BEULAH WHO THOUGHT SHE WAS SWIMMING
1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
OK. Here goes.
In the big picture of the human condition, I’ve lived a charmed and peaceful life. Despite this, life always felt difficult to me. Now at the ripe old age of 60, I look back and see that my difficulties usually appeared because I lacked ‘structure’. By ‘structure’ I mean that even in situations where I possessed talent, I nevertheless lacked one or two practical skills that would have enabled me to fully realize that talent.
Thus I could communicate reasonably well from an early age, and I loved writing, but I flunked grammar in three different languages! (English, French, and Italian).
I learned to play guitar and wrote some original songs that I’m very proud of, but I was never able to learn the music theory that would have allowed me to master my instrument.
I studied science at grad level but avoided computers so much that it eventually hurt my career.
Finally, I just couldn’t become interested in financial matters but was saved by my ex-wife who was (is) a financial wiz!
The good news, I’m happy to say, is that by hook, crook, or serendipity, I’ve managed to overcome all these obstacles. But—arghh!—it has been difficult!
2. Do you remember your first story (article, essay, or poem)? When did you write it?
Oboy oboy oboy. This question raised ghosts for me (to paraphrase Robbie Robertson’s lyrics).
My first serious foray into writing was an essay on the topic of pollution in the Great Lakes. I was in Grade 5. This essay won me the school’s public-speaking competition as well as the essay contest at the local public library—a double-header!
I remember being so aloof and detached when receiving the public library award. I was so confident back then! (What the heck happened to me since?) I was so contained that the librarian felt the need to lean down and ask me: “Aren’t you happy?” I said yes mostly because I knew it was what she wanted to hear.
During Grade 6 or 7, in a new neighborhood and a new school, I happened to read my older brother’s copy of “The Hobbit” by Tolkien of course. I can’t begin to describe the momentous impact this had on me. It literally opened my imagination. I can still tap into the feeling that came along with this—a sense of revelation and awe, both for the magic of s-t-o-r-y as well as for the way it revealed the limitless power of imagination. Truly my life changed because of this book.
Soon after reading The Hobbit, a teacher at school (I can’t remember her name so I’ll just call her ‘Teacher’) assigned my class the task of writing an original short story. I was so intoxicated with Tolkien that I wrote an epic fantasy adventure unlike anything I had ever attempted (all 3 or 4 pages of it)!
It began with a young boy scrambling in mountainous terrain. There was a lake (I can still see it in my mind’s eye). He came upon a hidden opening, concealed by ferns. This led to a dark tunnel and to a gigantic cavern, resplendent with crystals and waterfalls.
I wish I could remember where my story went from there—I seem to recall talking animals. Unfortunately I don’t remember anything else of the plot. What I do remember is that in my mind, the crystal cavern represented vast and precious forces of the earth. There’s no way that my writing at the time could have possibly translated those feelings onto paper. Ironically though, I clearly remember the look of the wrinkled 3-ring pages on which the story was written.
There’s a good reason for this. On the day Teacher handed us our graded works, she asked me to read my story to the class. So there I stood, holding those pages in my hands, staring down a classroom of fellow miscreants. I wasn’t overly nervous (as previously alluded to, I was very confident as a kid—more so than as an adult). So why is this memory of the pages so clear? It’s because the reading didn’t go as smoothly as I (or Teacher) had hoped. Soon after I started, the class burst out laughing. They continued misbehaving to the bitter end.
At first I was deeply hurt. I looked up at Teacher and saw her pained eyes staring back at me. What a lovely heart she had! She was just as distressed about the goings-on as I was. She tried to come to my rescue by chastising the class but things were beyond recovery and I motioned to her to stop. “It’s ok…it’s ok…” I muttered, and soldiered on.
In part, my apparently mature reaction was a form of self-defense. However, a part of me realized that my classmates hadn’t been exposed to the magic of Tolkien. How could these luddites possibly appreciate my flight of fancy? So I convinced myself to give the unruly class the latitude to enjoy the story in whatever manner they might.
Such is the tale of my first work of fiction. …Memories! I haven’t thought about this for several decades. Now that I do think of it, I realize that it represents an important event in my life. In fact, the crystal cavern motif reappeared in a story (unpublished) that I only finished this year—some 40 years later. It titled, “Kamori: Malloch’s Circus Maximus” and it’s an adventure fantasy that follows an orphaned chameleon-boy. He is rescued from a luminescent cavern in the wilderness—a cavern of geologic marvels, crystals, talking animals, and motile plants. Until this very moment, I hadn’t realized that the golden thread of Tolkien’s inspiration still wove through me to this day.
