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Interview with Jack Fryar, September 20, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Jack Fryar, September 20, 2007
Date:
September 20, 2007
Description:
In this interview, author, publisher and Wilmington native Jack Fryar discusses his writing career, his passion for educating people about southeastern North Carolina history, and the ins and outs of owning and operating his own press.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Fryar, Jack Interviewer:  Rodrigues, Carmen Date of Interview:  9/20/2007 Series:  SENC Writers Length  60 minutes

 

Rodrigues: This is Carmen Rodrigues. Today is September 20, 2007. I'm at the Randall Library with Jack E. Fryar. Jack is a lifelong resident of southeastern North Carolina, born and raised in Wilmington. He has been a professional writer and publisher since 1994. In 2000, he founded Dram Tree Books, a small publishing house whose titles tell the story of coastal North Carolina's vivid and exciting history. Jack, hi. How are you today?

Jack Fryar: Fine, thanks.

Rodrigues: Now I only briefly went over some of your bio. It's actually quite extensive, and I'm hoping that you'll be able to tell us more about that during our time together.

Jack Fryar: Okay.

Rodrigues: I think for the sake of getting a comprehensive view of you, we could start at the beginning. Go back to maybe your childhood, when you were younger and you first discovered your love for reading.

Jack Fryar: I, as you said, was born and raised in Wilmington. And my people come from Sampson County, up around Clinton. And during World War II, my grandfather relocated the family down here to work in the shipyards. I was born in 1960, and my Aunt Carol, who, up until she retired a couple years ago, was head of the art department at Old Dominion University. She's the one that introduced me to books. She had me reading by the time I was three, and yeah, so that, obviously, gave me a head start on loving books and literature. But it wasn't until fourth grade when my grandmother, for my birthday that year, gave me a book called Sloop of War by Alexander Kent. And it's one of those swashbuckling stories of the British navy during the Napoleonic wars and kind of a Horatio Hornblower kind of book. And so I nearly flunked math in fourth grade, because while everybody else was doing their multiplication tables, I was, I had my math book up and Sloop of War inside it. It was my first adult book, my first hardcover adult book. And so while everybody else is doing their times tables, Jack is in the English Channel fighting the French. The book was so real, so vivid; I could feel salt spray on my fact. And I've been hooked ever since. My library, right now, the last time I counted, which was probably about two years ago, is upwards of 10,000 books. I've got more books than some small town libraries. I might die without a penny to my name, but somebody's going to get a nice library out of it. (laugh) I have books that'll take me places and let me go and do things, experience things that I'll never get a chance to do in real life. And something else about a book that's always been significant to me, something that's always stuck in my head is I remember one time when I was in grade school, I was walking home from school. And there was an old man who lived on the corner, about a block from my house. He had died or gone into a nursing home or something like that. I don't really remember the circumstances. But whoever had cleaned out his house had put a mountain of books out by the curb for the trash man to pick up. And I remember stopping in, because even then, I had a love of books. I remember stopping and plundering through that pile. And I found a book on railroad engines, trains, with a copy write date on it of something like 1882. Well this was in 1967, 1968 that I was reading this. And I though that was just the coolest thing in the world, that here is something that somebody wrote, at that point, almost a century ago. Whoever wrote it was long gone, but here I was, almost a century later, reading those words, reading what this guy had to say about train engines, and I just thought that was the neatest thing. And that was the first time it occurred to me that a book is a way for a person to have at least some small measure of immortality, the fact that you can write a book and centuries later, someone is able to pick it up and read what your thoughts were, or read the story that you've to tell. That's a pretty amazing thing to me. That's a shot at immortality that children don't bring in some sense. We all have ancestors, but beyond a couple of generations, I couldn't tell you anything about mine. But once I got that ISBN number, once I got that Library of Congress number, Jack's words are going to be out there in some form or another forevermore, because the Library of Congress is going to be there in some shape or form forevermore. So 150 years from now, if somebody's doing their genealogy and finds out that they were related to me and wants to find out a little more about me by reading my stuff, well there's a way that they can do that. It's a way of bridging time that's always been a really remarkable thing to me. I've always loved books and I'm always going to love books. My one regret in what I do now is that I don't have as much time for leisure reading as I used, because I spend all my time either working on a new book that I'm writing, or reading manuscripts that other people have submitted for me to publish. There was a time when I would read upwards of 20 books a month. And-

Rodrigues: Was that from the point that you were a child, as well? I mean when you were a child, were you reading that many?

