Indie author Richard Bist displays an attitude that can be best described as insightful. The manner in which he articulates his thoughts, moreover, is surely worthy of admiration. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he comes across as a well-read individual. In an exhaustive interaction with the Literary Express, the Florida-based American author, who jokes he is old enough to know better but young enough not to care, says that he indited his first poem at the tender age of eight after getting inspired by song lyrics and the first poetry book he owned, Where the Sidewalk Ends.
‘I Like to Challenge Myself Creatively’
‘I didn’t try my hand at fiction until I was a teenager. I was lucky enough to have two teachers that were encouraging and provided the initial guidance that motivated me to keep at it,’ says the author, who at the time loved reading novels. ‘But I was more comfortable writing short stories and was initially inspired by Asimov, Clarke, Poe, King, and Hemingway,’ he lets us know.
Talking about his latest book Reflections in Blue Water and Other Stories, which happens to be a collection of short stories, he says his decision to publish it was to try his hand at mainstream fiction. ‘Most of my writing falls into the science-fiction, horror, and speculative categories, so this was something different for me. Also, I like to challenge myself creatively,’ he tells us with a smile.
Elaborating further on the collection, he says several of the stories are personal and were inspired by events in his life. ‘The title story, Spring Mourning, and Last Rites come from things in my past, and I used the stories to work through them,’ he says, adding, ‘Other stories were inspired by various things I had read over the years. For example, Restoration came about after I learnt about the art of prison tattoos and Soldier Story came from an article I read years ago about a soldier and prisoner of war, who was forgotten in a mental hospital after World War II ended,’ he explains.
NOTE: You can purchase Reflections in Blue Water and Other Stories right off the bat by clicking on the book’s cover image below.
Attempts, Experiments, and Challenges Galore
The author, however, goes on to say that his previous short story collection, Dark Journeys, was his first experience with self-publishing. ‘It is mostly original fiction, except for two stories that were previously published in magazines. It also contains one of my favourite stories, Sunwalker,’ he tells us. Making it clear that he was initially hesitant to publish Dark Journeys because he wasn’t sure how it would be received, he states that while some of the stories in the book are straightforward sci-fi and horror, he also included some speculative fiction. ‘These were writing experiments, attempts to try something new and different. Luckily, I have received some nice reviews on it, and it has sold well,’ he lets us know, adding that prior to Dark Journeys, his fiction was published in a variety of magazines and anthologies throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.
Divulging that he is currently working upon his first novel, Mr Bist, who writes every day and mostly in the mornings, says he began the rough draft of the novel with a basic idea of what he wanted to do, but he was approaching it like he does his short stories. ‘However, after I started on the draft, I realized I couldn’t write it that way. So I went back and created a chapter outline to sketch out how the story would progress. That was a big help,’ he lets on, adding, ‘I then worked on each chapter as if it were a short story. I found that keeping myself focused on the chapter in hand made the project less intimidating. So far, it is going well. I am learning how to be patient with the process.’
NOTE: We suggest you also give the book Dark Journeys a read. You can buy the book by clicking on its cover image below.
‘Not Knowing the End Makes the Process Interesting’
As far as his short stories are concerned, Mr Bist generally begins them with a basic premise and some idea of who his characters are going to be. ‘But for the most part, I let the story tell itself. No outlining, no character profiles, and on most occasions I don’t know how it is going to end. I have found that, for me, not knowing makes the process more interesting,’ he shares with us.
Be that as it may, he states assertively that whenever he has tried to outline a story from beginning to end, the final product feels forced and sterile. He tells us, ‘I prefer to approach it like an exercise in improvisation. I give myself a few prompts and just run with it. I want my stories to surprise and entertain me as much as my readers.’
‘Everyone Who Writes Is Being Creative’
On the question of whether he draws inspiration from any author, he says there is not a single author who doesn’t inspire him. ‘I am inspired by all authors,’ he states, going on to make a profound statement: Everyone who writes is being creative, and creativity should be admired and respected regardless of the talent level. Nonetheless, he clarifies right away that there have been a few authors that have meant more to him than others.
