Robin Gorneau: Hello Rob. For full disclosure to editors considering printing this interview, I’ve known you since the mid 70s. You are a music teacher, singer, songwriter and musician, and I have been a big fan of yours since your Get Right Band days. I love your original music and have two of your CDs. I’ve seen you perform countless times. I read the Diary of Doses content available on Amazon.com and think the writing is truly original and compelling. As soon as I get an eReader I’m going to purchase the ebook. With all that covered, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Rob Dickenson: I’m glad to have this interview opportunity and start promoting the book.
RG: I love the alliteration and imagery in the title. Would you like to describe how the title came about?
RD: It was all related to the topic and just worked that way. Rather than write what’s inspired by the day, I wrote about the singular topic. I write, and rewrite and this book has been rewritten many times over the years. Let me quote F. Scott Fitzgerald from a letter he wrote to his daughter that, “The art of writing is writing and rewriting.” Even in music this is the case. You know I’ve been playing in bars for decades and I witness people’s behavior and I‘m also a participant with all that it is, and I wanted to make this poetry honest. If you are couched in the English language it reflects what I’ve seen and what other people have done. It just came to me, going to a gig and it came to me: write about what I witness. I was inspired by the drunks in a bar one evening and the idea to write poetry about alcohol and drug excesses, and Diary of Doses came to me. And, God bless these people, they’ve been paying my rent for years.
RG: Your voice in your poems really comes through loud and clear to me. It might be that I’m very familiar with your original songs and writing style but poetry isn’t the genre I associate with your writing. How long had you been considering a poetry project?
RD: About ten years. It started and stalled time after time because I put my energy into writing songs, gigging, and having a family and children. I kept the text and wanted to write about a centered, central subject, so I kept all these notes and pages. I considered this book for a long time and centered the subject on drunks, on alcohol and drug abuse. I’m considering another book of prose now. The approach will be the same, true to my voice. I stick to what I know and I write about that. This was a decade-long project, writing, rewriting, editing, and then trying to get published. I rewrote, honed, and wrote some more. Now I want to get some eyeballs on it.
RG: How many full edits did you do of the work? What did that process entail?
RD: Can’t count! I reread it and some of the descriptions were not clear enough, the humor was not right. Song, prose, poem, you can’t write about things for which you have no knowledge, at least I can’t. I have to write about what I know. I have plenty of topics to write about. At this point in my life I want to write about what I know. I’m considering playing in bars more often this year because it took some time but now I know how my voice works and I’m ready to play out again and keep writing books.
RG: Did some of these poems evolve from songs you haven’t yet published?
RD: Well, there is actually one song-poem, Keep Your Nose Clean, about cocaine, from when I was in Life After Elvis. I’ve tried to have a sense of humor in my songs and these poems. I didn’t want to preach in these poems. I don’t see anything necessarily “bad” in inebriation, I just don’t preach to do it or not do it. I don’t do it myself but I use a sense of humor about presenting it truthfully. Humor keeps you, me, from pointing your finger and judging someone. People go to bars and I observe them. People don’t go to bars for religion. They go for flirting, conversation, drinking, and making connections. What gives you or me the authority to judge them? Well, sometimes it’s whiskey-driven authority. But it’s the audiences, the performing that inspires my songs and poems. You know, some of the most serious topics in the world are addressed with humor. A writer doesn’t necessarily have to take a point of view but paint / write / present the experience. Just tell the tale well and the lessons will become apparent.
Years ago I wrote a funny song about masturbation but masturbation is the hidden topic and it’s a funny song called, It’s Me I Can’t Forget. The lyric is, “Close the door Mom, it’s me I can’t forget.” You let the audience interpret the words, the audience lights the kindling that is the song and see if it flames up.
RG: When did you start writing the content?
RD: It was ten years ago. I write a lot; when I’m in the passenger seat on the way to a gig I’m writing. That’s extra time I find to write.
RG: I know firsthand that you are a great collaborator and leader because I’ve seen you perform in several bands over the years. Were you simultaneously excited and cautious about writing solo for a new genre and possibly a new audience?
RD: Yes. And a little unsure which is why it may have taken me so long to write it. I read a lot, all forms of literature. I love words, reading, authors, and I refine what I write and getting good at the process comes with age. In my youth I was comfortable with words, but my ability and confidence with words came with age. Taking your time and rewriting is where confidence comes from, I keep examining the work. I wanted to make sure my first poetry project was right for me, right from my end, and polished properly.
RG: OK, the topic of alcohol and drug abuse. These subjects and images are pretty much the opposite of poetry, but you make it work brilliantly. Were you always confident that the intersection of substance abuse and poetry would work for Diary of Doses?
RD: Yes, because that’s how it came out. It’s not that I was confident; it’s how it came out. The whole thing, if I wasn’t limited by sentence structure, if I could use abbreviated sentence structure, poetry would work. I wasn’t writing a self help book, I was observing the universe of the bar scene, these people do drugs, they drink too much. I’m not judging them; that’s not my job. My job is to observe and write. My songs rhyme, my poems don’t. It’s still truncated language and poetry seemed like the right format for this observation.
RG: How did you find your publisher?
RD: Eric Luft is the publisher. He came to my attention on Facebook. He was a fan of The Get Right and had left comments about Get Right on Facebook. I looked him up and saw he has an independent publishing press, which interested me. I liked the idea of working with an independent press versus a publishing house. Eric is a profession of English at University of Rochester and music was the initial connection. I didn’t want to send an unsolicited manuscript around to publishers, so I knew Eric well enough to approach him with the idea to publish my book.
