Sunday, December 28, 2014

D. Gilbert Trout, Author, Musician, Filmmaker, Whip Artist, and more...

D. Gilbert Trout is the illegitimate son of Kurt Vonnegut's famous character, Kilgore Trout.  Consequently, he's a half-fictional bastard. Like his father, he is a writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy that is often full of good ideas, but is poorly developed and executed.  He lives with his wife and imaginary friends in a small town in Southeast Ohio USA dubbed “The Thirteenth Most Haunted Place on Earth” by the British Society of Psychical Research.  He enjoys Hermetic research, whip artistry, and writing about himself in third person.

Lastly, never let it be said that D. Gilbert Trout has ever let anything so boring, mundane, and tedious as the truth get in the way of telling a good story.

Trout expounds, “A little about me, (that “Daniel Trout” rather than my pseudonym/alter-ego “D. Gilbert Trout.”  We are ever so slightly different...for which there are reasons, but anyway…) in addition to my writing pursuits, I am also a graphic designer, media producer and filmmaker, and have called Athens home for about 20 years.  I try to specialize in working for small businesses and non-profit organizations for my video and media design work.  I'm currently in the editing phases of a feature documentary about the Athens Local Food Movement that has been a LONG process of four years thus far.

And yeah, that "whip artistry" thing in the above bio...I am sort of obsessive about bullwhips.  Indiana Jones was a pretty big influence on me growing up.  I've worked with a great number of the world’s finest whip performers, and have spent some time teaching cowboys how to crack whips, and working horses so that they don't spook as easy around loud noises, (you never hit an animal with a whip - at least not the kind I use - it's strictly a noise maker).  I could go on for hours about that.  I only mention it because it might be of interest to your equestrian contacts, but is pretty much outside the scope of any sort of interview you might want to do. 

My experience with horses is pretty narrow.  I've ridden, but not as much as I'd like, (and I admit that most of my time in the saddle, the horse is in charge.)  I've worked with a couple cowboys, teaching them to crack a whip, (out at Smoke Rise a number of years ago, as it helped add "Atmosphere" to the tours,) and have done a couple whip demonstrations and impromptu lessons to visitors out at Last Chance Corral to people who had traveled far to adopt a horse, (and had made charitable donations to help fund the work Victoria Goss and staff do out there) and I've stood in a ring cracking a whip in the direction of a horse that was spooking easy to sudden noises...The rider, FAR more the equestrian than myself, steadily reassuring that there was nothing that was going to harm the animal, so ever so slowly, the horse no longer jumped or flinched when I cracked a whip.  But I do give lessons and do demonstrations to try to dispel a good amount about the negative image the bullwhip has mistakenly developed over the years...”

When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
I think I've always been a storyteller, and I really consider myself more of a "Storyteller" than a "Writer," because there are some stories I just don't think translate as well to prose as they do to spoken word or motion picture, or animation...what have you.  And I do...or have done...work in all of those varied media to tell my own stories or to tell someone elses.  It's all storytelling.  

I have always LOVED stories, and there have always been stories rattling around inside my head that managed to get out in some way or another.  All of my playing as a child involved these complex narratives.  It was never just "Cop/Robber" "Good Guy/Bad Guy" games with me.  I wanted to establish motivation and further define relationships between these characters in our roleplay that would be an ongoing evolution between "Play Sessions."  There was no "reset switch" at the end of recess.  When we went back out on the playground, we picked up where we left off.  No "New Game."   At least, not in the "D. Gilbert-Verse."  I think how I wanted to play was often very confusing to many other five and six year olds, and I was considered kinda weird.  I wasn't particularly aware that I was doing it either.  It was just as confusing to me that they would find the "Bang! Bang!  I Gotcha!" types of roleplay interesting at all.  That sort of thing bored me greatly, as did sports.  I didn't care about football, basketball, or baseball, (still don't actually.)  I was always more interested in sword fighting and such.  I didn't want to be a quarterback in the NFL, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, (or, more often than not, Darth Vader.)

