Professor Karl Jacoby interview with David Alan Binder

Post date: Jun 28, 2016 1:12:50 PM

Professor Karl Jacoby interview with David Alan Binder

Bio from his website: Jacoby received his A.B. in 1987 from Brown University and his Ph.D. in American history in 1997 from Yale University. After a year as a visiting assistant professor at Oberlin College, he returned to Brown as an assistant professor of history in 1999. He was promoted to an associate professor with tenure in 2003 and to full professor in 2009. In the fall of 2012, he moved to Columbia University, where he currently serves as a professor in the Department of History and in the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. He is the author of two books, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of California Press, 2003) and Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History (Penguin Press, 2008), as well as numerous essays and reviews.


Twitter: @karl_jacoby


Amazon author page:

1. How do you pronounce your name?

Jah-Coe-Bee (like Jacoby and Myers Law Firm—no relation)

2. Where are you currently living?

New York City

3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

Something that reads easily and smoothly probably wasn’t easy and smooth to write. Good writing is rewriting—and then rewriting again (and again).

4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I actually worked in publishing at Farrar, Straus and Giroux before I changed careers and decided to go to graduate school and become a professional historian.

5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

I’ve always used a publisher—a good editor can be invaluable in helping you see a project through a reader’s eyes.

a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

W.W. Norton in New York City.

6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

They are all good—anything that gets people to read is OK with me.

7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?

I write within a specific genre—history. For me it was helpful to get a PhD in history, which gave some structure to the process of writing my first book. But there are some great historians who never went to graduate school.

In graduate school, you are taught to write a history that is clearly different from others in the field (in the academy, we call this making an “intervention”). So long as your history is fresh and new, it will find a publisher.

8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?

My first agent was one of my friends from my days in publishing. He died tragically young, after which someone else I met who has represented me for the past two books.

9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

Don’t give up! A lot of success in writing in my opinion is persistence and a willingness to accept criticism.

I try to write every day, even if it is just for 15 minutes. This way your mind is always engaged with your project, even during those moments when you’re not writing. Also, I tend to stop when I have a clear sense of what the next pages will be about. That way, when I start writing the next day, it is with anticipation—rather then dread that I’m stuck and don’t know what to do.

10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

Although I do much of my writing on the computer, I actually think I write better longhand. If I am having trouble with a passage, I will often set aside the computer and try to write through my problem with pencil and paper.

11. How many books have you written?

Three: Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation; Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History; The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave who Became a Mexican Millionaire

12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

Besides the “tricks” above, I’d suggest reading as much as possible and as widely as possible. You want to marinate yourself in good writing so that it influences your own prose. As Saul Bellow once put it, “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.”

13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

As a historian, I’m not really allowed to invent plot devices like twists, so I better skip this one!

14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

My books all represent efforts to look at little known events from history and demonstrate their larger importance. I like to think that they appeal to readers who don’t want to read the same old stories over and over again about the founding fathers, etc.

15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?

Besides answering questions on websites?! It is a strange new world for writers, since newspaper and magazines reviews have shrunk tremendously. I have a Twitter account and a webpage; not sure if they help that much or not.

16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

No real complaints. My books have not been best sellers, but for most of us this is not the best metric to use in measuring success. I am proud of all my books!

17. What saying or mantra do you live by?

I am a fan of the quote by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” If you are going to write history, you are at best only going to convey a partial sense of the vanished world of the past. But even a partial sense is better than nothing at all.

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Please contact me at dalanbinder at gmail dot com or ab3ring at juno dot com

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