2. Juli 2022 von ibohnet
A series of conversations with writers, artists, scientists around the personal motive of their cultural work. Today with American author Leonardo Wild.
Leonardo Wild, born in Stamford in Connecticut in the USA, is a professional author with more than a dozen books and hundreds of published articles as well as 42 produced scripts. He has a broad portfolio, from thriller to Nonfiction. Moreover, Leonardo is a real adventurer who was sailing across the Atlantic and the Pacific at the age of 24 surviving the cyclone Harry in 1989. Leonardo walked several times over the Andes into the Amazon jungle with Native Indians, took part in gold survey expeditions in Ecuador’s rain forests, and cycled across South America. But he also treads special paths in business: He built wooden houses, advised Ecuador’s Central Bank on currency design, and currently he is CEO and co-owner of a company dedicated to environmental solutions. But Leonardo is still having additional projects in mind.
1. Leonardo, you are an author and an adventurer, as interested in science as you are in life. How did you come to write, why do you write?
My parents created the Pestalozzi School in Ecuador, that has nothing to do with the Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi institutes around the world, except for the name, which my parents chose for their (at first) Kindergarten because the name Maria Montessori had already been taken. The „Pesta,“ as it became to be known, was an alternative school, with a different educational paradigm. So one day my parents told me that if I didn’t want to, I would not have to continue in school. I was twelve, and has just entered High School at the German School in Quito. However, it wasn’t a matter of not going to school and therefore not continuing my education. One of the activities I had to do was write one page every day. It didn’t matter of what. If I wanted to, I could write water water water water for a full page, and they would not check my spelling, grammar, nothing, as long as it was my own writing (and not copying down some text). Filling a page of the same word or with nothing interesting, as you can imagine, can be boring. So this is how I began to write. Soon a page became more than one, and I started writing short stories. then I even wrote a science fiction novel, and hand-crafted the cover. I continued writing shorter stuff until I turned fifteen. I had by then returned to school for another two years, attending the Swiss-Ecuadorian School, but decided to leave High School altogether because although I had good grades, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do in life. When I left High School for the second time, my plan was to travel to Switzerland (from where my grandfather was from; he emigrated to Ecuador in 1936 during the pre-War depression). Before my trip, I began writing something that became a Wild-West/SF novel (we’re talking 1982, so before Back To The Future came out), and finished before flying to Switzerland in 1983. By then I’d started the second book (these were in Spanish, because I didn’t known any English back then). And this is how I started writing, mostly about adventures I imagined, adventures I dreamed about having, and creating them in the form of fiction.
2. Your adventures as a sailor started decades ago. How are they combined with your writing?
As I just mentioned, I began writing at the age of twelve about adventures that I wanted to have or dreamed about having. As a young boy, of course, those aren’t really possible, so I expressed them in written form. But then, when I returned from my trip to Europe and just after I turned 18, a friend had become partners with an American, and they bought a African Palm Oil and Cardamom plantation in the Coastal Plains of Ecuador. This American partner had a sailboat, and his crew was going to leave when they reached Tahiti. So he needed someone to help with oversee and work on the boat as he himself left for a few months on business, and my friend asked me whether I wanted to go with this American sailor on a sailing adventure from Salinas, Ecuador, to Tahiti in the South Pacific’s French Society Islands. A week later I was on board and we sailed to the Galapagos Islands, the Marquesas, Tuamotos, and then Tahiti. I didn’t know English, nor navigation, and had $20 dollars with me, as I wasn’t supposed to need anything, since the agreement was to work for room and board and the ticket back home. I continued writing, and began reading in English trying to learn it, realizing that Science Fiction, which is what I was really into in those days, sounds so much better in English than in Spanish. Spanish is a Romantic language, and English much more pliable to deal with science and „the new.“ After that first sailing adventure, the boat owner brought with him a book for me to study the GED—General Educational Development—to get my High School Diploma. I returned home to Ecuador in February 1985 after about five-and-a-half months at sea, and after spending some months studying English, and going through the GED book, I traveled to the US in the summer of 1985 to see if I finished High School. I did, and I stayed for nearly a year in the United States, studying English, Creative Writing, and began my first novel in English. Of course, that book, as all the others I’d written in Spanish, have not been published.
3. You are working as novelist, but also as CEO of a company dedicated to environmental solutions. How do you work in these areas, do you combine them?
For a writer, Louis L’Amour wrote in his Education Of A Wandering Man: „Everything is grist for the mill.“ I „slipped“ into becoming an entrepreneur in 1996, when a friend of mine asked me to help him sell some products in Ecuador that could help in the oil business, organic and biodegradable products that could help, among other things, with oil spills. I had by then already written and published some books in Spanish, among them a nonfiction book on ecology, and had started publishing in Germany, my work being translated from English. In my research into ecology and environmental issues, done to write articles for a Sunday Magazine in Ecuador, I’d seen that a great need exists for truly environmentally friendly products, but the chemical industry was not truly interested in supplying real solutions. This is how I started my first company, which I then sold off, to change tacks and focus more on other problems, one of them being the issue of water. It turns out that by being an entrepreneur, the experiences I gain are in fact what can feed into my writing from real life, rather than just imagined scenarios. In fact, though at first I’d written about adventures I wanted to live and couldn’t, soon it was my adventures that worked their way into my writing. The first novel I published, in Spanish, was inspired by one of my adventures as a photographer taking part in a Gold Survey Expedition into the Amazon Jungle, between the Second and Third Andes Cordilleras.
