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Title:
Interview with Bill McIlwain, October 18, 2007
Date:
October 18, 2007
Description:
Bill McIlwain, former editor of Newsday and author of Dancing Naked with the Rolling Stones: A Life in News and Goodbye to Booze, offers an in-depth discussion of his career in newspaper journalism including anecdotes from his personal, academic, and professional life.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  McIlwain, Bill Interviewer:  Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview:  10/18/2007 Series:  SENC Writers Length  60 minutes

 

Diesenhaus: If you could just say one thing to-

Bill McIlwain: Sure. How does it sound?

Diesenhaus: Very good.

Bill McIlwain: Very good.

Diesenhaus: Just to start off, I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today, October 18, 2007, I'll be interviewing Bill McIlwain for the Randall Library Oral History Project on Creative Writers. Perhaps a good place to get started is to talk about how you got your start in writing. How did you come to...?

Bill McIlwain: Well, it really started with a tenth grade English teacher in New Hanover High School. She said-- we were just writing these little things you call themes, and she said "I think you could be a good writer," and no one had ever spoken to me one way or the other and I think that got me started. And then in eleventh grade I had another great teacher where we wrote a fair amount and it was right before-- about a year before I went in the service-- and so jobs on the newspaper-- I got one as Sports Editor when I was 17. I really didn't know anything about it. I thought she wrote it out in longhand and got it just right and typed it up, and they said "Oh, you just sit right down there and write it," but, so that was a great break, you know. So when I got out of the service I just kept on going with newspapers. Then I went to college and then writing newspapers ever since, just sort of writing books and magazines in little windows of time. Once had a fellowship for a year and another time I've been in rehab for alcoholism, so I started a book then and then finished it when I got out. So, that sort of brings me right up to now.

Diesenhaus: What was it like being so young in the newsroom? How did people react to you? How old were you?

Bill McIlwain: 17. I was a senior in high school. They were very good to me and I learned a lot about how people would treat you, and I learned it even more when I got out of the marines and was 19 and went to Jacksonville Florida as a police reporter, and knew nothing about it. I mean, I just had probably been in a police station, but knew nothing and found then that, you know, people are not only willing to help you, but were glad to; the old police matrons and detectives and things. So I was over my head. I was over my head for about the first 15 years I think, but people are always kind, you know, if you say "I need your help" or even indicated. So, I learned as I went along.

Diesenhaus: The police reporting. I'm curious about the process. Were you gathering a lot of concrete details and then turning them into a story or were you writing?

Bill McIlwain: Go down. I guess it's still the same way, but of course they're blocking it a lot now. I'd go to the police station and, you know, check around and look at the records and things, and I really didn't even know exactly what-- because I had an experience down there that stuck in my mind too-- you've got a tough city editor down there. I think in the forties a lot of them were still sort of like front page, or thought they should be; it's a big old guy. So I thought I had a good story-- I probably repressed it-- I don't know exactly what it was but I suspect it was one like, you know, these national scandal papers used to come through the area. So it's probably lewd or lascivious or something and so I wrote it, you know, and thought I really had a good one and-- because the floors were cement then so that, you know, if you smoke you could just grind out your cigarette on the floor, but he called out my name and I walked up, he came around the desk-- big old guy, Jim Baker-- and he took the copy and he wadded it up, threw it on the floor and jumped up and down on it, you know. He said "I don't ever want to see a story like this again." He said "Do you understand?" I said "Yes, sir." I didn't know what he didn't like, but I lived through it and then went to Charlotte Observer, back into sports just briefly and then after that it was mostly-- after I got out-- I wrote sports through college in Wake Forest and got out and started writing the news, and I guess overall maybe was a reporter about ten years, then spent about 50 as an editor. So, I like the move. I mean, a lot of people really don't. I mean, they either enjoy one or the other and I enjoyed them.

Diesenhaus: Is there a difference in how you approached it? You liked them equally, but did you approach them, but are they different worlds?

Bill McIlwain: I think, you know, I think really-- and of course a lot of my life has been an accident. I mean, I suppose lots of peoples' lives have been, but I was working on the Times Dispatch in Richmond and trying to get to New York and wasn't having much luck, but one night or one day a Managing Editor said there was an Assistant Nights Editor that was sick, and he'd like me to work a couple nights on the city desk, and this guy died, so he didn't come back, but I worked about six months like that and I found that I somehow liked something about the whole paper. In other words I liked the writing, and I always liked it just as much, but you can't do both, so Newsday, which was a young paper then just booming and starting to grow, asked me if I would come up as a Chief Copy Editor; they never had one. I know they won a Pulitzer, but the paper was poorly edited, and I knew how to do that. I mean, I didn't really know much about headlines and things, but I knew how to read whether something's right or wrong, and so I did it, and I was good at it I guess, and I just sort of rose through all of it; News Editor and, you know, Assistant Managing Editor, Managing Editor, and become Editor of the paper. I went into rehab for alcoholism, went to Wake Forest again, there was (inaudible), and then went into rehab from there. And I came back out and got a job in Toronto which was a great place, and they always sort of looked up to people who worked around New York, you know, so I got along well there. Then-- I won't go through them all unless you want me to. I worked in all I guess 13 papers.

Diesenhaus: And you also said in your youth you lived in a lot of places.

Bill McIlwain: That was mostly my father during the depression was chasing whiskey during the prohibition in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Boats come across from Demeny [ph?] speed boats and he was with the Customs. He'd chase them down. So he got moved about and came to Wilmington in, I guess it was '38, 1938, went to high school.

Diesenhaus: You were talking about moving around when you were young and what your father was doing. Do you think, as you've become a writer, do you think that where you live has an effect on your writing? Is there any correlation?

Bill McIlwain: I think, you know, not everything you ever learn has some effect and of course these are very different places: Miami, Alabama, you know, Birmingham-- what we'd call Little Washington--, here in this state Washington and, you know, a couple of other places briefly. So yea, I think that was because at that point I wasn't thinking about, you know, what I was going to do. I wanted to be a major league baseball player, so I was glad I had a fallback position as a writer.

Diesenhaus: I read in your book a little bit about why you couldn't be a major league baseball player.

Bill McIlwain: Yea, I couldn't. I mean, there were reasons I probably would have never made it to the majors. I mean, lots of reasons; probably all of them across the board: throwing, hitting and anything else. But I couldn't hit a left handed pitch to save me. You know, I was left handed and, you know, good high school, American Legion career, but I didn't hold out a lot of hope. The fact is, pretty soon you know that. I mean, if you're not really hot stuff where you are, you're not going to go very far, so it wasn't anything I was greatly disappointed about.

Diesenhaus: Your first job was in sports writing and I wonder, was there a connection between your love and interest in baseball and that being the first thing to focus on?

