Interview with James Kahn + Giveaway of Matamoros

Happy Sunday all! I am very excited to be sharing my interview with James Kahn with you today. James is the author of Matamoros and he is currently on blog tour with HF Virtual Book Tours. We hope you enjoy the interview & don't forget to enter our giveaway below for a copy of Matamoros!

Hello James and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk Matamoros!

Hi, thanks for inviting me!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m an Emergency Room doctor, and I’ve been writing since I was 9 – I used to read sci-fi/fantasy comic books and rewrite the endings in my little spiral school notebook. I write compulsively; I can’t not write. I wrote for years when nobody cared or looked. Got my first short story published in Playboy Magazine right after I finished college in 1971. Went on to write a trilogy of sci-fi novels, starting with World Enough and Time, and from there authored a series of big novelizations, including Return of the Jedi. For the long story of what led to that job, check out my ET video memoir on my Youtube Channel, at Eventually that took me to television screenwriting, where I eventually ended up as a writer-producer on Melrose Place and Star Trek: Voyager.

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction, but Matamoros is my first foray into actually writing it. All my previous novels have involved writing about situations I was personally familiar with – medical thrillers, for example – or stuff I just made up out of my imagination, like the sci-fi/fantasy books. Matamoros is the first novel I had to research deeply, and for a long time, and it was really fun unearthing events and people I never knew about before. Took me back to researching papers back in college, but there was also an aspect of detective work to it, like solving cold cases, tracking down documentary clues to learn the secrets of people long dead.

What inspired you to write Matamoros?

The short answer is an old friend, Gene Ringgold, back in Hollywood in the 70’s, used to tell me personal stories of his great-great-great-great grandfather, Sam, who was an officer killed in the Mexican-American War – and Sam’s family, who moved to Brownsville just before and during the Civil War. I became Gene’s doctor, and before he died, he asked me to one day make a movie about his family’s history. So I’ve had Matamoros percolating in me for over 40 years. I wrote a long blog post about this memoir of Gene’s inspiration, which you can read at

What research did you undertake when writing Matamoros?

Initially, I just looked for or happened upon old books in libraries or used bookstores. Histories or biographies mostly, sometimes magazine articles; occasionally novels, though none of the Civil War novels I found were concerned with the war West of the Mississippi, let alone the Rio Grande. I read randomly, over decades. When I started getting serious about writing it, I targeted more specific books, set in South Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Then, when the internet came along that became much easier. I got overviews from Wikipedia, and those led to references to specific texts, for deeper dives. Eventually, I went down to Brownsville, Texas, where I was able to get access to the Special Collections archives at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and the Brownsville Historical Association. So I got to look at original journals, diaries, self-published autobiographies, letters, and microfiche of the English-language newspaper of the day in Matamoros, The Daily Ranchero, to get the detailed news.

What would you like readers to take away from reading Matamoros?

The sense of the setting is what initially attracted me – the “free zone” aspects of a city in the middle of a chaotic war. It reminded me of the movie Casablanca, a hive of spies, smugglers, danger and intrigue – or of the novel/movie The Third Man, by Graham Greene, about Vienna in the days after World War II. And as in Casablanca, the notion of a stormy romance in the midst of all that – pitting love against destruction – feels like a classic driving force in the novel, as in life.

What was your favorite scene to write?

There’s a section in the middle of the book in which Allie is masterminding an elaborate con game – a long con. And there’s a scene when Clay realizes what she’s doing, and confronts her. I loved that scene. Because I loved the con, I loved the way Clay figured it out, and I loved the confrontation – because you don’t know either how the con will turn out, or how their personal confrontation will affect their relationship.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The last one. I had 3 or 4 different ways I wanted to end the book – very different ways – and I wrote them all. Then I kept changing them around until I finally landed on the one I liked best – though there are still some aspects of the alternate endings I miss.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Age 9, as I mentioned. I used to read Tales from the Crypt, and Amazing Stories comic books, and I’d rewrite them in prose, as short stories, in my spiral notebook, changing the plot twists and endings as they came to me.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

