- Guest Author
World Traveller -
I've been trying to interview this guy for some years; a man who also loves South East Asia.
Take it away, Brian ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I started to write this book (the first book that I’ve published) after a round-the-world trip. I visited cultures that aren’t commonly studied. I went to part of Southeast Asia, a little of East Africa, and part of the Middle East. The cultures there were obviously as rich as any other, but the most inspiring aspect of the trip was seeing them back to back to back. Each was unique, so the experience was not the expansion of my perspective from one domain to another and keeping it there, but continuous expansion until the world seemed to shine. It felt more like paradise than anything else I’ve experienced, so I decided to recreate the experience in this book and show readers how to attain it.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I started reading about different cultures at the age of seven and became fascinated by the variety of ways that people form their views of the world and create ways of expressing them. While in college, I was struck by the huge discrepancy between the small range of cultures that most educational systems focus on and the magnificent diversity in our world. I realized that we’re ripe for asking the most basic questions. Who are we as human beings? What is our field of connections? What are the biggest and most rewarding views we can create of ourselves and this field? This potential for pushing human thinking, not just one step beyond conventions, but off the scales thrilled me.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I balance both. I start by outlining the chapters in a way that builds to a climax so that I have a structure. But new ideas emerge when I write, and I thus often add material that makes the climax soar even higher. I try to optimize the balance between working within a structure and allowing room for thinking outside the box.
4. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I think I might have been an eagle. I’ve loved flight since I was a boy. When I was nine I rode in a single-engine private plane over some of the countryside near the San Francisco Bay, and magic ensued as soon as we took off. The view was no longer confined to the street lines, fences, and concrete and plate glass building fronts. I felt free to see whatever I wanted to explore. Each town block and field of crops had its own shape and hue, and all fused into a tapestry that seemed luminous.
Around the same time, my mom and I read the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull together, and I deeply identified with the idea of flying for the sake of soaring as high as possible rather than just feeding your belly.
5. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
My current book. It may seem idealistic on the surface, with its paradise-on-earth theme. But when the perspective expands from a few dominant cultures to thousands, the reflections go up exponentially. These cultures actually exist in the world, so this is all real stuff.
One of the things in the book that I’m most proud of is a method for exploring them. I call it “At/With/Beyond.” Mix thinking according to the conventions you’re used to (looking At). Then examine the cultural landscapes that they emerged in (thinking With). Then explore other cultures (looking Beyond). It’s so simple that it can seem trivial, but as you continue to practice these ways of looking in a circle that keeps turning, your views of the world keep growing bigger, increasingly luminous, and more able to inspire conceptual breakthroughs and joy. You can also enjoy more types of beauty. The book also has a 35-page how-to manual at the end, which details how to bring this perspective into your life.
6. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
The sequel. It explores a different mixture of cultures. You can blend societies in an endless variety of combinations and choose among many contact points. You can look At, With, and Beyond in ever more ways so that the world becomes more resplendent.
7. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Nonfiction. I’ve found the world’s cultures at least as fascinating as anything that anybody’s ever dreamed up. But within nonfiction, I blend several genres, including travel, creativity, history, self-help, and philosophy. I like to give readers a range of experiences and ideas that can’t be confined to one genre.
8. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Read as much as possible, but in a way that keeps expanding your perspective. Don’t stick to one culture or field; mix things up. Study your own culture’s traditions, then study another culture. You’ll have a bottomless well of ideas. Think as big as you can, and then think even bigger.
9. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Never. The diversity of cultures around the world ensures that I’ll always have new perspectives, remain inspired, and find more ways to be mischievous.
10. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
No, I write whenever I can. I have a résumé-writing business that keeps me busy. I like being involved with business as well as culture because it keeps my perspective in the here-and-now as well as the vast, and business has had a huge influence on culture (the Italian Renaissance is a great example). But a lot of clients who need résumés quickly come to me. So I do the cultural writing whenever timeslots open up.
11. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Ideas come wherever I put pen to paper. But one of my most memorable places was Angkor Wat’s upper terrace. Cambodia was the first country I visited during that 2007 round-the-world trip. I went through Angkor Wat 8 times and lingered on the upper platform to write (a 30-minute time limit was imposed a couple of years later). The ornate architecture and sculpture, the chirpings of birds and bats, and breezes coming through the narrow window slats created an environment that was both spiritual and sensual. A bat once peed in my face, but a lot of Chinese folk cultures consider bats a sign of luck because the Mandarin word for bat (fu) also means prosperity and blessings. I’ll take that as a good omen, but I would have welcomed a kiss from one of the carved apsaras instead.
12. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Connecting ideas from cultures that haven’t been compared and synthesizing new perspectives from them. It feels like flying over a mountain range for the first time and discovering what’s on the other side.
13. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
People have complimented my writing for sensuality, others have complimented it for clarity, and others have said that it’s passionate. It feels good to be appreciated for speaking to the senses, the mind, and the heart at the same time.
14. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
About 10 years ago, someone warned that a manuscript that I still haven’t published contained too many ideas. I learned to space the ideas out and give stories and images in between to balance informing and entertaining.
15. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
When I was a boy, my dad and I would go to the beach, look over the water, and wonder about what was on the other side of the Pacific. His gentle voice, the misty air, the salty aromas, and the calls of seagulls mixed into a very pleasant atmosphere that further encouraged me to savour looking beyond conventions.
16. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Music. It’s a great way to share emotions with people you meet in other countries. Playing guitar overseas has given me some of the greatest experiences in my life. People in Africa and Southeast Asia invited me into their homes to play for them. I accompanied an opera singer in a park in Kaifeng, China, and I played in a rock band in Kota Bharu, Malaysia (the drummer grinned from ear to ear when I ripped into a Metallica song). People in China often came up to me and asked for a lesson. Music has made so much magic for me; barriers instantly eroded and it felt as though we had been lifelong friends.
17. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I did, but I ended up doing much more editing by myself. The book describes a lot of places that most people find exotic, and it’s necessary to have visited them in order to make readers feel immersed in them.
18. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
We’re all deeply connected with each other and with the natural environment. I often felt like I was seeing two opposite realities during my travels. One was a paradise of cultures around the world shining on each other. The other was crammed into stark differences between haves and have-nots, with the latter struggling to get through the day. The Canadian writer Paul Shafer, in his book Revolution or Renaissance, said that culture is the most effective approach to solving the world’s political and ecological problems, because it’s the one area that looks at things from the standpoint of the whole, rather than in a piecemeal way. So please promote people’s cultural lives. You’ll always be admired for it.
19. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I’m just getting started. I have an older manuscript, which I’ve never published. It needs about a year of work. And there’s the sequel to the book I published. I have several other manuscripts in various stages, plans to visit many other countries, and much more music to play.
20. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
That would be like thinking of not breathing anymore.
21. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
The one that I just published, because of its progression of ideas and experiences. It has two climaxes, which give the biggest views of the world that I can after exploring all the different cultures. I thought of making it into two books, but it’s a much more powerful read in one package because I could write the second climax while knowing that readers have digested the first. This enabled me to build on the first and make the second soar even higher. I then wrote the 35-page how-to manual right after the second climax so that readers can immediately bring its expansive visions into their lives. So this is the best progression of ideas I’ve ever written.
22. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Inspiring readers to see the world in new ways and expanding their horizons is the ultimate success to me. Today’s easy access to the world’s diversity of cultures gives us all the possibility of doing this.
23. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
Exhilarated by the immensity of our identities, field of connections, and possibilities for enriching both. When you explore the world’s cultures by looking At, With, and Beyond in a continuous circle, the perspective doesn’t just expand by one step; it ultimately becomes like looking into a field of stars and realizing that everyone is one of those stars.
24. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Packaging matters. Paul McCartney once said that The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds. He also said that nobody’s musically educated unless they’ve heard it. But the album cover was so cheesy (the band members are shown feeding goats in a zoo) that the writer of the CD’s linear notes figured that it was one of the reasons why it took about 30 years for the album to reach Gold Record status. So it’s important to package your book in a way that complements its theme and appeals to your readers.
25. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
The supply of books greatly outweighs demand, and dealing with the crowds can be a real pain in the rear, so I approach marketing in a targeted way and see it more as personal networking. Who else has interests in culture, social justice, and inclusive perspectives of the world? I always enjoy conversations that fly all over the globe, so I contact people that I think I’d have an interesting conversation with. This makes the marketing fun and personal.
26. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Explorer of the biggest perspectives.
27. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
“Early China, A Social and Cultural History,” by Li Feng. Ancient Chinese history is a fascinating field today because the construction to accommodate the steroidal growth of cities is making people discover so many new things as they dig foundations that many old assumptions about Chinese history have been dispelled. Ancient China was more diverse than people used to think. I found people throughout China so welcoming during my travels that it felt like a home away from home, and I’ll always have a lot of heartstrings attached to it. New discoveries about ancient China enable me to appreciate some of the people’s oldest cultural roots more deeply.
28. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
I’m beginning another journey, but it will be hard to top the one I just had.
29. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
More balance between culture and material wealth in society, and more interest in the biggest possible thinking. Anybody can focus on status, having more money, and his/her own culture’s conventions. But to appreciate what’s not yet commonly seen, to find more dimensions in our web of connections, and then further expose them—to me, these are infinitely more rewarding.
But Niall Ferguson, in The Ascent of Money, wrote that in 2006, the market capitalization of all the world’s stock markets was 4 percent higher than the whole world’s measured physical output, and that the aggregate value of all domestic and international bonds was 40 percent higher. He concluded that Planet Finance has become bigger than Planet Earth. We need a transformative expansion of our views of the world more than ever. I think exploring the world’s cultural wealth is an ideal way to kick start it.
30. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Please tell your family, friends, and coworkers about your cultural discoveries and share them through social media on a daily basis. Because many of today’s media focus on materialism, sensationalism, and inanities, we all need to put as much content about cultural wealth out there as possible so that more people can appreciate it. Ideas become influential if they’re shared widely and constantly.
I don’t think there can be anything more enjoyable than sharing the world’s cultural wealth with family. If you build a library of printed books, the well-stocked shelves that surround you will constantly remind all of you of the rainbow of cultures around the world.
In short, fall in love with learning about the world, and inspire others to do the same so that they’ll inspire others. We can be like candles lighting other candles, transforming our societies beyond today’s madness and into a more cultural, spiritual, and compassionate age. It’s doable; the cultural wealth is here—we just need to appreciate and share it more.
Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Brian. Glad you finally arrived on my blog. Folks, I would highly suggest you read Brian's book. It is interesting and very informative.