The actual road to being a "Writer" is a bit more complex.  It's been a long and winding path. I can't exactly tell you when I started writing down stories, because it seems I was doing that as far back as I can remember.   But the stories typically reflected whatever I was interested in at the time; Comic Books, Doctor Who, (the original series.  I'm a fan of the new one as well, but my love of Doctor Who goes back almost 36 years!) Sci Fi, Horror...And I tended to mimic whatever writer I was in love with at the time, so lots of silly British verbiage and tropes while reading Doctor Who and Douglas Adams, while a bit more grim and gritty while reading Batman comics by Alan Moore and Frank Miller.  

I was actually more interested in being a performer than a writer while I was growing up.  I did a bunch of musical theater in junior high and high school, and I actually started college as a theater major.  That lasted about a year.  It just hadn't dawned on me that I wasn't cut out for theater as a career, because after 6 weeks of rehearsal, 2-3 weeks of performances, and some matinees, I was pretty sick of doing the show. That's the exact opposite of what you want as a working actor.  You want to stay in the role, and keep that show going as long as you can, because that means a steady paycheck and not having to go through the torture of endless auditions.  

Even when I had decided not to be an actor, it didn't sink in that part of the reason for that was the reluctance of spending my life telling someone else's stories, and that I would be telling those same stories over and over every night.  That came later.  I decided that what I really wanted to do was direct, so I began to study video production as a stepping stone into film.  Along the way, I completely fell in love with the flexibility and immediacy of video and never went on to actual film, (which seems to have been a good thing, as there's not much left shot on actual film anymore.)  Most of my work in that arena has been corporate, educational or informational.  I did tinker with narrative fiction screenwriting, but never really fully developed anything.

Again, in hindsight I understand why, but at the time I found my hesitation to produce fiction fairly frustrating.  Dramatic media production, (whether TV or feature film,) is a very collaborative process.  It is lots of people with lots of different visions and ideas creating one thing.  Now, I love to create, collaborate, and build shared universes.  But my problem is I want to do it all!  The actor in me wants to play this role that I've written, but I also want to direct, I also want to be the camera operator, I also want to edit...  

It's not even a game of "It's my ball, and you'll let me do it my way or I'll take it home!"  It's that I love doing all of those things, and asking me to pick just one is very difficult.  Very early in my video production journey, a guy I greatly admired said to me "KNOW IT ALL!," meaning learn every position in a production crew...not only to find what you really want to do and to make yourself more valuable as a professional, but also so when you step into the director's chair, you know exactly what every member of your crew has to deal with, and you know exactly how to make your vision manifest through them.  I kinda took that to the extreme, and "KNOW IT ALL" became "DO IT ALL!"  I love too many positions in that process to pick just one.

So, while I've worked with a good number of people to bring their creative stuff to life, I haven't worked with too many other folks on my own stuff.

I was still writing through all of that; Short stories, scraps of ideas, fan fiction and other derivative stuff...Nothing I actually had any plans on seeing the light of day.  I was just writing because I enjoyed it.  I also spent about 8 years teaching college full-time while finishing up a Masters degree, so I was really busy with too much other stuff to consider publishing anything but academic non-fiction.

A number of years ago, I started to put together a pitch for a TV series, and had developed a good amount of a pilot script and a "Series Bible" (the "Shared Vision" guide that the showrunners put together so the executives, the production crew, the staff writers, etc. are all on the same page as to what the series is about,) before I realized it was really too ambitious to do myself, and getting any studio to back it would be impossible without considerable compromise.  I wasn't willing to make those compromises, so I began working on it as a novel, and it was while I was hammering it out that I decided that I really liked my prose, and perhaps there was a market for it, (though it did take a couple other shifts in my thought patterns to actually take steps toward publication, but we'll get to that.)  

