Reader's Give-aways 2: Dead Seasons
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Review: Dead Seasons by R.M.James
Deranged town folk, very dark woods and four ill-equipped friends all come to play one dangerous little game!
Too often and too easily in literary circles, we relegate ‘fun and entertaining’ prose to the Sold-Out bins that are often filled with uninspired tales. Horror, in particular, is a genre often scolded for being tasteless or ‘from the wrong side of the literary tracks.’ Of course there is a lot of prose out there selling by the millions and being adapted for the screen and so on...and a lot of it is unfortunately badly written and derivative. But what is often taken for granted is the craftsmanship that goes into piecing an interesting plot together while developing real and vulnerable characters. Every now and then a rollicking story comes along that twists and turns and exhilarates like a roller-coaster ride and still captures the imagination with its original handling and unique voice. Dead Seasons by R.M James is exactly such a novel.
Four young adults. An out of gas car. A quiet road in the middle of God-knows-where. Sound familiar? Well, the premise is one where many novels- not to mention countless B-Grade Horror films of the 80’s - take their cue. But what R.M James does pretty damn well is infuse this classic set-up with the same impending dread that made it appealing in the first place. The tension the author builds is palpable. When HR manager Phillip, the responsible one in the group, heads back to a deserted truck seen earlier in the hope of finding some gas, our story’s heroine, Ela heads in the opposite direction in search of help. She comes across an old farm house but instead of help, she encounters not only an injured and possibly dangerous drifter but also ‘something’ in the cellar, something that is very definitely dangerous. Back at the broken down car, things have also taken a turn for the worse. Aspen, our heart-throb jock, has found a dead woman lying in a nearby stream. The news isn’t all bad though. Phillip has managed to find some gas, and after Ela returns having narrowly escaped the danger at the creepy farm house, the four friends decide it’s time to get out of Kansas.
If only things were that easy!
It’s when the group manage to make it to the nearest town that the story truly turns into a beast of genuinely terrifying proportions. What unfolds pits our four unlikely heroes in a fight through a dark labyrinth of crooked cops, un-neighbourly town folk and an unimaginable danger in the surrounding woods. And it’s in these surrounding woods that our characters, and in particular our fragile heroine, Ela, are forced to partake in a chilling game that tests not only their survival skills, but also their ideas of reality.
Where R.M James really excels is in the aforementioned characters. Although in the beginning of the story we meet them in a somewhat familiar picture- the cocky heart throb, the superficial beauty queen, the over-responsible highly strung worry bag and the fragile yet more than what meets-the-eye book worm. James delves into her players and reveals a group of individuals the reader has no choice but to root for. In Ela, she creates an unlikely heroine unlike the tough, gun-toting gals making the trends at the moment, or the damsels in distress that stumble through their narratives, but rather, Ela, is young woman who through this ordeal grows and discovers her true strengths- and darkness.
James keeps the twisting plot easy to follow and the pace at break-neck speed. It would be a slight to liken this novel to previous works as R.M James certainly has developed a unique voice, there too is a healthy dose of inspiration from early King and Koontz as well as a nod the The Hunger Games. But Dead Seasons is something fresh, something new. So if anyone wants to call this a novel from the wrong side of the tracks, then hey, see you on the other side!
Author Interview with R.M. James
It’s not often that one gets to read a good book and then also interview the novel’s author. There are perks to being a blog contributor! Dead Seasons’ creator, R.M James sat down with us and gave us an honest, un-candid glimpse into the heartfelt inspirations behind the book. She also lets us in on her writing process and what the future holds for her writing.
Eddie: Congratulations on writing such an enjoyable novel, R.M James. And thanks for chatting with us. Let’s start with you! Mind telling us a little about who R.M James is? How long you’ve been writing, maybe a little bit about some of your previous work (published short stories, novellas, other novels?
R.M. Who am I? Hmm, still trying to figure that out for myself. But as for how long I’ve been writing. All my life. I know a lot of people say that, but I really have been writing for as long as I can remember. Started maybe when I was eight or nine or ten. Never stopped. My previous published novel is Hear Me Scream, a dystopian novel. Dark themes there, too.
