Q & A with JP Paul - Part V
When did you realize that writing was your calling?
That's a long story. I've always enjoyed writing but I was terrible in English during my first couple of years in high school. I could always write smoothly but I didn't read enough. I think it was a matter of feeling disengaged with the material. I was never thrilled with the classics as an active teenager who already had numerous extra-curricular and social interests. My grades were fine, never had to sit for a final, but I had other priorities besides academics. In my junior year, my English teacher let us pick major essay themes and our own reading lists to support them. Suddenly I began to identify with modern books/authors and actually read entire works rather than skim Coles Notes to write reports. In my senior year, some of our papers were graded by university professors. The feedback was very positive even though I was only seventeen. At the time I was a closet poet but was encouraged to share longer prose.
Writing has never been a problem. It was taking time to read classic books that didn't attract me. I couldn't identify with most of the stories and characters at all.
At one point I considered studying creative writing or journalism in college but again was put off by the mandatory reading lists for introductory undergrad courses. I also didn't have sufficient second language credits for direct enrollment into those faculties. Strange, I've since enjoyed reading most of the books on those lists -- without the pressure -- and I'm now fluently bilingual! I suppose I wasn't mature enough to deal with Shakespeare or Dickens or George Bernard Shaw until I was a little older than most. Now I love to revisit what I missed in the first round.
Throughout my career, I seemed to be the one writing most of the articles for the company newsletters, ad copy, proposals and tech manuals, that sort of clinical material. I was convinced I could write for a living but never seemed to be able to combine my work responsibilities with creative personal projects.
The real breakthrough came when I queried Tony Bianchi at the Daily Journal in Caracas about a half dozen articles I was prepared to write about Venezuela. He accepted all of them. Shortly thereafter, I starting working full time for the paper. Sally Weeks with the Sunday Plus gave me plenty of rope to investigate feature-length articles. I loved the work and learned plenty, but the 80s and 90s were tough periods for foreign journalists in South America. Pay was low and security was minimal. Being out and about covering luminaries in various fields presented me with numerous opportunities in the corporate market and the world of fine arts. With a family to help feed, I followed the money while my writing reverted to part time for almost two decades. Nothing seemed to work since I wasn't truly engaged. Except for a few years working at the pinnacle of the Latin American art community, I've always preferred to be writing or producing visual art.
More recently, through blogs, forums and website contributions, strangers from all corners of the world convinced me that I should return to arts and literature full time. Here I am, onward and upward.
What would you say to readers who don't like your book?
No, seriously, similar to visual arts I think tastes and preferences are what makes the culture industries so vibrant. Some like Damien Hirst, others prefer Rembrandt. Some devour the entire 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, others can't navigate past its first paragraph. In a world dominated by 30 second video clips and 140 character tweets where a 1,500 word article seems like an unbearable anchor to many, I respect any person who still takes time to read an entire novel whether its mine or someone else's. We all have our favorites. All I can do as a writer is be as transparent and forthright about the nature of my books as possible and then deliver to the best of my ability. I listen to all criticism and suggestions.
Touch wood, my articles were usually well-accepted at the Daily and Sunday Plus. My poems and short works have received a few awards. I've never spoken to anyone who dislikes Rattle although I'm sure there are those for whom it is not their preferred genre. I don't do romance, or sci-fi or murder mystery, but that's not to say that my characters are heartless or don't speculate about the future or that my stories aren't suspenseful or entertaining for the reader. What I don't follow is a strict genre formula and see no reason to apologize for that. I understand that people may want to engage with characters in ways that aren't integral to my work. In short, readers are as diverse as writers.
To answer your question, I've been involved with the visual arts and writing fields for three decades. You learn not to take rejection personally. I can't name many books in the history of literature that were universally accepted on first release. Likewise with visual art. Few if any movements that started within the past 125 years avoided ridicule upon original introduction. Melville sold only 400 copies of Moby Dick during his lifetime. Now it is universally accepted in most schools and included in every all-time Top 100 list. I'm not comparing myself to Melville or any other authors mentioned in this interview, but I've learned not to take initial falures as personally as I did when I was younger.
What's the worst thing about writing, in your opinion?
In my case, I'm a people person. I love to observe, learn and converse with others. Writing is very solitary. With a wife I adore, two wonderful sons and a dog yearning to be outdoors, I need to find equilibrium between family and writing since both make me what I am. I also regret that I haven't allotted nearly enough time for my close friends. I don't believe in external inspiration but I definitely need to spend plenty of time with other people in order to ensure the integrity of my stories. Finding time for everything that matters to me is still a work in progress.
November 2017: Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.