Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block by Fred Waitzkin

 

 

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Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block

By Fred Waitzkin

 

Young writers often ask if I am sometimes afflicted by writer’s block and if I’ve discovered a cure. Most writers wrestle with this malady from time to time.  Over the years my relationship to the illness has evolved, and as an older writer I see it as a frustrating companion who at times can offer profound advice.

All authors relish days feeling on fire with a story when sentences pour out, almost without effort or thought. They spill into paragraphs and pages. It feels like riding a magic carpet that will soar on forever. I call such periods, writing within the bubble. But then after days or weeks, inevitably, life gets in the way.

Consider this scenario:  I’m just home from a ten-day fishing trip, determined to get back to my manuscript when my grandson Jack begs me to take him to tomorrow’s Mets game. Instead of going to my office I take Jack to the game. We’re both excited as hell about our trip on the subway…. It’s okay. I’d been on a roll with my story. Another day won’t matter at all. As we rumble toward Mets stadium, I pleasantly recall the feeling of riding the carpet, the story pouring out of me…. I’ll be back there tomorrow.

The Mets lose. Jack cries, inconsolable in his new Mets cap as we’re leaving the stadium. “Why do the Mets always lose, Baba?”

I’m thinking about Jack’s sorrow and the Mets string of losing seasons. I’m disgusted with the Mets, a thickening edifice forming between me and my story.

Next morning I’m finally back in front of my computer after an eleven-day break. I take a look at my last chapter…. Pretty good. I sit at the computer waiting for the words to flow…. Nothing. I wait. Nothing. Four more days pass of nothing. I’m pulling what’s left of my hair. Now I’m living outside the bubble.

Okay, seven days of writer’s block. I’m back in my office at 9:30. I make a cup of tea. I pace around a little. I have a lunch date at 12:30. I’m looking forward to that. I stare at my Mac like it’s the enemy. I begin to pace around. I sip tea. I look at my computer. No way I’m sitting there to suffer any more. I snap on my old radio and listen to sports talk radio, a discussion about the Mets falling apart after a promising start to the season. Every year they do it. They cannot hit…. It’s now 11. I look at the computer, shake my head, no way. I pace in the hall. I come back into the office and read the paper. Now it’s 11:50. Almost time to leave for lunch. Not yet, Waitzkin, not yet. I stall another five minutes, pressure building. It’s twelve. Suddenly I throw myself into my chair in front of the keys. I need to leave my office for lunch in 18 minutes. It’s now or never…, and if I’m lucky, the dam breaks. Words pour out. I’m feverishly typing words that wouldn’t come for days. They are gushing out now when I hardly have time to write them, trying to catch them in the air like butterflies, get them into the machine… I’ve written some of my best paragraph this way, when it was do or die.

Another trick for writer’s block: I always carry around a tiny notebook in my shirt pocket. When I’m riding my bike home along the river, thinking about the Mets losing streak, an idea pops into my head. I stop the bike and jot it into the book. I’m talking to my wife Bonnie and an idea suddenly appears. I’m talking to my son. He shakes his head, annoyed, while I scrawl treasure into my notebook. “Dad never listens to me.”

Two days ago, I was stumped how to end an essay about my artist mother. I woke up after a two-hour nap and suddenly I could see the words hanging in the air in front of me. I wrote them in the notebook before they disappeared…. Carry a notebook. Just having it with you elicits ideas.

I wrote my new novel, Deep Water Blues, without once having writer’s block. It was pure bliss, beginning to end. I’d decided I was going to write a short book, 150 pages or less, something I could hold in my head without having to turn back to see what I’d written two or three years earlier. I was determined to write this one fast. And also, I’d gone into it after having written a screenplay, my first. I wanted this new book to move like a movie.

Deep Water Blues describes a gruesome disaster that takes place to a little island civilization—an island once gorgeous, and peaceful, almost Eden like, and in the aftermath, the island becomes decimated by greed, out-of-control ambition, violence and murder. At the heart of it, Deep Water Blues, which was inspired by true events, is an adventure story. I wanted to tell the story fast, fast and violent with no looking back, no flashbacks, mostly taut bold scenes as in riveting film…. Writing this book took me over like a runaway train.

