One of the reasons I love this blog is because I get to “talk” to so many interesting writers. You won’t find a more interesting writer than right here in this interview with John Rosenman. Mr. Rosenman talks about the joy of writing and feeling “blessed and grateful for what you’re doing and able to do.” I agree.
Enjoy this interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?
I’m sixty-eight years old, an English professor at Norfolk State University, have been married for forty-two years, and I’ve been writing almost my entire life. As a little kid, I used to lie in the dark and listen to “The Shadow,” “Lights Out,” and other programs on the radio. They fired my imagination. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and my closest pal and I invented a mythical lady burglar. We used to sit by the highway as cars zoomed past. Now and then one of us would point and say, “There she is – the lady burglar’s driving that car!” Though I wasn’t a writer yet, I was already shaping and creating reality with words.
What type of writing do you do?
I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and dabble in related areas. My first published novel (The Best Laugh Last, McPherson & Co.) was mainstream and cost me two jobs because of its sensitive racial subject matter. It will be republished in a year or so.
I’m a child of the Golden Age of Science Fiction (the 1950’s), and in my novels, I try to capture the awesome, mind-stretching wonders of the universe. So in some ways, my SF novels are a bit retro. A common plot is that the main character travels to a distant world and has amazing adventures, often getting involved in an intense romance. In A Senseless Act of Beauty (Blade Publishing), Aaron Okonkwo journeys to a distant, African-type world and gets seduced by a beautiful green alien gal. And that’s only the beginning of his problems.
What’s the best thing about writing?
The high you get from it, which is basically indescribable. When it’s clicking, and you’re writing better than ever before, you feel blessed and grateful for what you’re doing and able to do. Another great thing about writing is to find editors and readers who are moved by your vision and actually like your work and what you are trying to accomplish in it. You’re not only not wasting your time, but you’ve actually got talent!
Share some of your writing goals.
I’d like to create a substantial body of work that captures the fullest scope of my imagination and writing style. I love playing and experimenting with words and strive to create elegant, masterful prose. I recall someone writing: “My mind has more gold coins than I can ever spend.” I want to spend as many as I can and also write some things that are truly new and different, so that readers may find it hard to believe that I wrote them.
I also want to make readers say, “Oh man, that’s great!”
Is there a specific time of day you like to write?
I write at all times, especially during the summer when I take a three months vacation. I wish I were more structured, but I write whenever I feel the mood.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
There are so many. One is James Blish’s “A Case of Conscience,” which is about an alien species which lacks art and religion and deep feeling, but is ethically and morally perfect. I won’t disclose the kicker, the true significance of the Lithians, but I adapted this idea in my book, The Voice of Many Waters, due out next month from Blue Leaf Publications.
I also love Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos because of its ability to create a truly fascinating and different alien world, and its fine writing. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s partly inspired by the works of John Keats.
Really, I could write all day about this.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Well, I’ve scribbled and made up stories all my life, but even after I hocked my law books, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a trade, that is, to make a living. I mean, in our society, you can’t really bank on making a living as a writer, can you? I’m a university teacher, and each semester we have a job fair we take students to. You’ll see a lot of signs there proclaiming different jobs and professions, but you’ll never see any that say WRITER or POET. You do that in your spare time, and if you do strike it big so that you can actually make a living at it, well, then you’re both blessed and very lucky.
But if you take away my not knowing what to “do” with my life in order to make a living, I knew from my late teens or early twenties that writing was the most important activity in my life – next to girls, that is. The question was, since I couldn’t support myself writing, what good was it?
In no particular order, Shakespeare, Octavia Butler, Dan Simmons, Dean Koontz (especially the “Odd Thomas” novels), Robert McCammon, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, etc. I’m leaving a lot out.
Book you’re currently reading.
I’m reading Dean Koontz’s FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE. I usually find novels that are 800 + pages long to be flaccid and long-winded, but the first paragraph caught me: “Bartholomew Lampion was blinded at the age of three, when surgeons reluctantly removed his eyes to save him from a fast-spreading cancer, but although eyeless, Barty regained his sight when he was thirteen.”
The book I read before that was nonfiction. The Monsters is about Villa Diodati, a villa where a teenage girl and a neurotic doctor wrote two horror novels of transcendent influence. The girl was Mary Shelley and her novel was Frankenstein. The man was John Polidori, and his novel was The Vampyre. The novels came from a contest proposed by Lord Byron, and I find Mary’s triumph over the male participants (including her husband Percy) to be absolutely inspiring, however tragic and bittersweet it turned out to be.
