Here at Danville Public Library, we are proud to feature the works of more than 150 local authors. Each Monday, we are featuring one of our beloved local authors by sharing a bit about them and their work.
This week, we feature local author, Jim Courter. We asked him a few questions about his past and present work, his favorite books, and what his writing process is like.
What made you decide to start writing? Did you (or do you currently) have another career?
I started writing in my twenties when I was reading stories and novels and felt like I could turn something out that was as good as what I was reading. I guess there was some kind of plot-making machine in my head that cranked up when I read something, either fiction or something in a newspaper.
I’m retired from teaching writing at Western Illinois University for 25 years. In some ways that job and my writing fed off of each other.
What do you love about writing? What is challenging about it?
William Zinsser spoke for me when he said that he didn’t enjoy writing, he enjoyed having written. What I love most is taking a nebulous idea and shaping it until I’m satisfied that I’ve said what I wanted to.
The main challenge for me is to be disciplined. Writing is hard work, taxing on the mind and even the body, what with long periods of sitting. That and facing the blank page and realizing how much work lies ahead before a project is finished, especially if it’s a novel.
Do you have a writing routine? Daily? Whenever the fancy hits you?
I write when the fancy strikes me, and am happy to say that it strikes me on most days. I like to think that I own my writing instead of the other way around, but I suspect that’s a rationalization for my not being as disciplined as I should be.
Which of your books gave you the most pleasure in writing? Which was the hardest?
My favorite of the books I’ve written is the first one, Spinning Around the Sun, a murder mystery set in Urbana-Champaign featuring an underemployed shopping mall security guard as the first-person narrator. I wrote it in the early to mid ‘90s and just recently signed a contract to have it published. I like to think that it’s both serious and funny, and still read it with pleasure. A close second is Rhymes With Fool, my first published novel.
The hardest is the one I recently finished, Irony Towers: Three Academic Novellas. What made it hard was the subject matter, for which I drew from my university teaching experience, and that the third piece, Animal U, goes in a direction I’ve never gone before and has the potential for being quite controversial.
What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to young or beginning writers?
I avoid giving advice to other writers, in part because I’ve always felt that giving advice is presumptuous, but also because the approach to writing is intensely personal. I’ve read plenty of advice to writers, and it often strikes me that the one giving advice is in effect saying, “This is what works for me, so you should do it, too.” That doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t take into account differences in life circumstances, temperament, and sensibility, among other things.
That said, I have two recommendations—not advice. Read. Read widely, and read without prejudice. To be a reader is a writer’s first obligation. The second is to always be prepared when inspiration comes. Carry something to write with and something to write on, or a pocket-size recording device of some kind, or email or text it to yourself using a smart phone if you have one. (I don’t.)
You’re stranded on an island with one book (written by another author). Which book did you bring?
As for the one book I would wish to have if I were stranded on an island . . . At the risk of being scolded by my co-religionists for not saying the Bible, I’d choose a text from my college days that I still have and read from Shakespeare: The Complete Works. It has the 37 plays, the sonnets, and his other poetry, along with scholarly commentary and background material on Shakespeare and his times. It’s as thick as a brick, almost 1,700 pages. As such, it would probably serve me well on that island until the end of my days.
Any books in progress at the moment? Expected publishing date?
I’m trying to find an agent or a publisher for Irony Towers and have just started a new novel for which I have only the basic plot and some notes. I’m also working on some short stories and essays that have been on the back burner while I worked on Irony Towers.
We’re so grateful for this author’s participation in our Local Author Spotlight post. Be sure to check out Jim’s books at Danville Public Library!