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The Last Panther Interviews the Skylark Part 2
Chase Von: How did your time spent in the military enhance your writing?
Aberjhani: Thank you for that question! My time in the military marked my beginnings as a professional writer. I was very fortunate in that I was able to serve as a military journalist/editor with the base public affairs office. And the thing about being a journalist with a weekly deadline in the military is that you learn how to write whether inspired by a particular muse or not. You know there’s a job to be done and an entire base population counting on you to get it done because they need the information you’re providing—so you do it, period.
Chase Von: And how do you think that time spent serving your country affected you overall as the man you are today?
Aberjhani: Of course one of the most obvious benefits was the experience of being a working writer in uniform. The development of skill, focus, and professional expertise that came with it proved priceless for me because after leaving the Air Force, despite my experience, I was not able to get a steady job as a journalist in my hometown. Prior to joining the military, I had an innate sense of self-discipline that became even stronger while serving and that helped me in a big way as a bookstore manager for some 13 years. That self-discipline and ability to apply my energies toward a specific goal was also crucial when I became a caregiver for my Mom while simultaneously working on the encyclopedia.
Chase Von: Your list of awards is astounding! Your name is listed in a byline besides the great W.E.B. Du Bois himself! You have also won the Best Poet and Spoken Word Artist in the 2006 Connect Savannah Readers' Poll. The Poet of The Month January 2007 at THE WRITING FORUM. You're the recipient of the Irene Tromble McAlister Literary Prize! The “Critic’s Pick” for “Best Savannah Author” in the CREATIVE LOAFING Entertainment Magazine’s “Best of Savannah Year 2000” poll. And you have also been selected for inclusion in CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS (published by Gale), which since 1962 has been the most authoritative reference on World Authors! Did I miss any, and do these things just happen with you putting yourself out there? Or do you have to enter into contests and win to be recognized?
Aberjhani: I don’t enter literary contests because I tend not to win them [laughs]. The awards that have come my way—including the CHOICE Academic Title and Best History Book awards--have all been bestowed by people and organizations who decided that my work provided something valuable for the reading public and for that reason deserved greater recognition. But I have to tell you that I received my greatest award when I gave a presentation for the Poetry Society of Georgia. It’s the oldest literary organization in the state and many of its members at that time were senior poets who used to joke about needing ‘new blood’ to stay alive, so they were happy when I was an active younger member. Anyway, after my presentation, I got a standing ovation which by itself was deeply moving. But then this one poet (the great Patricia Robinson King) who at the time I think was almost 80, sitting in the front row, looked at me and said, “I don’t usually stand because these old legs of mine make it difficult, but I’m going to stand for you.” I shook my head and said, “Oh please don’t,” because she used a walker and I knew it was painful for her. She couldn’t clap her hands because she was holding onto her walker but that great poet insisted on standing and nodding to acknowledge her approval of my work. I cried over that for a year.
Chase Von: You have authored or co-authored the following that I am aware of, the “Encyclopedia of The Harlem Renaissance” (Facts On File Library Of American History), "I Made My Boy Out Of Poetry", "Blood Kin, A Savannah Story", "The Wisdom Of W.E.B. Dubois (Wisdom Library)," "The Harlem Renaissance Way Down South," and "The Hanging Man Dreams." Are you currently working on any other projects you can make our readers aware of?
Aberjhani: Two of the titles you named only contain introductions by me. “Blood Kin” is an amazing historical novel for young adults by newcomer Robert Mickles, and “The Hanging Man Dreams” an excellent volume of poetry by the brilliant David Hightower.
Chase Von: Thanks for the clarification.
Aberjhani: Believe it or not my own current projects include three books: the first is Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World which is my first novel and just published in November . For a long time, the working title of the novel was “The Black Skylark Z-Ped Music Player,” named after my AuthorsDen web site, but readers should know we dropped that title after some mid-race changes in publishing options. The second book is The Bridge of Silver Wings a volume of poetry that I’ve been working on for more than a year now. Even though one book is fiction and the other poetry, they actually have a lot in common since song lyrics make up a good portion of the novel. Also, both have cover art by Luther E. Vann, which is something I’m a bit proud of because Vann is one of the preeminent artists of our time. A third book, a very important work of creative nonfiction called The American Poet Who Went Home Again, is not out yet but currently under publication consideration. So we’ll have to wait and see how that one goes.
Chase Von: “Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World” is a very strong and if you don’t mind me saying so, an unusual sounding title for a novel. Can you tell me what it’s about?
Aberjhani: Hmmm, you’re the first interviewer to ask that question so I need to make this a good answer, don’t I? [laughs] It’s about what happens to a young man named Danny Blue after his girlfriend, an art student named Valerie Hyerman, appears to have been found dead with Danny Blue unconscious and unclothed beside her (this book is rated PG-13 btw). In the course of trying to make peace with her death, Danny Blue finds himself drawn into the schemes of two superstar musicians with very different intentions towards the world. One, named Jimmy Redfyre, is a vampire-like figure who uses his music to manipulate people’s minds and lives and persuades them to do some totally uncool things in his name. The other superstar, named Ruzahn, is a kind of prophet-poet who uses his music for a different effect. On top of all this, Danny and his friends have to deal with a group of fanatics who are trying to use the memory of his girlfriend and her art as the basis for their cult beliefs. The title of the novel comes from an event that takes place during the holidays.
Chase Von: I know John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is based on true crime events in your hometown. Is your novel also set in Savannah and based on something that really happened there?
Aberjhani: As a matter of fact, this story takes place in a town similar to Savannah on a planet similar to Earth but actually not Savannah or Earth [laughs]. I think the term used to describe such places is called “parallel world.” Although some people thus far seem to want it to be my hometown Savannah very badly because the city is mentioned in the “Uncut Goodies Series” which are outtakes from the novel, published recently on the Internet (talk about something controversial!). But those who read the novel notice both details and obscurities that could only make sense on a parallel earth, the existence of which according to modern physics is a very real possibility. We can say that certain aspects of this novel serve as metaphors for specific conditions in our world but shouldn’t say the story is any kind of attempt at a literal representation of this world.
Coming Up: the concluding Part 3 of The Last Panther Interviews the Skylark