Jim Melvin - Action and Mystery, Dangerous Creatures and Beautiful Places
Jim grew up on the shores of western Florida, and he spent much of his childhood swimming in shark-infested waters long before the movie "Jaws" put a scare into everyone. At the time, he probably was too skinny to attract a bull shark's attention. About ten other boys Jim's age lived on his same street, and they hung out morning, noon and night playing the usual sports that young boys love — football, baseball, "kill the carrier," etc. — but as a group they also played fantastical games that contained magic, monsters, and superheroes. It was in this setting that Jim's imagination was born and nurtured. Jim lives in a valley surrounded by mountains in the Southern Appalachians. He was previously an award-winning journalist at several large newspapers and a communications director at Clemson. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his latest book, Do You Believe in Magic?
Please give us a short introduction to what Do You Believe in Magic? is about.
Do You Believe in Magic? is book 1 of a teen fantasy adventure trilogy titled Dark Circles that is appropriate for ages 13 and older. Dark Circles has been described as a series that “transcends fiction and fantasy by exploring the struggles of those coming of age.” Here is a brief synopsis of Do You Believe in Magic?: “After discovering a magical waterfall deep in the forest, a boy and his dog embark on an epic adventure in a fantastical world filled with monsters and magic. In the real world, Charlie is a 13-year-old nerd picked on by bullies. But in the fantasy world, he becomes a wizard wielding formidable powers. Standing in his way is a vile monster bent on destruction. Only those with a hero’s heart will have the courage to stand at Charlie’s side when the war begins.”
What inspired you to write this series? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I am the author of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy for readers 18 and older. The DW Chronicles is like Game of Thrones in that it contains scenes that are only appropriate for mature audiences. As it so happens, I have five daughters, all of whom were uncomfortable that “Dad” could write stuff like this. And they urged me to take a stab at something more in the PG range. Because of this, Do You Believe in Magic? was born, and though the reader side of me prefers adult epic fantasy, I admit that writing this new series has been a lot more fun—and rewarding—than I expected.
Tell us more about Charlie. What makes him so special?
As you might expect, there’s a lot of me in Charlie. I was a skinny kid with white-blond hair (though I had brown eyes, not blue, much to my chagrin). I also like to think that I was kind, gentle, and smart. I always made good grades and was never called into the principal’s office. There’s a certain magic to pulling that off, isn’t there? But what really makes Charlie special is the inherit goodness in him. He is a powerful antithesis to evil. His kindheartedness is the source of his magic. And his aversion to evil is what fuels his power.
Why did you pick a 13-year-old as your main protagonist?
Part of the answer to this can be found in your first question. But to me, 13 is a magical age. You’re no longer a child. But you’re also not a young adult. Innocence still abounds, and there is so much room for growth, both literally and figuratively.
What did you have the most fun with when writing "Do You Believe in Magic?”
The Death Wizard Chronicles series was extremely in-depth and heavily symbolic. So my goal for Do You Believe in Magic? was to lighten things up a bit and make the Dark Circles series approachable for younger readers, but also for readers of all ages who enjoy books simply for their entertainment value. I achieved this to some degree. But as it is turning out, Dark Circles is not lightweight reading. There is a lot going on between the lines. Still, it’s still a lot of fun. And though I say it is appropriate for 13 and older, I have heard positive things from readers as young as 9 all the way to 70 and older.
Readers say this is a real page-turner. How did you pull this off?
The obvious answer to this is that the plot, characters, and setting are compelling. But another aspect is that I have made a supreme effort to streamline the story. For instance, the first draft of Do You Believe in Magic? was close to 100,000 words, but the final edited version is under 80,000. The same goes for book 2 titled Do You Believe in Monsters? (which debuted May 30). It began as 115,000 words and finished around 90,000 after editing.
How do you go about world-building in a fantasy setting like this?
