Moral of the story: Fear need not be the final answer, when a few kind words of encouragement have the final say.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Aronoff.
Marc Aronoff is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Private Practice in Lenox, Massachusetts. He is the author of “The Cannabis Craze: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teens (2019) and winner of the 2017 Arts and Letters Competition for Drama. His free-lance articles have appeared in various national and regional magazines.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I have enjoyed (dare I say loved) reading and writing from an early age. Perhaps it was my 4th grade teacher who pulled me aside one day after reading an extra credit creative story I wrote, and said to me, point blank, “Excellent. You can write.” Our eyes locked and those words penetrated my little 11 year old soul. Though, truth be told, for many years as an adult I felt I could say more with a dance than with words. I danced professionally for about 20 years, (classical ballet and modern dance) after graduating from college with a degree in Literature. And, telling a story was always important to me as a dancer. Movement is how we spoke before we had language and the non-linear form of communication that dance offers prevailed as my primary means of communication for many years. It was not until my dance career “ended” that I began to seriously write. My poetry is perhaps most like the dancer.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
My primary interest as a writer is as a Playwright, though I have written several non-fiction books. While I was living (as a poor and somewhat depressed dancer) in New York City, one cold winter I penned a play called, “The Lantern Bearers” about the first two people on Earth and the games they play. I tucked it away and forgot about it. Fast forward 30 years and many writing rejections later. As fortune would have it, I was invited to teach a Theatre class at a private school in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. Looking for material for the class, I came across an old “Floppy” Disk with the words, “The Lantern Bearers.” “What is this?”, I thought. Managing to have the content retrieved and printed, what I read was mesmerizing, transporting me to another time and place… it was all somewhat surreal… Like visiting a haunted house from childhood. I could barely read it. I showed the script to the drama class (under another name) and several students liked it. I entered the script into one national playwrighting contest (The 2017 Arts and Letters and Competition), and, lo and behold, it won First Prize for Drama. Moral of the story… don’t through away your early work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not sure if this is funny, but…I was in a creative writing workshop several years ago and we were given a prompt to begin a piece with, “The hardest thing is…” Oddly, this seemed impossibly hard for me. There were about 40 people in the room and at the time I was struggling with social anxiety. I declined to do the exercise and was one of two people who chose to remain silent. I was told by several people, I was making a “mistake” as my other writing had been praised. However, that evening, over several drinks with classmates, I was encouraged, inspired, and somehow broke through my fears. I wrote a piece that night. It was intense and powerful prose… (It began, “the hardest thing is talking about the hardest thing”)… At the end of the workshop, an editor approached me and asked if he could publish it in his Journal. Moral of the story: Fear need not be the final answer, when a few kind words of encouragement have the final say.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have just finished a dramatic play, “A Night in Jerusalem” based on a true story about a “Palestinian Gandhi” who seeks peace with Israel, with a tagline, “Who is right, if everyone feels wronged.” That script is circulating among several literary contests. I am also nearly done with a new book (which my Primary Doctor encouraged me to write) about Cannabis, CBD, and Pain Relief for the elderly.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer?
Discipline has been one of the hardest attributes for me as writer. As a Playwright, I begin writing only when (as I like to say), ‘God is blowing through me.’ At least that is how my work begins. I then often spend months researching a theme or project. I draw from history. Interviews. Real life stories. And my imagination. When it comes to non-fiction it is a question of pure discipline and writing about what interests me. I do not write for the “market or audience.” I write about what inspires me and hope an audience might be interested. Perhaps I draw from the discipline of a dancer.. taking class every day, whether employed or not, was customary. Yet, somehow dance was easier than writing… all I had to do was show up and I was put through the moves. Writing. I show up and sometimes it is like looking into a dark abyss with no light to define any reality… I like the explanatin of “discipline” a teacher once told me… She said, “Discipline is to become a disciple of your soul.” That idea (reality?) has contributed to the heart of my writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
There are many… However, in the introduction of “The Cannabis Craze, “ I tell the story of when I was dancing on tour in Germany. One night after a performance we went to an underground rock and roll party. I remember it was in an old, abandoned building, and we had to climb through a few fences to get there. The music was wild and free and a raw expression of young Germans breaking the rules. At some point a German acquaintance was rolling up a joint of marijuana and mixing in tobacco. I said to the German fellow, “Why add tobacco? Why not just roll a joint with pot? I don’t smoke cigarettes… ” I will never forget his reply. “You Americans just want to get F — — — up! Don’t you? You want to get
F — — — up! We Germans just want to relax and socialize.” He had a point. I develop and explore this theme throughout the book: how our American culture emphasizes excess over balance.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
“The Cannabis Craze: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teens” neither supports nor dismisses the use or Marijuana among adults and teens. Instead it seeks a balanced look at a realistic problem facing teens smoking pot. The book looks at the facts and asks deep questions… For example, If “just say no” has been shown to not work and a teen will smoke pot if he or she chooses, what are the mitigating questions and factors for harm reduction? Most of the answers come down to parenting, communication, and paying attention to why a teen is smoking pot. Are they smoking in excess or is it occasional? What are risks? What motivates them? What is the family life like? If a teen issmoking for medical reasons, what is the ailment? These questions and more are explored in the book. Marijuana is now legal for medical use in 33 states plus Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washing DC and as more American Adults smoke pot, more teens think it is perfectly safe. It is not.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author?
