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3Q with Sonny Brewer

Oh Best of all Local Beloveds, please come out and see me with Sonny Brewer, signing copies of Don’t Quit Your Day Job (and he and I will both sign our other titles, shoudl you so desire, and what a great Crhistmas present signed books make….

We’ll be here on Friday evening starting at 6 PM

FoxTale Book Shoppe
105 E. Main St., #138
Woodstock, GA 30188

Joss: What do you think of your cover and how does it compare to the cover you imagined when you were writing the book?

Sonny: The art on the cover, a pen and ink drawing of a typewriter (I was going to write “vintage” but that would be redundant. I needed a typewriter to complete some form recently and had to search all over to find even find one. And yet it doesn’t seem SO long ago that the first Radio Shack TRS-80 word processors were moving into the neighborhood of the writing community, as some stubborn novelists—like my friend here in Fairhope AL, C. Terry Cline Jr—refused to put away their Smith-Coronas), those beautiful round keys waiting in rows for a good story, with a railroad cap perched jauntily atop the machine, and a railroad spike and ball-peen hammer in the foreground…ah, it’s a perfect illustration for this book.

Barry Moser, whose book illustrations are among the best in the world and history of book-making, did the cover art when the title of the anthology was going to be taken from Howard Bahr’s brilliant essay, “The Railroad as Art,” leading off the collection in DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: ACCLAIMED AUTHORS AND THE DAY JOBS THEY QUIT. Howard worked on the railroad for some years, all the while tending to ghosts of the Civil War dead in his imagination, maybe composing sentences and paragraphs for BLACK FLOWER, or THE JUDAS FIELD. I loved the idea of the melding of railroad steel with story-writing’s feathery day-dreaming. And it still works for me, the typewriter and the hammer and spike, as the art to convey the conceit of this book of near two-dozen authors telling about what they did to earn a living before they clocked in at the culture factory, as writer William Gay put it.

Contributors list

Joss: Can you talk a little about the significance of your title and how you came up with it?

Sonny: (See previous question and answer.) The marketing people told me I had to ditch the title, THE RAILROAD AS ART. If I didn’t, we’d be looking all over bookstores to find the anthology, only to finally locate it over on the shelves with other coffee table books of railroad paintings. Then, Tim Gautreaux told me they were probably right, about how often he’d find his short story collection, WELDING WITH CHILDREN, in the industrial arts section. And likewise Steve Yarbrough, his book of stories, VENEER, so often winding up over with the plywood books. I got the message. Went fishing for a better title.

Then, my seventeen-year old son John Luke said, “Why don’t you just call the book what it is? Title it DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: SOUTHERN WRITERS AND THE DAY JOBS THEY QUIT.” Badabing! I loved the see-saw irony of it. Loved the straightforward subtitle. That was it. Credit my boy. Then, those marketing people told me to drop the “Southern writers” tag. Said people in Wyoming or Connecticut don’t necessarily flock to us Southerners when they browse their bookstores. I said, “Bull-somethingorother!” Do they read Faulkner, McCarthy, Grisham, Conroy, Bragg, O’Conner, Welty, and—and—and…? Then Winston Groom told me to wise-up, and let the readers simply discover for themselves the company of Southerners in the book’s pages. Even as provincially minded as I am, I could see the good sense of that. And after all that, now I call the book simply DON’T QUIT, or type DQYDJ.

Santa Brewer with John Evans, who owns Lemuria

Joss: Who did you dedicate this book to and why?

Sonny: I dedicated the book to my dear friend, bookseller John Evans, who owns Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. He was there at the conception of DON’T QUIT. You know, Publishers Weekly said in a review, “Sonny Brewer is at his worst when he does his windy philosophizing…” So here’s a bit of windy philosophy: We don’t know what anything is “for.” We think we go to the store for a carton of milk, but we really go the store for meeting up with an old friend, just sort of run into them over by the eggs and cheese. And I thought I was going to a real estate class for a license to stop building houses and begin selling them, instead. But what I really went there for was to encounter an odd little round building in the parking lot, a hermit’s hut of concrete with a dome-shaped roof built three-quarters of a century before, and to lay the predicate, as it were, for writing a novel about the builder, one Henry Stuart, and sell that book to Random House for a good pile of money so I could keep at the writing.

So I thought I was, then, on my way to Brookhaven, Mississippi, to speak to a book club there. But I was actually taking a trip so I could have a flat tire in Jackson and have to wait overnight for a replacement tire and have to stay over with my pal John Evans so he could ask me what I was working on next and I could tell him a memoir about all the day jobs in a writer’s life and so he could misunderstand what I said, not hear memoir, in that crowded and noisy café while waiting for a cheeseburger and tell me that it was a good idea and that I should also include a piece about Larry Brown when he was an ex-Marine and fire chief in Oxford before becoming Larry Brown, literary icon, and that Richard Howorth from Square Books should write it. Wow! I didn’t hear another word John said as I tore off down the road following this new idea of asking a lot of famous writers to tell about work they did before they became famous writers. A short year later, here’s the book, with a dedication to John Evans. Of course.

4 comments to 3Q with Sonny Brewer

  • I got a signed copy at Turnrow Books (Greenwood, Miss.) last week and have already read it cover to cover. What a great book, and what a great guy Sonny Brewer is.

  • Oh, I wish I could be there tomorrow night! Good interview with our favorite reprobate…

  • It was great being with Sonny for his reading/signing at Off Square Books in Oxford last Friday (and having lunch with him at Ajax afterwards). Fun reading about friends like Keetha who got her book in Greenwood, MS, and my friends who were at the reading in my home town, Jackson, Mississippi, with John Evans at Lemuria. It’s a terrific book and Sonny is a brilliant writer, savy editor, and generous soul. Enjoyed your chapter in the book very much, Joss! KUDOS!

  • Thanks, Joshilyn, for a PERFECT interview.

    As someone who lives with an overabundance of wax in her ears, I can SO relate to Sonny’s epiphany of what his book should be: anthology as opposed to memoir.

    Even funnier is his take on life’s li’l karmas: we are never where we should be…at least, not for the reason we think we are (lotsa double-triple quadruple negatives, but you get my drift).