There was no room for writer’s block in my new book. Pace and length and a harrowing story were the key elements. Maybe I’ll try that again.

 

 

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Inspired by a true story, artfully told by the author of Searching for Bobby Fischer: A Bahamian island becomes a battleground for a savage private war.

Charismatic expat Bobby Little built his own funky version of paradise on the remote island of Rum Cay, a place where ambitious sport fishermen docked their yachts for fine French cuisine and crowded the bar to boast of big blue marlin catches while Bobby refilled their cognac on the house. Larger than life, Bobby was really the main attraction: a visionary entrepreneur, expert archer, reef surfer, bush pilot, master chef, seductive conversationalist.

But after tragedy shatters the tranquility of Bobby’s marina, tourists stop visiting and simmering jealousies flare among island residents. And when a cruel, different kind of self-made entrepreneur challenges Bobby for control of the docks, all hell breaks loose. As the cobalt blue Bahamian waters run red with blood, the man who made Rum Cay his home will be lucky if he gets off the island alive . . .

When the Ebb Tide cruises four hundred miles southeast from Fort Lauderdale to Rum Cay, its captain finds the Bahamian island paradise he so fondly remembers drastically altered. Shoal covers the marina entrance, the beaches are deserted, and on shore there is a small cemetery with headstones overturned and bones sticking up through the sand. What happened to Bobby’s paradise?

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Fred Waitzkin was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1943. When he was a teenager he wavered between wanting to spend his life as a fisherman, Afro Cuban drummer or novelist. He went to Kenyon College and did graduate study at New York University. His work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, among other publications. His memoir, Searching for Bobby Fischer, was made into a major motion picture released in 1993. His other books are Mortal Games, The Last Marlin, and The Dream Merchant. Recently, he has completed an original screenplay, The Rave. Waitzkin lives in Manhattan with his wife, Bonnie, and has two children, Josh and Katya, and two grandsons, Jack and Charlie. He spends as much time as possible on the bridge of his old boat, The Ebb Tide, trolling baits off distant islands with his family. His novel, Deep Water Blues, will be published in spring 2019. You can find more on Fred Waitzkin at his website or check out some exclusive content on Facebook.

 

fredwaitzkin.com | Twitter | Facebook

 

 

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Interview with Neel Mullick Author of Dark Blossom

Dark Blossom

 

 

Sam returns home from a business trip a day before his son’s thirteenth birthday and is looking forward to being with his family, when his world is cruelly shattered in one fell swoop. Initially he thinks he can cope with the loss, but finally seeks the help of Cynthia, an experienced therapist, to regain his equipoise. What he does not know is that Cynthia herself is trying to cope with a debilitating divorce and the sinister shadow of her ex-husband over her daughter…

What happens when doctor and patient find themselves in the same sinking boat? Moreover, when they are rowing in opposite directions–one clinging to the past, and the other unable to get rid of it! In the midst of it all is Lily, Cynthia’s daughter, who harbours a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.

 

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Interview with Neel Mullick

 

Dark Blossom. I love the title of this book. Was this your first fiction book? What’s the story behind it? (No pun intended)

Thanks! To be honest, the title appeared to me in a dream. And since I’m being honest, I must also admit that I fell into writing rather serendipitously as well. Dark Blossom is indeed my first work of fiction and both the story and the characters were more or less cleaved by an imagination that had run amok at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life.

While the characters are all very different from me and the ordeals faced by them are exaggerations of what I was going through, my innate spirit wanted to describe their experiences and interactions in a way that was entertaining for readers. This duality of finding entertainment and perhaps even levity in daily strife exists in everyone including my characters and the title from my dream captured that essence. Here’s a snippet from my book launch on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iodpyiw4Z7Y&t=3s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you enjoy most about storytelling?

Given how and when I fell into storytelling, I soon found writing to be an unbridled expression of empathy. First, I needed it for my characters to allow them a full and vibrant range of expression and then, for my readers to help them partake of such expression in a riveting way. So writing afforded me a double dose of empathy if you will – and it helped fill that personal void in my life too.