Bill McIlwain: That helped immensely because at least I knew that much. I mean, I knew something about sports. I didn't exactly know how to write, and was working on the newspaper, high school newspaper, and that was really my experience. So-- and of course at the time I really thought that's what I wanted to be, you know? It's interesting how your life changes. I mean, that's what I thought I wanted to be. I look back at it and I think, you know, how narrow it would have been for my life.

Diesenhaus: Do you remember what kind of stories you were writing? Were you writing more news based stories or were you trying to turn them into person or character based stories?

Bill McIlwain: Here at this paper?

Diesenhaus: Anything. I guess something, sports writing. What were you?

Bill McIlwain: It was pretty narrow and pretty shallow really. I mean it was mostly, you know, event oriented or game oriented and also there weren't many good sports writers. There never are very many, but there are very, very few in the south and so I didn't see the New York writers or California and everything, so down here it was just heavy with clichés, you know. I thought you called a baseball a horse high or an apple or a rock, or anything and the same way with all the, you know, the first suckers and the keystone bag, all that kind of stuff, so-- and there weren't too many people helping me in that way. I mean, it was not a very big staff but they, you know-- I learned something. I always learned a little bit. When I came out-- I don't even remember now whether I was looking for a sports job in Jacksonville, Florida or whether-- I couldn't have been looking for the police piece so I'm sort of piecing it together now. I remember the guy-- it was a temporary thing. He said "Well, he's gone to New York with the Golden Gloves team so he could work two weeks," so I worked and got along ok. So, then I guess I kind of liked news and-- but after college it wasn't any question, you know, that that's what I wanted to do.

Diesenhaus: Moving out of sports, did that feel like a kind of freedom?

Bill McIlwain: It did, it really did, and I had just a terrific editor. I know it more in my old age than I did-- because I didn't have a lot of comparisons, but in Winston Salem there was an afternoon paper, probably 30,000 circulation, the Twin City Sentinel-- dead now-- and so I had worked there a couple of summers and then when I got out, that was when I really went into news and, you know, I used to think well, to really be good people and to have to have gone to New York or something, but a lot of people just wanted to be where they were, and this was a guy who, you know, really knew how to write and he knew how to deal with me. I'd watch him, you know, because I was still learning about writing news and he said, "You know Mac"--because by then I had started bartering them about, I mean I just wrote some series and stuff, all kind of stuff, but he called me Mac and he said "You know Mac," he said "You're a pretty good writer," he said "I'd just take off these first couple graphs where you're clearing your throat," and so that's sort of how I learned to write leads I guess. Of course, the styles have changed a lot. In recent years there's a lot more of what they call people leads, or narrative leads or narrative stories, you know, but I guess I, you know, I really did some good stuff at that little paper and I think that freedom was what really helped me. I was starting to get some touches on the stories and that sort of thing.

Diesenhaus: Talking about the people leads and narratives that you see now, are you fond of those, or are you critical of them?

Bill McIlwain: I like some of them pretty well. I think some of them are stretching or reaching, you know, and aside from that I think that some things you just really should, you know, tell straight forward, but it was a great advance, really, I think. I mean when the whole thing came of-- particularly people who do it well, you know, of how they would-- I remember the early ones that I started noticing and I probably was off the papers by then because I first really think I was back here-- I came back here 17 years ago, and you'd see somebody that would take a very complicated program about drug prices or something-- that's just an example-- and would have a person, you know, and get that person going and then get the numbers and that and so on, so I was really attracted to that, still am.

Diesenhaus: You talked about the editor in Winston Salem being a real positive force for you. I wonder, were there other things that he did, or you said he knew how to work with you. What were the? How did he relate to you?

Bill McIlwain: It was mostly that of the he'd kid me and humor me, you know sort of-- but not chide me exactly, but I mean it was sort of-- I never took well to, whether they were coaches or sort of pounding on me because I was always very aware of failure and what I wasn't doing well; football, baseball. So, in other words I did a lot better with that editor than I did with the one that jumped up and down on the story you see, because I really-- as I said I didn't understand how it really was when I was-- Like I said, I was about 20 then or 21, something like that. But, you know, I knew enough to appreciate him and it's remarkable looking back at it, the kind of freedom I had, because it wasn't a big staff, but he let me-- You know, I did a prison series and things like that that were really good stuff. So that's how I got to Richmond. I got to Richmond, you know, as a reporter, and then as I said the editing just came about.

Diesenhaus: Are there other people who have either represented good working experiences or bad working experiences throughout your career?

Bill McIlwain: Well, it's probably more in editing, but Newsday at the time was owned by Alicia Paterson and Harry Guggenheim, and it's an unusual place because you know, they both had money they were really interested in news, and she was the Madeals [ph?] and the McCormicks and Patersons. Her father started the New York News, and she was just a remarkable woman. In fact, that was the first time that consciously that I ever thought about that I could help people write better. She always got out-- you know, relatively small staff then compared to later, but she always got out in the city room, you know, talked to people, and so she said to me one time-- and I hadn't been there too long-- she said "I understand you can help people write better." I had never thought much about it one way or another-- kind of like the English teacher, you know, who said "I think you could be a writer," and so I started I guess thinking to myself then that I could help people write and that also made editing a lot more fun, you know. So she had a big effect on me that way, and had a big effect on me especially as an editor was of if you let people know they're doing well-- and you always have to let them know when they aren't, but I mean I think, you know, my experience with her was-- just a charming smart woman and everybody in the newsroom was crazy about her, you know. The captain, her husband was a little less lovable, but he was alright.

Diesenhaus: Looking back, do you see that as a big break in your career? Was there another moment that was more of a turning point?

Bill McIlwain: I think it was really going there, you know, as an editor. That was really my first-- because I hadn't worked in six months on that city desk, so I think that was what-- and liking it and, you know, doing well at it and then as I said I just had a series of promotions on the paper, but so that was pretty much-- I still wanted to write, but-- I wrote a column there once a week for about three years, and I'd wind up writing it, you know, in the middle of the night when I'd finished everything else. So they worked out well. You can't really, you know, edit your life much because this thing leads to something else, and so maybe ideally I'd have done more of both, but I couldn't.

Diesenhaus: Earlier on you talked about your life coming about by accident. Have you appreciated it? Is it something you like or would you wish that you had more of a grand plan perhaps?

