I came to writing through what you might call a rather different path. I work as a pit boss at what is now Atlantis casino in the Bahamas. It started life as a long term replacement for the mafia controlled casinos in Cuba which were closed in 1959 when the revolution came. Consequently I had tons of rather interesting stories come to me over the years that I thought were worth keeping as part of local history. Being urged by my colleagues, I put them on a website. I have enough material for rather an interesting book too, but my wife doesn’t want me to write it!
Working in casinos has given me a lot of insights to people, especially when they put themselves under pressure. Having said that, my family and their friends were anything but typical, and I met with some real characters. I wrote a few vignettes about them too. Since my pit is located between two giant glass sculptures by Dale Chihuli of The Sun and The Moon, and Atlantis is on Paradise Island, I like to tell people that they can find me ‘between the Sun and the Moon in Paradise’.
I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for almost half a century, having picked up “A Princess of Mars” at an early age. I even went to a few worldcons when I was young and free. That was when I heard the old saws about SF fans never throwing books away (My garage is full), and our drive to write the stuff ourselves. I fit that mould perfectly. Once I had written down all the casino stories I knew, I started writing fiction. That was about five years ago.
I guess I prefer fantasy, because it allows me to be more creative. I tend to start with an off the wall idea, and then run with it to see where it will take me. I try to find ideas or variations that haven’t been beaten to death already. In this respect I admire the works of Philip K Dick, but don’t worry, I don’t use artificial stimuli for my imagination. I Liked his lesser known Clans of the Alphane Moon, and Solar Lottery (AKA The Game Players of Titan), as being especially imaginative. I also admire Marian Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series. My favorite movie is “A big hand for the little lady”, starring Henry Fonda. It’s a poker movie, and I have been known to play the game.
I find it interesting that you asked me about my musical preferences, which are very eclectic. One book I am working on has the idea that a character’s witch genes from her father got mixed up with her mother’s musical talent for perfect pitch, making her magic dependent on the songs her mother listened to while she was pregnant. That one is still very much a work in progress. I suppose I gravitate to eighties or early MTV, but The Dubliners do it for me too.
I went to Gordonstoun school in Scotland. Although this afforded me several glimpses of Prince Charles naked in the shower, it is of peripheral interest to the house I lived in there. Shaped to be a perfect pentacle, the legend said it had been built by a mad magician who was supposed to have sold his soul to the devil, but wanted a place to hide when his time was up. It didn’t work. I always thought that spending several years living in a pentacle affected my outlook on life.
I am British, but have lived in The Bahamas for the majority of my life. I married late to a Bahamian girl, and have two daughters, now 18 and 20. My grandmothers were American and Australian respectively, and several family members dabbled in writing, with limited success.
I am very active. I play squash, and used to do triathlons. I always found that I could detach part of my mind while running, and work on my plot at the same time. I am a fair pool player, having learned to handle a cue at a very early age.
I don’t use a pen name, but I picked up a nickname at work because most of my colleagues didn’t think like me. There I am referred to as Captain Chaos, or ‘The Captain’. That’s why my website has that name.
When I started on my first novel, my motivation was simply a challenge to myself to see if I could actually do it. I wasn’t writing for an audience, or to make money. I was writing for me. I didn’t consider ‘Putting it out there’ until a work colleague and neighbor went the self publishing route. After that my wife was pushing me big time. I guess that being in The Bahamas, where there are virtually no writing groups or circles, and no fiction publishing, I had a hard time seeing the way forward without the help and advice of an editor. I am really excited to now be able to get this assistance.
As of now I have completed three novels and am working on two others. I switch between the two whenever I get stuck!
My most memorable holiday was the one when I proposed to my wife. We went to Jersey where I had a cousin, Tom. I had picked out the spot by the romantic ruins of Grosnez Castle in the northeast corner of the island. We did the tourist bit most of the day, and towards the evening, I said, “There is one more place I’d like to show you.” She was tired and reluctant, but it was a fine evening, the spot was very picturesque, and a couple of bunnies even came out to gambol around. After I did the one knee bit, and her screaming and screeching died down, she admitted that she would have left me at the end of the trip if I hadn’t popped the question. We had been an item for over four years.
When we got back to Tom’s house, my fiancée, totally unable to contain her news, immediately blurted out, “James proposed, and we are getting married.”
The uninspiring reply, “I always thought you were!” was a bit of a letdown, so she ran to the phone, and called my mother and aunt in England.
When she gave them the news, their reply was, inevitably, “I always thought you were.” It may not have been the sort of vacation you recall for all the fun times, but I will never be able to forget it.
I had several family members who were writers, but for various reasons had rather limited success. The first was my Australian grandmother, Werna Mary Brown, later Gordon-Brown. “Werna” was an aboriginal name, although she wasn’t. Unsurprisingly she preferred to be known as ‘Queenie’. A journalist by trade, she wrote a novel which the publishers in Melbourne advised her to take to London as they felt it was quite good, and would do better there. Taking their advice, she embarked on a liner to London called the Pericles, which promptly sank. She survived, but the book didn’t. In those days – it was 1908 or 9 - one manuscript was it.
My father, Robert Burnett, went one better. He wrote a biography of Gauguin, which was published in 1939. It was quite well received, and was translated into French and German. The overseas royalties, for some inexplicable reason, never materialized. After the war, he tried to do the bio on another artist, but someone else published one on the same man while his manuscript was in progress. This, on top of his very stressful wartime experiences as a polyglot interrogator, knocked the stuffing out of him.
My mother, also Werna Mary, (she chose Mary!) wrote anonymous stories for the magazine The Tatler while my dad was struggling, but never told him. I believe he thought her to simply be thrifty with the housekeeping budget.
Her cousin, and my godfather, John Marriner wrote stories for yachting magazines, which he collected into book form, and followed with other travel books about yachting. Even though he wrote for a relatively limited market, he was the most successful. Of course he was the only one who didn’t need the money.
Having these family members showed me that it was possible to write a book, and I took encouragement from their achievements.
About The Decision
I can’t remember how I came up with the idea for The Decision. I do know that I thought it was cool, and wanted to know where it might take me. The concept of a person who could shift sexes was one which I immediately realized had the capacity to go downhill at an impressive speed, and I had to be very careful to keep things from degenerating into a story I did not want to write.
Having a character with two completely different outlooks on life, but the same talents and memories was a challenge, as keeping them believable to the reader was very important. I wanted the reader to be able to identify with both, but not to the extent that either would automatically become their favorite. After all, the main theme was about which way my protagonist would jump in the end.
Just as significant was the way I treated each aspect’s love interest. They had to be people who complemented their respective aspect while still being retaining individuality.
I really enjoyed designing all the characters in the book. None are based on anyone in particular, but they are all based in some way or other on the types of people I have come across during my life, and especially in the casinos where I have worked. It helps that I come into contact with so many different people every single day.
I can’t hold a tune to save my life, and I had never tried to write lyrics, so that was probably the thing I worried about the most. Nevertheless, I bulled my way through that somehow.
I must admit I had great fun writing The Decision, and allowed myself to go off script, as it were, when I found a twist I really liked, and just had to be in the book. I hope the readers will appreciate them as much as I did.
Once I finished, I started wondering: how weird and twisted was I?
I would like to thank James for an intriguing insight to his life and writing. We look forward to the publication of The Decision.
Thanks for reading,