What books have you written?
To date, just one… My first published work, 
A Study in Gray, came out in May of this year, (2014.)  I self-published through Amazon CreateSpace, and it's currently available through my website, dgilberttrout.com, and through Amazon.com.  You can also pick up copies in the gift shop at Stacked Stones Retreat in the Hocking Hills, and there are plans to make it available through a couple local retail bookstores here in Southeast Ohio.

It is the first in my ongoing series, The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Mysteries which are probably best described as the "Paranormal Detective" genre, though I don't think it's quite as formulaic as many other book series in that genre, (or if it is, it's formulaic in very different ways.)  Most other "Paranormal Detective" fiction out there, especially by Indie Authors, is in the style of Harry Dresden or Anita Blake, where the detective is some paranormal creature or has some bizarre, tainted past that ties them forever to mayhem and magic.  But it seems to me that characters like Harry Dresden...himself a wizard...and Anita Blake...Martial Artist Necromancer Vampire Hunting Badass Extraordinaire...should be the SUBJECT of paranormal investigation, not the ones doing the digging, and these type of series often take place in alternate worlds that have different histories and rules than our own.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that genre!  In fact, I am working on a number of World-building projects of my own, but MY paranormal investigators are just "regular joes" that live in the same world that you and I do.  They get up in the morning, take a shower, have a bowl of cereal, a cup of coffee, and go out trying to earn a living like the rest of us.  It's just their job that's kinda weird.  They don't have spells, or swords, or magic powers, (though Rosie is a pretty good shot with a pistol) their only advantages in dealing with the madness are their wits, their experience and their friends...  

The series follows two guys; Stan "Rosie" Rosencrantz and his partner Jack Guildenstern, college buddies who investigate events of Grand High Weirdness; Hauntings, UFO sightings, Psychic Phenomenon, Monsters, etc.    

I describe it as being one part Dashiell Hammett's Spade and Archer, and one part Neil Simon's Oscar and Felix, and then throw in some creepy "Weekly World News" headlines for good measure.  It's funny, it's scary, and hopefully folks find it entertaining.  

Something else I should point out about Jack and Rosie living in the "Same World" we do.  I base the scenarios in the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern books, on actual reports.  In addition to many other things I've mentioned from my childhood, I Was a Teenage Agent Mulder.  I was studying reports of bizarre hauntings, UFO activity, Close Encounters with aliens, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster from a VERY early age....reading books on the subject right alongside Amelia Bedelia and Dr. Seuss.  As a little kid of age 8, I was pretty excited that I live just up the river from Mothman's stomping ground, if that gives you some idea. 

Something that's always frustrated me about the "Paranormal" and "Horror" genres is that the reports of actual events are often more terrifying and bizarre than ANYTHING that could dreamed up in the imagination of the author, (note that I am talking about reports of actual events...I'm not saying that they really happened as reported, but I've seen too much from too many intelligent, sensible people who have nothing to gain and everything to lose in making these apparently outlandish claims.  So, while many reports are pranks and hoaxes, there is no doubt to me that many of these folks did indeed experience something extraordinary.  What it ACTUALLY was is all conjecture, and whether the actual explanation is mundane or earth-shattering doesn't matter.  The fear, the awe, and the astonishment are real.)

I hope to capture at least part of that Grand High Weirdness in my writing.  The general premise of A Study in Gray is based directly upon the experiences of dozens of self-identifying "Alien Abductees."  It does however diverge quickly and considerably as on page one, we find our hero driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike at three in the morning with a woman asleep in the passenger’s seat, head wrapped in tinfoil, and a dead alien rolling around in the trunk...

I think that gives you a good idea of what to expect from the book.