Jack Fryar: Not to that level, not to that level. I've always read a lot. Even as a kid, I would read anywhere from five to eight books a month. But when you're in school, you don't have time to read as much as that. When it really kicked off for me was in '94 when I started doing Southern Book Trade Magazine, which was a magazine that I did. It was a free monthly that went to every bookstore and library in the south. It was intended for book professionals and people who actually made a living off working with the public and books. Publishers Weekly is kind of the standard magazine for the book industry, but it's geared more towards the publishing end things than it is bookstores and librarians. It's useful for bookstores and librarians, because of the book reviews and some things like that, but generally speaking, it's geared more towards the publishing end of the business. Well I wanted Southern Book Trade to be something that would be geared towards the book sellers and librarians. How can you present the product that you've got to sell to the public better, to be more successful in selling books and disseminating books and spreading the love of books? So this went free to every bookstore and library in 11 states. Well it had a book review section in it, and we would only review the books that we liked, because there was limited space and there was no point in wasting space on a review of something bad. So with this book review section, it got around to the publishers that here was a magazine that was going free to every bookstore and library in 11 states. It was upwards, at that time, 2,000 bookstores and libraries that got it free every month. And so when the publisher had something new came out, they'd make damn sure that we got a copy of it. So my library went from several thousand books to almost overnight, over the couple of years that we Southern Book Trade, it grew exponentially because of all the review copies coming in.

Rodrigues: Were you one of the publishers with Southern Book Trade, as well?

Jack Fryar: I was the publisher and owner, yeah.

Rodrigues: Was that your first publishing adventure?

Jack Fryar: It sure was, yeah. I've been good at two things in my life. I was a pretty good marine and I'm pretty good with ink and paper. And I had worked in bookstores. I had worked for Walden Books, here in Wilmington, when I was in college, and later on, I was a co-manager of an independent bookstore here. And then after that, I worked as a publisher's rep for a little while. So I knew the book business. I knew how to do two things well. I was pretty good at shooting people and I was pretty good at working with books. In the civilian world, there's not a whole lot of call for the previous, so when it looked like I was going to have to be in the civilian world, books were what I chose to be around.

Rodrigues: Let's go back to that. After you got out of high school, did you enlist?

Jack Fryar: About a year afterward. About my sophomore or junior year of high school, I started working in radio, and after graduation, did it for about a year after that. But I found out real quickly that there's no such thing as job security in radio. You can, you don't have to have done anything wrong. You could just come to work one day and the station decided they wanted to change their sound, and your voice doesn't fit that sound and so you find yourself unemployed. And also, you make no money in radio. The only guys who make money in radio are guys like Don Imus and Rick Dees, you know, the big jocks in the major markets and stuff. And so I found out real quick that I didn't want to be 40-years-old and have my kids come to me and ask me, "Dad, what have you done with your life," and have to tell them, "Well I've played all the Rolling Stones hits for the last 40 years." I wanted to do something that gave a bigger contribution, at least in my estimation. I had worked the overnight shift. I worked midnight to 6:00 at WGNI back when it was an AM station. I was living at Wrightsville Beach and I remember coming over the bridge one morning and thinking about all this. It was weighing on my mind. I remember thinkin you ought to join the Marine corp. And I came over that bridge just about the time the sun was coming up, and it was beautiful on the horizon there, the sun peeking over the horizon and through the clouds, you know, that orange, beautiful Carolina sunrise. And it was like God was speaking to me. So the next morning, I went to the recruiter's office. It was over here on Oleander Drive. I walked in and the gunner sergeant and the recruiter were sitting there. He had a box of chicken. He had been to KFC or something like and the man literally had a drumstick in his mouth. And I walked in and told him, I said, "Don't give me a sales speech. I'm going to sign. I'm going to enlist. What I want to know is what I can do in the corp." He paused a minute and said, "Okay," wiped his hands, and when I left, I had enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. And I am still a jarhead inside; (laugh) you know, once a Marine, always a Marine.

Rodrigues: What year was that?

Jack Fryar: That would have been in 1982 that I enlisted.

Rodrigues: How long were you in the Marine Corp?

Jack Fryar: I was in the Marines for four years. I had a back injury and that forced me to get out. If you can't crawl through the mud anymore, you can't be a Marine infantryman. It took about a year to get squared away, and then I wanted to go back in, but I wanted to do it as an officer, if I could, if for no other reason than the paycheck was better. In order to do that, I had to get a college education, so I applied here at UNCW, got accepted and everything, and then went and asked the Marine Corp to help me with some money for school. Well this was in the first Reagan administration, when the Graham Rudman bill was going down. That was that first big round of budget cuts in the early 1980's. The Marine Corp told me they had used all their financial aid for that year. Well I personally have never known the Department of Defense to run out of money. I figured I was kind of getting the green weenie there. They don't have it any more here, but at the time, they had a UNCW Army ROTC program. It was about a year old by the time I came into the picture, so I took my service record over to them and showed it to them and basically, they said, "You wear our suit when you get out and we'll pay for school." Well they didn't pay for all of it, but it paid for a good portion of it. And because I had prior service, I got commissioned early and had a good time here. But I ended up with a reserve commission. I wasn't able to go back on active duty. That meant I had to find a way to make a living as a civilian.

Rodrigues: What did you study while you were at UNCW?

