A man addicted to reading and writing
My name is Joe Ecclesia. On a recent December Saturday, when I interviewed Jeff Minick about his new novel, Dust On Their Wings, the sun was shining and the temperature was in the sixties. We sat creek-side behind the Panacea Coffeehouse in Waynesville’s Frog Level district.
Minick, whom I have known for many years, was wearing an aqua-blue short-sleeved shirt, khaki pants fraying at the ankles, and scuffed brown shoes. He was unshaven and bore that rumpled look I have long associated with him. When we met, he was smoking an American Spirit Light — he took up that filthy habit at age 60, God alone knows why — and was sipping from a large mug of coffee.
Despite our long association — we are, you might say, kindred spirits — Minick annoys me with his scribbling, his blogs, his articles, and his books. When I contemplate the countless hours he has given to punching the keys on typewriters and computer keyboards for the last 40 years, the wastage appalls me. Recently he told me that after all these years he couldn’t give up writing even if he tried. Several times I have tried to lure him away from this desert of words, offering him the temptations of travel, women, or some hobby like hiking or painting, but getting him to change his ways is like pulling a tick from the back of a Saint Bernard. The poor sap is both addicted to writing and as may be seen in the interview, addled as well.
Ecclesia: So you have done it again?
Minick: Done what?
Ecclesia : Written another novel?
Minick : Yes.
Ecclesia : Why?
Minick : For my own pleasure and possibly for the enjoyment of others. For my own edification as well.
Ecclesia : So, Shakespeare, tell us a little about your latest masterpiece.
Minick : Two angels — Maximilian Lamb and Mary Margaret Hart — are dispatched to earth to help bring together a kindergarten teacher, Emily Hoffman, and a pharmacist, John Flyte. Emily and John are both confused about love and relationships, but it turns out that for Max and Maggie the two humans are the least of their problems. These angels — they refer to themselves as manifestations in the book — find themselves in a situation never encountered by any of their kind: their desire for each other. The novel is about working out those feelings, about the tremendous power of human passion and human love.
Ecclesia : Sounds interesting. (My thought at the time: Yeah, about as interesting as dirt). So why self-publish? Were you afraid to send Dust On Their Wings out into the real world?
Minick (smiling): No, not at all. When I self-published Amanda Bell three years ago, I felt the pressure of my years — I’ll be on Medicare in 2016 — and I didn’t want to use my time searching for a publisher. Besides, being published by a trade company is no longer all that rewarding. Read Steven Piersanti’s online article “10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing.” But with Amanda Bell I found I liked self-publishing. The book belongs more to me this way. I select everything from the font to the cover. And I bank on making back the money I spent on publishing through sales of the book. (Smiles again): I’m not the world’s best salesperson.
Ecclesia : The central characters of both books are in their late 20s or early 30s. Why is that? (Thought: Probably hoping for some 30-year-old chick, the dirty old letch.)
Minick : People that age fascinate me. By that time most of us have suffered some tragedy, been beaten about a little or a lot by life. Some are still growing up as well, still trying to find our place in life. Some are just starting families while others are searching for love. Those are the readers I most want to reach. One young woman from Maryland wrote me after reading Amanda Bell and told me how much help the book had given to her. Her comment alone made my efforts worthwhile and worthy.
Ecclesia : In both novels — and in Learning As I Go — religion comes into play, specifically Catholicism. Why is that?
Minick : Well, for one, I’m Catholic. And I also think a lot of people ponder their faith, whatever it may be.
Ecclesia : And you’re a practicing Catholic?
Minick : I go to mass on Sundays, I go to Confession every few months, I pray.
Ecclesia : I hear a “but” in there somewhere.
Minick : But I wouldn’t call myself a very good Catholic. Too many wicked thoughts, too much sin. I consider myself a Graham Greene Catholic.
Ecclesia : I’ve read some of Greene’s novels. Lots of stumbling around in terms of faith. Lots of doubts.
Minick : True. Look at the protagonist’s last words of Green’s novel The End of the Affair: “O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.”
Ecclesia : Pretty bleak. Yet you memorized that prayer. Are you too tired and old to learn to love?
Minick : I think we spend most of our lifetimes learning to love, don’t you? I know a few people with large hearts who know the meaning of love, but most of us are slow learners. Hence, Dust On Their Wings. It’s about love and what it takes to love another human being.
Ecclesia : So what’s next?
Minick : Oh, a book about movies aimed at young men. That one’s pretty much completed. Maybe put together a book of poetry. I’d love to write a nonfiction book about a year I spent in Boston during my mid-20s. And maybe a novel about a widower who loves books and one night finds life dumped into his lap.
Ecclesia : You’re never going to quit, are you?
Minick : Apparently not.
Ecclesia : I really don’t understand you.
Minick : Welcome to the club.
(Ah well, he always was a coy bastard).
(Jeff Minick, aka Joe Ecclesia, is a teacher and writer. His new novel, Dust On Their Wings, is available at Amazon.)