What are you currently writing?
I'm currently working on a couple things.  The second "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" book, Tomb of the Adena, which I hope to have ready for human consumption by May or June of 2015.  This adventure will take Jack and Rosie to an archeological dig in Southeast Ohio where the investigation of some very strange artifacts leads to even more strange phenomena that the Ghost-hunting Gumshoes are brought in to consult in on.  It will have a bit of an Indiana Jones feel to it, (or at least Jack WANTS it to have an Indiana Jones feel.)  There are other books in the series planned out beyond that, but it's not like J.K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin where events DIRECTLY follow one another in an extended plot arc across several books.  The R+G adventures are much more in the style of Sherlock Holmes and the pulp novel series of the '50's and '60's where there may be SOME continuity between books, but for the most part, they are meant to stand independently of one another.

I'm also writing Book 1 of a Post-Steampunk series I've been working on.  I say "Post Steampunk" because it takes place in the early years of an alternate 20th Century, in which many developments of "Steampunk Genre" technology occurred, but have since been supplanted by the technological genius of Nikolai Tesla.  In MY universe, it was Tesla's visions of the future rather than Tom Edison's that became the basis for the technological revolution.  It is Tesla that is touted as the most brilliant man in the world, and Edison who died a pauper.  

So, Electricity is generated via harnessing the Earth's own magnetic field, hydroelectric power, etc. etc. and rather than Edison and Westinghouse spreading wide the "For Profit" model.  Tesla's almost endless supply of power is made free for all the world who wish to use it and AC current is beamed directly to devices "wirelessly" via a network of towers like the one Tesla actually experimented with at his Wardenclyffe facility in upstate New York, (and functions similarly to our cellular data network, except providing power, not communication.)

With electricity being a readily available nigh-on "Universal" natural resource, there is a fairly dramatic shift in the socioeconomic face of Europe and North America.  The Great War does not happen as it does in our world, and an EU-like alliance of nations, known as The Europa Republique comes into existence.

I'm not really giving anything away by talking about this.  Everything I just told you is really just the backdrop to a coming-of-age story about Colin DeVere, a kid who goes off to rescue the love of his life from being used as a political pawn, and all the people he meets and the adventures they all have along the way.  The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stuff I've written primarily for adults, as there's some mature subject matter and some fairly coarse language.  The Europa books will be tween-friendly, but will hopefully be engaging enough for adults as well.

I really want to get Tomb of the Adena out before I worry too awful much about that, but look for at least a PREVIEW of Chasing Europa with the release of Tomb.

There.  I think I've shilled enough.

What are you currently reading?
Mostly non-fiction.  I'm currently reading a number of books on European Renaissance Magic, Alchemy, and Swordplay for a project that's still somewhat hush-hush, a bunch on Tesla and pre-WWI Europe, and both the Thule and Vril Societies in post WWI  for Europa.  I'm reading a bunch of somewhat "Fringe Anthropology"/Hidden History material about pre-historic earthworks in the Midwest and the people who may or may not have built them to further flesh out Tomb of the Adena.  

I have a few fiction books that are waiting patiently to be read, but I have no idea when I'm going to get to them.  They've been sitting there quite a while as well.  I'd really like to appear to be incredibly dedicated and say that EVERYTHING I've mentioned is solely for my fiction writing, but alas, that's not it entirely.  I have strange obsessions, and unfortunately with a lot of these topics, once you start digging that rabbit hole, it just gets deeper and deeper.

My wife seems to have infinite patience...

Who is your favorite author?
There are a bunch.  The first one that always springs to mind is Clive Barker.  If there was anyone who I ever wanted to write like, it would be Clive.  His writing is so incredibly visceral...repulsive and sexy at the same time.  The musician Tom Waits once said "I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things."  That's how Clive's prose is.  He writes such eloquent filth.

I'm also a big fan of Vonnegut.  That should be obvious, but Kurt's incredible honesty and simplicity just bowl me over while barely containing this barbed satirical wit. Kurt also is the inspiration for my work in so many ways, which I'll get to in a minute. 

