Interview with James Diehl, author of World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware

James Diehl is an award-winning journalist who has covered Sussex County, Delaware for various media outlets since 1998. Since 2007, he has owned and operated a freelance writing company based in Seaford, Delaware and is also a partner in a Lewes, Delaware-based public relations and marketing firm. He is the author of one other work of non-fiction – Remembering Sussex County, from Zwaanendael to King Chicken, published in 2009 by The History Press.

James can be found online at www.twitter.com/sussexwriter, at www.facebook.com/sussexwriter or via www.ww2-heroes.com.

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

James: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but began seriously looking into it as a career while in high school in the mid 1980s. I received my bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1995 and have been writing for either newspapers or magazines ever since. World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware is my second book; I just got interested in the book-writing process a couple of years ago.


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

James: World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware began as a weekly newspaper series in the fall of 2007. As the series went along, I received an award from a regional press association and had numerous people suggest to me that it would make a good book. I finally decided, after realizing a fair amount of success with my first book, that I would move forward with such a project. Heroes has become a very personal and emotional journey for me. It’s so important that people of my generation, and those that follow, realize the sacrifices these men and women made more than 60 years ago so we can live as we do today in the United States of America.


What kind of research was involved in writing World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware?

James: Research for World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware was used primarily to augment each of the 50 profiles, to add a little bit of history into each person’s own unique story. Nearly all of it was done online, reading through military and historical reports from all over the world. It’s amazing the amount of information that is out there in cyberspace. It makes the writer’s job a heck of a lot easier these days; no longer do you need to spend all day in a library digging through card catalogues and stacks of books. Oh mercy, I think I just dated myself.


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

James: I feel almost guilty saying this, but it’s been a fairly easy process for me. My first book – Remembering Sussex County, from Zwaanendael to King Chicken – was published by a regional publishing house in the spring of 2009. A colleague of mine at one of the local historical societies had read some of my pieces, including some of the Heroes stories, and contacted me with the name of someone he knew in the publishing world. Remembering Sussex was on the shelves just a few months later.


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

James: The process was a little trickier with Heroes because I had to make sure, since it was originally part of a newspaper series, that I still owned the material free and clear. Honestly, I knew I did but I wanted to make sure no feathers were ruffled by moving forward with such a project. Once I cleared everything with the powers that be at the newspaper, with a couple of concessions, I moved ahead with the next phase. I decided to self-publish this particular book, rather than seek out a publisher, for the purpose of time more than anything else. I hope to make it the first in a series on World War II veterans, but the window to do such a project is closing rapidly and I needed to get this first installment out rather quickly. It was about two years from the time the first profile ran in the newspaper until the book was in print; the actual process of pulling the book together took about six months.


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?

James: No, I have never used an agent. I’m not saying I would never use one in the future, I just haven’t gone down that road yet.


Do you plan subsequent books?

James: Absolutely! I plan a couple more books on World War II veterans – again, I feel it’s very important to tell their stories while I still can. I’m also putting outlines together for a couple more books; I hope to expand on those in the coming months.


Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

James: Well, I live in a coastal area and I love to take advantage of that when the weather is nice. I keep an office near the beach for just this reason. Sometimes, I’ll grab the computer and drive down near the coastline. I like to park the car, roll the windows down and listen to the waves crashing against the shore while pounding out some copy. The trick is not allowing the salt air to get you so relaxed that you fall asleep. That would kind of defeat the purpose.

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

James: I would wine and dine Oprah Winfrey, donate to her favorite charity and do whatever else she asked of me in return for a short interview on her show and/or a mention to her legions of book club followers. I can’t think of anything that would drive book sales more than that!


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

James: I feel self-promotion is very important. No one is going to promote your project more effectively and with more passion than you will. It was your sweat and tears that pulled your book together; get out there and tell the world about it. I’ve been promoting in several ways, including going on this virtual book tour. I’ve also printed and mailed out postcards to military and historical organizations around the country, developed a Web site, had a video trailer produced, scheduled speaking engagements and coordinated book signings. Whatever it takes to get the word out, do it! You can have the greatest book in the world - if nobody knows it exists, it doesn’t mean a thing.


What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

James: I never almost gave up because, as I mentioned before, I hadn’t even considered writing a book when the opportunity to do so kind of fell in my lap. I was given a great opportunity and I took full advantage of it. I fully realize, however, that I was very lucky and that my experience is not the norm. I believe the biggest reason aspiring writers give up on their dreams is because they have a hard time dealing with the constructive criticism that is offered in regards to their writing. It’s easy to get “married” to a certain way of doing things. But you must be able to change in mid-stream. I write for many different editors and publishers and they all want things a certain way – their way! You need to be able to adapt to what each editor, or each audience, wants to be successful in this business.

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

James: Just don’t give up! Things can get tough and rejections can come, but never give up on yourself or on your abilities. Success doesn’t happen overnight, but it almost always comes if you’re willing to put in the time and make the commitment to get better. And take the constructive criticism that people give you to heart. Remember that many of the people offering it were once in the same boat you are in now. They know what it takes to succeed and want to help you along. Don’t push them away, but learn from their experiences.


Thank you for your interview, James. I wish you much success!

James: Thank you for allowing me to appear on The Writer’s Life and for giving writers like myself another much-needed avenue to promote our projects. God bless!
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