Interview with Author S. W. Stribling

My guest today is author S. W. Stribling. Hello! Welcome to Writing in the Modern Age! It’s such a pleasure to have you here. 

Hi, thank you so much for inviting me on your blog today!
Of course!    
Can you tell us a little bit about your book? When did it come out? Where can we get it? and Zen is a story that parallels my own experiences after being injured in the French Foreign Legion. It dives into all the troubles a lot of our generation has when facing everyday life with love and work, and trying to fill this seemingly endless void of having meaning and purpose. Add on the difficulty of having spent my entire life (up to that point in the story) in the military and then becoming a broken soldier thrown into the civilian world, it's quite a ride with lots of ups and downs.

It came out July 24, 2019 on Amazon, where you can still grab a copy today in paperback, ebook, or audiobook.

Is there anything which prompted this book? Something that inspired you?
A desire to write was the biggest prompt. That, and all the times I've told my story to someone, it always seems unbelievable. I even had a guy want to make a film about me once. I figured I should write the novel first before somebody else takes credit for my story. 

As well, as I wrote it, it gave me a level of clarity that the main character, Will, is looking for, and in many ways, I had been looking for.

It's true that writing can be cathartic...
Let me ask a different question.

When did you know you wanted to write? Or has it always been a pastime of yours?
Writing has always been something I have enjoyed doing. I wrote a novella for my mother for Mother's Day when I was in high school and she has since told me to be a novelist. I obviously had other dreams of being a superhero in the military. A life I got to live for some time, falling from the sky and saving the world and what-not, but after my injury and months laying in a hospital bed with no chance of ever being in a combat company again, I told myself, "I didn't join the infamous French Foreign Legion to drive a bus or push papers." 

So, I got out, taught English for a while to pay the bills and started writing in a real way. After finishing this first novel, I know it is my true role in this play of life. I am working on the sequel now, which I hope to release one year after Sin and Zen (July 24th).

Do you have any favorite authors yourself?  
My favorite authors are varied. For pleasure and the man who truly takes the words from my mind and puts them in front of me in a way that is magical is Charles Bukowski. His hero, John Fante, is also a favorite. However, to go in another direction, I enjoy Alan Watts for feeding my soul in a different way. Beyond those two big ones for me, I love Wilde, Plath, and Camus. L'Etranger being the first book I read in French (versione originale) after Le Petit Prince.

Okay, great!

Do you write in a specific place? Time of day?
I'm usually stuck in the corner of my wife and I's bedroom. Occasionally, I go out to our patio and sit with our puppies in the sun or head to a coffee shop for a change of environment. I do know the best stuff comes out in the late hours: 10 p.m. - 4 a.m. I don't write as often during that time now that I've taken on writing as my full-time career. Generally speaking, my highest stream of creativity and motivation now seems to be around the same 'time', but during daylight: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Then around 4 p.m., the wife and I sit and eat 'comida' together (we live in Mexico). I usually get back at it until 7 or 8 or so, but the raw stuff - the good stuff - comes out in those first hours.


Are there some words you'd like to impart to fellow writers? Any advice?

Don't try. Take it from my Bukowski influence or my Taoist way of life of 'WuWei'. Don't force it. Is it that important to be a writer, just to say you're a writer? It seems most writers write more about the trouble and pain of writing rather than keeping that pain for the story. Yes, writing can be hard at times, but most of the time, it should be like playing. Exciting. Hacking away at the keyboard like a piano, creating music. 

If it doesn't come out, just wait, it will. And if it doesn't, fine. Maybe it wasn't meant to. Better than force-feeding our readers with the nonsense that has no real spirit. 

Such a valid point! 

Thank you so much for stopping by to visit us here today at Writing in the Modern Age. It was wonderful having you!  :)

Readers, here is the blurb for Sin & Zen.
Seductive soldier and shameless alcoholic, Will Strief was made to be broken and transcendental. After spending his entire adult life in the military, jumping out of planes and living a hero's life, Strief is left in the gutter of civilian life in Marseille, France after a devastating injury in the French Foreign Legion. Now, at twenty-three, he is reveling in his suddenly liberating rock-star life: hilarious drug experiences, vicious drinking, and a delirious sex life that would put any lesser man in the ground.

With all of Stribling's real-life experience, the story is as bona fide as it is uncovering. Said to be a must-read for women to understand the mind of man. Stribling writes a psychological fiction that delves into the restless mind of a young adult trying to understand himself and the world. It is dirty realism and dark humor and deep philosophy in this relentless tale of life on the edge.


