Interview with Author Ryan Dawson on his new children’s book, “Journey of Oktavius”
Ryan Dawson is the author of a new children’s book titled, “Journey of Oktavius”
I interviewed Mr. Dawson to get a get a sense of what this book is about and to learn more about the writer and his creative process.
A sneak peek into “Journey of Oktavius”
What inspired you to write this children’s book? Can you describe the process that led you, or the impulse that put you on the path to creating this story?
It was fairly spontaneous. I have an old notebook that I used to carry around, and I would just pull it out and write sometimes when I had a random thought or idea. For me, writing has been very compulsive- when something gets on my brain, it just has to get written down. At the time this story was conceived, I had just dropped out of college after being buried by a paper on the philosophical ‘mind-body’ problem; whether we are purely material beings, or if the soul exists separately. I was tracing back the history of all religions, trying to find the common ground, through myth. Over time, the notebook was filled with a wide variety of scribbles about different philosophies, strange doodles, and random thoughts. I was also exploring the I Ching, so the book was also filled with drawings of hexagrams and other symbols. I honestly don’t remember the exact moment when I decided to write the story, but it first manifested in that old notebook, as a blending of those ideas and I suppose as a representation of my personal development during that period.
Oktavius is just a small fish in a stream of big dreams. Despite the urging of the elders to ‘stick with the school’, he wanders off on his own, and catches a glimpse of something from the other side of the water. For Oktavius, this becomes a huge question for him- “what exists on the other side?” And this is the beginning of his journey. The question of what else is out there? In each chapter, Oktavius is confronted with a new environment and characters that offer an opportunity for development, a challenge, and a chance to evolve by putting forth a certain effort to overcome that challenge. And the journey becomes more difficult the further he presses on. It’s much like the cycles in life. So this is one of the important themes for me- instilling in a child the importance of making efforts on their own to achieve their goals. Another theme is about unity. Oktavius meets many different characters from different lands, who each have their own way of relating to the world. The color and geometry is used to show a connecting framework for a foundation of unity. I like to think that geometry is the most universal language of all.
As referenced in one of my previous fractal artwork’s description, 8 is a quite symbolic number. This book has eight chapters; please tell us more about the symbology behind this and the name “Oktavius” and about other uses of symbolism in this book.
Well when I wrote the first draft of this book, it had eight chapters, each with eight pages, and this was due to the influence of the I Ching, which has a total of 64 hexagrams. Each chapter initially represented one of the eight elements. It wasn’t until a year later that I was introduced to the Law of Octaves in Gurdjieff’s work and that changed the perspective of the book. It fit perfectly into the framework I had been working in and allowed for a more universal approach. I had also been doing some experimental art with sacred geometry, and suddenly it just clicked, that the story itself would be an octave (like a rainbow), with inner octaves between, and it would represent the ascension of the scale through the progression of shapes and colors. The octave is a cycle that ranges infinitely from simple to complex, from fine to dense- in light- in sound- in music. DO-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-DO. Then the same cycle repeats at the next octave. The colors represent the full spectrum of the rainbow, and each character that Oktavius meets represents a different worldview, culture, or aspect of the psyche. Of course, in the story, the language is kept fairly simple. The text itself is meant to work on a more emotional level, tuned to the child’s mind.
“There was something magical about the light from the other side,
and Oktavius was determined to learn more about it.
The following day, he asked the Elder about this very mysterious light.” – Journey of Oktavius
The bright colors and simple shapes you’ve creatively used to illustrate the story are fantastic I must say, and are sure to stimulate the senses of children and ignite their imaginations. Being both the author and illustrator, I’m curious to hear how the imagery might have effected or changed wording in story drafts, or how the story might have driven your choices in designing each character, the color palettes, or settings used. Can you share with us a little about this and the evolution of both aspects of the project?