Jack Fryar: It started out as communications. The whole reason that I went back to school was to get a commission and to be a professional soldier. When I applied, I got accepted, and then I started asking around, "What's the easiest program to get through here?" And everybody was, "Oh communications. Man, it's a snap." I thought well I've worked in radio. I'm not bashful. I can do this, so I signed up and did a couple of classes. Then, you know, I was trying to fast track myself so I could get out of school quickly, so I signed up for a summer school class. I can't even remember what it was called now, but Carole Tallant was teaching. I don't know if she's still here or not. It was held in the SRO Theater, which is over this way a little ways. Well I wasn't familiar with the campus enough to know where SRO was, so I was a couple minutes late getting to class that morning. So here I go trudging through the lawns here and I finally find SRO and I go inside. And remember, I'm a six foot, 220 pound guy who's not long out of Beirut. I go in to make money, to make money while I was in college. I was working as a bouncer at a nightclub here. I go into this classroom and I just stop dead in the doorway, because the teacher had all the students on the risers, and they were going up and down on their toes, doing their arms like this going up and down the vocal scale. I just looked at and I said there ain't no damn way. (laugh) So I turned around and went straight to the registrar's office. I said, "Drop this. Give me anything you have in political science." The only thing she had was a 300 or 400 level Russian studies course. Russian studies were big back then, because back then, the Russians were still the bad guys. I took it, just about never cracked a book in it and never had a problem the whole time I was here. The other thing that's always interested me was history, so I enjoyed the history program out here an awful lot, too. But-

Rodrigues: So the entire time that you were doing radio and then being a Marine in Beirut, were you still reading as much as you liked?

Jack Fryar: When you're working in radio, especially the kind of shifts that I was pulling, midnight to 6:00, you have a lot of time on your hands, and the same thing in the Marine Corp. In the military, a lot of times it's hurry up and wait. You're moving from place to place, but then there are long gaps in between where you're sitting idle, waiting for your next orders to come through. You spent a lot of time on busses and trains and boats and things like that, or just sitting around a barracks somewhere waiting to get orders to saddle up. You've got a lot, a lot of time to read there. I've always read, from 3-years-old on. I will read sometimes three and four, five books at a time. I've got one in the car, for if I have to sit in a parking lot somewhere. I've got one that I'll take to the bathroom with me. Some of your best reading is done in the bathroom. I've got one sitting next to the coffee table, so if TV stinks one night, I've got something to fall back on. I'm never without a book. There's a lot of things you find me without, and a book is one of those. I've always got a book close at hand.

Rodrigues: Have your reading selections changed from when you were a child enjoying those pirate stories as an adult, or do you still find that you have some of the same similar interests?

Jack Fryar: I do have similar interests. When I was a younger man and involved in the military, the military stories, of course, were a staple of my reading diet. Guys like John Del Vecchio, the Thirteenth Valley, James Webb, guys that were writing the Vietnam stories, because I came of age during the Vietnam time. I just missed being old enough to go, but a lot of the people that I was contemporary with were Vietnam vets, or did live through the protests and things like that. So Vietnam still loomed large in my consciousness as I was coming up, and as I was a young man, before ever having going into combat, you want to try and understand, get some sense of what the military and what soldiers do is all about, and so you read things that might try and give you some insight into that. So that was a large staple of my diet. I also like mysteries. I like science fiction. I like a little bit of everything; southern fiction, literature. I like the classics. I love Rudyard Kipling. He's one of my favorites. And as I, I've always enjoyed writing, too. I found out in sixth grade that a student newspaper press pass will open a lot of doors for you. You're ambling down the hall, skipping a class or whatever. The teachers get used to seeing you working on a story. After a while, they don't start questioning you as much. But it turns out I had a talent for it, too. I was good at it. In sixth grade, I started working on student publications, mostly newspapers, and stuck with that all through school, as well. But I've always been able to write. I had a term paper to do in high school. It was a college prep course, college English. That whole second semester before graduation, we spent in the school library during that class to be able to work on our research paper. A girl that I knew, Lori Lawson, not a girlfriend or anything like that, just a buddy, just brilliant, she's probably a rocket scientist or something now. She was a very cool chick, too. Everybody's busting their butt, and I didn't do anything. I goofed off. But when it came down to writing the paper, two days before, I sat down and knocked it out. I wrote it on The Once and Future King, T.H. White, which is something I read when I was nine, ten years old, a wonderful novel about Arthur, the Arthur legend, which is also something that I enjoyed an awful lot, stories about King Arthur and tales of chivalry and knights and things of that nature. But I wrote this research paper, this term paper, which was necessary for my graduation, and made up the footnotes, every last stinking one of them, every last one. (laugh) But I got a B on it. (laugh) And after graduation, the teacher told me that she knew the footnotes and everything were BS, but the whole point of the class was to get you to know the form that a term paper is supposed to be in. And she said, "You actually made some pretty good quotes in there from The New York Times," and so she gave me the B on it because the form was right. But I got that paper back and Lori Lawson is sitting next to me, this girl that I was talking about and she's like, "You son of a bitch," (laugh) because she had really busted her butt to do hers and thought it was pretty funny that here I was able to pull that up, create it out of whole cloth. So anyway, I've always been able to write pretty well.

