Vail: 7 questions with novelist John Jeter
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado “-John Jeter, who will be in Colorado’s Vail Valley Monday, has always seen the world through writer’s eyes, be it on a journalism beat, traveling to exotic locations, or making sense of the colloquial traditions of the South. His debut novel, “The Plunder Room,” is a multi-generational mystery set against a backdrop of proud Southern traditions. A longtime journalist, Jeter now balances his writing career with booking and promoting acts at his Greenville, S.C., venue The Handlebar.
VD: The novel has garnered some favorable responses nationwide. How satisfying is that?
JJ: Extremely. One of the most gratifying reviews was actually an interview with the Mountain Xpress in Asheville, N.C. The reporter ‘got it.’ It’s not, as some may think, a crime/mystery beach read where the protagonist/narrator manages to finally get into the Plunder Room and discover the deep, dark family secrets. It goes much deeper than that. It’s really satisfying to see that reviewers are seeing the depth of the truth I’m trying to relate here, which is: The slide of America’s core values ” honor, integrity, personal responsibility ” from the Greatest Generation to Generation X.
VD: For someone who’s lived and worked all over the country, why did you choose to set your novel in the South?
JJ: I wanted ‘The Plunder Room’ to be an allegorical piece, and the South makes nice territory for national zeitgeist stories.
VD: What about Southern culture sets it apart form anywhere else in the world in terms of family, traditions, religion, and, heck, even food?
JJ: Like a few selected places in the country ” New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, San Antonio, and ALL of Texas ” the South is tickled with itself. The South cherishes and nurtures its traditions, and foods, in ways few other places do. Meats ‘n’ threes, sweet tea, Baptists, family values, Sunday school, magnolia trees and blooming Dogwoods in the springtime continue to tickle Southerners to no end. There’s also something to be said for the underdog; once whooped, you don’t forget it, ever.
VD: When you traveled to locales such as Vietnam, Honduras and China did you envision one day incorporating them into a novel?
JJ: Absolutely. I’m a packrat and saved everything. Whenever I traveled, all five ” even six ” senses were on high alert all the time. I traveled, always, as a journalist, knowing that I might stow something away, some time, for some future use.
VD: Why were you on Oprah and what was the experience like?
JJ: I was a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times and Oprah was just starting out. I had been assigned to the to the paper’s community ‘Just Say No to Drugs!’ campaign. Oprah was interested in the program and assembled a group of about a dozen experts, and I was one of them. Being young, 27 or so at the time, and a gregarious, big-city newspaperman, I did most of the talking because nobody else was really sure what the program was about.
VD: You sold the novel without an agent. How?
JJ: I’ve written seven novels. The first four were cringe worthy. The other three are good. One of them I tossed over to St. Martin’s Press and they liked it, but not enough to publish it. I wrote ‘The Plunder Room’ and sent it over. Three weeks later I got an e-mail and nearly suffered a stroke. After 20 years, I became an overnight sensation.
VD: How’s the transition been from journalist to novelist to music venue buyer?
JJ: The transition is brutal. It takes 10 years to recover from journalism and get past the bad habits of separating true facts from good details, from what’s important in a news story to what’s critical in a fiction piece. As for transition from novelist to talent buyer? There isn’t one. Promoting a book and selling tickets are remarkably similar. They’re both art, and selling art is, as the Rolling Stones say, tough, tough, tough.
Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm of Edwards. E-mail comments about this story to email@example.com.