Interview With Author Joe Blow
Seriously, his name is Joe Blow. Well, it’s a pseudonym. It’s his pen name and if you want to find out why he chose it then you’ll have to keep reading. This is a great set of interview questions followed by some even greater responses. Joe Blow is a fascinating author who loves writing and venturing into many areas of the mind.
You can view his Smashwords Profile online. In addition, feel free to connect with him on Facebook and Twitter where he goes by Aussiescribbler. Incidentally, he also publishes many books under that name. However, due to the genre, Joe Blow is a better fit for this interview.
What prompted you to become an author?
While I was good with words when at school I never knew what I could write. Eventually, I discovered I had a talent for amusing women I met online by writing tongue-in-cheek sexy stories. When I met a writer who lived near me who was keen to find products for his eBook publishing business, I agreed to let him publish a book of my stories. Then he asked me if I was interested in helping to edit some self-help material others had submitted to him. I never ended up helping with that, but I told him I thought I might have a self-help book in me. I’d been wrestling with my philosophy of life and I’d been writing down some ideas. By the time I actually finished writing How to Be Free, I had learned how to self-publish and decided to go it alone. It wasn’t quite atheist enough for my friend anyway.
Why did you pick the pseudonym Joe Blow?
Ideas are like viruses. They may be helpful or harmful and they spread from one person to another. What is most important is whether the idea is helpful or not. Sometimes paying too much attention to the person giving expression to the idea can be misleading. We may trust an idea because we have been led to believe that the person who expressed it is an authority of some kind. There are times when it is appropriate to place more trust in information based on the experience of the author.
If you want information about the lives of bonobos, you are better off going to the writings of a zoologist who works with them than to be satisfied with the information I pass on about them in my book “How to Be Free” based on a cursory reading of Wikipedia. But when it comes to general ideas about the experience of life, the best test is whether or not they bring clarity to our own experience. I’m not an authority on anything, except perhaps my own life experience. I want readers to assess the ideas expressed in my books on their own merits, and so I use the dismissive pseudonym Joe Blow to deemphasize myself.
There is also a deeper philosophy to this. Wisdom and creativity do not come from us but through us. They are an expression of something much larger than ourselves. Let’s call it The Source. Our ego provides shape to the expression but the essence comes through the ego and not from it. There is a strong danger that our ego may try to take the credit. Keeping access to all the riches The Source provides means having an ego, which defers to it. So it is important for me to remind myself that I’m just a Joe Blow.
What inspires you to write about mental states?
Throughout my life, my experience of mental illness has been both a motivation for seeking self-understanding and an aid to achieving it.
I’ve suffered from endogenous depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. I needed to find my way out of this maze of suffering. It is a part of the way the world works that what is inside mirrors what is outside. Our neurotic society is a maze of suffering for those of us who live within it. If I could find the path to healing within myself perhaps it would prove to also be a path to healing for the society of which I was an expression.
It is hard to find a beneficial side to most mental illnesses, but this is not the case with bipolar disorder. Historically, the norm for humans has been to be neurotic, that is to have an insecure ego, which defends itself by blocking out disturbing ideas. A person with bipolar disorder has a breach in this system of defense. The ego at times breaks down and is flooded with disturbing ideas. At the time this produces the rush of a high, but when the ego tries to absorb the import of these ideas depression results.
This explains why so many of the brightest and most creative of individuals historically have suffered from this condition. Bipolar breakdowns have been very disturbing and dangerous for me, but during such times my mind has been set free to breach the intellectual taboos, which needed to be breached for me to achieve a better understanding of myself and society. And the delusions I experienced at such times were symbolic visions of the way ahead. Taking them literally was dangerous, but understanding them as symbols helped to guide my path.
Why do you give your eBooks away for free?
Depression and all the other forms of mental suffering are Hell. I asked for the key that could release me from that Hell and it was given to me. Who in such a situation would charge others for access to that key? If the ideas I express in my books can make the world a better place then it is in my own interest that they reach the largest audience.
