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Meet the author: Jeffrey Von Glahn

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jeffrey Von Glahn to my blog. Even as a small child, Jeffrey says that he was fascinated with watching people and trying to figure out why they acted in the ways they did. He was quite shocked to discover that no one around him, adult or child, seem to share his interest. In his mid-teens, he wanted to be a psychiatrist because they, at least in his mind, studied the MIND. Where else would answers to human behaviour be found?

Labouring under the illusion that you had to be a genius to be a psychiatrist, he studied the natural world instead. However, shortly after obtaining a B.S. in physics, he decided that understanding the physical world, as intriguing as it was, wasn’t as exciting as understanding human behaviour. So he “dropped out” for several years, taking whatever classes he found interesting. It was in a graduate class in the philosophy of education that he learned about a school of psychology he had never heard of: Humanistic Psychology, and his interest in human behaviour was re-ignited. The humanistic psychologists had a far more optimistic view of human behaviour than was found in the two most popular schools of psychological thought at the time: psychoanalysis and behaviourism. The major difference was that the humanistic psychologists invited the person to speak for him-/herself. They also believed in the  value of emotional release, otherwise known as “catharsis.” When that worked, the person seemed transformed.

Dr. Von Glahn started working as a therapist for a non-profit agency in 1970. While the pay wasn’t great, it was a tremendous learning opportunity as there was a great variety of problems to feed his seeming insatiable curiosity about human behaviour. After seven years, he started his own practice. Jeffrey’s very first client, as Fate would have it, was Jessica. Many years later their work together would be told in Jessica: The autobiography of an infant.

Q: Have you always felt driven to write?

No, but I do now! Ever since I decided – after being a therapist for about ten years – that I had something important to say. Free to follow my intuitive sense about how to practice psychotherapy, I discovered the tremendous healing power of crying. At the same time, the field of psychotherapy was taking an extremely negative view of clients’ crying, and of the value of emotional release in general. It was taken as a sign that the person was being “re-traumatized.” Thanks primarily to my work with Jessica, as well as a number of other clients, I found the answer for when crying is therapeutic, regardless of how intense it. The key is when crying emerges spontaneously – or as he says, “in an unforced way” – when the client is receiving sufficient support for her/his experiencing. The mistaken thinking since the late 1890s has been the belief that a wilful expression of emotion is therapeutic. It’s not! This was the fundamental mistake in The Sixties. My current mission is to explain to my colleagues, and to the public, that this is a mistaken notion.

Q: Who gave you your first encouragement as a writer?

In high school, friends and teachers told me, at times, that I wrote well. I found that hard to believe. In fact, I thought they were “crazy.” It only applied if I found the topic interesting enough; then it just flowed out of me because I had done a lot of thinking about it but had been too fearful to talk or write about it. I had little control over it.

Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?

Whatever the topic, I try to present it in all of its reality or fullness as objectively as possible. I don’t try consciously to write in an engaging style when I’m in the act of writing. Somehow, my getting “lost” in what I’m writing about has that result.

Jeffrey web-full-picture-400x300

Q: John Irving says that you can’t teach writing. You can only recognise what’s good and say ‘keep doing that.’ Do you think that’s true?

I totally agree it can’t be taught. It’s easier to teach what “bad” writing is. Good writing is too individually creative to teach. I can describe the conditions that promote that, but the writer has to be committed to trying her/his best.

Q: Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and why?

For Jessica, for her daring proposal to radically alter the course of her therapy and her unwavering commitment to the recovery of her “lost” humanness.

To Harvey Jakcins, for his pioneering insights in to the process of recovery from traumatic experiences.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

Two short books for the public. Tentatively titled: Cooperation or competition: Which would you choose and why? And, Saving psychotherapy from itself: Let clients cry!

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everything I write is either about improving psychotherapy or society. That’s extremely motivating.

Q: Man Booker prize-winner Richard Flanagan said that The Narrow Road to the Deep North was the book he couldn’t avoid writing. Have you ever felt that way about a book?

I wrote Jessica: The autobiography of an infant because it absolutely had to be written and no one else could have written it. Watching Jessica have her experiences is a critical source of information.

Q: Willa Cather said, “There are only two or three human stories and they go on repeating themselves.” How, then, is it possible to write something unique?

Faulkner told an aspiring writer, when he asked for suggestions about what to write about, to “Write about human nature, it never changes.” While there’s a lot of truth in that, it’s also infinitely complex and there’s enough people who lead unique and intriguing lives.


