Episode 61: There’s More Than 1 Path

On September 21, Kasie chatted with local author James D. “Don” McCallister. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Unexpected Path to Achieving Your Writing Goals


  • Getting to know James D. McCallister
  • The art of teaching writing
  • Becoming an Indie Publisher
photo of a person s hand touching wheat grass
Photo by Giuseppe Russo on Pexels.com

Segment 1

I met James D. McCallister in Loose Lucy’s, a funky shop in Five Points where my daughter, Hollie, and I shop for tie-dyed skirts, tapestries, incense, and Ramones posters. We struck up a conversation because another shopowner, our mutual friend Tzima Brown of Sunrise Artisan in Five Points, told me, “Go talk to Don.”

Don is known in the region as a former library professional of media arts at the University of South Carolina, the owner of Loose Lucy’s, and now an instructor of Creative Writing at Midlands Technical College.

But his penname, James D. McCallister, is known for this impressive bio:

James D. McCallister is the author of seven indie novels—KING’S HIGHWAY (2007), FELLOW TRAVELER (2012), LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY (2017), DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW (2018), and DIXIANA, DOWN IN DIXIANA, and DIXIANA DARLING (all 2019)—as well as a short story collection, THE YEAR THEY CANCELED CHRISTMAS, and as editor and publisher of a single volume of poetry (DREAM WORK/R. Bentz Kirby 2018). 

A past winner or finalist for awards from the South Carolina Writer’s Association, SC Fiction Project, Pearl Magazine, the Faulkner Society, the Saturday Evening Post, and The Jasper Project, in 2014 McCallister’s papers relating to FELLOW TRAVELER were requested by the University of California–Santa Cruz as part of the official Grateful Dead Archive. In 2015 an earlier version of DIXIANA was named a finalist for the Faulkner Society novel award. His other published work includes creative nonfiction, magazine features, a newspaper column, and scholarly articles. 

McCallister adjuncts in creative writing (including screenwriting) at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, SC, where he lives with his wife Jenn and beloved brood of cats, muses all.

James and I chatted about his unexpected journey into publishing. The idea of the writer winning an agent, the agent landing a big book deal, and the writer retiring to a cabin on the lake to write for a living is the great mythology of our profession.

What actually happened to Don was he earned an agent’s attention but she couldn’t sell the book. Then, when he pitched a different book to Storyriver (the UofSC Press imprint Pat Conroy led with my bestie Jonathan Haupt), the agent got mad and dropped poor Don and his unpublished book.

“Every writing goal I ever had, I achieved,” Don said. “Just not the way I expected to.”

Segment 2

The novels are a journey in and of themselves. Don talked about getting the idea for King’s Highway and re-publishing that novel under Mind Harvest Press, his own imprint. He also talked about Dixiana and the way he’d been inspired by Stephen King’s The Stand to create a massive novel with dozens of characters, myriad political and social conflicts, and decades of action and consequences.

He broke Dixiana into multiple digital installments for the Kindle reader. That strategy was the opposite of what I predicted or expected. I said since digital readers enable people to carry around big, heavy tomes without burden, it was a great medium to publish a long (180,000 word) novel. 

He said the small chunk can be sold for less.

Fair point.

Establishing Mind Harvest Press was in Don’s words a very GenX thing to do. Ya’ll know I love me some GenX talk and Don and I riffed a bit about how our generation sees the way things have “always been” and questions whether that method has to persist. Especially given the technology we have, are we required to follow the old models.

Hybrid publishers like Mind Harvest Press are the result of authors becoming independent publishers of their own work and then sharing their experience and expertise with other authors.

In two weeks we’ll have Kat Biggie Press, my publisher, on the show to discuss her journey. We’ve had Raegan Teller, authorpreneur, and Anna Fitch Courie, self-published children’s author talk about making that choice for themselves.

Next week’s poet guest John Starino will likely have a bit to say about the self publishing world. Like Cassie Premo Steele and Tim Conroy, Starino has explored the opportunities for poetry books in publishing and found it, in a word, lacking.

Don wasn’t shy about the publishing industry’s many failures and archaic business model. He talked about understanding what your goals are and then working to achieve them using the appropriate means. In his case, setting up Mind Harvest Press. When I asked him if he thought about taking on other authors, he mentioned the editorial services he offers and said the right book might be the right opportunity.

Segment 3

How can you get more Don McCallister? Buy the books. Or catch him at these upcoming events:

  • Arts in the Heart Festival, Book Tavern Author’s Alley, Augusta GA — Sunday 9/22 12–3pm
  • James D. McCallister presents DIXIANA — Lexington County Library (Cayce-West Columbia Branch), Saturday 9/28 2–3pm
  • Rosewood Arts Festival — Saturday 10/5 all day — Mind Harvest Press booth (also featuring poet R. Bentz Kirby)
  • JerryFest 2019, Five Points, Columbia SC — Sunday 10/6 2-10pm — promoting Fellow Traveler: Expanded Edition
  • Hippie Fest, Lake City SC — Saturday-Sunday 10/19-20 all day — promoting new editions of Fellow Traveler and King’s Highway
  • Hippie Fest, Myrtle Beach SC — Saturday 10/26 all day — promoting new editions of Fellow Traveler and King’s Highway

I really enjoyed spending time with Don. I’m sure we’ll have him back on the show again. Until then, Hollie and I will be at Loose Lucy’s for all our hippie-ware needs.

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