In retrospect though, there is one other thing about writing and storytelling that I enjoyed as much. Call me a masochist, but I fell in love with playing around with language – its syntax, semantics, and subtleties, all of it! How a word here instead of there, a moved punctuation, or a replaced synonym can affect the way people understand intellectually and perceive viscerally is all very fascinating. As a life-long learner too, I think I have fallen in love with this process of reflection followed by articulation.

 

 

Which came first idea, theme, or character?

If I were to think about just the idea and the characters, I would have to say it’s a judicious mix. In order for a story to take place, not only must the idea be important to the characters but also they must have something important to say about it. Once this scaffolding is in place, then the idea might change less and the theme is driven by its interplay with the characters, but it’s the characters that really have to evolve the most. They have to – to fight increasing stakes, win small battles, and eventually come out on top at the end of the war!

 

 

What’s your method for character creation?

Good stories take place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. Ergo, good characters must be borne from a place of sincerity. If that’s not the case, then it will be difficult to convince readers. Once I am able to make this genuine empathic connection with my characters, I follow a five-step process to give them substance – Read, Research, Reflect, Rest, and Repeat. First, I read and research a lot and this includes conversations with people who might provide inspiration. Then I let it percolate by backing off completely after a period of reflection, of course. Lastly, I find myself having to go back to the start of the loop at times when I get stuck.

 

What can you tell us about Sam?

Phew! Now that’s a toughie. Let me explain. Part of the inspiration behind the novel is my belief that the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities. And Sam’s character is supposed to catalyze readers to reflect on how we judge the motives of those around us. In fact, I have even incentivized such reflection with a contest at www.WinTrip2NY.com.

So while Sam’s loss and his tribulations are real, his characterization has been somewhat abstract. Let it suffice to say that he is an immigrant who has assimilated well and is unsure about how to cope with a very deep loss.

 

Who is Cynthia and what role does she play in the story?

Cynthia is a psychologist and she finds herself alone with her patient and her daughter in a sinking boat. Moreover, they all seem to be rowing away from one another. While trying to heal from a debilitating divorce, Cynthia is helping her patient, Sam, who is struggling with the worst kind of loss there is. She is also trying to mend her relationship with her daughter, Lily, who is not only fighting her own demons but also holding on to a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.

 

 

What was your experience writing the point of view?

From the very beginning, I wanted to narrate the story from Cynthia’s perspective. This was daunting since I am neither a woman psychologist nor do I share a cultural background with her. So I knew I was trying to fill shoes much larger than my own and I had to both step out of my comfort zone and dig deep. And I’d like to believe that I have grown much as a person because of it. So not only was the process personally gratifying but also her perspective turned out to be most relevant for the plot.

 

 

Was it easy writing about flawed characters? 

Aren’t we all?! But yes, confronting these flaws, let alone embracing or articulating them, is never easy. Fortunately, I strongly believe that such duality exists in all of us and I’m quite comfortable with both my flaws and my struggles with them. Even though writing about these flaws in characters that are different from me wasn’t easy, the fact that I enjoyed this process helped me immensely. Now, as to whether or not I was able to do justice to such expression – I think I’ll let readers be the judge of that.

 

 

What’s next for you?

I have only recently started researching and outlining my next novel. It’s also going to be narrated from the perspective of a young woman, Abigail, who has just started her first job as a nanny at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year-old Stewart, fighting for his life in the pool. And Abigail soon discovers that June, the boy’s older sister, may have been the one who pushed him in.

 

 

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Neel Mullick is the author of Dark Blossom. The Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company, Mullick is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD. He mentors female entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially aware leaders with Nigeria’s Steering for Greatness Foundation, supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers through Peru’s Emprendedoras del Hogar, and works with IIMPACT in India to help break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. Dark Blossom is his first novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Could Go Wrong: Interview with Author Brett Grayson

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There comes a time when couples decide to create and raise tiny helpless human beings, hoping they one day become non-tiny and less helpless.

This is one family’s journey through ten months of pregnancy (isn’t it supposed to be nine months?), the first years of parental cluelessness, the terrible twos, threenagers, and the few years that follow when they begin to learn about a world that’s even crazier than they are.

Join the author and his wife as they navigate those ten months, from the always romantic conception, to her water breaking in the most unique way possible. Then watch them attempt parenthood, from the seemingly simple routine of dressing their kids for school, to the complex experience of teaching them to use public bathrooms.