Purchase Link:


Universal Reader Link:

Here is an excerpt from the book.
Matt stayed.
I felt him leaning in that direction from the dinner the night before. I wasn’t feeling that much better, but I just didn’t want to stay in the same place for that long when we were only halfway up climbing up the hill. This lake I had only heard of also enchanted me. It seemed more worthy to see, to achieve than just walking over a mountain pass.
I packed my bags, planning to head out on my own. I was disheartened by leaving my pleasant company, but something drew me much more than companionship.
As I was waiting downstairs to say goodbye to Matt, Cathy came down packed and said she was coming with me. I could see almost a pang of lost love in Matt’s eyes. Not a romantic love, but a loss of something that didn’t see the end he had envisioned and hoped for. He made a few, “Are you sure?” attempts to ask her to stay, and I could see the discomfort in her to tell him “Yes.” They had been together since they met on a website to meet fellow trekkers in Kathmandu. They had each come on their own, but came together almost immediately and just as quickly made their plans together. It was nice to see people come together like that and I was glad to have been a part of it, even in a spontaneous, add-on sense. I felt guilty too, since it was Matt that invited me along and had me join his team, and now I was splitting it apart. Matt would leave the next day to continue on the path to the pass, which would put him ahead of us. We spoke hopefully and optimistically about crossing the pass together and how he might wait for us at one of the base camps for such a reason. Though it was no promise, and none of us assumed it was such. We said, “See you soon,” but we meant, ‘Goodbye.’
Cathy and I left. It would be a full day getting there. Longer than any day we had had so far. Up to this point of the trek, we had only walked about five hours a day with breaks in between, sometimes frequent and sometimes long. It made a day, a short day, but a day. I felt confident with my drive and her steadiness. I imagined getting there, running up the mountain, and then getting back on track without a loss of breath or time.
I felt that way until the first two hours were over. Up and down and up and down. Was it left or right here? Was this even a trail? My motivation became a desire just to get to the base camp before it snowed too heavily.

