James J Patterson - An Interview

Recently I had the chance to ask prolific writer James J Patterson a couple of questions about his latest book, his ventures in music and his general thoughts on literature. It is always a delight to speak to James and probe his creative mind with my curious questions. Check out the interview below!

James J Patterson, a versatile fellow: an author and a musician. Tell me first what is “Pop-Relevant Cabaret” how and when did you come up with it?

In the 1980s and 1990s I was part of a musical satire duet called the Pheromones. A publicist once scolded, “So you picked a name no one can spell, pronounce, or understand. Brilliant. Now you boys sit yourselves down and come up with a slogan that explains what the hell it is you do!” Well, since we took a rather Pagliacci approach to our act, you know, make’m laugh then make’m cry, the songs became a rather rolling dialogue in and of themselves. So, our material, pop-songs funny or serious, was always socially and politically relevant, delivered in a cabaret setting or style, hence, “Pop-Relevant Cabaret.” I like to say we were one of the first bands on M TV and one of the last bands on American Bandstand. Smile. We played roughly 200 nights a year for 13 years, did four albums. I liked to explain that “Each of our songs is a holistic piece of a much broader puzzle that attempts to Transmogrify the Antinomian Kakistocracy as we have come to see it.”

Regarding your books, I’d like to know, and I’m sure readers too, more about your famous Bermuda Shorts and what can you say about your latest book ‘Roughnecks’?

The book of essays and short stories, Bermuda Shorts, took shape over about a five-year period. The idea was to explore three forms of story-telling; memoir, creative non-fiction, and fiction. I had fallen in love with a form of creative non-fiction writing that the expatriated American author Henry Miller devised in the 1930s called, “Spiral Form.” In a nutshell, take a lot of true-life experiences, conversation, characters, etc., throw them all in a blender, and toss them onto the page. Move the pieces around, blend the characters. There’s a Bob Dylan song that suggests “I had to re-arrange their faces and give them all another name.” Do that. Merge, mingle, and mix. You may discover some truth there that linear story telling may conceal. It also lends an urgency to the narrative that has the feel of the here and now, a present tense, although you are actually hopping about in time. So, as you read Bermuda Shorts you follow that literary arc story to story from memoir, through creative non-fiction, and end up with pure fiction. I hope.

Roughnecks takes a character from Bermuda Shorts, William Zachary Harper the banker, and morphs him into Zak Harper, and follows him into further adventures of self-discovery in the American oil patch. The book took thirty-one years to write, meaning thirty years longer than planned. I’ll just leave that there.

What challenges did you overcome to pen ‘Roughnecks’?

A roughneck, in this instance, is someone who works outdoors on the floor of an oil rig. It’s a brutal job with no safety net. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a roughneck. But this story was given to me by an old grade school buddy whom I grew up with. He lived it, and knowing me to be a writer, he took me out to the Montana hell-n-gone, disguised me as one of their own, and we retraced his steps. It was a harrowing adventure just in the reliving. That’s why I also put his name on the cover of the book. I had several careers during all that time and worked on the book between those careers, taking trips out to the oil patch by myself, interviewing and researching, sitting on wooly hills and buttes in the Badlands, writing the descriptions. All in all, it took eight years of continuous writing. I had spent a lot of my life in rural Canada, where most of the men were hard-nosed do-it-yourself types, and day laborers. Plus, my father had a career commanding an army of tough guys who delivered newspapers in the middle of the night. So, I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with the mind-set. Writing Roughnecks was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, next to quitting cigarettes – smile.

What is writing to you exactly and how different it is as a method of expressing yourself comparing it to expression through music?

With me the medium is not the message, the message is the message, to turn Marshall McLuhan’s message on its ear. I have always been first and foremost a writer but sometimes you have something you want to say, and music is a better delivery system. You can change the dimensional make-up in someone’s mind with a single chord of musical phrase, or excite their imagination, invoke any of the mindful emotions. You can do the same thing with images in words, of course. But music can find a direct path to a person’s core that he or she may have thought was well defended. Music can activate the spirit, can call out to the divine, if you let it. Like poetry and brave literature. There’s also an aerobic component to the making of it. Playing is a physical challenge. We would sometimes play sixteen songs a set, four sets a night, fifteen or more nights in a row.