It’s mostly a breeze…

No it isn’t. Pre and postnatal complications; battles with their own mental health; and those rapidly growing and irrational miniature versions of themselves. Some of it is devastating. Much of it is overwhelming. All of it challenges them to maintain their sense of humor.

And when they attempted to go on an airplane as a family… that was a sh*tshow.

 

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An interview with Brett Grayson

author of What Could Go Wrong? My Mostly Comedic Journey Through Marriage, Parenting and Depression

Why did you decide to write What Could Go Wrong?

Well, deep down it’s probably because I’m a narcissist. Anyone who writes about their life and expects others to care has to be a little self-absorbed and potentially delusional. 

On a practical level, I am a person who struggles to get out of bed each morning unless there’s something for me to shoot for. This book gave me a purpose that was lacking in my life for so many years.

The book is full of hilarious parenting anecdotes. Can you share your favorite story?

That’s like picking my favorite dog. I should be reticent to do so, but unlike with my kids, my dogs don’t understand it anyway, so I have no problem choosing a favorite.

And speaking of dogs, my favorite story from the book is probably the night my wife Lauren’s water broke in a bizarre way which related to my dogs. So I used to cook our dogs their dinner because when you don’t have children yet, you have too much time on your hands and do insane things like cook for your dogs. Well, one night I made salmon and the smell permeated the air in our tiny apartment and led to Lauren getting nauseous and facilitated her water breaking.

You are very honest in describing the good, the bad, and the ugly of parenthood, including tough times your family has had. How does your wife, Lauren, and the other people in your life feel about this honesty? Has writing the book changed any of your relationships?

With Lauren, no. The book wouldn’t have been possible without her being on board from the start. She knew it would be revealing and signed off on it, which is freaking amazing as she’s more naked in the book than I am. (Figuratively naked, I mean. It’s not a porn book.) I’m not sure I’m a secure enough person that I would have been as understanding if she were the one writing it. But that’s why I married her. She’s better than me.

My parents have been a mixed bag as they’re from a generation where you don’t share your secrets, especially anything about mental health. Slowly though, as I’ve revealed a lot through my blog, and people have responded so positively, they’ve come around.

They were also rightly concerned about my career as a lawyer being compromised by the mental health revelations. That was the driving force behind me using a pen name for the book. I can keep the two careers separate.

In the book you talk about your struggles with depression and anxiety, as well as Lauren’s postpartum depression. What has been the biggest challenge in relation to your mental health and your role as a parent?

I think being present and active in their lives is a daily challenge. On one hand, I’m better around them because they don’t know about my struggles and also because being with them gives me meaning and forces me to be present. On the other hand, they are difficult to handle for long periods of time. They always require attention and sometimes I have a hard time taking care of others when I’m so caught in my own head. They also don’t listen and require patience, which I don’t always have.

It’s hard to admit, but at times I fight the urge to want to get away from them, and at night to rush them to bed. Life is easier to handle when you don’t have to care for others. But paradoxically life is also meaningless if you’re not helping others. And I know this and love them so much and try to remind myself to appreciate my time with them rather than rush through it.

How has becoming a parent changed your relationship with Lauren?

I go into this a lot in the book and I hope my honesty on it will be relatable. Because I’m not sure that becoming parents has necessarily been a good thing for my marriage. Yes, it creates meaning and gives you motivation to work through your problems for the sake of the kids. But kids are also a burden on a marriage in many ways. You don’t get to spend a lot of quality time alone, which is something I miss and has caused us to drift apart at times. Kids also have led to a lot of fighting for us on the issue of how to raise them. Lauren and I just disagree a lot about parenting decisions.

In the book you talk about your son’s diagnosis of CLOVES syndrome. How has this diagnosis impacted your family, and how is he doing today?

He has a big surgery coming up in the first half of 2019. It’s the first big one, though likely not the last. At four-years-old, he’s still in the dark about all of it. Which is both good and bad. On a social level, we’re worried about how he’s going to do once other kids start commenting on his different appearance. But we’re not there yet.