Rodrigues: Did you continue writing when you were doing radio and then while you were in the Marines?

Jack Fryar: No, no, there was no time for it. I was a Marine infantryman, and later on, I was slated for sniper school, and there was not a whole lot of time for pen and paper stuff at that stage of my life. But it's just something I've always done. And so when I got out of the Corp and started in school, I was working in book stores and stuff, I realized that this was not going to be a long-term thing, because bookstore people don't make any money, either. If you work in a bookstore, you're doing it because you love books, certainly not to make a living, because you don't, you just don't. And so long about the early '90's, I was out of college. I hadn't really found anything that I wanted to do that gave me any sort of enthusiasm. My military days were behind me and so I had to find something to do. My father passed away this past February, but in the late '60's, he was an electrician, an instrumentation specialist and he really loved that. He wired Ideal Cement. He did the Russell Stover Candy Plant down in South Carolina. He was good at it and he made good money at it. But in '67 or so, my grandfather, who was a car dealer, had a heart attack and he couldn't run his business anymore. And so my dad gave up his career dreams and went in with my grandfather, because the old man couldn't do it by himself. And that's what he did for the next 30, almost 40 years. And there we day, eventually my dad was the best at what he did. He eventually evolved into doing convertible tops and sunroofs and things like that, and he was really top notch at what he did. I get a lot of my work ethic from my dad. There were days when as a kid, I'd see him come home and I could just see the anguish on his face. This was shear drudgery, shear hell for him having to do this. But he did it because he was a dutiful son and he had a family to feed, and that's what the cards were for him. I think towards the end of his life, he had made peace with that, but I remember as a kid, seeing him come home from spending 10-12 hours a day at a job that just sucked the life right out of him and thinking to myself you spend too damn much of your life at work to be doing something that you don't like doing. And so when it came time for me to find something, you know, I was single. I didn't have kids. I made a conscious decision not to pursue a wife and family when I was a younger man, because I was working a very dangerous line of work then. There used to be old saying, if the Marine Corp wanted you to have a wife, they'd issued you one. And at one point, you had to be an E6 before the Marine Corp would allow you to take a wife. That's not the way it is now. But I got to thinking. I'd see the guys around me and there was a lot of problem marriages, a lot of people too young to be married. Getting married when you're that young is tough, anyway. But when you throw the added pressure of being in the military in there, its really, really hard for young people, and I just never felt like it would be fair to a woman to ask her to sign up for that kind of ride. So by the '90's, I'm still single. I have no children or anything like that, been to college, didn't graduate. I just lost interest in it and wanted to do something else. And so I started looking around and I was thinking well Jack, what can you do. Well I knew books and I knew how to write and put a newspaper together, so I started doing Southern Book Trade and it was very, very popular. The bookstores and libraries that got it loved it. But the trouble was it was a free magazine. We depended on advertising to pay for it, and that advertising had to come from the publishers. Well most of the publishers in the early '90's were still in New York, and so I would call them from Wilmington saying, "Hi, I'm Jack with Southern Book Trade Magazine. We go to every bookstore and library in America." And all they would hear is this is Jack calling from North Carolina, and then automatically, pictured somebody in bib overalls with a straw hanging from their mouth, you know. The prevailing attitude in New York was that no one's ever read a book west of the Hudson River. And try as I might, the south, at that time, was the economic engine that was driving the economy of the United States. That's when people started migrating to the south in really large numbers. We had all the data, all the statistics and everything to back it up to show these publishers up north that look, if you're going to sell books in the next 20 years, you're going to be selling a lot of them in the south, so you need to pay attention to publications like mine that for chump change-- we charge next to nothing for advertising compared to something like Publishers Weekly-- for a little bit of nothing, you can put your books in front of every bookstore and library in America. These are people that don't buy single copies. They buy 10 and 12 copies to stock their bookstore shelves or their library shelves. But you could just never get past that stereotype that seemed to be in New York that well here we are with the hay seeds, so after a couple of years, Southern Book Trade folded, but I started another publication at the time. Like I said, I was born and raised here. I love local history. We're fortunate-- or I think we're fortunate that we live in a place that's got four centuries of great stories, everything from the early exploration and the Indians, to the lost colony, to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, all the way up to German U-boats and space shuttle astronauts. It's all happened here. There was a time when this was the frontier, and everything that you imagined, Indian wars, and bandits and everything else, carving a home out of the wilderness, it all happened here. So I kind of grew up on the stories of North Carolina, and southeastern North Carolina, and coastal North Caroline, the pirates and everything else, and so it really bothered me. I remember thinking in school how ignorant people were who said that they don't like history. And I've come to realize that most times when somebody tells you they don't like history, they're saying they don't like what they got out of their schoolbooks, all those dry names and dates. And it's done a disservice to the people of this country, because at least for southerners, and I think to a lesser degree, everywhere else too, but especially for native born southerners, who we were is a big part of who we are. Our past is our DNA as a people. When you present that past in a dry, academic way, that causes peoples' eyes to glaze over. You're doing a disservice to them and you're doing a disservice to the people who went through these hardships that created these stories that you're telling, to make us the people we are today. So I started a magazine called Coastal Chronicles. And the idea was we would, Phil Gerard can tell you about this, the concept of creative nonfiction. That's kind of what we were trying to go for with Coastal Chronicles. We told true factually accurate stories about the history of the Cape Fear and the North Carolina coast, but we tried to write it the way a fiction writer or a storyteller would, so it's not the same dry names and dates you got out of your schoolbooks. These same people that say they don't like history will go and watch a movie like "The Patriot", or "Gettysburg" or "Gone with the Wind." And granted, those are historical fiction, but the settings those movies are in are historical fact. The Revolution did happen. There was a guy like Mel Gibson's character, Francis Marion. Sherman did burn Atlanta. Gettysburg did happen. North Carolinians were the only ones to reach the wall on the other side of Picket's Charge. They'll go and watch a movie like that and really enjoy it, be touched by it, but they don't like history.

