Advice On Creativity And Life FROM YODII I HAVE KNOWN
It all started when...
I was asked recently to give an interview to a student for his school project. I, as many of my friends in music, get asked to do this type of thing from time-to-time–but this one was different. This particular student wanted to interview me regarding my "success" as a sci-fi author. What-WHAT?! I guess there are those who read my stuff after all.
As I wrote the interview it occurred to me that I was channeling lots of life-info that has been good to me over the years and that I tend to relate to young students whenever I appear at a school or festival as a guest artist. Plus, I realized that what I was writing kind of explains my unusual "polymath" journey and where I might be going.
Therefore (and to wit) here is said interview. I hope that you enjoy it and that the advice contained herein (all of which is gleaned from my Yodii) is helpful to you and yours!
1. What age did you start writing?
- I am what is known I suppose as a "super late bloomer!" I have been dabbling at writing all of my life, but never formally until four years ago. At that time I was working on a recording project that I called "Concerto for Folded Space." My original idea was to compose pieces programmatically that were informed by my love of science fiction via characters, stories, textures, names and ideas. One piece was going to be called "Gort" in honor of my love for the 1951 Robert Wise movie "The Day The Earth Stood Still." I contacted the proper authorities to see if I could sample a few seconds of the Patricia Neal character as she spoke the famous line "Klaatu Barada Nikto." They said "Sure! You can get a license for that for $10,000.00." Well, since my budget for that project was $00000.00, I decided it would be easier to write my own book and then compose pieces for the recording project that were informed by each chapter. Here are the results: CONCERTO FOR FOLDED SPACE THE DOVER STONE.
- I of course found out that it is NOT all that easy to actually write a novel...I am still working on that happy process.
- Since The Dover Stone, I have written another novel that my agent is now working on getting published and I have begun my third. Not much of an output yet, but what is there I actually like, so...ever onwards and upwards!
- PS: Once published properly (not self-published) I look forward to working with REAL editors. The jazz trombone guy I've been using is LAME!
2. What role did your parents play in your development?
- My development is in the early stages right now and both of my parents have passed on, but I can say truthfully that anything I am now or become eventually in the area of writing is due to my mother. Her love of reading was profound and incredibly prolific. She read (this is not an exaggeration) at least FOURTEEN books per week when I was growing up! My mother was always wrapped up in some kind of epic adventure via her precious novels. Her excitement for the world of the written word was infectious and took hold on me at an early age. For that, I am eternally grateful.
3. How did you get started?
- As mentioned above in question #1..."necessity is a mothah!"
- Also, I started to write blogs to promote various aspects of my musical career. I found that this was a fun outlet and was told by others that I was funny and witty. I thought "Hey! I want some MORE of that!"
4. Why did writing interest you initially?
- Initially writing was something that I was required to do due to my "day job" in academia as a "professor" (STILL can't believe THAT! A professor...REALLY?) But then, as I worked on The Dover Stone, I found that I simply enjoyed the process itself. I have always been into creativity of all types: drawing cartoons, composing music, improvisation, telling stories and writing prose...but when I began work on The Dover Stone, I found that it is truly all related–one medium fuels the other. I was hooked!
5. How did that interest develop?
- At this point, I am channeling my favorite authors and going "by ear." (My favorite writer being Spider Robinson) I am the furthest thing one can find from an English or grammar expert. So, I suppose I should say that my interest developed from decades of loving to read the genre itself. The greats in this field influence every aspect of every story that I write...in the same way that J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Pankow, Urbie Green and Slide Hampton (among MANY others) influence every note that I play on trombone. I steal from the BEST! As Miles Davis once said "You need to work a long time before you can sound like yourself."
6. What was the process to becoming as talented/successful as you are?
- I appreciate your kind words here VERY much...but my level of utilizing my particular God-given gift is still in the formative stages. I believe I will always be in the formative stages. I once heard Dizzy Gillespie say "The more I learn, the more I learn there is to learn." These are wise words indeed and influence me to this day. Also, I believe we must define "success" before going any further on this topic. In the realm of "being able to do what I want to do to satisfy my creative soul" I feel that I am super-successful indeed. Regarding my main goal of "raising a family" I am blessedly and overwhelmingly successful! I define fiscal success as "having a functional warm and safe house, good insurance, the basic resources to provide for a family and being able to buy a coffee whenever and wherever I want. Using that definition, I am indeed successful. Defining success as "being a good person who is making a difference in this world and plays well with others" ...well, the jury is still out on that one–but I'm making great progress! However, regarding my long term goals I have yet to reach "success." Those goals include:
- Being under contract with a major publishing entity (Tor would be nice :)
- Getting my new rock band Vinyl Hampdin out on the road for major tours and financially independent.
- "Graduating" from my day-job and going 100% full-time into the land of creativity.
