Robert L. Ferrier was born in Hugo, Oklahoma. He received a BA in Journalism (Professional Writing) from the University of Oklahoma, and later an MBA. After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked for 30 years in research administration at the University of Oklahoma before retiring to devote more time to writing.
Ferrier has also written novels and poetry with many available online at Poetry Zoo. He is the resident poet for literary e-zine, The Exhibitionist, which publishes his ongoing work. The Dante Dreams Project is a poetic homage to Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece The Divine Comedy.
Tell us a bit more about The Dante Dreams and your inspiration behind it.
I am writing The Dante Dreams as a poetic homage to Dante Alighieri’s masterwork, The Divine Comedy. I was so inspired that I wanted to experience the journey as a modern-day Dante visiting Hell in a series of nightmares in which Dante encounters recognizable figures from both modern times and mythology. I chose to write Inferno using modern characters recognizable by many readers. In Purgatory and Paradise I decided to “stick to the original script,” having my dream-Dante encounter the same entities as the original, while shortening the cantos.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement in my writing career has been being named one of the nominees for Poet Laureate of Oklahoma in 2007. I was honored to be on the same nominations list with the winner, N. Scott Momaday.
How long have you been writing for?
I have been writing either non-fiction, fiction or poetry since I survived cancer in 1980.
Do you have a favourite genre of literature?
My favorite genres to read are crime novels (especially by Michael Connelly) and modern poetry. Especially, I like poets Ted Kooser and Billy Collins, because their work is so accessible.
As a writer, what have some of your biggest challenges to overcome?
My biggest challenge is to begin writing a poem when I have no idea for a subject. In that case I use free association, writing what I’m feeling at the moment. The best poetry evolves from feelings translated into similes and metaphors.
For many creatives, it is notoriously difficult jobs-wise and many of us lose heart in what we do. What keeps you going?
I was never able to support myself by creative writing, so I used my writing and editing skills as a technical writer/editor, first in industry and then in a university setting. In my off-work hours I wrote feature articles for a university alumni magazine, then branched out into novels, and finally to poetry. I don’t make much money, but I’m “feeding the critter” inside me. All creative people have a “critter” inside them that subsists solely on the creative work that they produce. If a creative person resists their art or craft, the critter will eat them from the inside out.
What’s been the best piece of advice ever given to you?
The best advice I ever received: don’t write to the market, you will always be derivative of someone else. Write something original from your heart and gut; the market seeks originality and publish you.
Do you think that the Internet, social media and digitalisation of the written word is a help or a hindrance to writers?
The Internet is a huge help to writers because you can research needed information much easier than the old days of searching card catalogs and library stacks. The Internet is also extremely valuable for marketing: e.g., blogs and social media. The advent of digital word processing was one of the best developments for writers, because it made writing and editing so much easier and quicker.
What piece of advice would you give to budding writers?
One important piece of advice: let a first draft “cool,” then cut “ly” words and many adjectives and adverbs. When you think you’re done with ANY form of writing, always read it aloud from start to finish. Your voice will trip over unnecessary words. Cut them. The final goal is to have copy that reads aloud as smooth as a ball bearing rolling over silk. Only then are you finished.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you take?
The three books I would want on a desert island: The Holy Bible; the novel, “The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk and the novel, “The Physician, (Cole Family Trilogy No. 1)” by Noah Gordon.
Advice I would give to those who want to become writers: First study books on the craft of writing. Too many people believe writing is just sitting down and letting it flow. Start with Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style.” Then read “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser. Novelists read Dwight V. Swain, “Techniques of the Selling Writer.” Poets read “Western Wind, An Introduction to Poetry,” Fourth Edition, by John Frederick Nims and David Mason.
Finally, write. Even when you don’t feel like it. Otherwise, the critter will eat you.