An Interview With Jim Lester

Please help me welcome Jim Lester, author of HOOP CRAZY: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN THE 1950s (September 2012).

I met Jim at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference.  He holds a Ph.D in history and has taught at both the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and at Denver Academy, a special high school for students with learning disabilities. In addition to HOOP CRAZY, Jim is the author of FALLOUT, a YA novel published by Bantam/Delacorte, and six books on regional history. Jim married his high school sweetheart and lives in Denver, where he and his wife like to bike and hike and hang out with their cocker spaniel.

I’m pleased Jim was able to join us for a special Thanksgiving Day interview. And now, on with the questions!

1. Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?

I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and I still vividly remember when the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division arrived in the city to insure that nine African-American students could attend Little Rock Central High. It was an awesome and dramatic historical moment and one I will never forget.

2. What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always loved stories. Even as a kid I drew an adventure comic strip. Finally it dawned on me I couldn’t draw worth a flip so I gave up the pictures, but kept writing stories.

3. I you could go back and share one writing lesson with your self before starting the HOOP CRAZY manuscript — what would that be?

Keep a balance between research and writing. I love to do research. I think its really fun. But it can also become an excuse not to write, which is the whole point of the thing.

4. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing about college basketball in the 1950s?

I think it was to explain how different the game was a half-century ago. The players were smaller and used shots that no one shoots any more. It was a much more regional game in those days. There was very little TV coverage. No three point shot or shot clock. Yet somehow, I needed to convey the idea that, at its essence, it was still the same game.

5. What inspired you to write a book about the history of college basketball and its impact on U.S. culture?

I was a history teacher for many years and always liked social and cultural history. I’ve also been a life long basketball fan. Combining the two sounded like a lot of fun. Which it was.

6. Do you have a favorite author? If so, who and why?

I really like the early novels of the screenwriter William Goldman and I’ve always admired the versatility of the late Evan Hunter, who wrote great mystery novels as well as some powerful mainstream novels. I also love the mystery novels of Robert B. Parker.

7. Do you have a favorite story or anecdote from the book –and why does that one stand out for you?

My favorite story from the book actually isn’t even about basketball. It’s about friendship. Its the story about how a player named Maurice Stokes was injured during a game and became a paraplegic. His friend and teammate, Jack Twyman, stepped in and became Stokes’ legal guardian and took care of him the remainder of his life. Its really an inspiring story that transcends sports.

8. What is the last book you read, and why did you read it?

THE ANGEL’S GAME by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I read it because I loved his earlier novel, THE SHADOW OF THE WIND.

9. Since you wrote a book about basketball , it’s probably fair to guess that you’re a fan. Do you like to play basketball yourself? And do you have a special team you cheer for during the season?

I was lucky to play on a great high school team and have been playing basketball  ever since. I played full court pick-up games until I was well into my fifties. I still like to shoot baskets and play a little half court two on two. And I always cheer for the Arkansas Razorbacks during the season.

10. What piece of advice would you most like to share with authors preparing to publish or in the process of publishing debut novels?

I would say get ready for one of the most enjoyable experiences of a lifetime. When Bantam brought out my YA novel, FALLOUT,  I felt like I was walking on a cloud for several months. As far as I’m concerned the whole process is great–the idea for the book, the writing, finding an agent, seeing your work in a bookstore. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Enjoy every minute of it.

And now, the speed round:

Plotter or pantser?

I’m a big believer in outlines. I need to know where I’m heading before I take off.

Coffee, tea or bourbon?

Coffee. I haunt the local coffee shops almost daily.

Socks or no socks?


Cats, dogs or reptiles?

Dogs for sure. Especially bulldogs.

For dinner: Italian, Mexican Burgers or Thai?

I’m a burger and beer man.

Big thanks to Jim Lester for joining us today! And now, a little more about HOOP CRAZY:

What do Wilt Chamberlain, the director of Monday Night Football and a coach who won the NCAA national championship and ended his career driving a school bus have in common? The answer is they were all part of the wonderful tapestry of college basketball in the 1950s. Set against a backdrop of the  Korean War, McCarthyism, hoola-hoops and Elvis Presley, HOOP CRAZY shows how college basketball reflected the major social and cultural trends of the decade and tells the inspiring story of how college hoops overcame the disastrous gambling scandals of 1951 and emerged a decade later as a major component of the American sports scene.

You can buy HOOP CRAZY at, Barnes & Noble, and a variety of independent booksellers. It’s a great idea for the sports fans on your shopping list!