The NEW BLOG and an Author Interview with James Morris McGrath

We’re finally getting the ball rolling with our new and improved blog! As you’ll notice, it’s no longer “A Brief Word,” but has now assumed the name of “Scribe.” Monday through Friday we will be featuring a different type of blog post, from author interviews to writing prompts to featured industry news and more! Check back each day to find out something new and/or interesting that’s going on at WLT or the publishing world.

Mondays will always be getting your week started with an often entertaining and always informative author interview. Our premier author is James McGrath Morris, who is one of the Texas Book Festival authors, a WLT’s class presenter at the “Words in Progress” Seminar, and a featured author at WLT’s Bookish Brunch (whew, busy author!)

So, without further ado, here’s the interview with James:

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was 18, but it took me 32 years before I felt I had become one. I earned money as a reporter and editor, but never felt like I was truly a writer until a publishing house was willing to gamble a sufficiently large enough sum of money on my idea. That didn’t happen until my 50th birthday.

What is your writing routine and where do you write?
I write better in the morning. I am an early morning person, a habit that dates back to my days in radio when I had to rise at 3:30 a.m. I write in a small study in my house on a table built of wood from my mother’s old New England barn. My writing routine is to write anything. So if I am stuck on some section of, say, chapter two, then I mosey over to chapter four where things are going better. I want to get 800 words down each day when I am working on a book. I said 800 words, not necessarily good ones.

Do you outline or just start writing?
Both. I have a general outline for a book when I start. But it changes so much by the time I finish that it has no correspondence to the original one. That is because in my line of work – that of biography – you don’t really know where the story is going to take you until you actually start writing it. Getting words down is the most important part of the process. I will revise and revise and revise – to me, the secret of good writing – but until there is something on the paper, you can’t revise. So I write all the time. I write while taking notes in the library, I write while visiting a place where my subject once was, and I write in the shower. This is problematic because I have to remember what brilliant lines I came up with until I am dry enough to get them down.

What book are you reading now?
Scorpions by Noah Feldman and Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris for book reviews I am writing. P.D. James’s The Skulls Beneath the Skin for fun. And The Life of An Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader for work.

What did you learn from your last book or project?
To do the book I received the equivalent of a graduate degree in the history of the Gilded Age and journalism. Also,the book reminded me of one of my cardinal rules. One writes for ones’ self. If you like it, there will be readers who will share the joy you found in creating the book.

What is a little known fact about yourself?
As I am an unknown ink-stained wretch living off the beaten path, it’s unlikely anyone knows much about me. But I think folks are often amused to learn that English was not my first language, as my editors quickly learn when they see my malapropisms and spelling mistakes.

How do you deal with the ups and downs of the publishing business?
One makes a mistake to get caught up in the roller coaster ride that the industry is taking these days with ebooks and the collapse in sales of traditional books. I try to remain grateful that someone is willing to pay me to hole up and write a book.

If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?
A.J. Cronin

Beer or coffee?
Beer in a Welsh bar.


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