November 1st, 2019
I asked John where he would like to interview:
The library is old. Very old. So old, in fact, that nobody seems sure of when it was built. Oddly neither of us are sure how ling we’ve been here or how we got here, though we seem to have been here for a while. We’re sitting opposed each other in two well cushioned high-backed chairs that are positioned in front of a great oak fireplace. And there is a small table between us on which there is a steaming fresh pot of tea along with two empty mugs. The mahogany walls are covered by floor to vaulted ceiling bookcases that seem to stretch out to the horizon, which is, of course, impossible. The room is dimly lit, though there is enough light to comfortably read the pages of the book, Paradise Lost, that I find resting in my lap. There is a faint yet distinct scent in the room that seems to be a mix of mold, oak and jasmine. Still puzzled by how we got here, it occurs to me that this could be the legendary Library of Morpheus, which is said to be located in the Land of Dreams and contains every edition of every book ever written, as well as every edition of every book never written. Not wishing to take up too much of your time, assuming this isn’t a dream, I pour some tea and prepare for your first question.
Laura Mae: How long have you been writing for?
John Leys: I feel like I’ve had a pretty active imagination since I was a kid, fueled by my voracious reading habits, though I never really wrote any of them down. In the 5th grade I recall a friend and I drawing and writing our own comic books, which were—as you might expect—not entirely original, though I really enjoyed the creative process. Around the same time, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, though I always seemed to enjoy the process of creating the characters and their back stories much more than actually playing the game itself. I was often inspired by the books I was reading and would want to write my own stories, though I often spent more time thinking about the stories than actually writing them down.
I started writing poetry seriously when I was 14 years old. The major catalyst was being introduced to the music (and especially the lyrics) of the Beatles by my mother. The Beatles led me to Bob Dylan, and I was just amazed by the quality of the lyrics they wrote and felt that listening to them filled me with the need to create. My first attempt was a sequel-song to John Lennon’s ‘God’ (as well as U2’s ‘God Part II’), which—especially in hindsight—turned out horrifically bad. The second catalyst that planted the seeds of writing poetry, as opposed to song lyrics, was a random assignment in my Freshman English class to write a poem. The finished product wasn’t great, but as I was writing it, I felt something click. I started writing poems all the time and began devouring books of poetry wherever I could find them.
L: What are you currently working on?
J: I just published my first poetry collection, The Darkness of His Dreams, at the end of July. This book was envisioned as a snapshot of myself as a poet. I tried to include
poems that represented the various aspects of my personality, the subjects I like to write about and the forms I like to use, and so forth. Since publishing The Darkness of His Dreams, I’ve started working on my next poetry collection, which will consist of poems about or inspired by mythology (primarily Norse and Celtic but including others). It’s a project I’ve had in mind for a while. A few years ago, I posted a poem on my blog that was heavily influenced by something I’d been reading about Norse Mythology thinking that, while I liked it, nobody would enjoy reading it. To my surprise I has a lot of positive feedback on that and similar pieces, and the idea of doing a themed collection was born. I hope to have it finished and published early next year. At the same time there’s a large project I’ve been working on, on and off, for around 25 years. It’s a mythological/legendary history of the British Isles. It started when I was in my 20’s and became obsessed with the Arthurian legends. I set out to write my own definitive telling of the legends with the desire to make them fit as much as I could with actual historical facts. As such I started searching out and reading all the earliest Arthurian texts. When I read Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which chronicles a highly fictionalized line of kings starting with Brutus the Trojan, who is said to be the grandson of Aeneas, and ending shortly after the Arthurian period, when the Anglo-Saxons have taken much of Britain, I was absolutely blown away. I extended the plan to be a complete “legendary” history of Britain. As I went on, researching Celtic mythology, legends, and history, the scope of my project kept growing. Now, certainly influenced by Tolkien’s Silmarillion, I have a 20-page timeline that spans about 500,000 years of history. I’ve tried to meld history with Celtic (Irish and Welsh) mythology with the stories of the medieval pseudo-histories, like Geoffrey’s, and quite a few totally new ideas and stories of my own. I’ve done depressingly little story writing on the project, most of what I have is outlines, timelines, king lists, genealogies, and so forth. I’ve posted a bit of the prose narrative on my blog as well as several poems inspired by this project. I’m honestly not sure what final form it will take, but its become my special obsession. And along side all of that I try and post fresh content, mostly new poetry, on my blog, which I see as my testing ground for new ideas.
L: Are there any books or authors who inspire your work?
J: That’s a tough question, I feel like I’m inspired by so many of the things I’ve read. I’ll just mention a couple of my biggest influences: Bob Dylan is one of my biggest inspirations. I’m not sure what to say about him that hasn’t already been said. One of the things I love about Bob is his use of imagery, metaphor, and poetic vagueness to write lyrics that the listener can find themselves in. I admire his courage to constantly try new things and reinvent himself when it might be safer to keep doing the same things people already love. It hasn’t always worked for him, but when it does its magic. He’s a chameleon who refuses to be put in a box. Sometimes when I have writers block, I just listen to one of his albums and almost always it will spark an idea within me. Allen Ginsberg has also been a huge influence, especially Howl. His use of rhythm, using the natural rhythm of the words to give life to a line of text so it feels like a freight train traveling down the page. And I feel like Ginsberg never wrote anything to try and please anybody but himself. He was after authenticity. And that is what I have endeavored to do. Rather then, as some will suggest, finding an audience and writing for them, I have written what I wanted to write and let the audience find me.
