Saturday, May 2, 2009

HOW I FOUND MY STORY IDEA

People have asked where I got my idea for 'American Masters', the popular history of American literature and authors.

Well... One day I was reading about Flannery O'Connor. I had never read much of her stuff, so I was just skimming - it didn't hold much interest for me. But then I learned that little Mary O'Connor, Flannery's real name, taught a chicken to walk backwards when she was six years old. It was such an extraordinary feat that it was picked up by Pathe News and the film was shown across the country. There was little Mary on film, helping with her chicken. She claimed that was the climax of her life. Everything after that was anticlimactic. What else did I not know about Flannery O'Connor? Alright, so I'd pick up one of her short stories and see what it was about. Then I was hooked. I had to read it all. Two novels and two collections of stories. She died young, of Lupus. (Why do so many great authors seem to die so young)?

Get this picture now. I have been reading most of my life. Even as a young man I read classic literature - ask my brothers. I was a nut. Kids on the ball diamond would ask if I was going to use 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' for first base. I never got any respect. But even with all the reading I had been doing, I had somehow missed Flannery O'Connor. What else had I missed?

I decided then and there to start over. I started to systematically read American classics beginning clear back in the colonial times with Cotton Mather, and then with Benjamin Franklin during the struggle for independence. What I found was that these two writers were connected. They lived in the same neck of the woods and back then it was a small neck. Of course they knew each other! As I was reading, I found many such connections and many, many, interesting stories from behind the scenes of American literature. Now we were cooking.

In short order I read and re-read everything from Hawthorne to Hemingway, from Melville to Morrison. It was great. I dug in and really got their stories. When I got around to writing, those stories just flowed from my pen (and onto the screen). So, now I have this book, 'American Masters', and it is in the hands of an agent right now and...

That's the story behind the story of 'American Masters'. Stay tuned for more.

Jim

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