The writing process itself evolved over a period of 5 years and the illustrations came about in the last year or two. Slowly over time, as I developed each character, a picture of them began to formulate in my mind. I spoke to quite a few illustrators and tried to convey what I envisioned with the shapes, colors, and patterns. Everybody seemed to suggest that I should try it on my own, since I had such a definite structure in mind that was difficult to communicate verbally. I was definitely seeking a very specific aesthetic and harmony within the proportions of the characters, and the characters within the settings. So eventually I just started doodling, even though I never considered myself much of a visual artist. I figured at least I could have some sketches to show an illustrator about what I was after. This is when I had the idea of constructing each character as a composite of shapes and symbols from the story. The character Oktavius is based on the Golden Spiral, for example. Once I started developing the concept in Photoshop, it was much easier for me to create the depth and perspective I was looking for. The illustrative process itself evolved substantially as I experimented and learned new techniques. Other than minor changes of names and things like that, the writing itself wasn’t affected much by the illustration process, although the ending changed completely just this year, but I can’t say much about that- it would spoil the surprise!
Sacred geometry, philosophy, morality, & esoteric references. Was it a challenge to condense these deep ideas into something understandable and enjoyable to young children?
Yes and no. In a way, it’s easier to communicate with children, because they are more open-minded, more curious. Their minds have less “constraints”. Adults are so certain that they know what they like or don’t like, what is truth and what is fiction. Kids are like little sponges and want to know how everything works. When you watch how a child interacts with the world, its much simpler, and unbiased. Children are more objective by nature. It seems that as you get older and complicate the language, then it gets slippery, especially as far as philosophy goes. To me it’s about the experience through feeling- the struggles and changes we go through in life are the true essence of the matter. We all relate to these on an emotional level, in a more unconscious realm. To me, that’s the real purpose of art- to translate an idea into something that can be tasted by the emotions. And this is also the quest for the “Philosopher’s Stone” of ancient alchemy —the entire process is about breaking the elements down into the purest form. That is the process of spiritual ascension which is represented in this story- the journey from a fragmented, confused being into a realm of will and wholeness. Its really a very simple concept – the challenge is in doing the work. Children are the epitome of this pureness, but we forget, as we get older. This story is to act as a reminder.
About the Author
What artists of any genre, writers, films, etc. have greatly influenced or impacted you, your art & writing style?
One of the biggest impacts was the work of Joseph Campbell in the field of comparative mythology, such as his book Hero’s Journey for example. He was an amazing storyteller and was wonderful at showing how the meanings of myth are all connected in the archetypal realm. That being said, Carl Jung’s psychological model shows that patterns of behavior connect the human psyche with the hidden world of myth. Manly P Hall is another one who devoted his life to understanding and passing on wisdom and influenced me a great deal. As for fiction writing, Philip Dick has been a big inspiration. His science fiction really breaks all the barriers of reality. When I pick up one of his books, I usually don’t do much of anything else until it’s done. His language is very simple, but the concepts are truly perplexing and challenge perception as we think we know it. The guy was pure genius- way ahead of his time. As for visual arts, Alex Grey was a huge inspiration, as his art illustrates the depth and layers of reality in a very literal sense. The symmetry and harmony in his work is beyond words. His work with the band Tool, their music, and their lyrics was a huge part of my own personal spiritual awakening that ultimately led to the writing of Oktavius. I don’t think this book would exist at all if it had not been for the obscure esoteric references in Tool’s music that led me to question my own view of reality. When I was told that their song ‘Lateralus’ follows the Fibonacci sequence, I was intrigued me to learn more about sacred geometry.
“Sophie was mystified by the radiant flowers and the bird’s sweet song.
“I have never heard such a glorious and harmonious tune”, she remarked with joy.” – Journey of Oktavius
As a child, did you enjoy reading a lot? What books, poems or stories were your favorites?
I really didn’t read much as a kid. Not at all actually, except the stuff they make you read in school, and I guess I didn’t read much of that either. I do recall reading James and the Giant Peach and I really enjoyed that one. I certainly liked adventure movies when I was a kid- movies about mystery and going out into some strange land to seek things out or survive. Movies like, The Secret of Nimh, Neverending Story, and Goonies, to name a few. Swiss Family Robinson was another favorite.
