Updated: Mar 11
In this post, we will get to know an amazing writer, S. W. Stribling. According to S. W. Stribling, he is "a man trying to find his way in the dark, lighting one little candle at a time as he move forward. Ever trying to light the next one before the current one burns out. Writing little etches in digital stone along the way to remind me where he came from." Let's start the interrogation :p
Hi. Glad to have you here. Could you tell us a bit about yourself to start this interview?
Truthfully, I am probably not much different from you or anybody else out there deep down, though on the outside I have lived experiences pretty anomalous on the bell curve of what it means to be an average person. I’ve served in both the United States Air Force and the French Foreign Legion. Both of these chapters of my life included their own unique experiences such as warfare, jumping out of planes, and being yelled at in a lot of different foreign languages. In my free time, I’ve trekked in the Himalayan mountains, meditated in silence for 10 days in Bodh Gaya, and did what brought us together here today - written a book.
No doubt these experiences play a role in who I am, but the older I’ve gotten, the less I’ve allowed them to separate me from the rest of humanity. I suppose that’s where writing comes in. I don’t let my experiences define me and disconnect me from the world as any of them could very well have. Given, I’m not exactly social either. Outside of my wife, I spend more time talking to my 4 dogs and cat than I do to my fellow humans. But I do feel that my writing is a bridge from myself to everyone else. Even if I write about things many people haven’t done or they may not even understand, they still connect to that primordial something we all have deep inside.
Writing is magic. It’s telepathy and time travel wrapped up in a fairly simple idea: here are my thoughts on paper, let them helix with yours now - wherever or whenever you may be.
I know that you’re writing a series called “Sin & Zen” however, unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read them yet. May I know more about them and what inspired you to write them?
I feel I should be good at answering this question by now, but there is always a bit of ‘paralysis by analysis’ when the question comes up. I suppose I’ll just be honest. I really don’t know why I wrote them. I just did. I had something to say and I felt like writing it down. Most likely to maintain some level of sanity.
I’ve always enjoyed writing as a form of therapy. It’s what helps me get perspective on life and myself. So the books are very much paralleled to my life. Those that know me and have read it think it is a memoir due to how close it is to what they know about me. Even those that don’t know me say it feels like a memoir. How much of it is true? It’s hard to say really. In many ways, it was my experience, my interpretation of my life. I suppose all memoirs are like that, but I don’t want people to get hung up on facts and lose sight of the true essence of the story.
Given, I had a bit of fun with it. I skipped things. I added things. I changed things. I made myself more of an asshole than I really am. I gave myself more clarity than I often had. For me, that is how fiction is made. You take that messed up and crazy thing called real life and put it into a narrative that has some sense and meaning with a touch of entertainment.
Since I feel like life is about love, that’s ultimately what the books are about. ‘Sin and Zen’ is about the type of love we think about when we hear the word love. It follows Will Strief in first-person as he leaves the French Foreign Legion and tries to find new meaning in life through romance. Will is a fun and confident guy, yet simultaneously broken and vulnerable at first, but quickly finds himself in a confused attraction to a woman that makes him question the meaning of love, trust, and friendship. It also involves lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol - hence the Sin. However, it is equally balanced with Zen - silent meditation, traveling, and mountain climbing. You could best think of it as the illegitimate child of ‘Eat Pray Love’ and ‘Fight Club’.
‘Anger and Hope’ evolves into the 2nd type of love - family love. Will goes back home to America and tries to reconnect with his family as the infamous prodigal son. Family is never easy and trying to reconnect with one’s roots as a black sheep makes it even more of a challenge. This book is the sequel to the first one, but that is more of just a chronological thing. Besides the main character and his dog, nothing else is the same. The second book also doesn’t fall into all the lust the first one does. There is one sex scene and a bit of romance, because well, Will is human and it also connects the readers to who he used to be in the first book. But truthfully, this book dives much deeper into the mind of a depressive and of a veteran trying to readjust to civilian life.
