Friday, July 31, 2009

[Interview] Ambrose Musiyiwa

By Kaye Axon*

Ambrose Musiyiwa has worked as a freelance journalist and teacher. One of his short stories was featured in Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005), an anthology of contemporary Zimbabwean writing.

Currently, he is working on another story.

In this interview, Ambrose Musiyiwa talks about his concerns as a writer:

Did you write in Zimbabwe?

I've always been writing.

In primary school, I was writing short stories and other narratives. When I moved to high school, I was writing short stories, poems, letters and opinion articles for national newspapers and magazines. After high school, I stopped writing poems altogether and concentrated on short stories and feature articles for newspapers and magazines.

When I went to teacher training college, I was concentrating more on feature articles and book reviews than on short stories or other narratives.

The list of newspapers and magazines I've written for includes The Sunday Times, The Zimbabwe Independent, the High Density Mirror, The Daily News, The Financial Gazette, The Sunday Mail, The Herald and the women's magazine, Mahogany.

How have your personal experiences helped to shape the direction of your work?

In the short stories that I write, I tend to concentrate on those things that I find difficult to deal with, personally. Things I wouldn't know how to deal with otherwise. For example, one of my short stories explores the effects of suicide on a family while "Living on Promises and Credit", which was featured in Writing Now, is about a teacher who is trying to come to terms with a death threat he's received for doing his job, as he understood it.

How do you balance the different aspects of your writing, such as short stories, journalistic work and book reviews?

I don't think I've ever made a conscious effort to balance the different aspects of the writing that I'm doing. I tend to write those stories that want to be written the way they want to be written. (Which, I'm told, isn't really the right way of approaching the job of writing.) This is also probably why I tend to write more journalism and book reviews than short stories.

I find the book reviews more demanding in terms of the time I've got to give to a book before I can even start drafting the review itself.

Many of your factual articles focus on human rights issues, is this area of your work something that you have decided to concentrate on?

I write on human rights issues because I feel strongly about what people as individuals, groups and governments are doing to others.

In the UK, for instance, there's the way government is actively criminalizing asylum seekers and pushing them into destitution and poverty. The British government is currently electronically tagging asylum seekers and in that way further reinforcing the popular image of the asylum seeker as a criminal. There's the way government is denying asylum seekers access to education, housing, legal representation and medical care. There's the way government is threatening to snatch the children of asylum seekers from their families and force them to live in care homes. There's also the way government is encouraging white Britain to view the Muslim as a foreigner and a terrorist and the black man as a foreigner, a drug dealer and a criminal.

On the other hand, there's a very active group of people, working as individuals or as organizations or groups, who are working very hard and against great odds to reaffirm the humanity of asylum seekers and refugees. These include people like the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu and other church leaders; the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns; the ASSIST Service in Leicester; the parliamentarian Kate Hoey and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe ...

Do you feel that by publishing human rights abuses that it is possible to reduce their frequency and severity?

This is my hope. This is what I hope for.

With human rights defenders, one of the ways of keeping them alive is by writing and talking about them. In that way you tell governments that you are watching and can see how they are detaining the activists, how they are torturing them and how they are killing them. For example, in Zimbabwe, security agents have been known to detain, harass and torture human rights defenders and opposition party members. Some human rights defenders have died in accidents that can be traced back to the hand of security agents. Chris Giwa, a student leader, died in a traffic accident involving an army vehicle. And, recently, the women's rights activist Jenni Williams was told by a senior police officer in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, that she will end up losing her life if she continues organizing demonstrations and protest marches against government policy.

If you could write a few paragraphs that would influence UK policy on asylum seekers what would it be?

I am concerned that the British government, and the Home Office, in its efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers in the UK, has stopped seeing asylum seekers as people, as human beings. What it is saying over and over again is that asylum seekers are numbers to be kept down. It is becoming increasingly inhumane and punitive. It is subjecting those asylum seekers who are in the UK to lives of extreme insecurity, hardship and poverty and is then sending them back to famines, dictatorships and war zones.

In May 2005, for example, the British government rejected Muhammad Osama Sayes' asylum application and sent him back to Syria.

Muhammad Osama Sayes was a known member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was arrested on arrival at Damascus Airport and is now serving a 12-year prison term in Syria (after being convicted of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.) The Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Syria and membership to that organization carries a maximum penalty of death.

