Tell us a little about your book.
While some might consider A Greater Monstera dystopian fantasy, it is better described as a psychedelic fairytale. William S. Burroughs and Lewis Carroll are reference points. In exploring key themes, I chose to incorporate multimedia elements. One scene features 65 full-page illustrations while another references a web address hosting an original musical composition that I co-wrote and orchestrated. A third scene incorporates an animated sequence viewable online.
The nihilistic protagonist takes a strange drug trip while riding the L train into the bowels of Chicago. His mind shatters into shards that slice through layers of reality, and he breaks through into an Underworld of living gods and mythology where genetic material has come loose and blows like pollen in the wind. He struggles to survive and retain his sanity while encountering many outrageous creatures. His final evolution occurs in what might be the strangest circus ever imagined.
What inspired you to write this book?
I try not to get in the way of my subconscious. I believe the most profound creativity can arise from our unconscious mind, so I allowed myself to follow a writer’s trance, similar to the kind that Robert Olen Butler describes in From Where You Dream, writing in notebooks for almost four years. Without forcing it, I saw the story develop organically and began connecting all the pieces in my imagination. It wasn’t until I actually felt that I could see entire work four dimensionally that I translated everything to the computer. Then I spent another three years crafting, organizing, and refining the material through fourteen drafts. My inspiration was to allow all the deepest inspirations of my entire life, the things known and unknown to me, to dictate the story. These elements include my nature and my beliefs about civilization, philosophy, politics, and culture, including literature itself.
Have you published anything else?
I published my first novel Death by Zamboni, an absurdist satire, in 2000. It has been a bit of a cult success, now on its second print run and still available on Amazon.com and in a handful of stores in Chicago. I had a short story published in the now defunct Bridge Literary Magazine. I was also a music critic for several years, writing for Tailspins music magazine.
I’ve been a Jann Arden fan ever since I first heard “Insensitive” on the radio. Last year, I discovered Jann likes to keep journals and has even published some of her writing. So I purchased a copy of her selected journals called if i knew, don’t you think i’d tell you.
For those who might not know of Arden, here’s some information from the back jacket flap of the book: Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, recording artist Jann Arden is undoubtedly one of Canada’s most precious resources. With six albums, 13 top ten singles, eight Juno Awards and a collection of other awards and honours, Arden’s “down home” personality has endeared her to millions of fans around the world. Away from her music career, Arden is an avid painter, active philanthropist and rising actress, having appeared in The Vagina Monologues, at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal and in feature films. if i knew, don’t you think it’d tell you? is Arden’s first book.
While just about every other journal entry in the book has touched me in some way, there is one post in particular about words that really struck a chord with me: We buy them every day. We need words to live. We hang them on our walls. Words are what I sell at the end of the day. We send them to our friends and our enemies. We need words to tell ourselves that we are here at all.
I immediately conjure up fifth grade playground wisdom that went something like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But we know that isn’t true. Words can hurt. Words can also heal and inspire. Spoken or written, as writers it is unbelievable the power we can compose somewhere between our fingertips and the buttons on the keyboard. We just have to say the right words.
Words might just be the easiest thing to remember whether it be the words to a song, a line from a movie, a passage from a book, advice from a parent, or quite simply the first time our companions said, “I love you.”
When I write my essay I quote words from the books because they touched us in some manner. The reviews themselves are words constructed into opinions to discuss and inform. Words tell us where we are. They tell us what we are eating. They help us understand a movie that is in a foreign language. Words are one of the few art forms that can be written, spoken, seen, heard, and even read. We can read them in our mind to ourselves, or we can read them out loud. Words, and the ability to formulate the “right” words, are a writer’s creative fodder.
So, what are the right words? When I was in grade school, the Scholastic Book fair came around once a year and set up in our school’s library for a week.
I remember with the purchase of three books, you got a free poster of a tiger, a red corvette, or some horses running. So, while students were eagerly picking up copies of Charlotte’s Web, Bunicula, Heathcliff, Curious George, and Clifford, I fell in love with the 1987 Webster’s New World Thesaurus. It is the only thesaurus I have ever owned, and it sits on my desk today as a reminder to me of the writer I always wanted to be. Its pages are yellow. Its cover and binding are torn and wrinkled. And as you can see from the picture, the outer width of the pages was decorated with my name and initials in red sharpie letters years ago when kids wrote “I wuz here” on every surface they could find. Funny how even then we left our words behind to proclaim where we were. My 16 year old niece still does. There are tarnished paperclips still clipped to various pages inside. I rarely open the book today, but it is the words that I wrote (also in red sharpie) on the title page many years ago that have always stuck out in my mind when I sit down at my desk and write. Those words are “Dare to be Different.”
Sooner or later, writers end up using the same words. A, an, and, but, and the immediately come to mind as a few words that you can practically find on every page of a book. But it’s the order of the words on the page that tell the story, that evoke emotion, that breathe life into our characters. The ability to use different words in different ways separate us authors from science fiction and mystery to romance and teen lit. But in the end, they are all the same. They are just words. Or are they? Can something so “black and white,” so grammatically correct, and properly spelled and formulated really be such a complex equation. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They keep us up at night. They bring us to our feet and make us clap our hands.
Words. From the writer’s brain, to the page, to the reader’s mouth and heart, the journey is vast and complex. Such power, these wonderful things called words hold over us.
Share with us some of your favorite words, whether they be a sentence from a book, a line from a song or poem, or something you remember from a speech or from a loved one. Post them as a comment here. For as writers and readers, we all need words to live by.