The third book - working title ‘Fear and Love’ - will be the final book for Will Strief I think. It will focus on a more divine love - though probably not what you think of when you hear ‘divine love’. It will combine aspects of the first two books (and forms of Love) to help Will reach the peace in life he has been desperately searching for in the first two books. If for no other reason, I feel I owe it to my readers (and myself) to give Will that. The most common message I get from fans involves something along the lines of, ‘I loved the book. I just get it. I couldn’t put it down. But I feel so bad for Will. I just want so badly for him to be happy and to find what he is looking for.’ So, I’ve got quite the story prepared for them. I’m looking forward to really hacking it out once passion, discipline, and time come together for me.
You have been writing since you were a teenager. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Writing was definitely something I kept to myself most of the time until a couple of years ago when I decided to publish my first novel. Still, I can’t honestly say it is the first time I have written something and shared it with others.
Back when I was in junior high school, a friend of mine and I started writing this funny little story just between us. It was our equivalent of passing notes in class. (Yes, I am that old.) Of course, we eventually got caught and had to read it aloud in class. I think it was Civics or one of those social science classes. We had the entire room including the teacher cracking up. After that, we started to take it a little more seriously, even spending a few hours of our weekends writing the next scene. Once a week, in that same class, we were allowed the last 10-15 minutes so we could share it. We always killed off one student in each chapter, so it really became a thing to ask all week, ‘Who’s going to get run over and killed by a snowmobile this week?’ The snowmobile was particularly funny because we lived in Arkansas and nobody had snowmobiles there. It was completely out of place to get run over by one.
That was for fun, but it did open the door to the magic of words. I mean, just writing these made people laugh. In a darker sense, it manipulated their emotions. It’s a crazy notion to have that sort of hold on this invisible thing inside of people.
Reading makes me appreciate the power of words when I feel a connection to that other author. But watching my wife cry as she reads a new story I wrote for the first time or receiving some of the fanmail I have and how they open up in a way that they are probably too ashamed to do in a public review… Wow. That’s when it really hits me the power of words.
What authors were your inspiration and grew into?
Well, starting from the very beginning, Dr. Seuss. There were some other great stories along the path of youth that inspired me.
But let me try to be brief and jump to the man that I give credit for helping me become an author. Charles Bukowski, like many other people, gave me the idea that I too could share my writing with the world. Many people try to imitate him and rewrite what he has already written. I find that nauseating and exhausting personally. The man gave me so much more than words to admire, why would I steal from him? He gave me the courage to find my own voice, my own style. Of course, I connected with his writing even though I don’t connect with all of his opinions or experiences, and that is what is so magical about it.
Bukowski and I do have a lot of things in common, probably more than I care to admit, but I also enjoy Hemingway, Camus, and Twain. All of whom, I also share similar backgrounds within certain aspects.
Hemingway was a soldier turned writer that lived in France for a bit. Many people say I write like him as well. I do think we both write about life using our military experience without actually writing about said military experience in such a direct and profitable way.
Camus writes about deep philosophy in a simple way. Something I also try to do. Add in the fact we both felt like foreigners most of our lives, we share a lot of perspectives on the world. Besides ‘Le Petit Prince’, ‘L’Etranger’ was the first novel I read in French, and I never felt lost in it, despite how profound it is.
Twain basically grew up right down the street from me and I hope one day my witticisms are on par with his.
I also really connected with Slyvia Plath. That really opened my eyes to how the hearts, minds, and souls of men and women really aren’t that far apart. I even wrote a short story called ‘Butterfly’ as a sort of tribute to her. And also to challenge myself by writing a story from a woman’s perspective. Be warned, that story is not for the faint of heart.
Still, despite these greats and all the others I haven’t mentioned, Bukowski is given the credit for my inspiration as a writer. I even discovered Fante through him. One could say Fante passed his writing style torch to Bukowski, who later lit the world for millions of others. They both write in a voice that I connect with. This lost boy verging on Zen master about everyday life - the good, bad, and ugly. Despite what many people say, I don’t feel they were aggressive or arrogant about it. Albeit, they do have moments of hostility and anger towards the world, but who doesn’t?
