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Interview with Humor/Satire Author James Earle McCracken

James Earle McCracken was born in 1960 in Takoma Park, Maryland, and grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. In 1973, he received a scholarship to McDonogh School, a boarding school in Owings Mills, Maryland. After graduating from McDonogh in 1978, McCracken attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a BA in English in 1982. He worked as technical writer before moving to London in 1984 to pursue his creative writing. McCracken returned to the United States in 1986 and began writing greeting cards for Paramount Cards in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. In May 1989, he joined the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. Since then, McCracken has served in Jamaica, Germany, Mongolia, Lebanon, Iraq and France. During his posting in Paris, France, McCracken resumed writing and, in May 2008, published his first novel, Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy. He is married to the former Mirella Abdel Sater, a prominent attorney and human rights activist from Beirut, Lebanon, and has a daughter, Jamie, a junior at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia. You can visit his website at www.jamesearlemccracken.com.

Welcome to Beyond the Books, James. Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published? Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?

The title of my novel is “Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy,” and it is the first work that I have had published.

What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

As I said, “Rue de la Pompe” is my first book, but years ago, I did write a number of short stories, a radio play, and a screenplay – none of which were published or produced. If I had to guess as to why that was the case – why none of them saw the light of day or even the heat of the night – I’d say it was a myopic insistence on quality on the part of those who decide such things.

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

None. No rejections at all. As soon as my credit card was approved for payment. I was on my way to becoming a published author.

In other words, I self-published.

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

I had many rejections when I was writing in my 20’s. Every rejection is a form of death, and I would cycle through the five stages each time: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I was particularly fond of anger and depression.

Ultimately, I gave up. I stopped writing. I didn’t believe that I could make a living from it, and I was out of money.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

“Rue de la Pompe” was published in May 2008 by iUniverse. I selected iUniverse after researching the leading web-based self-publishing companies. I thought the company, because of its size and track record, provided the greatest opportunity of getting my book into print quickly and at a professional standard

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

I was a little embarrassed when I saw the book on Amazon the first time. I’m not sure if that’s a normal reaction. The process of writing is so closed and intimate that going public with the end product is a little jarring. As for celebrating, my wife and I are old fashioned so we celebrated in the traditional manner: champagne and hookers. Actually, that’s how my wife celebrated. I was tired so I stayed home and watched TV.

What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I set up a web site, issued a press release, and enrolled my book in the Search Inside program on Amazon. I would describe those steps as necessary, but not sufficient.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

No, I would still choose self-publishing. The speed of the process and the degree of control outweigh the negatives, the negatives being continued obscurity and a net financial loss.

Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

I have not published since then, and I don’t intend to until I finish the sequel to “Rue de la Pompe.” I have a notional deadline of June 2010, which coincides with my 50th birthday.

I think the process has helped me grow as a writer. At the same time, I worry that the next novel will be a “better” book, but won’t be as much fun to read. I’m very conscious of avoiding become conventional. I find it more enjoyable to make fun of conventions.

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you has avoided?

I was in too much of a hurry, so speeding things up would not have been the solution. I needed to make the mistakes. I needed to learn the lessons. And I probably needed twenty years and everything that happened during that time for those lessons to sink in.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

Each time a complete stranger picks up my book and reads it, I consider it an accomplishment. I can’t think of a greater one for a writer.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

Whatever I was doing during my twenty-year hiatus, I always would rather have been a writer.

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

I had the best of all worlds in Paris: a good job, time and space to write, and the support of my family. I hope to duplicate that wherever I go.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

In ten years, I hope to be retired and writing full time. Until then, I would like to publish a book every two years.

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

The first step in becoming a published writer is to write something worth publishing. The rest is easy.

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