Rodrigues: Is that because the initial aspect has been taken out of history?

Jack Fryar: I think so.

Rodrigues: There's no connection?

Jack Fryar: I think so, yeah. They present it as dry, academic names and dates, you know, and that's not how you capture peoples' imaginations. That's fine for a dictionary entry, but if you want to understand the sacrifice of the people that came before you, if you want to understand the things that your forefathers did and gave up and endured so that we, as a people will endure, then you can't do that without trying to communicate some of the emotion. And besides that, it's just poor form. How are you going to take a kid? In North Carolina, you're required to learn state history in fourth and eighth grade. It's a law. Now there's a couple of problems with that. One, beyond textbooks, you really don't have much material to help you teach that history. And two, most of the teachers seem to be from somewhere else these days, so they don't even have the native North Carolinian's passing familiarity with state history. But the books that you do have, how are you going to capture an eight, nine, ten years olds imagination with the Battle of Gilford Courthouse happened on yada, yada, yada, yada. You can't do that. You've got to make, you've got to paint them a picture. You've got to tell them a story. Southerners are famous for being storytellers. Well that's what you've got to do. I remember seeing a movie one time. It was called "Teacher" with Nick Nolte and JoBeth Williams and Richard-- I can't even remember the guy's last name now, but he was a comedian of the time. He had been on "Soap", the old '70's sitcom. He was a nut. He had escaped from a loony bin and wanders into this high school, and they think he's a substitute teacher, so they give him a history class. And so over the next week, the guy comes in and he's teaching these high schoolers, these inner city high schoolers about Washington crossing the Delaware. He comes dressed as Washington, you know, and he's got the desks arranged. And these are things that stick in a kid's mind. You're painting them a picture of something bigger than life. So that's what we tried to do with Coastal Chronicles. Historical tourism is one of the biggest economic contributors to the economy of southeastern North Carolina, as many or more people come here for our history, as they do our golf courses or our beaches. So Coastal Chronicles, we were doing 10,000 a month. It was, again, a free one, but it drew on a local advertising base, so it was a little more stable. Coastal Chronicles, we do 10,000 a month. We put them out at historic sites, and museums, and restaurants and places like that, where in five to seven days, they were gone. I had literally, the first year, 300 phone calls from area teachers wanting to get back issues, to get the stories they missed, because they were using these magazines to teach history in the class.

Rodrigues: So you put it out really for visitors, but you found that the locals-

Jack Fryar: Well I knew locals would want it too, because like I said, for native born southerners, who we were is a big part of who we are. I mean there's, I noticed in the bookstores there's a voracious appetite for North Carolina history. We've got, like I said, four centuries of great stories to tell, and its things that just capture peoples' imagination. If you live in historic downtown and you're from Buffalo, New York or someplace like that, but you bought a place in downtown Wilmington, and your friends and relatives come to visit you and you can point to the place across the street, or maybe the house that you're living in and say, "You know, back in 1864, yada, yada, yada." Learning the history of a place is part of the assimilation process when you move here. So I'm doing Southern, uh, Coastal Chronicles, I was doing pretty much a one-man show. I was doing everything. I was writing the stories, doing the graphics and layouts, selling the ads, doing the distribution. I did everything except put the magazine on the printing press.

Rodrigues: Do you find when you put on your writer's hat or when you put on your publisher's hat that you have equal joy doing both?

