Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Work and Criticism Required – A Writers Write Interview with Keith Wilson

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I’ve known Keith Wilson for many years, ever since one of my closest friend’s husbands played in a band with him.  He’s a kind, creative, thoughtful person, as I’m sure you’ll see here.  I’m honored to share his words with you today.

1. Tell me about your latest project. 51-II6WEQfL._SL500_AA300_
 I am not sure if you’re asking about my latest completed project or the current project I am working on. I have begun to plan, dream, sketch, jot notes and write the second novel in my fantasy trilogy (The Vaha Trilogy). The first book in the trilogy is Geillan  A Prisoner’s Tale. It is in some ways a classic coming of age tale, complete with adventures, mistakes, hard lessons, a quest, etc. The story plays out in a mythical version of earth wherein indigenous or so called “primitive” people live at the fringes and are united across the continents in a loose network with shared values. They are called the Hawala. At the same time great civilizations, intentionally modeled on real historic civilizations such as the Egyptians are building empires and monuments and therefore also oppressing and gobbling up land and resources. The Hawala possess that the other cultures believe would help them in their imperial aims, and therefore the Hawala are somewhat secretive. The central character is a young man named Geillan who sets out from his essentially stone-age village near what is now Ireland, in search of his father who has gone missing. He becomes caught up in the global intrigue and unrest. As he moves from place to place he encounters various mentors, guides, friends, and unfriendly types that either help him or otherwise determine his direction and course of action. He is forced to confront himself and his demons, so to speak, and ultimately everything will hang on his willingness or not to do so.

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood? 
I don’t think I can honestly say that I was a bookworm as a child, though I did read, and when something captured my fascination, I would do so obsessively. High school is when I remember really diving into books with abandon. I can remember writing stories in 2nd grade, at which time I was in love with the Rudyard Kipling stories. So the “book” I recall writing at that age was about how the leopard got his spots. I remember writing short stories in 8th or 9th grade and finding it very satisfying and a great deal of fun. Those stories were, if I am remembering correctly which I often don’t, melodramatic tragic war stories aping things I was reading at the time like Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage and Hemingway. I also discovered journaling, poetry, and songwriting as early as junior high and that was a fairly important part of life and has continued to be.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
Hmm. I am not sure that I have one. I suppose when I am actively writing – as when I was writing my book – I would begin by obsessively making notes, diagrams, sketches, etc. on slips of paper and emails to myself. I would amass a folder of ideas which became parameters, themes, arcs, characters, and places. When I felt that the general story, the people in it, and the settings for it were sufficiently real and alive in my mind, I would sit down and begin the actual prose. By this time, the prose is ready to pour out with little difficulty for the most part. I then developed deadlines for myself. This was my first novel and something of an experiment. I had to know that I could pull it off, see it through, and so on. So I gave myself a deadline and worked out a calendar, noting how much I would have to accomplish in a given week or month. As far as the routine by which I accomplished these goals…there wasn’t one really. It was a “by any means necessary” sort of endeavor, meaning that I’d squeeze in writing time around the fringes of my already full life. I did take two or three long weekend retreats to a solitary place during which I was able to write significant chunks (up to five chapters) in a four day period. In the future, I think that structuring those times is a more sane way to do it, and I will likely do meticulous planning punctuated by a few retreat times so that I can do as much fluid writing while I have the time and presence of mind to do so.