In terms of its effect on us as a family, it’s actually brought Lauren and I closer together. While we have our challenges as I’ve elaborated in the prior answer, experiencing this with our son together is a great emotional equalizer for us. Now I’d rather find a different equalizer, but I can’t make that trade. So experiencing all this with Lauren-the trips to Boston, the dozens of doctors’ appointments-are an experience that we share and few others can understand.

What advice would you give new fathers and fathers-to-be?

  1. Don’t cook salmon when your wife is about to burst.
  2. This may slightly ridiculous – but actually sit down and talk to your wife ahead of time about

how you intend to parent. And write it down. For example, Are you going to let your baby cry or are you going to run into their room the second they cry? It seems unimportant until that moment when you start disagreeing while it’s happening.

What’s next for you?

I intend to keep writing about the absurdities and meaningful parts of my experience as a parent. I’m not sure I have another book in me for a while on this topic, as this book covered a six-year period in our lives. I’m sure I’ll be sharing my story in some form, though.

 

I’d also like to write a bit more about mental health and continue to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of anxiety and depression. It’s just so prevalent in our society. I’m not sure I really understood the extent of it until I started blogging about my own struggles. More than anything I’ve written about, my blogs on mental health have garnered the biggest response.

Where can we learn more about What Could Go Wrong?

 

Go to Amazon and buy the book. Half the money is going to support a charity for our son’s condition (CLOVES Syndrome). So you’re being a good person regardless.

And I think you’ll enjoy the book. Worst case scenario – it winds up on that place on the back of your toilet that I don’t know the name of.

 

Website | Bio | Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Looking for Others to Create a Life of Joy – by Renee Linnell

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~Easily the best memoir I’ve ever read~

 

 

 

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Stop Looking to Others to Create a Life of Joy

by Renee Linnell,

Author of The Burn Zone: A Memoir

 

Originally published on Psych Central

 

I believe there is not enough dialogue out there about soul-sickness, especially among wealthy communities. We are taught to believe from a young age that once we have the perfect partner, house, car, children, and careers, we will be happy. And often times this is not the case; the happiness does not come. There is an insatiable need for more. Because there is no dialogue about this, most people think, I am the only one, something is wrong with me, or no one understands me. This leads to deep despair and usually a diagnosis of depression and medication.

I ruined my life searching for peace. I pushed away everyone and everything I loved. I allowed myself to be emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused. I allowed myself to be brainwashed in seemingly unhealable ways. And what I finally discovered, after all of my searching, is that the peace and happiness for which I had been searching was inside of me all along. But, and this is a big but, I had to be shattered by life to find it. I had to be shattered to finally stop living a life that was not mine. I had to be shattered to finally decide that following my own heart and being true to myself and creating a life that brought me joy was more important than living a life to please other people. I had to be shattered to start questioning what the hell I had been doing and why the hell I had been doing it and to what point.

Why do we feel the need to say, “to death do us part” and bind ourselves to another person? Why do we ignore the intense fear that comes with this decision? How can we even know that this will be in our best interest or the other person’s for the rest of our lives? Many of us do it because everyone else does. Why do we forgo choosing work that we are born to do, work we are naturally skilled at doing, work we love, work that makes our hearts sing and instead choose a career we hate because it pays more? We do this because we are told to do it by our parents or our teachers, and because everyone else does. Why do we dress the way we dress and worship the way we worship and pick romantic partners the way we do? So often it is because we were told to do it this way, or because everyone else does. Often we don’t question any of this. I know I didn’t.

I believe the only way to true joy, to true bliss, to true freedom, is to begin the work of uncovering our real selves—to chip away at the parts of us that are false, the façade we created to please our families, the mask we built so the world would approve of us. Only when we are willing to stand tall in our own uniqueness, with our own idiosyncrasies, will we be able to do the work we came to do, to build the life we always dreamed of, to excel beyond our wildest dreams, and to live in true joy and abundance. When we finally tap into what we naturally are, we discover we already have the exact right skill set to become everything we have always secretly wanted to be.

