About James May
James May - Quick Facts
- Favorite Activity (not related to writing): I love snorkeling, though I don’t get much opportunity to do it.
- Favorite place to go when thinking through a plot issue or book idea:
On a walk (anywhere) or to bed (mine).
- Favorite Author: Hard to say. Probably still Henry James.
- Favorite Books: The Ambassadors by Henry James, The Coronation by Boris Akunin, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Favorite Movie: Conan the Barbarian (1982). Beautiful nonverbal storytelling, almost a silent film, with a glorious score. And the politics are not as bad as you think!
- Favorite Pastime: Reading.
- Favorite Speech: I don’t think I have one. Do most people have a favorite speech?
- What do you most like about being an author:
I like the one workday in thirty when I get something onto the page to redeem the other twenty-nine. That feeling is unique to writing, at least for me.
Do you teach on a specific topic?
Not now, though I’ve taught Rhetoric and Composition in the past.
What specialized knowledge do you have?
Not much! I know a lot more about the early history of the Soviet Union than I did when I started writing The Body Outside the Kremlin, but I fear I’m still at best a B student of Russian history.
Do you, as an author, provide in-depth research on a topic?
I have found myself doing research, in the sense of tracking down facts and reading about ideas, for almost everything I’ve ever written. But I had to be more systematic for The Body Outside the Kremlin. There was a lot to learn about the Solovetsky prison camp specifically, as well as Russia in the 20s more generally.
The camp occupied a 600-year-old monastery, and since my story involved some of the icons the monks had left behind, I also did a good bit of reading about iconography in the Russian Orthodox Church.
The best source I came across was Reflections on the Russian Soul, a memoir by Dmitry Likhachev, a well-known Russian academic who was imprisoned in Solovetsky for four years in his twenties. A number of my protagonist Tolya’s experiences are based on Likhachev’s.
I’m a member of the board of the Telluride Association, an educational nonprofit that runs scholarship residences for college students at Cornell and the University of Michigan, as well as two summer programs, known as TASP and TASS, for high schoolers.
Telluride’s programs focus on intellectual inquiry and service in participatory democratic communities, and we pride ourselves on having a very large, active, and young board filled with recent participants. In fact, I’m getting to be on the elderly side of our board, but I like the way it keeps me in contact with younger people.
I’m struggling with a ghost story in which a hive of bees haunts a suburban house after an exterminator poisons them instead of removing them properly, then begins possessing neighborhood kids.