James Kendley has written and edited professionally for more than 30 years, first as a newspaper reporter and editor, then as a copy editor and translator in Japan (where he taught for eight years at private colleges and universities), and currently as an educational software content wrangler living in Charlottesville, Va. Visit him here.
NAW- Tell us about your book,The Drowning God. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
Here’s a short take on the book:
Detective Tohru Takuda faces his own tragic past to uncover modern Japan’s darkest secret—The Drowning God.
Few villagers are happy when Takuda comes home to investigate a foiled abduction, and local police enlist powerful forces to shut him out. Takuda sacrifices his career and family honor to solve the string of disappearances in the dark and backward valley of his youth, but more than a job is at stake. Behind the conspiracy lurks the Kappa, a monstrous living relic of Japan’s pagan prehistory. Protected long ago by a horrible pact with local farmers and now by coldly calculated corporate interests, the Kappa drains the valley’s lifeblood, one villager at a time.
Takuda and his wife, Yumi, are among the few who have escaped the valley, but no one gets away unscarred. When Takuda digs into the valley’s mysteries, Yumi’s heart breaks all over again. She wants justice for her murdered son, but she needs an end to grief. Even if Takuda survives the Kappa, the ordeal may end his marriage.
With Yumi’s tortured blessing, Takuda dedicates his life to ending the Drowning God’s centuries-long reign of terror. He can’t do it alone. A laconic junior officer and a disarmingly cheerful Buddhist priest convince Takuda to let them join in the final battle, where failure means death—or worse. The journey of these three unlikely warriors from uneasy alliance to efficient team turns THE DROWNING GOD’s mystery into an adventure in friendship, sacrifice and courage.
I spent eight years in Japan, and I was fascinated with the legends and folklore, but the idea for this book came several years after I left, and it came as a simple what-if: What if some of the creepier monsters from Japanese folklore were real? How would they survive in the modern world? That was the fun and the challenge of writing it.
NAW- who are your favourite horror fiction authors? How did you get interested in the genre?
I was raised surrounded by fantasy, sci-fi, literary horror and Gothic themes, so it’s hard to pick out individual authors, but I have to say one single volume made a huge impact on me in the early 1970s: Vampires at Midnight (aka The Midnight People), edited by Peter Haining. The stories by more modern authors like Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Fritz Leiber really bowled me over, and the older stories gave me new insight into the Gothic horror I’d cut my teeth on thus far.
Today, I’m still reading Stephen King and Joe Hill and many other of my fellow HWA members, but that’s really a small percentage of my reading diet. I just reread Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy for the first time since it came out in paperback in the mid-1970s, and I’ve yet to read the fourth and fifth books in the series. I think her storytelling affected my development in ways it’s hard to overestimate.
NAW- Tell us about your other works.
One day, I’ll return to The Wine Ghost, a literary novel from the same universe as The Drowning God but with a very, very different focus. I spent 14 years on The Wine Ghost, and one day I will give it the overhaul it deserves.
NAW- How do you research for your books?
Eight years in Japan and intimate familiarity with Japanese Buddhism, Japanese police work, and the folk tales that inspire this novel allowed me to write The Drowning God with realism and authority. During that time, I worked in the offices of major corporations, in the offices of prefectural governments, and in the byways of Japanese cities and villages. I also taught English to and practiced martial arts with officers of the Fukuoka Prefectural Police. Because this trilogy is set during the time period I lived in Japan, I really know what I need to know, at this point. I use the Internet to confirm issues of pop culture, extant technology, etc., just to avoid anachronisms by making sure my memory isn’t playing tricks on me.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How did you get published?
First and foremost, I polished. I polished my novel, and I polished my pitch. I learned “the rules” of pitch-writing, just as I learned “the rules” of writing marketable novels. I fully expected that I would have to break those for my novel, but I didn’t.
Then I pitched, was rejected or ignored, got frustrated, and pitched again. Lather-rinse-repeat. I submitted The Drowning God to Harper Voyager’s digital portal for unagented novels in October 2012. More than 4,500 people had the same idea, so I thought my chances were very slim. But I believed in the book, and I kept my eye on the Harper Voyager site as they continued to announce the cuts.
Meanwhile, I pitched, was rejected or ignored, got frustrated, and pitched again. Lather-rinse-repeat.
I didn’t hear a word from Harper Voyager until February 2014. The Drowning Godis one of 31 titles slated for Harper Voyager’s new digital-first expansion
And I’m stoked!
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m a busy father of two and husband of one who has just taken a job with a non-profit K-12 curriculum firm here in lovely Charlottesville, Virginia. I play with my kids, cook, hang out with my wife, and do what I can to express gratitude for all the awesome things life has brought me.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I’m working on the follow-up to The Drowning God now. I’ve planned this as a trilogy, with a prequel and final resolution to come later. The follow-up is much more horror-oriented, definitely more reminiscent of J-horror and the tight, claustrophobic atmosphere of Japanese shock cinema, but I won’t sacrifice the tension and the pacing for scares. In the end, it’s all about light and darkness, and horror fiction lets us play it out to see who wins. That’s what’s cool about it.