What do you find are the major hindrances to your work and how do you overcome them?

I write all my notes in long-hand. This means when interviewing a source, he or she has to speak slowly. To overcome this, I am increasingly having to rely on tape recorders and I am learning short-hand. I am also increasingly relying on email as a tool for conducting interviews because it is sometimes impossible to travel to meet sources physically.

Given that all those hindrances disappeared and you could write about anything what would you write?

I'd most likely carry on doing what I'm doing now: writing on human rights issues, writing about human rights defenders, writing about writers and other artists and writing the occasional short story.

On a lighter note, how is the latest short story progressing?

A few years back, I collaboratated with a civil rights activist on a narrative about what she was seeing and the detainees she was meeting when she visited immigration detention centres. It was not a short story in the popular sense of a short story -- every detail in it is fact and is verifiable. The places are real and the people are real. It was a short story in the sense that it is short and can be read like a short story.

At the moment, I'm working on what I'm hoping will turn into a novel. The story is currently accessible on the blog, Diary of an Asylum Seeker but because of work and study commitments, I spend more time thinking about the story than I do updating it. It's making very, very slow progress.

An earlier version of this article was first published on OhmyNews International.

About the author

*Kaye Axon, has had several hundred poems published or self-published worldwide. She is a long-term vegan and travel addict. In 2005, her short story, "Kamikaze Black Moor" was short-listed in the Leicester and Leicestershire Short Story Contest. The story explores the role fish played in her childhood.

Possibly related books:


Thursday, July 30, 2009

[Interview] Mark Kaplan

Novelist, school teacher and screenwriter, Mark Adam Kaplan was born in Staten Island, NY. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute’s Center for Film and Television Studies.

He has worked as an Associate Editor and then as a public school teacher in New York City before relocating to Hollywood, CA.

His film credits include, A Time to Remember (Tai Seng, 1998) and Echoes of the East: Tibet, 1997.

His writing includes book and music reviews which have appeared in magazines that include Rapport Magazine in Los Angeles; “Date with the Chairman”, a short story which was published in the anthology, Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers (Cleis Press, 2005); and, A Thousand Beauties (BeWrite Books, 2009), his first novel.

In this interview, Mark Kaplan talks about his concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I’ve always written, although I think I made a formal decision to give writing more importance when I was in college. I was directing plays and found myself inspired to speak my mind that way. Several of my own plays were produced in New York and Los Angeles, although nothing took off.

How would you describe your writing?

I do many different kinds of writing at the moment.

I write articles about teaching and education, prose, and screenplays. I find it difficult to stick to one genre (or media for that matter). Some stories are made for the screen, I believe, and some require deeper insight into a character’s thought process. There is room for crossover, of course. But I believe that truly interesting works in one genre do not translate easily into another.

For example, I really do not care what goes on inside of John MacLane’s mind, but I love watching the Die Hard films. On the other hand, I found Snow Falling on Cedars quite moving as a novel and unwatchable as a film. There are exceptions, of course. But I believe the rule generally holds.

I am reminded of an interview I read with Milan Kundera. After having The Unbearable Lightness of Being made into a film he swore that he would never write another novel that could be adapted. After reading his Immortality, I understand what he means.

Who is your target audience?

I do not write with a single target audience in mind. Perhaps that is what impedes my greater success.

Some of my screenplays are written for families, others for young adults. A Thousand Beauties was written without a target audience in mind, but I have found great interest among adults, middle-aged and above. Naturally, the audience is not confined to this age group, but when discussing the book with them, I have seen genuine surprise and interest once I disclose the nature of the story. It is certainly too adult for teenagers.

Who influenced you most?

My mother wrote stories which she read to us as we grew up, and I loved hearing them. She pursued her writing throughout my life and that taught me to keep going regardless of how my work was received.

My father, on the other hand, is not a writer, but always offered his honest opinion, which was sometimes very painful for me to hear. He did, however, keep my feet on the ground and offered me a more pragmatic outlook on life.

I began writing A Thousand Beauties after the death of my paternal grandmother who succumbed to pancreatic cancer. My maternal grandmother died shortly thereafter. I have been fortunate to lose few loved ones during my lifetime. Their passing forced me to stop putting off my novel writing and sit down to work.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I have many concerns as a writer. I want to touch my readers’ hearts, to entertain them, but I also hope to reveal something they may not have considered.

