Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Celebrity Guest Interview: Jim Beaver

When I was at Dragoncon this year, I had the incredible fortune of meeting the charismatic Jim Beaver. Most of you know him as Bobby Singer on the CW's SUPERNATURAL. But he's also performed on such iconic shows as DEADWOOD and HARPER'S ISLAND.

What I hadn't realized when I approached Jim's table for an autograph and seeing a stack of books next to him, was that he was an author. So the second I got home, I picked up Jim's book, LIFE'S THAT WAY, and began to read. One day and one box of tissues later, I was done.

LIFE'S THAT WAY is the nonfiction collection of Jim's personal emails to his friends and family detailing his and his wife Cecily's journey through her battle, and later death, from cancer. But that's not all it was. It's also a celebration of love and an affirmation of life. I can't imagine anyone being able to read Jim's book and not being touched in some way, if not changed entirely.

And that's why I just HAD to interview Jim. As a fiction author only, I wanted to understand the process behind revealing such a personal journey with the entire world. And Mr. Beaver, gracious as he is, obliged.

Your book is a collection of emails that you began writing daily as a way to keep your friends and family informed of your wife Cecily's declining health. After her passing, they became a way to express your grief which, at times, is very raw. You open yourself up in these letters and expose the readers to the brutality of loss but also the hope and love that can bloom out of despair. Knowing that if you pursued publication you would be exposing your personal tragedy publicly, what made you decide to publish your memoir?

Jim: In a nutshell, it became clear to me that what I had written, and even more, how I had written it, were having an effect on people for some kind of good. My penchant for being open about private and personal and difficult matters seemed to resonate with many people beyond the few I was directly addressing in the emails. The idea to publish took firm root at one point when a woman I'd known casually for twenty years revealed to me that, twenty-five years earlier, she'd lost her husband and her son within six weeks, and that she'd never spoken to anyone about the depths of that experience. However, after reading my emails for several months, she had found the freedom to open up about her own history and was talking with friends about it for the first time, and, in her words, it had changed her life. At that point I realized that what I was writing transcended my own personal experience and was somehow useful to people. I wasn't clear why, then or now, but I recognized the fact. It was then that I began to think seriously about the possibility of publication. As it turned out, in the wake of the book I have been inundated with similar tales from other people.
Which means that I consider the book a success.

For many authors, signing a book contract is a dream come true. But when your book holds the emotions of your darkest hours, I have to wonder how you felt knowing that you would be revisiting those moments over and over again during revisions and copy edits. Would you tell us what that was like?

Jim: First, I have to recount the day I learned the book had sold. I knew it was going to at that point, as there was a bidding war in progress.
But the day it actually sold, I was driving to a distant location to film an episode of Criminal Minds. I got the call in my car and heard the welcome news. Instead of being overwhelmed with joy as I sort of expected, I was suddenly immersed in melancholy. The one thing I yearned for was to tell Cecily what had happened, to share it with her. And though she was the reason it had happened, and the person I most wanted to share with, she was the one person I could not share it with. It was a most melancholy day.

When the work of cutting down the manuscript from 265,000 words to 99,000 began, I wondered how I would get through it. Every reading of the manuscript was a forced reliving of the experience and it took me much, much longer to accomplish than another book would have taken. It was a deeply painful experience to go over the details IN detail, both reliving them and evaluating them, passing judgments on phrases and anecdotes and recollections that were a vital part of what had happened (and thus sacrosanct in memory), but which simply could not all be fit into a marketable book. Eventually, it became less painful to take another pass at the words. I recall re-reading the manuscript at least 18 times, both in cutting and in proofing, and I began to hate the fact that the emotional callus I was growing during the process was robbing me of some of the pain of my loss. That pain was part of my life, part of the "us" I had with my wife, and to have it grow familiar and less difficult was somehow a sacrifice and a dishonoring of the emotions of the events. But that's the nature of the beast, and perhaps I gained something in the loss. Certainly, on the other hand, the cuts and recuts and re-recuts and proofing made me a better writer. I learned immense lessons about economy by trimming the massive fat of my original material. But the lessons came with a price.

Balancing writing time and family time is something most writers struggle with. Along with being an author, you are also play the role of the loveable demon-slayer Bobby Singer on the hit television show SUPERNATURAL. How are you able to balance your writing career, your acting career, and being a single parent?

Jim: In some ways the nature of my acting job spares me from having to balance too much on a daily basis, because I film in Vancouver but live in Los Angeles. I'm rarely working AND taking care of my daughter directly at the same time. The burden of separation is a big negative, but I'm able to concentrate much more precisely on one job or the other, depending on whether I'm filming or parenting that day or week. Where it has cost me is in my writing. I get very little done nowadays. Now, it's been years since I was prolific (not counting the year of my email journal that became this book), but with this role on SUPERNATURAL, my extensive travel, and my solo career as parent to a now-10-year-old, I get very little writing done. I plan a lot, but execute very little.