World-building can go in a lot of different directions. For instance, George R.R. Martin’s series takes world-building to an extraordinary level and in some regards reads more like historical fiction than epic fantasy. I certainly have the skills to build worlds, but in Do You Believe in Magic?, my primary goal was to build a world that was illustrative. In other words, I wanted my readers—of all ages—to be able to picture my fantasy world in their minds as if they were standing there looking at it. I wanted them to see shapes, colors, and textures—fashioned by my words in conjunction with their own creative imaginations.
Why did you title this book "Do You Believe in Magic?"
Do You Believe in Magic? (book 1 debuted May 25), Do You Believe in Monsters? (book 2 debuted Oct. 30), and Do You Believe in Miracles? (book 3 coming in Feb. 2024) contain three words starting with the letter M that are inextricably entwined. Magic embodies the wonder of being alive. Monsters symbolize the various aspects of life that work to diminish our sense of wonder. Miracles encompass Magic prevailing over Monsters. Life can be wondrous if you only believe. However, I don’t mean this in a religious sense. I mean this as a state of mind.
This is book one of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Book 1 is not a standalone. My plan is for Dark Circles to be a trilogy. Book 1 (Do You Believe in Magic?) and book 2 (Do You Believe in Monsters?) both have cliffhanger endings. Book 3 (Do You Believe in Miracles?) will conclude the trilogy. However, you might have noticed that I said “my plan” is for this to be a trilogy. I reserve the right to write additional books if Dark Circles becomes a big success.
Interesting cover. Tell us more about it.
It is crucially important that covers of most genre standalones or series blend in with the competition. In other words, if you’re writing a horror novel or series, your cover probably shouldn’t have a kid eating an ice cream cone. The covers of my genre are dominated by original illustrations that inspire a certain mood. I wanted my readers to look at my covers and instantly get that I was writing a teen fantasy adventure series. To accomplish this, I did a lot of research. I talked to local artists and also researched design companies around the world that specialize in original illustrations. Prices varied: from $200 to well over $1,000 per cover. I finally settled on a company based in Ukraine called MIBLART. They’ve illustrated and designed hundreds of covers, some of which have become top sellers. Together, we devised the covers for my series. Finally, I was fascinated that they could still do such outstanding work despite their country being torn by war. I really care about them. And I believe they care about me.
When starting on a first draft, what is the first thing you do?
I’m not the best outliner but not the worst either. I spend a couple of weeks setting up my outline and then begin to write. As the story develops and deepens, I return to the outline and develop and deepen it along with the lengthening narrative.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
For me, writing the first draft of a novel is when I most feel like a writer. It’s also the time when I most feel like someone who is beyond the ordinary. Though first drafts can be excruciatingly painful in some ways, they can also be spectacularly rewarding. During the first draft, I write virtually every evening for 2-3 hours, aiming for 2,000 words. Then I’ll spend about an hour the following morning editing what I wrote the night before. At this pace, I can write about 60,000 words in a month and finish a first draft in less than two months. Then I spend three more months revising the first draft. This three-month period is long and tedious.
What are you working on right now?
I am putting the finishing touches on book 2 (Do You Believe in Monsters?) and setting up all the marketing details for a weeklong promotion (Oct. 30-Nov. 3). After that, I will dive into the first draft of book 3 (Do You Believe in Miracles?) After that, I have many, many more books to write, some partially written and others waiting impatiently in line.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My author’s website (jim-melvin.com) has all the nuts and bolts wrapped in a pretty package. The best way to interact with me personally is through my perma-free Substack newsletter (jimmelvin.substack.com). I’ll also respond to emails at [email protected].
After discovering an enchanted waterfall deep in the forest, a boy and his dog embark on an epic adventure in a fantastical world filled with monsters and magic. In the real world, Charlie is a 13-year-old nerd picked on by bullies. But in the fantasy world, he becomes a wizard wielding formidable powers. Standing in his way is a vile monster bent on destruction.