Kenneth Womack interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: May 5, 2016 1:05:06 PM
Kenneth Womack interview with David Alan Binder
Ken’s Bio from his website: Kenneth Womack is an internationally renowned Beatles authority and expert regarding the band’s abiding artistic influence. He is especially passionate about the manner in which the group created their enduring body of work, as well as the many ways in which the band continues to resonate as a sociocultural touchstone.
Ken’s Beatles-related books include Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles (2007) and The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles (2009), which was named as The Independent’s “Music Book of the Year.” In 2014, Ken published The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the group’s legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Ken’s books about the Beatles are included in the permanent collection of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Library and Archives. Ken is also the author of three award-winning novels, including John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel (2010), The Restaurant at the End of the World (2012), and Playing the Angel (2013).
Ken is Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University, where he also serves as Professor of English. He is Editor of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies: A Journal of Criticism and Theory, published by Penn State University Press, and Co-Editor of the English Association’s prodigious Year’s Work in English Studies, published by Oxford University Press.
Over the years, Ken’s work as teacher and writer has earned numerous awards, including the Grace D. Long Faculty Excellence Award (2002), Penn State University’s Alumni Teaching Fellow Award (2006), Northern Illinois University’s Golden Anniversary Alumni Award (2009), Penn State Altoona’s Honorary Alumni Award (2009), and the Kjell Meling Award for Distinction in the Arts and Humanities (2010). In 2013, Ken was selected to serve as the sixth Penn State University Laureate.
1. Where are you currently living?
I am currently living in Long Branch, New Jersey. I serve as Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University, in nearby West Long Branch on the Jersey Shore.
2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
The most important writing tool that I have learned—and that I have to periodically re-learn—is that every writer has to strike a balance between ensuring that they are writing as often and as regularly as possible, and yet not forcing their craft so that it feels unnatural or rudimentary. It is the most delicate balance for nearly anyone’s writing process. And I feel like it is essential to the act of writing.
3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I am endlessly fascinated with the ways that history impinges upon the writing of nonfiction, which is a given for many people, but also for the creation of fiction. In both cases, we cannot divorce ourselves from the historical elements of our existence. Obviously, certain works of science fiction might have something to say about this, but I find that the forces of history, and how I bring them to life in my work, allow my readers to re-experience our shared history in new and revealing ways.
4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
Over the years, I have worked with a wide variety of traditional publishers, ranging from university presses and commercial presses to small houses and startups.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
For my next Beatles-related work, I am working with A Cappella Press, which is a subsidiary of the highly regarded Chicago Review Press. Located in the Windy City, they specialize in music and the arts. I am very excited to be placing my work with a press with such a long tradition of excellence in their fields of publication.
5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I have a strong affinity for eBooks, which I read almost exclusively at this point. While I own a large library of some 4,000 conventional books, I find that eBooks are more convenient and clearly more portable, given the nature of my work and home lives. I think that all writers should endeavor to publish their books across all possible formats, ranging from traditional print and eBooks to audio books. In this way, we can meet readers wherever they happen to live and breathe.
6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
I am a concerted believer in building up an inventory of your work. For one thing, this affords you with a range of material to share with would-be publishers. Perhaps just as significantly, it gives the writer a kind of freedom to create new work with the confidence that they already have something in the coffers. This is important because we often feel a kind of pressure if we are putting all of our hopes and energies behind a single publication. In my experience, this is when I make mistakes and under-leverage my work simply to get it off of my plate. If I am working on something else, I find that this kind of internal pressure lessens considerably.
7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
Agents invariably respond to strong work with high concepts. My best advice is to ensure that you only approach potential agents with your best ideas and your finest writing. It is the most proactive way to approach the business as a working professional.
8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Don’t under-leverage your work. As I noted before, there is a kind of pressure that develops internally that causes us to become impatient and, in such frames of mind, make errors. It is essential that you gain a sense of your genre and how others have found success (with particular agents and particular publishers) in your genre. Doing this kind of homework is essential.
9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
I particularly enjoy when I am working on a novel and a new character or incident develops that I hadn’t expected—the very kinds of happy accidents that make the writing process even more exciting and revelatory.
10. How many books have you written?
I am the author or editor of numerous books, including several Beatles volumes: Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles (2007), the Cambridge Companion to the Beatles (2009), and The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four (2014), to name a few. I am also the author of three novels, including John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel (2010), The Restaurant at the End of the World (2012), and Playing the Angel (2013).
11. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
I believe in the old adage that “writers write—always.” Every day, I strive for writing at least 1,000 words. Of course, with the right time and space, not to mention a great story line, that total can grow precipitously. But if you are creating new work of some kind every day—even if it is just 250 words or a single page—then you are making progress and growing your level of confidence.
12. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Every great twist is the product of an even greater layer of setup. In short, you earn the effect of the unexpected twist by narrating a very specific mood and set of circumstances in advance. In that way, you create greater impact for your reader.
13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
In my three novels so far, I have tended towards writing alternative histories about well-known events. I enjoy writing and reading these kinds of works because they allow you to re-experience a familiar historical event but from a vastly different, and typically ironic, perspective.
14. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I am working hard to become a better user of social media, along with external publicists whenever possible. Over the years, I have done numerous book-signings and readings of my work. In those cases, you are coming face-to-face with your audience, which is always a good thing in my book.
15. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
Frankly, I would work from a personal strategic plan, as opposed to taking what I have felt to be a scattershot approach to getting my work into the hands of publishers and readers. If I have learned one lesson, it is to remember that writing isn’t merely a craft, but a business. All of us would be mindful to be as professional as possible as we try to leverage this complex and ever-shifting industry that we share.
16. What would you like carved onto your tombstone? Or what saying or mantra do you live by?
I live by my two favorite mantras, which I am happy to share with your readers. The first, spoken by Katharine Hepburn in the sublime 1967 film The Lion in Winter, is “my losses are my work.” In other words, it is supremely valuable to live through and experience your failures and learning moments, even if they may feel harsh at the time. For most writers, learning how to be an effective “loser” in this way is essential to persevering and staying in the game.
The second mantra is from poet Jane Kenyon, who wrote “let evening come.” Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves not to think too far ahead, to allow ourselves to live the moments that will get us to the places we want to go—to not be so impatient or too easily forlorn. To let things happen in their natural course. As long as we are working and giving ourselves a chance, then we’re making progress.
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