I think that Alan Moore has been a big influence on ME more so than anything I've written or that I'm working on.   Moore tends to be touted as this 20th century genius that redefined comic books as literature.  If you ask Alan, he'll probably just tell you that he writes comics and "Funny books."  He's rather non-assuming like that, but he has this grandiose strut and ego as well that make people either like him or hate him, (which I relate to, or at the very least STRIVE to relate to.)  I honestly prefer Alan WRITING about his writing than the writing itself.  His stances on writing, creating art, magic and defining our own reality resonate VERY deeply with me.  I think that I could probably sit down to a meal with Clive Barker and even the late Kurt Vonnegut, and be able to carry on at least a passably intelligent conversation.  I think I would be nervous and star-struck to sit down with Alan Moore.

Your Dad is an author, too. Did he influence your writing career? 
OK...On the subject of creating magic and defining our own reality, I really need to come clean about a couple things.

First of all, let me tell you a little about my father, who is quite the character...literally.

Kilgore Trout was an awful father, or at least, I imagine he was because I never knew him.  Additionally, he was not the most upstanding of citizens.  He spent a significant amount of time living in basements in Illium and Cohoes, New York, and it appears that he was the ONLY American to be convicted of treason during the Korean War.

However, he was a rather prolific writer.  The current tally is that he wrote over 117 novels and 2000 short stories.  I think one of the best descriptions of his writing is that he had GREAT ideas, but lacked either the talent or motivation to see them through effectively.  Nevertheless, he has a very small but fiercely loyal fanbase...or he did..until October 15th 2004, when he consulted a New York Psychic who informed him that George H. W. Bush would be elected for a second term to the Presidency.  That night, rather than facing four more years, he topped himself off in his basement in Cohoes by drinking Drano.

The epitaph on his tombstone reads "Life is no way to treat an animal."

Another bit of trivia.  My father, Kilgore Trout, was also entirely fictional.  He was a character that the aforementioned Kurt Vonnegut Jr. created as a rather unflattering caricature of his friend and fellow writer, Theodore Sturgeon.  In later appearances, Trout almost became a cypher for Vonnegut himself: A chain-smoking shabby man with many regrets and a keen intellect coupled with a rather low opinion of himself.   

Vonnegut also really liked to blur the lines between the worlds that existed in his head and the world his head existed in.  Kurt himself appeared in his book Slaughterhouse Five.  The book's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim encounters the author as a scared young American World War II soldier, cowering in fear and cold in a burned out building during the bombing of Dresden.  Vonnegut also appears directly in his novel Breakfast of Champions, of which Kilgore is one of the main characters.  To sum up quickly, Vonnegut strolls right up to his character, Kilgore Trout, and declares him a free man, no longer slave to the whim of the author and free to define his own destiny rather than succumb to a fate of Vonnegut's devising.  That, Vonnegut thought, was the end of it.

But it wasn't quite that simple.  Kilgore Trout wasn't so much a free man as a free agent, and just because Vonnegut no longer manipulated Trout's life, that didn't stop other two-bit hacks with a typewriter and corrective fluid from trying their hand.

The most well-known of these is Philip Jose' Farmer's attempt, which resulted in the novel Venus on the Halfshell.  The least well known of these resulted in me. 

Breakfast of Champions came out in 1973. I came out in 1974.

My mother, a rabid Vonnegut fan, wrote what would today be considered an erotic piece of fan-fiction featuring Kilgore, and nine months later, there I was.

Now, before it gets too deep in here, (too late) I really should get to the coming clean part.  After being a storyteller for as long as I can remember, a "Writer" (in terms of being "Published" anyway) and a "Media Professional" for the better part of two decades, I see myself as a professional liar.  But a lie can be a really precious thing as long as everyone's in on it.  It's the lies that only a few are in on...the governments, the corporations, the special interest groups...that are damaging.  Those are lies to CONCEAL the truth.  Art creates lies that REVEAL truth.  

Now, I like facts, don't get me wrong.  Facts are very important things in medicine, legal matters, police work, etc.  Facts are ESSENTIAL.  I am not a police officer.  Nor am I a doctor or lawyer, (often to my mother's chagrin.)  I am a proud storyteller.

