James “Murr” Murray has been on a heck of a roll lately. He just got married; truTV has just started airing the second season of Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party; TBS is airing the second season of The Misery Index (and filming a third season); Impractical Jokers is now on HBO Max and truTV is filming a new season; his first three novels, the Awakened trilogy, are all highly reviewed (and the first novel was a best seller); and he and co-author Darren Wearmouth have just released a new novel, Don’t Move, a fast-paced horror/suspense novel that’s perfect Halloween-season reading.
We had a chance to sit down with James Murray and talk to him about his latest novel, how book launches have changed during the pandemic, his writing process, his advice for beginning writers, and what he’s working on right now.
Scott (GNN): So, my good man, let’s get right to it. Your book, Don’t Move, you just had the book launch last week, week before?
James Murray: Yeah, about a week and a half ago. Yeah.
GNN: You did it virtually. You did it in your backyard and you seem to be having a good time. I mean you, were ordering pizzas for attendees and you had the other Jokers on the show. How are these virtual launches working out for you? Are you having as much fun as it looks like you’re having? Or would you rather be doing them live?
James Murray: I love it. I think we’ll do every book launch this way, honestly, because before the situation the world finds itself in, we would do book launches in person. Right? We did ours last year at Barnes & Noble. Then we had to switch to virtual book launches and it’s great. The great thing about it is that we can reach so many more people. Right? We had eight, nine hundred people on the thing. And the Obliteration launch in June, we had like 800 people from around the world that are able to join that never could possibly attend a physical book launch in Manhattan or wherever we do it. So, in that sense, it’s better. And it was also kind of cool that a half-hour before the book launch, I was in pajamas because I’m in my own backyard in my own house. So that’s kind of fun too.
GNN: Yeah. My wife and I attended and had dinner while we watched. It was really funny, especially when you picked that one guy’s name and ordered him like 20 pizzas. Did you know that guy? Was he like a super fan?
James Murray: No. No.
GNN: Oh, you just ordered that guy all those pizzas for grins?!?
James Murray: Yeah! I don’t know him at all! I thought this would be a fun joke…that this guy, in my mind, in my mind, he lives alone. He maybe has no prospects for love or marriage, no friends nearby, and now he has to consume 20 pizzas (laughs)! He’s going to freeze some because you don’t want to waste food, obviously, so he freezes some. He puts some in the fridge. Maybe he’d make some into croutons when it gets stale. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but in my mind, he now has this problem he’s got to deal with (laughs).
GNN: Yeah. I mean, if he lived in an apartment complex, that’s a sure-fire way to make friends at least. Just, “Hey, everybody, come on in!”
James Murray: Maybe he gave it out to his neighbor he’s always been interested in. Now they’ve fallen in love over the pizzas, and now he’s got his whole life ahead of him, and it all happened because of that virtual book launch.
GNN: You are changing lives.
James Murray: As I’m saying. Yeah.
GNN: So, let’s assume our readers haven’t heard about the book. Tell us about Don’t Move, the latest novel from you and Darren Wearmouth.
James Murray: Don’t Move is a product of the times we’re in for sure. Darren and I, my co-writer, and I wrote it while in quarantine, and the book is very much about isolation and being cut off, not just from other people and civilization but also cut off from yourself, which is very much what we’re all going through this year. Right? This sense of constant dread and isolation. When things first started, you had no idea. Every day just seemed to be getting worse and worse and worse. The book was birthed from that feeling. Right? So, in Don’t Move, the plot is this: there’s a church group from the Bronx that goes on their annual summer camping trip to the woods of West Virginia. But they wander into the wrong woods through a navigational error. And in these woods, there’s this prehistoric arachnid, this terrifying creature that lives in the treetops and has spread invisible webs through the forest. It can sense vibration no matter where it comes from in the forest. Any time you brush up against or break through a web, it can use that vibration to home in and hunt you down and kill you. And our lead character is this great character. Her name is Megan Forrester. She, in her real life, is this extremely accomplished, smart, savvy, ambitious character. She works for the East Coast’s largest distribution plant. Basically, a third of all the food, produce, dairy, meat, poultry that goes through the entire eastern seaboard goes through her facility. It’s called Hunts Point, which is a real place, and she is the master puzzle solver there. Because that industry you have to know how to move food in such a way and make deals in such a way that the food doesn’t go bad before it gets onto the shelves of every bodega and deli and supermarket in the country. So, it’s this constant puzzle.
