Friday, January 22, 2010

Daniel Coyle and Jim Muir

When I ordered Coyle’s The Talent Code from Amazon, I also ordered his only novel Waking Samuel. I don’t read much fiction, but as soon as I finished The Talent Code, I read this mystery, which read easily and held my interest. I also ordered Coyle’s first book which came out in 1995--Hardball: A Season in the Projects.

Since it is out of print, I ordered from one of Amazon’s second-hand book sellers. It was slow coming and arrived yesterday, and I must confess that is why I did not blog last night. I was always interested in Cabrini-Green before it was razed, and I knew I would like this nonfiction account of some volunteers who started a Little League program there. I didn’t get a chance to finish it today, but I am eager to learn the outcome of characters that Coyle has already fastened in my heart.

Tonight I went to our first 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting. I was planning on going, but only learned yesterday that we would have Jim Muir as our speaker. I knew then that program would be good, and it was.

Jim’s columns used to appear twice weekly in The Southern Illinoisan, and I was always eager to read them. They were courageously controversial and full of passion and emotion. The Southern lost a valuable resource when it messed up and lost Jim. However, our region benefited because Jim soon started a new magazine Southern Illinois Sports Connection. Later he bought Marion Living, and now co-founded Saluki Illustrated, which appeals to Southern Illinois University Carbondale sports fans everywhere. His active mind is already considering other possible publications. This are distributed free at multiple spots around the region. You can also subscribe to Saluki Illustrated at

Jim’s life story is fascinating. Five days after his 18th birthday, he went down into one of the local coal mines and there he worked underground for 20 years. When he read the sign on the bulletin board that the mine would be closing in 60 days, he had three small children and had to scramble to find employment. He started college at Rend Lake and worked at three part-time jobs to survive.

He saw a notice that the college paper wanted writers, and for some reason he did not seem to understand, he applied with the sponsor who asked him if he had done any writing. He admitted he hadn’t but would like to try and would quit if he couldn’t do the assigned stories. That college writing was all the formal training he ever received. Although he finished his associate degree there, he never had time for any writing classes.

The college sponsor told him one day that the Benton Evening News needed a writer and suggested he try for it. Jim laughed that he was already working there as the night janitor—one of his part-time jobs. He made $7.50 an hour and was thrilled with the $75 he received each week for five nights’ labor. When he added writer to his janitorial duties, the editor posted his assignments on the cleaning closet door. For two years everyone joked that was Jim’s office. He went on up the ranks at the Benton paper becoming an editor and then onto The Southern for several years. He is also a long-time radio announcer. He produces and hosts “Talking Sports” on Saturday morning and “Sound Off” on Wednesday—both two-hour shows on Station WQRL in Benton. He does play-by-play for the Benton Rangers basketball, football and baseball.

Even though Jim exudes energy as well as friendliness, one wonders how he does it all. I suspect the secret is he has found a career and business that he obviously loves and is having a good time. He preaches that it is never too late for a writer. He was 38 when he started college and writing for the first time in his life. He was 53 when he started his first magazine, and he admitted he knew nothing about magazines. His presentation was an inspirational way for our guild to start a new year.

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