Recently, I was interviewed by a Pacific University literary magazine titled, "Silk Road: A Literary Crossroads." I wanted to share the interview with you, my readers. This interview deals with my thoughts on Norse Mythology and writing tips for the young author. Do you have any other questions for me? Let me know what you think!
Silk Road Interview
Author of The Zeke Proper Chronicles
Book 1: Odin’s Light
Book 2: The Serpent’s Ship
Book 3: The Gates of Asgard
1. You are both a teacher and a writer. How do you balance both commitments?
Seeking motivation to write and pulling away from the inevitable exhaustion that comes after a full day of teaching requires some effort to be sure. However, because writing and teaching are shared passions in my life, the challenge to force myself to sit down after a long day and tap away at the computer’s keyboard to create my stories is made much easier. The teaching aspect of my life requires a measured amount of time and effort, but that time is neatly focused between 8 am and 4 pm each day (I am not the type of teacher who brings home grading – well, maybe sometimes - I figure if it doesn’t get done at school, it can wait until the next day). This frees me up for the evening hours to write. In the evenings I usually set aside three hours of concentrated time on a writing project. The project may be a chapter in a current novel or a blog article. Either way, evenings are allocated specifically for writing. I will then set goals for the evening’s work that usually coincides with my mood, the goals, however, are always lofty. Usually it’s word count (600 – 1000 words), or the completion of an article. In either case, I find that when I push myself the motivation comes easier.
2. Norse Mythology heavily influences your novel series. What about Norse Mythology intrigued you to write three novels about their dynamics?
One of my first teaching jobs was at a high school that offered a variety of English Literature electives. During my first day on the job I met with the school’s Language Arts Department Chair. She informed me that of the many courses I would be teaching that year one of those would be a course on mythology. I smiled bravely, left the meeting on unsteady legs, and sat down at my empty desk with a myriad number of questions floating through my mind. One of those was: Zeus, he was in mythology, right? I immediately began my research into Greek and Roman mythology, discovering a world of wonder that I really paid very little attention to in my previous educational experience. The Greek gods and their accompanying myths fascinated me, but when I finally expanded my reach and began looking into other culture’s myths, well, let’s just say that my world suddenly swelled.
Before I took my first teaching job I’d been dabbling with a few unfinished short stories, but I had no vehicle to guide them and carry them on their way. However, when I began reading about the Norse gods, and I mean the real stories about the gods - not the Marvel comic kind – then I discovered the channel I could finally use to tell my stories. I was one happy man.
3. Does being a writer influence your lessons when you teach? Does your lecture style influence change with your audience and how?
So much of today’s teaching emphasis is on writing and reading. Whether you’re instructing in math, science, or English it really doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. I sometimes feel sorry for those teachers who are forced to integrate so much art into the sciences. However, creating great communicators, both in writing and speaking, requires that the skill be taught in all areas of education. Fortunately for me that skill is basic to what I teach on a daily basis, and being a writer often strengthens my focus in ways that I feel is foreign to my colleagues. For instance, my students hear first hand accounts of my own struggles with a plot line or a character’s development on a daily basis. I feel as if I’m able to ease their suffering on a writing assignment when they see that I’m struggling too and that I understand their frustrations.
In terms of teaching style and audience, there is very little that I change. Often I am asked to speak in front of a group of elementary students about my books and about the writing process. I’ve discovered that for most students, whether they’re 4th graders or 8th graders, the battles are the same. Students need to understand that writing is hard work. It’s not meant to be easy. But the outcome of a well-crafted piece of writing is definitely worth the struggle.
4. What’s more difficult, teaching or being a writer?
Both occupations of writing and teaching carry with them their own set of difficulties. The real challenge of teaching is keeping students engaged. Sometimes the best lesson plans are cruelly brushed aside by an unruly group of students who are just too caught up in themselves and those around them to care about an author’s brilliant writing style: the themes, conflicts, and ingenious use of figurative language. During these times, being a teacher can become a rather thankless pursuit. But then there are those time, brief though they may be, where things really click. Students look at me with curiosity and wonder as I present a topic that really grabs their attention. They ask questions, they engage in meaningful discussion, and they genuinely seek for more information. When that happens, teaching becomes an awesome profession.
Writing, on the other hand, is a solitary pursuit. I have spent many countless hours in my little home office staring at my computer screen, but it’s always alone. Sometimes that can be difficult. Writers have to enjoy the solitude of their own thoughts, yet at the same time find the balance of social interaction. Along with that comes the constant formulation of new ideas, plot twists, and forcing one’s beloved characters into painful dilemmas just to make a story more intriguing. But when it all comes together, when the sentence, the paragraph, or the chapter is finally complete and the words flow like warm melted butter, then writing also becomes an awesome profession.
5. What are some myths about writing/teaching that you would like our readers to realize?
I believe that one myth in particular that needs to be set aside in most people’s minds regarding the professions of writers and educators is that they’re easy pursuits, that they don’t require a lot of work to accomplish. Take a teacher, for instance. A teacher gets two weeks off in December, a week off for spring break, and two months off in the summer. That’s a lot of time that a regular nine-to-fiver doesn’t normally get. But the key here is nine to five. Most teachers (I am not one of them) is contracted to work an 8-hour day, but on any given weekday, an hour before teachers are required to be at work, you’ll find a school parking lot almost full and sometimes an hour or two after they’re supposed to go home. Teachers take home piles of work and grade in front of the TV, they continue to grade on weekends, write lesson plans, and often take on extracurricular activities after school as club advisors for no pay. It is not unusual for an educator, who in most states is required to have a masters degree, to work 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week. The current burnout rate for teachers is at an all time high, even with extended time off in the summer. Teaching is really hard work.
Writers, I fear, face the same type of unwelcome scrutiny. I know, because of the many questions I’ve been asked by my students and from those that I’ve visited in other schools, that writers are assumed to have a glamorous life of book signings, radio and television interviews, and diverse travels around the world to promote their work. Sadly, this is not true. Most of an author’s work is done in the solitude of a tiny home office. They stay up late to write and they get up early to write. They’re constantly thinking about the next scene in their story, whether or not to kill off a character, and over silly things like where to put a comma and if they should use but, therefore, or nevertheless as their next conjunction. Most writers have to work another job besides their writing just to make ends meet. There’s nothing glamorous about that. The truth is, writing, like teaching, is really hard work.