Welcome back, James. Why do you write the kind of books you do?
My undergraduate studies were Marriage and Family Counseling and Literature. I’m right-brained, so I’m the creative type. When I was nineteen, I thought I was going to be a Marriage and Family Therapist in
South Carolina making
$160 an hour. Not the Dr. Phil type, but in a private setting. By the time I
was twenty–five, I’d have a wife, at least one kid, a great income, and driving
a Mercedes. No kidding. I really did envision that. I never cared to be famous,
but I did care about helping people.
Once I traveled deeper down that path of counseling, I realized that’s not what I wanted to do, so I pursued a career as a professor. I attended graduate school at Pepperdine and served as a professor at
for two years.
I’ve been writing since I was fifteen, all of it taking place in a journal. I loved it. Being a professor allowed me to study, teach, travel, give public talks, and write. I loved it all. But at the end of the day, what I really wanted to do was write. I was published at nineteen years old, then published on deeper platforms during my professorship, and when I was ready to make the transition into full–time writing, I did.
I do have other jobs, but I always dedicate two hours a day to writing. I’m now on schedule to write one book a year, and my blog at jamesrussell.org has received 5.9 million views in just three years. I write what I know, and I love writing, so that’s led me to where I am.
Besides when you came to know the Lord, what is the happiest day in your life?
My lifestyle is a solid one. I have a very, very good and nice family. My parents are wonderful people, are still together after 45 years of marriage. My only sibling is my older brother (by three years), and he’s my best friend. He’s a successful engineer and businessman in
Texas. The happiest years were with my
family, especially growing up in rural Alabama.
I grew up in a little brick house on a dirt road, across from my grandmother.
All the homes were at least 100 yards apart. And behind my grandmother’s house
was an old cotton field that had evolved into a beautiful green pasture. Behind
that pasture is a 40 foot tall waterfall only the locals know about. All the
years before I turned twelve were the happiest days.
When I was twelve, we moved into town (1,100 is the populace) and bought a cattle farm. Moving, paired with growing up and turning into a young man made life change of course. They were still happy years, but my childhood was the best. The happiest day, if there’s one, is probably a day in February 2006 when I fell in love for the first time. I was twenty–five, she was twenty–two, and she was a beautiful, kind, educated, sophisticated, well–traveled girl I met in graduate school. Other than being with me family, I don’t remember a happier period in my life.
How has being published changed your life?
It’s very rewarding to look at something you grew from scratch and seeing it take off, seeing it become successful. When things aren’t going as planned, when I have upsets and set–backs, I look to my writing. A best–selling novel (The Mason Jar), and the second one (Alabama Irish) is trending better than the first. I know exactly what my next three novels will be about, and there’s almost 6 million views on my blog. People pay me to publish their work on my platform, and I have advertisers buying space. It’s all growing. When I feel like a failure, which I do at least once every day as an entrepreneur, I look at my writings and nod. That might sound cheesy to some, but I do it. I have to remind myself almost every day that I have indeed been successful at 1 out of the 10 things I’ve tried. And that keeps me motivated to keep pressing onward, learning from my mistakes, and being careful to never make the same mistakes twice.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Two By Two by Nicholas Sparks, who I had the pleasure of meeting three days ago. I went to one of his book signings in
and sent word through his personal assistant that I’d be there. He’s heard of
me before, but it was our first time meeting. Nicholas Sparks is actually the
one who showed me being a writer of romance from the male perspective is achievable.
He’s life example was the final cue I took to go all in. My success hasn’t been
as great or fast as his, but it’s my own journey. His very first novel was The Notebook, which Grand Central bought
for $1 million. I was turned down by eight literary agents before finding one.
He landed his first agent on his first try. He’s from a different life, has
being writing for twenty years, has twenty novels and over half have been
turned into feature films. I admire him immensely. I’m reading Gone With the Wind, Search Engine Optimization For Dummies (haha), just finished Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I’m
reading everything Robert Herjavec is writing. My family owns a security services
company called Fyala Security, and I’m opening a cyber security division for
the company by 2018. I’m taking courses in cyber security right now at a local
What is your current work in progress?
I’m writing the third novel called Young Vines. The Mason Jar centers around Finn, with his two sidekicks Oz and Ryan. Alabama Irish follows Oz’s story, with Finn and Ryan as his roommates. And Young Vines will tell Ryan’s story, with Finn and Oz in the backdrop. Readers have loved that – seeing characters again that they fell in love with in the other book and seeing new perspectives on them. It’s been enjoyable creating them as well. It’s coming along. I’m in the second draft, and it should be ready by May 2017.
What would be your dream vacation?
Backpacking throughout Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and landing in Southern France’s wine country and staying there until it’s time to return home. I’ve been to twenty countries, so this would be the one trip I’d consider my greatest and most memorable. I do want to see
Iceland, but if
this backpacking trip was my last, I’d die happy.
How do you choose your settings for each book?
I look back on movies, books, and experiences that stand out at me, scenes and settings I’d like to explore and thrive in, and I decide what to write based on that. Young Vines takes place at a vineyard. Since 2012, I’ve been to a lot of them.