I am most concerned by what appears to be the approaching disappearance of the casual reader. Computer games and the internet have provided the next generation with such a wealth of hands on, interactive amusement, that I fear the loss of a public that reads books for pleasure.

Young people are reinventing the language with text messages, and their growing need for immediate gratification, (which was a punch line twenty years ago) does not bode well for entertainment that delays satisfaction for two- or three-hundred pages. J. K. Rowlings’ books, and the runaway success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series are encouraging signs. But I fear the tide is turning away from a novel reading public.

How are you dealing with these concerns?

I have seen some books that have generated interest among our disenfranchised young people. Townsend Press puts out The Bluford Series, a number of books set at the same inner-city high school. I have seen kids who have never finished reading a book devour these one after the other. They deal with what used to be adult themes, but are more and more teen issues. The prose itself is accessible, and writers like Paul Langan and Anne Schraff have proven there is still hope.

I am now working on my own young adult novel that deals with teen issues, Dangerous, in the hopes that it has a similar effect on our young people.

Dangerous will be about Leon Mendoza, a young kid coming of age in East Los Angeles who faces the challenges that come with the territory. He’s been arrested for dealing and accused by his homies of ratting them out. Caught between the courts and the streets, Leon fights to survive and escape from the life that fate seems set for him.

What are the main challenges that you face?

For years I tried to write for financial success, with no success. When I started writing, I was all about the creative energy and artistic inspiration that drives most artists. Then suddenly I was 30 years old, and my future livelihood was in question. I turned to screenwriting, hoping to crack into the Business and achieve the financial success that had eluded me. To that end, I came up with “commercial” stories. I honed my craft until the writing was top-notch. But what had suffered were my ideas. I spent nearly a decade working on ideas that were not truly inspired due to my misconceptions about what I thought Hollywood wanted.

I still love much of the work that I did at the time. But none of it was original enough to separate me from the pack. I worked with countless partners on countless projects, none of which have taken off.

A Thousand Beauties was written for nobody’s sake but my own. It is, by far, the best work I have done.

What sets it apart from other things you have written?

A Thousand Beauties is different from anything else I have written not only because of its form, but because of the intimacy with the characters the form allows.

Most of my writing for the past decade has been in screenplay format, where the focus is on meaningful actions. A Thousand Beauties allowed me access to the character’s thoughts and feelings as well as their actions.

This is also the one project that I have spent the longest time developing. The growth from its inception until its present form has taken seven years, far longer than any other project in my repertoire.

It is similar to other things that I have written because I tend to embrace the darker passions, and this work is full of them.

Do you write everyday?

Unfortunately I do not have the time to write everyday. As the father and primary caretaker of two young daughters, a public school teacher and a husband, the demands on my time are extreme.

Whenever I find myself with some free time (which is rarely) I sit at the computer and try to move through whatever I am currently working on (right now, Dangerous has this questionable honor). I usually finish writing sometime after 1:00am, and have to leave for work by 6:00am.

How many books have you written so far?

A Thousand Beauties (Bewrite Books, 2009) is my first full-length book, although I have had short stories published, am an internationally produced screenwriter and of course, have essays on the Internet.

What would you say the novel is about?

A Thousand Beauties is about Rupert Ruskin, a successful but unpopular man who has isolated himself from the world to chase his family’s elusive vision of enlightenment. He believes if he can see a thousand beautiful things in one day he was achieve the perspective of angels and spend the rest of his days in bliss. But his vision-quest is interrupted when his ex-wife, Elaine, bursts back into his life with the news of her cancer. Ruskin figures that if he can help Elaine find a thousand beauties, then perhaps her last days won’t be completely miserable.

I wrote the first draft of A Thousand Beauties in about eight months back in 2002. It sat on the shelf for a while, and I wrote several page one rewrites, cutting out over 150 pages from the original length.

How did you find a publisher for the book?

I sent out submission packets, but they met with little success until I sent it to BeWrite Books, where the editor, Neil Marr responded to one. He requested the full ms, and, after reading it, rejected it. Luckily for me, his rejection came with copious notes on the text. I reviewed his notes and found them clear professional.

I wrote back to ask if he would look at the text again after I worked on it more. Fortunately, he was happy to do, since he loved the premise so much. This rewrite took about five months.

