Jim Kraus is a longtime writer and editor who has authored or co-authored more than 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction. His best-selling humor book, Bloopers, Blunders, Jokes, Quips, and Quotes, was published by Tyndale House Publishers, sold more than 40,000 copies and inspired several spin-off books. Jim, and his wife, novelist Terri Kraus, and one son, live in the Chicago area.
Also residing with them is a sweet and gentle miniature schnauzer named Rufus. Coincidently, Rufus is also the name of the dog in Jim's recent book, The Dog That Talked to God. "What a coincidence," Jim said. "What are the odds of that happening?" They also share space with an ill-tempered Siberian cat named Petey. Coincidently, Petey is the name of the cat in Jim’s most current book, The Cat That God Sent, by Abingdon Press.
Jim recently was awarded a Master of Writing Arts degree from DePaul University. "Now, I am able to write more better," Jim said. (Yes, that is supposed to be humorous.)
Passionate about writing, Jim loves to create true-to-life characters. "I tend to be the one at the party that is on the edge of things--observing how folks act and react. Plus, I'm not that crazy about people in general--so it works out fine." (Again, it's supposed to be funny.)
Visit his website at www.jimkraus.com.
Q: Thanks for letting us
you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut
answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
I’m not sure, exactly. It looked easier than actually working.I have always been relatively facile with words. Growing up, I listened to my father tell wonderful stories of growing up in Homestead, Pa, hard by the steel mills, and of his time in the “old country” (Romania). I was captivated by those stories—so I think writing has a genetic component to it.A big plus is that writers get to be in charge of entire worlds: we hold people’s lives and futures in our hands (or hard drives, I guess).And there is something uniquely fulfilling about touching another person—a reader—with a deep truth and unfolding a hidden part of the world.
Q: Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
I suspect I could make more money working at the local 7-11—considering the hours that are put into any book. (I’ve considered it at times.)Seriously though, I am not one of those authors who sweat and bleed over the book. To me, the writing is never agony. It is always exciting to watch the word count increase.The demands . . . well, there is a good bit of solitude required. Some authors may be able to write in a noisy Starbucks. I envy them. I’ve tried that, but usually wind up playing Mahjong on my laptop. I have an office in the basement with my 40-year-old Sony stereo and listen to music while I type.
Q: Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
I have always been published by standard publishing houses. I was working at a publisher and had been there for five or six years when I proposed my first book to them. They published it and that started my “real” writing career. I will admit that it did help to work where I did—at a publisher. That made the first book easier. And this was nearly two decades ago; the landscape has changed a lot since I started.(When I started writing and publishing, I looked at the universe of successful authors of the day and said that they had it easy. There weren’t that many of them at the time. Now, two decades of writing later, I am sure that new authors will look at my career path and think that I had it easy. In twenty years, there will be a new crop of authors and the cycle will repeat again.)Generally, I have had very positive experiences with publishers. They are in it to succeed as well, so they try their hard do the best for every book.I know many authors who don’t like to see one word of their book edited, deleted, changed, tossed out . . . but I’m not one of those. Once the book is done, once I finish my final draft, I let the editors have at it. Most of my work has not been radically altered in the editing process, so maybe I’m spoiled.I figure that there are a lot of words in a book. If one or two get edited out, that’s okay with me.
Q: Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
I work early in the morning, sometimes late at night, so we still spend a lot of time together as a family. And I don’t tend to overwrite. I write fairly quickly, make some modifications and edits, but do not do multiple, complete rewrites.
Q: This is for pet lovers. If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?
Not only do they get their food on time, I do as well. I may lose myself in the book for a time—but not that much time. I sort of interrupt myself every half hour or so and wander around the house.And I find ways to distract myself, which gives me a chance to let my subconscious work through problems my characters are facing.
Q: This is for plant lovers. If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?
I think we have plants . . . we have at least one indoor plant. It’s been alive since we’ve been married—and that’s over 30 years. My advice—keep the plant quantity down to a minimum and you’re safer.
Q: In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
Here’s a fact: Phones don’t HAVE to be answered. That’s why we invented answering machines and caller ID. Dinner . . . that’s the most important meal of the day, along with breakfast and lunch. I don’t miss that. And I live five minutes from work. I’m seldom unintentionally late.
Q: What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
I spent two days now trying to come up with an honest and/or clever reply to this question.And I got nothin’.I’m a semi-crotchety, older guy who lives in the suburbs and cuts his grass in the summer. I shake my fist at the hoodlum teenagers who skate board on our cul-de-sac.What crazy, insane thing could happen here?Okay . . . here’s personal observation:Take a flyer.Write a book about a talking dog.A dog that claims to talk to God.Have that book nominated for the Fiction Book of the Year by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.Follow that book up with a book about a sentient feline.That’s crazy.
Q: How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I know, I know . . . every author, every product-maker, etc, uses Facetwitter to establish their “brand.” I have a Facebook page that I seldom update. I have never, nor will ever, Tweet. I have a webpage that I add a blog posting once a week or so. I guess a few people read it. If I have a visit counter, I don’t know how to use it.I’m not a Luddite, but the prospect of Tweeting to increase awareness or sales is just so dispiriting to me. And honestly now, the people who might read a Tweet from me are people who already know me and are probably trying to get me to give them a free copy of the book—so why Tweet?To do “social media” like the seminars tell authors to do it would require hours and hours a week. When do those people have a chance to write?I guess I am a Luddite after all.Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg.
Q: Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Build it and they will come . . . or something like that.The good people at Abingdon did a lot of lower-cost/highly effective PR work on my behalf for The Dog That Talked to God. They had bloggers mention it and gave away free books. And Publisher’s Review gave both the dog and the cat books positive reviews.All of that raised awareness.Specifically, for the “cat” book, I have a blog tour starting soon . . . don’t I? (Is this part of that?)I know the new reality is that authors have to be their own promoters. But I’m old . . . well, older, a little cranky, and set in my ways. Write a good book, catch a wave, and things will happen.Maybe.I guess.Why all these questions? I don’t know anything. Really.
Q: What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
I would use every bit of social media to let people know that they are way too connected to social media.Oh . . . and I really dislike the news on TV.And reality TV.And that 60 is the new 40.
Q: Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
Here’s the real scoop . . . I have built a small cave in the basement with copies of my books. Whenever I get down, I crawl inside, surrounded by words that I wrote, and small, thumbnail pictures of me on the back cover. I close my eyes, curl up into a ball, and whimper softly to myself until the blackness passes.Seriously . . . (I use that a lot, don’t I? I should resolve to be less snarky.) Writing is fun. It feeds my soul. I love telling stories that point towards the Divine. I don’t preach, but I want readers to get a sense of the Creator’s handiwork all around them—to become aware of that truth.If that happens, and it connects to readers, then I am happy. If I can help a reader become more aware of God, and have a good time reading what I wrote, then my job is done.MY ADVICE: FREE TO THE FIRST 100 PEOPLE WHO CALL:Tell a good story.Keep the plot believable.Make the characters flawed . . . noble, but flawed.Add a laugh or two, as needed.Let the reader see, smell, taste.Trust your inner voice.Listen to the advice of wise editors.Have a cool drink.Put your feet up.Talk to your dog.Pet your cat.Be nice.Unplug.And most importantly, buy multiple copies of The Cat That God Sent. It makes a great housewarming gift.Thanks!