James Usavage has led a life as interesting as the characters he writes about in his books. On his way to a career in medicine, James came to the realization that the life of a doctor was not the one for him, and that understanding set him out on a journey of exploration that spanned the entire United States.
Accompanied by his equally adventurous wife Judy, James spent a number of years criss-crossing the country working odd jobs (everything from car salesman to musician to construction worker to teacher) and experiencing people and situations that would all ultimately lend to the characters, places, and adventures that make up his books.
Influenced by many of the masters of classic modern literature (Wells, Conan Doyle, Dumas, London, Steinbeck, Hemingway, et al), James even writes longhand as many of them did, and although that may have resulted more from an injury involving a broken glass rod severing a nerve in James’s hand in a chemistry class accident, the fact that the feeling has finally come back to his fingers yet James still continues to write instead of type may shed some light on a love for the classic way of creating worlds with nothing more than pen, paper, and imagination.
“Footsteps in the Attic” is James Usavage’s third published novel and his wife Judy’s favorite of the three. More than just a spouse with a loving recommendation, Judy is also the official transcriber of James’s books from print to type. Together, they have brought the worlds that James Usavage has created to life.
James lives with his wife Judy, an artist, in Southwest Florida, and they are the proud parents of two grown sons.
From the author:
– I do a lot of research for each book. I don’t believe in cardboard characters and I make an effort to personalize them. When people that have read my other novels comment about seeing a little piece of themselves in the characters, I greatly appreciate it and know that I’ve done my job as a writer. No matter what, though, I have to say there is no sense of accomplishment and pleasure like having a family. James P. Usavage
Joanne: It is a pleasure having you on Author Interview Friday. How did you get started in writing and why?
James: I actually started writing when I was in third grade which was also when I read my first novel ( Jack London ), I did some short stories for school and experimented with prose, poetry, rhyme, meter and so on. I enjoyed it. But I went on in school, eventually majoring in science and pre-med ( My Dad wanted me to become a doctor which didn’t happen ) I read many of the classics ( e.g. Steinbeck, Sartre, Camus, Hemingway ). I liked Tennyson, Jules Verne and so on. I have been asked why I started writing seriously so late in life. I had other things to do, some of which I wouldn’t trade for anything. One could say ” Life gets in the way “. I like the challenge of writing novels. There is the outlining, plotting, characterization and, in my case, much research. I never wanted to write a boring book so I chose novels and, in particular, thrillers. I enjoy writing my books. So, at least one person likes them. But seriously, I would not put them out there if I thought they were not good enough ( I have waste-basketed a few manuscripts ).
Joanne: Have you had any formal education or training in writing?
James: I have never taken any special writing courses. I studied works by some of the best novelists and derived some of my own methods. As far as editing . When I got the galleys back from those who edited my first two books, my wife and I found that there was very little change done to them.. That said, we decided to do the next novel ‘ Footsteps in the Attic ‘ on our own. We hired a printing company and did the rest. , The results are bearing out that we did a pretty good job.
Joanne: Do you always write in the the genre?
James: I believe that a well written novel transcends genre. You could say that my first two novels are of a different genre than my third and upcoming fourth novel. However, the elements of suspense, mystery, adventure, human interaction and mainstream interest are in all of them to some degree. Anybody can read them. There is something for everybody. It’s a lot of work, but readers deserve something good for investing their time. If I didn’t enjoy writing it, why should I expect somebody to enjoy reading it.
Joanne: Do you write in a particular POV, say first or third person and why?
James: I like writing in third person. I think it works best with thrillers.
Joanne: A lot of us read to study the structure of books. I know that since I started writing, I see structure that I never paid any attention to as a casual reader. What do you do to improve your craft?
James:. I have studied other novels for structure. Depending on the novel, I’ve probably done all of these things. The thing that might have been trickiest-in my first novel A.C.E. Vanguard, was having 4 fugitives being pursued-with each experiencing diverse circumstances- weaving this into the story without missing a beat where each is concerned-and then interfacing this to meld into the last part of the book.
Joanne: Do you follow a plan when you write, i.e., always commit to a word count or finishing a scene or do you write as the “muse” strikes you?
James: For me there are days when I might do one sentence or 10 pages. I look at novel writing conceptually. One day it might be a particular sentence or action or chronology I’m dealing with which is the foundation for the next chapter or character or a particular twist in the storyline. If I resolve a problem whether it be with one word or one chapter or a dozen, I’ve done a days work and I’m satisfied with that.