Any type of writing ritual you have?
Well, I mentioned that I sometimes wander and stroll through a local Barnes & Noble to jumpstart my muse, but other than that, I just sit down at my computer and make it up as I go along. I’ve even written when there were loud distractions around. Sometimes my method has a very tenuous basis. One of my novels, for example, was inspired by one word, Dreamfarer, which is its title.
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?
Yes, I do, because I’ve experienced it. I have various ways to get past it. One way is to go to a local Barnes & Noble and just walk around, not try to force it, and let my eyes fall where they may. By doing this, I’ve had ideas just leap into my mind. One time I saw a book title: The Calm Technique, and a similar title came to me immediately: The Death Technique. Within a second, I had the basic story: a man finds he has the ability to rot and die. It’s a technique, as is his ability to regenerate. I sold the tale to a pro anthology, Dark Arts.
Another way I get around Writer’s Block is to remember that prosaic, everyday life is FILLED with story ideas. A broken shoelace or a piece of bubblegum can contain immense worlds of terror and delight. A few weeks ago I went to a plastic surgeon to get a few lesions removed from my head, and as I lay there on the table beneath the surgeon’s knife, ideas came to me. For example, what if I got up from the table, looked in the mirror, and found I had a different face and only I could see it? Or perhaps others could see my new face, but my wife, employer, etc., would never accept me for who I really was. What would I do in a world where no one recognized and accepted the true me? I wrote a blog on this experience for www.storytellersunplugged.com (August 13), and came up with at least half a dozen plots in the process, all inspired by a visit to a plastic surgeon. The moral here is that ordinary events that happen to us are rich with fictional possibilities. We just have to recognize and take advantage of them.
What’s the measure of a successful writer?
Well, the World’s Way is to equate “success” with blockbuster bestsellers and fame. Is your name sometimes the answer on “Jeopardy”? Is your face prominently displayed in tabloids, on TV, and the Internet? That’s what most people feel is success. Are you rich? Are you a frequent guest on Oprah?
That surely is one definition of success, but it isn’t mine. For one thing, commercial success is not the same as creative success. Some best sellers are absolute trash. Even if I could write a good best seller, I want my books to be what I want to write, what’s in me to write. I want whoever picks up my novels to be interacting with me and my world, not what I decided in a calculated, pragmatic fashion to write because it would be commercial.
On the other hand, if I can write the novels I want to write and become a media celebrity at the same time, well, then, I won’t turn up my nose up at it. I won’t spurn the money or the recognition. But I do have to do it my way.
Advice for other writers?
My previous answer is part of this answer. Write what you want to write, what’s in you to write. Also, you don’t have to write what you know. In my Drollerie Press novel, Alien Dreams, I write about a man who travels to an alien world where he changes into a giant, beautiful alien and makes love to their ravishing queen for ten thousand subjective years. What did I know firsthand about such things? Nothing. But my imagination knew.
Other advice to writers, especially beginning writers, is to recognize that writing is hard work and involves a prolonged apprenticeship and endless revision. Don’t be satisfied with your first draft. Find a good, serious writers group with good readers and critiquers and stay with it. Be grateful for them. Learn to take criticism and grow from it.
There’s so much I could say here. One last point: Don’t let editors’ rejections discourage you. Be patient and persistent. Look at their criticisms, revise if necessary, research the markets, and submit again. As long as you think your work’s good, submit it. Talent is good, but determination is sometimes better.
Where can we learn more about you?
One place is my web site, www.johnrosenman.com, which contains biographical information, covers, reviews, and excerpts from some of my novels, a book trailer, a radio interview, and other features.
One of my interviews can be found at http://www.milscifi.com/files/inter-JBR-BS.htm. Also, I write a blog on writing at www.storytellersunplugged.com. (On the thirteenth or fourteenth of every month.)
I’m actually all over the web. You can find me at Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Photobucket, etc. My titles are listed at Drollerie Press, Mundania Press, Lyrical Press, Blade Publishing, Eternal Press, and (soon) Blue Leaf Publications. If you have any questions, drop me a line at email@example.com.
I’ll be glad to chat with you.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Hmm, I used to be Chairman of the Board of HWA (Horror Writers Association), and loved going to cons. If you come to my house, you’ll find thousands of movies, especially SF/Horror movies of the fifties. I love teaching, but beneath my mild-mannered, normal façade, I’m more than a little mad. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.