Friday, July 6, 2007

[Interview] Gary Dale Cearley

Gary Dale Cearley grew up in Prescott, Arkansas. He joined the United States Navy two months after graduating from high school and received language training in Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California and further military training at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.

After the leaving the navy, he started an international shipping and freight forwarding company and went to work in Los Angeles, living in the Venice Beach area. He then moved to Seoul, in South Korea before settling in Vietnam where he has lived for well over a decade.

His first book, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness: The Truth About the Vatican and the Birth of Islam is a refutation of The Prophet, a tract by Jack Chick. The Prophet suggests that the Vatican created Islam in order to rid themselves of rival early Christian denominations who did not follow Roman Catholic Church doctrines.

In a recent interview, Gary Dale Cearley spoke about his writing.

In all, how many books have you written so far?

Projects in or near completion, about seven. But I have only published two, which were both self-published.

Gary Dale Gets Offensive was released in October of 2006 and Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness was released in July of 2006.

I originally had targeted Gary Dale Gets Offensive to be released about June or July of 2007, but one of the main subjects of Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, the biblical tract publisher Jack Chick, had a heart attack earlier in 2006 and he was 83 years old at the time. I decided to sew that book up and get it out first because I wanted it to be released while Jack Chick was still alive. I believe he still is alive as I have yet to see a credible obituary for him. (There is one spoof obituary someone posted on the internet as a joke). As far as releasing both of these books a few months apart? Well, I saw no problem in this due to the fact that they are for two totally different audiences.

Your second book is a collection of ‘bawdy’ stories from the American South. What motivated you to write it?

When I tell people about the book they mistakenly assume that this is “just a joke book”. They couldn’t be further from the truth. This book actually is an attempt to keep a traditional story telling style alive.

The books full title is Gary Dale Gets Offensive!: Lurid Scenes from Bawdville. It actually was very simple to write compared to others that I have written. In the first part of the book I explain the differences in style between how Southern story telling was done and how it is seemingly a dying genre. I also explain a bit about the role of the bawdier stories in Southern culture as well -- something that is not well represented nowadays, and quite frankly never has been. The rest of the book I re-tell some of these bawdier stories in the fashion of the Southern story teller.

How long did it take you to write it?

I am not exactly sure how long this book took to write. I know that sounds like a flakey answer but to tell the truth, I have been collecting several of the stories for years. Last year year most of the work I did on the book was mainly to put it together and have it published. The research for the book certainly did not take as long in man hours as my first published book, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness: The Truth About the Vatican and the Birth of Islam, which was much, much longer on the research. And rightfully so, as Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness was a refutation of another work where I had to dig into historical facts for every point. The two books weren’t even in the same league when it came to the research end of it.

Where and when was it published?

Gary Dale Gets Offensive! was actually self-published in October of 2006. It will be available on all of the online book retail outlets soon. By this I mean outlets such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, etc. I have already sent several advance copies to interested parties around the world and it is getting rave reviews in response. But hey, let’s see how it floats when it hits the market. What I can say is that Gary Dale Gets Offensive! is already benefiting from good word-of-mouth.

I have also been experiencing good word-of-mouth with Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness as well, which has become a bit of a conversation piece. I have been receiving e-mails from people all over the world since its publication. Initially I received some quasi-hate mail for it, which was shocking. Some people would say things like “you’re going straight to hell!” Most of this came from evangelical types, all of whom I responded to by questioning if they’d actually read it. Not one of them had! In fact I even had one of the hate mailers reply to me that he refused to read it because it was the work of Satan! I found this a bit bothersome because of my personal church background, but then again, maybe I should have expected it. But all of the mail that I have received from people who actually read the book, bar none, has been extremely positive and I am very proud of that!

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

One thing I took a personal slap in the face over was the fact that I had always thought of myself as a good, conscientious writer but when I started finishing books I began finding all of the errors in spelling and punctuation that I never thought would have come from me. Simple things I should have seen and certainly knew better. This really got me. I did very well in school and in university when it came to grammar, spelling and style. I hate to see poor writing from peers, colleagues and professionals. But to see how bad I can be before editing always is like having cold water splashed over my ego. Re-writing isn’t always for style -- quite often it is for silly, simple mistakes! I am learning to swallow my pride on this.

I really enjoy the learning process that I go through when I am writing, especially when several disparate pieces of research come together and make sense and present a broader picture. I saw exactly that with Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness and I am seeing it even more clearly on my current biographical project, but more on that later. Also, I have enjoyed that the research on these books have put me in contact with so many new and interesting people who have helped me with the finer points of the subject I am researching. It has been great!