What’s the story behind your first book?
In about 1988, I read a book called Free: The End of the Human Condition by an Australian biologist named Jeremy Griffith. He claimed to have achieved a liberating understanding of human psychology, which would usher in paradise on Earth. As a person who had been struggling with a sense of despair through much of my life, I really wanted to believe him, and his thinking was very deep. I found his book very disturbing to read, but sometimes effective medicine is very bitter to the taste.
Over a period of a few years, I began doing some things to promote his work and help him in other ways. But, in the end, I lost my faith in his answers. This was a difficult position to be in. I desperately needed to believe that there was some hope for the world, and the one person I knew who acknowledged the seriousness of the problem appeared to be wrong in crucial ways. For a long time, it was too disturbing to try to sort all this out in my head. But, gradually, a new approach to the problem of how to find hope began to coalesce for me.
For me, How To Be Free was my answer to Griffith, but it was not posed as such. It brought back into focus ideas that had been important to me before I encountered his work, especially Wilhelm Reich’s concept of the character armor and improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone’s ideas about spontaneity. It provided me with a framework within which I could understand how my mind had often turned against me and become my torturer. If I could go back in time and talk to my fifteen-year-old self, what would I tell him? That was the question I used to provide a focus for the book.
Why did you become an indie author?
Services like Smashwords make it so easy to self-publish. It was really the only option for me. Mainstream publishing is, by necessity, very conservative.
Do you have any advice for other indie authors? If so, what is it?
Make sure that your product is high-quality the first time you publish. Get some friends to proof-read it. Give it an attractive cover. If you don’t have the talent to design one yourself, hire someone to do one for you. It needn’t be expensive. First impressions matter. If the first book someone reads of yours is full of typos, it will make them less likely to want to read another.
What do your fans mean to you?
The people who may read my work and take sustenance from its message are everything. I once found myself tremendously moved by watching a Walt Disney cartoon about Johnny Appleseed. It resonated with my life as a writer. Planting apple seeds is such an easy thing to do, but the way it can end up influencing others is awe-inspiring. He’s leaving a gift for those who he will never know. Those apples will provide sustenance to people who are building cities, tending the sick, educating the young…
That’s how life works, creativity spreads outward blessing every widening circle of individuals. Writing books is easy. It’s like planting apple seeds. It is what happens in the world as a result, which is the real wonder. If no one reads a book, then it is like a seed that failed to sprout. So when someone does read your book and tells their friends, that’s when the magic happens. If the ideas I have the privilege to share change people’s lives for the better then that is a blessing they have given me that seems out of all proportion with my input.
What is your best, most effective, book-marketing tactic?
Of course, promoting a free book is different from selling one, but one thing I’ve learned is that there can be an advantage in promoting to countries other than the obvious ones. I’ve experimented with boosting posts on Facebook. Now if you boost to the United States, you’ll get a reasonable amount of “likes” and more people will know about your book. But when I boosted posts about my book to The Philippines and Ghana, the response was amazing. Floods of “likes”.
I have 1,367 fans for my Facebook page in the U.S. and 10,213 in The Philippines. The only problem is that the book is not available on iBooks in The Philippines. People there have trouble accessing it, though I’m always happy to share a PDF via Messenger. The takeaway from this, though, is that people in the U.S. are flooded with promotional material for books and people in other countries were English is spoken often are not, so if your book is easy to obtain in those countries and is on a topic which may interest people there, it may be worth experimenting with targeting some advertising to them.
What do you do when you aren’t working on books?
For my day job, I work in a library. My special responsibility is maintaining the DVD collection. I’m a real movie fanatic. I attend the cinema regularly and also love sitting at home indulging in my own little movie marathons, especially of b-grade cult films.
I want to thank Joe for taking the time to do this interview. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading the answers to the questions and learned something about him that you didn’t know before. At this point in time, free eBooks are getting over 30 times more downloads than priced eBooks. Giving books away is a great way to share information and help other people learn.