Napa in California,
Arrington in Tennessee, countless ones in Alabama.
If you could spend an evening with one person who is currently alive, who would it be and why?
Currently alive… Nicholas Sparks. Our meeting was brief because others were wanting to meet him. But I’m glad I got to say hello and thank him for his work. After him, I’d meet with Robert Herjavec because he’s approachable, his entrepreneurial pursuits have been successful, and he got his beginnings in cyber security.
What are your hobbies, besides writing and reading?
I travel, obviously. But I just want to be surrounded by my pals on an adventure. I have a handful of pals that I respect and trust. We’ve seen each other at our worst, and we’ve never left. I have to travel a good distance to see them, so they’re not in my everyday life, unfortunately. I’d rather travel with them than be with other backpackers I just met. I lift weights three times a week and go for walks in a neighboring park at dawn on the other two days. I’m a mornings person and I love my coffee and early mist in the air.
What is your most difficult writing obstacle, and how do you overcome it?
Really, it’s just the discipline of sitting down and writing. I write in the mornings, and in the back of my mind, even though I have a to–do list I can always review, I think about that to–do list and I’m not sure I have time to write. You see, writing itself doesn’t make money. It’s written works that are edited and published that make money. So writing itself feels like a waste of time and energy. This is when I have to look back on my success as a writer, the salary it paid me in the past because of writing, and that encourages me to keep at it.
What advice would you give to a beginning author?
Write 15 minutes a day. Start there. Baby steps is still progress. When you look back a week or a month or a year later, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished.
Tell us about the featured book.
Alabama Irish is written from the perspective of a nineteen–year–old boy. It’s a coming of age love story that teaches readers the necessity of honesty and openness in the pursuit of loving, long-lasting relationships. Here’s the pitch: Brian was raised on “the wrong side of the tracks” in inner-city
Now at nineteen, with a troubled past and juvenile record, Brian struggles to
earn a living and find a life purpose. When he journeys to New
York on a chance trip, Brian meets and falls in love with Shannon—a
bright-eyed, aspiring actress from California.
Brian returns to Alabama stirred by Shannon’s courage and passion for life. With a new zest
and reason for living, Brian is determined to turn himself into a man worthy of
Unable to afford college, Brian discovers the Os Guinness Scholarship, which provides free tuition to
University for Irish students who
desire to train for Ireland’s
ministry. With some innovative thinking, Brian fakes his Irish citizenry,
accepts the scholarship, and moves to Southern California to attend school
and pursue Shannon. However,
when Brian visits Alabama,
all the lies come crashing down and Brian comes face to face with a past he
thought was finished. Now Brian must make a choice, lose Shannon
by spinning more lies and choosing vengeance in hopes of putting his past to
rest. Or choose honesty and forgiveness and embrace a new life with the only
woman he ever loved. Alabama Irish will make
us sit back and laugh, then lay the book down and cry. But in the end, we’ll
be reminded that no matter our pasts, the possibility to find true love
again is never lost.
Please give us one of the first pages from the book.
May 15, 1999
We’re on the plane home from
New York and I’m really glad I have a few
hours to write, because man, do I have a story to tell! I met a girl! Her
name’s Shannon, and she’s amazing! I can’t stop thinking about her.
This is going to be a really long entry, because I want to write all the details just as they happened. I don’t ever want to forget this one.
Outside the Hard Rock Café on our first night in NYC, after dinner with Uncle Mike and the fighters, a million people and a hundred horns blew across the streets. And she was there. I even caught her looking at me.
This blonde haired girl with her hair pinned into a French bun. I know it’s called a French bun because she told me later when I asked her about it. I thought it was really beautiful, and I wanted to know its name.
She wore a white polo shirt and khaki shorts and leather sandals. She’s got the legs of a gymnast and I think that’s really hot. She has these almond-brown eyes and she looked away when I caught her looking at me. But she smiled anyway, and I knew she knew I caught her. That smile of hers, with the dimples in her cheeks, just wow. I mean, wow.
Her watching me surprised me because I’m not that impressive to look at. My shaved head isn’t attractive to many girls, but I’m often complimented on my blue eyes. They turn gray when I wear black and gray, but they turn electric blue when I wear navy blue. They might could catch some real women. Like tractor beams or something. Anyway, all I wore that day was my solid black t-shirt and faded jeans. So I don’t see why she liked that, either.
Shannon LaFarre, I learned her name later, carried a leather backpack and gripped the shoulder bands with her hands. I waited for her to look my way again. And when she did, I smiled the most confident smile I could come up with, and I waved at her. She leaned her head back and laughed, and that made me feel real good.
A friend tapped her shoulder and pointed up the street in our direction, and so they headed our way. I turned to James, one of my roommates. He’s humble and plump. I don’t think there’s a bit of muscle on his legs, because he just comes to the gym for bicep curls and to walk on the treadmill.
People like James find expos real interesting, so that’s why they come. He wears braces at nineteen years old, and he never goes into public without his hair gelled, even when he comes to the gym.
