Interview with Martin Cohen

Describe your desk
My desk is always full of objects. I mean 'things' - not paper, pens and stuff like that. At the moment, I have a broken down diesel model train, five handmade glass doorhandles (thanks Liam!) and a rather nice woven cloth I found on my travels somewhere in the Far East.

They say that your desk reflects the contents of your mind. A disorganised desk reflects a disorganised mind. Tut tut, then for me. Hurrumph! Who is the judge!
What's the story behind your latest book?
My last book (How to Live: Wise and not so wise advice from the Great Philosophers) is a bit of a departure for me. It is not really very educational, more just for pleasure.

I think I've got tired of trying to 'make sense' of things, and now I am just chatting to what I hope will be people with shared interests and yes, values. So this book is sort of philosophy as it might crop up in conversation - maybe it IS trivia, but what's wrong with that? What to eat for dinner? Were the great philosophers great lovers - or just great hypocrites? Why are there so many films quoting Nietzsche?

After all, as the old saying goes, it is often the little things that are most important.
Where do you see the changes in the way books are published heading?
There's a terrible thing going on at the moment in publishing... I think we're seeing in a way the end of 'serious books'. Actually, lots of people think they don't WANT serious books - but I think this is a misunderstanding of what they really want. (Philosophers always say people want what is good for them, but are ignorant of the 'truth'. Or as Boethius puts it rather better:

'The mind seeks its own good, even though, like a drunkard, it often cannot find the path home.'

I think most of us know books that we really enjoyed, and maybe learnt stuff from at some point. Those are what I mean by serious books. And as someone who has been writing full-time for almost 15 years now, I know that serious writing takes a lot of time, effort and commitment. Not to say, practice!

But now publishers don't want to help writers, they only want to make easy money. Sooo... ironically, new writers will probably have to self-publish, at least at first. Hence they need sites like Smashwords which offer not only the key tools, but a little bit of a framework and a community too.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It hasn't. Come on Smashy people, do some magic!

(Fortunately, I have a small base in publishing already... But I wouldn't want to be a newcomer!)
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Let me slightly rephrase that...

My early books, 101 Philosophy Problems, 101 Ethical Dilemmas, and Political Philosophy from Plato to Mao are fun - I enjoyed writing them! - but they certainly had learning messages too. I'm proud of that, as I happen to think books can be entertaining AND educational - not just one thing or the other. Actually, when I wrote 101 Philosophy Problems (it was published a thousand years ago, in 1999) I checked (of course) what was 'out there' and all the introductions to philosophy were dull, dull dull. The 'pop' end was Bertrand Russell's 'Problems of Philosophy' which has chapters headed with things like 'Further Epistemological Considerations'... my book's title was sort of a little joke on the seriousness of all that stuff. It's been popular because of that ever since.
What do your fans mean to you?
I don't have many fans... readers yes. This is philosophy, you see, people make up their own minds - being a fan is not where we are at. 'These days', I really appreciate the positive comments I get, for example on Amazon UK, about the Philosophy for Dummies (UK) book. It's funny to read them, strangers talking about me ("Martin Cohen is really funny', or some such thing)... and those comments certainly help in a practical sense too - identifying strengths and weaknesses.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on several things. One book is on decoding the hidden secrets of Western Philosophy... Here's a little hint: it is that Western philosophy is really Eastern philosophy.

Another is a look at astrology, provisionally called 'Great Philosophers and their Star-signs'. I'm working with friends and colleagues on these books, and they are really 'opening my eyes'!
Who are your favorite authors?
I used to read thrillers avidly - Alister Maclean, Raymond Chandler.. now I just read non-fiction! Why's that? Ah, but truth is stranger than ficiton.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Like the American philosopher, Henry Thoreau, I go for walks near my home (which is in rural France.)

Thoreau praises not only wilderness in some supposed pure state, but also 'partially cultivated countryside'.

"Take the shortest way round and stay at home. A man dwells in his native valley like a corolla in its calyx, like an acorn in its cup. Here, of course, is all that you love, all that you expect, all that you are. Here is your bride elect, as close to you as she can be got. Here is all the best and all the worst you can imagine. What more do you want? Bear her away then! Foolish people imagine that what they imagine is somewhere else. "
Journal, Nov. 1, 1858
What is your writing process?
I write direct onto the computer and then print out. I then scribble all over the printout and leave it for a day or two. Then, I re-edit my computer version until it is all neat on screen, and print that out.

I leave it a day, and then scribble all over it again.

The process can go on a very long time!
Published 2013-12-09.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Milo and the Upside-Down Goggles
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 20. Language: English. Published: March 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Concepts / General
This fun and original book, inspired by a philosophical mind-game, will stimulate and amuse children and grown ups alike. 'Milo and the Upside-Down Goggles' is the first in a series of books for children by the bestselling author Martin Cohen and celebrated French artist Judith Zolumio, all inspired by philosophical problems and paradoxes.