- At what point do you think someone should call themselves a writer?
To write is to be a writer. I think people tend to get caught up a bit much in wanting to tie their identify to a profession or a role. The problem is that all kinds of baggage and societal definitions come along with a role (such as a writer) and can create confusion and undue influence on your behavior, and once you’ve tied yourself to external factors, you risk having your happiness or fulfillment influenced by them. My identity is Joe. One of things I do is write. I don’t allow the idea of being a writer to define or limit me.
- If your book were made into a movie, which songs would you have on the soundtrack?
When I dream of “Theo and Sprout” being made into a move I think of what songs might fit certain scenes. They don’t have to be perfect matches but just have the right feel. Since “Theo and Sprout” is about self-discovery I think of songs like.
“I’ll be Your Mirror” by Velvet Underground and Niko. The opening lyrics are “I’ll be your mirror, Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know.” This is wonderful choice for the first chapter in “Theo and Sprout.”
Another song is “Man” by Neko Case. This lyric sums up Sprout’s role in Theo’s world well, especially the last line.
“I’m a man’s man, I’ve always been.
Make no mistake, what I’ve invested in.
A woman’s heart is the watermark. Of which I measure everything”
- What inspired the idea for your book?
A dream. I dreamt I became a girl. In the dream I was confused and I was afraid of being caught, but I also felt liberation and sense of euphoria when I woke up. In the Jungian sense I knew that had to mean something. So many of my writing sessions in a sense became therapy sessions or inner work for the main character. This is where the Jungian sense of Sprout as the Anima came into shape.
- What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?
The risk I took in writing “Theo and Sprout” was to write most of the chapters before having a cohesive plot. I took a leap of faith that the order of the chapters would become self-evident ad I think they did. I was concerned such a character-driven approach would lack direction and momentum, like a lot of new age French movies. Ha. Fortunately I think it has flow, but I am biased.
- Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
In the case of “Theo and Sprout”, the main idea came from a dream, so many of the themes came from Jungian psychology. And since I am not a Jungian psychologist, I read a great deal about Jung’s ideas about Persona, the Shadow, the Collective Unconscious and especially the Anima and Animus. I also read much about the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. The idea was to suffuse these themes throughout the book.
- What author did you dislike at first but then develop an appreciation for?
I’ll have to pull this one out of the history bin, but the most glaring one is Walt Whitman, the great American poet. I first had to read him either in high school or early college. My reaction was basically, “whatever”, which I am sure is a similar reaction for a lot of young people to poetry. But I liked poetry back then, whether and how much I actually understood is a different question. But about 10 years later I took a copy of “Leaves of Grass” on hiking trip. I certainly didn’t read it all, but remember reading “Song of Myself” and having a connection I don’t think I could have had when I was too young to appreciate it. Sometimes when we push these heavy weight books on young people who are advanced readers, we sometimes lose sight of the idea that while they can intellectually understand the book, they are not always prepared to understand it emotionally. And isn’t it the emotional connection that is the point?
- What books have you read more than once in your life?
Hmm. Only a few. The winner for most re-reads is “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. I don’t think I’ve reached 10 rereads yet, but fortunately it is short albeit incredibly compact and dense in its content (Then once I’ve reread it, I must watch “Apocalypse Now” again, of course). I reread it because the narrator (Marlow) is such a potent observer and teller of the story that he creates the necessary balance against Colonel Kurtz’s mysterious and compelling identity. I reread it because one day I want to write a story that has the same level of intensity from the narrator and the story. One day.
- What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I learned I am not a story teller, or at least not good story teller. I learned I am much more of an experience teller (whether good or bad is not up to me to decide) in that my focus is often much more about the reaction to a situation than the overall plot. I suppose maybe that’s what they call character driven, when the series of reactions is driving the narrative along.
- What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
In “Theo and Sprout” the hardest or most challenging part was creating the order of events. This tested me because except for the opening and ending scenes all the other episodes/chapters were written in random order with only a vague sense of where they occurred in the plot. I finally decided to order them based on (for the most part) my best guess at the time of a reasonable/logical arc of emotional growth for the main characters based on the psychological sub-themes of each chapter.
- What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Don’t be a perfectionist. Remember that all endeavors are about growth. I good concrete example I like to use is when I started learning how to make furniture. No matter how good your design was, if you couldn’t make your parts (your foundation) square and precise, it was going to be hard to assemble your piece of furniture. And guess what, your first try was going to have parts that weren’t square and “perfect” and your piece was going to be a little wonky. And that’s okay. Don’t obsess over it being “perfect.” Learn (or grow as we like to all it) and move on to the next project. I know we all like to think we can revise it until it gets better, but early on the foundations will often be suspect, and it’s better to move on or start from scratch.