If Kilgore's epitaph is about how the ASPCA should boycott life, then mine should read, "Never let anything as boring and mundane as fact get in the way of telling a good story."

But to tell the truth, (which is a funny thing to say after spinning that yarn) Kilgore did give me the tools I needed to write.

Now I'm being completely honest in saying that I don't use a "Pen Name."  The name on my birth certificate is not all that different from the name on the cover of my book.  I've been asked, "any relation to Kilgore Trout?" on more than one occasion, (a display of wit I find refreshing compared to the more common, "Ya like fishin'?" or "I caught your cousin the other day!")  I always try to answer smarm with smarm, and so the tale of a half-fictional bastard was born.  But, truth be told, I think there are many aspects of my biography that sound like fiction, so maybe there's something to it.

I also have a lot in common with Kilgore in terms of how I view my own writing.  I think I have good ideas that I often don't feel I have the skill to pull off as a writer.  As a result, I have a lot of fragmentary stories and undeveloped ideas, and very little finished material.

With a portfolio of over 2000 short stories and over 100 novels, Kilgore, fiction or otherwise, did not have this problem.  It seemed to me that I either needed to be a better writer, OR I needed lower standards.

So, rather than approach my writing AS myself, I invented a fictional character to write THROUGH.  I'd had this story about a detective driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a dead alien stinkin' up his trunk clanging around in my head for years.  I'd written about half of it down, and knew where it had to go.  The story is written from one of the detective's perspective, so why don't I go one level deeper? Write AS the character D Gilbert Trout writing AS the character Stan Rosencrantz?  Inception Authoring!

It was a silly idea.  I didn't take it seriously or expect anything to come of it, but I tried it anyway.

The half-manuscript to A Study in Gray had been sitting on my hard drive for years, waiting for the real guy to finish it.  I gave D. Gilbert a crack at it on a Friday, and there was a finished first draft on the following Monday.

It's neurotic as hell, but it worked.  

I have one more quote from Vonnegut, my "Literary Grandfather," and it's my favorite of all of his, (and there are so SO many,) and this really summarizes everything about my approach to who I am and ESPECIALLY how I write:  "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

Somehow, I think you must have poetry in you as well. Can you share a favorite poem of your own creation?  
If I have poetry in me, it traditionally has a hard time finding its way out.  I don't consider myself a poet, and I've never liked anything I've written as "poetry."  I do enjoy turning a good alliterative or evocative phrase, but in terms of writing poetry with rhyme and structure, I'm awful.  I really admire poets that can express so much while still building their sentences within the confines of a structure like a quatrain, couplet, or iambic pentameter.  If any of my prose has a poetic color to it, then it's obviously been a good day.

What instruments do you play?
I used to sing a lot...like semi-professionally back in the early days of college, but years of disuse have pretty much got my pipes pretty rusty.  These days about the only singing I do is in the shower.  Beyond that, I'm a drummer.  I'm very specific about that.  I'm a "drummer," not a "percussionist".  Percussionists are musicians.  Drummers are guys who hang around with musicians and hit things with sticks.  I used to do some Middle Eastern drumming for belly dancers here in Southeast Ohio, but I haven't done that for a few years now.

And you are a Whip Artist! When did you become a whip artist?
I've been fascinated with the bullwhip since 1981 when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time.  I wasn't that into Cowboys and Indians growing up.  I like Zorro, but all I knew was the Disney version, and Guy Williams never used a whip on-screen that I remember.  So, in that opening scene set in the jungle where Indy whips the gun out of the guys hand...where the whip gets its big close-up even before Harrison Ford does...I was completely blown away!

That began a long process of trying to figure out how it worked.  I had all sorts of crappy whips growing up: Cheap goatskin with guts made of sisal rope, home-made whips made from braided shoestrings... just utter crap. 

Then about 11 years ago, I decided to do something completely insane for my 30th birthday, and I took a 2-day long bullwhip handling workshop from a guy over near Dayton [Ohio], (some people go on drinking binges, some throw huge parties, or jump out of airplanes...Me...I get bullwhip lessons.)  

