EBD: Jim, you have a background in mathematics and management. Sometimes those skills and writing are mutually exclusive. How did you become a writer?
JMJ: I am at heart a math guy, but I have always believed numbers mean very little without the commentary. I think one of the reasons I was a good consultant was that I could tell interesting, understandable stories to elucidate the dry numbers.
I had some early experiences writing. I wrote my first story, “The case of the red and green striped zebra,” while in grammar school. High school and college literary magazines published some of my poetry. But I am not one of those people who will shrivel and die if they can’t write.
When I retired I ignored everyone’s idea of how I should spend my time and gave myself six months to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I, of course, approached the task logically. I read books like Laurence G. Boldt’s How to Find the Work You Love. I kept a journal. To make a six-month story short, everything kept pointing to writing.
EBD: You’re a great fiction writer, but you have a nonfiction book coming out this year. What is the title? Why nonfiction and what topic?
JMJ: A writing adage is “Write what you know.” After a thirty-plus year hiatus I started playing bridge again and quickly moved from kitchen-table bridge to tournaments. There are a gazillion bridge books, all with their own focus, but when I was an intermediate player I really wanted one that told me the key things I needed to learn and apply to become a winner. Since that book didn’t exist, I wrote it.
I admit to being title challenged. Its working title is "Secrets to Becoming a (Bridge) Life Master." I expect the publisher will come up with a better title—at least I hope he will.
EBD: Is bridge a mathematical, strategic or chance game? What is the minimum number of players? How long have you played?
JMJ: Bridge used to need at least four people to play. Now you can go online and play against robots if you don’t want to deal with humans. I restarted playing bridge five years ago and became a Life Master 1¾ years later.
I play a form of bridge called contract bridge. Much (but not all) of the luck is taken out in that version of bridge because many people play the same cards you do. What counts is how well you do with those cards compared to how everyone else who played them does. Bridge play is largely based on logic and inference. The best players, however (and I am far from being one of them), develop a real intuitive feel to supplement their card-playing skills.
EBD: Whom do you envision as your audience for your book?
JMJ: The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) has over 100,000 members who have not attained Life Master status. Some play only for the social aspects of the game, but the rest play to win. My book will help them succeed if they take the information and apply it in their game.
EBD: Is there any psychological element of the game? Social element?
JMJ: I initially returned to bridge because of its social element. I was writing Ant Farm (a practice novel) and playing a lot of online backgammon. I wanted to get out of the house and see live people. Bridge clubs have provided the forum for many lasting friendships. Social bridge (also called party bridge or “yack-yack” bridge) is at least equal parts social interaction and bridge. With contract bridge, the social element ends when we pick up the cards.
Psychology comes into play in bridge as with any game. Do you believe in yourself and your partner? Can you forget the bad thing that just happened and concentrate on the cards in hand? Are you intimidated by better players? Do you intimidate others? Do you have a “poker” face, or does your face give away the cards in your hand? Do you hesitate before making decisions? Good players will use anything they legally can to gain an advantage, and how you react is fair game.
EBD: Can you cheat at bridge? If so, have you ever caught anyone cheating?
JMJ: There are many ways people can and do cheat at bridge. There’s an expression in bridge that goes, “One peek is worth two finesses.” Loosely speaking a finesse is a play that has a 50% chance of succeeding. Sometimes people may not even realize they are cheating. In clubs you sometimes see people provide extra emphasis in how they play a card, which gives their partner “unauthorized” information.
There is cheating at the highest levels as well. In a famous case a team was disqualified because evidence developed that they were holding their cards in a certain fashion to provide their partner information. Cell phones, Blackberries and the like are forbidden in tournament sites because one player could leave a message for another player about a hand.
EBD: I remember my mom played bridge. Has there been resurgence in the game’s popularity?
