Author Interview – James Mabe
I came across “All The Lights In The World” by James Mabe while reading a subreddit I frequent. He was offering the book up free of charge, hoping to gain some visibility. The smattering of comments on reddit were positive, the book had something to do with zombies, and well… “free” rhymes with “me.” So I downloaded it to the iPad until such time as I would have occasion to read it.
When the occasion came, I was beyond impressed. “All The Lights In The World” is one of those rare books that exemplifies the promise of self-published fiction – a guy you’ve never heard of wrote a book that’s really REALLY good. I decided to reach out to James for a bit of a chat, and he graciously agreed.
C: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me James. Why don’t we start out with how long you’ve been writing, and why you chose horror as your preferred genre?
J: My pleasure Collin, thanks for the opportunity. I started writing fiction in high school, more as a way to goof off in class than anything else. I began to take it more seriously in college, and it was around that time that I began my first (aborted) attempt at writing a novel. On and off, I suppose that I’ve been writing for a little over a decade.
My interest in horror has been a life long thing, thanks largely to growing up in the 80’s when, horror icons were fairly prevalent in pop culture. Since then, I’ve had an affinity for monsters, weird creatures, and story lines that are little off the beaten track. As I grew older, I delved into the horror genre in literature and enjoyed the sort of feeling I could get from reading a really creepy story. There was something about that “I haven’t imagined something like this before and now my hair is standing on end and I don’t want to go to bed” feeling that I found very captivating. It’s something that I’ve wanted to recreate in my own work.
C: I originally came across “All The Lights In The World” on a subreddit I frequent. You had released it for free in hopes of gaining more exposure for your work. (The most difficult part of self-publishing, or at least it seems to be.) What other methods have you tried to increase awareness for your book? And what kinds of results have you seen from offering your novel for free?
J: During the free promo thing, which went on for about five days, I tried to get exposure through most of the social media/forum sites I frequent. Reddit and 4chan were especially helpful here, and I managed to get several hundred downloads in only a couple of days. At the same time there was a horror convention happening in Charlotte, NC, not far from where I live, and I spent the weekend handing out flyers. I’m not certain how successful this tactic was, but at the end of the weekend I had a total of nearly a thousand downloads. Given that I had little to no exposure before that point, I considered it a success.
Marketing the book since the initial promo has proved to be a bit more challenging, though I’m part of a few horror/literary groups on Facebook and they do help a little. Hopefully, as more readers finish the book, I’ll get a few more positive reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and possibly some exposure from independent reviewers on their own sites. I’m new to the world of self promotion, so I’m likely pretty bad at it.
C: Independent books usually have a bad rep when it comes to being well written, but during my reading of “All The Lights In The World” I was impressed with what I felt was better-than-most quality in your writing. What did your editing process look like? Did you self-edit, or have an outside editor?
J: Thanks very much. I self edited, out of necessity rather than choice, and the editing process lasted longer than the actual writing process. I think I went through three full revisions before finally settling on this version, and only then because I was so sick of reading the damned thing (not because I had fixed all of the mistakes, unfortunately). The first couple of edits involved replacing phrases, correcting obvious mistakes, and generally trying to improve readability. It wasn’t until the most recent revision that I began to make drastic cuts (enough time had passed for my initial love affair with my own work to have ended) and I deleted close to ten thousand words from the manuscript. The first couple of drafts had overly long monologues, plot points that weren’t essential to the story, and somewhat (more) unrealistic scenes. I dialed everything back a bit in the final edit and reworked the ending so that it felt more natural. Overall, it was an unpleasant (though educational) experience and I hope to have an actual editor for my future projects.
C: I’ve seen more than one reviewer refer to the story as “bleak.” Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
J: Yeah, I would say that’s fair. I tried to write the sort of story that I would like to read, and quite a few of my favorite novels have been pretty bleak. It just feels right for the genre. Happy endings in horror have often (though not always) struck me as being a bit insincere, especially when so much time has been spent (over the course of a novel) convincing the reader that “X is the most awful, dreadful thing ever”… but then everything is okay in the end, minus a few scrapes and bruises. Sometimes bad things just happen, and they don’t necessarily stop happening simply because you’re getting close to the last chapter. I also used a lot of the story (probably more than I should have) as a vehicle to explore some of my own feelings about religion, meaning, and human nature in general, which might have turned it into a bit of a pessimistic circle jerk, I’m not sure.
C: I really dig the cover art, which is significantly higher in quality than typical self-published works. Where’d you come up with such an awesome zombie picture?
J: Thanks, man, I’m glad you like it. It’s a painting that I was working on around the same time as I was doing the final edit. I didn’t intend to use it as the cover (I didn’t really have a plan for the cover), but it ended up working pretty well. The source picture was from an autopsy photo, I believe. I played around with the contrast and colors for a while and then painted the result.
C: If I’m remembering correctly, “All The Lights In The World” is your first published novel. Are you planning on staying independent, or is the ultimate goal to get picked up by a publishing house? And why are you pursuing that particular path?
J: I would eventually like to be picked up by a publisher, if possible. Ideally a smaller press, with genre fiction as its main focus. This has less to do with the financial end of things (I’m not sure if too many people decide to be writers for the money) than it does simply securing a future as an author. The independent route presents certain limitations as far as promotion goes and, to a degree, legitimacy. I don’t have the experience, time, or finances to self promote effectively, and a publisher would at least have a network in place to help take up some of the slack.
Then there is the question of whether or not I’m taken seriously as an author without a publisher behind my work. There seems to be an implicit distinction between self published and traditionally published novels, and the latter is generally seen as being more legitimate (that is to say, worth the reader’s time) than the former. This is not always justified, but it does seem to be the case.
C: Hopefully this chat can move you a little further toward your goal! One final question: What storyline or idea is next on your plate?
J: That would be pretty fantastic. Right now I’m working on an outline for another novel, which will be a bit of a departure from “All the Lights in the World”. It will still be a horror story, but it will venture into somewhat weirder territory than I could get into with “Lights”. The zombie genre really has been done to death and back at this point, which is rather fitting I suppose, and I don’t think I have anything more I can add to it. Instead, my next project will delve into body horror, obsession, transdimensional entities, and urban decay; I suppose I’m going for a sort of ‘Lovecraftian industrial’ feel. I imagine that the finished product will be extraordinarily uplifting on both an emotional and spiritual level.
–James Mabe lives in the uncharted, pre-industrial hills of North Carolina, where he divides his time between alcohol, comic books, and ritual sacrifice to a number of pagan deities. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he received a degree in philosophy which has led him to untold financial prosperity. He is a freelance artist, writer, and professional degenerate. You can view more of his artwork here, and you can buy “All The Lights In The World” HERE.