Today I'm interviewing author James C. Duckett, in part because he's a cool guy with a cool book, and in part because he once saved my life, and I owe him. He's recently released his memoir, Pushing the Wall, and that's what we'll be chatting about today. And then you can enter the Rafflecopter at the end.
What gave you the idea to write a book about your marathon experiences?
After finishing my first marathon, I wrote down some notes as things to remember. What worked, what didn’t, what took me by surprise, and what I wish I had done to prepare better. I told a couple of people and they wanted to see the notes, but I told them they weren’t much to get excited about, and they probably wouldn’t "get" half the stuff I put anyway.
A few years ago, I was running sixteen miles with a friend while training for my second marathon. About a mile into our practice, his leg cramped and he backed out, leaving me to run fifteen miles on my own. About ten miles into that, the music kind of annoyed me, so I just shut it off and started to think. I’m not sure what the thought process was, but I decided that it wouldn’t take much to turn my notes into a story. Maybe, if I gave enough back story, an entire book.
Six miles later, I had a title: “Pushing the Wall: A Guide to Running a Marathon Without Training” or something like that, but I wanted to use “Pushing the Wall” because of a conversation I had right before the race.
From the time you got the idea until the time the book was published, what was the writing process like? How much time do you estimate you spent drafting, choosing a cover, etc? Was it time-consuming, or do you feel it was fairly quick?
I got home from my run and told my wife, “I think I’m going to write a book about that marathon.” I then wrote a preface and Chapter 1, which focused on why I started to run, but why I had to stop running at the end of high school.
I took that to my critique group, who I thought would scoff at the idea. I was in the middle of a YA at the time, but they told me to drop that story because this needed to be written. So I grabbed my notes, disappeared for three nights, and wrote the entire thing. One nice thing about memoirs is that you don’t really need to outline.
When I wrote “The End,” I bragged about it on Facebook and then wrote the one person I wanted to edit my book: the fabulous Tristi Pinkston. Have you heard of her? (Me: thinking ... thinking ... the name sounds familiar, but I'm not sure ...) I’ll try to look for some links so you can look her up. She’s pretty cool. You’d like her.
She had a 6-month waiting list, and the book was 8 chapters long, so I figured I could get it through my critique group before Tristi got a crack at it. I did have another editor, who was looking for work, take a look too and helped me find places to clean it up.
Then Tristi edited it. Then I put in her suggestions. At Storymakers, I pitched it to an agent/editor. She told me that it would be a good fit for their company and that I should look to make it longer. It was 27,000 words long, and she suggested this should be 40,000. (It’s now 40,500 words long.)
I added some training tips, which moved it to about 35,000 words, and then I pitched it to another agent from New York. He wanted it! But I decided to self-publish this one and hope he’ll still be interested in my future works.
Then I let it sit for a couple of years and worked on some other things. This New Year, I decided to release it on my birthday, figuring nearly two months would be sufficient.
I wanted a nice photo for my cover, so I hired a local photographer I’ve worked with before. He shot the photo, but so did the local newspaper. I caught flak from people for two weeks about that. Even my own grandparents saw it, and they live two counties away. They wrote and were, “Did you run a half marathon last weekend, because this guy in the newspaper looks exactly like you.”
I had Rebecca Blevins do another edit (Me: she's also awesome) and she had me flesh out a couple of scenes and it came out to 40,000.
It was rushed a lot more than I wanted. I didn’t sleep for nearly two months. I’m still trying to wind down. But I met my goal!
There are a lot of messages throughout the book that relate to life and not just to running. Which of those messages do you consider to be the most important? If I came away from your book with only one thought, what would you want that thought to be?
Oh, good, you caught that. Basically, if you’ve got a dream, don’t let the roadblocks convince you to not follow them. Sometimes it isn’t following the conventional path that others have followed. Sometimes you have to find and follow your own path. Don’t let anybody tell you, “Sorry, find a new dream, this one isn’t for you.” If it means a lot to you, find a way to make it happen.
If I had a second message, I think it is okay to try something crazy now and then. When you do, backup plans are nice.
What other races do you plan to run in the future, and what “races” do you feel you’ve run—and won—in your everyday life? What challenges have you overcome that have helped create the person you are today?
Releasing this book was a HUGE deal for me. It fulfilled my longest-awaited bucket list item (Me: shouldn't that be a "Duckett list"?) of publishing a book. I’ve made mistakes along the way, with running, writing, and other areas of my life. I’ve decided to learn from those mistakes instead of letting them stop me from moving forward. The fact that I still want to run, write, and live my life the way I want speaks volumes after how many people told me to just give up, don’t bother trying, or don’t do anything stupid. Life’s too short to not try stupid stuff now and then.
What are you writing now?
I’m finishing up a romance novelette for a pretty cool anthology due out next month. I’m plotting, outlining, and picking characters for an adult psychological horror that I’m really excited about. I hope to make that my next book.
James, I wish you a ton of success with this book. I really enjoyed working on it with you, and I believe its message is one that everyone should hear. Again, here is the purchase link.