Before James Markert became a writer, he was an avid reader. But until his sophomore year at DeSales High School, he was more likely to be found on a tennis court banging volleys into corners than reading a book.
His 15-year odyssey through over 500 books began when his English teacher, Roger Eppinger, announced he was scrapping the curriculum of traditional literature. “He told us, ‘I know most of you boys won’t read the regular assignments, so we’ll be reading Stephen King novels all year,’“ Markert says. “It worked. We had great discussions around those stories.” When the semester ended, Markert had a pretty good idea of what his career would be.
As a freshman at University of Louisville, Markert began his first novel while working as a tennis instructor. He avoided taking writing classes, learning his craft via a regimen of reading several books a month. “At that time, mostly thriller, suspense and horror,” he says. “But rarely nonfiction, because that’s not what I wanted to write.”
When Markert graduated in 1997, he was recognized as the school’s most outstanding history major. On the tennis court, he upped his game, earning the rank of “teaching pro” from the United States Professional Tennis Organization.
For the next 12 years, several drafts of four novels and a stack of publishers’ rejection letters accumulated in his closet. Markert found success, however, with his fifth novel, “A White Wind Blew.” The story unfolds during the early 1920s in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a chillingly impersonal South End institution where terminally ill tuberculosis patients were sent to die. Markert created characters who use their gifts of music, love and courage to inspire the dying to live out their final days in dignity. Accolades for the novel have piled up at Amazon Books, where readers have given it a nearly five-star rating.
Markert scored another success with the screenplay for “2nd Serve,” a direct-to-DVD movie released this summer and also set in Louisville. Produced by local impresario Gill Holland, it is a romantic comedy about a faltering tennis pro who organizes a troupe of underachievers to compete against the upper-crusters at the country club that had fired him. Ironically, the movie enabled Markert to stop moonlighting as a tennis instructor and become a full-time writer.
Markert just completed a screenplay about how late 19th century African-American jockeys were squeezed out of horse racing. He is also wrapping up a novel set in the same time period about a “Jekyll and Hyde” type actor in search of his lost father.
Asked to choose between novels or screenplays, Markert doesn’t hesitate: “I have to write novels or I can’t breathe.”
Yet he still finds time to play tennis almost every day.
“A White Wind Blew” is available at Carmichael’s Bookstore. The book can also be ordered or downloaded at Amazon.com.