BRIAN: I’m pleased to welcome James Conway, author of The Vagabond King, to the Underground. James, in our correspondence you mentioned you originally got the idea for this book in college. Can you tell us a little about how Vagabond came to be?
JC: Sure Brian. I had always been toying with the idea of a coming of age novel and I had collected some notes but it was nothing really profound. Then I had something of an epiphany in history class. I was asked to write a paper on Napoleon. I was asked to pick a side: did Napoleon represent the “Great Man” theory of history or the “Wave” theory. In other words, if Napoleon had never existed would history be profoundly different or would someone else have taken his place and history would be the same as with Napoleon. I couldn’t write the paper because I saw both things as being true at the same time. It might not seem like a big deal but it was a profound moment for me. If something can be two things at the same time the implications are Earth shattering, it means that there can be no right or no wrong, no this or that etc. I started questioning everything I once believed and my psychological world evaporated around me. So, as the main character Chris is questioning the world around him, so was I.
BRIAN: I was intrigued by the strong vein of mythological references running throughout this book. Can you elaborate on why you underpinned the book, especially Magda’s character, so heavily with mythology?
JC: Because so much of the novel is internal, it exists in Chris’s head, I needed to portray a setting that would describe and illuminate the thoughts in his head. While the book certainly has a physical setting it is the psychological setting that is more important. I don’t think I could have pulled off what I needed to do had I not made reference to mythology.
One of the fundamental themes of the book is the dualistic nature of reality. This is why I have paired so many opposites together. This is why Chris (the young man) falls in love with Magda (an older woman).
After college I became familiar with the work of the great scholar Joseph Campbell. He said something to the effect that, in the 1st age of man the religious symbols came from the animal world. In the 2nd age of man they were from the agrarian world. But, in this age of man the human race itself must become the symbol. I tried to portray this in Magda’s character through the use of mythology to make her more mysterious and even divine.
As I am answering this question it occurs to me that one of my goals with the book was to portray human beings for their often overlooked greatness. This may sound over the top but we are each the physical embodiment of universal power. We truly are. Let’s face it, every parent considers their child the golden child that was born to save the world. That’s because it is true. We are each infinitely greater than we realize. But everyone seems to get worn down with the humdrum of life and ignore that aspect of themselves. I used mythology and archetype in my attempt to portray this.
BRIAN: Tell me about your love of The Blues and how it influenced your writing.
BRIAN:What made you self-publish?
JC: I finished the book about 5 years ago and spent some time half-heartedly looking for a publisher. I have heard that a resume is an excuse to ask someone else how much you’re worth. That’s how I felt looking for a publisher. It was a creepy feeling. I had always been skeptical of the stigma of self publishing until I met a woman named Victorine Leiske who was on track to make $160,000 this year selling her first book Not What She Seems. Consequently, my skepticism quickly evaporated.
BRIAN: What is your one piece of advice to anyone considering self-publishing?
JC: Do it. There is a vast and vibrant community of indie writers and people who support them. I’m proud to be indie.
BRIAN: Tell me about your next project, The Mythological History of Chicago.
JC: Whew, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
Basically it portrays 300 years of history as happening simultaneously in what quantum physics calls the everlasting moment of now. I intend to portray the poet Carl Sandburg in his role as a reporter as he tries to uncover who really caused the Chicago fire at the same time the voyageur Robert De Lasalle is slowly going mad trying to establish an empire for France in The New World at the same time the Cubs and White Sox are in the 7th game of the world series in Wrigley Field. Oh, and it is narrated by a trickster god.
As you can see, I’ve got my work cut out for me.
BRIAN: Let me see if I have this straight... your interests are “quantum physics, Taoist philosophy, history, and how the mind perceives reality.” That’s an amazing variety of interest. How does your mind perceive reality and does it help your writing?
JC: That is a very interesting question, Brian. Most people would say that reality is reality. You’re born, you pay taxes and you die. This is true but your reality and my reality are different experiences. I think it is safe to say that Mother Theresa experienced reality differently than Hitler. Quantum physics tells us that everything that has ever been or could ever be exists at the same time. Now, imagine a circle. That circle is everything. Now imagine a dot in the center of the circle. That is you…or me…or Mother Theresa…or Hitler. Now imagine a V emanating from the dot to the rim of the circle. It could be a narrow V or a broad V. That is your range of vision or consciousness. Some people are broad minded and some are narrow, it effects how they experience reality.
Now, in terms of how I, you, or anyone can apply it to writing or anything. You need to be aware that you actually have 3 minds. Yes, that’s right. You have your conscious mind which focuses on paying the bills etc. Then you have the unconscious mind which takes care of your heart rate, digestion, driving home after 8 martinis etc. It also does a lot more if people would let it. Anyway the subconscious is the doorway to what the psychologist Carl Jung called the universal subconscious. This is the source of all creativity and people like Beethoven and Edison and Einstein and Shakespeare were all able to tap into this for inspiration.
BRIAN: Wow! James, thank you for joining us in the Underground. A review of James Conway’s latest book, The Vagabond King, can be found here on Underground Book Reviews.
JC: Brian it has been my sincere pleasure. Thanks for your hospitality and support. I wish you the best.
99 Cents worth of James Conway links:
James Conway's website
The Vagabond King on Amazon
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