Saturday, November 8, 2008

TAKE TEN with author Gary Andrew Poole

Conversations Book Club became aware of author Gary Andrew Poole in late October 2008. He is a journalist who has written for the New York Times, TIME, GQ, USA Today, and the Independent on Sunday (London), among other publications. His first book--The Galloping Ghost: Red Grange, an American Football Legend, published by Houghton Mifflin--is in bookstores. In a conversation with Cyrus A. Webb he talked about the history he made by writing the book, what success means to him and what advice he has for new and aspiring authors.

Gary, thank you for taking ten with Conversations today. Before we get into the book The Galloping Ghost, why don't you tell our readers a little about your background.
I was born and raised in Colorado. My dad worked as a geologist and so, as a kid, I spent a lot of time in remote areas with him. On those extended trips in the American West we had no television or radio so I spent a lot of time reading. After graduating college in Colorado, I moved around: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. I also went to Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and that proved to be a formative experience for me. I have many interests, but other than spending time with my family, I feel most comfortable reporting and writing stories.

You have been able to do quite a bit of writing for notable publications before this. Are your family or those who knew you growing up surprised at the direction your life as taken, especially your becoming an accomplished author?
I don't ever really talk with my friends about my writing life, or sit around drinking beers and b.s. about being an "accomplished author." I am guessing they're not super-surprised that I have written for some great publications and authored a book. People who know me have seen the evolution. I am definitely not an over-night success. My first published article was in 1987 or so, and I have been grinding ever since. I was the guy in college who was writing short stories and sending them to literary journals, and writing articles and pitching them to newspapers and magazines and working for the college paper. While I was learning on the job, I was getting published almost immediately. At night I was re-typing passages written by Tolstoy so I could get the rhythm of his language. Earlier in my career, my ambitions were definitely larger than my skill level, but I have kept at it. I have been lucky enough to write for publications like the New York Times and TIME, as well as write a book, but I learned my craft at smaller publications.
When did it hit you that writing was something you not only enjoyed but wanted to share with the world?

In most times in life, you don't have an "A-ha," moment. Life is more complicated, and nuanced than that. But in my writing life, I did have one of those life-changers. I was in college. I did not have a clue about what I wanted to become. I was considering a career in photography. I loved photography and I thought I was semi-talented, but I wasn't sure I would ever be good enough. So I thought I might become a foreign language professor, but in all honesty I was taking language classes to meet girls, and, unfortunately, I was practically flunking out of French. I was really unsure of what I would do with my life. I always loved writing and reading and I idolized writers. I just never imagined I could be one. One day in my Journalism 101 class, a newspaper columnist came and talked to us. The speech changed my life. He lead off his talk by saying he was tired and hung-over: he had spent most of the night with a celebrity, wrote up the story while listening to the Rolling Stones at full blast, and then spent the morning with a local priest: he was following around the Father as he served the under-served.

That hooked me right away. He talked about journalism and how it gives you a license, so to speak, to talk with anyone. That appealed to me. The columnist mixed curse words and literary references and he was passionate about reporting, and the importance of writing, how it can make a difference in peoples lives. He also talked about re-writing, and how writing is something that you must commit to. The whole talk resonated with me. I started reading his work: he was the type of writer who would live with homeless people and tell their stories. I still remember one winter night between semesters and I was at a truck stop after working a night shift. I was reading his column and I just started crying I was so moved by the writing. I wanted to have that sort of impact on people.

The book The Galloping Ghost marks not only the most extensive volume that has been written about Red Grange but your first book as well. Now that you are a part of history, does it surprise you what you've done?
I feel very blessed.

I had told you prior to this interview that I had never heard of Red Grange before you wrote me about your book. What was it about his life and that attracted you to the story and why did you think it was something that was relevant today?
I see Red Grange as a great American character. Grange has been called the greatest ever college football player (ESPN), and he helped bring credibility to the NFL as the pro game's first superstar. He was an excellent athlete, arguably the most important football player in history, but his story is more complicated than just his feats on the field. He wrestled with different issues, and the interesting part of sports is the back-story. Many of the issues he dealt with--poverty, money, concussions, fame, paternity suits--are issues still being discussed today. Grange is the Babe Ruth of football. But surprisingly, not much had been written about him. I wanted to write his story; I think it is a timeless one.

In a previous interview you were asked how Grange would do today playing professional football. I want to know what can those playing professional ball today learn from his life in sports.
I think pro players can read this book and get an unvarnished history of their game, they can learn about its importance to this country, and they can learn that many--if not all--of the issues Grange dealt with are still issues today.

With the subject matter and the country's love of the game, I think the obvious question to ask would be have you been approached about bringing this story alive through either a documentary or on the big screen?
I think the story would lend itself to the big screen. We're working on making that a reality.

Success is measured in different ways for different individuals and situations. How would you measure as regards to The Galloping Ghost and your writing career as a whole?
That is a difficult question and I don't know how to answer it. There are different touchstone moments: my first published article, my first New York Times piece, seeing my book in print for the first time, good reviews, getting interviewed by Bob Edwards, having my kids see my book in my local bookstore, different awards I have won. All of those are nice, of course, but for me--with The Galloping Ghost and my career--I think the journey is the reward. I find my greatest pleasure at 3 a.m. when I have re-worked a sentence 106 times, and I finally make it as perfect as I can.

It has become common practice for me to ask writers such as yourself what advice you would give to those who see your example and want to know how they can take their work to the next level.
Four-fold answer:
01: Write. Working on your craft is the most important part of being a writer. I would never tell someone to write an hour everyday, or anything so specific. Some people are disciplined, others work in spurts. I don't believe in formulas. But I think it is important to write, and that is why journalism can be a good starting point in a writing career. There are some wannabe writers who spend too much of their time worrying about getting published when they need to be working on their craft.
02: Read. I find a lot of writers are surprisingly not as well-versed as they should be in the best books, magazines, newspapers and blogs.
03: Accept rejection but stay persistent. As a writer, you will experience a lot of rejection, especially early in your career, but it is important to understand that it is incredibly competitive in the publishing world. Remember: if you work on your craft and keep improving, it becomes easier. It really isn't as much about college degrees and connections, as it is talent. Writing is very much a meritocracy.
04: Follow your passion. In all writing, but especially book-writing, it is important to follow your interests. If you're interested in football, write about football. If you adore organic farming, write about that. If you love mysteries, write mysteries. It takes a tremendous amount of work and commitment to write a book; you have to string together 130,000 words.

Thank you so much for your time, Gary. If our listeners want to find out more about you, the book or just share their feedback with you, how can they do so?
Thanks, Cyrus. For more information about my book, you can go to my Website: To contact me, email is best:

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