True to his word, Neil reread the ms. This time he accepted it, and we began the process of beating the text down to its shiny core. We worked for several months on the book. Without his insight, honesty, and openness, A Thousand Beauties would not be as good as it is. I was very lucky to find an Editor who actually works as a editor. It was a terrific collaboration and I am grateful for the experience. This was the biggest advantage this publisher offered.

Did the arrangement present any disadvantages?

The disadvantages are that BeWrite is a small European publisher, and I’m in the United States. Also, the company relies on Print-on-Demand technology, which means they do not print a large run and blast sales in the first few weeks. (This is not Publish-on-Demand, or self-publishing. It is an entirely different animal.) Also, they offered no advance against royalties, and due to the nature of their publishing process, the paperbacks are a bit pricey. However, they also offer an e-Book, which positions them well for the future, and is good news to all Kindle users.

The challenges posed by this kind of publishing primarily involve accepting and evaluating their criticism of the work, being open to others’ ideas regarding design of the book and cover, and working collaboratively on a project conceived and executed (until this point) on my own.

Also, without the clout carried by a big house, it is more difficult to obtain reviews by recognizable figures or papers. This is a primary focus of my attention right now.

I am also involved with the promotion of the book far more than I would be should the book have been put out by one of the big publishing houses. Fortunately, the people at BeWrite have a wealth of knowledge about ways to get the word out. It’s a great learning experience for me and a lot of fun.

What did you enjoy most about the whole process?

The most enjoyable part of the process so far has been working with the Editor. I had been looking for feedback such as he provided for years, and had even paid for it at one point. For all of that, no one gave me the specific kind of notes that he did, which I found both useful and refreshing.

Part of the reason why it was so pleasurable is the manner in which the notes came. All were handled with meticulous attention to tone and came in the form of suggestions – which I was free to either accept or reject. This courtesy and professionalism is something I have rarely encountered.

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

A Thousand Beauties is definitely my most significant achievement as a writer. Although I am proud of my film work, the quality of this novel, and the difficulty of the work in getting it here have made its release the proudest moment of my professional career.

How did you get there?

It all comes down to hard work, being open to criticism (but not a slave to it), and the luck of finding an editor who shared my vision, and was willing to nurture a novice writer to make it a reality.

Possibly related books:


Monday, July 20, 2009

[Interview_1] Christian A. Dumais

Christian A. Dumais' work has been featured in newspapers and magazines that include the St. Petersburg Times, GUD Magazine and Third Wednesday.

His latest book, Empty Rooms Lonely Countries (CreateSpace, 2009) is a collection of short stories that draws on his experiences as an American living in Poland as well as on his adventures in the United States.

When he is not writing, Dumais works as a university lecturer in Wroclaw, Poland, where he teaches American Literature, as well as Creative Writing and American Pop Culture.

In this interview, Christian Dumais talks about his concerns as a writer:

How would you describe your writing?

I’ve been asked this a few times and I’m still uncertain on how to answer. The category I keep coming across is autobiographical fiction, but I don’t think that’s what I’m out to achieve. The stories in Empty Rooms Lonely Countries are true. The events happened. The conversations are as I remember them. The people are real. However, for the benefit of telling a cohesive and entertaining story, the chronology has been altered at times, separate events have been combined into one, and of course, it’s all filtered through my own experiences. If anything, I’m fortunate to have lived a life with enough events that sound like fiction.

I guess my concern is that I don’t want the book to come across as a memoir full of angst and heartache, the kind you’ve seen a dozen times already. Sure there’s angst and heartache, but there are also monsters, imaginary friends, elves, gnomes, fairies, vampires, cupids, mariachis, pornstars, devils and lots of alcohol. Now that I think of it, it’s a lot like the Bible. How is that for a selling point?

Who is your target audience?

My target audience? This is something I've considered a lot in the last few months of promoting the new book. I know the book as a whole isn't for everyone, but I believe without a doubt that there is a story or two in the book for everyone.

But if I had to be specific, I believe Empty Rooms Lonely Countries is written for people my age (I'm going to be 35) who remember the 80s as the first decade they actively participated in and who remember their history through a massive overload of pop cultural references.

I wouldn't say there was any particular motivation to start writing for this specific audience; if anything, I was writing the kinds of stories I liked to read. The stories written in the 90s were written from my dissatisfaction of the decade and how, as a generation, we were in this bizarre holding pattern. And I'd like to believe that if I was noticing this, that there were plenty of others doing the same, and sometimes it's nice to see your thoughts in someone else's words. Many of the books I've fallen in love with in my life were the ones that appeared to be written just for me, and the joy of the story comes from both the recognition of your thoughts in someone else's words and the satisfaction of knowing you're not alone.