We are all flawed, we are all damaged, and we are all beautiful. Each one of us is unique; there is no carbon copy. So how can we possibly follow what others are doing? How can what they are doing be right for us? We were born to blaze our own trails. We were all born with unique abilities and skill sets, with unique damage and unique wounds. I believe we are meant to use this combo to discover who we truly are and why we are truly here. Our wounds are not a mistake, they are given to us for a reason, they are Divine. In the healing of them we soften and we open, and we learn how to help others overcome similar damage. In our speaking about them and our owning of them, we encourage others to do the same and as more and more of us speak our Truth, we all eventually realize we are not alone. We have never been alone. We are surrounded by each other, our brother and sister humans, and we are here to support each other on this crazy amazing Earth Walk.

Yes, the decision to live this way is terrifying; but once we decide to do it, we feel the life force energy coursing through us again, we feel the blood pumping through our veins, we rediscover passion and the thrill of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. We are here for such a very short time; I simply cannot believe we were meant to spend that time in loveless relationships stressed about paying bills.

In my journey to wholeness I discovered that me just being me, dressing the way I want to dress, saying the things I want to say, doing the activities I love to do, putting myself first and making sure I am taken care of before I take care of others—living this way brought me so much joy that I began to radiate joy and light and love and kindness. I discovered a joyful me was a radiating me. A joyful me was a kind me. A joyful me was a patient and compassionate and forgiving me. After destroying myself and my life and all that I loved in order to become Enlightened, in order to become Saint-like, I finally realized that the key to my becoming Saint-like was just being me. When we create a life of joy we stop worrying about what others are doing or not doing. We stop pushing against. And instead we begin loving. And we add our light to the sum of light; we shift the consciousness of the planet from fear to love. What better use of our time here on earth than that?   

 

 

 

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About the Author:

Renee Linnell is the author of The Burn Zone: A Memoir (She Writes Press; October 2018). She is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and cofounded five companies and has an Executive Masters in Business Administration from New York University. Currently she is working on starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories. She divides her time between Colorado and Southern California. For more information, please visit https://reneelinnell.com and follow Renee on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Travis Smith Author of Superhero Ethics- Part I

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Interview with Travis Smith,
Author of Superhero Ethics

 

About the Author:

Travis Smith is the author of Superhero Ethics (Templeton Press). He is an associate professor at Concordia University where he teaches political philosophy. He remembers seeing Superman: The Movie with his dad on the big screen at the age of five. He has been collecting comic books since he bought a copy ofUncanny X-Men #207 in 1986 with his allowance from the racks at Stan’s Variety. For over thirty years, Travis has made a weekly stop at his local comic shop on the day new comics are released to pick up the books on his pull list–from Comic Connection in Hamilton, Ontario, while he attended McMaster University, to the Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as he earned his doctorate at Harvard University, to Major Comics in Montreal, Quebec, the city where he now teaches Hobbes, Tocqueville, Plato and Aristotle by day, and fights crime by night.

For more information, please visit www.templetonpress.org/books/superhero- ethics

 

 

Superhero

 

 

How would you define the notion of a “Super” hero as opposed to
other heroes in literature?

I use the term superhero conventionally as pertaining to the kinds of costumed characters labeled that way in the DC and Marvel universes and in similar stories. Most of them have superpowers, but not all of them. I don’t think they’re inherently more super than other fictional heroes lacking those costumes and powers. In fact, for the purposes of Superhero Ethics, I downplay the “super” part of superhero—and even the “hero” part, too, to a fair degree. I look for ways these characters’ personalities, abilities, and activities can be read metaphorically so as to resemble the lives of ordinary human beings and the challenges we face. Maybe counterintuitively, I think that their being fantastical makes it easier to apply them analogously to our experiences and situations. It is often hard and sometimes objectionable to compare our own problems with the real-world difficulties confronted by other actual people—or even characters featured in more realistic fiction.

 

 

 

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What is it in our nature that draws us to superheroes?

In democratic society, we emphasize equality—the ways we’re equal to each other, and the ways we say we should be. But we also want to be happier than we are, better than we are. We look for or create models of excellence that are worthy of admiration and emulation. We do so on our own terms, of course. We like superheroes who make sacrifices on behalf of anyone and try to save everyone. We like it when we can imagine that any of us are potentially like any of them. Superheroes also remind us of the importance of courage in overcoming hardships and pain. I think courage tends to be neglected in the way we’re raised today, since we’re so concerned with minimizing suffering and making everything safe. So, superheroes speak to some parts of the human condition that are neglected or suppressed in our public ethos but ineradicably part of us, and therefore of perennial relevance to ethics.

