Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 28 Jan 02 13:00
Nina L. Diamond is a journalist and essayist who has written hundreds of articles for dozens of magazines and newspapers including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Miami Herald, and The Chicago Tribune. She covers the arts, sciences, media, and current affairs, and also publishes humor and social commentary. She is also a contemporary pianist and composer. She lives in Miami. In her book, Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers and Healers, Nina Diamond brings a rare insight and wit to the longest, most in-depth conversations ever published with 14 prominent and innovative scientists, thinkers, and healers, including best-selling authors James Redfield, Deepak Chopra, Brian Weiss, Carolyn Myss, and physicist Michio Kaku, as well as award-winning former CNN war correspondent and novelist Charles Jaco, NASA's JoAnn Morgan,leading neuroscientist Deborah Mash,and Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and director of the Gandhi Institute. Each chapter-long symphony of ideas is an intellectual (and often irreverent) adventure that draws out their knowledge, passion and humor with ease, showing once again that there's nothing like a good conversation. Leading the discussion is recent inkwell.vue guest Francesca De Grandis, who has been a grass-roots spiritual activist for nearly two decades, giving folks tools to both stay whole and make a difference in the world. Religious oral tradition and the oral literature of disenfranchised groups are strong influences on her writing. The author of "Be a Goddess!" and of "Goddess Initiation : A Practical Celtic Program for Soul-Healing, Self-Fulfillment and Wild Wisdom" (HarperSanFrancisco), she views common language as both sacred and poetry, saying "I want my prose to be poems, poems providing spiritual practices that make a practical difference. I want my poems to be like women's handmade baskets that carry food, passion and personal victories that mirror universal experiences. Gorgeous baskets/poems/prose that can actually carry water or be used to rock a child to sleep." Please join me in welcoming Nina and Francesca to inkwell.vue!
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Mon 28 Jan 02 14:10
Nina, Voices of Truth contains interviews with folks who try hard to make the world a better place. One of the many things that amazes me about the book is that it offered solid inspiration to me; it inspired me to keep fighting the good fight, to keep on with my idealistic actions that are based in the premise that we all can, in fact, stand up and make a difference. I received this inspiration not only from what the folks you interviewed said, but from what you said to them. That sort of inspiration is badly needed nowadays. Was your motivation in writing the book to inspire readers? And what do you think is needed to help folks believe they are big enough to make a difference?
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Mon 28 Jan 02 15:29
My initial reason for writing this book was frustration. I had interviewed so many fascinating people over the years, and because magazines only have room for articles that run anywhere from one to four pages, so much material from my interviews with these people was never published due to lack of space. The only way to share these interviews in all their full-length, uncut glory was to put them in a book. Each one of the interviews is, on average, about 5 to ten times longer than what you could ever fit into a magazine article. My goal wasn't simply to inspire readers with these conversational interviews. Even more importantly, I wanted to make readers think, open their eyes, and come face-to-face with a lot of the truths as well as absurdities in the world. That's why I get on my soapbox in these conversations just as much as my interviewees do. The answer to your second question is very simple. A woman named Betty Reese once said, "If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito."
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Mon 28 Jan 02 18:09
Well, whatever your motivation, the net result is an inspiring collection of fresh ideas! Another thing I loved is the wide range of people represented in your book. The folks interviewed range from bestselling New Age author Deepak Chopra to the grandson of Gandhi to Charles Jaco, the CNN reporter who reports oppression wherever he finds it -- which means governments literally shoot at him or throw him out of their countries! Folks who visit the Well tend to understand that we have to approach global change from all the angles possible, but publishers often need their books to fit into neat little categories so that they can be marketed. Yet your books strength is that it is far ranging and hence hard to limit with a simple definition. Was it hard to get a publisher to buy such a book? And how has such a wide ranging book been received by the publishing industry and readers?
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 28 Jan 02 20:23
I think that particular group of folks is very interesting, indeed. How did you come to select those particular ones? When you interviewed them, was it in person, or by phone, or a combination?
