While still in college in New York, John Nizalowski started his writing career by publishing book reviews in science-fiction magazines and scripting radio ads for local radio stations. He is the author of five books: a multi-genre work entitled “Hooking the Sun”; two collections of poetry, “The Last Matinée” and “East of Kayenta”; and two volumes of essays, “Land of Cinnamon Sun” and “Chronicles of the Forbidden” – both on Irie Books.
Currently, Nizalowski lives in Grand Junction with his wife Brenda Wilhelm, a professor of sociology at Colorado Mesa University, where Nizalowski teaches mythology, creative writing, and composition.
The following is an interview with John Nizalowski.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
One of my greatest passions is to explore the deserts and mesas of the American Southwest. With their labyrinthine canyons, ancient pueblo ruins, and shamanic petroglyphs, they form a landscape that dwells on the edge of the transcendent. As a collection of personal essays recounting my journeys throughout the Southwest, “Chronicles of the Forbidden” is a manifestation of that passion.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
This excerpt is from the collection’s title essay, which establishes the setting, tone, and themes of the entire volume. Therefore, I believe this excerpt captures the atmosphere of “Chronicles” quite nicely.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
A great deal of road work went into this book, a lifetime of travels to Galisteo, Chaco Canyon, Parowan Gap, Jornada del Muerto, the Uncompahgre Plateau, San Rafael Reef, the Sierra Nevada, Escalante Canyon, Sunset Crater, the Plains of San Agustin, Big Sur – all over the American Southwest. And, of course, I did a great deal of research on the flora and fauna, mythology, archeology, history, geology, and geography of these places. The writers who have most influenced my writing include N. Scott Momaday, Ellen Meloy, Gary Snyder, Terry Tempest Williams, Ryszard Kapuscinski, and most especially Frank Waters.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
For me, the greatest challenge in writing occurs when I attempt to describe the numinous while staying grounded in the desert landscape and people right in front of me during these transcendent experiences. I learned this technique of depicting spiritual moments in concrete instead of abstract language from the writers mentioned above.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
When I travel, I write in notebooks, usually in a coffeehouse, diner, or motel room at the end of a day on the road. I word-process my finished pieces at my desk, which sits in a glassed-in porch so I have lots of windows and sunlight, or moonlight if it happens to be at night. I absolutely need music when I write at my desk – usually jazz from the German ECM label or modern American classical, including Copland, Hovhaness, and John Adams.
What’s your next project?
I am currently working on a biography of Frank Waters. Born in Colorado Springs in 1902, his adventures took him all over the American West and Mexico, and he was the author of nearly 30 books of fiction and non-fiction, including “The Man Who Killed the Deer” and “Pumpkin Seed Point.” He is often called “the godfather of Southwestern literature,” and as I mentioned earlier, his work has greatly influenced me. In 1989, I interviewed Frank Waters in his Arroyo Seco home for Southwest Profile, an encounter that I still regard as one of the highlights of my life.