James R. Tuck Interview – Author of urban fantasy, horror and crime fiction
Tuck talks “Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter”, “Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane”, and his career as a tattoo artist.
JMW: Hello this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is author and tattoo artist James R. Tuck who also writes As Levi Black. Welcome.
James R. Tuck: We’re very happy to be here.
JMW: We’re thrilled you can be with us today at Dragon Con. As a writer, both of your identities are best known for the dark hard edged urban fantasy of your Deacon Chalk series as James R. Tuck, and the love crafty and horror of Red Right Hand which you write as Levi black. But recently you turned that hand, presumably not the red one, toward a series about Robin Hood. How did that come about?
James R. Tuck: I co-write that series with Debbie Viguie, and her and I were at a small convention here in Georgia. And they had put me on a panel by myself for some reason, and I invited her to come sit with me so I would not be alone. In the discussion on that panel we came up with the idea that we should work together because the more we talked, the more we had in common. And then in the discussion, we both decided that we really wanted to write a Robin Hood book. And of course we can’t destroy the straight Robin Hood book because it’s her and I, there had to be demons and that’s where it came up.
Something is brutally murdering Atlanta Zoo’s most dangerous predators. Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter has to unleash his darkest, most uncontrollable instincts to save the entire city.
JMW: Oh cool. And that’s out now too, is it?
James R. Tuck: Book two actually came out at the beginning of August.
JMW: The title?
James R. Tuck: The title is “The two Torcs“. Robin Hood demons playing the two torts and that’s book two and that’s from Titan. So it’s available everywhere.
JMW: So Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane is the series title and the first book was called?
JMW: Oh very cool, very cool and that isn’t a big enough stretch, you’ve also branched out into noir with a Southern twist. How does writing mystery strengthen your speculative fiction and vice versa?
James R. Tuck: Well it all sharpens the ability to write intriguing characters. I love writing crime fiction and I really think that a lot of the urban fantasy and some of the horror that I write. If you think urban fantasy is just a crime novel and a horror novel that you smash together. So writing a very compelling crime story does sharpen those tools that allow you to write urban fantasy too.
JMW: And how does that come into play with “Mama Tried” which is I think your new anthology as a noir writer?
James R. Tuck: Yes that came out from Down and Out Books. It hit about six weeks ago. So end of July and it is Mama Tried, an anthology of crime fiction based on outlaw country songs and in it, I got some contributors that were from the genre that I write in urban fantasy like Delilah Dawson, Jim Moore, Charles Rutledge. And then I also got some great contributors from the crime fiction field like Christopher Alston, Eric Beetner and it’s just a fabulous collection. I’m happy with all of the stories that are in it. I got to design the cover for it. I’m very pleased with the entire process. It was a lot of fun.
Robin Hood doesn’t just fight the evil, corrupt men of society these days. Now he must save the Sherwood Forest from a different kind of evil lurking in the woods.
JMW: Sounds very cool. I have read a few of the things that you’ve posted and I’ve downloaded one of your books so that I can read it and one of the things that impresses me even with the little I’ve read, is that you have a real strength for drawing truly evil characters. Are any of them drawn from life?
James R. Tuck: Unfortunately they are…not all of the characters are any one person but the one story that you read “I’m on Fire” which was in the Trouble in the Heartland anthology from Gutter Books and it’s crime fiction based on Bruce Springsteen songs. So I picked I’m on Fire and that guy of course, that guy has been in every community you’ve ever been in.
JMW: Yeah unfortunately.
James R. Tuck: Yeah he’s a predator, that’s what he is and it was really, as unfortunate as is what happened, it was very nice to give him his comeuppance with a can of gasoline and a match.
JMW: Yes and a few other things but we won’t go there, they have to read the story.
James R. Tuck: Yes.
JMW: When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
James R. Tuck: I’ve always dabbled in writing as like a very loose hobby. When I was younger, almost everybody writes something in high school. Of course you move through life, you forget about that and I was always an avid reader. So in 2009, I read a book that was supposed to be very dark and very violent and very disturbing. It was an urban fantasy, rave reviews, five stars across the board. Everywhere you looked it was being talked about and I read it and I was sorely disappointed. And at that point I said I can write a better book than this and then I read a Lilith Saintcrow’s essay series on her blog that she’s now turned into a book called “The Quill and the Crow” of her real life writing advice and reading her real life writing advice I realized that I could write a book and so then I did and that became “Blood and bullets” which sold to Kensington unagented for a three book deal.