So, Megan, in the first chapter of Don’t Move, something pretty horrific happens to her and her family and from that moment on she is a shell of the former person she was. Through the course of the book, she has to build back up to what she was. And she’s faced with the ultimate puzzle, how to get out of an impossible scenario where the only way out is a class five rapids river, but they have no boat and they’re not even sure they can get to the river to begin with. So how to solve the ultimate puzzle and save her own life, which is going to require her to rebuild herself from the disaster that happened a year earlier. You are going to be constantly surprised. You haven’t gotten to the ending yet, but you’re going to love the ending especially as a sci-fi thriller buff like yourself and you’re going to love the ending. And when you read the ending, I want you to tell me what’s the shoutout to.
GNN: Okay. I will. I’m currently on chapter six. I’ll see if I can figure it out.
James Murray: No one’s figured it out yet. But I think you might. And you’re going to root for her and you’re going to want for her to succeed and it’s going to be interesting watching her path when she’s faced with the same situation from chapter one at the end. And to see if history repeats itself and that’s it. That’s Don’t Move. It’s the best fall reading you’ll have.
GNN: Yeah, I just started reading and what’s great about it is that it’s not a slow burn. I mean, on like page two, you’re hit in the face. You’re not, “Okay, what’s going to happen to this woman? What’s going on?” I mean it is right out of the gate, page two, boom, stuff happens. So, your book definitely did a good job of drawing me in.
James Murray: Yeah. I think it grabs you from the beginning like any good story should. And then what keeps you I think is the characters and seeing what’s happened to them. And once you reach one part in chapter six or seven, whatever have you, you haven’t reached the part yet, but there will be a distinct moment coming up soon maybe in two chapters where the plot starts kicking in and then it’s relentless.
GNN: I’m looking forward to it! So, let’s talk about the writing process for this book. You’ve written and released four novels and have more in the works. On one hand, you would think, “Okay. You’re working with Darren more. It’s gotta be getting easier.” Is it getting easier? Is it getting harder because you’re setting the bar higher? Is it staying about the same? How’s the process working out? I mean, obviously, the quarantine is making little more difficult.
James Murray: The creative process is as smooth as ever, I think. So literally, last night, we’re developing this as a movie. We’ve been pitching this as a movie to companies, and I called Darren. I was giving him some information about a company that was interested in Don’t Move and that they’re looking for psychological horrors and thrillers. And I just said those words and we started riffing for a second on what would be a good psychological horror film, and one popped up in our brains, and we started building on it and building on it, and we have now Facetimed already today five, six times this morning back and forth already on more ideas for this. And it keeps snowballing. We create like that. The creation process is actually really fun and very painless for him and I together. We click. We love the same movies. We’re about the same age. We just like the same pop culture references.
So, this new idea…and I kind of yelled, and I was like, “Darren, I know we were both excited by this idea,” because I kept calling him back last night too and this morning with ideas, and he kept calling me back with ideas and I said, “That being said, we have to finish writing two more books first that we’ve already sold!” We have to stay focused, first, on Don’t Move, which is out right now. Let’s write to stow away we’re writing right now for next year. We just have other work to do. But our problem is we get excited for an idea, and then we start developing it, and then before you know it, I’m excited to pitch it, and then we sell it and then shoot. Right now, we have to write this thing. The writing process, I think, is getting easier, too. Don’t Move, we wrote in a little over two months. It was super-fast. Maybe not even two months. Super-fast. We have a good rhythm.
GNN: So, there’s never any friction? I mean, I design training and work on teams and different people have different opinions. You’ve never had a vision of, “The creature should be this,” and Darren was, “No, the creature should be this. The main character should be that.” Is there ever any of that or is it really that good a working relationship?
James Murray: I don’t mean to set this to sound any other way than the truth. That has never happened.
GNN: That’s incredible. Wow. I mean, when you find someone like that…that’s cool.
