An Exclusive Authorlink Interview With Novelist Jack Warner
Author of Shikar (Tor /St. Martin's Press)
By Doris Booth
ISBN: 0765303434 – Jack Warner has been writing stories for his entire working career. He spent 32 years with United Press International and 13 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Even so, it took Jack five years to sell his first novel, two days after he retired at the age of 63.
Had it not been for a single editor, who admired and believed in his work, and an agent who kept plugging, Jack's book, Shikar, would not be in print. His exceptional story would have been lost inside his computer. Luck and the unshakable efforts of his editor, Patrick LoBrutto, and agent, Richard Curtis, at last brought the book to life in July 2003, when Forge (St. Martin's Press) released the work in hard cover. The paperback will be released in the summer of 2004.
Shikar is an unusual thriller about a man-eating tiger loose in the mountains of North Georgia, the young boy who bonds with the tiger, and the aging hunter who must kill the animal. Jack's style has been likened to Jack London and Rudyard Kipling. Yet his path to publication was arduous. The story began when Pat LoBrutto, then a reader for editor Michael Seidman at Walker, read Jack's manuscript in its original form and recommended publication.
"I loved this book," said LoBrutto. "It needed some editing, but it completely captivated me. The story blew me away. Shikar speaks to who we are as human beings. When it didn't work for Michael at Walker, I pitched it to Bantam, then to Pocket, Signet, Kensington, and finally to Tom Doherty, president of Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge and Orb Books at St. Martin's. When I found out Tom had given it to somebody else to read, I insisted that he, himself, sit down and just read 50 pages.
"I got a call from Doherty the next morning. 'You blankety-blank, he said. 'I was up all night reading Shikar.' That was it. He bought the book."
Well-known authors David Morrell and Stephen Coontz also read the manuscript at Pat's urging, and agreed to offer cover blurbs. "Shikar is all about why we read, why we make up stories that tell the truth about who we are. This is not about money. If it were, we'd all be selling dentures. Jack's success lies in the fact that he wrote a book that makers readers feel passionately about the story," said LoBrutto, who is now a book doctor and consultant to Tor Books and Trident Media Group.
"I have always been
fascinated by things that
are out of place . . ."
Warner In an exclusive interview with Authorlink, Jack Warner talks about his book, and how it feels to have been published, at last.
AUTHORLINK: Your story is highly unusual. Where did the idea for the book originate?
WARNER: I have always been fascinated by things that are out of place–that would be normal in one place, but show up in an entirely unusual place. As a boy of ten growing up in Oklahoma, I heard about a Leopard that escaped from the Oklahoma City Zoo. Everybody with a gun was hunting the animal. The cat, as it turns out, was found starved only a few feet from the grounds of the zoo. That story impressed me ever after.
AUTHORLINK: This is your first published book. How long did it take you to write it?
WARNER: After 45 years as a journalist, I guess I'm pretty fast. I wrote the book in six weeks. It came to me like toothpaste out of a tube. It surprised me. I never thought I could write anything longer than a news item. I couldn't imagine setting out a whole plot. My wife, also a writer, constructs a story scene by scene. It seemed a good way to do it, so I thought I'd try. I had no idea how the story would go when I began writing. I would write a scene, then figure out what logically might result. I strung the scenes together like beads. I had no idea the story would involve the boy, Roy. I think he was me. I grew up in the country and didn't have friends. So I would sneak up on the animals and watch them. Of course, there weren't any tigers around, just some pretty big jackrabbits.
AUTHORLINK: When did you realize you had finally sold the book?
WARNER: I finished the book in 1995, and Richard Curtis agreed to represent the work in 1996. I had almost forgotten about the project. In 2001, my wife Donna and I had just returned home to get ready for my retirement party, and I checked my e-mail. There was a note from Richard saying the book had been sold.
"I think editors
had trouble trying
to pigeonhole the book."
Warner AUTHORLINK: Why do you think it took so long to sell?