When I’m in the midst of a big project, I tend to become a little single-minded, if not obsessed. I’ll start writing around 9 in the morning, forget lunch and write until 2 or 4 in the afternoon, unless my wife – artist Jill Littlewood – sometimes insists I take a break; or if she’s feeling generous, brings me a sandwich. Fortunately, as an artist, she understands the process of plunging maniacally into a project, so she generally doesn’t hold it against me. Then I may finish a particular segment I’m working on, or hit a stumbling block, and do no writing for 2 or 3 days, while I recharge my batteries, or work through the plot problem in my mind. I try to keep going to the gym, but not always successfully. Matamoros took me a little over a year of that process to complete a first draft. That first draft was 780 pages, and kind of unwieldy. It took me four or five more drafts to whittle it down to 450 pages. I generally do 5-10 rewrites on a book before it’s ready, some major, some minor. That’s for fiction. For a screenplay I’ll typically do 15-20 rewrites.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

My day job. I’ve been working in an Urgent Care Center for the last 10 years, and while it’s not as stressful as the ER gigs I used to do, it can still be physically draining, and take away from energy I’d sometimes rather be applying to a writing project. On the other hand, I enjoy both the intellectual challenge and the ability to help people with this particular skill I have – doctoring, I mean – and just having to go into work on a fixed schedule can be a good organizing principle, which allows me to focus fully on writing during my time off.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Robert Louis Stevenson, Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Eric Ambler, Larry McMurtry, Vladimir Nabokov, Agatha Christie, Elmore Leonard, Shelby Foote.

What was the first historical novel you read?

When I was around 10 or 12 I used to love to read the Signature series of novels – don’t know who wrote them, who published them, or if they even exist anymore. But they were of Hardy Boys length and font, about Early American heroic figures, and I devoured them. The first one I remember was about Daniel Boone. But I also remember books about the Revolutionary War naval commander, Mad Anthony Wayne, and another one about the young Abe Lincoln. These books were very formative for me.

What is the last historical novel you read?

I actually just finished rereading a beloved one by Lionel Davidson, titled The Rose of Tibet. Last time I read it before this was 50 years ago, and I just stumbled on it looking for something else in my bookshelves, and decided to read it again. It’s about a young British art teacher trying to find his missing brother in Tibet in 1951, and while he’s there, the Chinese invade the country. It’s got adventure, intrigue, history, passionate love, sacrifice – everything I seek in a novel, and try to write myself. This is one of those books I wish I’d written.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I’m a singer-songwriter. I despise coconut. Some distant ancestor of mine must have been Mongolian, which I was told I have a genetic marker for – namely, the backs of my upper incisors are concave both left to right and up to down.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I love the mixing of reality with fantasy. Of dropping my own fictional characters in the midst of historical events and players. I guess it’s my way of imagining what it would have been like for me to live through those events, and cross paths with key figures in history. It speaks to the “what if” question that drives most of my work, whether it’s sci-fi, thriller, or historical.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

Most recently the years before, during, and after World War II, which feels like an era of great trial and upheaval, obviously – and one that taxes the moral as well as physical courage of the people caught in those times.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I like to make music. I write and sing songs, and play the guitar. I’ve put out a number of Americana CDs, the most recent one being the companion CD to the Matamoros novel – which you can listen to on Soundcloud at or buy at .

And since I’m also a filmmaker, I did a music video of one of the Matamoros song cycle – So Long, The River – which you can see on my Youtube channel at
– and read my blog post about at

Each song on the CD is about one of the characters in the novel – sometimes the song tells the backstory of that character, sometimes what happens to the character after the novel is over, sometimes telling pieces of the narrative arc of the book from that character’s point of view, mixing the novel’s plot with the character’s dreams, wishes, and self-images. Songs are just another kind of storytelling to me; but the poetry and music of them connect more directly to my heart, or soul.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Fulfilling the promise I made to Gene Ringgold 40 years ago – turning the Matamoros novel into a movie, or limited mini-series; and turning the CD into the soundtrack. You can learn about progress on this, and other developments related to Matamoros, at Facebook:

Thanks again for letting me ramble on. Hope you enjoy both the book and the music. Here are all the links I can think of.

• Youtube:
• Facebook:
• Instagram: http://instagram/MatamorosTheBookAndMusic
• Twitter:
• Website:
• Blog:

Thank you, James!

