Interview with Satire/Humor Author James Earle McCracken

James Earle McCracken was born in 1960 in Takoma Park, Maryland. He received a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982. After a brief but nonetheless tedious stint as a technical writer, McCracken moved to London in 1984 with the intention of becoming a writer of short stories and novels. He failed. Returning to the U.S. at the end of 1986, McCracken resumed real life. Twenty-two years later, he 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, who is a junior at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia.

You an visit his website at www.jamesearlemccracken.com.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, James. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m 48. I’m originally from the Washington, DC area. I’m married and have a 15-year old daughter. When I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982, I thought I was going to be a writer. I moved to London in 1984 and wrote short stories until I ran out of money and returned to the U.S. in 1986. Twenty years later, I started writing again, and the result was my first novel, “Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy.”

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy tells the story of Michael Whyte, a 30-year old American who has been living in Paris for a few months and working at an office where no one can tell him what he’s supposed to be doing. He spends way too much time alone, to the point where he has given names to the different participants in his interior dialogues: Mikey, Mr. Whyte, Smart Ass, Jackass, and Dumb Ass. Through what appear to be a series of coincidences, Michael finds himself crisscrossing Paris in search of the first French franc, a coin, he is told, that is either incredibly valuable, incredibly dangerous, or both.

I moved to Paris in September 2005 for a three-year work assignment. Every day, I walked along a stretch of rue de la Pompe, an actual street in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, on my way to the office. Here’s how I describe rue de la Pompe in my novel:

“…a mix of shops, stores and offices that included real estate brokers, travel agents, clothing outlets, a butcher next to a baker, but no candlestick maker, the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant, a tanning salon, an art gallery, antique dealers, and any number of other commercial establishments that had two things in common: they were almost never open when Michael went past them, and when they were open, no customers were present.”

I sketched out the basic plot of the book in my mind on my way to and from work. My need to write it grew out of my excitement about the possibilities of using this street, this neighborhood, and all of Paris as the setting.

What kind of research was involved in writing “Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy”?

Conducting the research was great fun and tremendously varied. I learned about a host of subjects including magic in Ancient Egypt, the 100-Years War, Geoffrey Chaucer, Benjamin Franklin, Zen masters, epistemology, game theory, French curse words, and the sex lives of elephants and rhinoceroses. Then there were the site visits throughout Paris. I would drag my wife all over the city to trace the paths that Michael would take in the book. We visited the Orsay Museum four or five times, the Chateau de Vincennes twice, and the Mint. We traveled the route across Paris that Michael takes when he is being chased by the Concierge from Hell, and we also did the decidedly more romantic fountain walk that Michael and Chione make when she teaches him about wishing. I called it “purposeful tourism.” It was a blast.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

I had too much input and not enough tools. The publisher I used gives the author a great deal of freedom to design the cover. I slapped something together using Paint software and clip art. Perhaps I should have left their in-house staff do the work, but I’d rather live with my own shortcomings than curse someone else’s mistake.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

More like a long, strange trip. The twenty-year hiatus from writing provided me with a certain perspective, buy it has not been a bumpy ride at all. I’ve enjoyed every moment.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

I signed the contract on January 2, 2008, and the book was released on May 20.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

No, I don’t have an agent, I’ve never had an agent, and I believe an agent is absolutely necessary. I promise to let you know how to reconcile the third answer with the first and second as soon as I’ve figured it out.

Do you plan subsequent books?

“Rue de la Pompe” is the first of four novels that tell the story of Michael Whyte’s year in Paris. I’m currently working on the second.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I have more energy in the morning, and I produce more, but more is not always better. In the evenings, I’m focused and disciplined, and I find it a better time for rewriting. So, the answer is both.

If money were no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I would hire to someone to plan and implement a marketing strategy. When the strategy failed, I would fire that person and buy enough copies of the book to be on every bestseller list.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

When you self-publish, self-promotion is the whole game. My online efforts have been directed at getting reviews and material on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites, issuing a press release, and developing my own web site. My offline efforts have been largely confined to wishful thinking.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Remove the phrase “I can’t” from your vocabulary. But feel free to make frequent use of “I won’t.”

Thank you for coming, James! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

My web site is www.jamesearlemccracken.com, and you can buy “Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy” at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.com.
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