James Murray: Yeah. It just hasn’t happened. We click on everything creative. There has never, in four years now, been a creative disagreement. He is very humble, and I respect the creative process greatly. And him and I approach it the same way, which is that every idea leads to a better idea which leads to a better idea. And we keep building, building, building, building, building. We both collectively know if something is not working. You feel it and it goes away. And it’s no ego at all when it comes to this stuff. And because there’s no ego between him and I, we have never once had a creative argument.
GNN: Good for you, man. I have been doing training for 22 years. I found two people that I’ve had that kind of relationship within that amount of time. So yeah, that’s so funny…Joe [Gatto from Impractical Jokers] made the joke during the book launch that the book should’ve been called Stand Still. So, Darren didn’t want to call the book Stand Still, and you wanted to call it Don’t Move? Not even disagreements like that?
James Murray: It’s funny. We knew the whole plot, we knew the characters, we were writing the treatment for the book to pitch and sell to a publisher, to Blackstone. We’re writing the treatment, and we still didn’t know what the title of the book was. And in the middle of writing the treatment, I’m sitting in my old living room. Darren’s in one of the bedrooms writing, and I wrote a sentence and ended it with, “don’t move.” I stopped and I stood up, went into his bedroom, and I said, “I got it.” He goes, “What”? I said, “The title of the book: Don’t Move. And he looked at me, he said, “Absolutely.” And that was it.
That’s when we both realized that has to be the title. It describes the whole hook. It describes the character flaw that in a moment of terror she was unable to move and incapacitated in the first chapter. And it becomes the creature’s MO. Like if you move, it can hunt you down. And it becomes the main character’s flaw that she has to overcome by the end of the book. She’ll be faced with a situation where she has to make a move. And then of course there’s a twist at the end that you’re going to love, too. It all homes in on the same idea of don’t move. And as soon as I said it out loud he said, “Absolutely.” And that was it. That’s exactly the way the creative process works. He’ll say something like, “Yes.” He called me last night with a kernel of that idea that I mentioned. And I was like, “That’s it. That’s great. It’s great.” And then we start building, and building, and building, and that’s how it goes.
GNN: Now, another question about the book. Last time we talked you talked about how you had become friends with R.L. Stine and Brad Meltzer, who did a blurb for this book. When they look at your stuff, are you just giving it to them to write something cool on there, or do they actually look at it and give you feedback? Have you gotten actual like, not criticism in a bad way, but constructive criticism from them?
James Murray: Oh, most of the authors that we get quotes from obviously are our dear friends. I’ve known Brad for a number of years, and he’s been so very generous with his time. And obviously, he’s an established author that has sold many, many more books than I have. And he’s been so gracious with his time and kind of steering my career and what my ambitions, what I want to do. Same thing with R.L. Stine, who’s been just the loveliest of individuals. And even I did a virtual book signing together…a signing together last week for Blackstone and Mysterious Galaxy. And just the loveliest of men. Before all this, we’d go out to lunch regularly and his wife is lovely. And they’d come to our shows. And just you know lovely individuals. When it comes to this stuff, it’s professional respect. I ask them for a quote hoping they’ll like the book. And I always say the same thing, if you don’t like a book, please keep your mouth shut (laughs). Don’t respond to emails, just let me know, but also don’t tell anyone else. But it’s not like I give him a manuscript asking for feedback. That’s what your editor is for.
GNN: Got it. Is there anyone else who you let read your books? Do the wives read your stuff?
James Murray: Yes. Darren’s wife, Jen, read Don’t Move and thought it was the best of the books we’ve written. Melissa finished reading Don’t Move on our honeymoon a few weeks ago and loved it. And thought it was great.
GNN: I know you started your novel-writing career with Awakened, which was a short story you wrote in school, and you kind of brought it out of the mothballs. Now you’re on your fourth novel. Now that you have a little more experience writing, do you have any advice for authors who might be reading this starting out? What advice do you have for hopefully authors?