4. Who are you reading now? 
I am trying to abstain from reading fiction right now because I want to allow my mind to enter the writing mode and to not be unduly influenced by other styles or even plots and characters. So I am reading a stack of guidebooks (wild edibles, animal tracking, and identification) as well as a book by John Shelby Spong about the Bible.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
As I fish around for the best answer to this question, I settled on the criteria of books that I have read multiple times and will likely return to again.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – JRR Tolkien – I think I love these for the depth of imagination. The trilogy and the other related books create an entire reality that lives and breathes, and this is remarkable and magnetic for me over and over again.
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving – In the same way that it is the world of Middle Earth that I love to return to, in Owen Meany it is the characters. The story itself is magical and surprising, full of humanity in all its dimensions. It is funny and sweet and gut wrenchingly sad, with enough overtones of hope to prevent it from being dreary. I think the character of Owen Meany himself, reminds me of myself and of various friends that I have grown up with and am moving toward growing old with. His passion and his sense of honor is something I admire, but that is within human boundaries – it represents a possible ideal in some ways.
Bluebeard – Kurt Vonnegut – I have always loved Kurt Vonnegut’s blend of the absurd and the profound. I am not sure why Bluebeard is my favorite of hisl maybe it is because the characters seem more real and alive than some of his others, though I like them all. I like how the story engages the relative meaning and value of art, and also how it tells the story of how messy artists’ lives often are. There is also a mystery behind it. I have a terrible memory, so I can read it again and again and usually still can’t remember what happens at the big “reveal” at the end.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I don’t! This has a been a big problem for me. I admit to some disillusionment with the notion that one must have a platform to write. I understand that if you are writing non-fiction, obviously you need to know what you’re talking about. I wrote a novel, and I guess I am nostalgic for a day when a novel was a creative work that stood on its own and didn’t require that a writer did anything other than conceive it and write it. With that said, there is material engaged in my novel that has become so important to me in real life, that I plan to become certified as a wilderness skills instructor. I am hopeful that this will provide more of a platform for me to do various kinds of writing that come naturally to me.

7.What is a typical day like for you? 
I wake up early and attempt to have some quiet time and space to frame the coming day – though this is often an ideal and not a reality. Then my children come flying out of their rooms and shatter that silence. My wife and I do the things that must be done to get them rolling for the day; then I bike to work in an office, bike home 8 hours later, often cook dinner, put the kids to bed, and then imagine what it would be like to squeeze some time for writing in there somewhere again. Weekends usually include a good deal of getting dirty in the yard, the woods, a stream, etc. I hope that soon, I can begin to structure writing into all of that madness once again.

8. Describe your dream writing space? 
I have two answers – one is that I have such a space that I can use whenever I want, but it is 3 hours away. It is absolutely quiet. I can look out the window as I write and see waterfowl, deer, bald eagles and osprey. I can write for a few hours, then take a break and walk in the woods or go out in the canoe. However, understanding that I cannot access that space daily, I would love to have something like a monastic cell that is a separate structure from my house – perhaps a short walk through the woods away (not that my house is near the woods now, but since we’re dreaming here…). It would have a desk, a fireplace, and a window into the forest. It might be maybe 100 square feet.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I completed a manuscript for a non-fiction, contemplative spirituality book. It was a collection of reflective essays I suppose. A mentor (who several years later would be my editor and publisher) read several chapters and told me that the bad news was that I had written in a style that felt forced and not genuine, that I sounded as if I was writing for someone in particular. The good news was apparently that I was clearly a writer and needed to dig deeper and find my own voice. At first I was hurt, my pride most of all I guess. But after a few days of letting her words (which were not particularly delicate) sink in, I decided that everything she accused me of was 100% correct. I scrapped the whole thing and used bits and pieces that I felt were the strongest and most genuine as essays here and there.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
There seems to be a paradox of self-talk and self-belief wherein you are far more talented than you think you are on a down day – those days where you are consumed with self-doubt and ask yourself who the hell you think you’re kidding with this whole writing business, and you are also far less talented than you think you are on an up day – those days where everything is clicking and flowing and you admit to yourself that you’re pretty sure you are a genius. The truth is always somewhere in between, and the answer is usually that more work and criticism is required to both knock you down from unreality and to lift you up from unreality. By the way, I am realizing I answer interview questions with an utter disregard for punctuation and proper sentence structure; please know that my book is hopefully much easier to read than my run-on interview answers.(Note from Andi – I edited a bit, Keith. :) )
Keith Wilson is I am a husband, father, musician, novelist, and amateur naturalist. He get paids little or nothing for those things at the moment, but they are the things that bring me most joy and define who I am. My day job is being an office manager. It pays the bills about half the time.  You can find Keith’s book Geillan: A Prisoner’s Tale at Amazon.  I hope you’ll grab a copy. 
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Author: Andi

I'm a writer, teacher, and editor who is currently working on a book about the slaves who lived and worked on the farm where I now live. I blog daily at http://www.andilit.com I have three cats - Oscar, Emily and Charlotte - who have taken to living on the farm quite well - bird-, frog-, and butterfly-hunters all.

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