Howard Giskin, Author Spotlight

These essays are an exercise in self-examination, a meditation on the author’s life and interests as they have evolved over time. Part memoir and part reflection on the broad range of human concerns, Essays explores memories of the author’s early years and family life, as well as some of the extensive international traveling he has done throughout the years since. Other essays delve into his experiences of solitude, art and literature, astronomy, evolution, the nature of time, consciousness, museums, world history, and the Holocaust.

This wide-ranging collection of essays preserves and presents Howard Giskin’s experiences and the lessons he’s learned. Thought-provoking and contemplative, Essays encourages deeper thinking in an age of quick-fix entertainment.

Hello book lovers! Today is a day where I will be writing another author spotlight for a well-accomplished author whose work I have loved. As you know book lovers I love learning about authors and the inspiration behind their work, it fascinates me and adds to the depth of the book because the reader will be able to better understand it. That is how the author spotlights were created because I soon discovered that you lovely readers ALSO love learning about author’s, so I am excited to tell you a little bit more about author Howard Giskin whose book Essays moved and inspired me from beginning to end. I personally would recommend this book to all of those that love thought-provoking books but really the book can be read by anybody as it is flawlessly written and highly enjoyable. With today’s author spotlight, a biography of the author and an interview between me and Howard Giskin will be shared, and I hope that you book lovers enjoy reading it! To kick this off here is an author bio about the wonderful Howard Giskin!

I have spent a lifetime as a student of literature, philosophy, culture, and the arts. After teaching literature for 25 years in North Carolina, I retired in 2014 and am enjoying having more free time for creative writing. Murmurings, a collection of poetry, was published in 2017, Arcade of Memory, brief essays, poetry, and short stories, in 2019, and Essays in 2022. Other publishing includes associate editor for a collection of original poems and translations, The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes (FriesenPress, 2013); co-editor, An Introduction to Chinese Culture Through the Family (SUNY Press, 2001); and editor, Chinese Folktales (NTC Publishing Group, 1997). Aside from writing and being in nature, I love to travel. I live in the Philippines with my wife, Vicki, and three cats, where I write poetry, short fiction, and essays.

Now, how wonderful does Howard Giskin sound?! Howard Giskin is a truly exceptional writer and I hope that you lovely readers have a read of the author’s work because you will not regret it! Please see below an interview between me and the author and I hope that you enjoy Howard Giskin’s answers to my questions, they are incredible and provide some great advice too!

Thank you for joining us today at Red Headed Book Lover! Please tell us more about yourself.

I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1956. As I kid, I did what a lot of kids do, play outside whenever I got the chance. In fact, we had a “gang” of adolescents around my age who had fun playing games like tag in the co-op apartments where I lived between the ages of nine and fifteen. In my teens and early twenties, I spent as much time as I could outdoors, hiking, biking, and mountain climbing, enjoying nature, and roaming with friends, but sometimes hiking and walking alone. Life and career not surprisingly came to the fore eventually and I went to college, first studying physics, then philosophy, and finally comparative literature in graduate school. Throughout, I’ve maintained an avid interest in nature and travel, and have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit, as well as live and teach in a number of countries around the world. My other longstanding interests have been science and spirituality, with special interest in meditation, yoga, Buddhism and Taoism. I enjoy reading in many areas, including medicine and science, history, biography, philosophy, politics, psychology, and literary studies.

Could you please tell us readers about your book and what inspired you to write your book?

Essays arose from the desire to tell something of my life and interests now that I have retired from a life of traveling and academic teaching. As it turned out, the pandemic gave me lots of time at home, which I used to write the book. This was the first time in my life I had nearly uninterrupted time for more than a year to write, which I did for a couple of hours almost every day. Another motivation was to set down in writing, and thus think through not only things that I have lived through, but also my relation to interests that have captivated me for the better part of my life, nature, travel, science, human psychology, history, spirituality, literature, and philosophy. Most of the writing I did while in academia was under pressure for publication, tenure, promotion and the like, which to be honest wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been. In contrast, my writing since retirement has been at a much more leisurely pace, allowing me to ruminate and reflect on the various topics I’ve considered, and also to give free reign to memory to reveal meaningful connections and insights from my past.

What would your advice be for aspiring writers?

