The celebrate the release of the 11th book in the First Cut Poetry series, Live to the Point of Tears by Canadian rapper Dan Sherven, I’ve had a chat with Dan about his new book, the inspiration behind it, his creative process, and what’s next for him. Enjoy!
Tell us about Live to the Point of Tears?
The title, Live to the Point of Tears, comes from the philosopher and novelist Albert Camus. He has a quote, “Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears.” I thought it was a profound quote. When my life is going the best, I’m often moved to tears by triumph or art.
The inspiration behind the book: I asked my brother if he thought I could get a publisher to send out my albums to reviewers and take the risk of releasing music instead of a book. My brother thought I meant sending the song lyrics to the publisher to be made into a book. And then I realized I could take my homework from music and also use it for writing.
Live to the Point of Tears was written over the last decade. It was my first 10 years of writing lyrics, and I decided to take all those lyrics which I’d already released as music, and put them out as a poetry book.
I actually wanted to be a poet before I wanted to be a rapper. In Grade 12, I was given a creative writing assignment in poetry. And I just loved the process so much. But I found rap music to be more relevant — in comparison to poetry — both to myself and to the broader culture. With that said, I think of myself as a writer and not really a rapper. So perhaps I will go back to poetry, where it all began.
Sum up the main themes in your collection in 10 words or less.
Love. Heartbreak. Nihilism. Death. Philosophy. Language. Religion. Meaning. Honesty. Grace.
Your favourite rap(s) in the collection and why?
My favorite rap in the collection is probably “Gone”. I wrote it after my friend Nick Kashuba was tragically killed. And even though I was not a believer at the time, reflecting back on that long song, there was clearly something supernatural guiding the pen which was not of my own doing.
Heaven’s man’s way of coping with the gone
but I don’t need God if I have you in my thoughts
on Sunday June seventeenth
killed by a drunk driver we’re still in grief
even though we’ve watched your sunset
the days and the rains face ain’t done yet
how could I contemplate suicide
when I owe it to you to live two lives
how could I write this the day I heard the news
’cause you taught us it’s up to you to do it huge
– excerpt from ‘Gone’ © Dan Sherven
What are your writing habits like?
I write 1000 words a day for whatever novel I’m working on. There are no excuses. Then when the first draft is done, I will give myself a break of a couple of days — completely fall into chaos, then begin editing 10 pages a day while also starting a new novel at1000 words a day.
And I sort of have a routine. Every day I have to write 1000 words, bike, meditate, and read. The time and order of those is not important to me. But it’s usually better to do them earlier in the day. Then if I feel like it, I’ll write a song or work on an article.
I’m trying to branch out and write articles more consistently. Novels are more meaningful to me, as I basically use each day’s word count as a therapy session to address whatever is bothering me that day. And to clarify my thoughts around the issue. But novels are not seen by anyone for months at best, years most of the time. So it is nice to put out articles and get feedback. Plus the articles could help people decide to buy my books.
For songs or poems I will use a pen and notebook. But for novels I use a computer, with The Legend of Zelda music playing. Pen and paper is more intimate. But I don’t want to copy my messy writing to the computer, especially if it’s 100k words or more.
Name 3 books: 1 book from your childhood, 1 you’re currently reading, and 1 you’re looking forward to reading.
Childhood: 1984 by George Orwell. I think Huxley, and Lewis in particular, had more accurate visions of what a dystopia in our society would be. But 1984 was amazing to me as a child.
Now: Confessions by Saint Augustine. I’m worried that his sinful youth is going to sound a lot like my own life.
Future: Contemporary Catholic Theology: A Reader. I often read philosophy, theology, or apologetics to find ideas to wrestle with in my own fiction writing.
What’s one poem/rap you wish you’d written?
“Inspiration” by Classified.
The song starts with Classified talking about how the song’s instrumental was made by him, and he tried to write to the instrumental. But he wasn’t that inspired by it. So he sold it “to a guy named Phil”.
Classified never heard from Phil, who was supposed to email Classified when Phil was done writing to the instrumental. Then Classified got an email from Phil’s friend, saying Phil died in a car accident. But before Phil’s death, the friend said: because of Classified’s music, Phil was inspired to get his life on track and did so.
Classified says at the end of the song: “I inspired Phil? Nah Phil inspired me, to finish up my song over top of Phillip’s beat.” I always thought that was a beautiful song which took tragedy and made it somewhat more bearable.
I made this beat, 2003ish
Wrote to it but never got it completed
I love the feel love the vibe that I acquired
Spit a couple lines but wasn’t really inspired
See inspiration is the thing that keep my brain ticking
If you don’t feel inspired, something in my veins missing
I wasn’t too strong
Quit that and moved on, never looked back
And started working on a new song
© Classified (2009)
Tell us about your future writing plans.
I’ve recently written and edited four new novels. And I’m in the process of writing a fifth. I also want to write more articles. (But they have to be articles I write because I need to.) They could be of any topic. I do have a Journalism degree, and am contemplating trying out some more journalistic pieces.
I’m also thinking about starting a podcast to interview interesting people.
And many days after writing I am spamming literary agents with emails about my projects. It would be nice to establish a long-term working relationship with either a publisher or a literary agent.
Ultimately, I intend on writing books for the rest of my life. The goal is to make a reasonable living doing so.
You are a writer if you need to write, like you need exercise or a certain amount of sleep. If you’ve got that, you can probably figure the rest out (and deal with the constant rejections).
Dan Sherven is a writer from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He is the author of Light and Dark, a crime thriller, and wrote Juno-winner Classified’s autobiography, Off the Beat n’ Path. This poetry collection, Live to the Point of Tears, is Dan Sherven’s first decade of rap. He’s written more books, which will be available soon.
Follow Dan Sherven on Twitter: @DanSherven
Follow me on Twitter: @HLRwriter