Terry James knew he had a knack for writing, but felt obligated to pursue a stabler, more conventional career. Still, the desire to be an author lingered.
It was a heartfelt talk with his dying father two decades later that finally convinced James it was time to forego regrets and follow his dream.
This week, his third novel, “Deceased Denise,” will be released. It’s a stand-alone prequel to the first two books in his “Tales From Eerie County” young adult series, which, not surprisingly, has also captured the attention of older readers. Two more books are planned for the series, and beyond that James has a notebook brimming with story ideas.
“I’d been wanting to write since high school,” he said. “The thought of writing had never actually left my mind.”
The 43-year-old Swanton native, who goes by his pen name, fully realized his writing ability after submitting a short story assignment in junior high school. The story followed the trevails of people living underground thousands of years after an apocalyptic event. It earned him an A-plus and the flattering skepticism of a classmate.
“A friend of mine sitting next to me said, ‘Where did you copy that from?’ I thought, maybe I’ve got a talent for this kind of thing,” James said.
He dabbled in poetry and fiction while at Swanton High School, but by then school had become a low priority. After graduating in 1991, he committed a few years to the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Now a Deshler, Ohio, resident and a postal employee in nearby Weston, James got married and began raising a family with his wife, Robin. For 20 years, he had abandoned any serious intent to write. Then, at 39, he had a fateful conversation with his father, also named Terry, who was ill with emphysema.
He had always wanted to be a musician, his father told him. He had played in bands in his youth, but didn’t follow through. The senior Terry died about 18 months later.
“I think that was probably one of his biggest regrets,” James said of his father’s unfulfilled wish. “I thought about what he said, and told myself, ‘I’m not getting any younger, and I don’t want to end up like my dad, regretting not doing it.’”
On the cusp of turning 40, he decided the time had come. He wrote a poem entitled “Deceased Denise,” which he intended to expand into a full novel, “Tabloid Tabby.” The book’s theme was derived from the outlandish tabloid newspapers James read as a youth. Often found at grocery checkouts, they featured far-fetched stories of encounters with Bigfoot, bat boys and space aliens.
“I wondered what it would be like if those things were actually true but we’re so blinded by our own realities that we don’t know these things exist in the background,” he said.
“Tabloid Tabby” morphed into “Tales From Eerie County,” a fictitious series set at the outer banks of the Appalachian Mountains. It features the main character, Tabby Grimshaw, and her high school friends, “who discover that the world around them is not quite what it’s perceived to be. They can see that world in the background, and no one else does.”
The book series follows the ongoing battle between the teens and Corum, an evil wizard who seeks world domination by using an ancient power source to turn humans into mindless servants.
While “Deceased Denise” was intended as the first novel, James decided to shelve the idea until later. Set for release this week, it became a prequel to the “Eerie County” series, a stand-alone novel with story elements that lead to “Tabby and The Hunchback of Eerie County High,” the first book in the series.
James finished the first book in six months, and submitted it to almost two dozen publishing companies before one in Massachusetts offered him a contract. His novel was released in October 2013. Unfortunately, he became disenchanted with what he considered the publisher’s restrictive policies and slow publication process, and ended the relationship.
Undeterred, James re-released the first book as a self-publishing venture, then followed it this past July with the second in the series, “Tabby and The Dissolution of April.” He dedicated the first book to his father, “because I did something I wanted to do all my life. I published a book, and I’m proud of myself for that.”
The series and prequel are available on Amazon.com.
James never imagined his success as a writer.
“If you’d asked me 10 years ago, even two years ago, I would have probably said no. I’m very happy where I’m at, and see myself moving upward and beyond. I’m striving to be the name of choice when people want to read,” he said.
“I truly, honestly believe that I am equal, if not better, than any author you’d find at the bookstore. I’m extremely confident. It’s not arrogance by any means. I believe (confidence) is the true attitude I should have. That’s the attitude I take towards my writing.”
The most difficult part of writing fiction is allowing an established character to change, for better or worse, as people do in life, James said. “You try not to mold your character in steel, then say, ‘That’s my character.’ You have to let them evolve.”
While the series’ first book didn’t sell well, the second has taken off at author shows around Ohio. James will be interviewed by Fred LeFebvre on 1370 WSPD radio in Toledo on Sept. 21, and featured at an author event from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Way Public Library in Perrysburg.
His editor, Ashley Eriksen, said James’ novels deserve best-seller status.
“He’s a fantastic writer, and he’s very original,” she said. “His stories keep you guessing. That’s definitely what I look for when I read books.”
James has begun work on his next book, an adult superhero romance, and would like to branch out into different genres. “I get excited about a lot of different projects I want to work on,” he said. “I want to spread my wings and try everything. Becoming a full-time author would be a dream come true. I would say I’m definitely pushing toward that horizon.”
When asked for advice on becoming a writer, he always gives the same response: “You grab a pen, you grab a paper, you brew up a gallon of coffee, and you start writing.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.