Folks, Jim Bernheimer has been tremendously entertaining to me with his books and it is with great pleasure that I have him on the blog for an interview. Of course we have to talk books (Heinlein and C. T. Westcott), along with the Harry Potter fanfiction universe, audiobooks, Gryphonwood Press, and lots of other stuff. Sit back and enjoy!
1) On your Goodreads page, you cite such influences and favorites as Tolkien, Heinlein, Poe, and C. T. Westcott. That’s quite a wide range in literature. Will you give a few examples of what about their works caught your imagination?
I first read Tolkien when I was around 10. His descriptions were extremely vivid (look at the way they’re making 3 movies out of a single book!). Robert Heinlein, as far as I am concerned, was the master of the first person narrative. My three favorites have always been Starship Troopers, Glory Road, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The way he got the reader inside the main character’s head is something I’ve always tried to emulate. As for C.T. Westcott, his Eagleheart trilogy gave me the definitive anti-hero in Wil Bucko. He’s a rogue and a scoundrel with an odd streak of nobility. The author’s wit and abrasive, dark humor is an inspiration. Cal Stringel from the D-List Supervillain series is my version of an anti-hero and I owe a debt of gratitude to all three of these authors.
2) You came out of the world of fan fiction. Mind sharing some of the SFF worlds that you wrote fan fiction about? What about those particular worlds captivated and wouldn’t release you until you had spilled some ink?
I write fanfic under the name of JBern and carved out a decent sized following in the Harry Potter fanfiction universe. I really enjoyed the first 4 books in the series, but for me the wheels started coming off on the series in book 5. There was and still is so much potential in that universe and I still have ideas that I hope to have the time to visit. One of the things I did with fanfic was to be bold and experimental. The first fic I published was my attempt to do a bloody and violent wizarding war a Saving Private Ryan version of the HP universe. It was dark gritty and horribly long by novel standards. Then I wrote another novel length fanfic and the sequel to it all in 2nd person present tense just to try the style that just about everyone and their brother say to never ever do. I also had another story going at the same time in 1st person called The Lie I’ve Lived which cemented the notion in my head that I’m most comfortable writing in that style. (There was one terrible 2-3 month block where I had all three of those stories going at the same time and I was writing in 1st person present, 2nd person present, and 3rd person past tense all at the same time – I do not recommend doing this by the way.) One of the nice things about the fanfic world that helped my development as a writer is that I got lots of feedback in a short period of time. Getting people to read and evaluate what you write is no easy task. Review sites like your own are inundated with requests all the time. For example, the first novel I published on Amazon (Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman) has, at this time, 81 reviews. That’s pretty good. At the peak of my fanfic writing, when I put out a single chapter of one of my main fanfics I would get somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 reviews. The serial nature of fanfiction lends itself to a greater level of feedback. Thankfully, there seems to be less of a stigma surrounding both that and self-publishing these days.
It’s a delicate balancing act. The writing has never really caused any issues at work since I keep them separate. Most days at lunch, I’ll go sit in my car and hammer out a few hundred words on my smartphone. The majority of Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective mystery was written in that fashion on a slide out keyboard using my thumbs. As for home life, my wife generally lets me know when I’ve been spending too much time on the computer and neglecting my other responsibilities. I won’t lie and say there has never been a rough patch because of my writing, but am eternally grateful that she puts up with a bum like me.
4) Having read a few of your books, I know that some of your characters have flexible moral boundaries. Where has this allowed you to take your stories that you didn’t expect? Have you ever written a scene that made even you squirm?
I try to write as realistically as possible and that’s usually where the flexible morals part comes in handy. It’s really all about suspension of disbelief. If the reader can buy into the fact that Cal Stringel or one of my other characters could do “X” because of the circumstances, then it lets me push the envelope. Early in D-List, Cal has the Olympian Superhero Aphrodite prisoner and is attempting to get her clean from this substance controlling her mind. The plot complication there was that Cal was a criminal with his own festering ball of issues and ill-suited to be anyone’s 12 step partner. From any other perspective other than Cal’s, he tortured her. That was a difficult chapter to write.
I’ve only met her once in my adult life at a family reunion, but my 2nd cousin is Nora Roberts. Each summer, she hosts a reunion at her house in western Maryland. If I reap one thousandth of the financial success she has managed then I’ll probably be more successful than most writers ever will be. I keep meaning to go back to the next reunion, but events keep conspiring against me.
6) What fictional character or beastie from your own works would you want to meet? Which would you hide from indefinitely?
Of the characters in my books, I probably most want to meet either Cal Stringel (who can invent cool stuff) or Mike Ross (who can speak to ghosts). Since a lot of the short fiction I write is horror, I could see myself hiding from the swamp monster in the short story, Existence, or the various zombies, werewolves, or vampires that I have written. However, if I had to stick with one, it would be that swamp monster.
7) Some of your books are published via Gryphonwood Press and others are self-published. You even took it a step further and self-published some audiobook versions. Print versus ebook versus audiobook – what were the high points and low points for each for you in the self-publishing world?
As long as you keep a positive attitude, there aren’t any low points when it comes to publishing something you’ve written. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Probably the nastiest criticism I had ever received in the self-publishing world was right at the beginning when I first put out my short story collection, Horror, Humor and Heroes. The reviewer took his time and picked apart every story in the book and while he did like one of them, he then proceeded to use his criticism to launch what I considered to be a personal attack. That experience is one of the reasons why I recommend to all new writers that they should strongly consider the use of a pen name.
When it comes to working with a publisher, the waiting is always the hardest part just like Tom Petty says. Right now, I’m waiting for one of the other Gryphonwood authors to finish proofreading the second Spirals of Destiny Novel, while fending off the fans who are waiting for that long-delayed second installment. As for the audio book world, I’ve had great experiences with Jeffrey Kafer. He’s incredible to work with and I was fortunate to stumble upon him when I was first getting into audiobooks.
8) The New Year is upon us. How do your favorite characters celebrate?
I suppose Cal Stringel would have a small party in what you aptly termed his “Cave of Anger.” Mike Ross would likely be at a larger party filled with both the living and dead. David Bagini 42 would still be wondering how his life had arrived at that particular point.
In the next month, the second book in the Spirals of Destiny series will be released (hopefully), and I’m currently writing the rough draft for the prequel to Cal Stringel’s adventures that will be called, Origins of a D-List Supervillain. I am also working on a short story for an upcoming anthology called Apollo’s Daughters from Silence in the Library publishing that I am really excited about. Both Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston are among the many talented authors who will be working on this project edited by Bryan Young. It’s a companion piece to Athena’s Daughters which features stories from female authors featuring strong female lead characters. When that is completed, I expect to be working on the third D-List novel and then the third Dead Eye installment. That should keep me busy through most of the year. As far as conventions go, I will be attending Marscon in Williamsburg Virginia this month. I am also confirmed guest at ConCarolinas in June. I also to attend the next XCon in Myrtle Beach South Carolina during May and ShevaCon in September. If there is any room, I wouldn’t mind doing a couple more conventions, but we’ll have to see.
Places to Find Jim Bernheimer