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Tue 29 Jan 02 06:12
You're right about publishing and marketing-- they tend to like pigeonholing their books by tightly focusing on only one subject or person. So it can be challenging to market a book that steps beyond artificial boundaries. In general, response from the media, booksellers, and readers has been very exciting, and fortunately most of them really applaud the wide scope of the book and the people represented in it. So far, the biggest problem has been with book stores that can't figure out where to shelve the book. Even though the publisher's sales and marketing people have officially categorized the book as Current Affairs as well as Inspiration, and have printed these categories on all of their material they send to the book stores, booksellers have shelved the book in a variety of other categories, including some that make very little sense considering the people and content of the book. Even when publishers and authors try to make things simple,marketing can still end up being a challenge. The people I chose to include in the book, were among the many I had interviewed in recent years for magazines and newspapers. When I decided to create the book, I chose eight of the most interesting people whom I felt had very important ideas to share. But the book kept growing, and ultimately I included fourteen people. Many of the interviews were done in person, a few had to be conducted by phone because of geographical or other constraints at the time. The shortest chapter in the book is ten pages long, and the longest chapter is more than fifty pages long. Most of the chapters fall in the range of about twenty five to forty pages long. That's a lot of conversation with each person. Each chapter begins with a narrative introduction, followed by the Q & A conversation-style interview. Almost every chapter represents more than one conversation with the person. In most cases, I spoke with them numerous times, and in all cases I updated their biographical and professional information just before the book went to the printer.
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Tue 29 Jan 02 14:33
I was impressed by the depth of your interviews: these are *real* conversations, not promotional sound bytes or platitudes. For example, I am not a Deepak Chopra fan -- his books help a lot of people, but they are not my style -- but your conversation with him held my attention fast, I didn't skim even a single paragraph. The high energy rapid pace to all the conversations made me feel I was your personal guest on an exciting adventure. I was reminded of my basic truths, and gained fresh ideas. Whats your secret, how do you extract such authentic heartfelt thoughts from the folks you interview? How can we, who see this inkwell.vue interview, nurture such authentic dialogue in our lives? I want to know because such conversations give us the inspiration and ideas to improve our lives and make the world a better place.
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Tue 29 Jan 02 18:19
My secret is very simple: I started talking when I was only 9 months old and I haven't shut up since. The more serious answer to your question is also pretty simple: When I'm interviewing someone I treat it exactly the same as a conversation I would have with someone I already know and with whom I'm very comfortable talking. Since I had a genuine interest in all of the ideas, opinions, and experiences of the people I was interviewing, all I had to do was jump in with both feet, be myself, not hold back, and make them equally comfortable talking with me. At first, you might think this would be tricky, especially when interviewing someone who is either very well known, or whose work you really admire. People believe that you should put these kinds of folks on a pedestal. But if you do that, you're not going to have genuine communication. It's very important to treat them as you would anybody else, treat them as regular people, because famous or not, underneath they are still just regular people. That's why people I interview are so comfortable talking to me. When I am not putting distance between us, out of awe or nervousness, or the silly notion that they should be treated like they are not really human, then they don't put any distance between us either, and we can enjoy a great conversation as if we've known each other for years. It also helps enormously that I have been blessed with a great sense of humor, and that it comes naturally to me to use it as often as possible. Humor is one of the best ways not only to make a serious point, but also to instantly break down any barriers that may exist between two people. Empathy is also extremely important. People need to know that you understand them and can feel what they feel. Fortunately, I have been blessed with lots of empathy, sometimes I think I've got more than I really need, and that can also be a problem when I feel things too deeply.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Wed 30 Jan 02 09:33
Hi, Nina! I'm curious about what were some of the surprising things you learned in general or in specific interviews??
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Wed 30 Jan 02 13:45
Wow, you said a lot of profound things there, Nina. I mean, it seems that you are really listening without judgment, just listening the way you would with a buddy! It also implies you are not trying to knock someone off their pedestal -- knocking someone off their pedestal is a terribly mean way to treat anyone, and means you put them on the pedestal in the first PLACE! If more people would talk to each other as if there is nothing to prove, and without being defensive, we could change the world overnight! In Voices of Truth, you wrote a testimony to New Ager James Redfield; it is an unwitting testimony to yourself; hidden between the lines shine your own enthusiasm and dedication to changing the world for the better. Everyone involved in your book, including yourself, cares about taking meaningful action. How do you bring such heart to your work? How can others do the same?