Joanne: Can you tell us the premise to the book we are featuring today, Footsteps in the Attic.
James: Briefly, Footsteps in the Attic ” is about the search for a fortune-teller who suddenly vanished. The story follows a young girl who possesses this talent. We follow her as she grows up, goes to college, gets a job, and meets a man whom she starts dating. He invites her to attend the wedding of his niece. They go up to the north woods with a group of friends from work. The marriage and celebration take place and then Rita vanishes. John, the boyfriend along with his brother ( with whom there has to be some healing ) take off to find her. They pursue her from Arizona to Louisiana to Central Park N.Y. The story is full of twists and turns and —I’ll stop there. I will say one more thing. When I’m asked about the first chapter-it is similar to the neighborhood where I grew up. Here is the first chapter.
Chapter One of Footsteps in the Attic
When she was a girl growing up, Ouija Boards were considered a fun thing, a party thing. At first, Rita and others played with it, but as she became more intrigued by it, Rita moved it from under her bed to the attic to use for her own amusement. The attic was dark. There was a very narrow, curving, tunnel-like staircase which took her there; since there was no light over it, Rita brought a candle with her. She had lighted candles in her room continually because she liked the atmosphere and the aroma they created. So it wasn’t unusual for her to take one with her when she went to the attic.
There was an old rocking chair in the attic that was covered with a once white sheet which, itself, was covered with dust. It was said that the previous owner of the house had died in the chair and that immediately afterwards, it was covered and put in the attic. When the neighborhood kids came over, they would listen for the chair to rock, especially on a stormy day when it seemed the whole house shook. Some thought they heard it, others pooh-poohed the notion, dismissing the noise as being that of tree branches brushing against the roof. But Rita heard it at night, the creaking noise made by the rocker’s rails on the wooden floor of the attic. She heard it at night, as she lay in her bed waiting to fall asleep.
After climbing the stairs to the attic, she would lift the trap door, leaving it open, putting the candle on a nearby box and grabbing the drawn handle of a heavy old wooden dresser to brace herself as she took the final step to the top. Then Rita would walk over to the rocking chair and remove the sheet covering it. This she did carefully to prevent too much dust from flying in her face. She would then push a large wooden trunk, which was her table, in front of it. Next, she placed the candle on the trunk and walked toward the mounds of sheet -covered antique treasures. She lifted one sheet and removed her Ouija Board from under an ornamental serving tray.
Sitting in the rocker, Ouija Board spread flat in front of her, Rita asked it to speak to her. “What do you want to show me, today?”
“E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G Y-O-U D-E-S-I-R-E,” it spelled, as she believed the pointer moved her hand to these letters. Some of the kids laughed and said Rita was the one who controlled the pointer. Rita told them it wasn’t so. With the other kids it was a game, but Rita took it seriously. Still, they were fascinated every time they played with it.
One stormy day–it seemed like there were a lot of them in the Midwest where they lived–Rita asked the Ouija Board what she should call it, and it gave her a name. N-O-M-M.
“Nomm,” she said, repeating it a few times to hear how it sounded. From then in she called it that–Nomm. It became familiar to her, and she considered Nomm her friend and guide. One day, Nomm told her to go stand at one particular spot in the attic where she felt a chill.
“I don’t like this, Nomm,” she said, and Nomm never asked her to stand in that particular place again. Instead, Rita brought a few of the kids up to the attic the next day. Wanting to see what they would do, or if they would be scared, she told them to go to the spot. They stood on the spot and felt a chill, just as she told them they would, and they ran off frightened. After that, she didn’t bring anybody else up to her attic hideout. They wouldn’t have come, anyway. In fact, as word spread that the house was haunted, most of the kids stopped playing with her, let alone coming to the house.
There was a woman in the neighborhood who was a known fortune teller–one who gazed into crystal balls, read tarot cards and palms. Rita knew that her mother went to this woman’s house, as did Molly, the next door neighbor lady. Mother never mentioned where she was going when she went to the fortune teller’s house, saying only “I’ll be right back.” In fact, she never mentioned ever having gone there; and when Rita asked, she would skirt around the issue. The other women in the neighborhood acted the same way. They all went to the fortune teller’s house, yet they wouldn’t admit it, even to each other. When they got together and talked, it would always be “somebody else” who went over there. “Oh, Irma goes to the fortune teller. Didn’t you know that?” would be a typical comment or gossip. This piqued Rita’s curiosity. One day when she eleven years old, she decided to see for herself what everyone else was doing, so she took a walk down the block, and when she thought no one was looking, she stopped by the old, dark brick house, went to the back stairs and cautiously proceeded to climb them. It was a wooden stairway which needed paint, and Rita held firmly onto the railings as she moved slowly toward the screen door. The stairs creaked with each step she took. The back porch was a screened area. It looked dark inside. Rita peered through the screen and was about to knock when she saw that the door inside the porch was slightly open. She knew somebody was watching her through the crack. The door opened a little more and soon a gaunt figure, dressed in dark clothes, came slowly toward her.