As an adult, what books would you call your favorites today?
Well most of what I read is non-fiction; along the lines of religion, philosophy, or metaphysics. I’ve read just about anything by or about Gurdjieff, who still fascinates me. His ‘system’ seems to be by far the most universal view of science and philosophy combined. Other than that, there’s really no particular genre or subject I could single out as a favorite. I simply crave and devour information about the human mind, history, nature, and all the realities in between. I don’t read bestsellers or classical literature. I prefer to scour the old bookstores for obscure stuff. (Support your local, private-owned booksellers! Shop local!) I can get into anything that really makes you wonder and challenges the mind to figure out the meaning. That’s the kind of story Oktavius is- its not meant to “explain” anything. Its meant to evoke a sense of curiosity in a child, and perhaps provide a guide for them in their own explorations of the mystery.
As a father, what advice can you give to other parents & caregivers about how to instill in their children a love of truth seeking, reading, writing, and the arts in general? Or, how did your parents help to instill these appreciations in you?
Let your kids figure things out for themselves! Kids are seekers by nature- they learn by doing and exploring. Sure, give them guidance and support, but there’s no need to fill their heads with your opinions and beliefs. Give them the tools to create and take an active interest in the process. My parents didn’t cram a bunch of stuff down my throat. I was pretty free to think and feel how I wanted, and I am so grateful that they encouraged me to do that.
What other work, hobbies, or organizations do you take part in?
I do some volunteering for local groups. I write a history column for the Anoka County Historical Society and recently started volunteering for the Banfill-Locke Art Center. Over the last few years I’ve gotten more and more interested in working in my community. It’s so important these days, particularly in rural areas like mine, where there are not as many resources for the arts. There are some really wonderful people working in these groups and they’re always in need of more help. It’s a labor of love for sure. In the past I’ve have worked with kids at a charter school and for a couple years I was Executive Director of the House of Muses, an all ages art & music venue in Marquette, MI. I’m looking for the opportunity to start a similar center here in Anoka, Minnesota. I’ve also been involved with the Gurdjieff Foundation for over 5 years. As for jobs, I’ve done a lot of odd jobs in construction and landscaping. I really enjoy working outdoors, and with my hands. My dad calls me a “Jack of all Trades – Master of None”. I like that.
Describe your creative process. What things do you do to overcome writers block, or to get in the creative mood?
Well I don’t I have much experience with writers block, to be honest. I refuse to accept that such a thing exists. I know a lot of writers who seem to identify with the struggles of being an ‘artist’ and perhaps use this infamous ‘writers block’ as an excuse for laziness or lack of focus. I’ve done it in the past. In this day and age, there is always something more enjoyable to do, haha. Writing is hard work, like anything else, and it takes discipline and focus. My style is very meticulous and structured, and so I am big on outlines, research, and prep work. With my background in construction, I take this approach to my creative work- first you make a plan, do the groundwork, lay a foundation, and then you start building walls. You don’t start by hanging pictures with no framework! So I start with a skeleton of ideas and begin building off of that. I’m not much of a linear thinker, so I don’t just start writing at the beginning and go from there. I think maybe that’s where people run into trouble- if you don’t know exactly where you are going to begin with, there’s bound to be obstacles. For me, the prep work is where it’s at. Character development, scene, plot, elements of mood, etc—for me, all of these things are clearly established and outlined before the first sentence gets written. I know what I want the reader to experience page after page, without using complicated or overly flowery language. Also, I don’t put any pressure on myself to meet certain expectations. I’m not the kind of writer who plans on cranking out dozens of works, and I don’t make my living as a writer, so it’s more about exploring the creative process and having fun with the imagination.
Throughout their careers, many writers and artists struggle with misunderstanding, rejection or mixed reviews, unsupportive friends or family, financial & time complications, and their own self doubts. In the past, how have you overcome such difficulties? Or, what would you say to other creators reading this interview who are going through such things to help them stay focused and reassure them it is worth the effort to share their vision?