So where do I send the check to pay for this therapy session?
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
“Beulah Who Thought She was Swimming.” Spoiler alert: it’s about a barnacle who doesn’t realize she’s stuck to a whale.
It was inspired by a comment made by a friend and co-worker named Theo. We were project managers at the somewhat marginalized research administration office of the local community college. One day I mentioned to Theo that outsiders kept coming to our door, asking questions about college operations that we had nothing to do with. “Our office is like a barnacle stuck to a whale,” I said. “People come to us thinking they’re talking to the whale. They don’t realize that they’re talking to a mere little barnacle!”
After a pause, Theo replied in characteristic deadpan: “…Brave little barnacle.” I burst out laughing and immediately realized that here was the seed of a story.
Very soon into the drafting I found that the outlandish premise created a perfect metaphor for the human mind, as seen from the point of view of Eastern spiritual teachings. Thus the story transformed itself into an allegory of the delusionary nature of mind, and of the nature of spiritual transformation. The story became a vehicle to convey in a lighthearted manner, what I consider to be precious teachings from mystical texts and it provided a means to remind people of their innate spiritual talent.
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
Initially, Beulah was meant to be a short writing project. However it proved to be more involved than I initially expected. In the end it took over a year to complete. This includes crafting the pencil sketches and the cover art. It also included two rounds of proofreads (friends and relatives) and the associated rewrites.
And it’s just an innocent little novella!
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Not unusual habits, just bad habits! Probably lots of them.
Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have most of the bad habits listed in the ‘how to‘ books on writing. (Obviously, I’m also afflicted with the writer’s equivalent of hypochondria).
For me, writing is this strange combination of hard work that also happens to be highly enjoyable and even therapeutic. I write and rewrite. The worst is when I revisit a work that I thought was complete, only to realize that it needs much more work!
Deep down, I’m actually okay with this inefficient non-method of mine because I’m evolving personally through my writing. The writing provides the opportunity to see, and at times, to literally feel when something inside me has matured. When this happens, it always creates new opportunities and new avenues to achieve greater clarity for the reader and/or greater continuity for the story.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I love music (used to play in a rock band) and I have dabbled in visual arts. As mentioned previously, I created the interior pencil sketches for Beulah as well as the cover watercolor art (following a suggestion by Adelaide books).
However I don’t consider myself a visual artist. I always need to use real images as templates for my art. In fact, creating the works for Beulah gave me a deeper appreciation for the skills of great visual artists who can create images from memory or from pure imagination.
The experience with watercolors also reminded me that there is a sort of ‘controlled chaos’ in painting. It’s no wonder that artists tend to be mystical; art is inherently alchemical, transmuting prima materia into a manifested creation that holds together.
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
Frank Herbet (“Dune”—what a masterwork)…in fact, many sci-fi authors.
More recently, I’ve been inspired by spiritual authors, both modern as well as ancient.
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
Yes. I’ve finished “Kamori: Malloch’s Circus Maximus” and am working on the next novel in this series. This is a story about the chameleon-people of planet B’hu. They have the ability to change their skin color, spectacularly, and at will. Unfortunately in kamori societies, color-morphing is taboo. Children are trained to display ‘National Colors’ on their skin and to keep these colors ‘fast’, much like a uniform. In consequence, different kamori countries and tribes hate each other.
The hero, named Meyu, is an orphan of the storms. He was raised by animal friends in the wilderness and is able to make his skin sparkle and glow. His destiny is to rediscover the hidden, mystical forces behind kamori color-morphing and to fight the dark forces that have kept kamori-kind in ignorance of their innate power.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
Yes I do, but not in a very practical manner. The mere idea of consciously targeting a specific reader profile feels somewhat contrived to me. Consciously tailoring a story to market to a specific reader group feels downright abhorrent. That’s putting business before art.
I’m simply not drawn to such strategies. Instead I’m naturally drawn to write about things that I’m passionate about. Moreover, I tend to gravitate toward stories that are simultaneously readable on two levels—young readers as well as adults. Reader-profiling in this case isn’t really feasible.
