We’re back with Michael Sieleman, author of Hippie from Iowa, the laugh-out-loud, irreverent story of his early life and hitchhiking travels across Europe in the early ’70s as a 19-year-old. It is currently 92 degrees, feels like 98, here in St. Louis, so we’re not going to sit out on the porch with Michael as he continues to shoot the breeze with us on the writing of his book. But you’re welcome to drink your beer (or lemonade).
You have a great talent for telling funny stories – and you have an amazing lot of them! Do you have some sort of karma that attracts these odd situations?
You have a great talent for asking funny questions. Karma? Maybe, but if so I must have been a real bastard in my past life. This life does seem to be one long adventure of odd situations, but they’ve been as tragic as they have been comic. I bristle a bit when Hippie from Iowa is referred to as a memoir, because though the experiences are all true, I selected primarily the comic as the backbone of the book. And, of course, it’s told from my perspective with a definite purpose. With this kind of bias, this really makes it a story–one that just happens to be comprised of true events. If I were to write a memoir, it would probably be called something like Normal Guy in a Bi-Polar Life, and it would be a terrible bore.
Were you born with this ability and are you a funny guy in your everyday conversations?
I think I did inherit an ability to be funny in my everyday conversations from my father, but I’m also very serious about life and view it differently than most people. This means I can be funny and intense almost simultaneously, sometimes to the confusion of even my best friends. Life is a serious business, but one does need to lighten up, have some fun, take a cosmic breath, and then look again to gain a more equitable perspective.
Can you tell us the process you went through to figure out how to write this memoir? Overall it follows a chronological path, but it does bounce back and forth from one time period to another. You also talk directly to your readers in a chatty manner, which is an unusual, and hence brave, tactic.
Memoir? Memoir! Damn you, it’s a STORY! However, I’ll forgive you since you make up for it by saying my chatty manner is a brave tactic. Yet, while I appreciate your compliment, it’s undeserved. It was not a preconceived tactic at all. As I said earlier, I write by the seat of the pants. I literally sat down to the computer to write the book with an idea of the voice, events, and the end to which they were directed—vaguely. I had no idea what the first sentence was going to be, but what came out was: “The substance of this writing is, I swear, all true, but I’ll warn you right now, dear reader, this thing will meander and digress all over the place. Therein, I hope, will lay it’s charm.” There was no process, no decisions on how things were to be played out, no tactics to be followed. I had a rough idea of a story and I started writing. I look back on it now and am amazed at how clearly the first sentence and the first paragraph do in fact capture the essence of the story that came to be, because I had no idea how the story would really turn out. As I write, I do pay attention to where the story is going. I did see that I was speaking directly to the reader, and bouncing around on a timeline. I let those things develop while trying to steer them in a coherent way. I don’t understand how art works, but art is not a science. You have to let it develop. If you can write, remain true to the story as it unfolds, love your narrator, your characters and your readers, you have a chance of having a hand at helping create honest art. How it works is beyond my understanding.
In the book you include bits on how you write. Now that your book has been published, do you have any advice for newbie authors?
This is a very hard question for me to answer, because I’ve spent a lifetime of dodging advice on how to write. I guess you have to figure out what kind of writer you want to be and what you want to accomplish with your writing. If you want to be a genre writer and sell a lot of books, then my advice is to read your genre of books incessantly, take writing classes, try to absorb as much as possible from those that have gone before you, look at what’s selling, and take the advice of people who are successful in your chosen genre. With luck, maybe you’ll sell some books. If you’re out to write literature/art, I have no advice to give you. By definition, you’re out to be creative, and that can’t be taught. You’ll have to find your own road (or fall into it) just like Dostoyevsky, Harper Lee, or Faulkner did. To succeed, you’ll need an endurable work ethic, nearly unbearable patience, and extraordinary luck. You’ll need to do this accepting the fact that you will most likely not succeed, and that means not pinning your identity to success. Do what you can, and hope lightning strikes.
Thank you, Michael, you’ve been great fun to talk to, and it was a lot of fun to read your story. Best wishes on the success of your book. Anyone wishing to know more about Michael can visit his website at Guardian Stone Publishing. You can also read my complete review of Hippie from Iowaby clicking on the Amazon book link in this post.