Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I began to write seriously after I retired from the mill. Previous to that, I recall writing long drawn out stories about spaceships when I was a kid.
What makes writing your passion?
My English Literature teacher in grade 12, Ms. Burgess, had an in depth knowledge about John Keats. I remember her explaining the final line in 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' to me because I was studying that poem:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Those lines struck me, and I suppose, I was a romantic at heart, have always been, and since I've studied that poem with other writer friends and discovered that it was in the process of writing that poem that Keats discovered five universal truths about humanity and its needs: deep affection, community, self-worth, creativity and acceptance, beauty, and a sense of meaning or overview of life. Thus, I strive for writing that increases the value of humankind. This is my passion.
How long have you been writing?
Well, like I said, the earliest was when I was a kid, probably around 13 or so, but seriously (though I've always dabbled in poetry), since I attained my degree in literature. In my pursuit of that degree, studying the classics, I found I wanted to create myself. I'm still fascinated by Keats and Blake, often quoting them as a paraphrase respectively: 'That which is creative must itself create', which I find interesting especially the idea of art educating the artist, and ' my job is not to reason and compare, my job is to create' keeps me on solid ground.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
It wasn't a big deal for me, I mean, I already knew what it would be like, so when I had that first copy in my hand, I was happy that I got it all out before it was lost forever. I think that is the part that was a big deal: the getting it out on paper, and of course, the publishing so it could be shared.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
'The Cumberland Tales' began with an image of Sam Yik. He was an old Chinese fellow who used to sell veggies from a wooden cart he pushed around town. I remember my mom running out to buy a head of lettuce from him. He was my main guy, then I had a couple of kids based on me (well I should qualify that because it wasn't autobiographical at all, I mean, the authorial portrayal of Jay in the book), and his friend Ducky, and there were others based from Cumberland, and some who were based on people I have known through life. The main character I wanted to portray was to give the town a voice, whether I accomplished that I'm not sure, but readers have said it works, so Yeah! It's a collection of short stories, yet it can be read as a novel, in addition, a poem precedes each chapter, so the poetry reflects on the characters also.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Like many authors, I dislike marketing, thus my employ of this firm. However, I like doing readings, either prose or poetry, I like talking writing with like-minded people. I don't need the money, so I don't feel the pressure, yet, like all writers I want to be appreciated. I'm not sure if I'm pursuing a 'career' as a writer, but I am one. I hope that makes sense.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
Well, I don't pressure myself to write, only when I want to, so writer's block? I guess I'll usually let my characters go where they may leading me along. If the characters aren't there then take a break. The other thing I do is write poetry instead of prose, or contemplate things, talk things over with my wife (who is also an artist), and generally relax. Often, I wake up and jot simple things on a notepad, seemingly unrelated to my current project, but the next day provide an escape route. I also find if I force a deadline on myself I generally come up with something, but I don't have to worry about making a living writing.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
I mentioned two quotes that are important to me, especially Blake's: 'my job is not to reason or compare, my job is to create." It's a good one to remember for aspiring authors, especially since about 4,000 books a day are published, so write for yourself, make it worth-while to yourself because then it'll be worth-while to readers. You just have to find the right readers. If you write for yourself it'll help; find the right words to say the things you want to say in a different way.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Hah, well, probably would have gone to university earlier because it enlightens your mind at the outset. In addition, to not be shy, learn to be confident, and find the right partner to share your life with (if that's what you want).
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Yes, I always read any reviews I receive. How can I not? If I received a bad review, my hope is that I'd accept it because not all readers will like what you write; however, if the reader finished the book, it couldn't have been that bad in the first place, right? Besides, if all the reviews are always good, it wouldn't make life interesting. There's always good and bad in everything: life, people, reviews too.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
It's inspiring, fills me with confidence, and generally makes my day! It also drives me to keep writing.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Of course, all writers do that, for what we experience is what we write, so writers cannot help but incorporate their experiences into their work. That is not to say, verbatim, or autobiographical, but the authorial voice, deep in the back of the novel is always there, especially when writing prose. Poetry, on the other hand, may be a little different, that is, the poetic speaker is on a pedestal, so perhaps allows the creator-poet to escape real life altogether. I hope that makes sense.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
Well, definitely Jay, in my first one, 'The Cumberland Tales'. Others were based on kids I played with back in the day, so to speak, and yet others were based on more recent real people I met.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Totally, the book cover, the preface, the works, it's all part of the artwork. Of course, the prose is most important. My book covers are all first painted as a portrait, an actual find art piece, then photographed and placed as the cover of the book. The whole process is an artwork.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I enjoy readings, never had a bad one, so far, and I totally love chatting with readers. They inspire me to write. I get excited telling them about my own creative process, instincts, how I've learned from other authors and poets. It's exciting!
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Awesome, inflated, builds an ego, yet keep it in check because ego screws things up supremely. All writers are at least a bit ego-driven, otherwise they wouldn't write.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Well, my very favourite is Shakespeare because he can say so much with so few words, but a close second is Martin Amis, and I also like the Russian guys, as well, many of the Canadians, Margaret Laurence comes to mind.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
We all want success. How much is relative to the kind of person you are. I'm happy with how things are now, but would like to sell a few more books, but who knows?
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
Definitely, the second time round is always better, at least, I assume, but once your baby is gone, it's gone. Anyway, It's impossible to re-create, so maybe I should take back what I said. I'll save it for the next book.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
I don't think I want to switch places with anyone, maybe if I was homeless or something I would, but then I wouldn't feel right cause the rich guy would be homeless. Nah, forget it, I'll stay with what I got.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
That stuff is always going to happen: what I'd say is: get to a keyboard and create your own stuff.
What would you say to your readers?
Please read for pleasure, unless you feel a need to learn, but learning is pleasure, so I stand by the first independent clause within this sentence. I would also say, read the good stuff, because what you read influences you, so why not have good influences (same goes for writers).
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada. I have two step children and two of my own, a daughter and son. Yes, I am married to my wonderful artist wife Linda who paints all my book covers, as well as her own work.
What is your day job if you have one?
I'm retired, but teach English and sometimes Math at a local private school. It's not a job, just something I like to do.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I work on our sailboat lots! It gives me a break, also spend lots of time at the gym, and read, write and write some more.
Did you have a happy childhood?
I had an awesome childhood, played every sport, had everything a child could wish for.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
I already told you about that earlier: John Keats grabbed hold of me and never let go.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I have two unpublished manuscripts: 'Mother's Keep' and 'Cumberland: Four Ways In, One Way Out'. 'Mother's Keep' is based on my granny who lived in Gibson's Landing, British Columbia. It's a depression era war bride book, who comes to Canada to begin a new life. The second is another on Cumberland, my home town, but this one is much more plot driven, with a murder in Chinatown, and two separate plots, one with the kids, and one with the serious adults.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
I think we lack kindness, but I'm not sure if you can teach it, but you can show it. A teacher who shows kindness will get further ahead than one who has a PHD in education without, just my opinion.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
1. To re-wild the world.
2. To find the coexistence we all seek.
3. To have humanity understand the things we all need.
What is your favorite music?
I've always loved baroque, but also like David Bowie. Generally I like everything except for new country (though I like the old Patsy Cline you know the oldies), jazz, generally anything that's good. I don't like much of the stuff you hear on American Idol, for example, all sounds the same to me.
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