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Wed 30 Jan 02 20:02
Hi Lena, When I interviewed Arun Gandhi, I asked him a lot of very serious questions, he told me a lot of wonderful stories about the time he spent living with his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, and since, during the course of our conversations, I discovered that Arun had a wonderful sense of humor, I asked him a very unusual question. Prior to one of my conversations with Arun, a friend of mine, who is also a journalist, spoke to me about this upcoming interview. When I asked my friend if there was anything he wanted me to ask Arun Gandhi, he replied, "Yeah, I wanna know what Mahatma Gandhi wore under his robe!" The next day during my interview with Arun, I asked him. And not only did he answer, but in between all the laughter, both his and mine, this seemingly insane question actually led to a very important part of the interview in which Arun discussed how his grandfather's choice of clothing reflected his commitment to the poor and oppressed in India. If you want to know what Mahatma Gandhi wore under his robe, you'll find the answer in my book. I don't want to spoil the surprise by revealing that here. In general what surprised me the most about the other conversations in the book was how very spiritual the scientists turned out to be. Perhaps their spirituality has its roots in their innate sense of adventure and curiosity. I found that spirituality exhibited by the scientists was different than the spirituality experienced and discussed by the people in the book who have made careers out of being spiritual in one form or another. The scientists seemed to me to be spiritual from a point of view that was based on awe and wonder, while the others viewed spirituality from a therapeutic frame of mind and were very enthralled by it as the ultimate self-help tool.
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Wed 30 Jan 02 20:06
Believe it or not, I have a pretty short answer to that. It's really pretty simple: If you follow your heart in whatever you do, then you can't help but bring it along for the ride. So many people end up spending a great deal of their personal and professional lives doing things they really, really, really don't want to do. Everyone has more choices than they believe they have. We all need to spend more time doing work that fulfills us.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 31 Jan 02 09:30
Hi Nina. Love your little tidbit about Gandhi's grandson! Who would you say has been your favorite person to interview and why? And, if you're willing to dish in public, who was your most difficult interview and what made it difficult?
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Thu 31 Jan 02 12:16
I first read Voices of Truth to review it (the review is on the reading list at http://www.well.com/user/zthirdrd/WiccanMiscellany.html ) It is difficult to describe something unique and innovative; writing the review I had to really work to spell out the nature of your book. But all that effort has proved useful in this interview: I pillaged the review for its hard won descriptions, using them in my questions here thus far, so that web site visitors here could get a sense of what your book is like. Also, hee hee hee, this interview has given me the unique opportunity to ask you questions about the very things in Voices of Truth that I had described as a reviewer: I had described them because they were so important to me. Ive had a great time receiving your answers, Nina. Thank you! But now weve done that. So everyone hopefully knows what the book is about, (and can ask more if they dont.) Of course you can talk about the book more if you want, too, but right now I want to talk about *you*! Who are you, why do you write books, what floats your boat, what do you hate when you are being interviewed, what do you hate when you are interviewing someone, what is your pet peeve, what is your favorite soapbox right now? Um, answer all or any of those! :-)
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Thu 31 Jan 02 14:11
Nina, I love what you said above about scientists. I think that some of the deepest spirituality in the world comes from the questions and answers being explored by these men and women among us who are brave enough to say "I don't know, and I want to learn". (Heck, come to think about it, that attitude characterizes the most spiritually deep non-scientists I'm aware of as well!) Did you see any pattern like this? That the greatest, or at least the most interesting, people are the ones who are able to cope with questions that don't [currently] have answers? I haven't read your book, though it's starting to sound like one I'm going to want to get. But I wonder if the people you spoke with had that ability (to refrain from demanding an immediate answer to a question, while still working very hard to find the answer) in common as I think was implied a couple of times above? Also, how much of what your conversations touched on might be seen by some as being connected to politics, or at least to public policy? And how much might be seen as connected to religion (by which I do not mean spirituality)?
