There are times when something so momentous has happened, so joyous or so devastating, that we find it difficult to put into words. We want to commemorate the event but don’t know where to begin.
That’s where Wellington resident J.C. James comes in. James is a modern essayist — perhaps the only one of his kind. He will interview you, research the event, draw upon artistic inspiration, compose the story in a style he calls “sophisticated rhyme,” then present you with a “Gift of Authenticity” — his words on a gallery-quality display.
James has written more than 1,000 tributes, some of them for notable names such as golfers Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els, the late women’s polo pioneer Sunny Hale, and even Arrogate, the Louisiana racehorse that won the Dubai World Cup last March. Sometimes, the tributes are for public display but, more often, they are intensely personal, destined to remain in the family as treasured heirlooms.
Writing other people’s stories wasn’t originally James’ calling. Born in Brisbane, Australia in 1969, he came to the United States in the summer of 2000 as a youth soccer coach. Over the next 10 years, he also did some playing, and that meant a lot of travel. When he wasn’t on the field, James found himself waxing philosophical.
“I got reflective,” he said. “I began writing a few little things, and they started coming out in rhyme with a level of sophistication to them. I continued on from that point. Little stories would enter my mind. One turned into two, two turned into four, and pretty soon I had a collection. A few people I shared them with were very supportive and encouraging. They liked the perspective and introspection.”
In those early days, he was writing material from his own head — personal experiences and observations. He was encouraged to publish a collection of those short stories and short rhymes. His first book was published in 2004 by Publish America.
“It was a traditional book, marketed and distributed by them,” James said. “Make no mistake, it was a little cutesy book, but it kept me encouraged. Around 2007 to 2008 is when I started writing stories that were more specific for people. It took the focus off me having to invent things. Fortunately, I had a few private collectors. It wasn’t big rewards or large money, but it got me thinking, ‘Perhaps I have something here.’”
Clearly, he did. James’ work has gotten so popular that he has formed a company around it, Expressional Galleries, with his wife and publicist Mysdee Middleton. “It’s an interesting thing that has happened to us in the last few years,” Middleton said. “We are utilizing J.C.’s gift in a purposeful way to honor others. He captures moments, writes in sophisticated rhyme, puts an artistic spin on it.”
Clients explain their story, and James will take it from there.
“The tribute becomes a permanent reminder of a major event, because it’s a real story about real people in a real moment,” he said. “The quality of the story, coupled with the sturdy mounting system, is designed to last many, many years.”
Because each essay is a one-of-a-kind original, James copyrights the work.
“We do our research,” James said. “It’s a combination of watching visually if it’s a high-profile event, along with research done by my lovely wife.”
The Sunny Hale tribute was a good example. Composed after the top female polo player’s death last February, James said he tried to write it through the eyes of a young girl, because Hale was “a true trailblazer, a pioneer to be sure, and an inspiration to all women. She was extremely memorable and died far too young.”
Hale’s untimely death was a great loss for the polo community, he said.
“I think they lost a woman who had not yet finished her mission,” James said. “What I came to learn [through research for the essay] is that she gave so much. Her legacy continues because she established [record-keeping] bloodlines for ponies through DNA and genetics. What polo lost was her further development. Yet it was well and truly balanced out by what polo gained.”
But you don’t have to have achieved international fame to warrant a tribute by James.
“When it’s a more private tribute, for neighbors or the members of our community, I sit down with them and they relay their story to me,” he said. “The fact that we are able to make them comfortable enough to express themselves freely is the key to our success. Everything has to come from a place of honesty in order to create their ‘Gift of Authenticity.’ We interact with people on a very personal level.”
Especially if the piece is to be read aloud, James also sends an audio file of himself reading it, so people can get the pacing right. “This way they have my interpretation of their story as it was written,” he explained. “I get a lot of mileage out of the Australian accent, too. People are fond of it. And I’ve worked to develop a very steady and comfortable voice. All of my work sounds similar. There’s a rhythm and melody.”
James is comfortable growing his business slowly, primarily through word-of-mouth and his Facebook page.
“We ask our clients to pass us along in their network of friends. Growth has gone slowly, by that’s by design,” James said. “I want to develop my profile as an essayist. I’m an artist; it really is that simple. Like someone who paints original artwork, there are no reproductions. This is the medium and the method we use. The essay is written for you, about you, using a propriety method that transfers it into a finished product that we haven’t seen anybody else do. It’s a narrative of substance, written in this specialized method of sophistication.”
James enjoys living in Wellington, which he regards as a small community that appreciates good quality art, which is important to him.
Learn more about the artist at “JC JAMES Modern Essayist” on Facebook. For further information, contact Mysdee Middleton at (561) 843-4161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.