I, Jim Ducibella, am a native of Washington, D.C.; educated there as well, at least through high school. And that’s where I first caught writing fever, when a senior-class Creative Writing teacher told me, then a sophomore, that I was a superior writer to everyone else in the class. Thats not to say that he didn’t have issues with my work, especially dialogue. (Amazing how that still occasionally haunts me today.)
After college at Xavier University in Ohio, and grad school at Marquette, I started a career as a sportswriter; first back in D.C., then in Norfolk, VA after the demise of The Washington Star.
After twenty-nine years, mostly with The Virginian-Pilot — 20 of them covering the Washington Redskins, all of them spent writing golf at every every level of competition — I was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in April 2010. I also was named sportswriter of the year in Virginia seven times by my peers. During that segment of my career, I covered more than two hundred professional and amateur golf tournaments.
Now a Web writer for the College of William & Mary, I continue to provide columns for The Virginia Golfer magazine and am regularly featured in Boomer magazine. I’ve been a contributor to Sports Illustrated, GolfWorld, Pro Football Weekly, and The Met Golfer, among others.
I’m also the author of “Par Excellence: A Celebration of Virginia Golf (2000).” My wife and I live in Williamsburg, VA., but neither of us has ever worn a tri-cornered hat or hoop skirt. Well, I shouldn’t speak for her.
Hello! What’s your name?
Jim Ducibella, but my friends – and even some who are not so friendly – call me Duce
What do you write and why?
So far, my two books have been non-fiction sports. As a former reporter, I’m most comfortable having at least the germ of a story to start with and build on. Besides, there are plenty of great, compelling stories out there begging to be told.
Do you read the same genre that you write? Why or why not?
I certainly have a predisposition for non-fiction, biographical sports books, but I never limit myself to anything. I’m looking through my Kindle, and some of the books I’ve read were about Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (weird, because I have a strong aversion to the NY Yankees), and Jerry West (Roland Lazenby’s, not Jerry’s). Others “Heaven is for Real,” “Morning Miracle,” “Life on the Line,” “Unbroken,” “When the Mob ran Vegas,” “Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything,” and “The Bermuda Hundred Campaign.” So I’m all over the place.
What is the title you are promoting right now?
What is it about?
It’s the true story of J. Smith Ferbee, and the most bizarre golf bet ever made. In 1938, he and friend Fred Tuerk got into a dispute over what to do with about 300 acres of land they co-owned inVirginia Beach,VA.They decided, quite on the spur of the moment, to settle the dispute by betting that Ferebee could not play 144 holes of golf in one day. But he did it to win the land outright and then was featured on Ripley’s incredibly popular “Believe It Or Not” radio program, which sparked a tsunami of golf “marathons” throughout theU.S.
Tuerk soon came to feel that he had been fleeced, and demanded another bet. This time, Ferebee would have to play 600 holes over 4 consecutive days in 8 different cities, starting in LA and ending in NY. It became a national story, and a gambler’s dream. As you can imagine, Ferebee would be forced to overcome many unforeseen, harrowing obstacles if he was going to succeed.
What makes this book different from others in your genre?
Everything, but let’s start with the fact that it is a TRUE story, and not concocted from someone’s ripe imagination. Ferebee was NOT a great golfer. He played to a 10-12 handicap, which makes him slightly better than average. In fact, one of the caveats of the bet was that he could not shoot more than 100 for any 18 holes. Ferebee was a stockbroker who reveled in excess, taking on bizarre, unfathomable wagers that made him a curiosity to his country club. For example, he once swam for 30 minutes with his hands and feet tied behind his back, just because a Chicago paper reported that someone had done it for 10 minutes, and it made Ferebee angry. Some admired him; others couldn’t wait for him to fail, hoping it would put an end to these bizarre stunts.
What’s the story behind the story?
Several years after I finished my first book, which was an anecdotal history of golf in Virginia, I started researching another non-fiction storyline, this one involving baseball. Long story short, after about a year or more, I found out that the story never happened. Near the end of my writing of the first book, a colleague sent me a brief clipping on Ferebee, which I incorporated into the introduction. One day I decided to see if there was any other information out there on the marathon. I “googled” Ferebee and, sure enough, an item came up about papers his wife had bequeathed to Virginia Military Institute (VMI) following his death. I went toLexington,VA, to the basement archives of VMI, and there were a couple of cartons of old newspaper clippings on the marathon, and another couple on the rest of what I soon came to find out was an absolutely fascinating life. I was hooked, and immediately began trying to find people who were part of his entourage, or their descendants. I spent a couple of years finding people – descendants, almost none of whom knew anything about this story — traveling to some of the courses he played during the marathon, interviewing, and cobbling together as accurate a depiction as I possibly could. Only one person from the marathon party was still alive, the 18-year-old kid fromChicagowho caddied for Ferebee.