James Murray: I would say finish is the first advice I have. My computer is riddled with old ideas, things, manuscripts I started, scripts I started, short stories I started, that I just gave up on for one reason or another. Partially because I didn’t have any contacts back then. I was almost frustrated by my inability to be able to sell it or to get it to the market in any way. That’s frustrating. Second, you often get lost in the idea. So, as we’ve gotten older and I realize that the better way to do it is to plan it out well in advance. Our treatment that we write for the book is often 20,000 words long. If your book is 60,000 words, one-third of it is already written by your summary. And in the summary, you’re doing chapter breakdowns and points of view. You’re figuring out all the problems in advance before you even start writing it. That kind of advanced homework pays dividends when you actually writing your manuscript because then it’s not hard. Then there’s no writer’s block. How could there be? It’s just getting it done. I would also say deadlines help.
James Murray: Give yourself a deadline or you will never finish it. And it goes back to my first point. Finish the damn thing. Finish it. Finish it. Do your homework in advance and then give yourself a deadline and finish the damn thing. What else? I would say, you have to become successful on your own in order to become successful in the business. That is true no matter what. So, we had to succeed on our own before we got an agent. We had to succeed on our own before we got a television show. I had to work my butt off to get a job in TV development and then succeed in the job in order to eventually be in a position where the guys and I can create jokers and then we can pitch it through my job and sell it. We had to succeed on our own. And, finally, don’t listen to other people who say you can’t do it. No one wants anyone to succeed. You don’t want anybody change or succeed. It’s schadenfreude, right? Just if you love something, don’t stop doing it and work. Work harder and get better at it and keep doing it no matter what.
GNN: You mention people wanting you to fail, so what do you say to all the people, based on what you just said, that have what I like to call the “George McFly Syndrome.” It’s when someone writes all this stuff in their notebook and they’re afraid to let anyone see it. Will anyone want to look at it? Will they hate it?
James Murray: I think what you should probably do is have a son that befriends an old scientist. Then have that scientist design a flux capacitor that sends your son back in time to make you punch out the bully that emasculated you in your own life that led to your George McFly syndrome. Then, as a result, you become a bestselling author. By the way, trivia, what is the name of George McFly’s first book?
GNN: A Match Made in Space?
James Murray: A Match Made in Space is exactly what it is! Very good, my friend.
GNN: I am a font of worthless information.
James Murray: So to answer your question, I would say we are all a product of a million experiences that have happened to us throughout our entire lives, right? Your personality is what it is because of ten million moments, the tiniest of moments, that made you feel a certain way. You didn’t even register that you were feeling that way. Things that were given to you, things that were forced on you, the way your parents raised you, what school you went to, by a million other variables. By the way, the first time you had a crush on somebody and you made it known, and they reacted or didn’t react to it, a billion experiences over your years has led you to be the way you are. You do not have to be that way. You don’t have to be a sum of experiences. You can create a new path for yourself. You can break free from your past. There’s nothing to stop you from it, truly.
The other thing I’d say is this. You are greater than the sum of your parts. Also, the only thing we have in life is not friends, it’s not family, it’s not money or lack of it. It is time. It’s the only thing you’re not getting any more of. It’s the only thing every single moment, you’re getting less of. You cannot replenish it in any way. It’s the only currency of your life that truly matters. Money comes and goes. Friends come and go. Sometimes, unfortunately, family comes, love comes and goes. Hopefully, those things last and are as plentiful in your life as possible. But at the end of your life, all that matters is time. So, if all you have is time, you better make sure you spend the only currency that matters doing what you love and doing and experiencing everything you possibly can. So, that’s the way I live my life. I feel like I’m in a race to a finish line that I’ll never reach…as it should be. You should never reach the finish line in your life.
GNN: Well said, sir. I mean, you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that the show you’re on, Impractical Jokers, has been on for what, 10 or 11 years? That wasn’t something that was successful on the first try, right? There were some speedbumps at first…
James Murray: It was our third TV show, the first one to go to series. I sold a show, an improv comedy show, to A&E. We shot it to pilot it. It didn’t go series, and still couldn’t get an agent even after I sold the TV show. Then, the guys and I sold a sketch comedy show to Spike TV. Shot a pilot. Didn’t go to the series. And by the way, this is a funny story. The Spike TV pilot, the budget for the pilot, was like 100 grand, right? This is maybe 2006, 2007. We spent like half the budget of the entire pilot just to rent a DeLorean just because we never been in one. We came up with a sketch idea that it took place in a DeLorean, go into YouTube and type almost back to the future, and it will pull up an old sketch from that pilot with the guys and I in it. And we just blew the budget of the pilot just to rent a DeLorean for a day. We just wanted to drive a DeLorean. It literally cost us like 40 grand, and we rented it out. The whole shot was great.