My advice is simply to write for the enjoyment and discovery of it. Worry about getting stuff published only after you have a significant body of work. Or, at least, before worrying about getting published, try to find out if you have something unique, interesting, different, to say that might be of interest to someone besides yourself. That’s the thing about writing, you do it, drawing from your inner resources, reflections, learning, experiences, but in the end, it should be of interest to others besides yourself. It’s a kind of magician’s trick, in a sense. Another crucial thing is that writing, like many other things, is a discipline as much as it’s about inspiration. You’d be surprised, the number of good writers who just sit down and bang out a masterpiece is small. Behind most quality pieces of writing, there’s a lot of planning, organization, rewriting, and reconsidering what is being put down on the page. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are few.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing about a book? 

The most important thing about the book is that it’s an effort to place a life in context. In this sense, writing the book was a process of self-examination and discovery, quite enjoyable in fact, as each day I had the feeling I might learn something about myself, my interests, and motivations, that I was not aware of. Most of my discoveries were not earthshaking, though I think cumulatively add up to a deeper and fuller understanding of myself as I’ve changed through the years. The writing should be interesting to readers, so I also think of the book as a collection of stories (though it’s called “Essays”), in that each essay has the focus of something learned about myself or about the world as I’ve experienced it over my lifetime. As I write it occurs to me there is an undertone of amazement throughout the book, about this wonderful, though sometimes scary, and occasionally disappointing world we collectively live in. So, the book is about life, but also about the world at large, its fascinating aspects, challenges, and promises.

What is your writing process like?

As I mention above, I think of writing as a discipline, not by any means solely the result of pure inspiration. Yes, inspiration must be there, but it generally takes sustained and focused efforts to “get it right,” that is, the way you’re sure you want it in the end. There are any number of metaphors one can use to make this point, but one from baking will suffice. While inspiration may be one of the “ingredients,” the cake (a quality finished product) won’t appear without a host of other necessities, such as putting in the time at the hard work of transferring thoughts to print, to redrafting (sometimes ruthlessly), to accepting constructive editing changes and suggestions when they come from a trusted professional, and finally, believing that you have something worthwhile to say that others might be interested in. Practice, practice, and more practice, as they say.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

For Essays, research I did was on an “as needed” basis, meaning when I needed some information, a quote, or a section of poetry, I would either find it in one of the books I have in my home library, or search for it on the Internet. Since I live in the Philippines, nowhere near a large library, I found the Internet an invaluable source of material on a wide variety of subjects. In fact, nowadays, if you can think of it, it’s probably available on the Web in some form or another. The only caveat is something I would always stress to my students, that we have to be careful to use only reliable sources when drawing from the Web. This said, the Internet is increasingly the go-to place to find a vast amount of information of all sorts. In general, the above is how I’ve approached research for all the books I’ve written since I retired (Essays is my third book since 2014).

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

I don’t have a strict schedule, though I have what I would call a routine. I rise early, so after breakfast and some yard work, I’m at my desk by seven or seven thirty. When I’m writing something of extended length, I would say I typically work on it five, sometimes six days a week. I don’t have a specific day off, but rather adapt my writing schedule to other duties that may come up. As I’ve been retired from academic teaching now for more than eight years, my days are much freer than they were when I was working. I work best in the morning, so after lunch through afternoon I’ll do other things that don’t require the level of concentration writing does. I am of the opinion one shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike, but rather develop the habit of sitting down to write no matter if you feel like it or not. Oftentimes, in my experience, something will come to me whether I feel “inspired” or not. The key thing is to simply sit down in front of the computer and begin.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

My reading is so eclectic, it’s hard for me to pin down my all-time favorite authors; I’ll give it a try though. I’m a big fan of Walt Whitman, especially “Song of Myself,” but nearly all his poetry. Some of his Civil War poems are powerful and heartfelt, with a depth of feeling that reflects the time he spent working in military hospitals tending to wounded and dying soldiers. An unexpected favorite for me is Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which is not only well written from a stylistic perspective, but a work of unparalleled synthesis of investigations he carried out over decades. There’s a strong, self-reflective, humble, sometimes even humorous narrative voice that’s unusual in scientific writing up to the present time.

Lastly, when can we readers expect to read more wonderful books from you?  

At present, I’m working on a collection of poems and have plans for an extended philosophical meditation on some of the issues that have concerned me over a lifetime.

Its official book lovers, I am obsessed with Howard Giskin! If you have liked what you have read about the author and are interested in learning more, then please do have a browse of the links below and be sure to have a read of the preview too! You will not regret it.

Goodbye for now book lovers,

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