Talking about them at length, he lets us know that Shel Silverstein was an early influence on him. ‘His wit, his nuance, and his subtle poignancy were things I picked up on when I was a kid and have stuck with me over the years,’ he says. It is J R R Tolkien, nonetheless, who got Mr Bist into fantasy. ‘I have re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings dozens of times over the years. The world-building and history he created, along with the languages, are mind-blowing. A true passion project, and it shows,’ he asseverates.
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‘There Is Something Unique About Raymond Carver’s Stories’
Ray Bradbury too has been an inspiration to him from a young age, not just for his stories but also for his work ethic. Says Mr Bist categorically, ‘The man wrote every day and finished one story every week. He was relentless and continued writing until he died.’ But it is Raymond Carver, who is probably the biggest influence on Mr Bist’s writing. ‘There is something unique about his short stories. The way he could take a mundane situation like a fishing trip and turn it into an insightful and reflective piece of art, that still blows me away,’ he says, adding, ‘Also, his characters are just normal people. They make bad decisions, stupid mistakes, and are totally relatable. There are no real heroes in his stories, just regular people living their regular lives. But Carver made them real and meaningful.’
His list, however, doesn’t end with Raymond Carver, for the excogitative author says he is also partial to some Eastern-European and Russian authors, like Herman Hesse, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. ‘Recently, I have been exploring authors from Asian countries. I was impressed by Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin and Japanese author Yoko Ogawa. However, my current favourite is Yukio Mishima,’ he lets on, going on to assert that for science-fiction and horror he was influenced by Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Lovecraft, Poe, Shirley Jackson, and so many others.
‘I See Stories All Around Me’
Talking about his schedule, which he seems to abide by religiously, Mr Bist, who has studied creative writing at Florida State University, says he is up by five every morning and tries to write a minimum of thousand words each day. Conceding that it is not always possible to keep up with the schedule, he says he ensures to put pen to paper come hell or high water. ‘And it is not just fiction. I post on my blog three times a week, keep a journal, and write outlines for my podcast,’ he says.
We also learn that the author keeps paper and pens in strategic places around the house and in his car. He tends to carry a backpack with him too when he is out and about! ‘And I keep a couple of pens, a spiral notebook, and a paperback in there in case of emergencies. I see stories all around me and I am constantly thinking, “What if?”, so keeping writing materials handy is a necessity,’ he thoughtfully says.
Thoughts on Creativity
On what he feels about creativity per se, he says he looks at it as a muscle that needs regular exercise. And the best way to exercise is to stick with a routine. I know that when I occasionally skip a couple of days, like when I am sick or something major needs my attention, I find that when I start back to writing, I feel stiff and out of shape,’ he tells us. ‘So writing daily, even just a couple of paragraphs, is better than not writing anything at all,’ he emphasises.
Be that as it may, was his becoming an author a conscious decision given that he began writing at a very young age? ‘I don’t know if it was a conscious decision, like one day I said to myself, “I am going to be a writer” and the clouds parted and angels sang,’ he says. ‘It is just something I do, that I have always done,’ he pronounces and goes on to divulge that he didn’t get a lot of support for his endeavours when he was growing up. ‘My great-aunt and my mom were encouraging, but for the most part, my family considered it a cute hobby and nothing more,’ he says with a sombre expression. ‘So it may be that becoming a writer was partly a rebellious act,’ he adds.
A Reader, YouTuber and Podcaster With Far Too Many Interests
Admitting that juggling writing and other tasks is something he is constantly struggling with, more so because he has too many interests, he avers that he has made writing his top priority. ‘But I also host a bi-weekly creativity podcast, and recently I started recording cooking videos for my YouTube channel,’ he says. He also lets on that he is now relearning how to play the guitar after a twenty-year hiatus. ‘It is difficult to balance all this and occasionally the other interests lag behind because I am focused on finishing a story draft or some editing. My other hobbies are reading, cooking, cultivating carnivorous plants, and when time permits, PC gaming. I also have two rescue mutts that like to remind me to take breaks every so often,’ he explains.
Letting us know about his works in progress, Mr Bist says he is currently working on his first novel, a dystopian science-fiction piece inspired by Crime and Punishment. ‘The first draft is complete, and I am working on my first round of rewriting. I am hoping to have it published later in 2021,’ he says. ‘I am also working on my third short story collection. This one is strictly science-fiction and horror. The stories in this collection are much longer than my previous collections and possibly a bit darker. More than half of them have been written since the pandemic started and that has been an influence on the tone,’ he lets on.
