As a heavily published freelance journalist and renowned author, James Gavin has taken the writing industry by storm. Among his many books, James Gavin has appeared in several documentaries and has even written an essay for the GRP box set ‘Ella Fitzgerald–the Legendary Decca Recordings,’ which later earned a Grammy nomination.
His latest book, “Stormy Weather,” is Oprah’s pick for the summer and should be yours as well, as film offers are already pouring in.
9 Questions With James Gavin
1. How did you get involved in writing and what motivates you to continue?
I learned to read at age four, fell in love with songs and singers at five, and developed a passion for telling stories – honest ones. In an age when we’re pummeled with information, important stories can get buried fast. Lena Horne, the subject of my new book, led a major 20th-century American life. Her struggles and breakthroughs are the kind that helped open the door for our current president. I had to make her saga better known.
2. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting in the world of writing?
They’re at their biggest because the Internet has made us more voracious than ever for news. Bloggers and online columnists vie to be the first to say or spot anything new. Books can only capture fixed moments. I didn’t know when I began my Lena bio that its theme of racial identity would become so topical in a country obsessed by Obama and Michael Jackson.
3. How do you define cool?
A trend is a fad. It doesn’t date well and may turn into a joke. Cool tends to last. It involves a relaxed self-confidence in what one has to offer; it begs no approval. Leonard Cohen is forever cool. So is Chet Baker, about whom I wrote my second book. Lena Horne burned. But to me, her ferocious command of the stage and her commitment to equality were the coolest.
4. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
No! The coolest creators are free spirits. They may be inspired by outside sources but they have a completely personal statement to make. They don’t follow; others follow them.
5. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
It’s about passion, and an open-hearted belief in the value of your work. People respond to that sort of gut conviction. It’s exciting. And it has the ring of truth.
6. What is the key to innovation?
First: having keen antennae for what people need right now to make their lives easier, faster, less stressful. Second: offering a product of such high quality that it makes buyers feel they’re getting the best.
7. What are the most important trends you see in the writing industry?
The print media seem to be dying, which pains me. I love the physical object of a book; I love leafing through a newspaper. Today anyone can act as a reporter online, but the truth is suffering. I’m as hooked on the Internet as anyone – and as for Kindle, whatever keeps people reading books is OK by me. I just wish we would all be a lot more prudent about the information we send out into the world. Most of it is self-indulgent and unnecessary.
8. Professionally, what do you want to be doing or studying in 10 years?
I want to continue writing books on subjects I care about, on lives of substance. I want to explore them in a column, on the radio, and in documentaries like the one I’m creating with the film maker Raymond De Felitta; it’s based on my first book, Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret. And I want to do much more lecturing; I adore public speaking.
9. What are your most important hobbies?
Reading. Collecting music, especially from Brazil. Traveling anywhere – especially to Brazil. Working out to look good and stay healthy forever.
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