There were two villages we passed along the way that provided a place to stay for people making the trek, but the steady tortoise won the race.
“Good to go?” I would ask.
A smile and, “Yep.”
The trail was windy, cold, and the last leg of it involved walking across a landslide area. Considering that there was not even enough trail to put one foot, I wondered how the villagers brought large cattle or supplies through here. I kept imagining one little rock turning into an all out landslide as we walked across it. The entire mountainside was nothing but small rocks. Forty-five minutes of leaning against these small rocks so as not to be blown off the inch-wide trail by the extreme wind and gusts, I looked down and envisioned the fall quite a lot. It would be one hell of a slide. One hell of a ride.
We made it. We arrived at Tilicho base camp, got our shack, and then headed to the common area where we found Friedrich and Aviva. The common area was like many other places we stayed at. It was a large room with a kitchen in the back. It was the only room with a stove to heat the area and it is where everybody who stayed there would stay until it was time to go back out to their rented shack and sleep in their sleeping bags.
There were people scattered around the open space, some at tables reading, some at tables eating, and some at tables drinking tea and staring at the larger concentration of people near the front of the room. This is where we found Friedrich and Aviva. There were probably a dozen people in this little circle.
Friedrich was under the weather. They had just finished their climb to Tilicho Lake that day and already come back down. Friedrich was now feeling the wrath of Acute Mountain Sickness. I believed his story. He didn’t seem the type to use it as an excuse. He had himself curled up on the floor with a jacket over his head. It seemed mostly like a headache, but he couldn’t eat and was having some nausea. I believed more than anything his ears were the worst of it. He was happy to see us, but hid under his jacket most of the evening before finally heading to bed.
Aviva was still her cheerful and friendly self, but not as emphatic as she had been before. She was concerned about Friedrich. She was eager to continue the trip, but just as ready to stay and wait for Friedrich to rest as long as he needed. Cathy and I also met two of their new companions, two Israeli boys who would go along with them. They wore sandals too.
“Where’s Matt?” Aviva asked.
“He still wasn’t feeling well. SO, he stayed another night in Manang, and will head up to the pass directly rather than the detour here. We’re hoping to catch up with him.”
Aviva told us about the lake.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. I looked at the pictures she took. It looked inspiring, but far from the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
“It’s amazing,” Cathy said looking at the pictures.
“So, was it a tough climb?” I asked.
She looked at Friedrich. “It wasn’t too bad, but it is straight up. We didn’t go up too fast, but it was still such a change that even I felt dizzy once we got up there. Friedrich seemed okay at first, but even after the climb down he’s only gotten worse.”
“That’s scary,” I said. “I wasn’t too convinced of this mountain sickness thing, but Friedrich… I didn’t see him falling victim to it.”
“Yeah, he wasn’t taking the Diamox before, but now he’s going to,” she said.
“How long did it take you?” I asked.
“It only took three hours to climb up, then once you get to the top, it’s only another thirty minutes to the lake. We stayed up there for an hour and then climbed down. Going down only took an hour.”
“That’s not too bad, I guess.”
“It’s not too bad,” she said. “But most people say it’s harder than the pass itself. So, if you do it, then you should be okay for the rest of the trip.”
“That’s kind of comforting,” Cathy said.
Most of the night though, I spoke to a young-old couple from Canada and the Czech Republic. The man was in his forties; she was in her twenties. They had met when he was backpacking in her home country of Czech. They had been together since, just walking. They lived out of their bags and had been to many parts of the wild world to trek, to camp, and I imagined, to make hairy armpit love. They were now planning to climb to the lake, but rather than head back down to the main trail, they would just continue through another trail that stayed around the same elevation. They were trekking across the entire Nepalese Himalayas. They were already well into their trip.
I wasn’t too interested in their love story or personal lives as interesting as they were, but I listened hoping to get around to her violin. She was a very thin girl and carried a bag twice the size of mine that included a violin. She had played it her whole life. It was her art. It was something so valuable to her that she strapped it to a bag and carried it with her across the Himalayan mountains.
She played a piece for me. I was seduced immediately.
She played another. I wanted to open up and tell her everything. I wanted her to know that I had always wanted to play.
She continued to play a few more pieces, and I just listened. This is life. This is magic. This is the unexpected when it is most needed.
I thanked her for the music and complimented her strong character for her liberating and honest lifestyle. Then I left her so others could talk to her; she was now the center of attention. The girl who carried a violin to the top of a mountain.
I went to sit down and eat. Cathy joined me. We had a quiet conversation about the following day’s plans. We both felt okay and if we really could climb up the hill and back down by morning, we would try to get immediately back on the trail rather than stay another night here. As usual, she was up for it if I was. I figured we could turn three days into two and be back on the main trail and only a day behind Matt.
After dinner, we headed to our unheated, uninsulated shack. Which wasn’t that bad since it protected you from the wind and anybody planning to hike the Himalayas would no doubt have a nice warm sleeping bag and not a summer weight sleeping bag.
I grabbed my shower gear and braved the cold wind to have yet another cold shower. No water. Thank God. Baby wipe bath it was. Just like my war days.
Chinese neighbors and an unexpected return of the regurgitation fairy defined my sleep. The neighbors were loud and inconsiderate, but not up that late so it was just a frustration about their existence and inconsideration that disturbed me more than the actual frustrating and inconsiderate disturbance.
I also woke Cathy up in my running out the door to give a refund to the local chef. I couldn’t have been any easy person to bunk with during this trip. I felt bad about that, but I just pretended it didn’t happen and she didn’t ask more than once if I was okay. We understood each other pretty well.
