Interview with Marcus James, author of “Symphony for the Devil”

‘Symphony for the Devil’, the second novel in The Blackmoore Legacy, is a much longer book than the first novel ‘Blackmoore’, was it challenging to write a second book and how so?

Marcus James: It was very challenging. It took ten years to write. So much research went into this novel-down to the smallest detail-and there is a book within the book, which centers around the back story of the teenaged violin playing ghost Michael Donovan which takes place in the year 1909. I had to explore the language of novels from that period, both structurally and with dialogue, in order for it to feel as if you’re reading something from the past. There were a lot of risks taken with Symphony.

What kind of risks?

Well, the first book of any series is easy. It can flow much more organically and if it’s a subject you know a lot about, you can use your built in knowledge to build your world, but with a second book, you then have to deepen that world that you only touch on in a first book. It’s a commitment to say “okay, I have hinted and teased all of these things in the first book (I.e. history, family trees, rivalries, etc.) And now I have to explore them further. I have to take the reader down the rabbit hole.” The world of the Blackmoores is so real for me and so rich in history, mythology, spirits, loss, etc. And it was a matter of conveying what I see and feel to the reader so that it is as intoxicating and layered to them as it is for me.

It was also a risk in that there are so many clues and questions left in the first book, and with Symphony some of those questions have to be answered while at the same time planting even more questions. Also, going into the past, not just having it discussed in a few paragraphs or having it revealed in conversation, but actually taking the reader back one hundred years and making sure it has a purpose to the main story going on but also keeping it as it’s own separate entity is not easy.

In The Tale of Michael Donovan we learn what led to his death and why he haunts Mabel Blackmoore’s home (which was originally his home) and why he is unable to move on. Did you know you were going to explore him from the very beginning or did it happen suddenly?

I know basically what every book in this series is going to be about, and what will happen in each book in a general theme sort of way, but as to the real meat of the book, all the things that take place to get to that end result, those things I don’t know. I had a dream about him playing the violin back in January of 2006 and he was alive and in his time. I quickly wrote that scene down and knew it was Michael’s way of revealing the second novel to me, which it did.

All of Symphony opened up to me then, but that didn’t mean I could start writing. What that meant was the research had to begin, and even once I did start writing, I would find that I had to continue doing research. Essentially the research continued until the very end of the writing of the book.

Why did it take ten years to write? Blackmoore is your second novel and Symphony for the Devil, which is the second Blackmoore book, is your fifth. Why did you not just finish this and before starting other projects?

Sometimes the inspiration comes and other times it doesn’t. There were times that I would hit a wall where I knew that whatever I had to say in that moment was said and that Boy would walk off and maybe no one would come back for a while. It’s the way it is for me, but then these other Boys would come in and have completely different stories to tell with their own books and so I had to do what they said.

And ‘the Boys’ you’re referring to is what you call your main characters?

Correct. I know it sounds strange but I really feel like I channel them from other dimensions and when they want to talk, they talk, but when they don’t; well, you get the idea. Now, the Boys aren’t just men, but the main characters bring the other characters with them, sometimes the Boys are just the escorts for someone else, but they are always present.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this book is much darker in a lot of ways compared to Blackmoore, and we are introduced to more witches. Not just more Blackmoores, both past and present, but to entirely new witch families.

Yes. This isn’t a fantasy series, it’s a Gothic horror series and so that world is a world full of shadows and what goes bump in the night, and what started out as maybe a garden in the first book is now a very deep, dark maze in a haunted wood.

Music is a running theme in your writing. From specific songs playing in the moment that are mentioned by name, to Braxton Volaverunt and his best friend J.T. Oliver being in a band, and then the ghost violinist and the newly introduced Mary-Margaret Blackmoore being an accomplished violinist and music teacher, to you stating you write to music, why does it play such a big role?

Music opens doors. I really do believe that. It opens doors to new discoveries within ourselves, it is therapy through getting through heartache or celebrating a great time. Music is the great communicator. In many spiritual traditions music is the thing used to summon deities.

My Boys come to me through music and they all have their particulars. The very climatic ending to Michael’s story was written to “Science of Fear” by Temper Trap on repeat. My heart was pounding as I wrote it and I was left in tears by the end of it.

Are you satisfied with how Symphony turned out?

I would say I am very satisfied. I accomplished everything I wanted to with this book.

In the novel you thank your editor Evanne Freeman-Casey, do you have a good relationship with your editor? We hear so many experiences where authors and editors struggle to work together.

I’m fortunate to have a really great relationship with my editor. She’s a friend of mine, and we are able to separate friendship from work. I have worked with editors in the past who just didn’t get what I was doing, wanting it be a COMPLETELY different book from what I was writing and what had been accepted. She gets it. She gets me and the story I’m telling. She really does do what an editor is supposed to do and doesn’t overreach or try to make it something that it isn’t. It’s really a blessing.

What can we expect to come in The Blackmoore Legacy?

Well, there is a prequel coming out called Rise of the Nephilim which explores Kathryn Blackmoore’s (Trevor’s mother) life in Los Angeles in 1987. We find out the events that later led to her making the decision to keep Trevor in the dark about his destiny and then I will be starting on the third novel The Beckoning One, which will take place here in Seattle and Bellingham, but also in Boston and San Francisco. It’s all very exciting and I have mountains of research material to go through, but I love the research process.