Rejection. I have had many more rejections of my work as a writer than acceptance. Yet, I believe the artist creates not because they want to… They have to. I like to follow the advice of the great British Actor Lawrence Olivier given as the secret to his success: He once said, you need 3 things as an actor to succeed: “Persistence. Luck. & Talent.” In that order. Interestingly, talent is the least important and luck is definitely a factor. And, I feel you need all three to make it as a writer. So, I would say persistence has been the foundation of my success.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from?
I was a Russian and German Literature major during my undergraduate days at Northwestern. Dostoyevsky was my hero and his “Notes from the Underground and “Crime and Punishment” set the bar for what I consider great psychological story telling. I was also deeply influenced by Thomas Mann’s Novella, “A Death in Venice.” Why? Where the unconscious is revealed through drama and human foibles, where sex and violence, and human error is both revealed and suppressed in the name of propriety, family and fortune, where the mind recoils and bends in counter-dictions to our repressions… where human dissonance between what we want to be and what we are is revealed in misfortune or delight… there I find an inspirational story. Also, I am of Russian descent… perhaps I have an innate flair for drama and intensity… Perhaps it is the Psychologist in me.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I tell stories inspired to tell. And I have a vivid imagination and yang for storytelling. It remains to be seen what the world thinks. I feel that my inspirations are a “gift.” For this I give thanks. However, I am keenly aware, inspiration is for naught, if it is not harnessed by discipline. (Thank you for giving me a deadline for this interview!)
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Do only what you have to do. Study, learn, read what you love, and be prepared to hear feedback. There are no rules to great writing. Pay homage to your muse.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?
- “Discipline and persistence will prove more important to success than talent.”I once had a script for the stage rejected and was told the director could not work with it as written. I rewrote it, mixing it up… I put a middle scene at the beginning, changed the ending and blew it up, so to speak. I received a call shortly after resubmission that the director loved it and wanted to option it with a “first right of refusal.”
- “Do not create for industry trends. Write about what you are passionate about.”I have always believed this and have followed my heart as much as possible as an artist.
- “Believe in yourself when no one else might.” The “industry” of performing and creating, especially in the beginning, can be brutal. As a Freshman in college I once had an acting teacher tell me I would never make it. He said, my work was mediocre and I did not have what it takes. I walked off in tears. About an hour later, after brewing and contemplating dropping out of the program, I returned to his office and told him he was full of shit. I told him, “I know my talent and nothing can stop me!” He then told me he was just testing me. He admired me, and thought I had a chance. I will never forget that harsh lesson.
- “Be humble. Don’t be afraid to work a ‘job-job’ in the beginning to make ends meet.” When I look around at all the successful writers and artists around me and remember this represents about 10% of the actual people who are creating and making a living, I wonder what is the difference between success and the part time artist? The words that come to mind include Persistence, luck, talent… Persistence includes not only producing the good, but taking care of yourself including things like fitness, sleep, sanity, love..
- “Writing is rewriting.” As a writer, I am a big advocate of rewriting. Inspiration comes when it comes. The hard work is completion of a script and the ability to receive feedback. It may be hard to hear, but constructive feedback almost always makes the work better. I like Steven’s Kings advice to writers: Show the script to 5 different people you respect. If they all say the ending is weak, change the ending. If they all say something different, change nothing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would create a national playwrighting and performing arts program for rural and small town American High Schools that feeds a creative, personal, and meaningful “artistic meal” to a region and population of this country that has little or no access or experience of the creative side of life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!