It’s been some time since I’ve done an author spotlight, but after meeting up with an old professor of mine, I decided to regale you with another installment of my Author Spotlight feature.
James Brown is the author of the memoirs This River and The Los Angeles Diaries and co-editor with Diana Raab of the anthology Writers on the Edge. The most recent reprint of The Los Angeles Diaries from Counterpoint Press includes a foreword by Jerry Stahl, as does the French edition, Les Carnets de L.A., from 13 eNote Books, and is currently under option for a feature film with producer Jude Prest and Lifelike Productions, LLC. Brown has also written several novels, including Final Performance and Lucky Town. He’s received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing and the Nelson Algren Award in Short Fiction. His work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Ploughshares, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New England Quarterly, and anthologized in Best American Sports Writing; Fathers, Sons and Sports: Great American Sports Writing; and the college textbooks Oral Interpretations, and Creative Writing: Four Genres in Brief. Brown can be contacted through his website at www.jamesbrownauthor.com.
ADG: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
JB: Wanting to be a writer came to me early when I was around 14 or 15. It started out with a desire to please my older brother, Barry, who was a huge reader and a great thinker. I admired him, and one day I wrote a short piece about an old man who liked to sit on his front porch and drink wine. I showed it to him and he loved it, or said he did to encourage me, as it was hardly good writing. But I believed him, and so I kept at it. Along the way a few teachers also encouraged me and that made a difference. I write because I like to think I’m good at it, but I’m even better at deceiving myself.
ADG: What’s your work schedule look like?
JB: When I’m working on a book or a script, I try to put in three to four hours, five to six days a week. I’m a firm believer that success as a writer has far more to do with hard work and discipline than talent. I’ve known plenty of talented people in my day, some of them friends, who just didn’t have the drive or the will to put in the time necessary to get the work done.
ADG: What writing advice do you like to give to beginning writers that no one else does?
JB: I don’t think I have any special advice for writers, beginning or advanced. It’s hard work, plain and simple, at least it is for me, and you also absolutely have to be prepared for rejection, likely lots of rejection. But the even tougher part is not giving up. If you keep getting rejected again and again you might start believing that the people rejecting you are right about your work, when, in truth, they may not be. All too often those who stand in judgment of us wouldn’t know a good story if it hit them upside the head. The trick is to keep moving forward in the face adversity and that’s a lesson that applies to a whole lot more than writing.
ADG: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, short stories and novels. Which is your favorite to write? Why?
JB: I’m not sure I have a favorite form or genre. When I’m immersed in writing a novel, it’s my favorite form, and the same goes for the short story, the screenplay and memoir. Whatever I’m writing is, at the time I’m writing it, my favorite form. But I will say writing memoir is more emotionally demanding, more psychically taxing.
ADG: If you could read only one writer from now until you died, who would you choose to read?
JB: Ernest Hemingway.
ADG: What do you feel has been the greatest challenge for you as a writer?
JB: My memoirs, The Los Angeles Diaries, and This River, were the greatest challenge to write because they demanded the most from me. You can’t hide behind the guise of fiction. You have to be truthful and honest even if it makes you look bad, and I wish I could say I’ve been a kind and good man all my life but that would not be true.
ADG: What would you say were the most formative novels, books, or stories in your development as a writer?
JB: This is a tough question. Just about every good novel or story I’ve read has had some influence on my work, and I’ve read widely. Early on, however, I would have to say Hemingway’s clean prose style made a big impression on me. I like the eloquence of Virginia Woolf, the sprawling life vision of Tolstoy, and seemingly simple style (good simple is not simple to do) of Raymond Carver. I’m also a fan of Tim O’Brien, and right now I’m reading a beautiful collection of stories called Widow by Michelle Latiolais.
ADG: You’ve had some nice things said about your writing by one of my all-time favorite writers, Tim O’Brien. How did he come to be familiar with your work?
JB: We’re old friends, and he’s been reading my work for, shoot, nearly thirty years. He’s a good man and I greatly admire him. We met at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in the late 80’s.