What is your goal as an author?
For years, writing about sports of all kinds was a way to make a living, travel, have fun, and meet interesting people. Writing about the Washington Redskins for 20 years provided me with a built-in audience throughoutVirginiaand beyond. Writing about professional golf provided the same, only less so. In 2000, the trick became to build my own audience from nothing with a book about the history of golf in Virginia (In 1762, 22 years before the National Golf Foundation claims the first “official” round of golf was played in Savannah, Georgia, an inventory of the possessions of a Norfolk, Virginia, County man named William Young included an item described as a “Goff club.”)
Now, working at William & Mary as primarily a web writer, the trick is to compose effective, accurate, interesting stories from topics I literally know nothing about. It doesn’t sound glamorous, and I’m sure many, many writers have given you far more enchanting answers, but I’ve been a “Joe Friday – just the facts, m’am”) writer for so long, that’s how I feel and when I pull it off, the feeling is one of complete pride and satisfaction.
With “King of Clubs,” the goal was to take a real story for which I admittedly found a great foundation, mix some new mortar, and take what was in its day a compelling newspaper feature and cobble together “the whole story,” as it were. In the process, if I draw an audience outside the borders of Virginia – and my agent is already in discussion with publishing houses in Japan, China and Korea – all the better.
Are you working on anything new? Give us a preview of what’s to come!
I’m on the lookout for another story that moves me to action. There is a chance I will take that baseball story that never happened, create fictional characters, and embark on something I’ve never before tried. The other thing that intrigues me at the moment has a strange backdrop. My wife and I were eating lunch at the Smithsonian Institution inWashington,D.C., on Dec. 28 – our wedding anniversary – and we sat across from a couple we had never seen before. The man was eating an apple and drinking a beer for lunch, and I made some smart-ass comment about his selections. That started a conversation in which he finally told me that he had an idea for an inspirational book that he could do the illustrations for, but needed a writer. So I’m researching to see what, if anything, has been done like it before, though I have to admit that getting out this current book has consumed most of my time. I like the idea – but I like the manner in which the idea came about even more.
Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?
I couldn’t possibly have a favorite author, but I’ll tell you some of the ones I admire most, for a variety of reasons, and in no particular order: Laura Hillenbrand, Mitch Albom, Earl Swift, Mike D’Orso, John Feinstein, Scott Donaldson, Joe Jackson, Roland Lazenby, Dan Jenkins; there’s something I like about every author and every book I‘ve ever read, even if it was just a line.
Where can readers find you and your work?
Also at Potomac Books
What’s your view on the self-publishing/traditional publishing thing? Ideally, which one would you prefer and why?
I’ve never self-published, but I think if you go through all of the traditional phases of authorship – finding an agent, filing queries, sending proposals to every conceivable publisher you think might be interested in your book, et al – without success, then of course you should self-publish. But although the process with this book has taken far longer than I ever imagined, my agent has been absolutely invaluable in every aspect, I have great respect for my publisher and the professionals they assigned to work on my manuscript to make it better, and I have this great feeling of comfort knowing I have those people to turn to. I’ve been blessed. And I say all that convinced that if my next project isn’t picked up, I will seriously investigate self-publishing.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“There are many people out there who will tell you that ‘You can’t.’ What you must do is turn around and tell them, ‘Watch me.’ “ I don’t know who said that.
What is the most important advice you have for aspiring authors?
Decide what you want from your writing. I wanted my work exposed to the public, and I’m anxious to see the public’s reaction to this book, even if it’s negative (which I don’t believe it will be). I joined a writer’s critique group fairly early in the writing process, and among the excellent lessons I learned, one was that there are people who write strictly for themselves. They don’t care whether anything they write is published; the act of filling a blank screen with something from inside their minds or their souls is all the reward they need. Maybe you’re one of those. Come to a decision on your definition of “success.” Not everyone writes New York Times bestsellers; not everyone sells 2 million copies. I think there are a lot of people out there who truly believe that if they can just get their work seen, they’ll become rich and famous. If that’s your definition of success, the odds are overwhelming that writing is going to be a hugely disappointing experience for you. Finally, just do the best you can. In the newspaper business, that best is too frequently dictated by time. Deadline sports writing can be very depressing. You have no such constraints as an author, or certainly nowhere near as draconian. Never release anything that isn’t your best effort – and trust your instincts when they tell you that you’ve done your best.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish up?
Man, I’m out of breath.
Awesome, thanks for allowing me to interview you!
Please take a moment to visit Jim at the links below!
Or check out the book trailer!
Jim has also written a guest post for the Writer’s Block Party! See it here.