Eddie: So you certainly have put your hours in. Have you always written in the Horror genre?
R.M. No. Dead Seasons is actually my first full length horror novel. I’ve written short stories in the genre, but never an entire novel. I will say that all my novels have horrific things happen either to or around the characters and the world itself, but I’ve never dedicated an entire book to just that. I do love the genre and have always been a fan. Hence, Dead Seasons.
Eddie: Wow! Your first venture into the dark side. A part of what I enjoyed about the book though, was that you played with so-called rules of the genre. You’ve kind of created your own little niche in the horror stable. I know you’re going to dread this next question as writers usually dislike describing their own work. Well, here goes!Describe for us, Dead Seasons in your own words.
R.M. I hate describing my novels. I never do them justice. But I’ll try. Dead Seasons is essentially about life and death and that tiny sliver in the middle. These four acquaintances, because they weren’t really friends, are stranded in a small town and find themselves trying to survive long enough to figure out why and how they got there. It’s the discovering part that I like the most. Going from season to season and slowly figuring it all out. I like that mystery part of it. You don’t really know what’s really happening until the very end. And that’s debatable as well. Haha.
Eddie: The story really had me guessing the whole way through. Another surprise for me was, Ela, the story’s main protagonist. In Ela, you’ve created a wonderful heroine. She isn’t a tough guy dressed up to look like a gal. She’s actually starts out quite fragile but grows stronger in ways the reader wouldn’t imagine. Did you envision her that way from the start or did she develop as the novel progressed?
R.M. I based Ela on my youngest sister, Abi, the novel is also dedicated to her. She died the same year I wrote it. In fact, she was the first reader. She didn’t get to the last act; I hadn’t written it before she passed. But Ela’s heart condition and some of her internal struggles and likes and dislikes are all very much inspired by my sister.
Eddie: Thank you for sharing that interesting but also heartfelt insight. I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s untimely passing. Very often when a writer writes darker material, folks tend to think that there might be something wrong – like the writer had a messed up childhood, or is part of a cult. Hahaha. But tell me, why are some writers simply attracted to horror/dark thriller?
R.M. All my novels have dark themes even though they aren’t always in the horror genre. I write everything from suspense to coming-of-age. I can’t speak for other authors, but for me, it's a combination of two things. First, dark novels help me explore and deal with certain aspects of my own personal life. Second, I like finishing a book and thinking “Whoa, thank God I’ve never had it that bad.” It gives me appreciation for my own circumstances, I guess.
Eddie: An interesting way to look at it. Was there a specific inspiration behind Dark Seasons? If so, tell us a little about how the idea was born?
R.M. The idea came from a dream about a group of people physically jumping from season to season. In the dream, I don’t really know what is happening, except that they’re running away from something and the seasons keep changing. That intrigued me. I had to write down who these people were and why they were running and why the seasons were changing. So basically, the dream gave me an outline and I honed in the details.
Eddie: That was one vivid dream! Outside of your sister’s link to Ela, were any of the characters based on someone real? Or would a likeness be totally coincidental? Hehehe.
R.M. Aspen is based on someone I know pretty well. Those two were the ones I started with specific people in mind. As for Philip and Nicole, they evolved on their own. I think Philip is a combination of many people, though.
Eddie: I found the novel dealt with certain themes to some degree. Absolution seemed to be a strong one? Was this intentional? If so, could you elaborate?
R.M. I’m so glad you caught that. Yes, the novel does have a lot to do with absolution. The characters have to come to grips with who they are and what they’ve done. And where they’re going. Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with my sister about what happens after we leave this plain. We tossed a lot of theories around, had fun with it. We never landed on anything specific. It was one of our last conversations. A lot of it showed up on the page.
Eddie: Yeah, redemption and absolution often make for powerful themes. Something else that caught my attention and early on was the story’s set-up. It reminded me somewhat of those early horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (and although Dark Seasons soon veers in a different direction from those), I wondered if cinema has played a role in your writing?