JMJ: I have to say it is a bit of a geezer game. I’m sixty and still in the younger half of tournament bridge players. Recently poker with its massive television coverage has successfully drawn younger “logical” people to it who might otherwise find bridge fun and challenging. I suspect video and online multiplayer gaming also take a toll on bringing in new blood. Honestly, unless you are smitten by the game, only watching a chess match would make watching someone else playing bridge seem exciting.
However, it’s not like belonging to the Shakers. Young people are learning the game and for some it’s a breath of fresh air after they get tired of killing orcs. Unlike killing orcs, no matter how much you know about bridge, there is more to learn. I like that—it keeps my brain cells challenged.
EBD: Who is your publisher? Can you give us any information about promotion and distribution of your book?
JMJ: Master Point Press (MPP) is the publisher. They are one of the world’s largest publishers of bridge books. Publication isn’t scheduled until Fall 2011, so there hasn’t yet been any promotion of the book other than me talking it up. However, MPP will advertise the book in the monthly bridge magazine published by the ACBL. They also send out a large number of review copies.
Since bridge teachers often recommend books to their students, I recently became a certified bridge teacher. I have arranged to speak at the American Bridge Teachers Association annual conference that takes place in Toronto this July.
I have also started writing bridge columns for some bridge newsletters as a way to build name recognition.
The book will be trade paperback and also available in e-book format. Distribution will be mainly through MPP, Amazon, B&N and an organization devoted to Bridge-related materials, Baron Barclay. Another sizeable venue for bridge books is at major bridge tournaments. I plan on playing at a number of tournaments this year. Before the book is released, I’ll meet with the booksellers to get to know them. After the book comes out, MPP and I will make arrangements for book signings at tournaments I attend. I’m also arranging opportunities to speak at some tournaments prior to the book’s release to whet interest.
EBD: Why write a nonfiction book while you’re querying agents about your novel BAD POLICY, the first of your Seamus McCree series?
JMJ: Actually, I’m currently in a query hiatus for Bad Policy. At the end of November BAD POLICY won Evan Marshall’s Fiction Makeover Contest. For the win I got a copy of Marshall’s book, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, software to go along with the book and suggestions for improving BAD POLICY. The suggestions make sense, so I have a bit of a rewrite to do, which I plan to complete before the New Year.
However, to your larger question: as a writer I always want to have multiple projects going on. Right now I am writing a second bridge book at MPP’s suggestion, revising Cabin Fever – a sequel to BAD POLICY, and outlining a novel set late in this century.
EBD: What’s the hook of BAD POLICY?
JMJ: The book opens with Seamus McCree returning home from a successful business meeting to find cops swarming over his house. Someone planted a battered corpse in his basement and the police figure Seamus is the most likely candidate since it’s his house and he knew the victim. Life goes downhill for Seamus, but of course he sorts it all out in the end.
EBD: Your Tuesday columns for Writers Who Kill have focused on the financial aspects of the publishing industry, have pointed out the absurdity of writing fiction given the odds of failure, and have reflected the natural environment in which you live. All of your blogs have attracted readers to WWK. Why are you relinquishing your Tuesday column?
JMJ: I treat my writing as a half-time job, which means I need to prioritize. My marketing efforts next year will take considerable time, so something had to give. As much as I have enjoyed my weekly blog at WWK, it’s not a top priority for me—at least until an agent falls in love with Bad Policy.
EBD: We’d rather not lose you, so would your schedule permit you to write blogs on a monthly basis?
JMJ: Ooooo. What a good idea. I’d love to. (He takes out his calendar to schedule the first date.)
Jim will continue to blog with us on a monthly basis, which we’ll announce by advance post on our main page. His next blog, “The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing” will post on 1/8/11. In Jim’s Tuesday space, Sister in Crime and Guppy (The Great Unpublished SinC subchapter) Website Liaison-Dee Gatrell will take over. To learn more about Dee, go to her page on WWK. Dee’s first blog will start next Tuesday.
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Sasscer Hill on 5/18 and Carolyn Mulford on 5/25. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at email@example.com.