Behind the Scenes with Jim Jackson

Jim Jackson confesses to looking at any financial transaction with an eye to how someone crooked could scam the system. Fortunately for an honest guy, that “talent” found a safe outlet when he took up writing crime fiction.

My Library “Organization”
April 2016

Jim BookshelvesI maintain an Excel file that contains the title, author, and general location of (almost) every book in our collection. Location is critical because we have books in both our summer and winter homes (and if I need one, it’s usually in the place I am not).

The nonfiction is loosely organized into several categories: reference, history (in loose date order), biography (alphabetical), writing books, bridge books, business books, unread books.

Fiction is either very organized or a mess. Signed copies are (mostly) together in one spot, sorted alphabetically by title within author. After that it gets a bit looser. One bookcase contains mostly hardcover or leather books, and that one is sorted in author order.

The rest? Hither, thither, and yon. Many of our quick, light reads now reside in the cabin at our summer place, where vacationing guests might pick one up on a whim. “Literature,” poetry, classics, are stored in various bookcases at either the summer or winter houses, depending more on when they were read than any other plan.

Oh yes, and then there are the old, old books. I keep those in the glass-fronted secretary in our winter bedroom. And those include signed books. All of this explains why it is important that my excel file contain the book’s room location to give me a chance at finding it (or not wasting my time if it and I are in different locations).

I must not forget my fiction TBR pile. It is stored in a drum table (summer) or credenza (winter)—except when there are too many, in which case there are stakes on a horizontal surface or two.

Natural Research

In one sense, every writer’s past experiences form the core of their research. Sometimes that past comes through obliquely on the page, shading a description or experience without the author’s conscious execution.

Other times, the research is planned. I chose to set the third book in my Seamus McCree series in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the locale where we normally spend the warmer half of the year. Except I wanted to have the story take place in the dead of winter. (Pun very much intended.)

Jim Cabin

I could fake it, of course; I’ve lived through plenty of northern winters. But Seamus notices nature, and I wanted him to “see” and “hear” the right stuff so a native would have no bones to pick with my descriptions. In part to accomplish that, and in part to satisfy our curiosity, we spent an entire winter up at our place in the middle of the woods, fifteen miles of logging roads from where you can buy anything.

Snow Jim Snowfield

It gave me the opportunity to hear the treetops rattle during winter storms and see them glisten when covered with ice (something I could never quite capture with a camera). I witnessed how bright it can be at night as moonlight slants through the trees, casting long oblique shadows on the snow that stays fresh and white without civilization’s dirt. I experienced the brevity of sunlight hours and how that far north the winter sun never reaches high into the sky. I paid attention to which birds were year round and which migrated from even farther north, which animals were out during the day, which called at night.

Tree in Winter

And putting comfort aside, I wanted to know what barefoot footsteps in the middle of a blizzard would look like thirty minutes after they were made. (I can tell you that by the time I walked the hundred yards or so of the driveway from the guest cabin to the road, my feet ached and I was shivering. When I put on my socks and boots, I could barely feel my feet for the cold.

Jim Snowprints

Judging from the reviews and readers’ comments, Cabin Fever captured the winter experience. It should not come as a surprise that Doubtful Relations, the next Seamus McCree novel, is set in a much warmer climate.

Cabin Fever