 

 

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Do you have a personal favorite?

Captain Marvel—the Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel, originally known as Ms. Marvel—is my favorite superhero. She’s not featured in the book because I decided to focus on popular, well-known characters who have been featured prominently in recent films. But she is the first female character to star in a solo self-titled movie set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to be released in early 2019, and I’m excited about that.

 

 

“I think that we all do heroic things, but hero is not a noun, it’s a verb.” – Robert Downey Jr.

 

 

Describe the hardest chapter to write and why it was so difficult.

My chapter on Captain America and Mister Fantastic was the hardest to write because I use them to contrast the two models of the best life for human beings according to the classical tradition: the active life and the contemplative life. And I’m aware of how distant my own life is to any model of either ideal. I try to approach those characters in good part by asking: In which ways does modern society hamper or compromise any attempt to realize these conceptions of the best life—even among those individuals who come closest to approximating them?

 

 

 

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Name some characters that didn’t make the cut for this book.

There are so many! Because I made the decision to focus on characters well-known presently to the general public, I didn’t write a book about my favorite characters. That would include not only Captain Marvel but Booster Gold, the new Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, and Power Girl. I didn’t include the very popular Deadpool or Harley Quinn because they mock the very idea that superheroes should be good role models. I also wanted the characters I chose to be distinctive with respect to the ethical concerns they represent.

So, Black Widow wasn’t examined on account of embodying the maxim “don’t be what they made you,” which makes her too similar to the better-known Wolverine. Black Panther’s feature film came out only as I was submitting my final manuscript, so he wasn’t treated at length—although in the book I hint that he represents a happier version of the active life than Captain America does. I most regret leaving out Wonder Woman, but I mention that she is more divine than Superman, and I argue that Superman is already too divine for us.

The only character good enough to contrast with Wonder Woman is Silver Surfer and most of us are glad to have forgotten the movie that featured him. Personally, I prefer Supergirl to Superman—she represents the challenge of living up to an impossible standard already set by someone else to whom you’re inextricably tied. That’s a situation a lot of us are familiar with. But I decided not to use characters whose origins are directly dependent on another character’s story. I think if I were writing the book just five years from now there would be so many more popular, well-known characters to choose from.

A mere ten years ago, Iron Man was a relatively obscure character. Most moviegoers hardly knew anything about Tony Stark until Robert Downey, Jr. made him so endearing. Doesn’t that seem crazy now?

 

Funny portrait of a superhero

Thanks Travis! Stay tuned for part two of the interview…

 

 

SuperHero ethics image

 

 

Whether in comic books or on movie screens, superhero stories are where many people first encounter questions about how they should conduct their lives.

Although these outlandish figures—in their capes, masks, and tights, with their unbelievable origins and preternatural powers—are often dismissed as juvenile amusements, they really are profound metaphors for different approaches to shaping one’s character and facing the challenges of life.

But, given the choice, which superhero should we follow today? Who is most worthy of our admiration? Whose goals are most noble? Whose ethics should we strive to emulate?

To decide, Travis Smith takes ten top superheroes and pits them one against another, chapter by chapter. The hero who better exemplifies how we ought to live advances to the final round. By the end of the book, a single superhero emerges victorious and is crowned most exemplary for our times.

How, then, shall we live?

    • How can we overcome our beastly nature and preserve our humanity? (The Hulk vs. Wolverine)
    • How far can we rely on our willpower and imagination to improve the human condition? (Iron Man vs. Green Lantern)
    • What limits must we observe when protecting our neighborhood from crime and corruption? (Batman vs. Spider-Man)
    • Will the pursuit of an active life or a contemplative life bring us true fulfillment? (Captain America vs. Mr. Fantastic)
    • Should we put our faith in proven tradition or in modern progress to achieve a harmonious society? (Thor vs. Superman)

Using superheroes to bring into focus these timeless themes of the human condition, Smith takes us on an adventure as fantastic as any you’ll find on a splash page or the silver screen—an intellectual adventure filled with surprising insights, unexpected twists and turns, and a daring climax you’ll be thinking about long after it’s over.

 

 

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