James Sanford [jamessanford]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
According to my mother, I was reading the newspaper when I was 2. She would ask me where I learned to read, and I would answer, "I learned in high school." I honestly cannot remember a time when I could not read.
The first books I read were, of course, storybooks, Little Golden Books, that sort of thing. Comic books were frowned upon in my house, although I did have several Big Little Books, which were basically comic books by another name. (Since I was a teenager I have collected many of the Big Little Books from the 1930s and 1940s.)
I used to write little stories all the time when I was a pre-schooler. One of my early works was "The Pig Who Ate Cake," in which a swine with a sweet tooth suffers a life crisis when his birthday cake is stolen. The cake somehow escapes its abductors and runs home on tiny cake-y legs, just in time for the party. I remember making miniature books and selling them to my friends for nickels and dimes; even at an early age, I was a thorough professional.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
In almost every case, as much procrastination as possible! Even after all these years, I still ask myself, "Do I really have to write this? How much time do I have? When is the absolute latest I can start it and get it done in time?" But, invariably, once I actually make myself sit down and get to work I become totally immersed in the process, rewriting myself as I go and questioning this word or that word. I have given up on trying to set time limits on myself — it just doesn't work. Once I have my ideas together — and can put aside the procrastination — I just launch myself into it and stop when I can no longer keep going.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
I find inspiration in all sorts of work. I never know what will catch my eye. Sometimes I will read something just for fun and become completely absorbed in it, which was definitely the case with the "Hunger Games" trilogy, which I did not expect to like and wound up enjoying immensely. I'm sure I would never have written my memoirs had I not read Rosanne Cash's beautifully crafted "Composed," Frank Bruni's "Born Round" and the books of Wade Rouse and Susan Orlean. I also went back to Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa" and some other much older autobiographies. I am drawn to insightful, in-depth profile pieces and books in which the authors go beyond "this is what happened" and delve into "this is what happened, why it happened, what it felt like when it happened and what happened afterward."
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
I wish. I am told I am a great public speaker, but when I try to listen to myself it all sounds like blah-de-blah-de-blah. I will leave that question to other people to answer.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Therapeutic? I suppose it is at times. Frankly, if I want therapy I will sit down with my therapist and talk. But it can be interesting to see how things fit together when you look back at your life. When I was writing "The Sum of My Parts" and "Au Naturel" I was often jolted by the strange little connections I could make between this episode of my life and another one, links that I probably never would have found if I hadn't written the books. As for internal conflicts being a creative force, I'm not sure that's true for me. Usually, I need to put conflict out of my mind before I can get any real work done.
Does reader feed-back help you?
It is absolutely one of the most wonderful perks about writing. The responses I have received — from all over the world! — to "The Sum of My Parts" and "Au Naturel" have been a constant source of delight for me. Most people are extremely kind and thoughtful. Even if they have criticisms I do try to respond, although I had one guy who wrote some very odd stuff about "Sum" and I didn't even know where to begin in trying to open a dialogue with him. I would say 99 percent of reader feedback is encouraging, uplifting and enriching. Honestly, I wish I got more.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I hope I have found it by now. It seems like my voice has changed very little in the past 30 years, so this may be about as good as it gets, for better or worse. It was a tough process for me when I was starting out, because I was very young and I wanted so badly to sound like I was more sophisticated, intelligent or insightful than I was. When I read some of the trash I published back in my high school and college days I want to crawl under the carpet. But we live and — hopefully — learn.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Coffee. Tea. Sometimes chocolate or fruit. I find I cannot work with iTunes or Spotify or whatever in the background, even though I love music. Before I know it, I get absorbed into listening to the lyrics or melodies and nothing gets done. It's quite frustrating because I would love to be able to work with music.
Around my desk you would find framed vintage movie posters, shells from Martha's Vineyard, crystal balls that I bought at Hudsons 20 years ago, dozens of books, etc. My desk is actually a portable bar that my parents used to use for their cocktail parties decades ago — but it now serves as a perfect computer stand.
What has been your experience with publishers?
The only publisher I have worked with has been Amazon, and they've been marvelous.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Go back through them with a critical eye. What's worth preserving, what could be rewritten or tweaked and what's a complete loss? I have so many projects like that — plays, novels, scripts — that haven't gone anywhere. There is probably some worthwhile material mixed in with a lot of half-baked ideas or cornball concepts. Actually, "The Sum of My Parts" came out of a couple of uncompleted memoirs and "Au Naturel" grew out of the blogging I did when I was on Martha's Vineyard. You never know what will turn out to be valuable. Thanks to computers, it is much easier to save and access old material than it used to be, back in the days when you stuffed shelves with failed manuscripts or unfinished plays. Unfortunately, I have been doing this for so long that I still have hundreds of pounds of printed-out work that I will never look at again because I don't have the time or energy to scan it all into the computer. Something for the future biographers to sort through, I guess!
What is your specialty? What subjects do you deal with?
I have always written primarily entertainment. I was hired when I was in high school as a music critic for The Grand Rapids Press. Later on, the editors let me do some features and movie reviews, as well as a little news here and there. But I was so eager for experience that I wrote whatever was needed, whether it was a profile of a musician, or a guide to finding the best book to help improve your Pac Man score or a review of the planetarium show featuring the music of Kenny Loggins and the Alan Parsons Project. In those days, every assignment seemed like a great adventure.
Please list a web address where where one can view an example of your work.
Here are a couple: http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/by-author-326-1.html and http://connect.mlive.com/user/jamessanfordonfilm/index.html And, of course, I have books to sell: http://www.amazon.com/Sum-My-Parts-ebook/dp/B0054R6T6I/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1310057248&sr=1-1 and http://www.amazon.com/Au-Naturel-Marthas-Vineyard-ebook/dp/B007P02PDS/ref=la_B00558WOGK_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1340381154&sr=1-2