James E. Graham, better known as Jamie (and occasionally “Darts”) to his friends, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in March of 1971. He grew up in Prospect Heights (a neighborhood that was just a teensy bit less trendy back then than it is today), where he attended his local public elementary school, P.S. 9, and then tested in to Hunter College High School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side – in no small part due to the extremely compelling essay he wrote about his then-favorite baseball player, Graig Nettles. After successfully surviving six years of commuting to and from grades 7-12 an hour each way on the IRT during
New York’s “bad old days”, he attended Princeton University where he was an English major and had the good fortune to study creative writing under Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, and Russell Banks (twice). Sadly, Toni Morrison declined his application for her long fiction writing class – though if Jamie is completely honest with himself, she was absolutely right to do so, as his writing at the time was utterly self-involved horse manure.
Upon graduation, Jamie had no desire to be a starving writer – and frankly was more than a little disappointed in how crapulent his work had recently become – so he ignored his mother’s advice to read What Color is Your Parachute? and instead followed the path of many of his classmates, pursuing a career in finance. Of course, as he had not planned for such a career, and was really only embarking on it because it seemed the socially appropriate thing to do, both his resume and his interview technique were woefully lacking, and he wound up following a somewhat convoluted route to his “dream” job: first, he worked at two of the Big Six accounting firms (which had been the Big Eight, are now the Big Four, and will no doubt someday wind up the Big One), taking advantage of the sponsorship they provided to attend NYU’s Stern School of Business (which was a horrific mistake, as a 22-year-old without any real-world work experience has – *ahem* – no business going to B-school), and then moving to a Canadian commercial bank where he spent a year processing corporate loans for the madcap companies of the endlessly-fascinating forest products industry, before finally landing a position as an Associate in the Mergers & Acquisitions group of a mid-sized investment bank.
Jamie worked in M&A through the years of the internet bubble, rising to the level of VP, making more money than any mid-level employee at any corporation has a right to make – and absolutely hating his life. Then, as it always does in the wake of an irrational upswing, the economy went to hell, and after Jamie survived four rounds of headcount reduction, the European bank that had bought his firm wisely decided to take its ball and go home. At last he was set free! And just in time too, as the last faint traces of his soul were already beginning to ooze out through his pores.
Now, as you may have guessed, this would have been the ideal point for Jamie to pick up his writing once more, and indeed, he did buy a laptop (which was a big deal back then) and was in the process of scouting likely coffee shops in his neighborhood, when an old friend and seasoned entrepreneur mentioned that he had just encountered a pair of inventors with a promising idea for a new company. Aha! Here was a way to continue using the business skills he had developed while still scratching his long-ignored itch to pursue something creative. (At least, that’s what he told himself at the time.) And so, once again, he eschewed an opportunity to begin his writing anew, and instead followed the siren song of startup.
Eight years later, the I-banking money long gone, one fledgling company dead and the prospects of another starting to look bleak, three fortuitous things happened almost at once: 1) for the umpteenth time since the mid-nineties Jamie went to the bookstore looking for a new fantasy epic, and for the umpteenth time since the mid-nineties he returned home empty-handed; 2) he had the epiphany that he did not need to write “capital L” literature to be happy (and that whomever it was that had established the rule that “capital L” literature did not include genre fiction was an idiot); and 3) he saw the previews for the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO. He remembered that ever since he had first read the works of Lloyd Alexander and J. R. R. Tolkien as a wee tyke, fantasy had been his first love – his literary comfort food, what he preferred to sink his teeth into whenever he was looking to escape into his own head. So what if the genre was always excluded from the major international awards? And since all indications were that major media was beginning to take fantasy seriously (honestly, the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies should have clued him in long before) and it was becoming increasingly obvious that the genre was trending towards anti-heroes and bleak storylines… Why not write a new fantasy epic himself? After all, surely there were others out there who longed for a new take on the classic battle of good versus evil as much as he did.
And so, he set out to begin what was to become The Herald’s Dark Progress, the first book of the Heir to the Old Kingdom trilogy.
Over the first two years, Jamie completed only 45 pages of the first book. (Startup is demanding!) He moved twice, went through the breakup of a long-term relationship, left his company… but throughout it all, he never stopped working on the manuscript. In the fourth quarter of 2013, he transitioned to part-time consulting to allow more time for writing, and by the end of 2014 he had written 270-odd pages. Then, in 2015, he scaled back yet further, dropping his client roster down to a single company, and for the first time in his life, he actually spent the majority of his days writing. Ten glorious (and sometimes tortuous) months later, the final draft of the iniital volume was done – all 480 pages of it.
Or so he thought. What followed was two months of researching the querying process, followed by another month of querying itself. And then, upon signing with an agent (hooray!), revisions: many new turns of the draft (at least four start-to-finish, and many partials) made all the more difficult to complete by the distracting, dismaying events of November 8, 2016, and all that ensued thereafter (Jamie is a liberal), as well as a third move, out of New York City, to a new locale more conducive to the writer’s lifestyle. When Jamie and his agent Matt (and Matt’s fabulous assistant, Christine) all finally agreed that the novel was ready, the manuscript had grown to 636 pages (despite many cuts!) and the calendar had flipped to late winter/early spring, 2017.
Now, after spending most of his twenties in Manhattan, and his early thirties through his mid forties in the borough of his birth, Jamie lives in Dutchess County in upstate New York, which allows for a cost of living much more in line with the budget of an unpublished writer – not to mention acres of territory for his Australian Shepherd, Barlow, to roam. He splits his time between his consulting duties, recording notes for the next two volumes in the Heir to the Old Kingdom series, and working on an entirely new project that also falls in the fantasy genre, but a segment thereof that is nothing like the traditional epic. It seems that despite everything he thought and planned way back when he was a precociously worldly 22, he has in fact become a starving writer. (Or he would be, if it weren’t for regular Sunday dinners with his wonderful parents, Larry and Martha.) Occasionally, he thinks back on mistakes made and opportunities missed – after all, he is a writer – but most days, he could not be happier.