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Q: How did you arrive at the decision to switch backwards and forwards between different time-lines?

For a novelist, I’m sure it’s that person’s judgement about how to best present the story. I wrote Jessica using a combination of third-person and first-person, the former when I was writing about Jessica before we met, and the latter for our sessions because that part of the book was told from my perspective.

Q: The shift from paperback to digital books appears to have plateaued in 2013. Was this a glitch or will the upwards trend resume?

Based purely on what I read every day on BookDaily, there’s no doubt that it’s the quality of the writing. Way, way too many authors “tell” rather than “show.” I wince every time I read, “He thought….” instead of describing the character’s behaviour that “shows” what he/she must be thinking.

Q: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?

I never thought that Jessica would ever get printed. It took me over 20 years to write, primarily because it’s such a complicated experience, and because my writing kept improving so I was constantly re-writing.

Q: What’s your favourite/least favourite aspect of your writing life?

The most favourite is what I call the final stage of editing. I read silently, just fast enough so that I get a sense of the impression the words are making but not so fast that I skip over any sense that my engagement with the narrative has been interrupted. Then I try to figure out why it was interrupted. It always results in a necessary improvement.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring writers?

First writing principle: It’s probably safe to assume that you can’t re-read too many times. The brain is happiest when it’s processing information. The more you re-read, and the more you think about it when you’re not writing – there are of course times when you just have to put it aside – the more information your brain can work with. Re-read just before going to bed. Repeat upon waking up. It’s amazing what your brain can do overnight.

Q: Are there any books on writing that you find particularly useful and would recommend?

The best book I ever read was: The Seven Strategies of Every Best Seller, by Tam Mossman. Think it’s hard to find. These essentials apply to fiction and non-fiction. The most important point was that in addition to the first chapter engaging the reader’s attention, it also has to end with a promise of even more excitement to come.


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Q: “They really are evil bastards,” Anthony Horowitz, has said about Amazon. “I loathe them. I fear them. And I use them all the time because they’re wonderful.” Where do you stand?

Any company that is primarily interested in making money will always choose that over what’s best for the overall well-being of its customers. The most outrageous example is medical insurance companies making money off of people being sick.

Q: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?

I finished Jessica in Nov, 2001. My agent contact many publishers over several months, without success. She finally said: Guess what? You’re another victim of 9/11. Publishers weren’t taking any chances with their money on an unproven topic.

Q: What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?

Not having to worry about a publisher’s public image.

Q: Do you feel there is more of a sense of community with self-publishing than there is with traditional publishing?

Absolutely. Have you ever seen a website from a traditional publisher offering help, for free?  

Q: Do you feel you have a stronger connection with your fans because you self-published?

Of course, fans can contact me directly.

Q: As a self-published author, how do you divide your time between writing and marketing?

Marketing is a necessary “evil.” Wish I could afford to pay someone or had a mate who’d do it. I have a mate, but she’s as busy as I am!

Q: Who designed your book cover?

Jessica was done by iUniverse in 2006. I submitted the idea; they did the cover. I think it is incredible – and I own the rights to it!

Q: After evidence that reading reduces stress by 67%, GPs in the UK are recommending reading as a cure for mild depression and anxiety and have drawn up a list of feel-good reads including Cider with Rosie, The Secret Garden and Notes from a Small Island. Also featuring on the list are Lucy Diamond’s 2011 ‘chick lit’ novel The Beach Café, E. H. Gombrich’s 1935 non-fiction A Little History of the World, and Jasper Fforde’s 2005 crime comedy The Big Over Easy. What would you add?

Read more:

Speaking as a psychotherapist, reading cannot be a cure. At best, it’s a temporary help.

Q: Have you ever been tempted to write a novel? Pitch it to us now.

I did, ’77-’80. About the USA thirty-five years in the future and a psychologist (age eighty-five) running for president. His campaign was based on a mission statement for society: Government exists to promote the physical and social well-being of its citizens. Tied in the polls a few weeks before the election, he suddenly disappears. The main character, a young psychologist, finds him twenty-five years later; he’s been in hiding for his own protection.

Q: Finally, what do you think the future holds for writers?

Probably unlimited, especially for those who put enough time and effort into it. There’s more human beings, which each one having a unique experience, and we’re learning more about the world. There’s untold stories to be told and ones to be made-up.

You can find out more about Jeffrey at his website, on his blog, on Facebook  or follow him on Twitter: @JeffreyVonGlahn