We didn’t let the excitement from the evening slow us down the next morning for our climb to Tilicho Lake. It took less than three hours going up. What made the trip much easier than I had thought must have been the climb without the weight of all our belongings with us. It almost felt like running up the hill. We still took our time. Cathy maintained her steady pace and I would run up ahead and then wait. She felt bad about making me wait, but I was glad to do it, since I didn’t want to climb too fast and pass out from lack of oxygen.
I didn’t notice until the top that my head was spinning. Then the spinning went to annoying pain, and I sat down and drank half my water telling myself it was just dehydration. Cathy felt fine, and I didn’t mention my headache.
Once the walk leveled off, we faced a wind that came from hell. It was the wind that could freeze hell that I had heard used in so many expressions before. It felt like blades cutting through you. I told myself thirty minutes of this, and we were there. I put my head down, made sure Cathy was with me, and charged ahead like an adventurer discovering the back door to Hell.
My watch said it had only been 7 minutes since we started this last leg of the trek.
Then 12 minutes.
We crossed one guy coming back alone from the lake; he was almost running. Or gliding. I think each time he took a step, the wind lifted him off the ground and carried him another five feet forward. I was already looking forward to the return.
Fuck, it was cold. I decided it must be a scientific fact that no amount of clothing could protect you from this cold.
18 minutes.
This lake better be fucking worth it.
19 minutes.
Cathy is a little behind me, but still moving forward and in sight.
25 minutes.
Is it over this hill?
            25 minutes and 30 seconds.
            It has to be this hill.
            26 minutes.
            Stop looking at your watch. Thirty minutes could mean thirty-five or forty minutes.
            27 minutes.
            As you climbed the last hill, the lake just opened up to you. It was just over a thousand meter climb. You stand on a hill on a mountain at 5200 meters and look down at the highest (largest due to a technicality) lake in the world at a cool 5000 meters.
What breath I had left, what momentum rested in my feet, died. I was left speechless, utterly stunned by the overwhelming beauty. All the waterfalls, flowers, birds, and cute children could not compare to this sight. I didn’t understand how a still body of water could be one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, but I did not question it.
Cathy arrived, and I watched her feel what I had just felt. I hugged her. We both looked out over the lake for a while, the wind and cold seemed nearly irrelevant.
Then it became very relevant again, and we hid behind a small shack that I imagine provided coffee and snacks during the tourist season. We took turns jumping out into the wind and trying to get a good picture. No picture made sense. No picture could capture what we felt. Perhaps there was some high from the walk or altitude or struggle that created this delusional effect that there was something more to this lake than there really was. I didn’t care. I knew I could never capture this moment with a photo, and even though you can photo-shop beauty and contrast and color into a photo, I wouldn’t try to fake the nature of what I was witnessing.
We stayed for a while, but we didn’t stay long. It was so damn cold.          
It didn’t take us too long to get back down the hill. We did about a five-hour hike. Not a bad day, but it was early afternoon.
“How do you feel?” I said.
“How do you feel?” she said.
            “I’d like to keep going.”
            “Okay. Me, too.” She smiled.
            “We don’t have to go far, but two hours will get us past the landslide area while it isn’t too windy or snowy and will help cut off a day to the pass.”
She looked at me to say, ‘I already said okay.’
I then continued to explain to her my genius plan of adding a couple extra hours to each day to cut off one entire day.
Patient girl.
As we walked, I thought about how my stamina improved with these longer, colder, and steeper days. I thought about home. I missed Claudia and my Maverick. I missed being inside. Warmth and pajamas and all three of us cuddling. Even if she was on her computer and I was on mine and the dog was in between us sleeping, or begging us, or throwing the ball on our laptop to remind us he existed. I thought about our Romanian upstairs neighbor, Petru, or Pierre as he preferred to be called. Different in so many ways of what I would normally call a friend, and one of the few people I would consider a true friend. I thought about pizza always being fifteen minutes away. And showers. Long and warm showers.
I looked around and then thought about the rest of my trip. After the pass, I was looking forward to the easy climb down. The last climb up to Poon Hill for a look at the mountains I would have just finished walking through. A chance to say goodbye to my journey and the mountains. I would appreciate the occasional break or meal with new friends. I would miss the solitude. Especially the solitude. The solitude before the thrust back into the life that felt so far away and missed.
I was looking forward to all of it. One experience made the other experience richer. Without one, the other was dull, almost a ghost of its true self. Yet side by side, having both created so much value in the essence of both. It was a strange combination of having everything and nothing. To choose one meant to lose the other, selection meant rejection. It was like the strings of my new friend’s violin. Playing only one string sounded stupid. Varying it up gave you a melody. It can be even more magical if you knew how to go from sharp to flat in one song.
Living this double life wasn’t about half-assing two things. Or maybe it was. I knew I wasn’t missing out on things at home, but I knew I was appreciating them more here, away from them, then I would if I was home. It wasn’t trying to have my cake and eat it too. That shit didn’t make any sense. Sure. One existence could eventually devour the other. That was the risk, that was the game, the compromise. Independence v. Dependability. Adventure v. Comfort. Solitude v. Companionship. I would spend the rest of my life half a stable man, half a rolling stone. Compromise didn’t mean settling for one friend of five she approved of. It didn’t mean having one or two beers and avoiding the reason alcohol existed. That isn’t compromise, that is defeat. I had it figured out. The sun was setting, my legs were moving, and I had it figured out. Or I had just lost my mind. Either way, it felt good.

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Author Bio

Being a former Airman, Legionnaire, and English teacher, I have spent just as much time creating stories as I have spent writing them. This first novel is loosely based on my own personal experience with enough liberty taken to call it contemporary fiction. Having always had writing in my life as a form of therapy and being the broken soldier that I am, I have fully committed to what I believe to be my role in this play of life, a writer.

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