What would you say Empty Rooms Lonely Countries is about?

Empty Rooms Lonely Countries is a collection of 27 short stories. The stories move from Tampa, Florida to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to London, England to Paris, France and eventually end up in Wroclaw, Poland, with plenty of places in between. The stories jump genres, from horror to humor to romance to drama. Like I said before, there is something for everyone.

The book collects a small amount of the short stories written over the last 12 years. If anything, this book is a nice sampler of the kinds of things I can write, so I can’t really say it stands apart from my other work. I do like how the stories selected for Empty Rooms Lonely Countries work together to tell a much larger story. Even the About the Author works as an epilogue.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My greatest concern as a writer is to tell an entertaining story that is emotionally honest. I've read thousands of short stories that were amazingly entertaining, but the ones that have stuck with me were the ones with a sincere emotional connection. The details of the stories themselves might have been forgotten, but the way those stories made me feel will not.

As for how I deal with that, I'm always considering the best approach to telling the story. Okay, something interesting happened in my life this week that I believe warrants a story, but unless I can find the emotional hook, it won't be written. For instance, the story "Mad Dogs" is about my evening out with some of the members of the Secret Service in Krakow, and that alone, I believe, is an effective hook. However, if I only used that, the story itself might be entertaining, but it would be empty. By focusing on the displacement of the American agents in Poland, this helped to emphasize my own feelings of alienation, and because of this, I hope that it created something more identifiable for the reader to hold onto as they work through the story.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My personal experiences are my writing. I think one of the things that helped my writing was to stop pretending I was not writing about myself and stop creating fictional characters that were so overtly me that I may as well have named them Dristian Chumais.

This is one of the things that drew me so heavily to Hunter S. Thompson, this insistence on destroying the reality of Thompson and exploring the myth of Thompson, to the point that a lot of readers continue to have difficulty discerning what's true and what's not. This ambiguity creates a third version of Thompson that is neither true nor false, but rather, a Thompson that's more real than the previous versions could ever be.

I’m not saying I’ve accomplished anything remotely like Thompson, but it's something I consider as I reconcile who I am in real life as opposed to who I am in print.

In terms of the direction of my writing in terms of my experiences, because the stories in Empty Rooms Lonely Countries are based on real documented events, whether it be my aforementioned experience with the Secret Service or the drug conferences I attended as a “pharmacist” from 1997 to 1998, I have an obligation to be honest for those who were there with me, but an even bigger responsibility to translate those experiences and emotions as honestly as I can for the readers.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge I’m currently facing is getting the book noticed. It’s hard work trying to be heard on the internet (even with a contest to give away $1,000), especially when there are hundreds of new incredible things arriving every day. I mean, here I am with this little book screaming, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I WANT TO GIVE YOU A $1,000!” and meanwhile everyone is watching a YouTube clip of a slow loris being tickled. And then when that’s done, they are Googling “slow loris” to find out just what the hell it is.

You just can’t compete with a tickled slow loris. It’s tough out there.

How many books have you written so far?

This is my second book. Though, in full disclosure, the first book was a novel and it’s been locked away in a very dark place. Nobody has been able to look at it for over ten years now. There is a rumor that whenever someone reads the novel, a puppy dies. I couldn’t live with that.

How did you choose the publisher for the book?

I went with CreateSpace and self-published Empty Rooms Lonely Countries. A lot of this was done out of impatience, and since many of the stories in the book had been published previously in magazines and journals, I believed that it was time to collect them into one handy package.

Plus, I spent most of last year studying a movement called liberature for my MA work, and one of the things it endorsed was the writer’s active participation in every aspect of the book’s creation. It likened the writer giving the manuscript to a publisher and not being involved in the packaging of the book to a musician creating a score and not stating what kind of instruments are to be used. I really liked the idea of putting the book together, creating the cover and knowing the book inside and out. I know CreateSpace prints my book, but it’s gratifying to know that this book is mine, that it’s precisely how I wanted it to be through my own choices.

Which aspect of the work did you enjoy most?

