James D. Bell is an award-winning author and retired Judge who received the highest bar association approval ratings ever given to a Mississippi Circuit or County Judge. He is listed in Preeminent Lawyers, Outstanding Lawyers of America and Top 100 Attorneys of North America. He is the author of two novels, Vampire Defense and Maximilian’s Treasure. His short story, The Adventures of Sherlock Hound, was published in Mardi Allen’s collection, Dog Stories for the Soul, alongside stories from Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Willie Morris and others. The son of a Choctaw mother and a Mississippi businessman, Judge Bell is devoted to his wife, Joanne. They live near Jackson, Mississippi and have four children. Judge Bell returned to law practice but is frequently called back to the bench by the Mississippi Supreme Court for short term assignments.
Tell us about your book, Maximilian's Treasure! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
A stately Choctaw elder told my friend and me that he believed Civil War gold was buried on his farm in Mississippi. He believed that Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico, sent gold to support the South’s war effort, and that none other than Jesse James, then a member of the Confederate Cavalry, was with the shipment. The war ended when the gold was near his farm and was hidden there. He asked us to help him look for the treasure. This was too far-fetched to believe, but my friend and I said, “Why not?” We travelled with him to his farm and had a great day listening to his stories while we searched with him. You might think this unusual. It’s not. It’s just another day of law practice in Mississippi, where the unusual and outlandish is an everyday occurrence.
This was one of many stories from forty years of law practice that I am desperate to tell. My best friend and I were young lawyers defending citizens charged with crimes in Mississippi. We attracted a bit of attention because we kept winning cases. Jack was a loyal friend, an intrepid investigator, and a great researcher. Together we regularly accomplished what at first seemed impossible. Jack died twenty years ago; too young; too soon. I miss him. I brought him back to life in my novels.
In Maximilian’s Treasure rumors of hidden gold inspire a battle for possession of a Choctaw family farm. Two young lawyers, John Brooks and Jackson Bradley, agree to help the family keep their farm. Early legal success prompts the drive-by murder of the patriarch of the family. The grandson chases the suspects whose bodies are found on the farm, scalped. At the same time, clues to a vast treasure are found on the farm. Jackson, pursued by fortune seekers, adventurers, an exotic beauty and a homicidal maniac, follows the clues to a Caribbean reef and then to the Chiapas jungle. John stays behind to defend the grandson and continue the fight for the farm. His efforts are complicated by arson, murder, race riots, and the realization that he lost his one true love. The adventures of John and Jackson rush toward an intertwined triple climax.
Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?
I went with a small publisher, which permits me to have a close working relationship with the publisher. I took a course, How to Sell What You Write, at Millsaps College taught by a successful author and publisher, James Dickerson of Sartoris Literary Group. I followed his formula and he offered to publish my first novel! That novel, Vampire Defense, became Sartoris’ best-selling fiction and Sartoris was happy to publish my second novel, Maximilian’s Treasure.
How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?
I had a different working title at first, but it was soon obvious that Maximilian’s Treasure is the right title for this story.
Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?
I started with an enlarged photograph of a gold Maximilian coin before I hired an artist who designed a beautiful, exciting cover that captures the essence of the book.
Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?
Eric Summers (firstname.lastname@example.org) designed the cover and did a great job. He was recommended by my publisher.
How was your experience working with the designer?
Great! He read the book and picked a scene that captures the essence of this romantic adventure. The characters Jackson and Natalia, an exotic beauty, are in an embrace near a waterfall. Jackson is peering through a waterfall trying to discover what is concealed behind it. Natalia in ceremonial garb, dagger in hand, is looking over his shoulder, confidently ready to confront an approaching threat.
What has been the readers’ response to your cover?
Everyone says, “Wow! I want that book!”
What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?
Readers will judge your book by the cover. Be creative. You want your cover to communicate relevant information about your story in a powerful way to the prospective reader. Find a gifted artist like Eric who is willing spend the time necessary to understand the story.
Anything else you’d like to say about your book?
Maximilian’s Treasure is packed with hidden treasurers to be discovered. So, if you love mystery, adventure, romance, justice, belly laughs and hidden treasures, it’s all waiting for you in Maximilian’s Treasure. You’ve got to read it!