Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Interview with Author Mary Magee

My guest today is Mary Magee, author of Red – Beyond Football, the story of the legendary Coach Jimmy “Red” Parker. Many of his players reached stardom by believing they were winners. Excellence, loyalty, and team-first thinking caused these players to achieve beyond their expectations through physical strength, mental toughness, and endurance. Dwight Clark, Jeff and Joe Bostic, Jim Stucky, and Benny Cunningham, all Clemson graduates, are a few of the quality players and people Red coached.I first met Mary Magee at a Hawk Seminar hosted by author Bill Bernhardt. Mary was working on an idea for a novel, and since I write fiction, we had a lot in common. After the seminar, a group of us decided to form a critique group and continue working together. An idea Mary initiated. She hails from Fordyce, Arkansas, has a Ph.D. in School Psychology from Oklahoma State University, and is passionate about writing.

Welcome Mary,

Thank you, Bill. It’s my pleasure.

How did the idea to write a book about Coach Parker originate?

I’ve known Coach Parker since 1953, when he took a job at my high school, coaching the Fordyce High Redbugs. I was in seventh grade. Dad and he struck up an instant friendship, often fishing together. Coach Parker and his young family were a part of our lives at home, school, and church. He captured the hearts of our town with his work ethic, coaching skills, high moral standards, and inspirational leadership.

The idea for RED: Beyond Football took shape at my 45th high school reunion. One evening, about thirty of us (former students, teachers, administrators, and coach) sat in a large group visiting. I watched the faces of everyone in the room soften with smiles, laughter, and the occasional tear as Coach Parker and his former players shared football stories. I wanted to write his biography. At that time, however, I had begun working on Devotion to Duty (US Army Publishing), the memoirs of Gen. (Ret.) Jimmy D. Ross.

We shouldn’t ignore the quality of Devotion to Duty. Douglas Johnson, in Army Logistics’, Jan-Feb, 2009 edition wrote, “A Devotion to Duty is one of those uncomplicated starts. It is written with an informative style that draws readers along.” That’s a nice compliment.

Finding ways to make a serious book about Army logistics interesting provided a unique and enjoyable challenge. General Ross wanted personal vignettes included to add readability. His goal was to inform and instruct future logisticians while adding bits of history and fun. General Ross couldn’t have been more patient with me. By the time we completed the work, we’d composed a seven page, single spaced glossary of Army acronyms for his non-Army writer. Collaborating with General Ross was a delight. Selfishly, we secretly suspect his memoir may be one of the most readable books at the War College.

The positive experience with General Ross’s book added fuel to the desire to write Coach Parker’s biography. The two men have much in common. Both have the gift of story telling and possess a genuine caring for others. Each experienced leading teams into battle. The General, of course, commanded a more serious battlefield, but they projected similar leadership styles. Both professional paths led to amazing high profile careers. Both influenced many and touched thousands of lives.
Writing Coach’s biography seemed a natural progression. In 2004, I completed the bulk of work on Devotion. That’s when I began two years of research for RED.

What drew you to Hawk Publishing?

I attended Hawk’s Heartland Writer’s Conference in 2006 while deep into interviews, archives, and writing RED. To say I knew absolutely nothing about the publishing business is an understatement. Not only did the workshop offer valuable information regarding the writing process, Hawk Publishing and William Bernhardt made quite an impression. I wanted Hawk to publish RED.

As an inexperienced writer with no agent, I considered paying publishing costs the most direct route to producing a book. In December of 2006, I called Hawk to discuss a co-publishing arrangement. Jodie Nida, then an Editor at Hawk, answered my call. She asked for the first five pages via e-mail. In just a nail-biting thirty minutes, she replied. Hawk would co-publish the work. I was thrilled. The entire experience, with Jodie’s guidance, was comfortable, educational, and produced a book that honors Coach and his players. The finished product was even better than I’d expected. It’s difficult to find enough glowing descriptors to express my gratitude to Hawk Publishing for a job well done.

Coach Parker spent time at both The Citadel and Clemson. With Hawk being a regional press, did you ever consider finding a publisher to broaden your readership into the southeast?

Yes. I would love nothing more. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I miscalculated the number of books we’d sell. Sadly, I hung a “Sold Out” sign on the website, We sold all copies of the first printing in five book signings and website sales. RED never went national. I’m currently pursuing avenues to find a publisher interested in a second printing.

Now you’re turning to fiction. In many respects, I think it’s harder to write fiction than non-fiction. What has been your experience so far?

I agree with you. Fiction has far more challenges. As research on a biography progresses, the story writes itself. Non-fiction is a matter of finding ways to breathe life into facts to keep the reader’s interest. How lucky I was to write about the lives of two inspiring men!

A fiction piece about four female golfing friends looked like recess, a fun ride. I thought a complete change was in order after four years of researching testosterone filled worlds. My assumption was way off base. Writing fiction became frustrating to the point of putting the golfing novel in “time out.” It might have gone in the trash, had it not been for the encouragement of our writing group. Thank you Bill, and the other members, all gifted writers.

Trying to weave a story line through four characters, was a bit much for a beginning dip in the fiction pool. Something less confusing than telling a story through four sets of eyes was in order. I’m currently working on a coming-of-age novel that has only one protagonist, one voice. It’s far less complicated, much less frustrating, and writing is fun again.
My advice to beginning fiction writers: Find a writing group with talented people who offer caring constructive critiques. I know of no better way to grow as a writer.

I know both you and Jim love golf. How supportive has he been in your writing, particularly in giving you time and space to create?

It was difficult at first. Jim and I thought when I retired, we’d be playmates, 24/7. Jim made a nice adjustment to retirement in about six months. I never made that adjustment. I almost took a part-time consulting job when the Devotion to Duty project fell in my lap. Divine intervention. We’ve come to a very comfortable arrangement after trying on different schedules. Typically, the mornings are my writing hours. We play in the afternoon.

With each writing year, Jim becomes more supportive. We couldn’t have managed the RED book signings without him. He schlepped books across half the southern states. Coach and I signed while Jim directed traffic and charmed folks in long lines as he took their money. We had a grand time, and Coach and Jim became very good friends.
Currently, Jim is battling cancer. Coach Parker is a cancer survivor and has been such a support. Our daughter is fasting sugar, a major food group in her world, until the doctors declare Jim cancer free. Prayers and encouragement flow daily from family and so many dear friends. With God’s healing spirit, Jim will be back to his sassy self in no time. I see tee-times in our future by June. We are truly blessed.

Most writers struggle with finding time to manage both home life and the writing life. It sounds like you and Jim have worked this out pretty well. And, by the way, having a spouse who can sell isn’t a bad deal.

My husband is a gem. As I said, we are living a blessed life. Although I resisted retirement, it certainly has it’s advantages. I can’t imagine trying to work, write, and have much quality time left for family. Life is good.

I look forward to reading your coming-of-age novel and eventually seeing it published. Our thoughts and prayer are with you and Jim.

Thanks for the interview, Mary.

Thank you, Bill. A pleasure as always.


Ed said...

Nice interview. Keep us posted on how she does in getting Red to go national.

Ed Wetterman
(Also aspiring writer)

johnbiggs73162 said...

Mary is a unique person: A PhD in psychology with an understanding of human nature, an educator who likes to teach, and a writer with something to say.