R.M. I did that on purpose. I wanted to give the novel a very familiar horror start. Four friends stranded in a small rural town after their car dies. You have the main guy, Philip, who thinks he knows it all, there’s Nicole, the pretty blonde, then there is Ela, the fragile brunnette, and Aspen, the troublemaker. I wanted to take that basic premise and flip it on its head, do something completely unexpected with it. I hope I did.
Eddie: And what about other writers? Do you have any writing role models?
R.M. Because I dabble in many genres, I have favorite authors in all of them. As of right now I am reading Stephen King’s newest novella, Wendy’s Button Box, but I also finished reading a psychological suspense novel by Lisa Unger. And still working on a paranormal romance by Christine Feehan. A few years ago, all I read were country noir gritty novels. Another year, it was all about the post-apocalypse. I do that from time to time. Get hooked on one genre and read nothing but that, then move on to the next. I don’t think I have a favorite author, but I am influenced by a collection of them.
Eddie: I haven’t read Wendy’s Button Box. But Lisa Unger is putting some really intersting work out there and the response to her novels has been mostly positive. What has the response to Dead Seasons been so far?
R.M. So far, it has been great. I think a lot of people go in with expectations and assumptions about the book and the genre and end up pleasantly surprised by the end. That makes me quite happy since that is the intent.
Eddie: Glad to hear that. Often good stories go unnoticed in this pretty saturated market. It’s been a great year for Stephen King in terms of seeing his work being adapted for screen. But he is, in a sense a legend from Horror literature’s heyday. What do you think about the modern state of Horror literature?
R.M. I love that the horror genre on screen is doing very well. In the last few years, a lot of them have stepped up their game. As for books, there are always great ones, but yeah, it’s not a ‘trend’ at the moment. I’m just waiting until it comes around. Every genre has its rises and dips. I’m crossing my fingers for horror to get another rise.
Eddie: I mentioned in my review that Horror as a genre is often less appreciated in literary circles (much to my own dismay). Why do you think that is?
R.M. The same reason horror movies are as well. The genre is flooded with tropes and reader expectations. Speaking of Stephen King, I remember how a lot of reviews for Revival griped about how it wasn't’ scary enough. For me, the novel kept me thinking for days. Spoiler alert: It was horror in a less slasher kind of way, but more of a what happens when we die, type thing. What if we all going to a horrible place no matter how good you were in life?
Eddie: Okay another question writer’s dread! Sorry, I can’t help myself! Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you plot before hand or you a pantster? And when do you prefer to write? Early bird or night owl?
R.M. I do plot. A lot. Actually, it's more like I let the story grow and grow in my mind until I can no longer think of new scenes and already feel like I know the characters without haven't’ written a single line. Once an idea becomes full fledged in my mind, that’s when I sit down to plot it. And only after, do I actually start writing it. I like to know where my stories are going to end before I start, that way I stray less and have somewhere to aim at and for.
I don’t know how some people write in starbucks or any public venue. I need to be alone in a room. It doesn’t matter which room in the house. I just need to be alone with my laptop.I used to be a night owl. Would start writing at 10pm and finish around 2am. Sometimes 4am. I have a toddler now, so I’m forced to be an early bird, write before the kids wake up.
Eddie: With the way Dead Seasons ended, there certainly seems to be a little room for things to continue. Any future projects you’d like to speak about (Dead Seasons 2 or otherwise:))?
R.M. I’ve had a few readers tell me the same, how there is room for a second book. What is on the other side? Another level? I’ve thought about it, but haven’t actually committed to the idea. As of right now, I’m working on a psychological suspense novel. It’s become my entire life. It’s a little dark, but that’s what I tend to gravitate toward. But boy do I have a blast doing so. Writers write. I try to get write at least four times a week. If I don’t, I get twitchy. Haha.
Eddie: I’ll be keeping my eye out for a follow-up. Well, from myself and everyone else at Reader’s Abode, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us. It was genuinely fun to talk with you and thanks for being so approachable. I wish you all the best for not only this book’s success but for all your further publications. You have a wonderful talent and fans of the genre will lap Dead Seasons up.
Abodians, thanks for reading and be sure to catch R.M James’ Dead Seasons. Our next give-away will be up soon so stay tuned. Some great novels are up for grabs!