L: What has been the most challenging for you so far?
J: Putting together a collection of poetry was more challenging that I imagined. How long should the book be? What poems, out of hundreds that I’ve written, should I include? How should I arrange them, what order should they be in? Are they all “finished,” or do I need to revise again? What do I want to call it? What do I want on the cover? How do I want to publish it? It was all a little overwhelming, but completely worth the effort.
L: Besides writing, what is it you like to do?
J: Like any writer, I suppose, I love reading, which is almost a cliched answer. Aside from that I love playing ukulele. I own around 5 ukuleles (a soprano, a concert size, an 8- string tenor, a banjo-uke, and a hard body electric tenor uke) and play them whenever I can.
L: What would you say is your favorite book or series of all time? Why?
J: That is another tough question. Trying not to overthink it too much I would have to say Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion sequence, which includes his Elric series, his Corum series, Hawkmoon, and many others. The reason being is that, beyond his absolutely fantastic imagination, he moved away from the common black and white “Good v Evil” that you see in most Fantasy and SF books. He envisions a multiverse were the cosmic forces of Chaos and Law battle one another for dominance. And at first glance it may seem like Chaos=Evil, but in the end its apparent that neither of them should be the dominant force, that it is balance and harmony that we all need.
L: Are there any regrets you have or anything you wish you knew sooner?
J: I sometimes wish I’d had more confidence in myself and my writing a long time ago, but I’m happy with where I’m at.
L: In a brief statement, have you self-published or traditionally published? What was your experience?
J: I chose to self-publish using Amazon’s KDP, using the additional step of establishing a publishing company, Broken Wing Publishing, by filing the business name with the state. My experience so far has been good and I don’t regret at all going this route at all. It’s a lot of hard work, but I felt it was the best way to go, especially for a book of poetry.
L: What are you currently reading?
J: I’m currently reading three books:
-Between the Trees: Poetry and Prose by Kristiana Reed
-Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain Translated by Rachael Bromwich.
-The Poetic Edda Translated by Henry Adams Bellows
L: What genre do you read?
J: I read a wide variety of genres: Fantasy, SF, History, Philosophy, Autobiography & Biography, Poetry, Mythology, Religion/Spirituality.
L: Any songs or type of music you need to listen to when you write?
J: I don’t have to have music when I am writing, but if I do it has to be instrumental.
Listening to songs with lyrics is too distracting for me. I listen to a lot of classical music (Mozart is a favorite), TV/Movie soundtracks (The Lord of the Rings soundtracks by Howard Shore are a favorite, or anything by John Williams), Ravi Shankar, Philip Glass. It depends on the mood.
L: What’s a word or phrase that people say that always irritates you?
J: The first thing that popped to mind is when people say, “I could care less,” when what they actually mean is “I couldn’t care less.”
L: Who is your favorite literary character and why?
J: Another tough choice. I would say Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I like him because he is not really a villain, he’s a Byronic Antihero. He does horrible things, but he doesn’t do them because he’s a horrible person. He does them for very noble reasons. I like him because Verne presents him as a fairly likable, brilliant man, who has been pushed over the edge by imperialistic nations. While I certainly don’t think that the ends justify the means, I can absolutely relate to someone who’s been pushed to the edge and wants to ram things with a giant submarine.
L: Where would you say you get most of your inspiration?
J: I get most of my inspiration from life, by being present, paying attention to the peopleand things around me. Inspiration is everywhere.
L: For aspiring writers out there, what would be the best advice you want them to know?
J: Most important: don’t give up. Keep writing and, as hard as it can be, share your work with other writers you trust to get honest feedback. Grow as a writer, but always be true to yourself. I’ve found great inspiration from something Allen Ginsberg once said: “To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness.” Write what you want to write, how you want to write it. Don’t write what you think an audience might want to read, write what reflects your soul and your audience will find you.
John was born on Long Island, New York and raised in Albany, Oregon. He served five years in the U.S. Army as a personnel clerk, received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in
Religious Studies from the University of South Florida in Tampa and studied for his master’s degree in Judaic Studies at the Graduate School of the Jewish Theological
Seminary in New York City. He currently lives in Redmond, Oregon with his wife Justine, their son Tristyn, three dogs, and two cats.
He has had poetry published in Omnibus, the University of South Florida’s literary
journal, Byronmania, a now defunct on-line journal dedicated to Lord Byron, and
Nicholas Gagnier’s All the Lonely People. He has also contributed to a variety of poetry-
blogs, including Blood Into Ink, GoDogGo Café, and Free Verse Revolution. His work
can primarily be found on his own blog Darkness of His Dreams. He is currently working on his second book, a collection of mythologically themed poetry.
The Darkness of His Dreams – The Darkness of His Dreams by John W. Leys is an intimate journey by way of verses—a sequence of poignant and thought provoking ruminations. Readers will travel the ages through the keen lens that Leys has trained on history, philosophy, humanity, and his own life experiences. The Darkness of His Dreams is fine bourbon. Drink its words and feel pleasantly full.
Buy it here!