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 31 Jan 02 18:21
Let me add that we have a few copies of Nina's book available to registered WELL members who agree to participate in this discussion in exchange for receiving the book. Please e-mail inkwell-hosts with your snailmail address if you are interested.
Bob Bickford (rab) Thu 31 Jan 02 19:01
<scribbled by rab Thu 31 Jan 02 19:02>
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Thu 31 Jan 02 19:02
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Fri 1 Feb 02 07:09
I can't remember a time when I didn't love words, when I didn't love books and magazines, when I wasn't a writer with an insatiable curiosity. I clearly remember my excitement at learning how to read when I was only 4 yrs. old. I seemed to have learned all at once. I suspect I was just born with this. In my mother's scrapbook, she has a photo of me that I've often joked should be used as my author's photo on one of my books. I couldn't have been more than 2 1/2, maybe 3, and there I was lying on the couch reading what appears to be the Sunday magazine of a newspaper. I look very grown up with my head propped up by the arm of the sofa, with my knees up, and the magazine propped up on them. All that's missing from the photo is a cup of coffee and a cigarette. I made the official decision to become a writer "when I grow up" when I was only seven years old and in second grade. My teacher, Naomi Otterbein (whose last name is now Bryant), was so encouraging and supportive that through the years we've always stayed in touch. She's now 81 years old and I have a photo of the two of us taken shortly before Voices of Truth was published. She's holding the book, with the cover facing the camera and she's just beaming. I guess every second grade teacher would love to know that their efforts have paid off. I'm having lunch with her next week when she'll be in South Florida to take a cruise. She jokes that I look the same as I did in second grade, back in 1963. I'm older than she was when she was my teacher. Since I am so used to directing the course when I'm conducting an interview, it's hard to resist that impulse when I'm being interviewed. When I'm interviewing someone, I really enjoy the entire process, especially when we really click, and the conversation flows easily, like a tennis ball going back and forth over the net. I guess what every interviewer dislikes is when the person your're talking to is unresponsive. As for soapboxes, I always have 10 or 20 of them at any one time. Whether I'm doing an interview, writing a feature article or writing a humor essay, I've always been triggered to do so by either curiosity or something I find absurd,annoying, or in great need of commentary. I recently interviewed Christopher Reeve about stem cell research, and it would be devastating to the future if the various factions can't come together and find a way to clear a path for the further development of stem cells for use in treating disease and injuries. On a lighter side, I published a humor essay not too long ago about the Paste Eaters- those kids we all knew back in elementary school who used to eat paste. I wanted to know what kind of adults they turned out to be.
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Fri 1 Feb 02 10:16
Omigoddess, Nina, I wrote a skit that is in a tiny way about paste eaters.It must be an American gradeschool archetype! In my skit paste eaters have an insanity of organic nature -- it is inherent in their bodies -- and for some reason this insanity prompts them to eat paste. Therefore they grow up loony tune unless they get on meds! What sort of adults do they become in your essay? Re stem cell research and the various factions: do you want to give background on that for those here who don't know the whole story?