I just enjoyed going through the stories again and picking out what should and shouldn’t go into the book. Some of the stories made me cringe (and still do) and some of the stories surprised me. I like the memories each story gives me, which is why I’m having a lot of fun now writing commentaries for each of the stories from the book on my website.

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

My most significant achievement as a writer on a personal level has been that I’ve kept writing all of these years, even when no one was reading my stories and I wasn’t getting published. The easy thing to do is not write, to turn on a movie or read a book instead, and I’m thrilled to have this large body of work that’s accumulated over the years. I’m really proud of that.

Outside of that, I’m thrilled to have avoided some of the more common traps writers fall in, like shoot themselves in the face or marry their 13-year-old cousin.

What will your next book be about?

The next book will be another collection of short stories -- out sometime in late 2010 -- and it is tentatively titled You Are Going to Die and Other Stories of Hope and Inspiration. After that, I hope I will have finally finished the novel I’ve been threatening to finish for far too long. Or who knows, maybe I’m really a short story writer after all.

Anything else before we go?

I just want to thank everyone who has bought the book. I know I’m not selling huge numbers, but it thrills me to know that there are copies out there in the world being read.

For those who are on the fence, I’m having a contest to give away $1,000 to one of my readers if I manage to sell 1,000 copies of Empty Rooms Lonely Countries by the end of this year.

Possibly related books:


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

[Interview] Clifford Lane Mark

Clifford Lane Mark's first novel, Ecumensus: The Next Vision (IUniverse, 2009) has won a number of awards and has been described as having "an almost supernatural energy of truth around it".

In this interview, C. L. Mark talks about his concerns as a writer:

Do you write every day?

No, I’m a muse-driven writer. When the thoughts and inspirations have accumulated in me over a few days or a few weeks, they come rushing out of me in a torrent and only then can I write.

When I start an inspired writing session it may go on for an hour or two.

I usually return a little later or the next day to what I’ve written so I clean it up, punctuate it, find the most accurate words and make sure it is communicating as precisely as the feelings I had when I was inspired to write it.

I’ve always been a wordsmith of sorts (newsletters, essays, a few poems, industry articles, that sort of thing) but Ecumensus, my first novel, was so involved that it took many years to fully grasp and complete. The story line itself is captivating and unique in premise but it also required that I integrate understandings and insights into the story so that it could be read and understood on a deeper level. Many of these insights and understandings came to me even as I wrote through the years and it then became necessary for them to adhere to a logical progression so they could be easily followed and believed.

Eventually, the novel took on its epic and visionary aspect. It challenged me as a writer and somewhere along the way it taught me how to write.

I was blessed with two good editors as well.

The writing style is being praised in many quarters so, hopefully, the quality of the writing is self-evident.

What compelled you to start working on the novel?

When I started the book in 1995, I had come to believe that the next great frontier to be explored was not outer space or medical advances that result in longer lives or even information technologies that bring the world into closer proximity.

It seemed to me that the next great frontier was the need to better understand the ultimate identity, purpose, and destination of humankind and how to envision a roadmap for all humans that was something more than war, greed, hunger, persecution and competition.

As a political philosophy and history major in college, I had developed an ability and a desire to see past the conflicts and arguments of men to some higher ground or collective common purpose that must be found in order to survive an undeniable trend to higher populations and fewer resources over which we will either fight to the death or learn how to share. This kind of “mind change,” in turn, requires a transformation in our “base” philosophies, tribal traditions and religions that are entrenched in our cultures and have become just as competitive. I thought I knew how to communicate this roadmap -- not through prescription but through a story that engages the emotions as well as the conscious mind.

It was always my hope that I could write such a story and only when the ten “trial readers” were unanimously moved to encourage me to publish the novel did I dare to believe that I had perhaps succeeded.

What would you say Ecumensus is about?

When the seven organizers of the most important event of the next millennium (a black man, an Asian woman, an old Catholic Priest, a blind Muslim boy, a Jewish financier, a young Mexican girl and a Native American Councilman) are informed of their purpose to re-vision the world, they are intrigued but skeptical. When they finally find themselves atop a sacred mesa with the sages and wise ones of our time, they are astounded by the insights and understandings that await them and by the dramatic events that unfold there; events that will inspire the enlightened survival of humankind for the foreseeable future.

It took some 15 years to outline, write, edit and publish the novel. It was published in June of 2008 and has won a 2008 Publishers Choice Award.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

For some, I suppose, a traditional publisher is a choice but it is an agent-driven process and not one that is friendly to unknown or first-time authors. It’s not like anyone was rushing to my door.