However, any art form one chooses, painting, sculpting, composing, they all have their limitations and that’s a good thing. I’m most comfortable with writing, it seems, to my way of thinking, to have the least limitations of all. Plus, reading takes effort. I like that, rather than just sitting and listening, or viewing. And that effort makes the reward of it greater somehow. I know people who read fast, I’m not one of them and if there’s any envy in me at all, it’s for that gift. I write because I have something I want to say. Have something to say and you enter a virgin forest of old growth words. Make of it what you will.

What did you read when you were young and who inspired you most?

I’ve been a history nut all my life. So, I read history books from an early age. But I discovered literature through poetry. It was always poetry. Pre-teen Jimmy couldn’t get enough Robert Frost, then Edgar Allen Poe, then Wordsworth, Rimbaud, etc. In the seventh grade I stole a copy of Oliver Twist from the local convenience store, remember those Paperback Classics in a turn-style display? I then found Steinbeck and worked my way up the food-chain.

Where do you get your inspiration?

When I want to improve my writing chops, I read writers like J.D. Salinger or Alice Monroe, or John Cheever for those wonderful sentences. But when I want to remind myself why I write I go directly to Henry Miller because his love of craft drips from every page. His love of writing works into each and every one of his thirty-two books. For him it is truly an heraldic pre-occupation, and managing one’s pre-occupations is a big component in a writer’s make-up. When I’m in a writing funk I realize I need to change the subject. Go see some art. Take in a play by a writer I’ve not heard of. Seek out Big Nature. I find that left to my own devices I will gravitate towards originality in thought and expression. My wife says she can tell when I’m going back to the drawing board because I revisit the masters. For me Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, or anything by Honoré de Balzac will never fail to captivate me. I’m particularly inspired by fin de cycle writers and artists, French Enlightenment iconoclasts, Regency French authors and painters, lunatic inventors, and 1960s psychedelic music.

Do you have three favourite authors and who are they?

Henry Miller because he rather invented creative non-fiction and made of himself a fictional character, also his lust for literature knew no bounds. Honoré de Balzac because he loved human interaction in all its complexity. I carry around a leather-bound Complete Works of Thomas Paine because he proves in every sentence that great writing can actually remake a world.

You run your own website, what inspires you when it comes to blogging: daily life situations, books, poetry, politics, music?

A website to me is like a research and development lab. I’ll toss rough work up there from time to time just to see where it needs help. It’s also a great way to blow off steam so I can get back to writing something of value. Also, I truly believe it’s vital to connect with like-minded talents and spread the word, like we’re doing now. If you don’t take it too seriously you can attract and be attracted by like-minded, and like-talented folks. I’m a true believer in all for one and one for all.

What are you reading currently and why did you choose this particular book?

Mythos, by the British comedian/ actor Stephen Fry. It’s a straight ahead telling of the Greek myths in a contemporary voice, not at all academic, hilarious in parts, but he’s really got it sorted. Every other book I’ve picked up on the topic is like biting into wood. Also Figuring by Maria Popova, what a metaphysical roller coaster! It’s like Pythagoras, Lucretius, and C Jung are sitting at the back of the bar and they need a fourth for bridge, that’s you. I also have a big chewy looking novel sitting on the top of the stack called Dethroned by one Branka Cubrilo. Looks like a long dark journey to me, but this author never disappoints, and I can’t wait!

 If people buy only one book this season, why should it be yours?

Because I give a damn.

What is it that you are doing now and tell us some of your future plans?

My wife and I have a small boutique press called Alan Squire Publishing. 2020 will be our tenth year. We’ve spent the last year and a half re-organizing our approach and preparing three new titles for fall 2019. Now, however, it’s time to hunker down and finish a few projects of our own. I’m 2/3 the way through writing a follow-up of sorts to Bermuda Shorts called Junk Shop Window, and it’s a struggle I’m truly enjoying. I also have a rather obscure history-thriller-spiritual-pagan-fantasy novel I’m working on that won’t let go of me. But that could just be a cheap excuse to read a lot of obscure stuff (hence the Mythos volume). As for the future, my plan is to keep on keepin’ on. Thanks for asking! 

URL : https://jamesjpatterson.com/book-authors/james-j-patterson/