Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interview with Harry Munns, award-winning author, journalist and boating expert

Harry Munns has been the recipient of the John Southam Award for Journalism, the Writer's Digest Award and the SPAN Award. Drawing upon his boating expertise, Munns produced the Boating World weekly magazine show for ESPN (production included concept, writing and editing). Instructional non-fiction works of the author include two titles for McGraw-Hill. Munns has served as an editor for American Sailing (ASA Journal) and Let's Go Sailing (Hearst Books). His journalism has appeared in numerous publications including Men's Fitness and Sailing Magazine. His work extends to a fiction novel Someday Comes as well as an inspirational title Spectacular Comeback.  For more info, see links below interview.

1) When you used your expertise for some of the elements in your novel Someday Comes as opposed to the mediums of journalism and the instructional non-fiction McGraw-Hill titles, what were some of the freeing qualities and challenges of doing so?

That’s a great question because the processes are very different. When I write instructional material, it’s essential that I get everything right. Factual things like statistics and regulations have to be accurate. I spend a lot of time consulting reference books and double checking data.

When I write fiction, I can create the world in which the facts exist and therefore, create the facts. That doesn’t mean I can alter well-known information such as historical dates or geographic locations. But I can take a lot of liberties with those things. For me, it’s a lot easier inventing a new world than it is trying to keep track of the one that already exists. It flows a lot better and I get a lot more done.

2) Working on the Boating World weekly magazine show for ESPN, what were some of your methods for concept development and writing- how did you seamlessly incorporate your style and experience into the needs of the show?

I had written and co-written a few books on boating by the time I produced Boating World. I had also worked with hundreds of sailing professionals and developing boaters. I was pretty familiar with the elements of boating they cared about and what interested them.

I approached Boating World with a series of questions, the first of which was, what mystifies or confuses people about boating? That may seem like an overly simple starting point but that question led to some more specific questions such as, what would capture the interest of non-boaters and what would help new boaters move more easily into the boating lifestyle. Every decision I made at Boating World was based on the answer to a question about what aspects of boating would appeal to the audience and how to present them in the most entertaining and compelling manner.

3) You won the John Southam award "Honoring Excellence in Sailing Communication" in 1999 for an article that appeared in Men's Fitness.  What are your favorite aspects of journalism and its power to convey important information to the public?

In a journalistic environment where it’s understood the writer has performed his or her due diligence including extensive research, a reader can expect to get educated. I’ve always appreciated that quality in publications like The New York Times. You can begin an article on a subject you know little or nothing about and by the end feel you understand who the players are and what their relationship is to one another. You know about the conflicts and how they may or may not get resolved.

I wouldn’t put myself in that class of journalists but I would say when I write that kind of material I’m very conscious of trying to write within those parameters.

I’m not sure this would work for everyone, but [when I write to inform an audience] I try to recall my state of mind when I knew little or nothing about something like boating. I try to remember my pre-conceived notions about the subject and explain how the factual material differs. I also try to think in sequential terms, whether it’s about the sequence of learning or the sequence of performing some task. I try to remember, stories have a beginning, middle and end because the human brain can follow that sequence.

4) Your website for your motivational non-fiction book Spectacular Comeback features a comment from the Midwest Book Review that calls the book "an inspirational read".  What was your personal inspiration, drawn from your rich array of life experiences, to do this book and come up with the twenty-four day program that you describe as teaching "...you how to control the things you can control and how to re-order, reclaim and rebuild your life."

Somewhere along the line, I adopted a strong, personal belief that this universe contains all the answers to every question that mankind can ask. Our challenge is to find them.

When life threw me a formidable challenge and landed me in an unintended place, I found a series of answers to the questions I asked about finding my way back from that place. When I reflected on those questions and answers, I realized they could be condensed and compiled into a series of steps that I believed other people could take to make the same journey. Spectacular Comeback is the result of my journey of discovery and my subsequent analysis of it.

[The book] is a series of exercises, some of which build on the ones before them. The first few exercises encourage participants to look solidly and honestly at their current situation. It’s hard to look at yourself objectively. If someone came to the book because of some great loss, he or she may only see their own sadness. No one’s only one thing-- sad, happy, frustrated… We try to get them to see the whole person rather than the part that may be overwhelming.

5) Concerning your expert status in boating that translates into books, articles and programs, how do you maintain your 'brand' as a writer and keep your voice distinctive while molding it to different audiences and projects?

I think there’s only one way a writer develops his or her voice, by writing, reading and re-writing until the process gets smoother and easier. I’ve had the privilege of doing enough writing to get to a point where I feel I’ve developed my voice.

I mold that voice for different projects all the time. I write a newspaper column into which I inject irony and humor. I also do a considerable amount of writing for business. Irony and humor have little or no place in that writing.

I guess it all comes back to the reader. Once I know who will read my material and what it’s intended to accomplish, the style and substance follow.

6) How has the advent of digital publishing changed your career as a writer and what doors has it opened?

I have worked with some big publishers such as Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. I have also self-published. I have worked with talented graphic artists and tried my hand at desktop publishing.

I’d say at this juncture, there’s a place for every one of those entities. But because there are more choices, it’s more challenging matching the project to the methods of getting it out to readers.

The biggest advantage to digital publishing is control. The last time I checked the bigger publishers were on about an 18 month cycle, from buying a manuscript to getting it into book stores. An author can spend a few hundred dollars and get books in a month. The disadvantage [to digital self-publishing] is that you have none of the support you would get from a publisher unless you’re [already a known quantity] such as John Grisham or Nora Roberts; although you shouldn’t expect much in the way of advertising and promotion from a publisher anyway. Another advantage to traditional publishers is that when you hand over your manuscript after all the edits and changes, you can get busy writing your next book. Do-it-yourselfers need to acquire and exercise a lot of skills to get those jobs done a fraction as well as a publisher.

The best news of all for authors is that there have never been more opportunities to get the material we produce into print and into the hands of readers. We live in a very exciting time.