Interview with James Boice

6 mins read

Photo by Michael Turek

James Boice was born in 1982 in Salinas, California and grew up in northern Virginia. He dropped out of college after three weeks to be a writer. He is the author of the novels MVPNoVA and the forthcoming The Good and the Ghastly (Scribner, June 2011). His work has appeared in Esquire, McSweeney’s, Fiction, Salt Hill and others. He writes about pathological people. His two obsessions are professional sports and northern Virginia. He lives in New York after several years in Cambridge, MA. See

Natasha Stagg: How long have you been writing?

James Boice: All my life. It’s a vocation. I discovered very young—like, in kindergarten—that I was good at it. And that I enjoyed it. Maybe I was good at it because I enjoyed it, or maybe I enjoyed it because I was good at it. Either way, I knew by age 18 that it was the only thing in the world I wanted to do with my time and energy. I’ve never been able to relate to people who have no idea what they want to do. I’ve always known exactly. That’s why I decided to go ahead and drop out of college after three weeks and do it.

NS: Do you write every day?

JB: Five days a week, Monday through Friday. Mornings, mostly. First and last thing I do and think about each day. Some writers are bingers, but I need to always be working on something. So I keep pretty standard, regular hours. I find that’s the best way for me to be a mentally-balanced, nonviolent, productive member of society. I was first attracted to writing by people who married rock n roll and poetry, like Bob Dylan. Then I was further drawn in by images such as Kerouac high on benzedrine cranking out On the Road at a girlfriend’s kitchen table in a three-week marathon of sweat and jazz. Or Hunter Thompson high on everything writing prescient hilarity amidst Las Vegas hotel room American carnage. So I used to copy that—coffee and cigarettes and caffeine pills and rock n roll and dozens of pages a day. But as I’ve matured and read more and spent more time committed to literature, I’ve fallen in love with literature itself over any images. It’s the lens through which I experience life and the way in which I relate to the world. I’ve learned the benefits of moderation and regulation. Flaubert said something I can relate to: Be regular and orderly in your life so you can be original and violent in your work.

NS: What are your thoughts on “writing on writing?” Ever read the advice other authors give?

JB: Absolutely. It’s very helpful. “Helpful” is silly. It’s “helpful” the way stop signs are “helpful.” I like to write on writing. That’s a recent discovery for me. See my website for some such essays. But I only like to do that long after the fact, once the smoke has cleared. Otherwise, I find it narcissistic and repulsive and counterproductive. Historically, I haven’t liked to write about writing or even talk about writing at all. Not even in chit-chat at bars when I’m asked what I do. It’s best to keep it all in the oven until it’s cooked. I used to lie and say I was in Special Ops. But I figure since I’ve taken so much from others writing on writing, it’s only responsible for me to reciprocate however I can.

NS: Give us some advice.

JB: Find your own, undiscovered spot on the landscape and stay there until your spot is the best. Also: Speak softly and carry a big stick.

NS: Who is your favorite author of the moment, and what should we read by them?

JB: Patrick DeWitt writes about misanthropes living ugly lives, but he does so in a way that is very enjoyable and pleasant and funny. I admired his first book, Ablutions, and am enjoying his new one, The Sisters Brothers. Also, they’re not authors, but I admire great sportswriters, like Michael Wilbon and Peter King. They blow me away with their consistency and focus, even while being television and radio personalities. They never falter or not know what to say or seem to get full of themselves. They’re not blowhards, they’re not just running their mouths like political commentators. They always have something pretty profound to offer. They are brilliant. The talent astounds me.