Swim for life
Six strangers, all addicts, all from Miami neighbourhoods best left unnamed. Stalked, drugged and kidnapped, they awake on a small, uninhabited island in the Florida Keys.
They have one days food and water, and a note advising them to swim for their next fix. It’s waiting for them on another island a mile away.
Off-shore a yacht is at anchor waiting to see if any of them will survive. The occupants onboard place bets on who dies next. In the water, the sharks await their next meal.
Will the junkies stick together long enough to survive? Bait is a delicious thriller that gets you into the story fast and keep you riding the wave.
~ June Lorraine
J Kent Messum
I first met J Kent Messum at a book launch for another author. The group moved on to a former Toronto institution, The Bloor St. Diner, for food and drinks. We were still talking and celebrating when the place closed for the night.
Fast-forward 18-months, and we reconnected at N@TB – Toronto. J Kent gave a great reading and gained new readers that night, and that’s not the booze talking.
He’s up-front and genuine about his writing process and I’m not at all surprised by his clarity and focus. It took a while, but we finally nailed some time to talk about his books and ventures.
Like many authors, you have a varied job history
There are a lot of good things about having a varied job history. For starters, it’s given me a wide spectrum of experiences to draw on when writing, although it came at the cost of stability. However, job security has never been a priority for me, partly because I don’t believe it exists (at least by today’s standards), and partly because comfortable employment was never something I was personally seeking.
Moving from gig to gig in order to suit my needs felt natural and allowed me the necessary time and freedom to pursue other things. Another reason I’ve done a lot of different part-time work is because I was always wary of getting locked down by a day job.
Working full-time often leaves precious few hours to get writing done, something that doesn’t sit well with me. I write as if my life depends on it. I also find that having no safety net or back-up plan makes me more determined to achieve success as an author, so all the jobs were simply a means of survival while I focused on what was important.
Have you participated in any writing groups?
I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf, however I don’t doubt the many benefits of writing groups. I’m a social creature by nature, but a solitary one when it comes to writing. I work alone from beginning to end, plain and simple. When I feel a project is polished enough I will present it privately to a few key people whose judgment I implicitly trust.
Personally, writing groups often give me a feeling of too many cooks in the kitchen. When you’re asking for advice or feedback from a collective there can often be a deluge of it; some of it valuable, some of it conflicting, and some of it incorrect. A lot of people are always looking to give their opinions, but only some are thoughtful about it.
I worry about the perceived subjectivity of art and people’s widely varying opinions of it. Sure, art is subjective, but it isn’t that subjective when you removed ignorance and replace it with education. In that regard, I prefer to avoid groups where the range/diversity of judgement can be all over the map, and instead work with one or two focused peers.
What have you learned from other CriFi writers, and how do you give back?
Peter Sellers (former president of the Crime Writers of Canada) has been invaluable as my mentor. He taught me what truly great writing is and introduced me to the works of every talented author I currently consider an influence. I’ve also received great advice from Craig Davidson, DJ MacIntosh, and Robert Rottenberg about their experiences as authors, how the publishing business really works, and how to keep hustling in an increasingly difficult industry.
I give back by passing on this advice (and other advice I’ve gleaned from my own experiences) to anyone who asks me for pointers on writing and writing careers. There are plenty of pitfalls that can be avoided, plenty of sketchy dealings that can be dodged. Knowledge is power, and I believe all writers should be better armed in this day and age.
Artists need to get wise to myopic market mentalities and bad business practices to better protect themselves from exploitation and potential disappointment. I’m always happy to discuss what I’ve learned so others can benefit from it as well.
Favourite reading site/event to date?
Honestly, I think there are too many to choose from! I’ve been fortunate to do quite a number of readings, panel discussions, and talks at book festivals and universities. I can safely say I’ve enjoyed every one of them. As far as personal reading goes, my place is definitely the couch. I sink into the pillows and lose myself in a good book for as long as I possibly can
The vagaries of publishing come into play with your second book Husk
Husk turned out to be a bit of a rollercoaster, and I’m not sure the ride has come to a stop yet. I was thrilled at how far and wide it was published globally, yet couldn’t believe my own country wouldn’t put it out. As it currently stands, Husk is available in the U.K. (and all of its many territories), the China Complex (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau), Greece, and Brazil. But it’s not available in Canada. It’s a hell of a strange feeling to be published around the world, but not be published in the place you call home.
My first novel Bait earned me a good-sized fan base in North America who were hungry for my second offering, but nobody in Canada or the U.S. picked up the rights, largely because my first novel was not a massive bestseller (even the editors at Penguin Canada wanted Husk, but were ultimately told no). And that’s where I learned my first harsh lesson as an author.
The publishing industry largely does not care about building author’s careers anymore. They’re more in the business of one-hit-wonders pandering to lowest common denominators now. Long-term strategies are out, and short-term profit is in. That’s a tough uphill battle when crafting novel after novel is going to be your life’s work. Fortunately, I’m used to having to fight for the things I want, and I’ve got an awful lot of fight left in me.
How do you react when Warp Films approached you regarding the TV rights to Husk?
When I got the news that Warp Films wanted to option rights for an international TV show, I was over the moon. Warp Films has a great reputation in the business for creating and delivering high-calibre film/television, and the fact that they wanted to use Husk as the basis for multiple seasons of show was very flattering.
Their plan is to base the first series on my novel, and then expand the ideas and plotlines in the book into additional seasons. I’m very excited to see what they end up doing with Husk. Personally, I don’t think the project could be in better hands.
Next book, next venture…?
The next book, that I hope comes out sooner than later, is called Skin Deep. At this stage I can’t reveal too much, but it’s about a new addiction that surfaces in California aided by a particularly nasty little delivery device. The story revolves around six main characters who are involved in the product in various different ways. It’s all finished and is about to be shopped around by my agency to potential publishers.
I’m also currently considering venturing into self-publishing soon with a short story collection of mine called ‘Tethered Dark.’