And they captured their times as well. That’s another reason why writing what they wrote seems ridiculous to me. We live in different times. I am honored when somebody says, ‘You should check out Bukowski if you don’t know him. You would like him.’ After they have read one of my novels. But I still feel my novels are a voice of our times - born of our times for our times.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Probably nothing. I’d just watch and laugh. But something I often tell people that I see are a bit lost is:
Follow your gut. Trust your heart. Use your brain.
I may also say something equally vague like: ‘Trust the Process’ or ‘Don’t Try’. You’ll recognize the latter from Bukowski’s tombstone inscription and something any fan of Taoism’s Wu Wei will know about it.
You write poetry as well. Where do you normally publish them?
Ha. You did your research well there. However, my poetry is usually kept in my journal, not to be shared with the public. I do occasionally write a poem as an opening or closing for a chapter in my novels. However, the deep stuff I keep hidden away. I even hesitate to transcribe it into the cloud. Despite my brutal honesty in my novels, I feel too vulnerable to make my poetry public.
This, of course, allows me to have greater respect for those that do have the courage to publish theirs. Having said that, it is hard to find good poetry that doesn’t feel too forced or too whiny. This makes me think it isn’t so much the courage of people as it is the desperation for the attention or love of other people. This harsh judgment goes against even my own poetry and hence my great hesitation to share it.
Still, I like to think that even my prose has a poetic feel to it. If I don’t overthink it, I find writing poetically comes naturally enough. Just let it happen. Of course, this more natural way of writing helps to make for a more natural feel in reading.
I saw some posts from you that indicated “transgressive” as a genre for your books. May I know in what sense do you define your writings as transgressive?
You know, I’ve considered my writing Transgressive Fiction since I started writing, but I never really asked myself so clearly, ‘How?’ I have to thank you for that. I would like to call my writing Literary Fiction, but I lack the confidence for that. So beyond that genre, I just don’t see where my writing fits other than Transgressive Fiction. In a world with a million and one categories, I still find myself in a category of ‘others’.
But if forced to think about it, I guess I would say that my writing transgresses what the average person expects from a novel. I don’t write-to-trend. I don’t even write-to-market. Probably why I don’t sell as many books as I could, but I am proud of the books I have written. Tropes are safe and easy to write. I’ve never done anything in my life the safe and easy way.
In a way, transgressive is how I have lived my life. It only makes sense that as a writer I push that sort of philosophy and style onto other people through my words. It isn’t meant to be an attack on the world from a boy in angst. It just is who I am. It’s what comes out when I sit at the keyboard.
Of course, now that I have claimed my home in this literary category of outsiders, I feel I am in good company. And should the gods will it, I hope to one day be seen next to their names in the digital libraries of the world wide web. My wife says that I write like her favorite author, Milan Kundera. So one down I guess.
When did you find yourself attracted to transgressive literature? Why?
I didn’t even know that Transgressive Literature was a thing until I discovered Bukowski. Of course, after reading him, it was like, ‘Why have I never read anything like this before? This is how all books should be written.’ So I looked up what his genre was and voila.
I then discovered many of my other favorite books that I had already read were also in that category and said, ‘Obviously, this is the category for me.’ It was a sort of regressive discovery in that sense. Of course, I don’t like everything in the genre. There’s a bit of trash in every corner of the world. Still, I need less convincing to try a book if it is said to be Transgressive Literature.
To come back full circle here, I guess I discovered Bukowski, and the term Transgressive Literature when I was in my early 20s. I am 35 now, so it’s safe to say, this genre is home with the occasional vacation to a good space opera, historical fiction, or fantasy series.
Finally, which character in your writings most represents you?
Well, I guess I’ve already given this part away, but the main character is a loose representation of me. The personality may be a bit different than who I truly am, but the essence of the character rings true. If you want to find out what that means… Well, you know what to do. ;)
Thank you so much.
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