James asked if he knew what our plans were for the night, so I let him distract me until I could feel
group getting closer. She about passed behind me, but I took a small step back
and cut her off. She almost bumped into me. She stood still a second or two,
wondering if I was going to introduce myself.
So, to be playful, I just smiled and waved again. I didn’t even say a single word. And she laughed, but harder this time, and it’s a laugh I’ll love forever. And I mean it. I’ll love it forever.
I didn’t believe I’d ever see her again, but later that night, we were meeting in the lobby of the hotel to visit the
Building, and there Shannon
was, standing near the door. I kid you not. We were staying in the same hotel.
I mean, how does stuff like that happen?
Anyway, her mom, with the same hair color and eyes, was talking to her. Mrs. LaFarre was tired, but she was smiling. When
Shannon looked over her shoulder and our eyes met, she
smiled a soft smile at me, and I realized she already knew I was there. The
look on my face must have been funny because she chuckled. But I could only
stare. She was so pretty! I couldn’t believe it. I mean, that was really her,
and she was really standing there.
So I took a step toward her and motioned her to meet me halfway. She kept her eyes locked on mine, but she crossed her arms, probably wondering what kind of person I was, and if I could be trusted. I understand that. She’s a real smart girl. Smart girls make you earn their trust.
She met me halfway, and we shook hands, and I said, “I’m Brian.”
Shannon. Are you a
“Nah. We’re here for a sports expo.” I didn’t want to say MMA, because people think it’s violent and has a bunch of meatheads.
“Oh, cool,” she said.
“Where are you from?”
I’d never heard of such a place. Where was that, Canada?
Northern California. My
younger sister is here with her high school. They’re singing in Carnegie Hall.”
“When are they performing?”
“We’ll be back by eight,” I said. “When does her group go on?”
“I thought everybody singing in Carnegie Hall was opera singers or something.”
“I thought everyone singing was high schoolers,” she said, chuckling and slapping her hips with her hands. Then she slid her hands into her pockets, and I knew she was beginning to feel more comfortable with me. That made me feel good, too.
“So you’re here to see your sister. And that’s your mom?” I asked. Mrs. LaFarre was watching us and smiling.
Shannon said. “But
I’m also looking around. I thought about moving out here for acting, but I
think I’ll just stay where I am.”
L.A. – Los Angeles. So Cal. I’m moving out of West
Hollywood soon. I’m going to Santa
I don’t know where any of those places are, but I nodded anyway. “Oh, that’s cool. Have you found a place to live yet?” I asked her.
“Ehh,” she said. “Everything’s so expensive. Just a studio apartment is $600 a month.” (Here’s a note I’ll need later. Minimum wage is $5.15 right now. After taxes, $600 is equal to about 166 hours of work.)
“So, you’re finished with college?” I said.
“I am. Just graduated.”
“Pepperdine. I’m in grad school, now, for my MFA.”
“Yeah. Master of Fine Arts. It’s a terminal degree. I can teach college if I want to. In Acting.”
I’ve been waitressing, saving money. What about you? What’s your story?”
I saw a brochure for Pepperdine in the guidance counselor’s office at TCHS a few years back. Peach buildings with pink, clay shingled roofs, built in what they called “Mediterranean Architecture,” standing on a grassy hill, overlooking an electric-blue ocean. I’m sure that blue was doctored in Photoshop or something. I’ve never seen water so blue. I wondered who got to attend a school like that. Probably the really smart kids. Or the rich ones.
Shannon was now officially
intimidating, but I tried to recover fast.
“I’m-a, I’m-a-nineteen,” I replied, tripping over my words. That wasn’t true. I’m about to be nineteen. She had me hesitating and stuttering, like a blabbering moron. But she didn’t seem to notice. “I’m starting college next year. Helping my uncle right now, at his gym.” That’s more of a hope than a truth, but I was trying to impress her.
“Neat,” she said. “What kind of gym?”
“Uh, we train MMA fighters. Mixed martial arts.” I scratched the back of my head, because I was afraid of how that would go over.
Shannon pulled her head back and looked at me with these
real wide eyes. I was anticipating that, though, so I said, “It’s all right –
we’re not violent. We teach dieting, core-strength, cardio. We train women
there too, because we can get them in shape real fast.”
“Oh, well, that sounds really interesting,” she said. “I did aerobics in college, and I still go to the gym and watch what I eat. Maybe you can give me some tips.”
“Sure.” A second or two passed. “So where are you guys headed tonight?”
“To a Broadway play. You?”
“Oh, awesome! We were there last night. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”
“So, you want to meet me back here at the lobby, later tonight?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, smiling and clasping her hands together below her chin.
“It’s six now. Do you think you’ll be back by ten o’clock?”
“Oh, sure. I’m with my mom, so she’s not going to stay out late.”
I have no idea where all that confidence came from, but it was there inside me. I hadn’t really liked a girl enough to talk to her in a long time. I can’t even remember when the last time was. Maybe three years? I know that sounds bad, but I mean, even if I did find someone, who in the world would want to date me? With me and my history? Nobody wants to date a boy from a trailer park, unless they’re from a trailer park, too.
To be continued...
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Thank you, James, for sharing this new book with us.
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