An Interview With Joel Seath: Author and Creator of Beauty…

Joel Seath is an author who writes to find the beautiful things in the world and to explore the characters that make life wonderful and sad. I met Joel on my travels and immediately cottoned onto his love for all things literary. We set up and interview and he answered my questions with ease. I found myself sitting back to listen to what he had to say rather than thinking of another question. Easy interviews are rare– but this was one of the easiest.

Joel

Q) So Joel, why did you become an author?

A) It’s a compulsion, a drive, I suppose. When you write you just need to keep on writing.

Q) What does a compulsive drive to write feel like?

A) It often feels like blocking out, locking in, sinking in. You know? Some days it’s a rush. Some days you read and re-read and it’s like you’re looking at something that shines (or might shine) and you want to keep that, show that, have that, always.

Q) Do you ever find it hard to stop yourself from writing? Is it like a daze or a dream you can’t break from?

A) Physically writing (or typing), yes, I suppose. I mean, it can be extremely immersive, as many writers will know. However, that immersion also plays itself out in the day-to-day, pen not in hand, computer not on. Words (or the possibility of them) are everywhere.

Q) Words are your thing as a writer? So what is your favourite word?

A) What an excellent question! A barman asked me what my favourite book was recently (your question reminds me of that): how to pick one? You can tell by the long pause that this has given me cause to think. I can tell you what my most recently learned word is (and, by extension, a current favourite): tenebrous.

Q) Tenebrous? So what does tenebrous mean?

A) It’s to do with the obscure, the dark, as I understand it. This isn’t a reflection of my writing; rather, the word has a sort of rhythmic quality to me.

Q) Well, you have to learn something new everyday! So, lets reflect on your writing. What do you like to write about? Tell me about your writing.

A) In all its forms, long and short, my writing is intended as a means of finding the small gems of this world. There are hidden things in between what we just see on the surface– there are textures and layers to relationships, subtleties, moments. I’m looking for the moments that also linger. There are ‘objects’ of beauty, even in the laments, in many places.

Q) It’s interesting that you write about “beauty,” as everyone’s definition of beauty is so different. What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written about? What is “beautiful” to you?

A) Well, beauty is subjective, of course, but I’m sometimes taken aback by how things turn out. It’s unexpected. There are moments that happen which I read time and again because they still have some power over me. In one of my stories, a child’s brief interaction with the narrator takes me in every time; in another piece, it was something I wrote in a female voice because I needed to do this more, I was there with her, as her, in Venice because the words were in that flow state; poetry is a vanity, but there are lines of colour and there are lines that sink me sometimes. Questions such as these are like choosing between children!

Q) If you could write anywhere in the world– where would it be? What landscape would really incite your creativity?

A) On a beach, in the mountains, in a forest, all of these. Specifically, though I’ve done my fair share of overseas travelling, I’d come back to the west of Cornwall. Standing on the cliffs overlooking some of the little unknown coves down there, the sea and the wind in your hair and on your face, that huge sky (it really is huge, like they say in their tourism promotions), makes words just come in for me. The artists there laud it for the light; I just can’t get enough of the energy.

Q) I understand that you’re published so others can enjoy your creative energy. Which of your works are currently available?

A) I’ve got a collection out at the moment (Disintegration and Other Stories). I loosely label this as literary fiction (though that term can be interpreted in many ways). DaOS is out in ebook and print. This collection came together in an odd way: I didn’t realise that there’d been a thread running through some of my writings for a number of years. It was like seeing invisible ink slowly become visible. I’m working on a collection of micro fiction, which will be a first volume (Four Kinds of Wreckage) to be added to. Micro fiction is much misunderstood. Away from fiction, I’m also published in the field of what’s known as ‘playwork’ (a particular way of working with children). I’ve had writings taken on by the national/international playwork publication for the sector, as well as credits with the organisation concerned with psycholudic playwork practice. (Now though, I fear I’m stepping into the jargon of my other calling – though writing is also a big part of this, too).

disintegration

Q) So tell me Joel– why did you want to be interviewed by me?

A) You do a good job of finding writers, Nick. When I became aware of your work I came over to your blog, and yes, I like what I see here. What you’re doing is exactly what writers need– a way of getting their words out there.