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Fri 1 Feb 02 15:36
Hi Cynthia: My favorite interview is a subject that can be divided into two categories: my favorites among those in the book, and my favorites among the hundreds (if not thousands) of people I've interviewed who are not in the book. I think the politically correct way to discuss favoritism regarding the book would be to pick a favorite aspect of each of the interviews. So, here goes: James Redfield-- how he brought together such diverse topics and showed their relation to one another under the spiritual umbrella. Deepok Chopra-- one of the most articulate people I have ever interviewed. Caroline Myss-- she is able to explain the unexplainable; how a medical intuitive "operates". Brian Weiss-- a gentle soul who made reincarnation research and past life therapy not only respectable but particularly mainstream. Arun Gandhi-- a man of amazing patience, grace, and commitment who brings the past into the present as a guide for the future. Charles Jaco-- perhaps my favorite smart-ass,and that's one of the highest complements I can pay a person. He is the last of a dying breed: the intrepid reporter. Brooke Medicine Eagle-- a Native American teacher of the highest order. Marilyn Sunderman-- a brilliant painter and writer with the most incredible zest for life. She was a dear friend who sadly passed away from leukemia only 8 months after Voices of Truth was published, and only one month after she was diagnosed. Her first book was published less than two years before she died. It's a memoir called Past Lives, Present Joy, and I can't say enough good things about it. Read it. Pam Johnson-- she stumbled upon something initially as a joke, and found herself in the middle of a national, social debate. Gladys Seymour Davis-- I describe her as one of part Whoopi Goldberg and one part Deeepak Chopra. But even that doesn't do her justice. She is brilliant, insightful, and pee- in- your- pants funny. Michio Kaku-- considered the probable heir to Einstein, he not only makes physics an adventure (who can resist parallel universes, time travel and the possibility that we are living in a universe of more than three dimensions?), but he also manages to make all of this and more perfectly understandable. He has a social conscience and great wit. Deborah Mash-- a world-renowed neuro-sciencist with the soul of a mystic, she coined the phrase "Neuroshamanism", and has more passion for her work than almost anyone else I've ever met. Christine DeLorey-- she elevates numerology into something all encompassing, writes beautifully, and does it all with heart. JoAnn Morgan-- the highest-ranking executive at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, she was their first female aerospace engineer and has been there since before NASA was even called NASA. She is not only a walking history book, she is a real sweetheart, the kind of a person you want to have over for milk and cookies. Now, on to my favorities among those I've interviewed over the years that are not in Voices of Truth. My very favorite interview of all time was with singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg. Anyone between the ages of 40 and 50 will certainly understand why. I interviewed him back in the fall of 1987, after a concert in Philadelphia. He is as down-to-earth as he is talented. Among my other favorites: the late comic actress Imogena Coca, the late great actor Anthony Quinn, and the late crooner Perry Como, who as it turned out had a fabulous sense of humor. Also: Christopher Reeve, whose courage is beyond inspiring; Jimmy Buffet, who wore an "I Survived Catholic School" t-shirt to the interview; the late puppeter Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, who phoned me for the interview at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and woke me up (I'd forgotten to set my alarm), and in my grogginess I thought that Kermit the Frog was on the phone. Even in normal conversation, Henson sounded just like Kermit and it took me a few minutes to realize what was going on. I'm sure I'm leaving lots of people out, but this list could go on for days. My lease favorite interview was with someone who shall go maneless. All I'll tell you is that he is still alive, was one of the most famous actors from the 1950s Golden Age of Television, is still revered the world over, and was perhaps the most mean-spirited human being that I have ever had the misfortune to meet. Thinking perhaps I'd caught him on a bad day, I asked a number of fellow writers and reporters if they had ever interviewed him or knew anyone who had and found out, much to my relief, that this actor had been just as nasty to be around with everyone else. I never published the interview.
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 1 Feb 02 15:49
Nina, any thoughts on my questions in #14 above?
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Fri 1 Feb 02 17:46
Cynthia: In case anyone was going to ask whose on my wish list for future interviews, here's my answer: Former President Jimmy Carter is number one. Others include: Steven Spielberg, Rob Reiner, Carl Reiner, Barbara Streisand, Walter Cronkite, Denzel Washington, Madeleine Albright, Spike Lee, Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes), Sidney Poitier, J. Richard Gott (Princeton professor of Astro-Physics and author of Time Travel in Einstein's Universe).
Nina L. Diamond (nina-diamond) Fri 1 Feb 02 17:55
Hi Bob: I agree that curiosity and a love of the exploration process are traits found among the kinds of people you refer to. All of the people in Voices of Truth also have those traits, and enjoy the discovery process as much as they do finding the occasional answer. The conversations with each of the 14 people in the book touch upon many aspects in society, and on a few occasions, public policy, politics and religion do come up as they apply to areas such as Arun Gandhi's discussion about his grandfather's life mission, Charles Jaco's conversation about working as a war correspondent for CNN, and in other chapters regarding science, medicine and spirituality.
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Sat 2 Feb 02 08:11
Great stuff. Nina. Did you miss my question yesterday, #19? Also, who is the interviewer you most admire and why?
Francesca De Grandis (zthirdrd) Sat 2 Feb 02 08:13
Oops. that was supposed to read "Great stuff, -- comma not period -- Nina."
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