An Interview with Philosophical, Travel and Contemporary Classical Poetry Author Jim Scott
– No problem, M.J. This is a wonderful opportunity.
Q: Could you explain a bit about your motivation for encapsulating your experiences in these books?
A: Although I’ve always enjoyed writing for my own amusement, the motivation to actually create a book came from several people on various occasions, when listening to my after dinner stories, literally saying “You know, you should write a book.” I’ve been lucky enough to have lived a really interesting life in all kinds of out of the way places around the world doing all sorts of unusual things, and after a couple of glasses of wine the stories would start to flow. It seemed like people were really interested to hear not just the stories themselves but to participate in the philosophical discussion I would encourage about them and I started thinking how it would be a really neat project to try and write a book that accommodated both; the stories and the discussion. So I write the stories in the third person so they are de-personalized, even though they are all true and based upon my own experiences, and I endeavour to conceptualize each one with a foreword and encourage discussion afterwards with a few sentences that afford the reader the chance to perhaps put themselves in the situation just recounted and think about it from their perspective.
Q: When will your new book be ready for publication? What sets this one apart from the other two? What remains the same to look forward to?
A: The next book, “On Tropical Islands and Sparkling Seas” will be available fairly early in 2014. It’s just a few days away from going to the publisher to start the lay-up proces,s followed by the proofing rounds needed before it’s finally sent to the printers and the various “e” and “I” format outlets. The difference between this one and book one, “On Five Continents and Three Oceans”, is that where book one, as its name suggests, involves stories from many parts of the world and many different aspects of travel, culture and adventure, the new book is specific to my years of sailing and living in the Caribbean and surrounding areas. Both books are a combination of 25 stories and at least 25 poems. The third book “The Songs and Verses” is purely poetry in my style which I call “contemporary classical” and comprises 80 works. And I have recently embarked on a 4th book, “On Iberian Lands and Mythical Waters” which is again 25 stories and 25 poems related to my years of living in and sailing around the Iberian Peninsular and Western Mediterranean.
Q: How would you describe the style of poetry you write, and why do you think it is so difficult for poets to find traditional publishing houses who will accept their work?
A: I coined the name “Contemporary Classical” for my genre because on the one hand it sticks to the rhyming and metrical structures of the classical poets of yore, but, on the other, I put a contemporary twist on it by writing in modern vernacular and about everyday events. Mine typically tell tangible stories rather than explore ethereal themes about which most people are not really sure what is being said. As for the publishing houses I think, certainly in the case of metrical/classical form poetry such as mine, they are leery about touching it because most they see offered today are very badly written and won’t sell. Even the good one’s won’t sell because people expect them to be bad as a result of so many others being so.
To write in the classical format is not easy if you want to do it right, while still producing readable interesting work. Many people just count syllables per line instead of focusing first on positioning stresses (just as you would in music), and go for near rhymes instead of perfect rhymes which to the poetic ear is like playing a badly wrong note in a piano concerto. It ruins the whole piece. There are too many poems written today where the meaning of a phrase is sacrificed in order to be able to use a word that rhymes (or nearly does) and that just makes the whole thing fall flat because the poem is about the meaning, not the rhyme. The rhyme is merely the art form chosen to convey the meaning. So publishers are not interested in that style of poetry because neither are their readers. Sadly what many readers have come to expect from much of today’s rhyming/metrical verse makes it tougher for those who do it right to get an audience. Which means that self publishing and loads of live readings become the best option for that particular genre.
Q: What has been one of the most difficult moments to write about and why?
A: Without being specific it was after, like a great many other people, I went through a very dark and difficult series of events in my life and kind of crawled into an emotional cocoon. I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I felt as I didn’t think anyone could relate, so I wrote about it in very deep and dark poems. It was painful and difficult to put down and face what I was thinking on the page in front of me, especially as I disciplined myself to write them in poetic form, so I needed to focus on and understand the importance of every word. Typically I would write through the night instead of struggling with illusive sleep. But it proved to be incredibly therapeutic and eventually the writing helped me break surface again and get back into my normal life once more. I never have and never will share those works with anyone, and even though I still have them I have never read them again since I wrote them.