Q) Thank you, Joel. One of my stock questions is to ask– if you could be any writer from any time who would it be?

A) As far as writers are concerned, I have a range (as we all do probably): Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jeannette Winterson, Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, Adrian Henri. There are others. I wouldn’t want just one small list to define me, though we start somewhere with questions such as these.

Q) Characters are important to you. What makes a good character for you?

A) The unusual wrapped up in the usual. Subtlety people often might not see. The strangely put. Love in odd places, ways; perceptions of this. Someone who aches in some way.

Q) It has often been said that “repeated readability makes a book.” Would you as an author agree with that?

A) Yes, I think I would. Who was it who said that journalism is read once, whilst literature more than this? Something like that. Anyway, it’s the sentiment here that counts. There are books on my shelf that I come back to time and again; there are passages on some pages that just astound me. Kerouac wrote about ‘fields the colour of love and Spanish mysteries’ in On the Road. I come back to that time and again.

Q) You strike me as an intellectual– someone striving for the beautiful things in life. Would you agree with that?

A) I don’t know about intellectual! I certainly am on the search for the beauty of the world though. That’s in words, in moments, in art, in love and lament, in the play of children, in the play of us, in nature.

Q) What would you personally deem as “ugly”?

A) There’s nothing so ugly as not wanting to see, perhaps. Ugliness is also wrapped up in the politics of power, greed, deceit.

Q) Power, greed, deceit are words usually entwined with politics. How do you feel about the political scene in America right now? Are you an Obama follower?

A) For me these words are part of Politics (as in that which a politician is involved in); however, these words are also within the politics of everyone, their relations. Lennon had an angle here! As for Obama, I don’t really get too immersed in Politics anywhere, if I can help it, because politicians bring the media to their door in many ways. That said, when politicians willfully ignore children and their play, this gets me going! Back to Obama, he strikes me as intelligent enough, though of course I’m not in the US and not directly subjected to American policy.

Q) Well, I think we’ll end there Joel. Thank you for a great interview!

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Playwright Jerry Rabushka Spills the Beans About His New Book

Jerry Rabushka is another of those guys I came across quite by accident. I was looking for new people to interview, as always. I saw a posting from him about his new book Star Bryan. What did I do next? I messaged him, of course, and asked him over to “Novel Ideas” for an interview with yours truly. Little did I know that Jerry is a well read and received playwright who has worked on numerous articles for his own magazines “The Paint Dealer” and “The Paint Contractor”. Then, I discovered that Jerry is also an accomplished musician with his own band. So what did we talk about? Cast your eyes downwards to see all revealed.

A Portrait of Jerry by Brett Steen

Jerry- Courtesy of Brett Steen

Q) Nice to meet you, Jerry. So tell me a bit about yourself.

A) Well, let’s see… I’m 52, I live in St. Louis, MO, and always have. In “real life,” I’m a magazine editor. I’ve written lots of plays, a few novels, I’m a pianist, composer/songwriter, etc. I have lots of published plays that are put on all over USA and sometimes abroad. Anything else?

Q) What’s the name of your magazine?

A) We have two, The Paint Dealer and The Paint Contractor. They are both trade magazines– one for independent paint retailers and one for professional painters. I’ve been at this job for twenty years

Q) You’re a talented guy. Would you agree with that statement?

A) Well, I like to think so.

Q) What would you name as your greatest achievement?

A) I don’t know, I was just thinking about that. I tend to be an overachiever. I think getting this book published was pretty cool, plus perhaps creating a body of over one hundred plays adds up to something useful.

Q) Can you name some of your best known plays? Some have stretched over the ocean to make it to the UK, right?

A) I think my most produced are “Lotto Date,” “Seeking Asylum” and “Jack, The Beanstalk, and Social Services.” I wrote a play called “Cinderella and the Birkenstocks” that was put on in Falkirk, Scotland by the Big Bad Wolf Children’s theater, it looks like it was quite a show! They usually do Disney type plays so I was honored to be in that mix

Q) Have you ever travelled to the UK?

A) Nope… but I’ve been to 49 states and a few provinces in Canada.

Q) Detroit?

A) Not in a while, but yep– well, the Metro area, I guess.