GNN: Was it everything you hoped for and more, or was it a piece of garbage?
James Murray: Well, we all know it’s a piece of garbage, of course. That being said, it was cool as hell, man. You’re pulling up to a gas station and you’re in a DeLorean…it was wild! For a guy my age, forget it.
GNN: I bet. That would be awesome.
James Murray: So, anyway, Impractical Jokers was our third show. And it seemed like so, so many times we could have not done it. Even when we did it, Jokers was a choice because we had two offers: one was from MTV, but they didn’t want us in the show; they just wanted to buy the idea and recast us and make it into a game show with different contestants embarrassing each other and we could’ve all kept our day jobs. The other offer was TruTV; they said, “We want you guys in the show.” So, we even had a choice after we sold it. Our lives could have gone in two different directions entirely. I’m sure if we’d sold to MTV, that show would have come and gone or never even seen the light of day.
GNN: And you wouldn’t have had a ferret tattoo.
James Murray: I also would have a pristine milky white thigh to this day!
GNN: So, let’s swing back to the book. I know that we talked last time about your next book, which had a woman on a jury that let a killer go, and then she goes on a cruise and maybe the killer is on the boat. How’s that coming along? When is that launching?
James Murray: It’s called The Stowaway. It’s extensively about a serial killer on a cruise ship. But more than that, it is about a female character. She was a juror, as you mentioned, on a serial killer case, and she couldn’t find it within herself to find him guilty. There are just too many details she didn’t necessarily believe. The guy goes free. Two years later, she’s on a transatlantic cruise, three days in any direction from land, in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic. And halfway across the Atlantic, she starts to notice the killer’s MO around the boat, his carving on a deck of the ship, little details that only she knew from the case that she was on two years earlier. And she starts to wonder, A, if someone is messing with her; B, is the killer on board; C, is it a copycat of some kind; D, am I losing my mind? Am I imagining all this? And sure enough, halfway across the Atlantic, people start disappearing, and it’s up to her to stop history from repeating itself once again. There you go. You’ll love it. We’re writing it now. It comes out in June from St. Martin’s Press. And then in terms of Area 51, three books, children’s books, come out starting a year after that from Penguin Random House.
GNN: Oh, yeah. You had mentioned that. It’s the children of the people who work in Area 51.
James Murray: Yeah, yeah, the first book is done. We wrote it, handed it in. We’re writing the second book of that series now. It’s great. It’s a fun little hook, right? It’s about this bunch of kids, friends in eighth grade going to the high school year. Their parents just so happen to work at Area 51 and it’s Take Your Kids to Work Day so they all go. All hell breaks loose in Area 51 and the adults are captured and it’s up to these kids to save the day. So, at the end of book one, the parents offer them a summer internship at Area 51. And Area 51 is everything from faster than light travel to time travel to the center of the earth to dinosaur world to this biodome that has different terrains and different epics from Earth’s history. It is everything and anything we need it to be. It’s really cool stuff.
GNN: Is this a book that adults can read, or is it only for kids?
James Murray: No, of course, you should read it. For a sci-fi buff, it’s everything you love.
GNN: Okay, All right. Now, I’m going to put you on the spot. I’m going to force you to choose between your children here. Let’s say that tomorrow, you can have any of the four books you’ve released turned into any other format…movie, television, Netflix…but you can’t do any other projects. What would you like to see at the expense of any other project?
James Murray: Oh, tricky. Gosh (laughs). Don’t Move and the original book Awakened would be fantastic movies. I would say that. Awaken is a great standalone thriller. It’s a complete tale that leads to a larger world. That would be in its own a great summer blockbuster movie. Don’t Move, I think is a perfect low budget horror movie for sure. I choose Don’t Move.
