Interview with Rodger Wilkie

What are you working on next?
I am finalizing a new book of haiku and other short poems called "A Few Words on The Way." Many of the pieces in the new collection spring from my lifelong engagement with Taoist and Buddhist thought in addition to my reading in the classical poetry of China and Japan. Of course the poems themselves are responses to real moments in day-to-day life, and I've tried to be true to the spirit of elegant simplicity that has defined the haiku for centuries.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book, "A few Words on The Way: Haiku and Short Poems," will be early this summer. the poems that make it up were written between 2014 and 2016 and vary between deeply personal and more abstract reflections. Most are infused with my lifelong reading in Taoist and Buddhist thought in addition to an ongoing engagement with the classical poetry of China and Japan. They are also, in most cases, autobiographical and thus show a person dealing with everyday concerns--parenthood, marital breakdown, travel, contemplation, appreciation of natural cycles and phenomena. My understanding of the haiku genre suggests that the poem is not merely a record but also a vehicle of perception for both writer and reader. The new book--my first in this form--is thus an invitation to the reader to engage in an active and creative experience with me.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
There are many ways I could answer this question. I didn't start out planning on taking this route, but over the last few years, it has become clear that my style of shifting between poetry and prose in storytelling does not fit the agendas of many publishers. For a long time, this mismatch was really discouraging, and from time to time I would start large projects aimed at cracking specific markets. But these always seemed wrong to me as from the outset they were opposed to my sense of why I was writing in the first place--namely not just to tell stories, but to tell them as honestly as I could. So when I hit upon Smashwords one day while looking for an e-publisher, I started thinking that maybe I had been going about things the wrong way. In trying to tailor my writing to the sensibilities of publishers, perhaps I was losing track of the people I really wanted to communicate with. It occurred to me then that the music industry might provide a good analogy. Over the last few years, the big labels have taken some pretty hard hits, and some of the best and most creative music is currently being recorded by independent artists. They don't have the circulation of the big labels, but they have absolute creative freedom and, in many case, really good relations with their fans. Both the freedom and the sense of personal contact appeal to me, so I've decided to give indie-publishing a try. I hope you like what you read. And it would be great to hear from you.
How do you approach cover design?
I'm pretty new to the whole cover design process. For 'Screefing,' I wanted something minimal to reflect the writing style--something that would conjure an image in the reader's mind rather than portray a scene from the book. My cover artist, Morgan Mullin, showed me several possibilities in a variety of styles before we settled on the final version. Probably in the future, I will stick with a similar approach even though the next project I have in mind to publish here is a fantasy novel. Elements of my writing style remain consistent over genres, and, as in Chinese landscape painting, what is shown can often hint at depths not shown and perhaps not directly showable. This is the ideal I strive for though words, so it makes sense to let it inform my cover decisions as well.
Who are your favorite authors?
My longtime favourite author is Tolkien. The range of writers who have influenced the way I look at writing, though, is quite broad. Joseph Campbell's 'Hero with a Thousand Faces' is what first introduced me to the idea of recurring mythic patterns, and it is really hard to overestimate Campbell's influence on both my writing specifically and my life more broadly. Another writer I return to quite frequently is the early Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
It's hard to pick just five, but this list comes pretty close:

1. Lord of the Rings (Tolkien): This one is easy. I picked up LOTR after reading The Hobbit in Grade 9 English. Tolkien's work introduced me to fantasy literature on the one hand, and the possibilities of mythic resonance in any literature on the other. On a personal note, this book came into my life at an unhappy time, and Middle Earth provided a safe and healthy escape--a source of both healing and strength--at a time when I really needed these.

2. Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell): I encountered this one while taking a break from my education. It was my introduction to myth scholarship, and changed my life in more ways that I can readily name. Campbell is one of the two most perceptive readers, and most broadly read human beings, I've ever encountered--the other being the great French scholar Georges Dumezil.

3. Chuang-Tzu (Chuang-Tzu): This is the lesser known of the two great classics of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism. In it, Chuang-Tzu and his successors (the book was assembled after Master Chuang's death) address such fundamental questions as the nature or even existence of personal identity, the problem of ego-consciousness, and the limits of language to express any idea accurately. In the process, Master Chuang effectively invents the art of prose fiction in China.

4. The Tain Bo Cuailnge (unknown): This is the great epic of early Ireland. Its protagonist Cu Chulainn embodies both the beauty and the tragedy of a heroic life. His assertion that "fury destroys the world," spoken at the height of his own heroic rage in a moment of profound awareness and understanding, has haunted me for over 20 years.

5. The Watchmen (Moore and Gibbon): Simply the most important graphic novel ever published. Moore and Gibbon address not only the entire super-hero comic genre; they also work key ideas from both Western and Eastern philosophy into a coherent meditation on technology, identity, knowledge, and the possibility of human freedom. Oh, and it's a hell of a story as well.
What do you read for pleasure?
For pleasure, I've lately been reading a lot of Chinese and Indian philosophy and literature: Chuang-Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and Mo-Tzu; and the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the great epic Mahabharata. I also have a subscription to Scientific American and have spent a lot of time over the last few years reading the popular works of socially engaged scientists such as Steven Hawking and Carl Mlodinov, Laurence Krauss, Victor Stenger, and Richard Dawkins.Japanese forms of poetry such as haiku and haibun have become interesting to me again lately as these Zen-infused forms use language as a means not of conveying ideas but of breaking through them, and this is something that I want to do with my own writing when it is at its best. I realize that I'm now changing topics, shifting away from "fun time" to writing time, but in all honesty I rarely read anything that I don't see as relevant to my life in a broader context. What I mean is, I don't compartmentalize my reading, Or at least, I try not to. Everything I encounter feeds my mind--or should. And in time, it all comes out again in my conduct and my writing.
Published 2017-06-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Otherworld Inc.
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 99,500. Language: English. Published: December 12, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary
Twenty years after an unexplained rift opens up access to another world, travel writer David Burns sets out into unauthorized territory to gather material for a new book. But when his helicopter crashes, he is taken by the local insurgency. On the journey that follows, David is forced to re-evaluate his assumptions about patriotism, terrorism, and the role of the journalist as a witness to events.
Screefing: A Tree Planter's Reflection
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 20,090. Language: English. Published: March 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Canadian Poetry, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
'Screefing' tells of a group of tree-planters working on the clear-cuts of the northern forest, tracing their development as they become increasingly removed from the urban society in which they have lived. The book is both a narrative and a meditation on individual work, relationships, spirituality, and the human interaction with a rough, fragile, and profoundly ancient landscape.