Turner is an author, composer, musician and screenwriter. Having had a successful career as a highly paid professional musician, he now works in the film industry. His first television series screenplay ‘The Taker’ is currently in development and will hopefully move into production later in 2010.
About ‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’
According to James, his newly released work Beyond the Comfort Zone is a memoir of a short period in the life of James M Turner. Having enjoyed a career as a professional musician for the rich and famous, in 2002 he moved to south east Asia where he eventually came into contact with the child trafficking trade.
Together with an acquaintance and the help of a US organization they attempt to gain the confidence of the traffickers and bring them to justice – saving the cargo in the process.
There is a little bit in there about James’ hedonistic days of travelling the world as a high paid musician, but this is really just a foil to throw into stark contrast the subsequent adventure in Asia.
It’s a tale that follows two young men trying to do the right thing and in the process nearly losing themselves as they spiral downwards into a shadowy world where human lives, at least their lives, are worth nothing. There is danger, intrigue, high emotion and a fragile love story woven together in what one reviewer called ‘ an exceptional journey …the making of a Hollywood blockbuster, in short a Shantaram for South East Asia.’
I’m very pleased to have James here to interview. So let’s get on with the questions!
How do you transform your passion into focused research?
Well, in the case of Beyond the Comfort Zone as it was a memoir there was very little research to be done, it was more a ‘method’ writing piece. I did a little historical research in the areas where I thought that people needed contextual help to understand the jeopardy, but again I was already fairly well read in that subject and it really was minimal internet verification.
However, when I was writing ‘The Taker’ my main research consisted of putting myself in the environment. I had a rough plot arc, stepping stones as I like to call them, but I wanted to feel the atmosphere.
This consisted of me sitting in downtown L.A. and soaking up the sights and sounds, making notes as I went. Also, as there is a technology component to the story, I researched cutting edge technology and then imagined how I could push it a bit farther.
Probably the longest gestation period in the development process in ‘The Taker’ was with the characters. I think I had between ten to twenty thousand words of back-story before they even set foot on page one of the script. That made for a fairly quick writing process as I had a very good idea how these people would react in certain situations.
How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?
As Beyond the Comfort Zone is a true story, the entertaining narrative really took care of itself. These were real people, very complex individuals. I had a location which was exotic (Thailand). Then the story itself was as dramatic as any fictional thriller.
I tried to make the writing as concise as I could which meant that if I didn’t feel that something was moving the story along or there was some part that needed to be told in a more succinct manner – then out it would go.
One of the things that people have picked up on is the ‘page-turner’ aspect of Beyond the Comfort Zone most people tell me they have read it in 24-36 hrs. I think that is something that my cut throat editing approach has enhanced. If it isn’t contributing to moving the story forward, then it has to go.
How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?
Well, there’s an old quote from Don Maclean who wrote the song ‘American Pie’. When they asked him what the lyrics and the song meant to him he replied ‘It means I don’t have to work again!’ But, to be serious, I’m not sure sneak is the right word. I have however been amazed at how people take away all sorts of ‘hidden’ meanings and sub-plots from Beyond the Comfort Zone. Actually I’m quite happy for them to do that and very glad that the book lives on with people for quite some time after they have read it.
For ‘The Taker’ however hidden meanings are very much an integral part of the plot structure. I had a rough idea of interconnections between events and people, but just wrote the story down without expanding too much on any of those. Then, when the story was complete, I went back to those moments I had identified and dropped in little nuggets that at the time don’t attract too much attention. By the end when the revelations appear there is a clear though (hopefully) surprising link.
However, as I said before, I am constantly surprised by the conclusions drawn by others as to what is sub-text and hidden meaning. Of course I’ll take credit for that…even when it wasn’t deliberate.
All the best,