WARNER: I think editors had trouble trying to pigeonhole the book. Is it a coming of age story, or a young adult story, a thriller or what? Then after the publisher bought the work and scheduled a 2002 release, it was delayed when the 9/11 terrorist attack slowed the economy.
AUTHORLINK: How did you find your agent?
WARNER: I got lucky. My wife and I got the names of half a dozen agents from writers we knew, then sent them samples. I was already in bed one night when Richard Curtis called to ask for the whole manuscript. He called a few weeks later and said he would represent me. Richard has never let up trying to sell the book, so I'm lucky. I could have easily been represented by someone who wouldn't have taken the book so seriously.
AUTHORLINK: How does it feel to be a published novelist?
WARNER: Well, I'm an old guy. I've been through so many ups and downs, I don't get excited. I don't get my hopes up. But, I did get a little charge when Donna and I walked into a Waldensbooks and saw Shikar on the shelf. That was nice.
AUTHORLINK: Isn't this book film material?
WARNER: Everybody that reads it thinks Shikar is a movie. Film agent Ken Atchity, CEO of Atchity Editorial/Entertainment International, Inc., is shopping the work in Hollywood now. I'd like to see Sean Connery take the role of Sheriff Graham.
AUTHORLINK: They say your work compares with London and Kipling. What authors have influenced your work the most?
WARNER: Most of my heroes have been in the news business. I patterned myself after people like Red Smith, the great New York sports writer, and Robert Daily, the European sports editor for the New York Times.
AUTHORLINK: Would you call Shikar a "man's" book?
WARNER: A great many women have read it, and told me they loved it. A lot of them cry at the end.
"I worked for UPI
in the glory days
of journalism . . . You were judged on your results . . ."
Warner AUTHORLINK: You've been a journalist for a long time. What has changed since you began your career?
WARNER: The news business has definitely changed, and not necessarily for the better. I worked for UPI in the glory days of journalism, when there was head-to-head competition. There was no question who was doing the best job on a given story. You knew when you beat the competition. You were judged by your results, not by who you schmoozed. Unlike today, newspapers were really concerned about quality.
"I'm having fun going
to book stores . . . talking
to people about my book."
Warner AUTHORLINK: Are you working on another fictional work?
WARNER: The difficulties I have found in promoting Shikar (publishers don't do much for new authors) made me wonder if I wanted to go through this again. But my wife has encouraged me to keep going. If it weren't for her, I'd be lying here like a lizard in the sun. So, yes, I'm working on a second novel. It's set in Atlanta, and it's another case of something being out of place.
I have a perfect setting in which to write. We live in the mountains north of Silver City, New Mexico. Our four kids are grown, but they visit with the grandkids. We have two dogs. They go right along with us on our book signing tours. "It amazes me how
many lousy books get published."
Warner AUTHORLINK: What advice do you have for new writers who are trying to break into the field?
WARNER: I have a great agent who more or less just fell out of the ceiling for me. But I know it's usually a hard thing to do. I would suggest a writer go to a lot of conferences. It's a good way to meet agents face-to-face.
AUTHORLINK: Do you think it's easy to break into the business?
WARNER: Lord no! But it amazes me how many lousy books get published. The publishing business is shrinking. They only put their money behind guys who are going to sell anyway. When it's your first book, you have to sell it on your own. You may not know where to start or how to approach the marketing job. It would help if publishers would offer some sort of guidelines for new writers. But they don't. I received a small advance. If this makes any money after that I'll be excited. I'm still waiting to see the pot at the end of the rainbow.
AUTHORLINK: What has been the best thing that's happened in your long writing career?
WARNER: After my retirement party, my wife and I were waiting at the elevator in the newsroom where I had worked. The whole city room stood up and applauded. Now that moved me. Having a book published is an honor. But after it's published, it becomes a job trying to promote it. I think new writers need to understand that.
AUTHORLINK: What would make you happiest about the book?
WARNER: Number one, if it makes money. And secondly, I'd like to get Jim Corbett [the real life hunter who inspired Jack’s character, Graham] the credit he deserves as a great man. He has been my hero all of my life.
Visit Jack Warner's website at www.jack-warner.com.