James Houck, 1989 graduate of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, has done a little bit of everything – on purpose.
“No writer is born with a voice—It develops over time, “ Houck said, “You’re going to have to go out and get as many experiences as you can because you’re going to pull from that to write.”
While at K-State, Houck majored in journalism, hauled hay and competed on the rodeo team. Since then he has worked as an entrepreneur, copywriter, screenwriter, author and director. He calls on all of those experiences in his novel “Ketchup Soup,” published in 2011.
Since graduation, Houck has made a living as a writer, which he admits has been no easy task. His best piece of advice for young writers is to get used to the word “no”.
“Get comfortable with rejection,” Houck said. “Only the massively lucky or extraordinarily talented get to rush through the process of becoming a writer. There’s a lot more upfront work and failure than most people realize.”
Growing up on Rock Creek Ranch, a fourth generation homesteaded cattle ranch just outside of Council Grove, Kan., Houck said he is no stranger to hard work but was completely unprepared for how difficult post-college life would be.
He even suggested a college course where a writer tells students about the harsh realities of writing for a living.
“I’ve lost houses and done all that stuff. It’s not cool,” Houck said. “That glamour dims and it’s grim.”
Part of the difficulty for Houck is the constant renewal of the career.
“A writer is a serial entrepreneur,” Houck said. “A writer starts a new business every single time they write something … It’s not for the meek.”
Some might consider Houck’s transition from a hay-hauling rodeo man to published author a strange one, but he credits his Kansas roots for a large part of his success.
“Hauling hay in the summers, building fences when it rained and when we couldn’t put up hay, pounding post holes in flintrock with a sharpened axle, they all made me learn to appreciate Kansas and want to see everything and seeing everything is what gave me experience to write something,” Houck said.
Houck started writing “Ketchup Soup” in 1990 and chipped away at it, off and on, until it was published in 2011. He was waiting for the right time, when he was savvy enough writer to articulate the image in his head.
“It takes a long time for a writer to really learn how to say what he or she is feeling in the gut,” Houck said, “because you know that somebody else is going to read it someday and judge you by it.”
Loosely based on Houck’s own experiences as a young writer in New Orleans, “Ketchup Soup” follows a young man, James Reichardt, an energetic and somewhat delusional copywriter working at an advertising agency. Like Houck, Reichardt is a Kansas native discovering the underbelly of New Orleans for the first time.
“I strove to capture that unavoidable loneliness and natural need to build a network of friends that any young person experiences when they move to a new place where they know nobody and are alone,” Houck said.
Houck said the sales are humble thus far, but the good reviews the book has gotten are what make it worthwhile.
He is living in Miami, Fla., with his wife and two daughters while he works on other projects including his second book, “Heart of Sand”.
FOR THE QUOTE BOX: (Amazon reviews)
“Ketchup Soup is 77 parts comedy with a generous dose of eccentric New Orleans life. It is an entertaining fast moving story written with a unique rhythm and full of unusual prose, a winner for any Hunter S. Thompson fan. I would also compare the eccentric cast of characters to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The vision of the main character, James Reichardt, dirty Kansan turned adman clad in a toga on a balcony fanning the flames of a misbegotten riot will stick with me for awhile. It is an all around enjoyable read that had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions and I really look forward to more writing by James Houck.” -Terry Marshall
This is the most entertaining book I’ve read in quite some time. I laughed aloud from cover to cover. Mr. Houck has a very fertile imagination (I hope. There’s some speculation that the book is autobiographical, which is kind of scary……..). -Don Alford
Follow the main character, James, as he wades into the weird world of advertising, bikers, drugs and sex in pre-Katrina New Orleans. It took me the first chapter or so to get used to the odd rhythm of this book. But once I fell into the groove though, I strapped myself in and laughed out loud at the peculiar characters and absolutely absurd reality he lives through. The writing does an amazing job of conjuring the humidity and smells of New Orleans. Fans of Mark Leyner, David Foster Wallace and Hunter S. Thompson will enjoy this book for sure. At times way over the top but always with a poignant aftermath. James somehow comes through all of his misadventures not so much transformed as unscathed. -Aidan Donnelly