In order to keep some aspect of “control” of the process, especially in terms of timing, I chose a hybrid publishing process called supported self-publishing. I saw an interview on television with the IUniverse CEO and liked what I saw, heard and felt, so I engaged their services.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

The reputation of the “self-published” or “vanity publishers” has been pretty spotty through the last century but the face of publishing has changed greatly since 2000 with the advent of desk-top publishing and other computer advances.

The disadvantage of this previous reputation has made getting reviews from traditional established sources (newspapers, periodicals, radio and television) much more difficult.

The advantage is that there is some control of the timing of the process and, if the book is good enough, there is no requirement to endure the corporate politics or unimaginative mentalities that can be encountered when one is “beholden” to a traditional publisher. If my book provides an experience that enriches reader’s lives on any number of levels, it will get into wider and wider circulation almost on its own. All of us know that word-of-mouth advertising is ultimately the best kind.

In addition, there is still a strong likelihood that a more traditional publisher will express an interest and will choose the book for wider distribution.

Either path is suitable and is just exactly what is meant for this novel.

At some point, the ego of the writer has to get out of the way and the merit of the writing; the value of the reading experience, will find its audience.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

In some ways, the length of time it took to create the story was the most difficult because my own impatience kept rearing its ugly head and trying to hurry a process that seemed to have its own timeline -- whether I liked it or not.

Over the last few years I have finally come to accept (almost) that this work has its own pace and, in many ways, I am just a tool of sorts. When I finally began to accept that my ego was not as much in charge as I first thought, everything was much more enjoyable and much more productive.

Why was this so?

A visionary work has hundreds of influences and “ghost writers” if you will. Once I was out of the way and let the stories and characters come to me or through me rather than forcing the action, the novel took on an epic aspect that I never saw coming.

Once the rough draft was complete, the passages that I wrote outside this process needed the most editing and the most revision.

I found that rather enlightening.

What did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the self-discovery I experienced in writing Ecumensus, for one thing, and I enjoyed the fact of completion.

I told some people when I was done with the rough draft that getting it published was not critical to me at all. Facing the blank page for 15 years and finally typing the words, “The End” carried with it an incredible sense of completion, accomplishment and satisfaction. It was only when the trial readers of the rough draft unanimously encouraged me to publish it that publication became a more important desire for me.

The next most satisfying moments, after publication and presentation to the world, were the following comments of three readers who wrote to tell me that the book was “nothing short of brilliant,” (one reader), “was the most impactful book they had ever read” (another reader), and that it “has an almost supernatural energy of truth to it that cannot be denied” (a third reader).

These experiences are both heady and humbling. Completion is its own reward. Knowing that you’ve reached a reader in a very positive way is gratifying and makes you think maybe the trial readers were right and that a wide audience will eventually enjoy it.

What sets Ecumensus apart from other things you've written?

Longer, more complete and published.

In what way is it similar?

Uniformly good feedback.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Thinkers like Ram Dass, Alan Watts, and Dan Millman helped to influence my thinking.

Storytellers like James Redfield and others convinced me that there is a market for “visionary storytelling.”

The best measure of a writer is to evaluate whether the words resonate as “true” with the reader. The same is true of all writers I’ve read, i.e. if they resonated with me as true or possible or probable then they had their influence on my development as a person as well as on my development as a writer.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

When one is writing a book for seekers and searchers, one is unable to avoid the separation between their writing and their personal experiences.

My thousands of personal experiences, thoughts, dreams and hopes are on display in the writing I do -- not in my name but in the characters and the thoughts they express.

The novel has the stamp of my person throughout its pages.

That said, it also has the stamp of hundreds of others who have, in their way, influenced me, taught me, showed me, shared with me and tried to enlighten me by offering me their truth.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is whether what I’ve written is logical, accurate, moving, well-phrased and fair. I am a stringent “judge” of these standards and am open to any well-stated opinions to the contrary.

I think any self-described visionary writer struggles with the reality that they themselves fall short of their visions. That gap is a constant reminder to continually grow myself into the hopes and visions that have been imagined through me. I pursue that every day in some way or another. Writers are on paths, too, and are not yet everything they would eventually like to become.

How would you describe your writing?

