Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A question on change

Yesterday, while towing a  trailer of canoes down the road to an invasive species removal event, I found myself listening to the program, Out of Bounds on NPR. On this particular show they were interviewing poet Michael Jennings, and talking with hm about his recently released chapbook, Summoning the Outlaws. Now, I missed a good part of the interview, spending a sizable chunk of time getting out of the truck to make sure the hitch was line up properly with the trailer, then getting the trailer hitched up, then walking around the trailer to make sure all the lights and turn signals worked, and triple-checking that half a dozen canoes weren’t going to go flying off the back of the trailer while I’m trundling down the road (it’s my worst nightmare; hasn’t happened yet, knock wood).

Once everything was squared away and secure, I got to listen to the rest of the interview, which was pretty interesting. I’m not what you might call a big fan of poetry, but the poems Jennings read on air were good, and it’s always interesting to listen to writers of any kind talk about their process. One question in particular caught my fancy.

How did writing this book change you?

As often happens when I listen to these sort of programs, I let my imagination run away a little. I wasn’t listening to Michael Jennings whilst hauling a canoe trailer through the heart of the county on a Sunday morning; no, I was the one being asked the question after the publication of my latest, greatest book. How did writing this book change me?

First off, fantasy me did not answer that, as a newly-minted best seller, I was jetting around the world in my private jet and rubbing shoulders with all the biggest celebrities and bending the ears of heads of state–my fantasies don’t typically run that way. It’s enough to be published and to get interviewed on a radio show for me! Besides, that wasn’t what the question was aiming at; it was more to the point of how writing the book changed Jennings'(my) world view.

For me, a book (and yeah, I know it’s not technically a book until it’s published, but I’ve still got one foot in fantasyland here, okay?) typically starts when something catches my attention. That something triggers a question, most typically one that starts with “What if…?” The possible answer to that question fires off all kinds of things in my brain and a story emerges, slowly (very slowly) but surely. At least in the case of this book, what caught my attention were the views of a certain billionaire presidential candidate and a certain sort-of in control political party. Seeing what was happening, listening to what was being said worked on my brain, and this story started to develop. In terms of the question being asked, it’s not so much that I wrote this book, therefore I changed as much as it’s I changed, therefore I wrote this book.

Now, in fairness, I think it’s also true that writing this not-yet-a-book has changed me as well. At this point in time, I haven’t been able to quantify any changes that have occurred as a result of writing this particular project. I suspect it will vary from project to project. Fortunately, fantasy interviewer was appropriately appreciative of my response and didn’t press the point. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to hear what Michael Jennings said; I was too busy responding in my head (and keeping one eye on the mirror to make sure my trailer–and all my canoes–were still there).

What about you? Does writing change you, or do you change, then write? And, while we’re at it, am I the only one who does fantasy interviews in my head?
 

2 Responses

  1. Interesting! I do think my stories have changed me (not books yet, but someday!). I'm not much of a risk taker, but I've had to learn to take risks during this process. Still have a ways to go, but I'm still learning so there's time!
    Now, off to do an interview… in my head…

  2. The nice thing about "in-head interviews" is you never sound like a dope! I did an interview for a work-related event on Friday, and I'm sure I sounded incompetent. Here's to continuing to learn!

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