Bill McIlwain: Well for me it turned out so well, at least in my judgment. It's pleasing to me, and it seems sort of impossible that I would have had-- For instance I would never have gotten to Toronto except sort of by accident because they thought they would start a morning tabloid and I had already gone into rehab, and Bill Moyers was the publisher while I was the editor of Newsday. Both of us about three years like that, and so I guess somebody had, from the Star, call and got Moyers. The guy called me, he said "Bill Moyers said you know about tabloids more than anybody in America" which really wasn't so. I don't know how you would know. I knew something about them, so I went up there and it turned out in the end that they got afraid of-- I think they call them bylaws or something. But they had already put the afternoon paper out of business, and it sort of looked as if it had squeezed them, and so they decided that starting an afternoon tabloid might just be the sort of the thing to really get the government on them, so they didn't start it. But, I liked Toronto. I enjoyed it, and so I said "I'd like to stay up here," so I stayed up there about two years. So a whole lot of my life has been like that. Next job, same thing. I went to the Bergen Record because there was a man still there who wanted to make it a lot like Newsday and had a lot of money and-- extraordinary situation because-- not totally, but pretty close. We hired for a long time just as by real what we could determine as desire and intelligence, and so I hired people who, you know-- one of them was studying Congreve at the University of Chicago, who's the Editor of the Orlando paper now, and about 35 of those real young ones. It was a big, big staff for that size paper. We had about 190 in the newsroom and so I had some good editors, and if you have good editors then you can, you know, you can train the reporters. We had a few reporters, but most of them were really people who-- as I say a lot of them are world class now; probably 30 or 40 of them, I see their names. Some of them are middle-aged now. In fact on that book, several of them just became real good writers. You know, Evan Thomas who wrote a real good book about Bobby Kennedy. He was just so bright. Howard Kurtz, Howie they called him. So almost all my life-- I mean, I was trying to think as we were talking, I must have done some things that I set out and say "Well I'm going to go see about this," and then some of the others were firings where I would-- Like I had gone to-- They asked me if I would speak to the New York Publishers at Cooperstown, and you know I had heard a lot of bad speeches in my life. I was still young, but I had heard a lot of bad ones, and so-- and I've never given many but I didn't want to give a bad one, and so I took that paper-- Because they wanted to know-- I mean, the paper really had become a exceptional paper. We had about, I don't know, about five zoned editions of it and all sorts of specialties and things in there, you know, spectator sports and all kinds of stuff, and so I went up there and gave the talk and Guy Hurst-- I didn't even know him then, but he heard me and so he called me and he said "Do you want to go to Baltimore where they own the paper or to Boston?" I said "Well I don't know, I'll think about it," and I wasn't in any hurry to leave. I was having a pretty good time. I had been there about three years. But one day the owner, who was a blunt sort of fellow-- I talked to him after the book was about to come out. I told him, I said "You know, I had good years up there and really appreciate it," Anyway, he said "You gotta be out of here by March 9," and I think it was a month, and I said "Ok." He said "You just keep on working. I won't say anything about it." I said "I won't say anything about it." So I called Guy Hurst and I said "I want to go to Boston," and he said "Well, you want to talk about it?" I said "No, I don't want to talk about it. I want to go to Boston." So I went to Boston. They were going to-- they had put together about five papers. There was a strange amalgamation who Old Harold won a Pulitzer in Coolidge's time and the Record, a Hearst paper in America and The Traveler and all that, so put them all together and, you know, said he was really going to make a run on The Globe, but The Globe was just such a dominant paper then and he made the paper better. What I really found-- Because that was a beginning sort of what my second wife said, "You're on the outlaw circuit now," because I would go to papers that were in trouble, and went to the Washington Star from there, which has been a big great paper one time, it's gone downhill, Little Rock. So I found it exciting. I mean, you know, the first couple years on a paper is when you really, at least to me, you know that's where you can really just do the biggest stuff you're going to do. But failing papers were never bailed out because advertising shifts out of-- of course all of this is off the boards now because they all kind of had a bad time, but advertising-- For instance, we weren't that much behind The Post for a while in Washington in circulation, but the advertising would have been about-- we got 26 percent and they got 74, and that had been true in most of the markets and so, you know, at once place I did go and it wasn't a failing paper but when the Times bought Sarasota, I mean there was things in between. I went back to Newsday to start New York Newsday which was really-- that may be, I don't know, certainly a high point in my life, because I felt like I had left there in shame, and I had. I mean, this sort of white collar firing, I mean Moyers had asked Wake Forest if they wanted to have any writers and residents he'd pay my salary. I didn't know it at first, but I found that out. He and I get along well. I mean, I talk to him a little bit, but anyway, you know, so much of it has just been kind of-- I guess once I got the shot at it I did it pretty well, but it really wasn't so much-- You know, all those things I've already told you and most of them are like that. The same way in Little Rock where-- they've got a great, great paper one time. The, back when they won maybe two Pulitzers with the integration of the schools there. Great Editor. But they had just let it go downhill and I think most publishers don't know how much money it's going to cost to fix something. Because actually, you really can't fix them but you have to try and so he said the same thing. He said "I want you out of here by Christmas." He said "We're just not getting along well at all," and, you know, Memorial Day, so I figured by Christmas I could have a job, and did. That's when I went back to New York. So I've sort of been that way, been that way, been that way. I mean when I was here-- I guess I had been back-- Because this wouldn't be more than probably six, seven years ago. I lose track of time, but the editor right before this present one, Allen Parsons who was a good man, and he knew me and he said "You want to start talking to some of the people once a week, just have lunch with them." I said "What are we going to talk about?" He said "Anything you want to." So that was something I would have-- Because most of the time I would have never gone fooling around in the newsroom. You know, if I were an editor I wouldn't want somebody else messing with my paper, but he and I got along well, so it has just been wonderful because I see all the young ones come now, you know. I had lunch yesterday with a woman in the Brunswick edition and she'd be good. It's different. Like she's not the boss. They'll tell you some things they wouldn't, and I can tell them some stuff.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk about coming back here and why you chose to come back here and what it's been like?

Bill McIlwain: Well I left, that would have been '44, my sister stayed here and married and had three children, has three children, and so I always have been, still am, crazy about her and all of them. She's two years older. And so, the whole time I was in the north and my mother later moved back here too, so I'd come to visit and I knew that I didn't want to retire in a cold place. The Times asked me about going to Sarasota. I thought, for a while I thought well maybe that's where, you know, but I didn't-- I liked Sarasota. Really did a lot with that paper, and it was an interesting place, but you know, this really-- again, this was sort of by chance. That same publisher who said I had until Christmas, he gave me a severance of $130,000.00 I think. I don't know exactly what it was, but I bought this house, bought the house for $65,000.00 like in '87, and you now it's like $680,000.00 or something, but I wasn't sure I'd get back, but then the more I thought about it, I liked the beach and I liked the town, so I had the house and came back and stayed.

