|photo: Wes Pope
As a University of Washington pre-med student, Jack Hart took a journalism class on a lark. After his first story ran on the front page of the University of Washington Daily, he changed his major to journalism and never looked back. Hart worked at newspapers large and small, ending up as a managing editor at the Oregonian, the Pacific Northwest's largest daily. He went on to earn a doctorate in mass communication, opening the way to a teaching career that included service on six university journalism faculties. He conveyed his writing advice to a wide audience in A Writer's Coach and Storycraft. This year he published his first work of fiction, Skookum Summer: A Novel of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, April 2014). But he hasn't shaken off journalism: his protagonist is a reporter who returns to the small newspaper at which he started his career to discover a mystery rife with meth, mayhem and murder.
On your nightstand now:
I'm a narrative nonfiction guy. I read book-length narrative nonfiction religiously, and there's almost always something from the genre on my nightstand. The latest, Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat, is a doozy that I'd recommend to anyone.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I've always been an independent cuss who prides himself on self-sufficiency. I'm a fair-to-middlin' carpenter, mechanic and all-around do-it-your-selfer who's happiest out in the woods hunting and fishing. So it's probably not surprising that, as a kid, I loved the ultimate tale of self-sufficiency, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.
Your top five authors:
Naturally, I love authors such as John McPhee, Richard Preston, Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe. But, for obvious reasons, I also follow former journalists who've turned their hands to fiction. I'm a huge Michael Connelly fan.
Book you've faked reading:
I can't say that I've ever faked reading anything. But I have given up on books I thought I should read. I've started Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina at least three times without ever finishing it.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I always recommend Jon Franklin's Writing for Story, which was the first significant book-length guide to the form. In the same field, I'm also a big fan of Bill Blundell's The Art and Craft of Feature Writing.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I almost always remember the make and model of a car I've seen, but hardly ever the color. Likewise, book covers don't matter a whole lot to me. I might reject a book if the cover reveals that it's of a genre that doesn't interest me. But the title and subject always matter more to me than the cover.
Book that changed your life:
Franklin's Writing for Story. It was the first attempt to explain the techniques used to produce the kind of writing I most admired, narrative-nonfiction breakthroughs such as Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.
Favorite line from a book:
The opening line to A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing." That about says it all. For me, fly fishing is a religion.
Which character you most relate to:
As an outdoorsman who's never happier than when he's in a duck blind or on the banks of a trout stream, I'm partial to Hemingway's Nick Adams, especially in Big Two-Hearted River.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It.
Preferred category: fiction or nonfiction:
I prefer story, and the principles of great storytelling are the same for both fiction and nonfiction. If you're a journalist like I am, you follow strict ethical guidelines when it comes to getting the facts right for a work of nonfiction. But the story theory you apply to make those facts interesting and meaningful is exactly the same as the story theory you use to produce a novel.