Robin Hood, Marian and a small group rebels are fighting against the dark forces used by Prince John to wield the power of the throne. The Sherwood Forest is the only land in England that cannot be touched by this evil, and they must save it in order to save the whole country.
JMW: Very, very cool. When did the tattoo art come into it? Did you decide to become an artist before you decided to become a writer or were the two streams together in your life, the art and the writing?
James R. Tuck: I’ve always been an artist. It’s one of the earlier…Being a writer and being an artist are two things that I’ve done since far beyond I can remember. Those were the earliest stories that get told about me from my family. So I’ve always drawn, always been an artist, I’ve always been involved in that. Being a tattoo artist happened 20 years ago. I learned how to tattoo. So that was an interesting situation as, yet most people’s stories of getting into the tattoo business are. I did an apprenticeship with a guy who knew how to tattoo, who had a shop in Marietta. The tattoo industries for people that are kind of low and kind of, it draws a certain kind of person. So you wind up with some pretty interesting stories that aren’t always good for dinner conversation.
JMW: Yes but the process itself is pretty interesting in these days of you go to school, you get a job and you move around but don’t you have to do something like serve an apprenticeship?
James R. Tuck: Yes. I served a year-long apprenticeship where basically I was in charge of doing everything that was not actually tattooing. Which means that I arrived at the shop an hour and a half before and I swept, and I mopped, and I vacuumed, and I cleaned the windows, and I dusted the shelves and I made sure that the reference material was in place and I made needles and I made inks and I drew designs and then I helped all the customers and I took all the money, I did all the paperwork. I ran to the store to get lunch, ran to the store to get cigarettes, ran to the store to get supplies. Basically if there was something that had to be done that did not apply ink to skin, that was my responsibility. And I did that for a solid year before I was able to tattoo anybody at all.
JMW: It sounds like it’s a really good business education.
James R. Tuck: It is. I did learn from top to bottom. Not everything that it took to run a shop but everything it took to make a shop run. So I did at one point own my own shop and that
was glorious for about three years. It was also at the same time that I had started writing. I opened my shop and started my writing career at about the same time. And I discovered that as much as I loved tattooing and I will always tattoo until my hands fall off, I do not like running a business. And so three years ago I shut it down and it was the best decision that I made in the last ten years.
JMW: But you still tattoo?
James R. Tuck: I still tattoo and I work for someone else and I’m far happier.
JMW: Cool. Do you specialize in any specific type of tattoo or type of tattoo art?
James R. Tuck: Not specialized, 20 years and I’ve done almost every style there is. I’m not very good at Japanese, so if you want traditional Japanese I usually will send you to someone else but if you’re looking for a bold line, bright color traditional, so much traditional or a new school tattoo then I’ll do a really, really fine job on that. That is really my specialty.
JMW: Very cool. What are you working on now both in your writing and in your art?
James R. Tuck: As far as my writing goes I still am under contract for another Robin Hood book and then two more Red Right Hand books and so those are what I’m working on currently. And also I’m working on comic strips because I have a comic book project that will be out January, February with Neil Vokes, it’s called “Shadows Over White Chapel‘ which is a lovecraftian monster doing Jack the Ripper stuff in Victorian London and it’s a lot of fun. So I’m really looking to do a little more comic book work.
JMW: Yeah. We knew he had to be Cthuluu, we really did.
James R. Tuck: Yes, I like playing in the Cthuluu Mythos, I have some Indie projects with that, I do a lot of short stories in it and then Red Right Hand is set in it.
JMW: And with the art, you just want to keep doing what you’re doing, right?
James R. Tuck: Yes. With the art I don’t really have anything that I’m trying to learn or any new techniques. The best thing about tattooing as an artist is it’s a frustrating thing and that’s the best thing and the best thing is that it allows you to do many different kinds of art every day. Like every day I go into work, I make a piece of art. It may not be a piece of art that I care about but it’s still a piece of art. So it does alleviate that creative soul.
JMW: That’s good. We all need something that alleviates that creative soul. We’re coming up again to the end of the interview, is there anything you’d like to add?
James R. Tuck: I will say that if you read, you should read widely and if you’re a writer, you should write your book. Quit messing around with it, quit looking at what you’ve written and continue to write until you get to the end. I encourage everybody to write or draw or do some form of art. So art harder.
JMW: Art harder. Good words to live by. Thank you Jim and thank you for BuzzyMag.com.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.