“Newsmaker” is my effort to give insight in to small town politics in the South during the 1980s when two historic trends were unfolding — the rise of black political power and the rise of the Republican Party. I do that through the lens of journalism, which is my background.
What inspired you to write “Newsmaker?”
I wish I had a better answer than this: in March 1994 I moved from South Carolina to New York and my family didn’t follow until that summer after my kids were finished with the school year. I had a lot of idle time on my hands. But I also had a lot of memories in my head of a complex region of our country that defies simple explanations of what black and white means. The fact I waited 20 years to finish the last 10 percent of the book says something about my dedication to my profession, family life, church, etc. But in some ways it says something about my inability to figure out how to get a book published.
How autobiographical is your novel? Is any of you hidden in those pages?
Authors should write what they know and I certainly know small-town journalism and politics. But the editor in the novel — Ted Forrester — isn’t close to me in his personal life. On the other hand, there are certainly a lot of his world views that mirror mine. “The Constitution guarantees a free press yet it doesn’t guarantee that every town will have a great newspaper. But it should.” Ted Forrester and I both believe that.
I am always interested in how characters come to be; in Newsmaker I was especially fascinated by “Big Jimmie” Morris, the corrupt, incompetent, overweight, Harley-riding sheriff. What inspired that character?
An actual South Carolina sheriff who fit that description, up to a point. He was featured in the New York Times in September 1982 for being under legal and political attack for his alleged incompetence. But after that, there is nothing in common with that sheriff and Big Jimmie.
How would you compare and contrast publishing newspapers versus publishing your own book?
Shifting gears…you have two hours to spend at any location on earth, sharing conversation and the beverage of your choice with any author, living or dead. Who is the author, what is the beverage, what is the location, and why?
The easy part is Scotch and the Carolina coast. After that I would be wrestling with choosing either Stephen Ambrose or David McCullough. I guess that pretty much narrows down the kind of books I find interesting. Of course, when I read Laura Hillenbrand I then think, “OK, that’s the best writer going.” They all have the ability to look at history through its nuances and tell a greater story. And they do it in simple language. I wish I were that good. Maybe I need to ease up on the Scotch.
What’s next? Is there another novel in your future?