GNN: I’d like to see that. So, let’s move on from the books and talk about your other projects. You just started another season of Impractical Jokers Dinner Party. Last time we talked you said you did it because you guys missed each other and wanted to stay in touch. But being with them so much and traveling to so many places, is it easy, or is it getting harder to kind of sit and think of things to talk about since you’ve spent so much time together?
James Murray: No. No. No. When you’re BS’ing with your best friends, the conversation is always easy because our characters come out. And we’re still going through stuff, right? Joe is locked at home with eight dogs, two kids, and his wife. It’s just inherently funny, the situation he’s in. I was planning a wedding and to see if I could pull that off while going through all this. Now I’m married. And then what kind of couple that’s engaged has to spend 24 hours together for seven months straight before their wedding. It just has never happened before, right? So, it just leads to fun things happening. Like this summer I took up…I’ve always been a big gardener, but I haven’t had a garden since I was a kid. And since we moved to the suburbs and I bought a house, I have a garden and it’s freaking awesome. You can see it at Dinner Party…you’re going to see Murr Farms. You’re going to see my farm and I grow everything. I have crops everywhere and you’re going to see my farm.
GNN: That’s going to be awesome.
James Murray: And I sent all the ingredients for Dinner Party one week to the guys from my own farm so it’s kind of cool so there’s just a plethora of weird life experiences we’re all having now that have led to just good conversation.
GNN: Speaking of food, who’s more fun…Healthy Joe or Unhealthy Joe?
James Murray: Both Joes are equally fun. That being said, I do miss Chicken Parm Joe where he’s ordering meatballs, chicken parm… just round balls of beef for tables with just the cheese and sauce everywhere. I do miss that. That being said, he’s equally fun and funny whether he’s vegan and trying, or fat and not trying; it’s equally funny.
GNN: So, as far as Dinner Party goes, do you like the idea so much that you’d keep it going post quarantine?
James Murray: We just finished filming ten more episodes. I would love to do it; I think what happened was it started as a product of its times, right, and necessity. We were just all at home, stuck at home. How do we make a television show with no crew, no one in our houses? They literally would drop the equipment off in front of our porches, wipe it down with sanitizer, and then we have to figure it out and set it all up on our own and it started from a product of its times, and then we started having a lot of fun with it. And then we got major stars, right? We got Jeff Daniels and Ed Harris and…
GNN: Ed Harris, yeah. Kane Hodder was on the other day.
James Murray: Yeah, I mean, in the next 10 episodes of Dinner Party you’re going to see other major stars. It just became a lot of fun and became a different creative outlet for us. So, now, we want to keep doing it forever. I don’t know why I wouldn’t. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a good natural conversation. We had great guests that for one reason or other can’t make it to New York to be in Impractical Jokers, but they’re fans of Jokers, and they like the guys and me, so we’ve just had…Edie Falco is going to be on a few episodes from now. You’re going to see lots of different celebrities popping in.
GNN: Yeah. No, Roy Wood Jr. was funny too. I liked when he was on. Also, The Misery Index is still going strong. I’m sure you’re still loving doing that. That’s pretty awesome.
James Murray: We start tomorrow. We start filming season three tomorrow. Season two is on television now on TBS, and we start filming season three tomorrow for the next two weeks.
GNN: Nice. And if people want to watch you and the other Jokers, you’re now on HBO Max. How many seasons did they release?
James Murray: I think they’re slow-rolling the release of the seasons, too. But I think they released seasons one through four or five, maybe, on HBO Max and the rest of the seasons will come shortly as well.
GNN: Anything else that we need to know about the Jokers? What else? New season coming?
James Murray: We’re filming the new season now. It’ll be back on in January. You can watch The Impractical Jokers movie on HBO Max right now, too, which is great fun, and we snuck that one in, man. We got two weeks in the theaters before they shut down and I’ll take it. Two weeks is better than nothing at all, so fun.
GNN: Well, congratulations on that, and all the projects, and the new book, and getting married! Congrats on all that!
James Murray: Thanks, buddy. I really appreciate it. Take it easy!