Sunday, April 10, 2011

Author Interview: John Ames, Author of Adventures in Nowhere

Joining us today is John Ames, author of the coming of age novel, Adventures in Nowhere. John has a master’s degree in English from the University of Florida, where he was a Ford Fellow. He has produced and acted in numerous short films and videos, including the cable TV series the “Tub Interviews,” wherein all the interviewees were required to be in a bathtub. For ten years he reviewed movies for PBS radio station WUFT.  He has appeared as a standup comedian and has designed and marketed Florida-themed lamps.  Adventures in Nowhere is his latest release.

Welcome to The Book Connection, John. It's wonderful to have you here. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was raised in Tampa under difficult circumstances and felt greatly relieved when I went away to college, entering the University of Florida to train as an actor. A season of summer stock convinced me that a lot of theater people are crazy, so I changed my major to English, eventually graduating with a master’s degree. Shortly thereafter, I built a rustic house and lived for several years on the edge of a spiritual community located near Gainesville, Florida. My search for enlightenment ended when I decided that I was too far from a movie theater. I moved back to civilization and taught English and film for thirty years at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Along the way, I produced and acted in numerous short films and videos, including the cable TV series the “Tub Interviews,” wherein all the interviewees were required to be in a bathtub. I appeared as a standup comedian in several venues. I also designed a line of Florida-themed lamps which were sold in galleries in Gainesville and St. Augustine, Florida. For ten years I reviewed movies for PBS radio station WUFT. I also coauthored Second Serve: The Renée Richards Story (Stein and Day, 1983) and its sequel No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life (Simon & Schuster, 2007), and Speaking of Florida (University Presses of Florida, 1993).

When did you begin writing?

As soon as the sisters at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Tampa suggested that I was good at it. In the second grade, the teacher asked each of the students to write something about where he or she lived, all of which would be included in a little mimeographed one-issue paper. I dreaded this because I was ashamed of the house I lived in and of the family pressures I was under. But I took a breath and wrote about living in a house with a forest beyond the backyard and about the creek running through the forest leading to the Hillsborough River. I added a few details about my dog, and to my amazement, the teacher liked it well enough to choose my story as one of the few to be illustrated, in my case, some stick trees. After the paper was passed out, some of my fellow students expressed envy at my situation. I couldn’t imagine anyone envying me, but I realized that writing about a situation could place things in a new light. I am still doing it.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

For me, anything important has to be written in the morning. That’s when I have my greatest energy. I usually start about 9 AM and go on for up to four hours before I need to rest. I think the morning thing is fairly common among writers. In the afternoon, a lot of them drink, but I do home improvement projects.

What is this book about?

Adventures in Nowhere is about a thoughtful ten-year-old boy who is who is facing tough problems. Danny Ryan’s father is dangerous and overpowering, probably bipolar, one sister is seriously ill, the other is on the verge of an emotional meltdown, and his mother is too overwhelmed to be of help. The Ryan family is stuffed into three-room house where they can’t get away from one another. Ironically, the house is located in a beautiful spot that would be an ideal playground if his home life was not so pressure-filled. During the course of the novel, Danny meets a series of eccentric characters who draw him into an adventure that leads Danny to an odd triumph. Though he sometimes doubts his sanity along the way, Danny eventually comes to realize that the ugliness in life is balanced by great beauty.

What inspired you to write it?

My upbringing formed the basis for Adventures in Nowhere. I experienced a troubled home life, just like Danny, and like him I lived in a beautiful area of woods and creeks. Only a few blocks from my house was the Hillsborough

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

Amazon, for one. It is always a kick for me to visit the Amazon Adventures in Nowhere page, which contains some nice reviews from people who have bought the book. It is also available at Books-a-Million, Borders, Indiebound, and Powell’s. It can also be gotten through local independent bookstores.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

My website is , which I put together using an unusual approach. In addition to the conventional items like my biography and an excerpt from the book, the site gives a lot of information about the setting of the novel, the Hillsborough River and the community of Sulphur Springs, both of which are crucial to the plot and interesting in their own right. When I knew the river and the springs in the 1950s, the river was undeveloped past a certain point and Sulphur Springs was still interesting though definitely on a downward spiral. Most of the town was bulldozed in the early 1980s to make room for a dog track parking lot. The big spring that fed the swimming area is now polluted from storm water runoff and is unfit for bathing. I wanted to chronicle the place as I knew it before it is lost to living memory. My site helps readers understand what the novel is about by exploring the real Nowhere. Visitors to will find pictures of the river and of Sulphur Springs, starting in the early 1900s and going right through to the present, though the emphasis is on images from Danny’s era. There’s even a video of a SCUBA dive into the big spring in Sulphur Springs.

What is up next for you?

Taking a deep breath. I suppose I will start another novel once the flurry of activity surrounding the publication of Adventures in Nowhere is over.

Thanks for spending time with us today, John. We wish you continued success.

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