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Austin author provides satirical look at writing craft

By Jon Wilcox
Jan. 26, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.
Updated Jan. 27, 2017 at midnight

 Author James Magnuson reads from his recent novel, "Famous Writers I Have Known," to an audience of almost 70 people Thursday afternoon at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Author James Magnuson reads from his recent novel, "Famous Writers I Have Known," to an audience of almost 70 people Thursday afternoon at the University of Houston-Victoria.   Jon Wilcox for The Victoria Advocate

Author James Magnuson points his artistic lens on his own craft with his devilishly humorous novel, "Famous Writers I Have Known."

Magnuson, the director of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, appeared Thursday afternoon for the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review Reading Series. At the event, Magnuson answered questions and read passages from "Famous Writers I Have Known."

The novel, he said, was partially inspired by regular visits to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where he once or twice a year picks up an out-of-town author he has never met before.

"I'm looking for somebody who looks like they are looking for somebody," Magnuson said to an audience of almost 70. "What if I got the wrong guy?"

The work was also influenced by Magnuson's decades-long professional relationship with famed author James Michener, he said.

"Famous Writers I Have Known" follows protagonist Frankie Abandonato, a con man who masquerades as a critically acclaimed author and uses his false credentials to teach university-level writing classes.

A first-person excerpt narrated by Abandonato unabashedly satirizes the ridiculousness of such classes and their students.

"Where they really went nuts, though, was when they caught someone using a cliche. Apparently, it was considered worse than murdering your children," said Magnuson, reading from his book. "I wasn't going to mention it, but for my money, these stories could have used a few more cliches."

Victoria College writing instructor Bobby Horecka, who was present at the reading and stood in line for a signed copy of Magnuson's book, said the assessment was spot-on.

"I could see a lot of that con man character in myself," he said.


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