Gery Deer is a whip coach from Jamestown, Ohio who has a lot of the same problems that I do.  He couldn't decide what he wanted to be when he grew up, so he did everything! (and he's still a very good friend.  He compartmentalizes his various careers a bit more than I do; including whip artistry Since then, I have had the honor of working with some of the best whip performers and whip makers in North America; Guinness World Record holders, Hollywood stunt people, cabaret and burlesque performers, wild west show folks, martial artists...All amazing people who share the unique passion for this archaic tool!  The whip is rather unique.  Every culture that domesticated herd animals on the planet developed a whip of some kind, and if you look at cultures that historically had no contact with one another, you'll still find similarities in their whips.  This wide diversity has also unfortunately created a great number of misconceptions about whips, their use, and how they work.

Contrary to common belief, using a bullwhip properly is not cruel. The bullwhips I use are of an Australian design and construction technique, (and are the same ones that you see in the Indiana Jones and Zorro movies, in fact I have bullwhips from the folks who made them those films,) and these types of whips were never designed to be used to strike an animal or a person.  They're designed to be noise-makers.  The cracking sound that they produce occurs when the tip of the whip breaks the sound barrier. Herd animals tend to shy away from loud noises, so if you crack a whip to one side of them, they tend to go the other direction.  So, crack the whip behind them, you get the herd moving forward.  If the herd starts veering off to the left, crack the whip on that side of them, and they'll start meandering to the right.  

That's not to say that a whip wouldn't cause a lot of pain and damage if you hit something or someone with it.  As I said, the tip of the whip is breaking the sound barrier.  That's a minimum of about 768 mph at sea level, or about 1200 feet per second, which is faster than the muzzle velocity of any commercially available handgun round.  The tip of the whip may only be a twisted piece of string tied to the end of a slightly thicker piece of leather or nylon cord, but at that speed, it can cut flesh like a hot knife through butter.  You don't want to use that on cattle.  If you're a cowboy driving a herd of cattle to market, and you're actually smacking and animal with a bullwhip, it will A) Damage the hide and the bruise or cut into the flesh of the animal, thereby reducing the quality of the leather and meat and consequently the market value, and B) most likely cause a stampede, which may likely kill you, your fellow cattlemen, and probably several head of cattle in the process.  Really dumb.  However, using a bullwhip for what it was designed for...making noise...is probably the safest, most humane method of moving cattle over land for long distances.  I've trained a couple local cowboys that work on ranches here in Southeast Ohio to use a bullwhip, and I've worked with a trainer or two to help a horse get over being spooked by loud noises.

All in all, that might seem somewhat boring, but the whip is such a mystery.  As I said, every culture developed their own designs, their own preferred material and construction methods, and refined them over time.  That development was mostly through trial and error because while we've had supersonic whips for at least the last thousand years, it was as recently as 1958 when scientists figured out that the crack was caused by the whip breaking the sound barrier.  

I know it seems very strange to call a bullwhip "subtle," but the act of working with one is an exercise in subtlety, minimalism, and "Zen" like centering.  Over the years, I've studied martial arts on and off, Tai Chi, Karate, I've done Kendo, (Japanese Fencing,) Olympic style fencing, studied renaissance and medieval sword combat, (both theatrical and competitive,) tactical handgunning, etc. etc. etc.  ALL this stuff, and I have connected with nothing in the same way that I've found with the bullwhip.  Any idiot can get a whip to crack, but to manipulate the whip with minimal effort, precision and accuracy...It's like dancing at the speed of sound.

