Interview with Andrew Katen

Published 2016-07-01.
Where did you get the answer for your most recent book?
A few years ago during lunch with a friend, I was asked to describe my perfect job. After a couple seconds, I replied that it would bring together all of my intellectual interests (geology, geopolitics, history, investment, etc.), allow me to work by myself, involve lots of travel and research, make the most of my imaginative and creative tendencies, and combine my passions for writing and educating. Sounds like a fantasy, right? He must have thought so, too, because he laughed and said, “Good luck with that.” But the conversation turned on a light bulb… and a couple years later, “Chaturanga” was published. So, basically, the idea for my book manifested after confessing aloud a seemingly far-fetched job description.

Of course, looking back at that moment now, I realize that the groundwork for “Chaturanga” had been laid much earlier. For more than a decade, I have been studying and writing about Central Asia and its geopolitics, history, and natural resources. More recently, when I began teaching middle school, I noticed that American textbooks don’t spend many pages on this part of the world. In fact, I had a hard time finding any books that introduce these issues in a way that adolescent readers would find fun, interesting, understandable, and relevant. So, “Chaturanga” is partly the result of my teaching experience and the time and effort I spent trying to find educational resources for young learners. Additionally, many of the characters, themes, and settings are rooted in my travel and work experiences, passion for geology, and memories of writing stories as a kid. Then there are the countless books that I have read about that part of the world; in fact, some of the exploits in “Chaturanga” are based on the biographies of spies and explorers who visited Central Asia a century ago. And, of course, while writing the book I had to do a lot of additional research to ensure the details of the story are accurate, which in turn fueled even more ideas. So while I didn’t realize it back then, it’s clear to me now that the idea for this story was growing all along. I guess you could say “Chaturanga” is the culmination of a life’s journey to find and do what I love.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently exploring a sequel to “Chaturanga,” which will probably take place somewhere in South America. The story is going to continue with the main character and integrate many of the themes contained in the first book, but obviously its focus is on a very different part of the world. I’ve always been fascinated with Latin America – its people, history, geography, and politics – and have spent a bit of time there myself. Writing a book about that place has been on my radar for a long time.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
My approach to writer’s block is two-fold: to write every day and habitually work on my mindset. Writing everyday – even when I don’t know what to write about – helps me find and practice different voices and techniques, so that when I eventually come up with a winning topic I’m ready to capture those ideas on paper. The second approach, working on my mindset, is 100% psychological and involves the daily practice of visualization, goal-setting, mindfulness and positivity. For me, nurturing a creative mindset starts with perspective-taking and gratitude, then focusing on what I enjoy, and finally working to control my thoughts so that I can stay in that mentality for as long and as often as possible. Without the proper mindset, my writing is going nowhere. If I’m not feeling positive or self-confident or happy, then my creativity tends to get pinched off, too. If I try to force an idea into being, or focus on what other authors are writing or what people are reading, or spend time second-guessing my abilities or material, or fussing over how to make a living as an author, then I am definitely not going to be in an inspired frame of mind. In the end, we may all have different tastes, interests, and styles, but we all write for fun – because we enjoy the process of creating. If I’m not having fun, what am I doing? First, I get happy and focus on staying there; second, I write every day. That’s how I beat writer’s block and get in my creative “zone.”
How do you get inspired to write?
Most importantly, I work on my mindset. (This touches on an answer to a previous question: How do I deal with writer’s block?) Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical.” I think the same is true of writing, and anything else for that matter. I begin every day by practicing visualization, mindfulness, and positivity. Then I spend the other “half” writing. For me, the impetus to write is less about “finding inspiration” than it is “releasing inspiration.” Since I love to write, the inspiration to do this is already within me. My work is to make sure I’m not blocking its flow – in other words, to keep open the channels of inspiration. When I am in a mindset of happiness and positivity, writing is fun. When writing is fun it’s also easy. And when it’s easy, the inspiration is endless.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
There’s so much that I enjoy about writing that choosing just one aspect is really difficult. That said, I am very drawn to the feeling of creating something completely new and original – a story that has never before existed on paper. While we all pull from other influences, in the end our writing is unique. It’s cool to think that as writers – or as creators of any new material or ideas – we can apply the energy of our imagination to produce something tangible, expand the boundaries of the universe a bit, and hopefully make someone’s life a little better because we came this way. Maybe a story I write will help a reader consider the other side of an issue, visit someplace new, or find encouragement to pursue his or her own creative endeavor. Ultimately, there are countless “best things” about being a writer, but producing a story that is original and (hopefully) inspirational ranks very highly with me.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself. I think that’s good advice for every person – not just for writers. If you are drawn to writing (or any creative endeavor for that matter) you are already motivated by the idea of producing something new, something that has never been done before. But during the process of creating, we sometimes begin to wonder what others will think of our work – a distraction that all too often leads to doubting our own abilities. It’s important to keep in mind that criticism by others is inevitable, unavoidable, and uncontrollable. And in the end, it really doesn’t matter anyway. Everything new and different is initially met with doubt and criticism. It’s always been that way for innovators and trailblazers throughout history – artists, musicians, inventors, explorers, philosophers, entrepreneurs, writers, whomever. Don’t let fears of others’ criticism keep you from writing about what you want and in the style that you want. If you do switch your style or focus, do so out of inspiration – not out of fear. Sure, we can all learn and benefit from the advice, mentorship, and experiences of others, but only in moderation. Taken too far, the search for others’ affirmation and validation will only lead to a never-ending, self-defeating, and totally futile pursuit of the “right” way to be a successful author. There is no single “right” way. We are each the captains of our own ships, with our own compasses, on our own journeys. When it comes to creating – that is, bringing to life something that has never before existed – the only “right” course of action is to do what truly inspires you. That’s what you’ll enjoy most and be best at. And the funny thing is, deep down you already know what that is. So you gotta believe in yourself… all your happiness and success in writing (and life) depends on it.
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Books by This Author

The End of the Beginning: A Short Story About the Rise and Fall of Oil Prices
Price: Free! Words: 2,670. Language: English. Published: February 29, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Historical, Fiction » Themes & motifs » Family sagas
"The End of the Beginning" is a post-publication Bonus Chapter of Chaturanga," the young adult educational novel about Central Asia. In the style of "Chaturanga," this short story offers readers a fun, interesting, and relatable way to understand current events related to oil prices, the future of energy, world markets, and geopolitics.
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 96,970. Language: English. Published: January 26, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Travel, Fiction » Coming of age
Chaturanga is an educational novel about a modern American boy who embarks on an adventure through Central Asia with his geologist father.