Diesenhaus: Talking about talking the staff and sort of the newspaper doctor kind of role, when you come to a paper, how are you able to figure out what's wrong with it and how it could possibly try to be better, even if it may not succeed?

Bill McIlwain: Well, a lot of it, you know, it's pretty obvious. I mean, if you worked a while you can see-- The Bergen Record was a good example-- And you always recognize these things after the fact more than you do at the time, but that paper had just, you know, it seemed like everybody kind of could write whatever they wanted to write. If you were interested in turtles, then you write about turtles and if I was interested in this or that. It wasn't quite that loose, but, you know, it didn't have really any tone of where you could know "Well this is a Record story" like you kind of could most good papers. And so, that's always the first thing, and the second thing, but the hardest thing of all really-- it got easier as I got better known perhaps, but not much because-- skipping about here, but in Little Rock I said-- Because that I was trying to do, and pretty early with this-- Newsday had written broader stories, because they had a terrible deadline. It was like, we had a deadline of six in the morning and the paper was delivered by, you know, thousands of little kids; the afternoon paper. So, you kind of had a magazine feel to it, you know, and a touch, and so-- and that wasn't people leads, but that was that sort of thing that, you know, I could see work, and so in Bergen since I did have some good editors. It really was just sort of figuring out where-- and the place is hard, because there's like 70 municipalities in that county, you know, so you have to figure how do you-- you can't have narrow coverage, you know. You've got to try to get something that's broad, and then in the zoned editions, you know, a lot of little columns about this and that. So, kind of each place I learned something, but what you run into though, or did-- You know, people are kind of skeptical and they're kind of feisty, and I remember in Little Rock talking about we weren't just going to write these flat-footed-- I didn't say that, I try not to antagonize people, but-- you know, meeting stories. It's always meetings stories. I said we're going to try and write trends and bigger stories. So I said we're going to quit covering the commissioners? I said no we're not going to quit covering them, we're just going to do them different, you know. So you always kind of look around. Sometime you could find a face look like it's smiling a little bit and receptive to it, but and, you know, people were good to me. So everyplace was something like the same. Sarasota was easy because the paper was like still probably the only eight column paper left in America, family owned, and just downhill. Times really wanted to make it a good paper and so, put a lot of money in there and had a big staff for that size paper. And once you get people caught up in it, you know, it's exciting and so, you don't get much resistance.

Diesenhaus: You've mentioned rehab a few times and I've looked at your book and two of your books are about alcoholism. I want to ask, do you think drinking affected your writing and do you think your writing would have been different if you weren't drinking? Obviously during the periods of your life when you were drinking.

Bill McIlwain: Well once it gets heavy, real heavy-- I mean at least in my case and probably everybody I knew-- and it's just degrees by heavy, how heavy is it, but, you know, you certainly don't do it as well. I mean, I remember-- I never read the piece, but somebody called in around and asking writers, newspaper people or novelists or whatever, you know, "Do you drink while you're writing or do you write while you're drinking?" Well, I did, I mean so I suppose for a while just like any-- it may have opened up my mind a little bit or something, but in the end, you know, I really was just not-- and I wasn't writing then, I was editing-- but just really wasn't as good as it, you know.

Diesenhaus: So was it playing a destructive role?

Bill McIlwain: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Diesenhaus: In addition to your personal life.

Bill McIlwain: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Longest kind of time, you know, before-- and this isn't true just to me-- it's the greatest denial in the world, you know, because I was relatively young to be the editor of that paper. I guess I got to do that when I was about 43 or something like that, and I had a Newman fellowship at Harvard and I'd written a novel, and I-- you know, all this stuff, and I thought how the hell could I be an alcoholic, or how could I, you know. So that was one of the greatest things about rehab was that when I went-- I didn't know this at the time, but I was so glad I went to Buckner [ph?] which is a state thing and had all sorts of people. I mean like a school superintendent's wife and a truck driver, and a guy who couldn't read and a, you know, Wall Street Journal reporter and, so it was interesting to see the similarities in all of us, you know, and what some of lot worse shape, you know, really couldn't, you know-- didn't make much sense any more, a few of them, but, and that was-- every then and now I cast about in my mind the, you know, one of the biggest things in my life, and that certainly is one-- not just the rehab but the whole experience of it, you know. So, and I talk to people because, you know, people find out you will talk about stuff you don't go around telling everybody-- and that's kind of the same way with those newspaper people, you know. They know that I talk to those editors but they know I'm not going to tell, you know, secrets I shouldn't tell. So like the Pope or something.

Diesenhaus: There seems to be this myth that alcohol plays a big role in the myth of writers, the myth of newspaper people. Do you have any? What's that all about?

Bill McIlwain: I think it's probably a couple things. I mean one of them I can't judge about our makeup, but you know, I've always been anxious and short attention span and all sorts of things like that, so alcohol just sort of calmed me. In fact somebody said in Buckner-- and I'll get back to it, but he said "You know all of you are treating something, depression or grief or shyness or something with alcohol," and so that seemed about so to me. So, the other thing-- of course with newspapers, I mean, that's a tradition that has lasted a long, long time, of: you can drink. I mean, and I guess it still does of, you know-- we would always go out with Miss P. at lunch time, didn't go there all that often, but sometimes. She'd have two martinis; you could have a third one if you wanted to. Managing Editor come out of the Herald Examiner the same Chicago paper Dan Hathaway and written front page. Sometimes its hard to tell. He's just a wild man, you know at Newsday and I followed him. He was a Managing Editor, and so he drank all the time. would start drinking at lunch time and so, you know, the more I worked with Hathaway, the more he'd say "Come on kid let's go down to the bar." Well he didn't really have much to talk about, he just didn't want to drink by himself, you know? And so newspapers were always that way. I mean, not all of them probably as much, you know-- probably south wasn't as much as north, but I think it was sort of temperament and the fact that you could drink, you know. You could be pretty drunk to tell you the truth. I mean, you know, as long as you got your work done. We hired a guy from the Times and we hardly ever hired people off the New York papers because one, you figured they lord it over you, "Well I was on the Times," or something, and I didn't want that, but we hired him, and he was really a good Copy Editor, and then he got where he could-- about 12:00 at night-- because we'd start that desk I guess at about 9:00-- so about midnight a piece of wire copy that he want to call the Pentagon, you know? And wasn't necessarily being too much wrong with the idea-- I mean, because he knew what he was doing. I said "Man, you can't call the Pentagon now," so he was bringing it in and he'd start again. You know, everybody swore that he wasn't drinking, but he'd start bringing it in in his thermos and it didn't take long to figure that's how he was getting like that. He'd just sit there sipping that coffee until about 12:00. So that was a, you know. Just everybody was able to drink they wanted to.

