James Scott Bell deserves the credit or blame—you can decide—for helping set my feet on the path of writing. He’s the successful author of multiple novels of Christian fiction and a number of excellent books for writers. But his latest novel is totally different, to say the least. The protagonist is a lawyer, but she’s also a zombie. One of the “living dead,” in search of the key to her soul.
RM: We’re often advised to “write what we know.” That’s why I write medical fiction, and you’ve written a number of novels featuring lawyers, but your latest takes you in a whole new direction. Give my readers a taste—please excuse the pun—of your novel about a lawyer who eats brains.
JSB: Isn't that what people suspect lawyers of doing anyway? Is that so far out? Ahem. Here's the pitch: In an increasingly hellacious L.A., zombie lawyer Mallory Caine defends a vampire hooker accused of the crime Mallory herself committed, even as a zombie-killer closes in and the love of her former life comes back as the Deputy DA she must oppose. And as Lucifer himself begins setting up L.A. as his headquarters for a new attack on heaven and earth, Mallory slowly discovers she may be the one who has to stop him.
RM: What made you take this plunge in your writing?
JSB: I woke up one day and thought, You know what the world needs? A zombie legal thriller.
Actually, that's almost the way it happened. Zombie fiction was hot and I was just shaking my head about that one day. I couldn't help thinking, What hasn't been done? And why are the poor zombies always the villains? What if we had a zombie as the hero? And made it a legal thriller?
I tossed the idea out to my agent and he loved it, and told me to do up a proposal.
Well, I thought about it and it seemed to me I could tell a story about light and darkness, good versus evil, and someone who is "cursed" into being what they don't want to be. Sort of along Romans 7 lines. The idea just kept growing in my mind.
And there are times when a writer has to try something new, not just repeat what's been done, even if it's working for him. It's risky, but without the occasional risk life gets to be a dull proposition.
I'd been going along as a pretty successful writer in the Christian fiction market when I started thinking I was supposed to take step toward the mainstream, in a salt and light sort of way. I gave it a lot of thought and prayer. So I went out and signed with Donald Maass, one of the great literary agents. Leaving the security of CBA was like taking a high dive into a glass of water. But I knew if I didn't do it, I'd look back with regret.
And then Don went out and sold Pay Me In Flesh.
RM: To Kensington.
JSB: Yes, an ABA house that specializes in just this kind of fiction. The deal was everything I hoped it would be. I wanted the series to come out in mass market, because that seems to me the best option for print these days. I also wanted it to have a reasonable e-book price as well, and that's happened.
RM: You wrote this under a pseudonym. What was your reason for doing that?
JSB: Because it is SO different from what I've done before. I'm not hiding behind the pen name, K. Bennett, but I wanted to make it very clear to everyone this was something really off the wall from my previous work.
I love my readership. They've been loyal and consistent. I know many of them will love this new book. But I didn't want to mislead anyone. Using a pseudonym is just my way of distinguishing the "brand" of these books the way, say, Nora Roberts uses J.D. Robb for her different lines.
There may be some hesitation about the paranormal genre. I hope, though, that readers on the fence will give the book a try and see what I'm doing. I believe it will surprise them in a good way.
RM: But it's about eating brains.
JSB: Um, it's not like I'm advocating that as a life plan. It's a curse on the Lead character! There's a reason for it, and that reason is going to unfold. You know, this genre is one of the best for telling a moral tale. I mean, there are lots of Christians who enjoy reading Stephen King (even with some of his, er, language choices). I think that's because King always writes about good versus evil with good winning out OR with people paying the consequences for messing around on the dark side. That's the very definition of moral fiction. So careful readers will see the very same things in my series. This book is Stephen King meets John Grisham at the intersection of Janet Evanovich and Raymond Chandler.
Plus, I saw a need for a more lighthearted and, dare I say, redemptive type of fiction in this genre as an alternative to the nihilistic trend we've seen over the past decades. I wanted to offer that to the vast marketplace out there for this type of fiction.
RM: If a publisher hadn’t picked this up, would you have considered self-publishing it as an e-book, as you’ve done with some of your recent short collections?
JSB: Yes, because the idea is one of those rare "first of its kind" concepts it would've been negligent not to try it out. I don't think I could have held myself back from this story once I got into it. It's got a great protagonist, the noir world of L.A., hardboiled narrative a la Chandler, and the biggest backstory canvas of all: the war against God and man waged by the fallen angel, Lucifer.
RM: I’ve had the privilege of reading an advance copy of the book. Here’s a part of my review: … “Different doesn't begin to describe this story about a zombie lawyer defending a vampire client. But I read the first page, and then I turned that page and dozens more, and soon I found myself engrossed in the story. In this book, Bell's intimate knowledge of Los Angeles forms a great backdrop for a premise that's miles from the ordinary (and) …despite my initial misgivings about the subject, I found this to be an enjoyable read.” I understand that some of your early reviewers were utterly turned off by this book. How did that hit you?
JSB: I sort of expected it. Some readers of Christian fiction have definite ideas about what it should contain--and not contain. But I have not put in anything I would consider offensive in terms of language or graphic violence. Kind of a neat trick for a zombie legal thriller.
RM: Do you have plans for more novels like this?
JSB: This is a three book series. If it catches on, maybe more.
But one of the nice things about having a pseudonym is that you can write twice as much. I have some stories in mind as K. Bennett which I will be putting out for e-readers. Who knows? KB may overtake JSB. The same thing happened to Evan Hunter, whose nom de plume Ed McBain is the one that skyrocketed. I will try not to be jealous if that happens.
RM: What else is on the radar screen for the prolific James Scott Bell?
JSB: A new collection of suspense fiction to follow Watch Your Back. A new writing book for Writer's Digest Books, Conflict and Suspense. I've got backlist titles to bring out as e-books which I'll get to when I can. I'm on edits for Book #2 in the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series. It's titled The Year of Eating Dangerously. Donald Maass and I are working on a new thriller idea, too.
RM: Any last words on Pay Me in Flesh?
JSB: Bon appetit.