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

First of all, none of my major projects have been similar to one another. There seems to be no single thread that holds them all together. And that’s alright because I don’t want to find myself pidgeon-holed one day and not be able to write what I want to. But I would say that Gary Dale Gets Offensive! would be very interesting to people who like humor, especially spicey humor and regional humor, whereas Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness appeals to people who like history and religious subjects. I have two other humorous projects in the works, one is sort of a bit autobiographical and the other is purely fiction, so this obviously isn’t the only humorous project I have undertaken, but it is also definitely unlike the other two.

I believe that Gary Dale Gets Offensive! would only be similar to my other works and projects in that it was something I personally found intensely interesting. So I wrote about it and ultimately produced a book! None of my stuff is cookie cutter.

What will your next book be about?

My next book, which has been an immensely interesting project so far, is about the life of Lysander Spooner. Lysander Spooner was a libertarian before there was the term “libertarian”. He was a classical anarchist in many important respects, but not an anarchist in the modern sense of the word. Spooner was a major figure in the abolitionist movement prior to the American Civil War. He was a radical who supported the actions of John Brown and Nat Turner. Spooner believed in using force to free the slaves but he didn’t support the Union ’s efforts in the Civil War because he believed the war was not for the purpose of freeing slaves.

Lysander’s family also had a very intriguing history. The Spooners came to the New World by a Puritan widow joining her remnant family in Plymouth Colony, bringing her two young sons. Through the years the Spooner family survived Prince Joseph’s War and other hardships of Puritan life and saw much of the early history of what is now the state of Massachusetts. Lysander’s grandfather, Wing Spooner, was a hero of the American Revolution. Lysander Spooner himself was a major political pampleteer of the 19th century who took on the government all his adult life, beginning in his early twenties, and most of the time alone. He was associated with many well known people of his age such as William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, John Davis and Charles Allen. An amazing character was Lysander. And that having been said, there has been very little written about the man at all which was the main impetus for me deciding I wanted to do this project. It believe that if I stopped after this book it would be considered my magnum opus. But then again, I have no plans to stop after the Spooner book. It will be my best so far, that I can promise.

Of all the books you have written so far which would you say was the most difficult to write? Why is this?

My next book, the one on Lysander Spooner, will be lucky to be out by March of 2007. I have been working on the background research for a few years already and am still not 100% finished. It has turned out to be quite a challenge on the research side of things. I am loving it though.

I mean, the first time I read a Spooner tract was over twenty years ago when I was still in the US Navy. The tract was “No Treason” and it altered me politically from that point forward. I have been a fan of his various works since. But I couldn’t study my subject in a straightforward manner. During the research I conducted on Spooner’s life there have been three areas I have had to cover: Spooner’s personal life and family history, what was going on locally and nationally around Lysander Spooner during his lifetime, and how his writings reflect his relationship to this world that was around him.

What an exceptional challenge, but it has really made me grow as a writer!

Which was the easiest? Why do you think this was so?

Of the two books that have already been published Gary Dale Gets Offensive! was by far the easiest to write. But I have one or two in the pipeline which are basically finished already, but not polished for publication yet, that I feel were even easier to write than Gary Dale Gets Offensive! These were ideas that I developed, sat down and mind mapped, and from the mind map made a diagram of what should be written in each chapter, then I sat down and worked them out. The words just flowed. But even though these are 95% finished products I am putting everything on hold until I get the Lysander Spooner book out. It is a very important and very personal project to me and I want that it is the hallmark of all I have done up until the point that I release the Spooner book.

Do you write everyday? How much time would you say you spend on writing?

I write whenever I can. I mainly concentrate my actual writing on two to three nights per week and one or both days on the weekend. I will often do a “marathon stretch”. My marathon stretch is when I start writing on a Friday evening after dinner, work until the early hours of Saturday morning, then sleep a bit. When I wake up later Saturday morning I will normally work until lunch and after lunch I work again until the early hours of the morning (sometimes taking dinner, sometimes not). I repeat the process Sunday. I will especially do this if I know there is a long weekend that I am in town for because then I get even one more day on the marathon, but normally that day would only be a half day.

People who know me personally also know me as a very fun loving, social guy. I am quite involved in my community and am tied up with going out a lot in the evenings either for a few drinks for a game of darts or both. Many can’t believe that I have time to research and write all that I do. But what many don’t know is that I have had sleeping problems almost all my life. My first decision to start researching these things had to do with the fact that I couldn’t sleep and rather than toss around in the bed and wake up my girlfriend at the time, I decided to be pro-active and get up and grab a book or go to the computer!