The day a book releases into the world is an emotional day for any author regardless of genre. Did you do anything special (any release
parties/signings) to celebrate? What were some of the emotions you experienced that day?

Jim: Publication day for LIFE'S THAT WAY was very full. I had a new TV series, HARPER'S ISLAND, I was starring in that premiered that same week, and I was doubled-up doing press for both. I don't recall any celebration or party. My vague recollection is that I spent a great deal of the day doing telephone radio interviews and helping my kid with her homework. The emotions of the day were primarily those of exhaustion, having answered the same four or five questions dozens of times for eight hours of radio interviews.

There's an entry in your book where you wrote: And what good these words of mine will do for anyone other than me is hard for me to say. Now that your book has been out for two years, have you been able to answer this pondering?

Jim: As I mentioned above, I have been immersed in an ocean of response to the book. I had hoped that it would be useful. I never dreamed that I would hear from so many people who said that it had changed their lives or helped them through similar situations or, as in a couple of cases, "saved"
their lives. Anyone who writes hoping to be of some use, some benefit to his readers would be happy but completely bowled over by the response I got.
So while it is still a thing seen only as through a glass, darkly, I have to admit that I understand that, yes, it did some good. It is the one thing I have accomplished in my life that seems worth remembering.

Are you currently working on or do you have plans for any more writing projects?

Jim: I have had projects in mind for years, sometimes decades, that are in various states of process, but I haven't the same drive to write for the old reasons that I had when I was young and hungry and the words poured out in torrents. I've been working on and off on a biography of 1950s TV Superman actor George Reeves for most of my adult life, but my other work has pulled me away from intense activity on it for a long time now, and while I plan to finish it, it is an albatross around my neck. An albatross I love, but an albatross nonetheless. I was about a third of the way through a novel when Cecily's illness and the events of LIFE'S THAT WAY reared their heads, and I haven't even yet returned to it. I've been asked by fans of my show and of LIFE'S THAT WAY to consider an autobiography, something which intrigues me even as it leaves me wondering who besides them would read it. And I always have a play or a screenplay outlined, waiting for me to get back to it. I suspect that if my acting career hadn't become so rewardingly successful, I might have devoted more time and energy to writing. But acting's where my heart is happiest, and I get to do almost all I want nowadays, and my writing suffers for it. I don't think I'll ever give it up, though.

Jim Beaver is an actor, playwright, and film historian. Best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series Deadwood and as Bobby Singer on Supernatural, he has also starred in such series as Harper’s Island, John from Cincinnati, and Thunder Alley and appeared in nearly forty motion pictures. He lives with his daughter Madeline in Los Angeles.
You can learn more about his book here. Or you can follow him on Twitter here.

In honor of Jim's interview, I will be giving away one SIGNED copy of his book LIFE'S THAT WAY. Please keep in mind that I will order this book from his website and, as Jim is occupied for the next couple of weeks, I imagine it might be a bit before he is able to sign it. So if you win, please have patience.
With that said, all you have to do to be listed in the drawing is be a follower of my blog and comment below. I will have the contest open until next Thursday, November 17th. I will announce the winner (by random drawing) on Friday. This is where you'll want to be a follower because, I won't notify you if you win. You will have to email me you shipping address at the email I provide when I announce the winner. If you don't claim prize, I will redraw another winner. I don't mean to be a pain, but this just makes my life easier. ;)


  1. Oh man. What incredible courage this much have taken. Thanks for introducing Jim, Cole.

  2. Great interview. I love Jim as an actor and his book seems pretty emotional. Again, great post.

    Erin W.

  3. Great interview Cole, it's always so amazing to be introduced, even just in part, to the lives beyond what we see on Television. <3

  4. This interview is amazing. I've never read a blog interview of someone who is both an actor and a writer, and that too to have written about something so personal.

    Loved the insight in this. Though it made my heart ache.

    Thanks for this, Jim and Cole!

  5. What a wonderful interview. Sounds like a powerful book. Thanks so much for sharing Jim and Cole!

  6. Wow, just wow. First of all, Cole - kudos for getting THE Jim Beaver onto your blog (awesome!).

    Next, Jim - thanks so much for sharing your incredible words. Your book sounds so inspiring (although I'm guessing I'd be going through quite a few tissues). Thanks so much for stopping by.

  7. I so want to read this book now. Thank you Cole for discovering a book that inspires us via a personal story. And thank you Jim Beaver for writing it. I look forward to reading your book in the near future.

  8. Such a poignant interview. I want to thank both of you for the opportunity to learn about the book. I'm going to read it and look forward to doing so.

  9. I missed this before, but this is a fascinating interview. Thank you Cole and Jim!