Diesenhaus: I want to go back sort of jump back, I noticed that time at Wake Forest, Ihad a chance to read a little bit of The Tales of Wake Forest College, and I noticed that there's a connection to Harold Hayes, the Esquire Editor? Since he plays such a big role in the history of magazines, I wondered if you could talk about that, and also if you worked for him or considered working with Esquire and writing for them?

Bill McIlwain: I wrote one piece for him when I really was in bad shape about drinking. It turned the school bus over down South Carolina, sort of late for that kind of thing, but, so I did that piece for them. I always-- it never occurred to me-- I always avoided friends. I never hired friends. One time he called me up-- I'm skipping around too-- but he said "What am I going to do about"-- and he named a guy we had both gone to school with at Wake Forest. Wake Forest was a little campus north of Raleigh, just a tiny little thing, and I guess in that one era, just had some real, real good writers and editors and Hayes was, you know early on, just a terrific person editing the student magazine. So I worked for him some then, and of course then we went in New York, I saw him a lot, you know. But he got out ahead of me and he went to work for UPI-- was in those days United Press in Atlanta-- and he was in the legislature, and he said-- everybody got off the ground for the phones-- but he said "I got up but I don't know why. I was running," and so he was never much of a hard news man, and I wasn't either really. I mean, I didn't care that much about-- I liked politics and government. I liked it, but I liked it I guess not as much as really just good storytelling. But no, he was exceptional because-- You know, again, I mean every writer he ever worked with that I knew were good. I mean, some of the things that you see-- really the first book, I guess it was Tangerine, candy coated-- he had got hung up out there and he just had notes and he's said send me the notes and I think that's how it ran, so Wolf [ph?] was very close to him. In fact when wrote the right stuff and Hayes got in I think was maybe in California. He had a brain tumor and died I think at 62, something like that. But, Wolf [ph?] had asked him to some place and hung up and so he was really, you know, really good at that too and I always-- of course partly was the affection for him, but I felt honored. He wrote a-- I don't think wrote the whole thing-- wrote some books, most of them pretty deep, but think this made an anthology of something about Esquire and he asked if I'd take a look at it, so I fixed one for him like that, you know, tell him what was wrong with it, because, you know, you can tell what's wrong with something. Sometimes you can't do it yourself, but you can tell what's wrong. Yeah, he-- I really missed him for a long time. Still think about him.

Diesenhaus: Another kind of high profile intersection in your life was your involvement with Naked Came The Stranger. I can't help but ask a little bit about that.

Bill McIlwain: I thought that was one of the sharpest ideas I ever was involved with. It was a columnist named Mike McGrady, that was the brains of the outfit and so he was covering like Jacqueline Suzanne and a couple of the other big name writers and he came into Newsday one day and said "You know, we could write a best seller in a week. I'll tell you exactly how we'll do it. Each one of us will write a chapter, and you can't take more than a week, and I'll give you a thing that just tells you the main woman, a little bit about, you know, where she went to school or something, and each of you pick out your own person and have her destroy. She destroy him financially, sexually, socially." However, he said, but sexually is really preferred. He said "Any real good writing we'll just blue pencil it out, you know." Actually people cried pretty damn hard. I mean, you know-- and it's like there were levels of writing on the paper. There were some levels of writing in that book but he's, you know-- We all tried to write our chapters-- George Dexey [ph?] who's still writing for the Times, he wrote his in three hours because he's used to filing from the press box, you know. He just started right off-- I was the, I think City Editor by then and so-- I must have been Editor by then because Guggenheim was really-- and that hurt me. I mean that I, he felt we'd betrayed him, you know. And Moyers never said much, but I think he felt like it was wrong for the Editor of the paper to do it. I felt just the opposite and I think still would. I felt like if (inaudible) showed the work-- because most of them said "Hell, the editors can't write", you know, and I thought it sort of-- but also I was getting pretty, you know, soaked up with drinking by then and my judgment wasn't the best, but I probably still would have done it if I had. So I wrote mine in a week and got his sister in-law, a real good looking woman, Billy something and called her Penelope Ash and she would front and so sure enough, she went to Lyle Stewart and he said "Yea", you know-- good looking woman," and she's on the back of the book and a naked woman on the front, and so it went-- of course it's a pretty preposterous thing because it was a bad book. I mean, we didn't read each other's chapters or anything else. I mean, there was just no connection to it, you know, and it was just porn. I mean, probably for that time pretty, you know, pretty heavy. I mean some of it, like a couple of writers-- one of them real bad taste, you know, but some others, some good writers so it sounded pretty good but the book sold to start with and then when it came out that it was a hoax one critic called it, you know, "the literary hoax of the century", which I don't know if it was, but it was-- it didn't hurt any, and so then it went to three like on the Times Bestseller List, you know, it stayed up there pretty good. I mean, we really weren't proving anything. I mean, you know, everybody knew those writers-- We weren't great writers. They weren't as bad as our book, but they weren't the best writers in the world. But that was the rationale, and then somebody wanted to write a sequel and we all had the niche. You know, well, you're just writing a dirty book now. I mean, so we didn't do it. Tex McGrady [ph?] I heard later said, you know, "Of all the things I've done"-- and he didn't get real famous, but he was a good writer-- he said "I suspect my obit. will say that I was the man that thought up Naked Came a Stranger," so it's had legs of its own, you know. They-- I guess about three or four years ago, before Lyle Stewart died he put out another edition, so.

Diesenhaus: I want to ask you a few more questions, we're getting close to the end of this tape. Would it be okay to go to a second? So maybe four or five more questions then like maybe one or two. I guess what I want to ask about. You have such a broad range of experiences and you have come into contact with so many people who are well known people, including people you've been the boss of. You've talked a little bit about seeing their names. What is that experience like knowing your connection to these people whose lives continued on the national stage?

Bill McIlwain: It's been wonderful. I mean, I tell you I just enjoy, I mean-- a lot of time I don't think about it now if I see, you know, someone I'm seeing fairly regularly, but-- because there's probably about six on the Times I guess, maybe six, seven on the Post, some on Newsweek. But no, it's a wonderful feeling. I mean, and I didn't-- I knew what kind of effect I'd have on them but-- When Howie wrote one of the scripts that they put on the Dance of Naked Rolling Stones he said, you know, the first editor who really got me interested in it or something as a career and, you know, some were just really good. I mean, so.

Diesenhaus: Is it also a pride experience? Knowing that?

