Sunni: How did you get from there to Playboy, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal? Talk about strange bedfellows, to give you the expected pun ... [laughs]
Jim: After I got the Guggenheim Fellowship grant, things pretty much fell into place by themselves.
Jim: Actually, that's not quite how it went. I kept writing and eventually it started selling. I sold a piece bashing the Postal Service to the Boston Globe in 1978; it was fun to thrash those rascals. I occasionally tried my hand at humorous writing, and, in what felt at the time like my final volley of submissions, I sent a satire on the failure of the all-volunteer Congress to the New York Times. To my great surprise, they published it on July 4, 1979, under the title, Why Not Draft the Next Congress?. This breakthrough encouraged me to keep on hammering. I noticed that liberal publications seemed to be far more open to unknown talent than were conservative publications. I don't know if this is still the case, though gauging from what I see in some conservative magazines, they may be prejudiced against any and all talent.
It was a long while before the writing paid the rent. In the meantime, I did path-breaking work at the Harvard Business School when I was hired as a snow shoveler after the Great Blizzard of '78. When I was living in Boston for about 9 months, I also worked as a Santa Claus (seasonal work but fun), wore a giant rabbit costume as part of a Filene's Department Store Beatrix Potter promotion, and unloaded 50-pound boxes of Idaho potatoes from a rail car. And there was my sordid past as a Kelly Girl. I kinda backed into this one ... I had gone to a temp agency responding to an ad for carrying a sandwich board; they said that job was filled but did I have any other skills. I shrugged. They asked if I knew how to type—I admitted as much—I took their typing test ... and was regrettably typecast away from the sandwich boards forever with that company. The typing paid better but [pauses] I occasionally set up and ran my own typing services when I was living near college campuses; some of the papers and theses I typed sparked my curiosity in government policies and specific boondoggles. I also worked mowing lawns, doing construction, penny-ante wheeling and dealing with rare coins, unloading trucks at a book bindery, and working checkout at a university library. I worked awhile as a census taker in southern Illinois in 1980, gathering enough dirt to pound the Census Bureau numerous times in subsequent articles. This was another job with hardship offers of free beer.
After I moved to the Washington area, I first wrote for the Washington Monthly, then later for Human Events and the following year for Policy Review. Beginning in the mid-80s, some editors at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal liked my stuff so I did fairly well in those markets off and on through the late 1990s. Tim Ferguson at the Journal during the 1980s was especially courageous in the articles he would run. Some other op-ed editors around the country also ran my stuff. I did some investigative pieces for Reader's Digest starting in 1984. About the time Lost Rights came out in 1994, I started selling pieces fairly regularly to Playboy and American Spectator.
Sunni: Wow, that's quite a job history you have! What prompted you to consider writing your first book?
Jim: A desire to deepen and broaden my thinking and a bias in favor of positive cash flow.
Sunni: How much has the publishing industry changed from the publication of it to the latest one, Attention Deficit Democracy?
Jim: It has not gotten smarter, that's for sure. Amazon, on the other hand, has made it much easier for people to find information about books and authors, as has the internet.