Jack Fryar: I do, I enjoy, on the editing side, I enjoy coming across a manuscript that captures me. And if it catches me, it's a good story. I think immediately, I can sell this. This is something that deserves to be published and I get excited about that. Then when I'm designing the book, I still do all of my own graphics and stuff. I design all the books that Dram Tree Books and Whittler's Bench Press does. When I put together a book and I do a really good cover, sometimes I'll do four, five, six different covers, trying to find the one. But when I find the one, I know that's the one. That will sell books. That will catch peoples' eye. So many small presses and self-published books, they have lousy covers on them. You can have the Bible, you can have the next Gospel given to you by the hand of Jehovah, Himself, but if you don't have a cover on it that prompts someone to pick it up, you might as well give it up, because as good as your book is, covers are equally important. I know writers don't want to hear that, but if you've done this for a living, if you've sold books for a living, you know that. That's why you want a face out a book on the shelf as often as possible. You want it to be head high as often as possible, because people don't like to bend down to pick up a book. We ignore what's below our knees. I've got one writer writing for me. Her name is actually Suzanne Williams, but her penname is Suzanne Adair, so when it comes to putting them on the shelf, it's up there at the top.

Rodrigues: I actually agree with that.

Jack Fryar: Yeah, it's right and this is the bookseller in me. I know these things, because I've sold books. But the cover is the first thing, is the first impression a buyer, a reader has of your book. It's the first thing that makes you want to pick it up and look at it, and read the jacket copy and maybe skim the first few pages or whatever. If they don't pick it up, they're not going to buy it, so covers are immensely important. I really get a kick out of doing a good cover that if it registers with me; I know its going to register with other people. I enjoy doing all of it. I enjoy doing the writing. The writing side of it, when I'm working on stories for, say, the Coastal Chronicles volumes, the first Coastal Chronicles was a compilation of all the stories from the first year of the magazine, and it went over really well. They're all magazine linked pieces. They cover all four centuries of North Carolina coastal history, so you've got pirate stories, and Civil War, and Revolutionary War and plantations. It's all in there. What we do is we actually take the time to tell you a story. We tell it true. We take a real event. When a fiction writer sits down, they create out a whole cloth, settings, and characters and situations for these characters to find themselves in, and dialogue and all these other things. Those are the building blocks that a fiction writer creates out of their mind. They create it out of whole cloth. Well there's no reason why you can't take real people, and real events, and real things that happened to them and use those as the building blocks, the elements of your story and tell a true story, but just tell it like a storyteller would. And if you do that, you've got something people like. So Chronicles One was the first year of the stories from the magazine. Chronicles Two was a whole new group of stories. And I can get it finished in time, this Christmas; Chronicles Volume Three will be out. I try to do a new one every two or three years of those. But the writing part of it, you know, when I'm sitting there working on those stories, I've done my research and now I'm sitting down and I'm trying to find the best place to start that story, you know, where do I start telling the story of what happened here. Like last year, in Chronicles Two, when I was telling the story of The Battle at Moore's Creek, I started with Richard Caswell walking down the slope of the hill at Moore's Creek there. And while his men are rushing to charge against the highlanders, they just cut loose with a volley of muskets and cannon fire, and they've just shredded. And Richard Caswell, as his men are attacking the highlanders, chasing them back to where they came from, Caswell was walking down this slope, you know, and he finds the body of Donald McLeod, who is shredded with like 20 pieces of shot. This guy was just riveted. He's admiring this guy's courage, and actually a little saddened at the fact that it had to come to this. When I started the writing part of it, I tried to get inside these peoples' heads, you know, what if I was one of the riflemen behind that berm, or what if I was one of the highlanders who was having to charge up into what was a kill sighting? It was an infantryman's wet dream. The ground was sure death for anybody that made that charge, but they still did it. They made the charge. And I'd get myself lost in the stories sometimes. Another hazard is when you're doing the research part of it, you'll go into research Moore's Creek and you'll come across something else about Flora McDonald or something, and two hours later, you're off on a tangent and haven't done the research for what you came in to find in the first place. I only half jokingly tell people that I do what I do, because it gives me a great way to spend time at historic sites, and in museums, and libraries and take it all off my taxes. That's only a half joke, you know, because I'm never happier than when I'm in the sites, doing the research. And actually doing the writing, sometimes, is a little bit of a letdown. The fun part, to me, is going out and walking the ground, or finding the old accounts of the battle, and digging through the archives and things like that.

Rodrigues: How much research goes into each story or each book?