Bill McIlwain: Yeah, yeah, it is. I mean, I- I hope that it don't. I try to never get puffed up much about anything, because, you know, they're the ones, the smart ones. In fact with all of those writers, I think I probably did a lot with that man. I never even thought about it 'til we started talking-- there's a lot about that editor who helped me in Winston Salem. I always strive to encourage him. I always try to tell him that, you know, that they were good, and had that experience at Newsday about, I don't know, probably ten years now-- They asked the editors to come back up there-- and there weren't many of us, but-- and so there was a writer named Harvey Harrinson who got, you know, sort of famous-- not big, but some books and things, and so they had a banquet for all of us, and so he stood up and he said, you know, "You taught me to write," and he been on, that was a desk that we re-wrote and edited on that first desk up there and so I said "Well, you know, what I did was"-- and this was true, this wasn't modesty, but I said, "You had so much fireworks going off, you know, about all I'd ever do is say well Harv, you ought to, you know, maybe take one of those out or something," and so that sort of I think what I learned about how to help people, you know, not-- See, I knew a lot of old re-writing men, and re-writing men were just phenomenal. Most of them could say a lead better than the rest of us could sit and think of it. I mean, it was just phenomenal, but one of them, especially who's never a good editor because he'd go around to a reporter who could have kind of a flat-footed lead and he would say the lead, and he really just about-- and a lot of them got what he did-- he just sort of, whatever (inaudible) had said they'd try to put it back at him pretty much and so mine wasn't-- and I guess this is why I always kept it in mind is-- mine wasn't intelligence about doing it-- I mean, I just couldn't do it. I mean I- I was never that way. I had to fret and sweat over leads, so my whole style became just sort of telling them they had a little too much of this or not enough of that, and so I think that's why, you know, it wasn't like I thought, but I'm so damn smart here and helping all these people.

Diesenhaus: And you've, through the work you're doing for the Times Regional Group and just part of your life now, you're still doing that mentoring. Now what do you get out of it? You talk about giving, but is there something?

Bill McIlwain: Same kind of thing, really because you could always almost tell-- and there's a writer on this paper. Sam Scott I think could be a writer anywhere. Maybe someday he will be if he wants to be, but I remember the first time I ever saw him and the first story I ever saw, you know, you knew he had a hell of an imagination, and just a real approach to stuff and of course it's turned out that way. So there's a lot of that same satisfaction, and I always love to see the young ones who really like it, you know, and it's not just a job because it's not really very big money or good money at all for people who get good at it, it's not. So it's, you know, I guess I identify with him that way, but also I think that experience in Florida of seeing just how hard it is-- and even if you come out of journalism school, which I hadn't been or anything-- you're not prepared for it because-- I tell somebody sometime, I said "You know, almost more of what I talk with him about is behavior," but it's like one woman said to a Metro Editor-- he said something about being late, and she said "Well I'm always late." I said "Man, you don't tell a Metro Editor you're always late. You know, you've just got to quit being late," and this was a woman in her twenties. So a lot of it is like that. Another one, you know, got in a tough spot with a Metro Editor, tough guy, good editor, but she was sort of trying to hide, stay out of is way. I said, "You cannot hide from him." I said "You've got to get in there and embrace him," you know, "You've got to get in there and find out what they're mad about," and I said "Almost all the editors are vain anyway, and they want to know that they have an impact on your life." And so, not everybody has, you know, being sort of only way I can do it but, you know, now- now of course so much of the difficulties about newspaper work are the same. I mean, if people just not-- I worked for one real tough city editor in Richmond who was an exaggerated figure and there was a guy on the staff-- he didn't last very long, but we called him "Hot Meals", and we called him "Hot Meals" because he came in and he said "Mr. McDermott, I'd like to know what time supper hour will be because my wife is going to fix me a hot meal." Well McDermott just exploded, you know, at the idea that anybody coming to him with such matters as a hot meal. So, you know, I think I developed a lot of empathy really of knowing how bewildering it is, even for real, real smart kids. Some of them get off a lot faster than others, but it's not an easy thing, even if you've done well.

Diesenhaus: Just picking up where we left off. One question about teaching and writing in the classroom. Do you think it can be taught, or is it a different process?

Bill McIlwain: Well there's certainly a lot you won't learn until you get out and do it, but the thing that I noticed in the last job I had for the Times Company was going-- They had about 31, 32 papers then and I'd go from one paper to another and spend the week writing, because I never thought editors and writers worked together well; still don't. Don't think there's enough talk or anything, so, what it seemed to me seeing a whole bunch of young people, you know, week after week or month after month really, because I'd go to stay a week and then stay here awhile, but was of the expectations that somehow, the school hadn't prepared them well. I mean like I'd run into themes almost like that they thought-- because I remember once in Alabama of somebody talking about, you know, fun and I said well "It's not fun every day." I said, you know, "It's fun some days, and some days like breaking rocks and you do that to get to the days that are from." So sometimes-- I don't know now-- Because journalism schools have gotten good, I think. I mean, I think some of them are real good, you know. One woman I talked to-- I don't know where she went, to Northwestern-- wherever-- they had been covering the legislature, you know, so they come out knowing some stuff you wouldn't know, and her writing, I guess some of it is just getting-- on newspapers you used to pick the deadlines. I mean man, you know, that's a- that's another matter and dictating. I remember the first time and one of the few times that I ever was covering a Menhaden strike in Virginia for the Times Dispatch and they called and said "Well you have to dictate it to them," and I dictated I think like 1,100 words. If you had a real good person to try to keep you up with where you've been or whatever and-- but I don't think I've ever gotten used to that.

Diesenhaus: I think that leads into, I want to ask you to state how do you perceive the state of newspapers today? There seems to be a lot of material about decline financially and readership decreasing. What's your take on it and what can be done? Is there anything that can be done?

Bill McIlwain: Well I've sort of stayed away, but I always try to be honest too, but I've tried to stay away from ever saying exactly what they ought to be doing and so on because, you know, I'm not doing it. But really what happened, and what I think that-- of course at one point there was a real debate about private ownership and big companies. There was something to be said for both. If you had a real great-- Harry Guggenheim and Alicia Patterson, that's great private ownership. If you had tyrants or something that a good company would change it if they bought it but, you know, the profits on newspapers were not big at all; they were quite small and then when they became public companies and were traded on the stock market gradually the pressure just built and built and built about profits, and the profits got huge. I can remember the first time hearing the Gannett papers were 35 cent profit margin, so-- of course a lot of newspaper struggles started with television because the afternoon papers, they were wiped out, and probably some readership. And then this, which is harder because nobody really quite understands it yet or what's going to happen but, you know, young people aren't going to keep on or they don't start reading. They used to say when they have to buy their first refrigerator or pay taxes they'll start reading the newspaper, and there's some truth in that. But now, if you grow up on the internet you just wouldn't read it. So, everybody pretty much has known they better get into it big and advertising has gone down a lot for all newspapers, and the internet is growing, but the advertising is just, you know, tiny compared to what they're losing. But then the thing-- as I said, it wouldn't be popular to go around saying it, but I mean I just think there could still be good newspapers. I don't know how long, because I've never been a futurist, but it seems to me like there's a possibility, but you just couldn't have the profits that you had. I mean, the fact is when Chicago of all things bought LA, which to me was just something-- Because LA was a good paper; I used to go out there and, you know, then they got so on their case about it and I think they were making about 18, 19 percent and that, you know, that was real well-regarded by most status, but in newspapers they've gotten used to that big money and it won't ever be that way again. I think, you know, I think sometimes they're cutting things that-- the more people get a choice of something-- I mean, because they're cutting book pages, book credits, kind of anything and filling-- not filling jobs, but are freezing jobs, and so that is precipitating, you know, some of the decline, so I don't think that's good. I mean, I think that's wrong.

