Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Interview with James Reed

James Reed is a former professor of mine at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as well as a current friend. I asked if he would be interested in letting us know his experience with the changes in the publishing industry throughout his career and he was happy to indulge me. I have included his bibliography at the end of the Q & A.

Jamie: Tell us a little about yourself.

James: I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. As for what got me started, it goes back to childhood. I loved to read and to write, finding excuses to do extra assignments in class (the teacher who gave a why-I-should-not-do-whatever punishment quickly found me indulging in the exact infraction that would let me write what I thought was a witty essay) and loving, yes, loving the use-this-word-in-a-sentence exercises. Back at home, my first writing consisted of comic strips and comic books (as you can guess, I also drew), but by eighth grade I started to write stories. Initially they were bad knock-offs of my reading material, science fiction and fantasy. My first "book" was an 80-page Tolkien echo typed on my dad's portable electric Smith-Corona on 25% cotton bond. I was doing bad Heinlein imitations through high school, but found myself turning toward mainstream stuff once I hit college, probably because my taste in reading changed through high school and beyond.

Jamie: What trends have you seen in publishing since you started writing?

James: Once of the biggest publishing trends I noticed was one of the earliest. In the late 1970s or early 1980s corporate conglomerates began to eat up the smaller and even larger publishing houses, so that decisions regarding the catalogue began to be made not by editors, fundamentally, but by accountants (and their ilk). At roughly the same time there were changes to the tax laws which made it much more costly for a publisher to keep a backlogue of work in print, so the shelf life of a book began to diminish. Traditionally, books found their audience by word of mouth, but this is a lengthy process which is far more difficult to afford. A book not doesn't get as much of a chance. Another change is that fewer publishers seem to want to publish books of short stories, at least as a first book. They exist, but it's tough (Alice Munro is the brilliant exception). They don't fit the ideas of ad campaign managers, who want snappy slogans and tag lines. Also, the money stinks, by comparison. John Updike said that when he started publishing stories in "The New Yorker" in the 1950s, two of those a year could earn a living for his family. As TV permeated through the culture, the lucrative markets for the most part turned to dust. A current fad in short story collection publication is for the linked suite of stories, or a batch somehow tied to gether by character, plots, geography, or whatever. No hodgepodges, please.

Jamie: This is a big question, at least with genre writers. I am curious to see how this pertains to literary writers. What do you see happening with paper publishers, both magazine and books, in the near future (five years or so)?

James: I'm pretty bad in the crystal ball department, but it seems somebody wants the book and magazine to go the way of the dodo. Personally, I don't like reading on computer screens and would hate for this to dry up (although I've heard great things about the Kindle device, which I have not tried). The literary presses are certainly moving toward e-books and e-magazines, though not in monolithic numbers. Not yet, anyway. The ease of distribution is certain an attraction to the corporately minded, but as a reading experience it doesn't appeal to me. On the other hand, look how few people seem to read.

Jamie: This is actually a continuation of #3. Do you see publishers, readers or writers pushing or embracing any changes that might happen? Of course if nothing happens this question is moot.

James: Lots of embracing; will it result in marriages? Hard to say. Probably more than I'd prefer.

Jamie: Do you see the short story, in this electronic age, becoming a more accepted form by the general public, especially with the advent of e-readers (if they can get the price down) and seemingly shorter attention span by the general public?

James: I couldn't say the short story will become a more accepted form or not. See my last sentence in the answer to question 3.

Faculty: Creative Writing Instructor, UNO Writer’s Workshop, 1994-2006

Managing Editor, The Nebraska Review, 1997-2003

Fiction Editor, The Nebraska Review, 1990-2003

Publications: Paddlefish

The Gettysburg Review

Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry & Prose


Epicenter: A Literary Periodical

Quick Fiction


Bat City Review

Parting Gifts

Nerve Cowboy



Roux Magazine

Weber Studies

Floating Holiday



Talking River Review

West Branch


River Styx

Brilliant Corners

Apalachee Quarterly

The Tennessee Quarterly

AURA Literary/Arts Review

Buffalo Spree

Carolina Quarterly

The William and Mary Review

The Nebraska Review


Anthologies: The Workplace Anthology : 2008

Tribute to Orpheus :Kearney Street Books 2007

Awards: Fellowship in Creative Writing: National Endowment for the Arts 2008

Semi-finalist, St. Lawrence Book Award: Black Lawrence Press 2008

Honorable Mention, Press 53 Open Awards: Novella: Press 53 2008

Finalist, Dogwood Fiction Award: Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry & Prose 2008

Semifinalist, Iowa Short Fiction Awards: University of Iowa Press 2007

Finalist, Quarterly West Novella Competition: Quarterly West 2005

Finalist, A. E. Coppard Prize for Fiction: White Eagle Coffee Store Press 2004

Finalist, Dana Award in Short Fiction: Dana Awards 2002

Semi-Finalist, Sandstone Prize in Short Fiction: Ohio State University Press 2002

Finalist, Spokane Prize in Short Fiction: Eastern Washington University Press 2001

Semi-Finalist, Julia Peterkin Award: Converse College 2001

Finalist, H.E. Francis Literary Competition: Ruth Hindman Foundation 2000

Honorable Mention, FLASH!POINT Fiction Contest: FLASH!POINT 2000

Finalist, Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction: Sarabande Books 1998

Finalist, The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction: The University of Georgia Press 1997

Finalist, The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction: The University of Georgia Press 1996

Finalist, The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction: The University of Georgia Press 1995

Finalist, The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction: The University of Georgia Press 1994

Individual Artist Fellowship Master Award in Literature: Nebraska Arts Council 1991

Charles B. Wood Award for Distinguished Writing: Carolina Quarterly 1988

Leo V. Jacks Award for Creative Writing: Creighton University/Nebraska Writers Guild 1976

Nominations: Pushcart Prize 1998

Pushcart Prize 1989

General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers 1989

General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers 1986

Other: Panelist, “Approaches to Historical Fiction,” AWP Conference 2009

Omaha On-Line / The Laundry Project 2006

College of Fine Arts Part-time Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award 2004

Fiction Judge, Shadows Literary Competition, Creighton University 2003

Guest Editor, Frigate: The Transverse Review of Books 2001

Prairie Schooner 75th Anniversary Celebration Panelist 2001

World’s Largest Writers’ Workshop Panelist: Writer’s Digest/Barnes & Noble 2001

College of Fine Arts Part-time Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award 1998

Individual Artist Fellowship Task Force, Nebraska Arts Council 1996

Literature Panel, Oregon Arts Commission 1994


Cate Gardner said...

Good interview. Jamie. :)

Jamie Eyberg said...

Thanks Cate. I learned quite a bit I didn't know before.

Barry Napier said...

Very cool interview. It has prompted me to go out in search of a clip I saw a while back and use that as my blog posting for the day.

Well done!

Aaron Polson said...

Nice interview...insightful.

Carrie Harris said...

Great interview! Thanks to you both!

K.C. Shaw said...

Oh, that was interesting! Thanks to you and James Reed! I wish I could sell two stories and live off the proceeds for a year, wow. Those were (maybe) the good old days of short story writing.

Jamie Eyberg said...

thank you everyone. He is a great guy, I wish everyone here could have had him as an instructor.

K.C.- wouldn't that be nice. two stories *shakes head*