Interview with John Ames, author of 'Adventures in Nowhere'

John Ames has a master’s degree in English from the University of Florida, where he was a Ford Fellow. After graduation, he built a rustic house and lived for several years on the edge of a spiritual community located near Gainesville, Florida. John’s search for enlightenment ended when he decided that he was too far from a movie theater. He moved inside the Gainesville city limits and taught English and film for thirty years at Santa Fe College.

He has produced and acted in numerous short films and videos, including the cable TV series the “Tub Interviews,” wherein all the interviewees were required to be in a bathtub. For ten years he reviewed movies for PBS radio station WUFT. He has appeared as a standup comedian and has designed and marketed Florida-themed lamps. He coauthored Second Serve: The Renée Richards Story (Stein and Day, 1983) and its sequel No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life (Simon & Schuster, 2007), and Speaking of Florida (University Presses of Florida, 1993).

His recent book is a coming-of-age novel titled Adventures in Nowhere.

You can visit his website at www.johnamesauthor.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, John. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Adventures in Nowhere?


I have been entertaining my friends with tales of my childhood for many years. They are always amused by my descriptions of the eccentric characters I met and the scenes I witnessed. It never occurred to me that my youth could be the basis for a book because I considered my childhood too specific to appeal to a general audience. However, people kept advising me to write on the subject, so I decided to see if I could take a lot of details, large and small, from my youth and make a story using them.


Q: I love your title, Adventures in Nowhere. Can you tell us why you chose it?

As a kid, I had the impression that my neighborhood was a million miles from anywhere important. I never saw anything like it in the movies or on TV. It was like nowhere else. It had recently been a rural area, but the development that was coming its way had been halted by World War II, so it was right on the borderline between one thing and another, nowhere in particular. For me, it was indefinable, just nowhere.


Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

I was talking with a psychologist friend who does a lot of work with children under pressure. He is very familiar with their concerns, and he said that few people understand the depth of their analysis of the world--their attempts to determine right from wrong and to find some explanation for the experiences they have. He told me that my manuscript was the best exploration of a smart kid’s thought process that he had ever read. He urged me to publish it because he felt it would open the eyes of my readers. Also, I thought I had come up with as pretty good story.


Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

The publisher’s marketing staff did the usual things. They sent out advance copies to influential people to get quotes for the jacket. They sent out review copies to anyone who might review the book. They mentioned me in their tweets, and put the book in their catalog and on their website. They are a small press and cannot afford to place ads that might spur sales, and sad to say, a lot of papers don’t review books today. Worse yet, so many books come out every year that those that do review them are swamped.

The first thing I did was build my website: johnamesauthor.com. In addition to the conventional items like my biography and an excerpt from the book, the site gives a lot of information about the setting of the novel, which is crucial to the plot and interesting in its own right. Adventures in Nowhere is set on the Hillsborough River near Tampa and in the little community of Sulphur Springs, which started out in glorious fashion and then had a great fall. When I knew the river and the springs in the 1950s, the river was undeveloped past a certain point and Sulphur Springs was still interesting though definitely on a downward spiral. Most of the town was bulldozed in the early 1980s to make room for a dog track parking lot. The big spring that fed the swimming area is now polluted from storm water runoff and is unfit for bathing. I wanted to chronicle the place as I knew it before it is lost to living memory. My site helps readers understand what the novel is about by exploring the real Nowhere.

Another web initiative is my virtual author’s tour that is running during March and April. I have also set up a Google ad words account to promote traffic to my website.

In the material world, my friends and associates are going to local bookstores and dropping off press kits including reproductions of the Adventures in Nowhere cover, some positive reviews, and other material to call attention to the fact that a local author has been published. In the near future, I will expand that to book stores in other places, such as Tampa, which looms large in the novel’s action. I’ve done a PBS radio station talk show, which was followed by a local book signing. I’ll be doing another signing this week.


Q: What book on the market can it be compared to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

My novel is in the tradition of The Yearling and To Kill a Mockingbird in that it focuses on the world’s impact on a young mind. I can safely say that there has never been a character like Danny Ryan, Adventure’s in Nowhere’s protagonist. His analysis of his world goes deeper than any child character I have ever read. In that way, he is unique and he functions in a unique setting.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

On this page, Danny and his friend Alfred are on there way to the river, but Alfred insists on stopping by the Ryan’s failing chicken operation before they start out. The chickens look pretty dreary until Alfred comes on the scene. When they sight him, they begin to cluck and strut, following him around in a line. Danny has never had much success at endearing himself to the chickens. He thinks they may like Alfred because he has a pet chicken that he got as an Easter favor and raised from chick to adulthood. He has taught her to come when he smacks the fly swatter on the floor, which she knows means that Alfred has swatted a tasty cockroach for her consumption. The chicken’s name is Nickel because Alfred’s parents offered to pay him a nickel for every cockroach, but he was so successful that they dropped it to a penny. However the name Nickel stuck.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Right now all I can manage to do is to promote this one. I have some ideas, but who knows what the future will bring?


Q: Thank you for your interview, John. Do you have any final words?

Nowhere can be a very interesting place. You should try it sometime.
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