Today’s interview is with Andy Douglas, author of Redemption Songs.
1) What is your author name and in what state do you live (or country if not in the US)? Andy Douglas, Iowa.2) What is the title of your newest book and what is the genre? My latest book is “Redemption Songs: A Year in the Life of a Community Prison Choir.”3) What is the book about? The book chronicles the six years I spent volunteering in a medium security prison as part of a choir that combines incarcerated men and community volunteers. Its main narrative thrust details the experience of entering the prison each week, getting to know the men, overcoming preconceptions about these folks, and forging a strong community through shared creative undertaking. The book also has a research-based component, and focuses on some of the issues facing the penal system. Thirdly, the book tells the stories of several of the men I got to know, exploring their early lives, their crimes, their efforts to rehabilitate.4) Where did you come up with the idea? In conversation with a writing mentor, who saw the inherent drama and value of the idea.5) How long did it take you to write it? Six years.6) Did you learn anything from the project? Ha. I learned a great deal. Certainly I learned much about criminal justice and restorative justice, for example, the fact that as a nation we compose five percent of the the world’s population but have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. I interrogated my own biases about people in prison and came away with new understanding. Intellectually, I had acknowledged that people in prison were simply people who had gone down a wrong path, but to learn in an intimate way about the challenges and struggles and, yes, often selfish behavior, of people and put it into a larger context of, well, racism, economic hardship, unfair sentencing practices, was all eye-opening. On a writing level, this book combines several different types of writing, narrative, more research-based expository writing, interview-based retelling of the men’s stories, as well as direct quotes from the men. It also, in places, leans toward a more lyrical essayistic style. How in the world were those very different types of writing going to coalesce into an integral whole? This was the challenge for me, which I think I met, shaping the narrative and the various styles in a way that ultimately created a seamless narrative.7) Do you have an author website and/or blog? How about a book video? My website is andydouglas.net8) Do you have any success tips to pass on to fellow authors? How about any great editors/cover artists? Cultivate some good readers whose opinions you trust. At the same time, trust your own vision. Finally, revise more than you think you need to. Revise and put the work away for a while. Then reread it with fresh eyes. Revise until every sentence is sparklingly clear, until every niggling doubt is resolved, until every chapter ends in a way that propels the reader on to the next one. Revise.
9) What genres do you like to read? Are you open to reading new authors and reviewing their work? I read a lot of literary fiction. Also some nonfiction, often related to environmental or social justice issues.10) What is your favorite book of all time and why? That’s a tough one. One of my favorite is Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Kidder does what I’d like to do better: sinks deeply into a world until he can write about it with ease and comprehension, then pulls us into that world with beautiful prose.11) Fun Question: Do you have any pets? If so, what kind? nope.12) Fun Question 2: Do you own an electronic reading device? If so, what kind and how do you like it? Also nope.