Meet Stephen Willis. He is a man I’ve come to know over the past few months, a co-conspirator in our super secret plot which will be soon revealed, a musician, a writer, poker aficionado and entrepreneur. He is also currently a student studying business as if all that wasn’t enough. He is a very eclectic, in a good way, guy with a lot going on. We met through WO Cassity on Gab and have been working together on a project which will soon be revealed. But for now, check out this interview he was nice enough to do with me.
- Tell me a little about your background, where are you from, what were you like growing up? Were you a big reader? Did you do a lot of writing as a young person?
I was born in Washington DC, but moved to Arizona when I was young which is where I still reside today. I was always into music and writing growing up. I definitely read a lot as well. I think I was always drawn to Sci-fi and fantasy. Although, Sci-Fi is what I really enjoy writing. I grew up watching Star Trek and while sometimes I like to read or write a story just for the sake of the story, I also like to share an optimistic hope or idea which I think Sci-Fi is a perfect genre for.
- You’re a writer and a musician. What does each bring to your life that the other does not? Do you favor one over the other?
No. I really don’t think about it that much. I’m a member of a professional choir, I work on my solo project My Eclectic Self and I write.
- You’re an artist, yet you study business at your university. Is this more a practical thing? Did your parents encourage you to pursue something sensible while writing and performing music on the side?
My father owned his own business and I’ve always been savvy in that area. My mother actually tells me I should get an English degree. It was definitely a practical decision for me. But my focus is on marketing which I approach as a writer. I often write websites and other marketing material for companies. I sort of see it as an extension of my writing. If I had been pushed one way or the other, I wouldn’t have listened anyway.
- You also create a number of websites, the newest being a poker news aggregation site. What moves your interest in web development? Is it just another creative outlet or is this what you intend to do whilst working on writing and music?
Web development was sort of an accident. I started working in marketing and writing websites. Eventually I decided to learn how to develop them as well. It probably started more out of practicality since I just kept learning web development for my job, but it has certainly turned into a creative outlet.
I recently heard an interview with Matt Drudge where he was talking about how often these social media sites we all use now just put you in a creative bubble. You can only be as creative as the developer allows you to be. It’s like you’re one small piece in someone else’s world. That really resonated with me when I created growingpoker.com, my most recent site. I started with a blank page and then created something really awesome. That sort of creativity is rare in the social media world. There are only a few rare exceptions like Vine and Hype. Even YouTube has turned into a bunch of challenge videos and whatnot. I’m not bashing social media at all, it can be really awesome. But don’t think for a moment that your Facebook profile really shares who you are as an individual.
- We met through a super-secret (as of this moment) project on Gab. What drew you to Gab initially? Was it the emphasis on free speech? What are your views on free speech? Do you believe there are or should be limitations on it?
I’m even wary of limiting “hate speech,” whatever that is. I heard about Gab from Milo Yiannopolous (probably spelled that wrong – Fixed it – Everitt) and thought I would check it out. My discontent with censorship in social media came after that and most of it post-election. As soon as I found out the CEO of Reddit decided to edit posts written about him, I left the platform. I still use Twitter and was one of the early adopters. It’s a much harder medium to leave for me. But I do feel frustrated when I have to stop myself from tweeting for fear of being “shadow banned.”
- You’re the first person I’ve interviewed so far that is a poet. Does this dovetail with your musical career? What is it about poetry that appeals to you, more than something like say a novel?
Poetry has nothing to do with music. I hate writing words to music. I do so out of necessity. If I could just write all my songs with incoherent garble, I would.
Now that that’s out of the way, I don’t see myself as a poet. It’s not something I spend lots of time digesting. I do enjoy listening really great poets like Billy Collins share their work, but I’m definitely not in love with poetry by any means. I don’t typically sit down with the intent of writing a poem. Most of my poems are the result of some late night wine-induced idea. For instance, my most recently published poem on stephenwillis.co is titled “Stalking.” The title pretty much tells you everything you need to know.
- Who are some of your favorite poets and why?
Billy Collins. His monotone voice is amazing. Look him up on YouTube. Anis Mojgiani is also really cool to listen to.
- You give a lot of writing advice on your blog stephenwillis.co what is the best, most concise, advice you have for anyone interested in writing?
Just start writing.
- You are also a satirist. What happened to satire, years ago it was thriving, and to me it seems that it’s just snark on the internet. What is the state of satire in your opinion and who are some of the best people to read?
Please don’t ever use the word Snark in any communication with me again. (okay – Everitt J )
Satire can take on some odd forms on the internet I suppose. But the best satire is really well thought out and executed. I love political satire and I think Laura Ingraham is definitely one of the best in that area. The Obama Diaries was brilliant. I used to watch Greg Gutfeld’s Red Eye years ago on Fox. He is another great satirist. I really like what Ann Coulter does too. She walks a fine like between fact and satire and it gets really hard to tell the two apart.
I’m not sure what the state of satire is, but I also don’t really care. I’m only worried about the state of my own satire which if I can confidently say is outstanding.
- You’re finishing up your undergrad, do you have plans for an MFA or anything like it? What is your opinion of MFA programs for most writers?
I want to get my MFA in creative writing. My feeling is if you read a program description and it sounds like fun, go for it. Someone told me once that in order to be taken seriously in the literary community you have to get your MFA. She is a hack. That is probably the worst reason to get an MFA. The literary community will take anything seriously if you talk it up enough.
- If you could go back in time to your high school self, and say “this is what you need to look out for, this is the opportunity you need to take” what would your advice to your younger-self be?
I have no clue. We always seem to think things will be better a year or five years from now and then we get there and think, “hopefully it will work out this year.” But when I think back to who I was in high school and who I am today, I sort of think I like how far I’ve come. I certainly haven’t arrived at my destination, nor has it been a smooth journey. But I feel as though I am on the right track. I would probably just come up with some weird remark to say to myself along with “Just start writing,” Or, “Just get started. It applies to everything really.
- What is the state of indie publishing in your opinion? Do you have a lot of hope for a resurgence in poetry and satire with the advent of self-publishing and the rise of smaller publishers?
I think traditional publishing has still has a place but unlike the music industry which imploded and now is completely different entirely, traditional publishing still has a purpose. I like the idea of indie writers being able to get their work out there. For the foreseeable future however, any writer who sees some real success will find themselves getting picked up by a major publisher. Distribution is a huge barrier to entry. I do think technology has been great for publishing though. This is probably a bad example, but it’s really cool that something as bad as 50 Shades of Grey can go viral and turn the writer into a millionaire with a movie deal.
- What inspires you?
Coffee maybe? I don’t know. This new coffee cup I bought is pretty inspiring tough. It has a speech bubble that is a chalk board. You can write whatever you want to in it. I like that. In some way I guess I’m inspired by a blank space. I just see an empty page and want to fill the space. It’s sort of the same with business too. You see a problem and come up with a solution. I’m always working to fill blank spaces.