Rita met the woman’s intense gaze with a shy one of her own. Rita looked into the woman’s eyes. They were dark, distant, yet irresistible. The woman was wearing a long, black skirt and a black, long-sleeved blouse, with the sleeves being shear.
“You’re Norma’s daughter,” she said, facing Rita from behind the screen door.
“Yes–yes,” Rita replied, nervously.
The woman unlocked the screen door. “Come in. Would you like some cookies and tea?”
Rita didn’t reply.
“What can I do for you?”
Rita still didn’t reply.
“Oh, I know, Come inside.” Rita slowly followed her into the living room. The drapery was dark, as was the hue of all the old Victorian-style furniture, yet Rita felt drawn toward it and plopped down on a burgundy-colored sofa.
The woman brought in a tray adorned with cookies and a floral-patterned teapot, setting it on the table in front of the sofa. She poured some tea into a cup for Rita. Before she sat down, she took Rita’s hand and gazed at her palm.
“I can see, now, why you are here,” she said, soberly.
“You can?” Rita’s eyes were wide with surprise.
“Oh, yes,” she replied in a slow drawl. “You couldn’t resist coming, could you?”
“Umm,” Rita didn’t answer, but knew what the woman was talking about.
“I was born under a veil. Do you know what that is?”
Rita just shook her head. She had never heard of such a thing.
“You were also born under a veil. Your mother told me.”
Rita looked at her, perplexed.
“It-uh-means you are a very special girl, and you, too, have the gift.” A disturbed look came across the woman’s face, and then, as quickly as it came, it disappeared. “Does your mother know you are here?”
Rita shook her head , as she ate her cookie.
“Maybe you had better get back home before she misses you.”
Rita finished her cookie and got up from the sofa. ”I don’t have any money,” Rita had heard that the neighborhood women would pay five dollars for their readings.
“Oh,” the woman waved her hand and smiled. “You don’t have to pay me. Don’t worry about it.”
As Rita walked through the house, she glanced back to see a strange look coming across the woman’s face like the expression she had when she was talking about the veil, or whatever it was. The woman stood there in her living room, wringing her hands, as Rita took one last look back and scurried down the back stairs.
Rita ran home, thinking how strange the woman was. She had expected a real fortune-telling session with a crystal ball, yet the woman didn’t seem to do much except to look at Rita strangely. Maybe she could ask Nomm about it, later.
When Rita arrived home, her mother was waiting, wondering why Rita’s room had not been cleaned, as it was summertime and Friday–room cleaning day. So Rita quickly began cleaning her room and afterwards, helped her mother grocery shop for the week.
Rita was not unattractive, but she was shy, and as she went through high school and had at least a boyfriend each year, she forgot about her Ouija Board and the other things that had previously occupied her time. She felt, somehow, she was “different” and sometime into her second year of college, she began to evaluate herself in terms of what boyfriends and others had said to her. More than one had called her “odd” or “different”. Rita’s introversion and shyness was often misinterpreted.
So, on a Thanksgiving break from college, Rita returned home and went up the tunnel-like stairway into the attic, carrying a candle, as she used to do. Everything looked the same, and she felt something come over her-a familiarity she experienced as a girl a long time ago. The rocking chair was still in its place. She pulled out the trunk as she performed what seemed a distant, yet comfortable, ritual, and placed the candle upon it. Then she went to the covered pile of old things, reached under the sheet and under the tray and pulled it out. It was still there, the Ouija Board. She opened it on top of the trunk and inquired of it, as she lad many times before. It spelled out “Nomm- y-o-u-r f-r -i-e-n-d.”
Rita felt like she was home.
Thanks James. Your books sound intriguing. Readers, here are other books by James Usavage. they include Miocene II and A.C. E. Vanguard. You can order his books though his website at
Miocene II ‘ http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Miocene+II&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AMiocene+II and ‘ A.C.E. Vanguard ‘ http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=A.CE.+Vanguard