[Interview] Jim Melvin, author of ‘The Pit’

the-pit.jpgJim Melvin lives in Clemson, S.C.

He graduated from the University of South Florida, Tampa with a B.A. in Journalism in 1979 and was an award-winning journalist at the St. Petersburg Times for twenty-five years. He retired in 2004 to become a full-time novelist.

The Pit (Rain Publishing Inc., 2007) is his first novel. The novel is part of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy series that Melvin is working on.

In a recent interview, Jim Melvin spoke about his writing.

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first novel when I was 20 years old. It was a Stephen King-like horror novel entitled Sarah’s Curse.

An agent who was a family friend shopped it around, and though it received some nice responses, it never found a publisher. But I wasn’t overly concerned because I believed my second novel would be the one to hit it big. In the meantime, I started my career as a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.

For me, the rat race officially began. Soon I was working 50-hour weeks and raising a family — and there never was a second book.

Twenty-five years later, I was fortunate enough to be able to semi-retire. In September 2004, I wrote the first word of Book One of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy. 700,000 words later, I’m in the final revision process of Book Six.

When I was a junior in high school, I boldly decided that I wanted to become a best-selling novelist, and I went around telling everyone I knew that I was going to make $75-million. Keep in mind this was the mid-1970s, so that’s probably around $300-million if you figure in 21st-century inflation. I wrote Sarah’s Curse when I was 20 years old, believing then that my dream was under way.

But life has an unusual sense of humor, and for a quarter-century my dreams were put on hold. That said, those 25 years ended up serving a valuable purpose. As a reporter and editor, I learned the craft of writing and met a lot of interesting people, significantly expanding my worldview and talents. When I finally began writing my epic fantasy series in 2004, I realized that work and family weren’t to blame for all those lost years. Instead, I wasn’t ready as a writer.

Finally, it all jelled. This is my time.

How would you describe your writing?

I describe my series as a cross between J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King — Tolkien because it contains many aspects of epic fantasy, King because it’s pretty darn scary and rough.

The Death Wizard Chronicles is a classic tale of good versus evil, with lots of action, monsters, and magic. It also contains a very compelling love story. But what separates my series from most others is that I am an active student of Eastern philosophy, which fuels my world view. The concept of karma and the art of meditation play key roles in the symbolic aspects of my work. While deep in meditation, Buddhist monks have had recorded heart rates of less than 10 beats per minute. My main character takes this to the extreme. In an original twist never before seen in this genre, the Death Wizard is able to enter the realm of death during a “temporary suicide.” Through intense concentrative meditation, he stops his heartbeat briefly and feeds on death energy, which provides him with an array of magical powers.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is anyone who likes action-packed epic fantasy, but it extends beyond that.

The DW Chronicles is literary in nature and has a lot going on between the lines in terms of symbolism, foreshadowing, parallel construction, and allegorical elements. So anyone who enjoys reading literature also will enjoy my series. I believe it will stand the test of time. I just hope I’m not one of those authors who dies of old age before my work is discovered by the masses!

In the writing you are doing, who would you say has influenced you most?

Hands-down, Tolkien influenced me more than anyone. I have read The Lord of the Rings at least 20 times. But in terms of content, my writing is closer to Steven Erikson’s or Stephen Donaldson’s than Tolkien’s. We’re not talking Harry Potter here. My series is not for young adults. It contains graphic violence and sexual situations. I pull no punches. If it were made into six movies (I wish!), the movies would be R-rated. All that said, without the inspiration of Tolkien, my series wouldn’t exist. To me, he is an unparalleled genius.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

If I were to become a contestant on Jeopardy, I’d be the guy who finished a weak second. Certain categories leave me dumbfounded. My wife can breeze through 18th-century English literature with ease, while I’m sitting there thinking, “Who the heck are these guys?” So I would say that my greatest concern as a writer is that I’m not a walking Encyclopedia of knowledge and/or trivia. This is where my career as a journalist has really come in handy. Journalists are trained to recognize what they don’t know and then to go about learning it as quickly as possible. Before writing The DW Chronicles, I read more than 50 nonfiction books: everything from The Art of War to Horses for Dummies.

The biggest challenge I face is the same one that any author faces who hasn’t signed with a large publishing house backed by a mega-marketing machine. How do you make people aware that your books even exist?

Rain Publishing Inc.is a mid-sized house based in Canada, and it’s been doing a great job for me, thus far. But it falls to the author to do a lot of his or her own marketing. I have spent the past several months doing everything in my power to market this series. I’ve contacted newspapers buddies all over the country in hopes of increasing my chances of securing reviews. I’ve spoken and read at a major book festival and appeared at six books stores. I’ve done video and audio interviews. I’ve been featured in newspapers and on popular blogs. But as an author, you can never do enough. So every day I spend at least a couple of hours on the marketing end of things. For the most part, it’s not much fun. But I believe in this series, and I’m willing to fight for it.

Do you write everyday?

I do write every day, almost without fail. I probably write about 340 days out of the year. I write almost exclusively in the evening between eight and midnight.

When I’m working on the first draft, I’ll take note of the word count and then begin with the goal of writing at least 1,500 words — and I won’t allow myself to stop until I reach that total. Because of this, I was able to average about 45,000 words a month. I stop before midnight, usually out of exhaustion more than anything else. Then I spend about an hour some time during the following morning editing what I wrote the night before. When I’m in the revision process, I just try to edit as much as I can before I wear out.

I’m not the type who can sit down and churn out 50 pages in one sitting, but neither do I ever suffer from writer’s block. I steadily produce about five to seven pages per day, and it eventually adds up.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

This might sound like a cliché to some people, but everything I’ve written has come from the heart. I held nothing back, and it shows. The DW Chronicles will stick with you, long after you’ve finished reading it. And the series has a lot to say about the deep mysteries of life and death. I’m really proud of that.

4 Responses to “[Interview] Jim Melvin, author of ‘The Pit’”
  1. ccmal says:

    Awesome interview gentlemen. I might just try out “The Pit” because even though I’m not a big fantasy buff, I really like Stephen King. His book, “The Stand” is still my favorite novel of all time.

    Best of luck with “The Death Wizard Chronicles” Jim.


  2. Jim Melvin says:

    I just wanted to say hello to all the readers at the Leicester Review of Books. It’s my honor to make an appearance here.

  3. Cat Muldoon says:


    I love novels that stick with you long after you read them. How refreshing that you explore the mysteries of life. Too many fantasy authors are a lot of action and little substance.

    Cat Muldoon
    author of Rue the Day: The Undercover Heir Book 1

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Melvin is on tour this month with Pump Up Your Books where he stopped off at Leicester Review of Books for an interview. You can also learn more from his blog at The Death Wizard Chronicles as well as […]

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