An interview with William Jack Sibley

Where did you grow up /live now?

I was born in Corpus Christi, and grew up in Alice, Texas. I moved with my mother to upstate New York after my parents’ divorce, and graduated high school in Ccarsdale, NY – just outside NYC.  I have lived in New York, L.A., Santa Fe and for varying periods in Houston, Dallas and Austin.  I currently live in San Antonio and have spent my entire life residing intermittently on three family ranches in South Texas.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A rancher and/or a movie director. (I knew really more what I didn’t want to be!)

What is your education/career background?

Bachelor of Science in Communications (RTF), University of Texas, Austin.

Do you have kids and/or pets?

No kids. One Brussels Griffon, “Remy” (the dog from “As Good as it Gets”). Also 2 horses (Miguelito and Sancho), 2 stray ranch dogs (Abner and Bonita), 1 goat (Juana la Loca), and 9 burros (Jacinta, Muñequita, Patricia Anita, Estrella, Cielo, Luna, Panchita and Floridita.)

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Or what first inspired you to write?

In film school at UT. I wanted to be Fellini or Francois Truffault, but after graduation I was actually only qualified to hang lights for the six o’clock news in Brownsville. So I wrote a play, it won an award and premiered at the old Ritz Theater in Austin on 6th Street. I was then – alas – hooked.

Where/When do you best like to write?

A “thousand miles” from home in some cabin or beach shack where I don’t know a soul, don’t have to water anything, walk anything on a leash, cook, clean, shave or answer the phone.  Just get up, make coffee and …write!

When you are struggling to write/have writer’s block, what are some ways that help you find your creative muse again?

Just keep writing. I only have deeply profound “serious” inspiration 2 or 3 times a year.  God given events! The rest is just screwing your butt to a chair and plowing through it. It’ll come.  And take time to go for a walk, swim, lay on the floor staring at the ceiling. Ideas will drift in from the ethers. (Nothing is harder than writing in an “effortless, entertaining, witty” style. It’s grueling work having to appear so clever.)

What do you think makes a good story?

A good storyteller.  Take me somewhere. Anywhere. Hold my interest. Stop staring at your navel and involve me.

What inspired your story?

The title.  I usually think of the title first. No particular reason but I like fashioning a tale around a title. That, and I wanted to see a 1972 Mercury Montego after midnight on a country road about to run over a drunk lying in the middle of it.

How does a new story idea come to you? Is it an event that sparks the plot or a character speaking to you?

I carry a small note pad where I constantly jot down words, ideas, titles, sentences, questions … Although now it’s more likely to be finger-jabbed onto the “notes” app on my iPhone.

Is there a message/theme in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

“Live and let live.” We’re all here on our paths just doing the best we know how. Most of us aren’t nearly that bad, and certainly not that good. Cut people some slack, stop judging –   be less of a shithead.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

That somehow, miraculously, amazingly every detail, every premise, every notion you blindly put forth initially comes back to meet you at the end – and it works!

What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

Finishing the damn thing! You start out sledding blissfully down the mountain but you always end up carrying the sled back up to the peak one plodding, careful, exhausting footstep at a time.

On a Friday night, what are you most likely to be doing?

Not writing.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Kennedy Toole, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger, Judith Viorst, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Lillian Hellman, Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Luis Borges, Graham Greene, J. Frank Dobie, Cervantes … and the great Larry McMurtry.

Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the things on it?

I went around the world before I was 20.  I’ve been a passionate traveler my whole life. Spent a month on the Trans Siberian Express in Russia. Trekked with gorillas in Uganda.  Sailed through the Caribbean on a 13 island schooner odyssey. Rode horseback on the pampas of Argentina. Bathed elephants in the Mekong River in Laos. My “bucket list” is more (and more) of just the same.

Have you won any awards or honors (not just for writing)?

In third grade I won a bucket of paint from the hardware store when my Baptist cowboy grandfather let me “gamble” by playing bingo during a carnival on the grounds of the courthouse in George West, Texas. 

What person(s) has/have helped you the most in your career?

I’ve worked with actress Ellen Burstyn on a play that I wrote, director John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”) on a film of mine, Arthur Hiller (“Love Story”), Pete Masterson (“Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”), Diane Ladd (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”), Tab Hunter (“Damn Yankees”)… Many great directors, actors, producers, writers, artists, etc. I even managed  abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler’s office in NYC for a year. What I learned and absorbed from them all was their manifest dedication and discipline to their art.  Without it you’ll never get to first base.

What’s the best writing advice you have ever received?

“You’re pretty good – stick with it!”

What was your favorite book as a child?

The Cat in the Hat. 

What is the one book no writer should be without?

The Bible, particularly if you’re an atheist. One must start with Shakespeare and the Bible in order to fully comprehend the notion that you’re not quite as hot as you think you are.

How do your spouse/significant other/friends/family feel about your writing career?

My family could care less.  Seriously. Just stay out of prison and the newspapers is pretty much their verdict on the subject.

If your book was turned into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?

Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet and Gael Garcia Bernal for the 4 leads.