Diesenhaus: You mentioned yourself, technological change with the internet and all the things that come with that, and I wondered, do you think the technology, that change also affects the writing? In your own life, has your own writing changed as more kinds of technology have come into play?

Bill McIlwain: I think what's right at hand now-- because this paper is just really starting to put the great emphasis on it, and so-- and I don't know enough about it where I ever tell anything except don't be dismayed, it will all work out. That's what I tell all, but as I understand it now, you know, it will be that you put something quick on there-- and this is more like the wire services used to be-- you see, newspapers weren't. You'd write for whatever that first edition deadline was. Sometimes you'd have four hours, five hours or something. So now it would be-- not with every story, but I guess with big stories-- it would be that you get something on there and later you write a fuller story, so it's changing it that way I think. And back to the thing about the stock markets-- When I got out of the business I had a fair amount of New York Times stock and the stock didn't do well and so, you know, my son in-law is a bond trader, and so he just, helped me just, you know, get out of the stocks, and I realized, you know, most stock isn't bought with any-- there's a little bit-- every now and then you'll have somebody be perplexed about something--boycotting or something, but most stock's not bought by admiration for the company or anything; it's you know, what's the dividend and what's happening with the price, and so that's really what has happened with newspapers.

Diesenhaus: Did you happen to see today, I think it's JP Morgan-- they're one of the largest shareholders in the New York Times Company-- and they sold-- I think it's 10 percent-- They sold it.

Bill McIlwain: Wow. I got the Wall Street Journal that I've haven't read yet. That must be it.

Diesenhaus: They had been trying to change, to use their role to force the change and they're saying "You can't be an activist shareholder with the New York Times Company," so it's going to put a downward (inaudible)

Bill McIlwain: It's interesting to me, particularly because-- and I don't have anything to do with the Times much at all-- but the Times and the Post really were the two with those real ownership and, you know, way their stock is set up, and then I remember all the pressure that was coming on the Times again just reading about it, because it is not something where you want your money if you were an investor probably, and so I think just a terrific paper. I love reading it. I read it every day, but that's something. And the Post of course, apparently they can hang like they are, you know. I mean, I think they can keep it. It would be interesting to see-- The guy who bought the Tribune, I guess he finally got that settled-- just what he'll do with it, I don't know. I mean, most business people really don't have much good feelings on newspapers. They don't make any money and they see a lot of waste or something, so anytime you an invest-- There was one on this paper who got some kind of contact with either Cleveland or Akron or somewhere-- I'm forgetting which one it was-- I said well, "Be real careful about that because an investor group is trying to buy the paper," and I said "Anytime you get those guys buying papers they know they can cut 10 percent out of them," and so that's happening a lot too.

Diesenhaus: Let's swing back a bit, but in terms of the technology, I wanted to talk about your writing process. Before we started the tape you were sitting right here in this seat writing on a yellow notebook. Can you tell me a little about your process and the stages you go through in doing it?

Bill McIlwain: Well I'll go back just a little bit. This is something I can never be sure, but I think it's true, is newspapers for a lot of reasons are probably not the best training in the world, certainly for a novelist. I mean, it would probably help you with some non-fiction, but the bad part was, you know, sometimes they'd even take stuff out paragraph by paragraph. That wasn't very often, but when it was in that typewriter-- In those days there wasn't that much re-writing and I mean, you wrote it and it was gone, so I think the years of staring at it, you know. I remember something in-- I don't usually read books quite this big, but in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams Schiller said something like that a strong critical intelligence could overcome or mar imagination, and he used something about sheep coming through the gate, that you know, you didn't stop the gate for each sheep, that you just let it flow, and so I had written and did ok, but I guess I had written a book or two something like that on a typewriter which is the way I'd write, you know. But then I tore a tendon, my Achilles tendon playing tennis, so one winter when I couldn't write and it was warm-- I mean, I couldn't play tennis-- I'd sit out there with my leg up on the thing and write on the yellow pad, and what I realized was, at least for me-- and I wouldn't be surprised for other people-- that there's something about that typewriter, and computer too I think if I had grown up on them, there it is, you can even change it around a lot faster. I found that you really are like you kind of scribble it out as you go along and it would just loosen you up. It just made it a lot easier process, and of course with my handwriting, you know, pretty much illegible, I couldn't turn it over to them. I'd say "I want to publish this now, so fix it up." So then when I got to the-- Because I like computers. I like them a lot. I mean, I don't know much about them. I'm real clumsy with them and have troubles. I've got a lot of young friends that help. Like I got into the type being red one night, because my hands are hitting things I don't even hit, and I couldn't get out of the damn red and wasn't anyone I could call, so I like them, but what I found then was, you know, if I'm sitting there looking at that yellow pad and I'm starting to put it down, well I could-- I'll just re-write it as I went along. I mean, you know, I could fix it up, so it was ready to go. So that's the way I try to do it now.

Diesenhaus: So you're saying you brought the yellow pad material into the computer? Am I right in saying you felt, were you then re-writing it on the computer? In that process from the yellow pad and pen?

Bill McIlwain: Yea, as I went along. I think that was part of the freedom of writing on that yellow pad is you didn't have the exact word for word. When I was working on a typewriter or a computer it was like-- less on a computer because you can change it more quickly-- but on a typewriter, you know. So I think it just made it a lot more comfortable for me and that's how, you know, I suspect I'll do it. Because it's like sitting here too. It got where-- I guess anything you do-- you know, and I like it back there too. I'll show you where I work back there. So, I like them both.

Diesenhaus: Since your most recent book is so much of your life over a very long period of time, do you have notes at all that you were looking at or was it really only from memory?

