Jay Mims is an author, filmmaker, and teacher
I am pleased to interview Jay Mims as the first author in my new guest author series.
Jay Mims is an author, filmmaker, and teacher. Jay is originally from South Carolina, and currently teaches media production, screenwriting, speech, and film appreciation. Jay published his first book, The Five Santas, in 2011, and has five books and two short stories in publication. One of the short stories, The Girl Who Saved Dan Landis, was adapted into an award winning short film by the same name. Jay is currently working on his sixth Dan Landis book, as well as publishing an academic textbook on creative writing. When not working or writing, Jay enjoys drawing, learning the ukulele, as well as reading. Jay is an avid reader, and his favorite writer is Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Of that series, Hogfather and Night Watch are his favorites. Jay’s dearest ambition is to be an astronaut, or at least go to Space Camp, where he’d be the first Mims in space.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I have loved reading and writing since I was a very small child. I still have legal pads filled with scribbled stories, often involving things that I’d see outside my window. I was a latch-key kid growing up, and tended to quietly read books and watch TV. Looking back, that part of me hasn’t really changed. In elementary school, I wrote an epic melodramatic murder mystery involving all of my classmates that, if it had been written today, would have absolutely gotten me on some kind of watch list. My teacher was so proud of me, and was almost singularly responsible for one of my first short stories to be published.
What compelled you to write your first book?
What’s funny is, I didn’t start my career as a writer. I was first a filmmaker, having worked for five years in the realm of corporate and low-budget video. I have an MFA in Directing, and you’re required to do a portfolio film as your last project. I had this idea about an author who wrote stories about her imaginary friend, who then comes back into her life as an adult. I managed to develop an entire short film out of that pretense. After I finished, people were semi-lukewarm about the film but LOVED the imaginary friend character, by the name of Dan Landis. The book titles I’d made up for the film were ridiculous such as Dan Landis Meets The Mole People, but I was intrigued by the level of enthusiasm the character was generating.
So, one of the titles, Dan Landis and the Cult of Koo Kway was the first book I ever wrote, and honestly, it wasn’t great. The characters were there, but the story just wasn’t clicking. So, I put it to one side and figured I’d come back to it later. I was working at a call center at the time, and spent my lunch break at a nearby mall. One day, I was sitting at the mall and thought “What would happen if Dan worked at a mall?” This was the initial germ of the idea, asking myself “Why would he be at the mall?”
Dan was a lovable private investigator, so working security (or loss prevention as it’s called) was a natural progression. From there, I knew that he’d be working over Christmas, and thought “What’s the worst thing that could happen over Christmas?” Dead Santa. That’s how the image of Dan finding a Santa behind a dumpster transformed into The Five Santas.
And in a wonderful twist of fate, I managed to re-work my first book and it became my second novel, Cult of Koo Kway.
Tell us a little bit about your books:
The first book I ever published, The Five Santas, is a Christmas mystery. It’s also the first in the Dan Landis mystery series, which follows private detective Dan Landis, his best friend Abbey, and an assorted cast of characters. The first four books are one complete story arc, with each book building on the next. Santas is the story of Dan finding a dead Santa Claus behind a dumpster, and trying to figure out why the bodies keep piling up. At the same time, Dan is struggling with the death of his former partner, Maggie, and the relationship that is forming with his new partner Abbey. https://jaymims.com/books/the-five-santas
The next book, Cult of Koo Kway is actually the first book I ever wrote. It’s a prequel to Santas, telling through flashbacks the story of how Dan and Abbey met, and how their friendship formed. Essentially, someone is trying to kidnap Abbey, and Dan finds himself falling for her in spite of himself. https://jaymims.com/books/the-cult-of-koo-kway
The third book is, without question, the hardest book I’ve ever written. It’s a murder mystery set at a quaint bed and breakfast during a snow storm, and takes place immediately after Santas. I love the book, but it was an incredible challenge to write a “trapped in the house” style mystery in the age of cellphones. It’s called The Gray Ghost Inn and if you like Agatha Christie, you’ll especially love it. https://jaymims.com/books/the-gray-ghost-inn
My fourth book, Racing the Storm is a culmination of the overarching mystery arc that begins in The Five Santas. It was probably the easiest and most fun to write for me, as it’s more action oriented. I firmly believe it’s a satisfying payoff, though I recommend reading it after the first three. Definitely worth it, and I’ve had multiple people tell me they were crying by the end. As an author, that is the best compliment you could ask for. https://jaymims.com/books/racing-the-storm
The fifth book, The Rose Bandit, is actually a story that predates Dan and friends. It’s about a cat burglar who hits a small town and becomes a local folk hero and legend, until someone dies and the burglar, the titular Rose Bandit, is accused. Dan was a perfect fit for the story, as the insurance investigator hired to put a stop to the Rose Bandit, and becoming convinced that the Bandit was innocent of the murder. I’m extremely proud of the book, and drew very heavily from my own life of growing up in a small Southern town. https://jaymims.com/books/the-rose-bandit
How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
I was so extremely proud of being able to write and have a book published. However, what I loved even more was being able to share it with others. Specifically, when I was in first grade, my teacher Miss Rita, was my hero. She’s why I became a teacher. I used to read in class, and one day she was so annoyed that she started asking me questions about what we were talking about. I was able to recite back everything she’d said, and from that moment on she became my biggest advocate.
When I began writing earnestly, she helped me get a short story and poem published, and I never forgot that. Nor did I forget something she made me promise, “When you get your first book published, I want you to dedicate it to me.”
So, when you read The Five Santas, please note that the book is dedicated to Miss Rita, who believed in the shy nerdy kid when no one else did. My first book signing, I talked her into coming and surprised her with the dedication. If I’m ever sprinkled with Pixie Dust and need a happy thought to fly, that’s what I’ll always hold onto.
The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?
What’s weird is, I didn’t really set out to make the characters who they ended up being. Dan was an amalgamation of multiple influences: Thomas Magnum from Magnum, P.I., the confidence of a Cary Grant (and actually Grant’s 1944 film Arsenic and Old Lace was a huge influence on my book The Gray Ghost Inn), with a dash of Nathan Fillion’s Castle from the TV series of the same name as well as Shawn from the series Psych. I also found myself influenced by NCIS, especially the early seasons, and even named the character of Abbey after the spunky Goth Abby.
But, a funny thing happened in the writing process. They really grew into independent characters, and I do find pieces of myself in each of them. Dan has often been called me without a filter, but, I also think he has rubbed off on me as well.
The best thing a writer can do is be surprised by a character, and that’s something that ended up happening with me. They have taken on lives of their own, and often I’m just along for the ride. It’s a joy to be able to experience that, and I hope all writers will aspire to do the same.
Hey, let’s get morbid. When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your book/s and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?
I hope that people will think of my books as fun and entertaining, that I brought joy into their lives, and that the books I wrote are worth reading and re-reading. Personally, I’ve always stuck by a quote from one of my heroes, Jim Henson, who said “When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”
I’m hoping that in 2022 I can do more writing, and actually get back into the habit. One of the best pieces of advice I can give any aspiring writer is to KEEP WRITING. If you stop, or you fall out of the habit, it becomes much harder to jump back into it again.
Thank you so much for this opportunity, and to your lovely readers I say WELCOME!
After all, to quote The Doctor from Doctor Who, “We’re all stories in the end, so make yours a good one.”
And thank you Jay for an inspiring interview,