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with these challenges?

Much of what I write is non-fiction -- so good, deep, proper research is primo to what I am doing. As an expatriate living in Vietnam , this research takes me exponentially more time and effort than if I were back home.

Most of the research I do on my topics I can conduct in little pieces every day through my own books, borrowing books from others, and books online, etc. I start out by doing mind maps to discern what I know already about a subject and also on what I need to know. I will search the reference books that I already have in my possession for more ideas. Quite often I must buy much of my reference books from overseas. This is both expensive and time consuming. I also try to find people who can help guide me or help me with sources, primary sources whenever possible. I have had these generous folks help me in several different countries. I find them through networks that I have already and sometimes simply through internet searches. The research takes so much longer than if I were in Los Angeles or London or another large city where I could go right into major university libraries or large, specialized bookstores. But it also makes the entire process more interesting I presume. It also gives me more time to develop ideas about the project than if I had all the information right at my finger tips. Lots of information I can find on the web as well but I only use that as guideline material because quite often the information found on the web is tainted with untruths. Not all I find on the web is untrue by a long shot, but a substantial enough amount is that I have to question and vet everything I see there, so again I am left having to do the background research on what I find there.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I have had a very diverse life in my forty years on earth. I was raised in a very rural and wooded area of Arkansas but have lived for the better part of two decades overseas, in Seoul, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. I was in the United States Navy for a few years even before living abroad. While in the Navy I was trained at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Vietnamese. Because of this as well I lived in many parts of the United States West Coast: San Diego, Monterey, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay area, Seattle area… All of this moving around didn’t just happen though.

When I was quite young I picked up an intense interest in reading almost anything I could get my hands on. My siblings were much more outdoorsy and were interested in horses and go carts. But I loved going to my grandmother’s house and reading her World Book Encyclopedias that were bought for my aunt’s schooling. When my mother got our own set I would spend hours upon end at home reading random articles in them as well. My mind always wondered to other parts of the world…

As I got older I was also attracted to the long religious history associated with the King James Bible and found myself studying it for many late hours when I should have been sleeping. One year a friend of the family for Christmas gave me a large, exhaustive biblical concordance with glossaries in the back of Koiné Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Chaldean languages. This concordance sparked a fascination with foreign languages that has guided my life at many turns. Mama’s younger sister was a Spanish teacher in my local high school so I borrowed books from her from around the age of 12 and taught myself Spanish. But my thirst for learning languages didn’t stop there. I would save my lunch money to buy Dover foreign language phrase books via the mail. My mother was also a member of Book of the Month and History Book Club so I started reading adult level books in History when I was still a pre-teen. In my adult life this background has led me to travel over fifty countries in the world so far. A few years back I began to document happenings in history, cultural idiosyncrasies that I found interesting, bios of people I discovered were interesting, etc. Some of the subjects I began writing about were concerning people I had read about and some were about things I had seen or places I had been.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I would say the fact that I have basically written what I have wanted to up to this point and on my own schedule is a major accomplishment in my mind. It is the main reason that I have been sticking to self-publishing for my projects. I won’t say that I might not one day choose the traditional publishing route, but I really don’t think I will do that until most of my pet projects are out of the way. I thought long and hard before deciding to self-publish. Getting rich on the writing wasn’t the goal. I felt that I had lots to say about subjects that were keenly personal to me and I felt that I would be wasting my time by trying to push fairly niche projects to publishers. Right now I feel like I am still on the right track. If I do come up with a project that I feel has a broad appeal, well, at that time I might look at the traditional route. For now I am still happy though. My books are out there and available for those who want to read them.

How did you get there?

It took lots of work and imagination to work on my books. This will fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but I never set myself a personal goal to become a writer. Somehow I knew from when I was a young kid in rural Arkansas that I would be an author of several books and that I would eventually have a measure of respect from it. Then a few years ago I just decided to start working at it. I took a first step forward by making a list of the subjects I wanted to write about and I started mapping them out, researching them, and recording my findings and compiling notes. I then told myself early in 2006 that it was time to go the second step. I had to start putting these write ups in final book form. I had procrastinated on this because I was enjoying the research and kept putting off the writing side of it but I think Jack Chick’s heart attack was the catalyst to get me going. Even though I had planned to publish Gary Dale Gets Offensive! before publishing Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, I think that if I finally did not feel the sudden intense pressure to get Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness published while Jack Chick was still alive maybe both books would still be a file on my computer...

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

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