May 6, 2016

Q & A with Mickey Hess, professor and author

Mickey Hess is the co-author, with Buddha Monk, of The Dirty Version: On Stage, in the Studio, and in the Streets with Ol' Dirty Bastard. He writes memoir and fiction too; such as The Nostalgia Echo and Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory. Mickey is Professor of English at Rider University and he keeps his Google Scholar page pretty tight. Follow him on Twitter: @mickeyhess


GB: Mickey, thank you for taking the time for this Q&A. My first question is usually: Can you share a little bit about yourself? What's some background information worthy of noting for the readers? Any notable publications you'd like to self-plug?

MH: I wrote an Ol' Dirty Bastard biography with his pal, Buddha Monk. I wrote a novel called The Nostalgia Echo. I teach creative writing at a college.

GB: You've been a part of the creative writing community for some time now. You also teach at Rider University. Can you tell us a little bit about what it's like to be on the educational side of writing? How did you get started and what influences did you experience to find a place on that side of the creativity?

MH: My creative writing professors always told me there'd be no jobs for creative writing professors. They were looking out for my best interests; I just never listened. That was twenty years ago. Today professors will probably tell you the same thing: there will be no jobs for you. It's probably very much true, but you probably won't listen either. 

GB: Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into that side of the craft? What kind of experiences should someone graduating from college try to find in order to take a step in that direction?

MH: You mean to become a creative writing professor? There aren't going to be any jobs for you.

GB: As a prior student of yours, part of your class I always enjoyed was the critical analysis of classic and contemporary works alike. We looked at well-known authors and discovered new ones too. Can you share a few pieces that you're using? Any reads (short or long) you suggest we take a look at?

MH: Let's see... Rebecca Evanhoe's "Snake." Camille Dungy's "Conspiracy." Ryan Eckes. Kim Gek Lin Short. 

GB: In your latest book, The Dirty Version, you worked closely with Budda Monk to chronicle and celebrate the life of a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. How did that idea materialize into existence? What was it like to work with Budda Monk?

MH: I read a book about ODB and I didn't like it, so my friend David Shanks put me in touch with Buddha Monk, who grew up with Dirty and produced songs for him and toured with him.

GB: Did you learn anything from that experience? How has it helped your career as a writer? How about as a professor at Rider?

MH: I learned that I never want to write with anyone again. Back to writing solo for me.

GB: What does "success" mean to you? What keeps you going?

MH: Right now I'm least happy with the publications that have been most successful in terms of paying me some money and giving me the temporary ego boost of publishing with a major press. But I got a letter from a woman who'd read my first book, which I self-published 20 years ago -- there are maybe 150 copies total. She read it back then when she was in high school and now her husband was reading the ODB book and she recognized my name and wrote me up to tell me how much the first one meant to her when she was a teenager. She said it made her feel a little less alone. That is the best thing that happened when I published the ODB bio with a major press.

GB: A positive attitude in life is the driving force behind much of humanity's success. It is the foundation of many relationships and objectives. How does this concept help your professional career? Do you have any anecdotes about personal or professional success that could help us understand this?

MH: See above. It's hard to stay positive when you're working hard on writing and you feel like it's so hard to just get someone to read it and maybe even like it a little. Wait 20 years. Maybe a stranger will send you a letter.

GB: I imagine teaching in higher ed is quite time-consuming. How and when do you find the time to change gears and shift into using creativity to produce content? Is it difficult to remain focused or self-disciplined in one or the other?

MH: I'm fortunate to have a research leave this semester so I can focus on writing. Those come around every seven years or so. The rest of the time, though, I set up my schedule so I get up and write for a couple hours before I go teach.

GB: What are some routines you believe people can do on a daily basis to better themselves as both individuals and as members of the ever-changing global community? This doesn't have to pertain to just writing, editing, or teaching. Could be anything.

MH: Write first thing every morning, but pick one day a week to take off, like God. A friend of mine sets up his classes back to back and doesn't write on the days he teaches, but I've been taking off Saturday because the coffee shop is most crowded that day anyway. You'll be surprised at how many ideas that off day gives you and how excited you are to get back the routine the next day.

GB: What's next for Mickey Hess? Got any projects you're working on that we can keep an eye out for?

MH: Sure do. But it's top secret.