First of all, you have to have a clear idea of what your intention is from the start, and don’t let anything stop you from reaching your aim. Meditate and learn to exercise patience. You will need lots and lots of patience! Forget about taking doubt personally- everything is part of the learning experience, so don’t look at criticism as negative. I have always been the odd one out- I enjoy it and I guess that’s an advantage. Criticism and doubt is a challenge I welcome with open arms. Set me out to accomplish something and I might get it done. Tell me I can’t do it, and then I’ll be even more determined to prove you wrong. Take criticism and use it as fuel for your passion. Work hard. If you’re really pushing the edge and creating something unique, you are bound to meet with resistance, but that friction is what makes evolution of ideas and attitudes possible, and makes it very worthwhile. If you put something out and everybody agrees or identifies with it, what’s the point?
How do you know when a work is “finished”, you’re done editing and touching up things, and it’s ready to be stepped back from and let loose on the world?
You almost never know! There have been a dozen times when I thought Oktavius was complete, and a month later some new idea would come to me that changes everything. During my last revision I made several simple phrase changes that altered the feel of things. There is absolutely no parameter for knowing when a creative work is complete, so you just have to go with gut instincts. If you get hung up in intellectualizing something, you could easily get caught in a trap and begin questioning the entire work. I’ve been there and done that too.
What lessons have you learned about yourself and the process of self-publishing from the making of this book? Have any advice to share with new authors and those contemplating publishing their work?
I could write an entire book on this question alone. My advice is to be patient, and do not try to force anything. The market is saturated with manuscripts, which I why I chose to self-publish with Lightning Source “Print-on-Demand” service. The cost of start-up is reasonable and Lightning Source is owned by Ingram Books, one of the world’s largest book distributors. I was really nervous about going it alone, but I also wanted to maintain 100 % of the rights to my creative works. Surprisingly, working with Lightning Source has been a pleasure thus far. Their customer service is wonderful and they provide very thorough manuals for each step of the process to help get your book printed just the way you want it. This is my first experience self-publishing and I am still learning as I go. Once the book is released the next phase of work begins- marketing and promotion. It’s all uncharted waters for me at this point. This is a whole new avenue for D.I.Y. authors and its very exciting. There are tons of resources on the web now- do your research and find out what feels right for you. Utilize your local resources- bookstores, papers, TV shows- they would likely love to help a local author get some publicity.
“We should never stop learning- never cease to grow.
Each stage of growth is just one note of the cosmic song;
each end is also a new beginning.” – Journey of Oktavius
When will the book be released?
The book is now available for purchase at my website, oktavius.org ($14.99 + shipping) and amazon.com ($19.95 + shipping).
What are your plans for the future, any new project ideas?
Well now that the book is finished, I will be spending the next few months on a marketing campaign to promote the book. I’m hoping to start with a few book shows locally and possibly branch out from there. Who knows? I’m just making this up as I go! I have a few other stories in the works to publish with Ibycus Publishing. My next book is a novel and definitely more of an adult theme— abuse, sex, drugs, violence, scandals… But I’m really not ready to reveal anything more about that one yet. I have 4 or 5 projects already in the works: the thriller novel, a sci-fi story, a speculative piece on the collective works of Philip K Dick, and a non-fiction work that will review Gurdjieff’s teaching in the light of the digital age. Oh, and a collection of short-stories called Glimpses from the Spaces In-Between. At this rate those should last me until retirement.
Any final thoughts, comments, shout-outs, or words of wisdom?
I would just like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview, and thank everyone who reads it and/or purchases the book. I hope it reaches the far corners of the earth somehow and provides a tool for this new generation of truth seekers to learn to observe the patterns and cycles of their own lives, and to help show how we can shape our lives into an abundance of loving wonder and willfully create a magnificently harmonious existence that will heal us all and ignite the soul.
Thank you Ryan for participating in this interview, best of success to you and keep on creating!
If you are an artist, author, designer, actor, filmmaker, musician, or are a generally creative person working with the arts, contact me to be considered for a future interview and have your work & creative process spotlighted.
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