The Writing Life with James D. Bell, Author of 'Maximilian's Treasure'


James D. Bell is an award-winning author and retired Judge who received the highest bar association approval ratings ever given to a Mississippi Circuit or County Judge. He is listed in Preeminent Lawyers, Outstanding Lawyers of America and Top 100 Attorneys of North America.  He is the author of two novels, Vampire Defense and Maximilian’s Treasure.  His short story, The Adventures of Sherlock Hound, was published in Dog Stories for the Soul, alongside stories from Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Willie Morris and others.  The son of a Choctaw mother and a Mississippi businessman, Judge Bell is devoted to his wife, Joanne.  They live in Brandon, Mississippi and have four children.  Judge Bell practices law in Jackson, Mississippi, but is frequently called back to the bench by the Mississippi Supreme Court for short term assignments. His latest book is Maximilian's Treasure. Check it out at www.maximilianstreasure.com.

INTERVIEW:

What got you into writing?

I got the writing bug as a teenager covering high school sports for the local daily paper.  The day I left law school I opened an office, determined to defend citizens charged with crimes.  The first time I stepped into a courtroom, I fell in love with the life changing drama unfolding before my eyes.  I want to share my experiences and the crazy true stories that defy logic.  Imagine a grizzled old Choctaw warrior asks you for help locating a legendary treasure hidden on his farm.  That real-life adventure inspired Maximilian’s Treasure.

What do you like best about being an author?

Being in the zone is what I love best.  There are times when the world you are creating becomes so real that you can see the characters, hear the dialog, taste the wine, smell the gun smoke.  You’re free to move backward and forward in time.  It’s a rush.


When do you hate it?

I can come up with a hundred bad excuses to procrastinate.  First, I must recognize that I am making excuses, then I’ve got to purposely write through the cloud of excuses.  Those are hard times.

What is a regular writing day like for you?

After inventing and overcoming new excuses to put off writing, I settle in to one of my favorite spots, with coffee at hand, glance at my outline, and begin writing.  I usually pick up where I left off, but sometimes I choose to jump forward and work on a future episode.  Later I will backup and write my way to that episode.

Do you think authors have big egos?

We authors must always believe we are writing a best-selling, must read book that will be made into a billion-dollar blockbuster movie.  Never mind that there are probably a million books written every year.  Maximilian’s Treasure will be a best-seller and a blockbuster movie.  No doubt.

How do you handle negative reviews?       

Why would there be a negative review?  Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, no matter how misguided it may be.  All kidding aside, we must remain open to constructive criticism, but we can’t let it discourage us.  Critics outnumber authors.  We can’t please them all.  Please your spouse, yourself and your publisher.

How do you handle positive reviews?

The truth is I enjoy good reviews and I repost them.  Encouraging reviews inspire me to keep writing. 

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

“Nice to meet you Arthur.  I’m Bill.”

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

I am not a full-time writer.  I’m a full-time lawyer and sometimes a full-time judge.  If I set aside time to write, I’ve got to write because I don’t know when I’ll have my next opportunity. 

Any writing quirks?

I like a comfortable tucked away corner with a view.  I get coffee and water, settle in and get lost in the story. 

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

That is my reality.  Everyone who knows me thinks of me as a lawyer, a judge, a husband, a dad.  Writing is a hobby.  I would love to make it my fulltime gig. 

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate? 

I love writing.  What I hate are the endless excuses that keep me away from the story.  It’s like events are conspiring to keep the story from being told.  I don’t want to face the fact that I am the real source of the excuses, because that would mean I am conspiring against myself.  Wait, that can’t be!  That would mean we have multiple personalities at work within us.  We reject that.

What’s on the horizon for you?  

I have a romantic, spooky adventure in the works, Whom Shall I Send, and a historic novel that follows the efforts of Nicodemus to uncover the truth about Jesus.  I’ve finished three children’s books.  My favorite is BeeBop, the Honeybee Wannabe Hero.

Leave us with some words of wisdom about the writing process or about being a writer.

Set aside dedicated time to write.  Reasons to delay always arise.  Ignore them (but don’t ignore your wife or children).  It helps to have a reason to write bigger than yourself.  I chose to write stories that have a purpose; a moral to the story.  That helps me overcome the excuses and the self-doubt.  Don’t let the blank computer screen intimidate you.  Just start writing.  After a couple of pages, the story will start telling itself.  When you’re done for the day you can always delete those first two pages.  Dream great dreams, do great deeds, and write about them.



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