‘Internet Has Diluted the Market, But That’s Okay With Me’
Notwithstanding, becoming a full-time author is something that Mr Bist feels remains to be seen. ‘I maintain a full-time day job in order to pay the bills, and the money I make off writing doesn’t come close to a regular salary. In my opinion, it is much harder now to become a full-time creator. While the internet has allowed for more people to explore and share their creativity, I think it is also diluted the market’ he points out, stressing on the point that there are so many writers out there, both good and bad, that the odds of being recognized and elevated are slim. ‘But that is okay with me. As long as I can continue to write and my stories continue to entertain – even a small market share – then I am happy,’ he shares with us. ‘For what it is worth, I have been writing professionally and getting paid for it for over twenty-five years,’ he states.
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On the question of what he would tell budding authors if they lose motivation, he says he has actually covered this in several episodes of his podcast and blog. ‘What I think it comes down to is how a writer approaches the craft. If someone is writing intending to be rich and famous, they’re doing it for the wrong reason. Art – writing, painting, songwriting, etc. – should be about self-expression, sharing ideas, and adding something new to the world,’ he avers, even as we try to apprehend the profundity of the statement.
A Message to Budding Writers
Making it clear that he is not in the business of giving advice, he says his opinion is that authors should write for themselves, first. ‘Don’t worry about the readers, at least, not while you’re drafting. What you should do is make sure YOU enjoy the story, that it entertains you, surprises you, makes you feel or think. If it doesn’t do this for you, it won’t do it for a reader,’ he stresses.
Furthermore, he says that while it is truly difficult for a writer to get noticed in a market that is oversaturated, that should not in any way ruin one’s conviction or purpose. ‘It doesn’t mean you should give up. Every writer has a unique voice that should be heard and ideas that should be shared. That is important. However, we have to be realistic about it. If a young or inexperienced writer wants to get noticed, they’ll have to jump up and down and make some noise. Get on social media and market yourself. Set up a website and post regularly about your work. Get some cheap business cards that you can hand out. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to show your work and get feedback on it,’ he says. ‘But whatever happens, never stop writing.’
And the Final Word
As the conversation draws to a close, the author gives us a glimpse of his everyday life, telling us that his weekends are often spent on creative projects like his podcast, cooking videos, fooling around with audio/visual stuff, playing around with his mutts, and spending time outdoors tending his carnivorous plants or down on the coast. ‘On weekdays, I write for an hour every morning, make breakfast, and work my day job. Exciting stuff,’ he says.
Upon being asked if there is one thing he would want to be changed, he says it is a tough question to answer because he wants to change so many things. ‘I guess one thing I would like to do is make people more empathetic. I feel like a lot of our problems around the globe are due to people not understanding others. If we could all take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of another, to see the world through another person’s eyes, to feel their pain and their struggles, then we would realize that we aren’t that much different,’ he says, adding that something that stuck with him from one of his classes in college was learning about ‘fear of the other’. ‘I think that stems from a lack of empathy. When a person refuses to see things outside their bubble it results in fear, and fear drives people to hatred. Just a little understanding, a little sympathy, can go a long way to fixing many of the problems in our global society,’ he asserts, thus signing off on a thoughtful note.
PS: For those interested in creativity, author Richard Bist hosts the Prometheus Project Podcast. Episodes come out bi-weekly and cover different aspects of creativity, from finding inspiration, maintain motivation, brainstorming, music, poetry, painting, and everything in between. The purpose is to inspire creativity in others and help them to express themselves. The show is available on most of the major podcasting platforms and links are available on his website, www.richardbist.com. As already mentioned, he also has a YouTube channel where he posts copies of his podcast, his cooking videos, and other miscellaneous projects. And lastly, he runs a blog where he posts regularly about topics related to creativity and self-expression.
In my opinion, everyone has the ability to be creative, but many don’t realize it or are afraid to try and fail. That bothers me. I feel like everyone should explore their creativity, their abilities, and express their ideas. Every voice is unique and important, no matter how big or how small it may be. If nothing else, I hope to inspire others and make a positive difference in the world.– Richard Bist