Correction to This Article
This Book World article included several errors. Jim Lehrer served in the Marines from 1956 to 1959, not during the Korean War. Lehrer's reporting beats for the Dallas News included the police, courts and politics, but not sports. His first novel was the 1966 "Viva Max!" and not "Kick the Can," published in 1988.

Jim Lehrer: Thinking Outside the Box

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Picture the man you invite into your home day after day: the calm, wise head-in-the- box who sums up the news and delivers it without drama or embellishment. And now picture that man as a passionate novelist, rising before the sun, filled with such an irrepressible urge to make up stories that he scribbles them down before work, between interviews.

It's not that he has anything to prove. Every day of the week, 2.7 million viewers give him their full attention. It's just that the books keep bubbling up. In the course of 32 years, he has written more than 20.

He was born in Kansas in 1934, but spent most of his childhood in Texas. By 16, he was under the thrall of sportswriters covering the local baseball scene. When his English teacher noted on one of his essays, "Jimmy, you're a very good writer," it was all the encouragement he needed. He signed up for the school paper. Later, at Victoria College, he wrote for, edited, laid out -- even printed -- the college daily, all while earning a wage at the local bus depot.

He knew something about buses. His father had been running a bus company, getting routes where he could, employing his sons as drivers -- even putting Lehrer's diminutive mother behind the wheel of a 40-seater. But when that company went bankrupt, his father never got over it. It was then that Lehrer learned something about human drama.

He served as a U.S. Marine for three years during the Korean War. When he got out, he found work as a sportswriter for the Dallas News and then later as an anchor at a local PBS television affiliate. "Those were the days," he says, "when reporters competed for who could write best, not for who could get whom indicted. We all talked about the novels we'd publish someday."

That day came in 1988, when he published Kick the Can, the first of his One-Eyed Mack mysteries. He's been writing fiction ever since.

"A young man came up at a book-signing once," he recounts, "and said, 'Mr. Lehrer, I'd write, too, if only I could find the time.'

" 'Do you think you could write a page a day?' " Lehrer asked.

" 'Oh, sure!' "

" 'Well, at the end of 300 days, what would you have?' "

The youth looked puzzled, and then light broke over his face like morning. " 'A novel?' "

-- Marie Arana


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