Sunday, March 15, 2009

Paul Steven Stone: “It was if someone hit me on the side of the head and said: ‘Now you are going to write the novel you are supposed to.’”

Paul Steven Stone: “It was as if someone hit me on the side of the head and said: ‘Now you are going to write the novel you are supposed to.’”

By Doug Holder

Paul Steven Stone is the creative director of W.B. Mason, and the author of “Or So It Seems” released by the local Blind Elephant Press. He is a regular at the Bagel Bards, a literary group that meets in Somerville, Mass., and since he has promotion in his blood, he is never without cards and bookmarks to tout his novel. “Or So It Seems” deals with a Woody Allenish, neurotic, type of guy, who searches for truth, spiritual salvation, and sex, guided by an odd and avuncular Hindu deity figure. This all takes place in the environs of Boston and Cambridge, Mass. With this unusual conceit of eastern religion and borscht belt humor, Stone takes us on a rollercoaster of a ride that only lets up when we finish reading. I spoke to Stone on my Somerville Community Access TV Show, “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: When you started this novel “Or So It Seems” you were divorced, bitter and angry. How about when you finished the novel?

Paul Stone: It is an interesting arc that I traveled. The novel evolved into something bigger and less driven by the forces that made me start the novel. There has always been a novel in me. When I started “Or So It Seems’ I was bitter, I needed to feel like the victim, and my now ex-wife was the guilty party. I was told that my first attempt with the novel lacked narrative tension. I sat down to reorder events. As soon as I did this, this spiritual aspect came in to play. It was if someone hit me on the side of the head and said: “Now you are going to write the novel you are supposed to.” All of a sudden all these concepts and ideas came flooding in. I really hadn’t wanted to rewrite.

DH: Was it therapeutic for you?

Ps: Absolutely. It saved at least 20 years of paid therapy. It allowed me to vent…the time to look closely at something. I moved on from feeling like a victim all the time. I am no longer a victim but the author of a novel.

DH: Before you started your rewrite of you said it was like you heard a voice guiding you. If you had to personify the voice who would it be?

PS: Well I am not hearing voices! But I feel there is someone, a muse, or some force, an elder, whatever that helps me. An entity that wakes me up at 3AM with ideas. I’m in advertising. I get ideas for my work as well that way —they come from somewhere. I get a lot from these “voices”

DH: The protagonist, Paul Peterson, constantly steps back with his spiritual guru—to observe the material world/ reality. In a way this is like the novelist, right?

PS: I think so. One of the intriguing conceits of the novel is that Petersen talks in the present moment sharing the action with the reader, as if the reader was there. It is almost as if the narrator and the reader are there at the same time together—going through it. The first time I wrote this I didn’t need the conceit. The 2nd time it made sense.

DH: The writer Thomas Wolfe holed up in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC and wrote (standing up) for hours on end. It was described as “automatic writing” Anything like that happen with you?

PS: No. I have had experiences where things get done through me so easily all I have to do is make the pen hit the paper. Other times I have to sit down and think about it.

DH: A lot of writers self-promote these days. How do you going about getting the word out for your book?

PS: I took a workshop at Grub Street, given by this lady who recently had a successful book. I was amazed at how she had treated marketing her book as if it was an advertising campaign. Up until this time I had not thought about it this way. But she was very methodical. She had a website in place; she had pieces that she would send out to the different publishing arms. She had different elements—it seemed all part of a brand. So I saw what I was supposed to do. The way I approached it was I looked at every avenue that was low cost. I made business cards. I have unique cards that fold out like little books, with reviews from readers inside. I try to take the least expensive avenues and try to do it at a high level. A level that people don’t expect from someone who is doing it himself. If you act as if the book is important in everything you do it will seem important. The book will be treated importantly.

DH: In the book you write about the advertising world. It is not a flattering picture.

PS: I think the world would be a much better place without advertising. But there is always going to be advertising, and it is a business, so I think of myself as a positive influence. So it is good to have people in the industry like that. The work I do for W.B. Mason is fun stuff. People enjoy seeing the TV commercials. But I think there is something shallow where art is second to commerce.

DH: Can you tell us about your next book that will be a collection of columns you wrote for a south shore newspaper.

PS: Yes. They were written in many different voices and with many different subjects. Some were short fiction pieces, one column celebrated adversity. The columns deal with things I found of interest or concerned me at the time. The book will be called “How to Train a Rock.” I wrote a series of columns on training rocks. This will be a diverse collection.

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