Jack Fryar: That's hard to say. I mean a lot of it depends on what you're writing about. If you're writing about an isolated incident, say, the Moore's Creek campaign, The Battle of Moore's Creek only lasted five to ten minutes. You can go in and research that, maybe, in a few days. In a couple of days, you can dig out everything you need. But if you expand that to try and tell the story of Wilmington and the lower Cape Fear during the Revolution, you've got a much bigger thing on your plate, because Moore's Creek was just one isolated incident. Four years later, Wilmington was actually occupied by James Craig and the 82nd Regiment afoot, and they were here for eight months. And it was an intrical part of Cornwallis' southern campaign, which involves King's Mountain and cow pens and The Battle of Gilford Courthouse, and Cross Creek. And so you can't tell the Wilmington story without touching on this other stuff, too. There comes a point you could spend all of your time in research, but there comes a point when you know inside that you've got enough. This is enough. You've got enough to write your story now. And if it turns out into the story that you're trying to make a point, or you're trying to get to write something that you don't know the answer to, well then you can go back and try to dig out the answer to that specific question. I seem to know intuitively when I've got enough to write what I need. And like I said, if it turns out you do need more, well that's why they have libraries and archives. You can go and see them more than once and find what you do need.

Rodrigues: Do you get most of your research from the libraries and the archives? What are your sources?

Jack Fryar: Libraries, archives, I've got a pretty substantial library of my own now of North Carolina history. The Internet is a very useful tool. The caveat with that is if you pull something from the Internet, you need to be able to confirm it from other sources, because while it's a useful tool and most of what you find off the Internet is for real, there are instances, and they're not rare instances where that's not the case. So if you're going to use a resource from the Internet, you need to be able to confirm it from somewhere else. I'll talk to experts in the field. If I want to know something about Civil War cannons, Ray Flowers, down at Fort Fisher is an expert on it. I'll go down and ask him, "How does a 150 pound Armstrong gun work?" If I want to know about bagpipers, you know, Major Cohen, who is one of the reenactors[ph?] that always comes to Moore's Creek, he's a piper and I'll go and find out from him. There are people, who, as hobbies, are really into this. They live this stuff. They breathe it and they don't mind talking to you. They're just like any other craftsmen. They love talking about what they do. If they weren't that way, they wouldn't be reenactors[ph?] to begin with. So, you know, you need to find out what your questions are first, and then you need to find out who or where can I go to find the answers to this. And I'll tell you, the, you'll find that it's a networking thing, too. For instance, if I'm doing research on something for Wilmington and Hanover County, the first place I always go is the North Carolina Room down at the Hanover County Library. They've got two, they've got an excellent history room down there. And the two librarians there, Beverly Tetterton and Joe Sheppard are encyclopedias, because they do this day in and day out. They're encyclopedias of knowledge about the history of southeastern North Carolina, especially. And the thing is if they don't know the answer, they probably know who does. So even if they can't answer the question, they can probably point me in the direction of somebody who can, so that's always my first stop whenever I'm doing research on something in this area. So, there's any number of resources. There's state resources, there's Library of Congress, there's the National Archives, there's places like UNCW's special collection. UNCW has a federal repository library, so there's federal records here, county courthouses, people whose kinfolk, you know, were involved in these things that I'm trying to write about. If you're going to write about this sort of stuff, if you want to write about anything, you've got to be inquisitive. You've got to be able to ask somebody a question, and you've got to be able to ferret things out. I can write about anything in the world, as long as I've done the research to at least make the reader think I know what I'm talking about. The research is one of the most fun things for me. It really is.

Rodrigues: Have you found that in doing all this research, and meeting all these people, and coming into contact with all these different sources, that actually, most people go their entire lives without knowing are available to them, have you found that you've become a resource, yourself, for other writers?

Jack Fryar: I am. People keep asking me to come and talk to them about episodes out of North Carolina history. I talked last weekend to the old New Hanover Genealogical Society about the Cape Fear during the Revolutionary War, because in the process of doing this research, I'm actually learning it, myself. Chris Fondle (ph?) is a history professor here at UNCW. He's a friend of mine. And Chris has introduced me before, on more than one occasion, as a historian. I don't consider myself a historian. I'm a writer. I'm a publisher. If I'm anything in the way of a historian, I'm an enthusiastic amateur. I don't have a history degree. I don't have any credentials like that, but I know the stories of the place that I live, and I know it better than most people do. Just from the course of growing up with it and then writing about it for the last six years, I'm starting to know Wilmington history pretty good. I don't know everything. That's one of the things that keeps it fresh and fun is I'm always stumbling across something that I didn't know. But I know more than your average guy on the street. I sell books every year at Books-A-Million. We set up from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, and I'm there every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., every day except Sunday, through Christmas Eve, and we sell a ton of books there. But we'll get people that come through and as they come in the door, I'll greet them and say are you interested in Wilmington history, or Cape Fear history, or North Carolina history? And I have to bite my tongue for the ones that reply with something like, "No, I grew up here. I already know it all." I have to bite my tongue, because I grew up here too, and I don't know it all. I make my living off this and I don't know it all. When I get people like that, I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Oh yeah? Well let's see what you do know," and then give them a real quick quiz right there, because the object is to sell books, not alienate potential readers. But it really annoys me when people are like that. A simple no, thank you would do fine. Don't display your ignorance by making an answer like that. That really gets my goat, because there is no way any one person can know everything about any place's history. There's no way, no way. It can't be done. There's two centuries of history in Wilmington. There's four centuries of North Carolina history dating back to 1550-something, 1560-something. And you might know a lot of it. You might know more than the average guy on the street, but there's no way you know it all. When you're closed-minded like that, it gets my goat. It brings the jarhead out of me a little bit. (laugh)

Rodrigues: Tell me a little bit about your young readers section and how that came about, and the importance of that for North Carolina.

