5 Questions with Joe Samuel Starnes, author of 'Calling'

When you sold your first piece of writing, how did you celebrate?

That was my first novel, Calling, which sold in 2004 and was published the following year. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, and my very good friend and writer Kevin Catalano and I drank from a fine bottle of Tennessee whiskey Kevin gave me as a congratulatory gift.

Later, my wife treated us to dinner at an old New Jersey steakhouse that Babe Ruth had supposedly frequented. The décor hadn’t changed much since he was playing for the Yankees, and we were the youngest folks in there by about 30 years, but it was a mighty good time.

Tell us about your process: Pen, paper, word processor, morning, noon, night... how do you write? 

First thing in the morning, usually before the sun rises, is when I like to get started. I write mostly on the computer these days, although I’ve filled up a lot of notebooks in the past. Sometimes I’ll break out a pen and scribble when the writing is not going well, but on good days I’m banging out the words on a computer keyboard.

Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?

Dave Robicheaux quit drinking, and when he did, he didn’t hold it too well, or I’d pick him. Maybe we could just have a cup of coffee.

What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever gotten, or that you can pass along? 

“Keep your ass in the chair.” It’s what Larry Brown says he learned from Harry Crews, and it’s something I learned from Brown in his marvelous essay, “Harry Crews: Mentor and Friend.”  

Brown goes on to say: “You can’t bitch and whine about it, you just have to do it. I think that’s probably the most valuable lesson I learned from Harry: Do the best work you can, whatever it takes to do it, whatever the price is that you have to pay.”

Recommend three books, and tell us why we should read them. 

Father and Son by Larry Brown. It combines some of the finest, most poetic southern writing I’ve ever read with a compelling, page-turning plot.

Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works published by Library of America. Because it’s Flannery, and it holds everything she wrote in one volume.

Forty Lashes Less One by Elmore Leonard. Most any Elmore Leonard novel is a pleasure, and this western is one I read recently resonated with me because of the vivid setting, the brilliantly drawn characters, a compelling story, and an awesome ending. It shows his genius of storytelling.


Joe Samuel Starnes is an American writer. His work has appeared in various publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Starnes published his first book, Calling, in 2005. He received a fellowship to the Sewanee Writers' Conference in 2006 and has taught writing courses at Rowan University, Widener University, and Saint Joseph's University.

Find Calling here!

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