Here is more of 2010 Write Stuff Conference Chair Kathryn Craft’s interview with keynote James N. Frey.
Jim: I was once a claims adjuster, worked on submarines, sold insurance, worked in a hospital... I eventually went to college, did graduate work in English Lit and Psychology and quit both because they took time away from writing. I advise young writers to fill a sea chest full of great books and join the merchant marines, see the world and write.
I have a sailboat; in my spare time I sail on the San Francisco Bay [Jim is on left in photo]. I enjoy teaching my 4-year-old granddaughter how to box. When she was two and a half a kid in preschool bit her and she knocked him cold with a right cross, so she’s 1-0 with a TKO.
K: In your opinion, what is the hardest concept for budding authors to grasp?
J: That fiction is not reality, that you need conflict; and you need to “show don’t tell.” I tell new writers that they should without exception always, at every point in their story, be telling about “a well motivated character overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal.”
K: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work as a writing teacher?
J: When by all your endless explanations and drawing diagrams and making up example after example, of showing examples written by masters, and begging and pleading for them to listen, and when they don’t, yelling and hurling insults and obscenities at them, and then, alas, exhausted and panting for air you finally crack through the thick concrete in their brains and the light dawns, then the reward comes: you can see it in their eyes, damn, they just got it!
K: What were the last three books that won a bid for your attention, and what drew you in?
J: I’ve just finished L.A. REX, a violent Urban Thriller. I read it because a friend recommended it. Great tough-guy prose, but the plot is out of control. Before that I read WAR AND PEACE for the third time because it’s so great it gives me the shivers. Before that I read a couple of thrillers because they were best sellers and I was writing HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER (that’s coming out in March) and I thought I could use them as examples of damn good thrillers, but I couldn’t, they were both crap. People aren’t reading because nowadays there’s a lot of bad writing, bad editing, and over-hyping of crap.
Thanks, Jim! In the next post: a list of James N. Frey’s favorite thrillers.