Matamoros by James Kahn

Publication Date: December 20, 2019
Pen Wild Press
Paperback & eBook; 442 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Western

In the U.S. Civil War, by 1862 the Union had blockaded all Confederate ports. Just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, Matamoros was the only harbor where the South could ship its cotton to Europe, and smuggle in arms for the rebellion. So it was a haven for Yankee and Rebel spies and diplomats, gunrunners and cotton smugglers, runaway slaves, bandits, Texas Rangers, and rogues of every stripe.

But Matamoros was also full of French Foreign Legionnaires - because that same year, Napoleon III had invaded Mexico, to install Archduke Maximilian of Austria as Emperor.

Set against the backdrop of two wars, this is the story of Clay - an expatriate Southern gentleman running a gambling hall - and Allie, his ex-con artist partner, bringing her cotton train to market - in a star-crossed affair that may or may not survive their conflicted allegiances amidst the tides of battle.

Praise for Matamoros

"A historical novel offers an in-depth view of the machinations surrounding the Civil War battle for Texas. Kahn’s descriptive prose delivers powerful images...Strong leads star in a passionate war tale filled with political intrigue, violence, and scoundrels." - Kirkus Reviews

"The author does a wonderful job of capturing the different elements of the setting, exploring the historical and social aspects. The prose is beautiful and highly descriptive, and readers will enjoy the social commentaries that punctuate the narrative. This is an awesome read, fast-paced and filled with action. The author paints exciting images of a town flourishing in times of war and makes readers feel as though they were part of it." - Readers Favorite, 5 stars

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Praise for Matamoros CD

"The music paints a powerful but poignant portrait of these disparate renegades, outlaws, and outcasts, each intent on their own survival. The sumptuous paintings included with the CD add a bonus element as well, and given the complete packaging — story, music and art — it confirms the fact that concept and creativity far outweigh the amorphous nature of digital downloads. More than that, Matamoros is an album for the ages, both heartbreaking and affecting in equal measure." - Lee Zimmerman, The Daily Ripple

"Few songwriters have the determination to tell full-length stories through their songs. Greats, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, are a couple of notables in this limited group coming immediately to mind. Therefore, James Kahn has placed himself in a uniquely special group with this song collection. These songs are so good, in fact, they make you want to read Kahn’s novel to learn even more, which makes this album a storytelling gem." - Dan MacIntosh, The Daily Ripple

"Kahn excels in the diverse composition of story-songs that capture not only the emotional and historical intricacies of their lyrical subject matter but also the natural sonic accompaniment for their travails. The lyrics are intelligence, the performances are skillful, and Kahn works within the limits of his voice to communicate with the heart and mind of the listener. Matamoros subverts the American addiction to instant gratification, and pop culture’s resistance to complexity and nuance, and while doing so, gives his listeners songs that they can sing." - David Masciotra, The Daily Ripple

About the Author

James Kahn is an ER doctor, novelist, TV writer-producer, and singer-songwriter. In addition to many original novels (including the sci-fi trilogy World Enough and Time, Time’s Dark Laughter, and Timefall) he authored the novelizations of Return of the Jedi, Poltergeist, The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

His television credits span the genres, from St. Elsewhere, to William Shatner’s TekWar, to Xena: Warrior Princess. He was a Supervising Producer on Star Trek: Voyager, Co-Executive Producer on Melrose Place, Emmy-nominated for his work on All My Children, medical advisor on Spielberg’s ET: The Extraterrestrial; and produced the feature film The Bet, which won Best Feature at the LA Femme Film Festival, 2013.

He’s previously released four Americana music CDs, including Waterline, The 12th Elf, Man Walks Into A Bar, and The Meaning of Life. Matamoros is the first simultaneous novel and CD release, and his first foray into deeply researched historical fiction.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | YouTube

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 10
Review at History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

Tuesday, February 11
Review at YA, It's Lit

Wednesday, February 12
Review at Historical Graffiti
Excerpt at Books In Their Natural Habitat

Friday, February 14
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Sunday, February 16
Interview at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, February 18
Review at Books and Zebras

Thursday, February 20
Review & Guest Post at Tales from the Book Dragon

Friday, February 21
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews

Sunday, February 23
Review at Reading is My Remedy


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of Matamoros! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on February 23rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.


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