormal hotspot. It’s said that the land here was cursed by Native Americans. There have been reports of ghosts, UFOs, huge black dogs, Bigfoot-like creatures, satanic cult activity, strange lights in the forests, the list goes on.
Have you experienced any of the Triangle yourself? Or do you think it is just like a lot of things something cooked up by the town elders to get a little bit of tourist money?
Yes, I have experienced more than my share of unexplained occurrences. I once saw what appeared to be a ghost manifesting itself. It was just sort of this dimly glowing blob that hovered above the ground, slowly forming what looked like rudimentary arms and legs. I was with seven or eight other people at the time, at least two of them nonbelievers. Let’s just say they came away believers that night! I have also seen “ghost lights” on two occasions. Once, I was out in the woods by a river, and I saw what looked to be the light of a lantern coming around the bend. I sort of assumed it was a couple of hunters floating in a canoe. Then the lights came around the bend, these baseball-sized lights. There were maybe six of them, all sort of pulsing. I could see the reflection of the light on the water. They were spinning around, changing colors; they looked like they were having fun.
Now, as I’ve gotten older, there are some “experiences” that I’ve been able to rationalize as one thing or another. I have always approached these incidents as a sceptic first.
But there have been a few scattered incidents, such as those above, for which I have yet to find a logical, natural explanation.
To that end, the reports of strange activity in the area date back to the seventeenth century. The first UFO report in the vicinity, to my knowledge, took place in Boston in the mid-eighteenth century. Yet, there are people in the town and immediate area who, up until the release of a recent documentary, knew nothing of the Triangle’s reputation.
Your second book is a coming of age tale which though entirely fictional incorporates a lot of your experiences of growing up in Bridgewater. How easy was it for you to write the book? Did you relive any difficult times?
This was sort of an easy book to write—although I would like to go back and rewrite it, as it could use more “polish”. It was easy because of the narrative. It’s told in the first person, which I found somewhat easier to write. I would not say I had to relive difficult times, but it definitely forced me to take a trip down memory lane in order to see how certain decisions—good and bad—shaped me into the person I would later become.
Has anyone recognised themselves in the book?
Oh, yes. Even though I changed names, events, and physical characteristics, an old friend called me up one day and said, “Hey, I don’t remember ever waking up in a pile of my own shit!” And some characters are purely products of my imagination, although people have doubted that to some extent.
Which brings us onto your latest book Pray For Darkness, this shares some similarities with your last book in that it concerns a close knit group of friends, but instead of having them grow up in suburbia, you take them out of their comfort zone and drop them off in the middle of the Amazon. What made you decide on the Amazon as the setting of the book?
My brother and I travelled to a remote region of the Amazon back in 2011. After researching all the flora and fauna, I had an idea that I wanted to write a novel about it even before I ever stepped foot there. The jungle is breathtaking...there’s just so much life there. But there’s also an element of danger: poisonous spiders, venomous snakes, jaguars, wild pigs, etc. And our guide was completely fearless. He was part of a local tribe, and nothing seemed to faze him. Our room was completely open to the jungle on one side—no screen or anything. We had more than our share of jungle creatures pop in to say hello!
We later travelled to a different part of the jungle in 2014, and we had the opportunity to do more hiking, a bit of camping, and some fishing. The combination of those two journeys is remarkably similar to ill-fated trip taken by the characters in the book.
Despite mixed feelings of excitement and terror, you returned to the Amazon and did some Piranha fishing. How exactly do you fish for Piranha, is it as simple as getting your tackle out and seeing what bites?
One thing I learned is that there are piranha pretty much everywhere in the river. We used a simple method to catch them: a thin bit of wood, some twine, and the hook. The hook is attached to the twine by some wire, so that the piranha won’t bite through it, which they occasionally did anyway. For bait, we used little chunks of raw beef. The trick is to agitate the water with the stick in order to attract the fish. Then, as soon as you feel that first nibble, you yank the stick up and, if you’re fast enough, you’ve caught yourself a piranha.
We had a few of them for dinner one night. They were small and bony, and not very tasty at all.
Had you already decided to set the new book here? And did you purposefully use it as a research tool for the book?
By the time I visited there, I had already decided on the Amazon as a setting. The story did not flesh itself out until I went there and took lots of photographs, notes, and video to use as references later on.
What was the most helpful thing you discovered during the trip?
Our native guides were helpful in spotting all the creatures that were otherwise invisible to our untrained eyes. Also, I brought a lot of gear from a place called Railriders. The owner actually hooked us up with some fine gear in exchange for some photographs and a write-up for his website. Railriders makes lightweight, quick-drying, tough-as-hell gear for a variety of climates. The stuff I brought to the Amazon was infused with an insect repellent, and it really helped to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
In the book the group of friends stumble across a mysterious opponent that spells out trouble for them. Are we allowed to say zombie?
It might be a bit of a spoiler for some, but I would describe them as zombies, though not in the traditional sense.
What makes your zombies different to your typical ones?
Well, I guess you could say the zombies in my story can “think”. They’re not as smart as humans, but they can run, ambush, and react in ways that typical zombies do not.
So what makes your zombies, zombies? Do you go for the scientific or the mystical approach? I leaned more toward the scientific.
There is a kind of mind-control fungus that exists in various jungles around the world. Typically it infects insects such as ants, and uses the ants to spread its spore to a different part of the jungle. It uses the ants like puppets, causing them to wander off from their nest. They clamp their mandibles on the underside of a leaf or twig, and then their heads explode and the spore is released. Scientists do not know how this all works just yet, but it is the basis for my zombies.
I thought, what if the ants were to infect humans? In my story, that is exactly what happens. The fungus tries a variety of other mammals before settling on humans. After all, if there is one creature that threatens to destroy the rainforest (and the fungus) it’s man. And so the fungus infects humans as a kind of defence mechanism.
As well as being a horror story, you also use Pray for Darkness to address some tough environmental issues. Was this something you decided to do before writing, or was it something that came to you as the book unfolded?
The environmental element came about after I visited the jungle back in 2011. As I mentioned, the jungle is such a beautiful and fragile place. We saw evidence of pollution from gold-dredging. We also saw evidence of poaching and deforestation. The jungle is so huge, the authorities cannot protect it all, and so many crimes go unnoticed until it is too late.
The forest provides twenty percent of the world’s oxygen, as well as twenty percent of the world’s pharmaceuticals. I don’t want to think about what will happen when it’s gone.
How would you like the book to be marketed, do you see it as more of a horror book, or more of an environmental thriller?
I see it more as a horror novel, although the environmental aspect is present, I do not feel it is “preachy”.
You have travelled the world pretty extensively do plan on using these experiences in any other books?
I recently spent some time camping in Africa (2013) and exploring Easter Island (2014). I’d love to write something about those two places, although I haven’t started anything yet.
What does the future hold for you? Can you tell us about future writing projects?
I’m actually working on another horror novel, which is sort of funny because I was actually planning on something entirely different—another coming of age story, or a mobster screenplay I’ve been plotting for some time—but I had a creepy dream one night and actually woke up and started taking notes at two o’clock in the morning, and the idea won’t leave me alone, so that’s what my next project will be.
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