I’ve come to view myself as a trans-religious intuitive thinker and my writing is about religio/socio/political intuitions and future hopes for all of us as seen and told through the eyes of characters who are growing toward the future -- a future that will be continually and wholly different with each passing year.

This future will require all of us as people to grow into renewed visions for the race, renewed optimism for the planet and renewed energy to create growth in ourselves as we learn to negotiate that ever-changing future.

Rather than a prescriptive or instructive writer, I am a teller of stories, parables and allegories that reach an audience emotionally, intellectually and intuitively.

How would you describe your target audience?

The target audience members are seekers, searchers, and folks who know there is more to who they are and are looking for a world we can create together through our thoughts, our words, our actions and our highest dreams for ourselves and the world.

These type people are in every walk of life but are probably educated to some degree, past 30 years of age in most cases and understandably concerned that previous ways of thinking and relating have led us to where we are today. They realize that progressive thinking -- not past beliefs but improved versions of our beliefs -- will better serve us moving forward.

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

I’d say that “achievement” it is still ahead of me... I certainly hope that is the case.

Related books:


Monday, July 6, 2009

[Interview] Bryce Beattie

Novelist Bryce Beattie describes himself as a pulp addict, a programmer, a husband and a father.

He is also the author of Oasis (CreateSpace, 2008), a novel that focuses on small town nurse, Corbin St. Laurent as he desperately tries to find a cure to a virus that is turning the inhabitants of his town into zombies.

The novel first appeared as a serial on the blog, Oasis: a Zombie novel before it was released as a paperback.

In this interview, Bryce Beattie talks about his concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I wrote little stories here and there my whole life. I really decided to start writing regularly a few years ago after I discovered the works of Edgar Rice Burrows and Robert E. Howard. Their writing just has so much fun and energy, it was infectious to me.

How would you describe your writing?

Action adventure fiction in the pulp tradition.

My target audience is me, and other folks who were born about 70 years too late. Folks who like The Shadow, seedy jazz music, Doc Savage, old time radio shows, and good, clean fun.

Which authors influenced you most?

Edgar Rice Burrows and Robert E. Howard got me going. Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent) as well as many hardboiled detective writers like Robert Leslie Bellem and Raymond Chandler. More modern influences include Ray Bradbury and Gregg Taylor from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write everyday. I don't really have a set writing rituals like a lot of writers. I just squeeze it in whenever I can. The session usually ends when my wife or daughter ask me to do something.

How many books have you written so far?

Just one so far. It's called Oasis, and it's a sci fi, action, adventure, pulp, zombie book. I self-published it through CreateSpace, only to have a small publisher contact me the day after it went live on Amazon. They weren't interested in a reprint at the time, so I missed out. More info about it can be found at Oasis: a Zombie Novel.

Oasis is the story of an E. R. nurse who is trapped in a small desert town that has been quarantined following a terrorist release of a horrible virus. A virus that siezes control of the infected person's mind.

I also had a short story published in Astonishing Adventures Magazine, a modern day pulp.

How long did it take you to write Oasis?

Oh, man. Forever. It took like two and a half years. I only really worked on it steadily the last year or so.

It was published just before Christmas last year.

I found it hard to edit the novel to a point where I could really feel satisfied that it had turned out the way I wanted. Eventually I just had to say, "Look, self, do you want this thing published, or do you just want to work on it forever?"

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I wrote it serially on my blog, and I really enjoyed the interaction with readers after every chapter.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

Well, it's long and I finished it. Nothing else I've written meets both those criteria ...

What will you be publishing next?

The book I'm working on now is a sequel to Oasis. It's more sci-fi pulpy action. This time the hero has to deal with aliens.

The book after that is going to be a more mainstream political thriller

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I am constantly striving to make my writings have more energy and be more engrossing.

I've read a lot of books on writing, and I read a ton of fiction. After folks finish reading one of my stories, I want them to say, "That was a ride."

Someday, I'd like them to say, "It's sad that that book is over. It was a fun ride, but it also made me think."

One step at a time, I suppose.

As far as challenges to my writing go, right now time concerns are the biggest. I'm busy with work, family, and my church. There just aren't enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.

How do I deal with it?

I try to cut out activities that don't really matter. Reading with my daughter matters, watching American Idol doesn't.

Related books:


Related article:

[Interview] Anonymous, author of 'worlds undone', Conversations with Writers, May 11, 2009.