Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New interview with writer Jonathan Maxwell

I have a return visitor today. Jonathan Walter Maxwell stopped by last year to talk about Murderous Intellectuals and today he's sharing a bit about his new book Piltdown Man and Other Hoaxes.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Jonathan.
Thanks for having me back!

Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Georgia-based author and public speaker. I’m the author of Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazi SS, which received the 2011 Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award in the category of Best Non-fiction Book. My latest release is Piltdown Man and Other Hoaxes, which was released by American Book Publishing in April 2012. I hold a BA in English from Berry College. Currently, I am earning my MA in English from Jacksonville State University in Alabama.

Please tell us about your newest release.
Piltdown Man and Other Hoaxes and is a lighthearted examination of scientific frauds through history. It examines such mysteries as the Missing Link Hoax, Bigfoot, the Yeti, crop circles, sea monsters, ESP, and the like. It also explores the ongoing debate between supporters of evolution and supporters of creationism. Finally, it asks if science and religious tradition can be reconciled with one another. The book is entertaining, I think, but it’s thought-provoking as well.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always had an interest in scientific mysteries. As a young boy, I loved reading about Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, sea monsters, and other strange phenomena. After completing my first book, I wanted to write about something lighter, something fun. Then, I remembered my fascination with myths and legends, and I suddenly had solid ideas for a book. Of course, approaching the material as an adult is much different from approaching it as a starry-eyed child. Now, I view the material with a great deal of skepticism, perhaps even cynicism at times.

What’s the next writing project?
My third project deals with the Rolling Stones and their experience at Altamont. Back in late 1969, they decided that they wanted to have their own Woodstock. They invite such acts as the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane to play with them at a free music festival at Altamont, which is just outside of San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Stones made the fatal mistake of hiring the Hell’s Angels—the notorious outlaw biker gang—to provide security at the event. During the festival, half of the Angels apparently decide to wage war on the hippie concertgoers. They beat them with their fists and with bats. The other half of the gang sells the concertgoers hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. What were the results of such a costly error? The results were one cold-blooded murder, three other deaths, hundreds of physical assaults, and perhaps thousands of drug overdoses. Many social commentators insist that the Altamont debacle ended the spirit of the 1960s and the hippie movement. I would say that the social commentators are pretty right on.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The greatest challenge, I think, is dealing with the enormity of the project. Writing a book is the intellectual equivalent of running a marathon. It can take months—perhaps even years—to write one. It helps if you just take it day by day. Otherwise, you get overwhelmed.

If your books require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
I think it’s best—and I think that most other writers would agree with me—that you do your research first, and then concentrate on the writing. Research helps to give your writing direction and a point of view. Trying to fill in the gaps later on can be a mistake. When I was a fledgling writer, I would try to do that. I would write from a particular perspective. Later on, I would perform the research, and I would find that it gave me an entirely different perspective on the subject at hand. You always have to remember that research provides the foundations for your writing. It’s every bit as vital as the writing itself. Sadly, a lot of beginning authors don’t realize that.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
Generally, I write at my desk in the study room. I like to keep it casual. While writing, I like to wear t-shirts and shorts. I tend to go barefoot. Very often, I listen to rock music while writing.

My writing habits can get somewhat schizophrenic. Sometimes, I’ll be especially creative, and I’ll write fourteen or fifteen hours a day. At other times, I’ll have severe writer’s block, and won’t write anything for three weeks. I don’t try to force anything—when it comes, it comes. I’ve found that writing when you are uninspired will produce work that is uninspired. A lot of writers would disagree with me on that, though. They insist that a writer writes daily, and I’m sure that there’s a lot to that. Such a strategy develops discipline. The approach never worked for me, though.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
It’s funny, but my favorite authors are fiction writers: Joyce Carol Oates, Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Orwell. I always loved fiction, but for some reason, I could never write it.

I read just about everything: political columns, reviews, poetry, essays, biographies, magazine articles, what have you. For me, the genres don’t matter all that much. What matters for me is the quality of the writing. I like simple writing that gets to the point and that always has a distinct point of view.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
To struggling writers out there: don’t give up! All hard-working writers get published eventually. I’ll always believe that. I never thought that I would ever get a publishing contract. I never thought that I would ever get to do book signings or radio interviews, or speaking engagements. I never thought that I would receive reputable awards for my writing. I got all of these things, though.

Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews, Jonathan!

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