James McBride on Going on Faith

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to James McBride about his new novel, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store.

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From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: My very first note on this novel was: communal story. Everyone is so connected and plot wise, it all weaves together. I could see it almost like a dream catcher, or like a macrame where everything’s knotted and folded together, and it makes this beautiful design at the end. Is it a messy process for you to get there?

James McBride: Yeah, I mean, because you’re really going on faith. You know, you don’t really know what’s going to happen, you kind of have an idea, you hope this happens and hope that happens, but it doesn’t work out that way. And, you know, especially if you’re trying not to write the book you wrote before. I can’t write the same book again and again, with different characters. There are similarities, of course, you know, between what I write, and you know, I guess I’ll leave it to my biographers in one hundred years if someone is goofy enough to even try it. But I just can’t write the same story again and again. So, you lean on craft to get your characters from one room to the next. But you go by faith, when you hope those characters will move your story from one street to the next street, and then from one county to the next county, and if necessary, from one country to the next country. That’s an act of faith. That makes writing an act of faith. But you know, the blow by blow just getting them up getting them moving around, you know, that’s just trade, that’s craft. The trick is to not fall in love with your words, but to fall in love with your ideas, and then let your ideas go. Let them go, so that story can enter the room.


James McBride is an award-winning author, musician, and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, The Color of Water, published in 1996, has sold millions of copies and spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.  His 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird, about American abolitionist John Brown, won the National Book Award for Fiction.  His new novel is The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store.

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