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Interview with James Scott Bell

Brandilyn Collins took a moment to interview James Scott Bell. This article first ran in Afictionado. Enjoy!

In deference to our upcoming conference, in which James Scott Bell will serve as keynoter, I was asked to run the man down (no, not literally) and ask him a few questions. The idea was to let you all know a bit more about the guy before you have to sit in a ballroom and listen to him talk for 45 minutes. Now, I know you’re going to enjoy that. JSB not only knows fiction, he knows how to encourage you and make you laugh. That’s a winning combination in my book.

Of course, I could tell you a few things about JSB – let’s just say you get to know a person pretty well when you go on a book-signing tour together, but in this venue I’d better stick to the basics.

James Scott Bell, known to most as Jim (it’s that formal name thing for novelists), is an award-winning and bestselling author. One of those awards includes a Christy. But he didn’t always want to be a writer. In fact, a gander at his Web site will tell you he’s had myriad careers.

He played basketball in college (this works well when you’re 6’3”) and pursued a degree in film. But then he decided he wanted to write, so he created some screenplays and won some awards for his efforts. However, boredom apparently set in because after graduating, he went into acting – appearing in off-Broadway productions and television commercials.

Then – who knows why? – he decided to be a lawyer. Then he met a way cool and beautiful actress named Cindy and they got married. He kept at the lawyer thing for a while, but finally decided to chuck the attorney life completely and go back into writing novels.

If you find this all very confusing, you’re not alone. So I asked Jim for clarification.

BC: Okay, let me get this straight. You were an actor, a screenwriter, a guy in commercials, a basketball player, and an attorney. Now you’re a novelist. What do you want to be when you grow up?

JSB: Price checker at the 99-cent store. That, and becoming the best writer I can be. It’s true I’ve done a few things. In college they called me the chameleon, because I kept changing what I wanted to do. When Marcel Marceau came to campus, I decided I was going to be a mime. Everybody thought that was a wonderful idea – it would keep me quiet.

I went into acting after that. Moved to New York to become another Brando and ended up wearing tights in a production of Othello. That led to other roles and some commercials. You may have seen me place a tray of McDonald’s hamburgers on a hot shelf, or pour some Pepsi in a glass at a picnic. If you didn’t blink, that is. But I did get residuals all through law school – that was kind of nice.

But ever since I was a kid reading The Hardy Boys, I always wanted to write.

BC: Speaking of writing, everywhere I go, I hear people talking about your how-to book – Writing Great Fiction: Plot and Structure. Why did you write the book, and how can it help novelists?

JSB: One reason I wrote it is that I was mad about being told for so many years that you couldn’t learn how to write fiction. You either had it or you didn’t. I believed that for a long time. But I knew I had to write. I couldn’t not write, so I decided to try to learn. And lo, the craft can be learned. You can become a better writer than you are now.
I basically took all the things I learned about plot and structure, from my screenwriter beginnings through my fiction writing, and put them in a form people could understand and apply. I’m really gratified by how much the book has helped people.

BC: Let’s talk about your upcoming keynoting gig at the ACFW conference in September. Do you realize you’re the first male keynoter at ACFW? Did you know the organization used to be called ACRW – R is for Romance? Any of this making you nervous?

JSB: Not at all. I have a couple of stunning new outfits to wear. But I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a Summer or a Spring. What do you think?

BC: Oh, no, you’re not getting me off on some fashion discussion here – but, remember, a little bling is always nice. How about this: Can you give me a sneak preview of what you’re going to talk about at ACFW?

JSB: I’d like people to laugh a little – though not at my stunning new outfits. I hope to maybe impart a little wisdom along the way. Prepare people for some of the bumps on the writer’s road, give them a heads up, and inspire them to keep writing. That’s the main thing, you know. Keep writing.

BC: You’re busy enough as an author. Why do you take the time to keynote at ACFW and staff various other writers conferences throughout the year?

JSB: I like writers. I like new writers, budding writers, veteran writers, and my friends who write. I get to see my friends at these gatherings, and make new ones, and hang out with people who share a passion for writing stories.

BC: I can buy that. Hanging out with novelists is the best. Now back to your eclectic life. I hear rumors you’re also an ordained minister. True? Can an ex-lawyer really be a minister?

JSB: Not in California. No, wait, I guess you can. Yes, I’ve been ordained as the teaching pastor at my church. It’s perfect for an ex-lawyer. You get to hear yourself talk. But I do enjoy teaching the Bible, and have been doing that for more than twenty years. Now it’s just a little more official.

BC: I know you’re a real student of the Bible and theology. With all this knowledge in your head – are there any constant underlying themes in your fiction?

JSB: I think “justice” is always a factor – how is it going to play out? How will the characters get it? How does God figure into that equation?

BC: What’s your next book project?

JSB: In October, I have my first hardcover coming out – the start of a suspense series. It’s called Try Dying, and involves a highflying lawyer whose fiancée is killed on page one. It looks like an accident, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was murder. When he tries to find out, he gets in bad, bad trouble. He’s befriended by a fallen priest and basketball-playing nun, and other characters who will recur.

BC: Is this a series aimed at the Christian or general market?

JSB: General. I haven’t been happy about some of the trends in contemporary, secular suspense. And I think the audience out there is getting tired of the gratuitous elements. I believe you can write page-turning suspense without that, like some of the great crime novels of the 40s and 50s. I wanted to offer that, because I see the need for it.

At the same time, I want to follow a character and his inner journey over a series of books. In a standalone novel, you have to wrap things up. Here, I have several characters who will be going through some rather surprising changes for a while. I think this is going to be fun.

BC: But we don’t want to lose you at Zondervan!

JSB: You won’t. My next book with Z is called The Whole Truth, coming out in early 2008.

BC: Oh, good. I always look forward to reading the next James Scott Bell novel. Jim, I have to close this out. Thanks so much for your time. I’m sure people will now be all the more excited to hear you at the conference.

By the way, if you want to give me a call, we can discuss your outfits.

JSB: All right! See you and the rest of ACFW in Dallas.

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