7. Who are some people that contributed to your success?
- I have been fortunate in this area beyond belief! So many Yodas (Yodii?) so little time! Some of the most important in writing have been my mother and all the authors of the books that I own. In music as well as life: Raoul Jerome (College prof) Maynard Ferguson, Slide Hampton, Neil Slater (Legendary UNT Prof, Director of The One O'Clock Lab Band and grand master composer) and Doc Severinsen, along with the performers and composers of all the recordings that I own and/or listen to. Of course without my wife Carmen, I would be in the proverbial "van down by the river" ...so she supercedes all others.
8. How much time a week do you generally spend writing?
- When I'm seriously working on a project, I spend three to four hours per day writing. If I am approaching a self-imposed deadline the time I devote increases exponentially. (I am actually looking forward to deadlines imposed by a publisher via a contract!) Because I am a polymath and am spinning many plates at once, I tend to focus on one specific area at a time. Some periods I am only composing music, others find me only practicing trombone and still others I am deep into writing. But all of these different arenas of endeavor refresh and inspire each other. It is a grand way to live!
9. What effect has success had on your daily life?
- As humbly and accurately stated earlier...I have yet to find out! Currently, I am living life as it is while enjoying the journey with all of its adventure, battles, sorrows and joys. But I will say that being creative makes me very happy indeed, and when I am happy, those around me tend to be happy...so the overall effect is a good one.
10. Was this always your career plan?
- Creativity in general has indeed always been my career plan. The trick was that this business model on its own is not very robust–financially speaking... so it has been an ever-evolving plan full of improvisation each and every step of the way.
11. What is your writing process?
- In all aspects of my creativity it is the same:
- FIRST: do a large amount of directed listening and/or reading and research.
- Come up with a "hook" be it a musical groove, phrase or melody... or the kernel of a great story. Find the spark and bank the coals.
- Let it simmer for a period of time. Examine: is this really a good idea?
- Go on multiple "Beethoven Walks" where I take my iPhone and let the motion of my walking eventually free up my creative thoughts and Muse. Then I record any and all ideas to be transcribed or mined later. By the end of the walk, my tune, chart or story is practically finished. But–most importantly–by the end of the walk I have the grand arc of the story I want to tell.
- In music, the next step is to get to work and apply the "craft" (notation, orchestration, development et al) This portion of the process can sometimes become mundane and tiresome to say the LEAST. To battle this kind of fatigue I allow frequent breaks so that I don't get burned out.
- In writing, I follow the framework laid out by Stephen King in his book "On Writing." Many, many drafts (however...no editors yet, alas.)
- In all creativity, on every project, I always hit the point where I think "This is CRAP!" and want to give up. I delete huge amounts, but rarely actually give up.
- At the end of the adventure, I always have something that I love.
What are some of your goals for your talent development and career?
- See the bullet points under question #6
- Mostly, I am guided by Dizzy's wise pronouncement (also in #6) as I hope to always be learning and improving on a daily basis.
How would you advise someone who wants to start writing fantasy or science fiction?
- I would say, as in all things creative, learn your craft and your art from the great masters! Copy what they do, learn the vocabulary so that you can articulate your own ideas. Let life inform all that you do...take notes on a daily basis. Read Stephen King's great book "On Writing" and do everything that he suggests! Get a degree in English and creative writing! Purchase ten books per week (or more!) and read them all! Once you run out of money...go to your local library! Get the Kindle app! Read free books via iBooks! Read, read, read! Don't be afraid of exclamation points!!!! (But use your power for good.)
- My friend and Grammy Award-winning artist Bob Mintzer said it best when he wrote the liner notes for my first record "Excalibur." In regards to learning to write big band music (or any music for that matter) "Pick up a pencil and start writing."
How would you advise a parent whose child hopes to start writing?
- In the same manner that I advise parents whose children want to be musicians: In today's market in the arts students need to be entrepreneurs, great business people and virtuosos–all at the same time! There is every opportunity to be successful in the arts today even though the old infrastructures of support from the 20th Century are gone and many of the old revenue streams have dried up. However, first define what is success, then go after it 100%. One must also define lifestyle. Are you cool with a two-room flat in Brooklyn and a fourty minute commute to a nocturnal creative life? Or, would you rather live in suburbia and raise a family? Do you want to somehow do both? Everything? All of these lifestyles carry with it a different approach to success. Define how you want to live. There is no "back up" and there is no "fail" –there is only going after your heart's desire and fulfilling your gift. Doing what you love successfully as a living is an incredibly rich and rewarding existence. Research your goals, make a plan, be ready to amend the plan wisely (and often), ask for help and knowledge from those who are doing what you want to do, work incredibly hard every day, be honest, be a good person, play well with others...and everything else will follow.
- Learn to "survive and thrive." Defined as follows:
- Survive: make enough money to support your chosen lifestyle.
- Thrive: take good care of your creative soul.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your story?
- Only that my story is ongoing and always in a state of being improved upon. My great grandmother who was very long lived was often asked, "What year was your favorite year?" Her answer was always: "This one."
May it always be the same with all of us!
What's THAT you say? After reading this minty-fresh and highly inspirational interview, you would like to purchase both THE DOVER STONE and CONCERTO FOR FOLDED SPACE...and you would like for me to sign them BOTH! Well...ok, here ya go. Make it so!
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