Current poetry doesn’t seem to take on profound subjects or meaning. When I thought the book was ready I sent him a copy. He said he’d be glad to publish it. I have had poems published in literary journals based in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, but it was a single writing project. I wanted these poems published together as a cohesive text.
RG: How are you promoting the book?
RD: Just starting to do that now. I’m planning on doing newspaper interviews such as this one. This is poetry but it’s not quite like traditional poetry. It has a different angle. It has modern language and eccentricities. And, I want to do interviews with publishers and writers interested in just ebooks. I’m going to start playing bars and clubs and integrating my poetry in the performances. I’m working this year to contact promoters who are personally involved with the artists they hire and are willing to promote an event as a music gig with a poetry slam to help get the work out about Diary of Doses. A music gig with a poetry slam will not draw a million people in one shot, it’s chunks of people, and bit by bit.
RG: Do you feel you were prepared to publish a book?
RD: No, my spirit was not prepared to self publish. I didn’t want the struggle that sometimes comes with first time authors seeking a publisher, but I knew it was good enough poetry to be published.
RG: Did your publisher ask you to submit a book proposal including your platform?
RD: As I said there was a previous connection through my music and the publisher knew my songs, he knew Get Right. There was an advantage that he knew my songs and had that familiarity with my writing. Eric works in the world of literature, was familiar with me and my songs, owned an independent press, so this was a good fit.
RG: What was your publishing experience like?
RD: A good experience, supportive and encouraging. I can see how it would be very trying and difficult with unsolicited manuscripts especially with a writer venturing into virgin territory. The door kind of opened for me because Eric knew my music.
RG: I know you are very well read and love books. Who are you reading now?
RD: Just finished A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh; I’m revisiting poet Charles Bukowski, and Karl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul. I’ve always been fascinated by the three fathers of modern psychology: Freud, Jung, and Wilhelm Reich. Reich wrote The Murder of Christ and The Mass Psychology of Fascism. I like to read a few things at once, mix things up.
Which reminds me, I tried out for Jeopardy! and made the finals in 2004. I studied and read everything I could get my hands on for a year. I was surrounded by books on geography, history, philosophy, English. Only five of us made the final cut from the Philly tryouts but none of us ever made the show because Ken Jennings never lost that year! I stopped watching Jeopardy! as a result. I’m not trying to get on the show again, I passed the test once. It’s like trying to date the same girl after she told you you were ugly. Some things you do not revisit.
RG: Are you working on another book presently, in any genre?
RD: I’m actually finishing up a children’s book of twelve chapters; eight are written and four are songs. It’s about animals that are indigenous to the Brandywine River. I’m finishing the song recordings now. The book is finished and I still need to complete the graphics, working with my wife Mary Fischer. In another children’s book I’m writing, the central character is an animal and there is a local connection to Lenape Park.
I remember an historian named Chris Sanderson, he was a big influence on my life and music. He was a local story teller who came to my elementary school. He was the first person I saw get into a character. There is a Chris Sanderson museum in Chadds Ford. If I perform readings from this book I’m going to dress in character the way Chris did.
I’m framing my next book, GIGS. It’s all about my experiences meeting musicians, stage managers, promoters, fans, and club owners. I’m styling it with humor and I want to incorporate humor in the story in modern Mark Twain style. I want my sense of humor to be the foundation for GIGS. I’d like to write a series of articles first and then publish the stories as the book. I may publish a book of lyrics. I can see myself writing a story or book about being the father of twin boys. Being a father is a great pleasure and sustains me. My kids constantly renew my faith in people. I leave them my songs and my artistic legacy. I know my creative genetic code is left behind.
Don’t assume that because something is famous it’s good and likewise, don’t assume that something unknown is worthless. Artists struggle. Sometime it’s a struggle just to keep going. You think people should be there for you. Sometimes one person strikes a creative fire in an artist. It’s important to make an effort, to keep at it. Experience makes you, an artist better. If you’re a fan keep supporting the artists you enjoy; painters, songwriters, musicians. We all need to keep going. The artist’s struggle is valuable in itself. You can’t be at the party if you don’t participate and struggling is part of the equation.
RG: I would imagine that having all your writing experience is a tremendous confidence builder when venturing into a new genre. While writing these poems, did you ever get stuck in the writing process?
RD: Sure, oh, yeah. It’s not just stuck, now I’m writing my memories for GIGS. I’m remembering funny stories, creating the structure of the book, and I’m thinking I’m gonna’ hit this, and then I get a call to work as a stage manager the weekend of Obama’s inauguration. That interrupted my writing for three days, and while I’m glad for the work and glad that it was a musical event, it did stop the writing process. I worked 17 hours a day and didn’t have time to write. I have to get back into the writing frame of mind again and the stories will come.
Daily life interrupts my writing; I have kids and they keep me grounded, keep me on a schedule. Real life keeps you honest in your writing. Just keeping my wood burning stove going keeps me honest. That’s life and I write best when I write about what I know.
RG: OK, to summarize, did technology help or hinder you with writing and publishing Diary of Doses?
RD: Well, with the writing I originally wrote this all on paper. As I started using computers more it helped me edit the content. I don’t like staring at the screen so much but I do like working on and editing the printed content. Now, this is an ebook so I appreciate what technology gives us. I’m not a slave to technology but I do like that it worked in my favor.
Diary of Doses is available in B&N Nook format and on all electronic formats. Read an excerpt from Amazon.com here.
Publisher: Gegensatz Press; 1 edition (November 10, 2012)