We had the good fortune of connecting with James T. Bartlett and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Though I really operate on a small, individual scale, the idea for me to research, write and publish the “Gourmet Ghosts” guide books to L.A. really came from the fact that, when I arrived in Los Angeles, I couldn’t find a guide book like it. Initially I was just looking for stories I could sell as a freelance journalist, but I just started collecting more and more, getting lost down internet rabbit holes, spending more time in the library, and eventually realizing that I was enjoying myself. That was the key to me (or the “secret” behind whether you are prepared to spend hours and hours and hours of unpaid work trying to see if your idea can get any other people interested in it). As long as I enjoyed it and didn’t see it as just a chase for lots of money (always a risky goal, as you’d give up very quickly as soon as you realized how much time you’d put in for no return), it was worth it. At least, if nothing else, I was having fun. And that enthusiasm I had for it came through when I later talked to vendors, editors, corporate event people etc, and slowly gained some sales, article commissions, and reward for all the work. It helped me too with my latest project, a narrative non-fiction true crime book called “The Alaskan Blonde” about a sensational 1950s murder in Alaska that ended with a suicide in Hollywood. I have spent nearly four years working evenings and weekends unpaid on it – including travel to Alaska and Texas – and, like when I couldn’t find that guide book, I did it because I was interested and wanted to know more. Maybe no one else will agree with me and it won’t sell a single copy, but at least it was a rewarding experience.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
That’s a really hard question to answer without writing an essay! I hope my enthusiasm, professionalism and research skills set me apart from others. Also, I write like I talk, which (I think) makes it seem accessible and fun. What am I most proud about? Honestly, that anyone who wasn’t family or a friend bought a copy of my books! And that the Central Library in downtown L.A. felt it was worth shelving. That was a near-lifelong dream come true. How did I get to where I am today? I’ve been a freelance journalist for 20 years now, mainly because I’ve always wanted – if i can – to go to places, meet people and discover things that I want to know about, and think others might want to know about too. If it’s something unusual or weird, or a question you’ve often wondered about, I try to find out the answer. I’ve tried to keep that as my work compass, and it’s been both good and bad for me, but whatever project I am doing, I always want it to be the best I can make it. Overcoming challenges? You just have to keep plugging away, keep pitching ideas, keep trying to think what other people will want to read about. Most of the hard work – especially in these pandemic times, when work has almost come to a standstill, with no end in sight is actually getting a commission itself; the fun part is researching and writing it. As for what I want the world to know? Check out my books! They’re really fun, interesting and packed with research and information you won’t know – crime, ghosts, celebrities, architecture, history – they’re all found in the “Gourmet Ghosts” guides.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A week long trip? Again, that would be an essay to answer. I would take them on a downtown walking tour that featured lots of places featured in “Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles” – for sure, and a mix of tourism favorites and our secret spots (which I can’t tell you here, or they wouldn’t be secret any more). And don’t knock the cliche tourist places; if you occasionally see them through the eyes of a tourist, not a jaded local, they can be great (example? Griffith Observatory).
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Early supporters were Josh Spencer at the Last Bookstore, and Scott Michaels at Dearly Departed Tours. They encouraged me to go for it, and said they’d put it on the shelf when it came out. They let me host events at their locations too. Mainly though it was my wife, Wendall Thomas, who encouraged me and said it was a good idea. I would have given up long ago if it wasn’t for her – certainly in relation to my latest book, too.
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