“Beulah Who Thought She Was Swimming” is my attempt at this type ‘two-level’ story. Lucky for me, Beulah is in the Spirituality / New Age category which is populated by spiritually inclined adults who tend to be in touch with their inner child.
I realize that attempting to write two-level works carries the risk of spectacular failure by missing the mark and alienating both categories of readers (young and old). But for me, this risk is worth the reward. There is the potential to weave a sort of magic in such stories. They require a sort of austerity and innocence that opens the door to flights of fancy that can cast ordinary things in an extraordinary light. When the magic works such stories speak more to the heart than the mind.
Outside the spiritual arena, I have also written science fiction stories. These don’t aim for a two-level dialectic. In this case the question of reader profile doesn’t arise because I myself have been a sci-fi nerd most of my life!
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Dear new writer/author: from time to time, take a step back from your work and try to identify the places where perhaps you relied less on your personal experience and more on inspiration derived directly from stories by other authors.
The latter is natural and good. But it can carry the risk of becoming derivative. Take the time to delve deep inside, and tap from the place where your voice finds its uniqueness.
11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
I believe it was Isaac Asimov who was quoted to the following effect: after working intensely on a bit of writing, never give it a proofreader right away. No matter how good you think your new work may be, no matter how proud you may feel about it, always exercise the discipline to put it on the shelf for a week or two. After this rest period, review it with fresh eyes, make the needed corrections and then show it to your proofreaders.
For me this is an essential bit of wisdom.
12. How many books do you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I suspect that I have one of the strangest reading profiles around. Basically I’m doing a lot of rereading of books I’ve previously read. At the same time, I’m reading spiritual works that I’ve never previously visited.
This situation is due to:
(a) My memory that (I’ll be honest) feels like a water glass that’s filled to the brim and that requires repetition in order to yield, and,
(b) A spiritually-self-repressed early adulthood which has necessitated me to catch-up on spiritual works that I should have read long ago.
The books in category ‘(a)’ tend to involve physics, biology, and cosmology. Examples include: “Investigations” by Stuart Kauffman (biology and physics); “The End of Certainty” by Ilya Prigogine (time and non-linear thermodynamics); “Emperor’s New Mind” and “Shadows of the Mind” by Roger Penrose (physics and consciousness); other works in the realm of science and spirituality, including works by Dean Radin and by Rupert Sheldrake (science and psi phenomena).
In category ‘(b)’ I’m reading or re-reading: “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri; the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” by Gyrume Dorje’ “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche; Plato’s Dialogues; “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism” by Linda Johnsen; “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” by Satchidananda; the “Samkhya Karika” and portions of Vedantic texts as well as various sutras and tantras from Eastern traditions.
During the time between the above, I read the odd science fiction or literary fiction, just to remind myself what good writing looks like.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
I hope my writing conveys heartness and an appreciation for nature. Although I am acutely aware that nature can be ruthless and cruel, I feel attuned to the divine and wondrous qualities that are distinct from the cruelty.
Some of my works have demanded that I imagine what a fully divine form of nature might be like. This is central to the ‘Kamori’ series for example in which nature is conscious and ‘unfallen’.
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
I’d like to know the answer to this question!
We live at a time when lots of talented people are writing and publishing. The competition is daunting. I have come to believe that the best way to proceed in this landscape is to make sure you are writing about things that you are passionate about. In this case, you can’t lose!
It’s also good to know that there are publishers like Adelaide Books who boldly embrace the modern realities and are willing to give new and unknown authors a chance.
15. What is the one thing you would like to tell the world?
To the Western world, I would say:
Our culture glorifies the discursive, mental forms of consciousness. Individuality, ‘smarts’, and initiative are esteemed. The benefits that our value systems have brought into the world are beyond measure. But our system has a major downside: it keeps us stuck in our minds and thus obscures the divinity that emerges when we learn to silence our minds.
I am fortunate enough to have experienced extraordinary states of consciousness—astonishing visions, overflowing with divinity and noetic power. Such experiences are not the exclusive purview of spiritual prodigies or madmen; they are our human birthright. The ‘trick’ is that contrary to our Western upbringing, high states of consciousness cannot be attained through the ordinary mind. In fact, the ordinary mind is, by its very nature, the very thing that blocks them.
Start by resting on your heart as the center of your being. Practice meditation and find esoteric teachings that can help you uncover your potential.