Q) Do you think Detroit deserves its reputation as the most dangerous city in the USA?

A) Well, I know it has lots of problems, but then again, St. Louis is usually rated #3 [most dangerous city] and I live here, and it all depends where you go. I’m sure there’s parts of both cities you’d want to avoid and parts that are really nice. There is a sense that Detroit needs to “start over.”

Q) It’s been said that the police are slowly turning the tide and cleaning the city up– would you place credence in that statement?

A) just from what I’ve read, yep. A lot of cities in the Midwest have declined and there’s a move to bring back central cities rather than expand any farther out

Q) Allentown, PA is another example of a declining city. Have you visited?

A) Nope, but just yesterday I heard a step-relative was planning a wedding there. Because of my job, I would visit paint stores all over America, so I’ve been to big and small cities and there’s cool things about both. I guess it’s natural that certain cities grow and others shrink, and every place can’t be at its zenith at once.

Q)Would you say, as a writer, you are at your zenith right now?

A) Hee hee.. Actually, I think I am much improved. I’m finding a new style lately. I like to think that in creative things like writing and music, that people get better as they get older due to the experience of doing it, and just having lived longer and knowing more things.

Q) So if you could give one piece of advice to your twenty year-old self, what would it be?

A) “Be patient” plus look for support and advice from people who are more experienced because you don’t know it all. Sometimes people will do more to discourage you than anything, and you need to be strong enough to believe in yourself and tell them to shove off.

Q) Have you ever felt as though you weren’t making enough progress with your written work?

A) There was a time I wrote a LOT of plays quickly, and I felt they were suffering in quality, so I stopped for a bit just to kind of recoup. I was lucky in that I found a publisher who really likes my plays and has encouraged me to write a lot. Yep, I guess I’m frustrated sometimes. I wish i was a “bigger name” than I am. I guess a lot of us do.

Q) So how did you start writing? What starting that ball rolling?

A) I used to write little stories even when I was six years old– just always did it. Once, I showed a short story to an English teacher, and she suggested it could be a play, and while I’d written a few plays at that time, that kind of got me more into playwriting, too.

I wrote a novel at seventeen; I guess that was my first “big thing” and I’m thinking of rewriting it now.

Q) Have you looked back and thought, “Yeah, I can make this better” or do you just like tinkering with work?

A) Sometimes you look at old stuff and go “eeewww why did I ever think that was any good?” With that particular novel I think there’s a lot of good in it, but it needs to have some better overall writing. The trick is, can I keep the same perspective thirty-five years later?

However, I think you need to write a lot that might not be so good, and just learn the craft so it’s not wasted time at all.

Q) So your advice to a young writer unsure of their work would be…?

A) Keep writing, plus perhaps find someone who is supportive and not cruel. No one needs to hear “this sucks” so much as “here’s how you might improve this.”

Also, read… I’ve been reading some classic novels and I can see how every sentence is constructed with care and thought, not just slapped together, and why these people are considered masters.

Green Fence

From a production of Green Fence – one of Jerry’s plays

Q) I imagine before you agreed to this interview you checked out my work. What did you think? Did a particular interview help you decide to be interviewed by me?

A) It was that it looked professional, and I didn’t feel I’d have anything to fear about being part of something half-assed. I interview people all the time for work, and I like to pride myself on getting their points of view across, which is why they’ll talk to me repeatedly.

Q) I agree– I try to get that feel into my work. I want my readers to know you as a writer. I must admit it’s a great thing for me working with a pro like yourself.

A) Aww, thanks. I feel lucky I make a living as a writer even if it’s about paint mostly, it’s still writing. Yay!

Q) Same here, we’ve all got to eat!

A) Yep… I like to eat. Too much sometimes, but who doesn’t like a good pancake?

Q) Do you guys have pancake day in the States?

A) Not that I know of, but we should. Besides, every day is pancake day.

I wrote a play where pancakes featured prominently.

Q) You did? What was it called? I need to read that one!

A) It’s “Woof! The Road Show” about a couple guys taking a “gay romance” play on the road. There’s a scene about “I love your pancakes almost as much as I love you.”

Q) I’d love to see it. Would you say your plays and books touch upon taboo subjects?