Jack Fryar: Well like I was saying earlier, in North Carolina, you're required by state law to learn state history in fourth and eighth grade. But beyond the textbooks, there's not a whole lot of material to help a teacher, or a parent, or a grandparent or whoever fulfill that obligation. I've told you that when I was doing the magazine, 300 calls from people wanting back issues, and 60 or 70 of those were teachers who were using the magazine in the class. I've literally had people at that Books-a-Million thing that I do every year, school teachers come up and grab me by my collars and say, "Please, God, give me something to help me teach these kids. I'm from Michigan. I don't know a damn thing about North Carolina history." And they certainly don't get it in the textbooks. The textbooks try to cover four centuries of stuff in a finite number of pages, and so they just touch on the high points-- the Stamp Act happened in 1765, and then in 1780, Wilmington was occupied-- if you even get that. Usually, it's just Moore's Creek, and Battle at Gilford Courthouse, and then Fort Fisher, and Bentonville, and then the Wright Brothers, you know, but it doesn't really go into the cool stuff that actually teaches them something. So I decided last year, well, why can't I do a series of books that will give a teacher something to actually teach these kids with, so the idea behind a young reader's series. We're going to try and do three to six of them a year. They're all 32 to 64 pages long. They all use historic photos and artwork, original photos and art, very colorful, very visual books, because kids are so visually oriented these days. And then we tell them the story, without weighing them down with a lot of detail that and 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13-year old is going to forget, anyway. For instance, with the Fort Fisher book, which was the first one that I did, a 10-year-old doesn't need to know it was the 37th New York Regiment that forced a breach at Fort Fisher in 1865. They just need to know the Yankees forced a breach. Each of the books have a glossary, to help them with words they may not be familiar with, because for instance, when I was trying to describe the fence around Fort Fisher, I couldn't think of a word to do it, other than palisade. And once I wrote palisade, I was like we're going to have to put a glossary in here, too, so I can tell a kid what a palisade fence is. The books range in price from $10 to $13, so it's inexpensive. And it's something that gives a kid the story of what happened at a place, without weighing them down with stuff that's just going to run in one ear and out the other. If they want to know later on what regiment forced the breach, well I've got books that will do that, too. But this is a way for parents, teachers, educators, anybody whose interested in passing along history to a kid, it's a way for them to introduce them to it inexpensively, and in a way that's going to capture the kid's imagination. The books we have out now are on Fort Fisher. We've done one for Moore's Creek. I just did one for the pirates of North Carolina. In the coming year, I'll do one on the yellow fever epidemic in 1862 that killed off a third of Wilmington. We'll tell the Fort Johnston story. Fort Johnston is in Southport. It's North Carolina's first fort and it's the only place in North Carolina that has served under the flags of three different countries. We'll also do the gold rush. The first gold rush in the United States happened in North Carolina. I mean four centuries of stories, I can do these until I'm 110 and not run out of material. We at Books-A-Million, the first one was the Fort Fisher book, and Books-a-Million ordered in 200 copies for last year's Christmas book selling, but they lost them on the warehouse floor. They didn't get them to us until six days before Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve being the end of the book signing thing. But still, of that 200 copies, I sold 177 of them in six days. People were grabbing them up. And $10 for a book, that's chump change in a bookstore, especially when you're buying a kid's book. I have great hopes for the two additional titles that will be available this year. So far, I've written all three of the kids' books, but as awareness of it spreads, I'm hoping that writers from other parts of the state will contact me with, "Let me do one about gold rush." "Let me do one about the tobacco industry up around Durham," and other areas of the state that I'm not as familiar with as I am Cape Fear and coastal North Carolina, if I can get other writers to do those. You're talking, there's a maximum of two paragraphs per page in these things, so if you're doing a 64-page book, you're talking what, 120 paragraphs. Come on. You've written book reports with more than that, you know. So it's an easy book to do, and I think it's a formula that's going to work well. Part of why I do what I do is because I think it's incumbent on people like me, who do have a love of North Carolina history, of Cape Fear and Wilmington history to pass that along, because kids are going to be the next link in the chain. Anyway, that's the deal with the kids' books.

Rodrigues: Well, you seem very excited about everything that you do. I think it's wonderful that you can live a life so filled with passion. I want to thank you for being here with us today, and for sharing your experience and your history, and a lot of North Carolina's history with us. Thank you so much.

Jack Fryar: You're welcome.

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