Q: Has your writing background helped you work your way through trials like this and others that have arisen while penning your memoir?
A: Yes. Apart from the example above, in the book soon to be published is a story of how I ended up running by myself a radio net for the volunteer search and rescue organization in the Virgin Islands for which I was president throughout the worst hurricane ever to hit there. All the authorities had been blown away by the storm and I became the only link that dozens of folk who had elected to stay on their boats and fight it out had with the world beyond their immediate and terrifying situation. I ran that net for several days with very little sleep all through the storm and as it morphed into the focal point for recovery and humanitarian operations until the authorities got back up and running again. That was a quarter century ago and although I didn’t realize it at the time I had absorbed much of the energy born from the fears, anger, desperation, frustration, etc. of all those people who stayed with their boats during countless radio conversations just trying to keep their spirits up and help them stay in communication with the world beyond the terror. It was only when eventually writing about it for the book, having never really talked about the emotional toll it took on me, after so many years that I realized just how bad that toll was. The angst just poured out of me and during the editing rounds I would often find myself sobbing as I relived some of the worst parts. But it was all very positive for each time I felt more of the weight that I didn’t realize I had been carrying for so long being lifted.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to an author debating whether or not to pen their own life story, what would it be?
A: Don’t make it like those interminable albums of holiday snapshots you had to sit through as a child with Aunt Mabel and Uncle Ted. Make sure that the episodes about which you write are going to be interesting to the reader, not just the writer. You may have been fascinated (and so wrote 3 whole chapters) about all the different train engines you spotted when you were a kid …… but you’ll lose the reader after the first paragraph. Keep it interesting for the reader by only writing about the juicy bits. That’s why I go for the short individual story approach rather than the plotted memoir. I don’t bother filling in the gaps between the stories where nothing interesting happened. In fact I make no attempt even at putting it in chronological order. I also don’t make it a travelogue. There’s plenty of those out there already. Make your story personal to the reader. Put the reader in the story, not in the audience. Help them experience what you are writing about and not just read about it.
Q: What have been the biggest hurdles to overcome in bringing Wanderings & Sojourns to publication?
A: Time is one. Having a demanding day time job and, until recently, being a single dad of teenagers meant that late into the evening was about the only time I had to write, by which time I was generally pretty brain dead. So it took a lot longer than I thought it would. Another hurdle would be something I alluded to above: trying to decide what would not be interesting to the reader that was interesting to me. When writing about your own life, cutting out chunks of a story or even scraping whole stories, is like cutting off chunks of yourself. You ARE your story. It is where you came from and what made you who you are, so to edit chunks of it out becomes personal and emotional and can be a real impediment while editing.
Q: What advice would you give any novelist currently standing on the precipice of finding the right agent or publisher?
A: Well …… I’m self-published so I haven’t been down that road. I think that having lived a very independent life, I have I’ve gotten used to steering my own ship and so didn’t really consider that route. The best advice I can give is to network with other writers at every opportunity and pick their brains. Join a dynamic writers’ group(s) and strike up relationships with those who have walked the path you wish to pursue and see if they can guide you part of the way, or at least lend you a map.
Q: If there was just one phrase that you could tell an aspiring writer to remember, what would that be?
A: “Write what you know.” Even if it’s fiction and never happened or, as in the case of sci-fi or fantasy genres couldn’t happen, still write what you know. And if you don’t know it, research it until you do. Nothing wrong in making stuff up, but if you want to keep the reader it has to be feasible, so make sure you know far more about what you’re making up than the reader does, or better yet, base it on a reality you know. And if I may squeeze in a second phrase it would be “Edit! Edit! Edit!”
– It has been an honour discussing writing, publishing, and life with you. I wish you well as you plunge into the abyss of publication and author-dom.