Department of English

Professor James Magnuson's new book, Famous Writers I Have Known, warmly received

Thu, January 30, 2014
Professor James Magnuson's new book, Famous Writers I Have Known, warmly received

UT English Professor and director of the Michener Center for Writers, James Magnuson, has recently published his ninth book, Famous Writers I Have Known, which is garnering rave reviews in The New York Times, Texas Monthly, and The Washington Post, and from various lauded and popular authors.

From the publisher’s website:

 In this brilliant mix of literary satire and crime caper, Frankie Abandonato, a small-time con man on the run, finds refuge by posing as V. S. Mohle—a famously reclusive writer—and teaching in a prestigious writing program somewhere in Texas. Streetwise and semiliterate, Frankie finds that being treated as a genius agrees with him.

The program has been funded by Rex Schoeninger, the world’s richest novelist, who is dying. Buzzards are circling, angling for the remains of Rex’s fortune, and Frankie quickly realizes that he has been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Complicating matters is the fact that Rex is haunted by a twenty-five-year feud with the shadowy Mohle. What rankles Rex is that, while he has written fifty bestsellers and never gotten an ounce of literary respect, Mohle wrote one slender novel, disappeared into the woods, and become an icon. Determined to come to terms with his past, Rex has arranged to bring his rival to Texas, only to find himself facing off against an imposter.

Famous Writers I Have Known is not just an unforgettable literary romp but also a surprisingly tender take on two men—one a scam artist frantic to be believed, the other an old lion desperate to be remembered.

Some questions for James:

Hi, James. So first off, I feel that the interesting topic of your writing a lovingly parodic novel about an institution much like the one you yourself direct – the Michener Center here at UT – has already been well covered in the articles I link to above and in this interview on your website. So I wanted to ask you a few other questions about the book and your work as a writer:

First, what audience did you have in mind while writing this book?

The biggest audience possible. I always thought that young writers and those associated with MFA programs would get a kick out of it, but my hope was readers would be able to pick up that the book's aspirations were bigger than that.

Do you personally have a favorite quote or passage or character in the book? If so, why do you feel particularly attached to it/him/her?

It's hard to say that I had a favorite character, but getting Frankie Abandonato's voice down was key to the whole book. He's rude, cunning, and unlettered, and I had a lot of fun playing with that.

What does your writing process look like? Does it vary from book to book or do you stick to one routine that works for you?

I'm a plow horse. I work three hours every day, seven days a week. I do five drafts longhand on yellow pads, then enter it on the computer. When I have an entire manuscript I start again from page one. Each sentence gets copied about twenty times until I'm sure it sounds right. (A NOTE TO OUR READERS: For great advice on being a writer, see Professor Magnuson’s 2005 feature in Texas Monthly.)

For more information on Famous Writers I Have Known, go to W.W. Norton and Company’s website.

And for more information about Professor Magnuson and his work, you can check out his website.


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