In time for the college football bowl season, JMU's Inman Majors has written a comic novel about the off-the-field world of a big-time, but unnamed Southeastern Conference program through the eyes of an "off the field graduate assistant," Raymond Love.
Majors, who teaches fiction writing as an associate professor of English, drew from his family's heritage as Tennessee's first family of football to write "Love's Winning Plays." W.W. Norton & Company published the book, Majors' fourth novel after "The Millionaires: A Novel of the New South," "Swimming in Sky: A Novel" and "Wonderdog."
Majors answered questions about "Love's Winning Plays" in an email interview.
This is your first novel about college football. Given your upbringing in a revered football family in the South, was the novel one you just had to write?
IM: I think at some point I realized I was going to have to write a football novel, if for no other reason than that old saw about writing write what you know. My dad was a longtime lobbyist in Tennessee, and I’d already used that line of material for two political novels (one comedic, one serious), so football seemed the next logical step. I’d originally planned on writing a serious book about college football, but the whole "football-wagging-the-university-dog" thing has struck me as particularly silly of late. Throw in the round-the-clock coverage of the sport on cable television and all the Internet craziness that goes with it, and you have a topic truly ripe for the satirical picking.
Is this an accurate "roster" of your family connections with college football: Uncle Johnny, head coach at Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Iowa State; four uncles who played for Tennessee; father Joe played at Florida State; grandfather was head coach at Sewanee (University of the South) and uncle who played at Sewanee?
IM: That’s about the sum of it. For the record, I’m a fan of college football and still watch a lot of it. And I think there’s a place on the college campus for it. As Bear Bryant said: “It’s hard to hold a pep rally around a chemistry lab.” So a football game on a pretty Saturday afternoon is a great gathering place for a campus community, a place where current students, faculty and alumni can gather to show support for a common cause. A healthy sports environment adds some excitement to university life, and a sense of nostalgia and history for alumni. Game day is a time when the past and present of a university are brought together in a unique way, it seems to me. But at all times, sports should be an addendum to the university, not the raison d’etre. My book is satirizing the folks who think football should come first, foremost and always.
Who did you write the book for? Would someone who is not a fan of football enjoy reading the book while keeping a football watcher company while a game was televised (at least being in the same room)?
IM: I personally guarantee that you and all non-football fans will love the book, whether there is a football game going on in the background or not.
Seriously, you don’t have to like football to find the book funny. There’s actually very little football discussed. The book takes place in the offseason and the plot revolves around this barnstorming tour that most college football programs do, where the coaches and athletic department types (men and women) travel around the state gladhanding the fans and eating rubber chicken dinners. The book is more about the culture of football, specifically SEC football, and all the craziness that goes with it. Several reviewers have called it a "comedy of manners." And there are some really good female characters in it as well. My wife, who has never watched an entire football game, thinks it’s more of a romantic comedy than anything. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the book is a romantic comedy of manners about football. How’s that for a genre?
How would football fans enjoy the book on a different level than non-football fans?
IM: Well, if you’re familiar with the Brett Favre Wrangler commercials that every football fan sees about a thousand times every game, then I get some jokes in about that. And the Cialis commercials that are so cringe-worthy. And fans who whine about the team on message boards. And coaches who wear visors at night and insist on chewing their gum with their mouths open as far as they can get them. And the funny motivational things that coaches say to try and motivate their teams. And those beer commercials that make it seem like men do nothing but slap sloshy fives every three seconds.
Basically, anything that has made you laugh or want to throw something at the television during a game comes in for a little special treatment in the book.
You've published four novels so far. How does keeping current in the world of fiction publication benefit your students at JMU?
IM: I think the main thing that might help my teaching is that I’m actively writing, so anything I learn technique-wise while drafting and revising a novel is something I can pass on to my students. There’s not a tip I give my student writers that I didn’t first learn by trial and error in my own work. I also think I can give them pointers on the proper mindset for a writer, dealing with the highs and lows of trying to create art.
One of the things I say over and over is that if you want to write a lot of good sentences, you have to allow yourself to write a lot of bad ones too. The idea being that even great writers have off days, even off weeks, when the ideas just aren’t coming or the sentences aren’t singing like you hope. The thing to do, the thing all serious writers do, is to fight through these lulls – just keep writing and writing. Eventually, the muse will relent and reward such diligence with a week or so when the words come effortlessly. So along with technique and tricks of the trade, I try to teach them that persistence, as much as anything, is the key to success.
I guess another thing that might benefit my students is that when they see their teacher actually publishing books, it kind of demystifies the procedure. If I’m doing my job properly, my students should leave the class at the end of the semester thinking, 'Hey, if he can do it, why can’t I?'"
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Dec. 19, 2012
Published: Monday, December 24, 2012
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2016