Bill McIlwain: Mostly memory. I mean, there's some things I was glad to come over the internet. I mean, I'm still amazed at just how quickly you can find things. I come across a-- like Bealin Hungrid [ph?], a publisher in Toronto, and I thought I knew how to spell his name but, you know, to be able to just-- bam! So there's a lot of that, but an awful lot of it was just purely-- and that's what kind of made it pleasing to me to do and easy too was, you know, your life is so long that if you even pick out what the big events are-- I mean, I left a lot of them out probably, but I mean it's just, you know, this is what seemed to me had some effect on my life, and then this had so and so effect, so it kind of got, you know, one thing behind the other.

Diesenhaus: When you were writing a book, or when you're writing now, are there any rituals that you go through? Is there stuff that you do?

Bill McIlwain: Well, I'm having a hard time so I'll tell you what it is-- I had written about 137 pages of a novel when I was in Park and Boston maybe but maybe Little Rock really, and then just stopped. And so when I finished this book, the one that's been published, I thought well, you know, I'll finish that novel. I looked at it-- of course I'm very shaky about novels. I mean, I haven't had as much success with them, and also they're just harder to sell. I mean, non-fiction's easier. All of it's harder. Everything's harder than that and it was and not trying to-- Doubleday published a grass roots to a novel about the south, you know. The Managing Editor taking me out for lunch and everything. It's kind of a lot more literary. This is like 1960, something like that, you know. So novels are hard. I almost always have to have everything straight, though. I mean, I have to kind of have all of my bills paid up and so on, and then-- So this one, I'm sort of halfway between working on the yellow pad and trying to figure out what I got. I can see that I don't like some of it, and some of the sequence is wrong, and so I've got to-- and I haven't started getting it onto the computer, but-- so that's sort of where that one starts. But the next however many pages-- I don't know how many-- but I'll be writing it on the yellow pad. Putting what I've got, 137 pages onto a computer, so I've got a piece of it on the computer, a piece of it on the table. I get the yellow pad out everyday and see where I'm ready to go, but I think that's pretty much how I do it.

Diesenhaus: Obviously as a newspaper person you're also editing much shorter pieces. Is there something about the transition to the longer work, the book form that you either appreciate, or is a challenge?

Bill McIlwain: Well it doesn't seem quite as much now as it did-- because, you know, as you get older everything gets easier in a lot of ways. Some things get harder, but a lot of them get easier. It's not as daunting I mean of just how long it's going to take you to finish a book. I mean, some people can write faster than others but, you know, I guess I just don't worry about things much, anything much. I really don't worry much about anything.

Diesenhaus: In addition to the person you mentioned who might be transferring the material, do you have readers that you turn to that give you feedback?

Bill McIlwain: Well she's smart, so I trust her pretty much, and then this other book, the same way, with another woman, but both of them were smart women, you know. That's a help. I mean, you know, I don't think you can ever just really get on a writer too hard, and so they didn't get on me, but they'd tell me-- I could tell-- so it's like having an editor really, so I guess that would be the way, whatever I did-- I'm trying to keep doing it, is if you get a smart person who's doing it and you ask them to help you, so I do it now. I mean I put the yellow pad on the computer with a smart woman-- it wouldn't have to be a woman, but I like women. So if you're going to have somebody helping you.

Diesenhaus: I think I have one more question. I think about it a lot, you probably answered it. Do you have advice for writers of any stripe, non-fiction writers, fiction writers or newspaper people, younger people who are coming up.

Bill McIlwain: Well I guess the biggest thing that from my own standpoint I learned is-- it might not be true for anybody at all-- I guess that's what it is. Everybody has to find out how they do it, but I found that it had to be a particular time-- When I was real young I was writing men's magazine pieces, and I could work all day at the Times as fast as you go home and write them at night and, you know, you get where you couldn't or wouldn't. But the two times, like when I came back from Harvard I had a half of The Glass Rooster, and so I wrote the other half where I'd started back at Newsday, so I would--I would write. I found if you wrote two hours a day five days a week and I finished my half there, and the same away again with A Farewell to Alcohol. I had written about half of it in rehab, and then a short time before I got a job. So then in Toronto-- and this was hard, because I still don't like to get up in the mornings. Didn't like it then and don't like it now, but I would start writing 6:00 in the morning, drinking coffee, write until 8:00 and then go to the Toronto Star five days a week. So, you know, I think everybody has to sort of find out how they do it, but that's about one thing because I got people I like who say "Well I want to write a book," and I say "Ok," and they'll see "Will you read it?" and I'll say "Yea, some of them. I can't read them all", but they write kind of in fits and starts and a lot of them write in pieces, like I got two right now that one's a guy, one's a woman. It's interesting. Both of them are smart people, but they're writing just parts of it, which is alright. I say it's better to be writing than not writing anything, but I said "Pretty soon you've got to kind of figure out what you're writing and where does it start and where is it going?" because I think that's how-- and that's why there's so many sort of-- I had a writer's group a couple times which was really fun. I really enjoyed it, and I did about three years in what you call the bottom on Orange Street and then about two about two that lived at the station, and it was people starting up with stuff but never finishing it, you know. How about you, are you going to be able to hang in there and really...

Diesenhaus: I think so. I think I need to, just like you're saying, find certain ways. Obviously, that's part of why I'm here to take some time out of the way my life was heading and maybe re-focus my priorities, and I think part of it is finding how you can continue to actually do the writing, finding patterns in yourself, how you manage your time.

Bill McIlwain: Well it probably will become certainly where it's a good possibility for you because, you know, teaching is certainly-- if that does turn out to be what you do, it does allow you the time, you know, but it also has to still be that if you don't say, you know, "I'm going to do this and do this for however much time"-- particularly when something is going on-- In other words, if you've got work-- Because I was always working where there weren't any summers off either, but so if I were working on a newspaper it had to be like those two hours in the morning. In fact I think most people probably-- if they're working particularly on something, particularly where they're writing, they're probably better of starting it before they go in and work all day. What do you want to teach, English?

Diesenhaus: I'm a mixed mind. I'm going to be a Teaching Assistant next year for the University, and here that means you're teaching Creative Writing, where other places you would teaching either English or like rhetoric. So I think I'll find out if I like the writing teaching or if maybe I like the teaching aspect but maybe want to teach something different. So I think it should be an informative experience.

Bill McIlwain: That will be good. So you'll have-- you do that for two years?

Diesenhaus: Two years. This is my first, so I'll have two more years with the teaching.

Bill McIlwain: That's impressive, and I think it will. I think you'll be good at it.

Diesenhaus: Thank you.

Bill McIlwain: Because I think an awful lot of teaching anything. It's how you approach it. Just like I said-- that fellow in Winston Salem, and everybody else who ever really, you know, taught me much, they knew how to do it, and they didn't get it by bossing me.

Diesenhaus: Thank you very much.

Bill McIlwain: I've enjoyed talking to you.

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