The Divining Wand

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Guest James King on
How to Talk to a Debut Novelist

November 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[After a journey to publication that took over 30 years, James King finally saw his first novel, Bill Warrington’s Last Chance, on bookstore shelves in late August. It’s a proud, personal success and, in today’s guest post, he explains what a debut novelist appreciates most from family, friends, and (potential) readers.]

How to Talk to a Debut Novelist

First-time novelists tend to be a sensitive sort. Getting published is often a lifetime dream come true, realized after years of solitary work and spirit-sapping rejection. This is why, once the book has finally been accepted, published, and released, any event even remotely related to the recently published (if yet unrecognized) work of art tends to bring out some of our more subtle personality quirks. A good review, for example, will send us on a fist-pumping, chest-thumping, air-kiss-throwing dance around the house as we begin composing the Nobel acceptance speech in our heads. On the other hand, anything less than five stars may send us into a self-doubting, self-loathing funk from which we may never emerge without the help of supportive family, friends, and several gallons of Ben & Jerry’s Triple Chocolate Brownie Fudge Supreme.

God help you if you live with one of these volatile souls. But even talking with one can be a tricky proposition. In the spirit of greater understanding and personal safety, please allow me to offer the following tips on surviving a conversation with a debut novelist:

DO fawn. You know that commercial for an anti-flatulent where a young, bespeckled woman touches the wrist of the product spokeswoman and says, adoringly, “I love your work”? Go for that. And don’t stop when the first-time novelist pretends to humbly brush off your admiration. That dismissive wave is actually a signal for more. Word helper: insightful, delightful, compelling, unique, brilliant.

DON’T ask about Oprah. It’s not enough to finally get a book published? You have to remind the writer of the incredible odds against reaching Ultimate Oz? Sheesh. Besides, most writers hate to self-promote—it’s too close to begging. (Note to Ms. Winfrey: Please oh please oh please?! I promise not to jump up and down on your couch.)

DO ask about the writing life. This gives us the opportunity to don our proverbial smoking jackets, adjust our spectacles thoughtfully, and wax poetic on the creative impulse, the writing imperative, the muses, and other non-commercial topics only writers truly understand.

DON’T ask about sales. This is likely to be perceived as a thinly veiled attempt to find out how much money, if any, we’re making from the book. So don’t be surprised if the answer to this question is a question right back about your own financial situation: salary, earnings, investable assets, etc. (On second thought, probably not: You may actually be able to actually answer those questions, whereas most writers can’t.)

DO say you can’t wait to read the book if you haven’t yet done so. We know that you have a job, family, and other responsibilities. We’ll nod understandingly and express our hope that you enjoy the book.

DON’T say you haven’t had time to read the book. We’ll squint at you and wonder about your ability to get your priorities in order. No time to enrich your mind via deathless prose? Phooey.

DO express admiration over anyone’s ability to write a book. This demonstrates your understanding of the pain and suffering, not to mention draining self-absorption, it takes to get a novel published.

DON’T say you’re thinking of writing a book someday. To a writer, this is like saying to a doctor, “You know, I’ve been thinking of taking up brain surgery one of these days…” You may get a smile, but the explicative-deleted text in the thought-bubble over the writer’s head would make Richard Nixon blush.

So there you have it: quick and easy tips for survivng that next conversation with the world’s most fragile ego. But if you get stuck, just remember one of my favorite New Yorker magazine cartoons. It shows a frazzled writer handing a thick, just-finished manuscript to his apparently nervous wife. “Here it is, my novel,” he says. “I look forward to your compliments.”

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Richard Doetsch’s The Thieves of Darkness in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Richard Doetsch and The Thieves of Darkness. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of James King

November 10, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

James King has been dreaming of publishing a novel for more than 30 years and, in late August, that dream came true with the debut of Bill Warrington’s Last Chance.

Here’s the book’s one sentence description:

With a new diagnosis that threatens his mind and most cherished memories, Bill Warrington is determined to patch up his differences with his three children before it’s too late.

And Praise for Bill Warrington’s Last Chance:

“Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is full of fascinating things to talk about — like the coming of age of a young girl juxtaposed with an old man’s search for redemption, not to mention the touching but unsentimental way they grow to care for each other… Perhaps one of the best things you can say about a novel is that the story lingers after you finish it. I have gone on thinking about this one without trying.”__Sue Monk Kidd, Author, NY Times Bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees

“This is what reading is about and what a good book is supposed to do.” Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone mystery series

“A moving tale.” People Magazine. Selected as a “Great Read.”

“Part road odyssey, part coming-of-age tale, King’s novel achieves the exact right balance of humor, redemption, and reconciliation.” Deborah Donovan, Booklist

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Bill Warrington’s Last Chance for Monday, November 22, 2010 but, for now, let’s meet the author through his “official” bio:

James King lives in Connecticut with his wife and their two children. “Bill Warrington’s Last Chance” is his first novel.

Alas, since so few words will fit on the back flap of the dust jacket, it’s time to get to know Jim King — upclose and personal:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: It took 30+ years, but finally got published.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Life is a feast; most of us are starving ourselves. (From my father and passed on to my kids… ad naseum, they’d say.)

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Unattainable and almost always lost in the effort.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: That Hell is a shopping mall.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: San Francisco. My favorite city and the setting of my next novel.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: James Michener, who didn’t get published until he was 40. (A kid, really.)

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Nelson Mandela.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “It’s not easy being me.” (To which my wife replies, “It’s not easy being with you.”)

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I started piano lessons as an adult. Wish I had more of a talent for it. Especially ragtime. And jazz. And classical.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Convincing my wife I was worth the risk.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: It’s a toss-up between stubbornness and impatience.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I’ve put the question out to family and friends. Still waiting…

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Not learning a foreign language.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Paul McCartney. The cute Beatle.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: My increasingly prominent forehead, thanks to my fast-receding hairline.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Atticus Finch.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Fagin.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Alex Rodriguez. I’d ask him how it feels to be the highest-paid player in baseball. Then, I’d ask him to adopt me.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: When lousy, ill-mannered creeps walk through the door you’re holding open for them without so much as a nod, much less a verbal thank-you. But really, it’s a minor peeve. Doesn’t bother me too much. The rude, no-class jerks.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Thinking about writing. I’m much better at this than the actual writing.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: This is it. Always has been.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Integrity, empathy, humor.

Q :If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: The smoothies from one of the kiosks on the lower level of Grand Central Station. I wouldn’t last long, but the Tutti-Fruity is excellent.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Not necessarily in this order:
1. Hey Jude, The Beatles
2. Ants Marching, Dave Matthews Band
3. Rosalita, Bruce Springsteen
4. Sympathy for the Devil, Rolling Stones
5. Baby Beluga, Raffi

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: To sound properly literate, I should include Tolstoy or Dickens or Flaubert, but my favorites are all American. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger had the most impact on me as a young reader and remain books I enjoy re-reading today. “Light in August” by William Faulkner, mainly because I love the name of the main character, Joe Christmas. “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote is one of the most absorbing and chilling books I’ve ever read. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck—I couldn’t move for awhile when I finished it.

Thoughtful, clever, and determined, James King is definitely a new author to follow on Twitter and become his Facebook book fan.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Chandra Hoffman’s Chosen in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Chandra Hoffman and Chosen. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.