In addition to all my other insanity, I teach whip artistry and provide private coaching to performers, dancers, actors, martial artists, and just folks who want to take it up as a hobby.  My website for THAT is http://mach1whips.weebly.com

As a filmmaker/produce/graphic designer, what projects have you completed?
The big thing that we're still currently hammering out is a documentary about the local food community here in the Athens area of Southeast Ohio.  The website: http://www.handtomouthfilm.com/

It's really an amazing story, and with all of the attention right now on big corporate farming, Monsanto, GMO vs. Organic, all the "Free Range" scandals, etc.  I think what it has to say is more important than ever.  Locally producing food is a currently a big movement here in the US, and Athens has been doing it...and doing it well...for about two or three decades now.  I really think our community is one of the most viable, (if not THE most viable,) working model for building a dynamic, diverse, and thriving local food economy with very little resources other than sweat equity.

Other than that, I've done work for local non-profits and small businesses to promote their services or projects.  Not a lot the general public would have seen.  Hand to Mouth is my first feature length project intended for large distribution.

Do you have advice for novice writers?
I don't know that I'm much more than a novice writer myself really, but I will take some old advice and flip it around.  We've all heard people say "Write what you know."  I agree with that in principle, but unfortunately that often means that people are writing some fairly mundane things.  However, NOT writing what you know is FAR far worse and you end up with prose that is as bad as those procedural medical and police dramas that are obviously pulling stuff out of their ass, or Science Fiction so horrible that you just cannot suspend your disbelief.  The argument there is always, "Well, it's a world I made up, so I decide how it works!"

Well, OK...But that's no excuse for laziness.  If you're not going to research the ACTUAL methods and terminology, then at least have enough respect for your audience to really think about the world you're creating so that it makes sense within its own continuity.

So, rather than saying "Write what you know," which can be, (and often is,) an excuse for laziness, I prefer to say "Know what you write."  Know your world, know your characters, know it all inside and out.  Even if it's not something you ever plan on actually writing into the fiction, know it.  

You can look at these beautiful worlds like Rowling's Potterverse, Tolkien's Middle Earth, and Frank Herbert's Post-Butlerian Jihad "Dune" universe, and see how they have endured, (at least Tolkien and Herbert have endured.  "Harry Potter" is still a relative newcomer to the game, but I have no doubt that Rowling's legacy will endure for generations, as Tolkien has.)  There's a reason for that.  I know that I reread Dune every couple years because it is such a lush, dynamic world.  It doesn't matter that I know the story backward and forward.  It's like visiting Disneyland once every couple years.  You know the rides, you know what's around the corner in the Haunted Mansion, but that doesn't take the thrill out of revisiting it.  

I also honestly believe that if you've spent time constructing the world that your characters inhabit, it also makes it easier for you as a writer to construct your plots and scenarios.  If you know your world and characters, you can almost just introduce your characters to the plot scenario, and they will help in writing themselves, (though I should add that this can backfire when you plan for A event, and the characters seem to gravitate toward B event...so you have to compromise with C.  Writing is sometimes and exploration where try as you might, you don't control the map.)

On top of that, I think it not only makes you a better writer but a better person as well.  I told you mostly non-fiction when you asked what I was currently reading.  I have probably read more non-fiction, hard science, history, philosophy and religion as research for my fictional writing than I ever did for college, and to put that into perspective, I have a Masters in Communication, and taught college full-time for 8 years!  

So, writing should be more than just a creative outlet and income source, writing should be a method of self-improvement.  I think that should always be the goal.  Yeah, you can be emotionally drained, sleep-deprived, and a bit of a wreck in getting your work to the state of publication, but that act should ultimately be cathartic and you should come out of it a better person than when you started.

GOOD writing should elevate not only the reader, but the writer as well.  Language is the most powerful tool on the planet.  Use it well.  Spread beauty.

Connect with D. Gilbert…
http://www.dgilberttrout.com/

Tags: #dgilberttrout #whipartist #gerydeer #handtomouthfilm #astudyingray #kilgortrout #whipartistry


1 comment:

rolandclarke.com said...

Wondering if we are related? Doctor Who, Vonnegut, Douglas A... even have the bullwhip and some great obscure ideas. No, can't be I'm British. Must learn more - or is this all a lie?