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Meet James Y. Bartlett

James Y. Bartlett was born … oh, you don’t really want to know all of that, do you?

Here’s the important stuff.

Bartlett knew early on in life that his one marketable skill was the ability to tell stories that other people wanted to hear. He was a cut-up and a comedian as a kid, so he went into journalism (B.S. in 1973 from Boston University’s College of Communications).

He knew he could be a writer, because the single scariest English professor at Mount Hermon School, T.D. or the infamous Thomas Donavan, gave him pretty good marks for the essays. He worked on the school newspaper there as well.

At B.U. (after a fascinating first year abroad attending Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland) Bartlett learned everything he needed to know about journalism in about fifteen minutes (it ain’t brain surgery, folks) and spent most of his college days working. For the school paper (the Daily Free Press). For the Associated Press statehouse bureau, which hired kids freelance to go sit in one of those endless committee hearings and then write a hundred-word summary of what happened. Interned a semester at Boston Magazine and decided he’d really like to edit one of those one day.

Upon graduation, he got in his car (a slightly beat-up Ford Cortina) and drove to Atlanta, Georgia where a friend was attending dental school. Got a job inside a week at the Marietta Daily Journal and Neighbor Newspapers, where they put him in charge of three weekly community papers in DeKalb County. He did most of the reporting, all of the editing, took photos, wrote editorials, learned layout, headline writing, made a few mistakes and lived to tell about them and generally had a great time, all for about a hundred bucks a week.

Fast forwarding over the next twenty years or so, he worked in various positions, got married, had two kids, got divorced and had to figure out a way to support himself. He had never stopped writing and so he had some options.

He had published a golf travel newsletter (The Links Letter) which was moderately successful, but made Bartlett an expert in the field of golf resorts, travel and the golfing lifestyle. Which was big at the time. Through some connections, he got a spec assignment from Esquire to write a piece about golf off the beaten track. They liked it, and published it. That helped open more doors with other publications, and pretty soon Bartlett had a nice little freelance business going, writing pieces on golf and golf travel for all kinds of golf and non-golf publications.

A few years after that, Golfweek magazine down in central Florida called and made him an offer he didn’t refuse to move to Orlando and become their features editor. So he did that for a few years and then was recruited to work as executive editor for Caribbean Travel & Life magazine, based in Winter Park. That began his “golf hiatus” period, which didn’t last very long.

In the meantime, Bartlett had picked up a couple of pretty good gigs. He became the “golf lifestyle” writer for a new publication in the Forbes magazine family: Forbes FYI. It was edited by Christopher Buckley and was designed to appeal to your typical capitalist tool with stories about the executive lifestyle, of which golf was then a big part. That gig lasted almost fifteen years and Chris Buckley always said Bartlett was the only writer whose by-line appeared in every issue for the first ten or so years.

At about the same time, one of the editors at Forbes who was also freelancing on the side, needed a golf and lifestyle writer for the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, called Hemispheres. So he recruited Bartlett, but told him he needed to write these new pieces under a pseudonym so he, the freelancing editor, wouldn’t get in trouble with the folks at Forbes! Ah, what tangled webs …

That assignment lasted nearly 20 years. There is not too much about the game of golf that Bartlett hasn’t written about over the years. Just ask him. He began writing fiction early on, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s when he finally sold something. A longtime fan of mystery fiction (John D. MacDonald, Robert Parker, Dashiell Hammett, et al) he crafted a story featuring a smart-alecky golf writer named Hacker who worked for a Boston paper, followed the PGA Tour, happened upon some terrible crime in the first few chapters and, after various mis-adventures, solved the crime in the next-to-last chapter. Bartlett has had one good literary agent in his career: the first guy, who sold Death is a Two-Stroke Penalty in a two-book deal to St. Martin’s Press, Thomas Dunne Books. Two-Stroke was quickly followed by Death from the Ladies Tee, and then the agent disappeared into a bottle and life was never the same again! One of these days, Bartlett will write another murder mystery series in which the disgruntled book author sets out to kill the succession of agents who did nothing but waste time and money. It’ll be bloody!

So fast-forward to the 21st Century and the rise of the independent author. With a new lease on life, Bartlett began writing Hacker again, and cranked out, on a semi-regular basis, five more titles. He slowly built an audience and while they are not legion, they are faithful and eagerly await the next title.

While all that was going on, Bartlett was also researching an idea for his Great American Novel, which happened to be set in Scotland. On one of his many trips over to the Olde Sod to visit, play and enjoy the many fine courses of the British Isles, Bartlett, needed a good book to keep him occupied during the long flight back home, went into the airport bookshop and bought a copy of John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances. Prebble was not an academic historian—he was a journalist and a commie—which probably helped make his book so interesting. But the stories of that sad time in Scotland’s history were fascinating, and Bartlett began to find out more.

The result of that 30-year effort is Year of the Sheep, the historic novel that attempts to present some of the themes and circumstances of the Clearances through the eyes of the women of the time who participated in them. One was Elizabeth Gordon, the 19th hereditary chief of Clan Sutherland in Scotland’s Far North. She was the one who gave the orders to clear the people out of the straths and glens to make way for the far more profitable sheepherders.

Opposing her (in addition to everyone in Sutherlandshire) was a stubborn group of women living in those straths and glens who did not want to abandon their homes. So they stayed … at least until the city toughs hired by the clan chief came and physically threw them out. Prebble’s chapter on the Massacre at Greenyards (a small village in Strathcarron) tells of the absolute horror of the day when the unarmed women were savagely beaten by the city toughs. It was awful, but it will be a memorable scene when they make the film of Year of the Sheep.

That’s Bartlett’s story, mostly. There are some other fictional works he’s published, along with a half dozen or so nonfiction books, almost all on some aspect of the game of golf. As they say, you can look it up.

As for the future, Bartlett is currently working on another mystery/thriller series and will probably eventually get back to Hacker. All in good time.

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