New Releases List

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Writer's Brain: J. Carson Black

 J. Carson Black is one of the top indie writers in the world, up there with Amanda Hocking and John Locke in terms of sheer success. She has had numerous top 100 books on the overall Amazon Kindle bestseller lists, and her books have sold tens of thousands of books in each of the last several months. She comes from a traditional publishing background and is a fellow Thomas & Mercer author with the new Amazon thriller imprint.

In spite of her galloping success, I have found her one of the most down to earth writers, always gracious and friendly. Interacting with her online, you have to discover for yourself just what a great writer she is and the sheer magnitude of her success, because she is not the sort to blow her own horn. Nevertheless, she gives off a polished, professional vibe and even a brief interaction lets you know this is someone to watch.

Note especially what she says about her desire to improve her craft. As good as she is, this is not a writer who mails it in, relying on past success to carry her.

Michael: How long have you been writing? Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

J. Carson Black: I always was a writer, from an early age. My parents gave me a manual typewriter all my own when I was nine years old, and I wrote and illustrated a ton of Chapter Ones with titles like HOTSPUR, A STALLION.  I was influenced by horse stories, but the book that made me want to be a professional writer was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, by Ray Bradbury.  I wanted to own a story like that, top to bottom.  Years later, after letting myself be shunted into music (a Bachelors and Masters in Voice), THE SHINING came calling.  I’d spent the summer in Austria pursuing a career in opera (and coming close enough to realize I didn’t want that life), got a sinus infection, and came home. I wanted to live in the desert and write books.  So I wrote my first novel, a ghost story called DARK COUNTRY, which was sold to Kensington under the title DARKSCOPE.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written?Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

J. Carson Black:  I think I’m proudest of DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.  I’d been dropped by a publisher and was down in the dumps and realized I needed to raise my game.  So I went at it with a will, and I did raise my game.  I love that book.  I could explore my old haunts in Tucson, and the character, an Arizona Department of Public Safety detective who troubleshoots homicide investigations in small towns, intrigued me.  A couple of years later I was out on my you-know-what again, and I decided I needed to raise my game some more. I wrote THE SHOP.  I loved writing from the point of view of a hired killer.  Cyril Landry, a former Navy SEAL, works black ops for a company that does the dirty work for the U.S. government---talk about outsourcing! At the beginning of THE SHOP he’s part of a team sent to kill a celebrity, Brienne Cross, and her housemates. She is asleep when he reaches her.  She wakes, and looks into his eyes.  He kills her, but you could say he is star struck.  After that, his mission is to find out why he was sent to kill her.

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?

J. Carson Black: I just hope readers will enjoy them.  Entertainment is most important. I read a lot, and I love to be drawn deeply into a story and enjoy it.  If there are larger issues that I can spotlight, great, but the main thing I want to do is entertain.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

J. Carson Black: I want to become a better writer. In the arts, in writing, you often get better for a time and then you backslide---that’s part of the process. Not every book is as good as the other. It’s kind of like the tide. You surge up the shingle, and drop back.  But hopefully it’s high tide and you’re going farther up the shingle, not sliding backwards.  I want to be known for writing good books.  I read the best in my genre, and so I keep striving for a personal best.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlinesor fly by the seat of your pants?

J. Carson Black: I cannot write a whole outline.  I can manage a detailed outline when I’m halfway through, although I’m fudging the ending. I had to do that when I was writing for New American Library.  I try to follow Elizabeth George’s way of doing things: sketch out the next several scenes, but without looking too far into the future.  Just enough to keep from boxing myself in with something that will take the story in the wrong direction.  I can’t say I’m always successful at this.  It’s imperfect at best.  When I sketch my scenes out, I think, “Where is the character right now?  What has just happened?  What is his trajectory?”  I also set the scene in my mind, the character’s goal, the point where things change, the character’s attitude, the place (I love place), and whose point of view.  As I say, I do this sometimes, but sometimes I just write.  And often I’ll start one of these scene descriptions and suddenly I’ll be off and writing the scene itself.

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

J. Carson Black: I definitely discuss the idea with my husband. We brainstorm a little.  But when I get into the nitty-gritty of writing, I don’t like to talk about it much.  When I’m asked, “How’s it going?  Do you want to brainstorm a scene?” I get crabby and impatient, so much so I don’t get asked that question anymore!

But I do love to talk about the concept of the book.   For instance, the book I’m working on now, ICON, is about an actor, a box office franchise named Max Conroy, who escapes rehab in the Arizona desert. The self-made guru who owns The Desert Oasis Healing Center in Sedona has screwed with Max’s mind, and Max suffers from hallucinations and worse.  Max hates his life, his faithless wife, and all the pressure of being a star, so he tries to be Everyman, which of course doesn’t work.  And then he realizes that someone is coming to kill him…

List of J. Carson Black's books:

Website (and blog)
Twitter: @jcarsonblack


  1. Congrats on your fab success! I'm honoured to be part of the Summer Book Club with J Carson Black, and as well as being a fab writer, she's also a lovely person. :)

  2. Thanks, Sibel! The Summer Book Club has been a lot of fun---I'm so glad i've gotten to know you and the others in the group. A great bunch of people, talented and great to be around.

  3. We're seeing a tidal shift in publishing with authors like Michael Wallace, J. Carson Black, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, Vincent Zandri, Michael Presscott (I could go on and on) enjoying major success. Not only in digital publishing as indie authors but also in getting signed by major trad publishers and the new 800-pound gorilla on the block, Amazon Publishing. Increasingly the indie best seller lists are where the trad players are going for hot prospects. The beauty of it is that no matter what, digital publishing has opened up a direct channel for authors and indie publishers to reach their reader markets.