A) Many of them do, yep. I can run the gamut from clean enough for grandma to dirty enough for your other grandma.

Q) (laughs) That brings me to your latest novel. What’s it called and could you tell my readers what it’s about?

A) It’s called “Star Bryan,” which is the name of the main character. In the tradition of books like “Moll Flanders” and “Joseph Andrews” I thought it was a cool title. Essentially, Star leaves a bad relationship and spends the book trying to “find himself,” dealing with ex-boyfriends, current boyfriend, and other hangers on… plus coming to terms that his family might not be as loving and supportive as he used to think.

It’s hard to put 236 pages into a sentence, but there’s a good synopsis on the publishers website.

For me, Star’s problem is he tries to solve everyone else’s problems, and creates more for himself as well as the people he tries to “fix.”

Q) He’s a good guy essentially?

A) He’s a good guy who makes mistakes and has a problem saying “no” when sexual opportunity comes his way and he should run the other way.

Q) I understand your book deals with the black gay scene, correct? How have people taken to your work so far?

A) Yep… almost all the characters are black. Not sure I’d say it’s about “a scene” but perhaps so. The folks who have read it seemed to like it, they like the characters in it, particularly Star’s sister Arielle. People who aren’t black and gay are enjoying it, too; it’s not like you have to BE the character to like the book.

Q) Exactly, Jerry. So, do you believe this could be a groundbreaking book?

A) Well, I’d like to think so. I know there aren’t a ton of books about this particular topic but there are a lot if you look for them. I think what I’m good at is translating a “gay experience” to real life so that anyone can be comfy reading it. However, on the other hand, I‘ve never really seen a book quite like this but since I read older writing, that would make sense.

Q) I’ve read excerpts from this book. Would you agree with me that the book is suitable for the general readers out there? It’s not specialised.

A) I think so. There’s not a lot of “inside jokes” or anything. I think anyone can relate to the idea of just trying to put your life back together and trying to figure out “who you are.” Actually, to me, one of the cool parts of the book is the whole family dynamic in how he related to mom, dad, sis, etc.

Q) Do you think the whole “gay” stigma has become much reduced in recent years?

A) totally. Not everywhere, but I think it’s less unique. When I started writing gay characters in the ’80s, it was a way bigger deal than it is now. Since I’m gay, it’s where my heart is in writing about someone, as far as I can “feel” him. I think for me, character is more important than plot, though obviously you need a good story or no one will care.

Q) You know, Jerry, I spent much of my teenage life around a guy who was gay and it really taught me a lot about life itself. Being gay was shunned in the small village I grew up in, yet this guy was almost like a father to me. I have never in my life understood why anyone would choose to be “homophobic.”

A) I think it’s taught, obviously, plus people who don’t have a problem with gay people are afraid to say so, because others will just scorn and ostracize them.

Q) Yes, I found that in school quite a bit. People found out my mother’s best friend was “gay” and suddenly people would ignore me or whatever. I think it’s important that we have books like yours to get people out of their small minds and learn to be open-minded and accepting.

A) Well, yep, it should be obvious that gay people are “just like everyone else” but it’s not, because so many people educated their community that we are horrible and perverted, etc. It makes gay folks feel like they are, if that’s all they hear. In the book, I tried to avoid a lot of that but, of course, Star has to deal with problems of prejudice, both in and out of his family.

Q) Do you think it’s important for young gay people to be open and to stand up and say “Yes, I’m gay. Get over yourselves, haters!”

A) More or less, yep. Though if coming out would endanger your life, then perhaps you should wait for better circumstances. But on the whole, you shouldn’t make being gay “your problem.”

Q) I’ve got to tell you, Jerry, I like your book a lot. When will it be available to buy?

A) Thanks, very much! It’s available now online, at Amazon and from the publisher directly at Rebel Satori Press.

Q) Thanks, Jerry. I’ve really enjoyed this interview and I hope your book is a huge success!

I left this interview knowing that this would be an interesting article. Sometimes guys you just have to send a random email to a random person to find a gem. This was certainly a gem.

star bryanLinks for Jerry Rabushka:

Many of his plays are available at:
Get a copy of the wonderful Star Bryan novel here: UK  USA
Check out Jerry’s band The Ragged Blade Band through these links!