4. Is there a specific, recurring theme in your writing
Environmental issues are a leit motif. Respect for life processes. Adventures appear in some of my novels, but after all these years of writing, reading and researching, I’ve come to understand the importance of „paradigm shifts“ in the way we view the world. The biggest threats to life and our well being stem from paradigms that do not include respect of life, going against the structure of life or what the Chilean Neurobiologist Humberto Maturana (together with Francisco Varela) called „autopoiesis.“ What differentiates life from non-life. These a „big“ subjects, fascinating, and so important I feel like I need to share them with more people. Both through fiction and non-fiction.
5. Which literary models do you have?
If you mean writers who have come my „models,“ I have many, and from different stages of my life. In the early days when I read SF I loved the „Golden Age“ writers like Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Silverberg, and then went onto Orson Scott Card and Dan Simmons. But that’s not all I read. I also read Western stories, Zane Gray, Louis L’Amour, among others. I happen to also constantly read non-fiction, stuff about neurology, physics, astrophysics and interstellar migration (for my SF writing), quantum physics, you name it. My idea is that big ideas and complex concepts can be explained in simple terms if you know how to tell a story, which leads us to the next question.
6. What is good writing?
A loaded question. „Good“ is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. If it serves and fulfills the intended purpose, it’s good for something, right? In clinical terms, good writing is writing without mistakes, with clear style, orthographically correct, but that isn’t really the point of writing, is it? Writing is the tool with which we express ourselves and transmit our „story“ to others. So perhaps the question should be „what is good story telling (writing)“ or something along those lines. Then I will have to ask: What is Story? What is the function of Story? It turns out that we are wired for Story, just as we are neurologically wired for Food and Sex. Without Story, we cannot survive and develop as individuals or as a species. It is what differentiates us from other species. We can learn from experience and pass our learning onto others through story telling, and we can imagine „What If“ and explore the different scenarios from a „safe place“ and figure our which of them all will give the best result. When we find ourselves exposed to a Story—be it in the form of writing, film, photography, sculpture, performing arts, or even political rhetoric—something happens in our brains that produces serotonin and other endorphins that trap us in the moment. This was so important for our development as individuals and as a species, that nature has wired us to pay attention. That is, if the Story has the necessary elements to make that happen. If not, we will lose interest and go onto something else. So the question has different layers. Writing, being the medium of passing on a Story, needs to be clear, and include elements that allow us to engage with the subject and theme. It turns out that one of the elements that must necessarily be present for Story to exist, is Conflict. Without conflict there is no story. Just as there is no Story without Characters and a Setting. Take one of these three away, and you have no Story. No engagement. Of course, other elements of writing that writers need to master are part of the expertise that allows us to „paint a picture“ in the reader’s minds, and this can be achieved through learning the Craft of Writing. In itself a complex exercise, that cannot be learned overnight, but through writing writing writing and finding out how others write, and what has been discovered so far in terms of how stories are built. Typical of today, though, is to confuse the „process of writing“—how one goes about it, whether by sitting down and figuring out what the Story is by writing it or by outlining or plotting the Story Arc before actually beginning to write—and the „end product.“ The End Product is the finished Story. And most times, it comes from writing and revising revising revising.
7. What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on various projects. One, in English, is a series of 9 „paradigm shift thrillers,“ of which I have a few in final draft, others in first draft, and yet others on the drawing board. Also, in English, I am working on a Book Proposal for a nonfiction book on the science of water, and have recently delivered to my agents in New York the manuscript of a „water thriller.“ In Spanish I have a series of novels (one published, another in the final revision, and a third in process of writing it) that are a blend between comedy and serious fiction, whatever that is. I also tend to work on articles when asked to do some, planning out a series of blog pieces for the nonfiction water book, since I realize that some of the topics I will be touching on in the book, have ramifications that go beyond the topic of „water.“
8. What role does the zeitgeist play for you?
Zeitgeist, as in „the spirit of the times“? We live in an era of dramatic changes, where the „infinite resources“ of the planet are shown to be finite, and many non-renewable. In our era, the potential cataclysmic results of human activity in a highly-sensitive ecosphere is showing its darker side, including possible annihilation through atomic bombs and war, but even more dramatically, the „simple“ effects of our economic activities based on obsolete models that are showing their cracks, some becoming massive faults. Now more than ever we are witnessing the fallacies ingrained in our social structures, where the Economy isn’t economical and rather wasteful, where Ecology is a word used for marketing political agendas, where Political Ideals are supported by ethically-rotten pillars, where what you say is not what you do or even intended doing. The medical industry has shown another, darker, profit-driven face, that was there all along, but that now is becoming part of a web where the fear of losing power, as Mark Twain said, is what corrupts. Education itself is going against life-processes and continues to use Industrial Age Models to—as I wrote in an article for the Central University of Ecuador’s yearly Anales—“mass produce human bonsais“ and where information has been manipulated like in Orwell’s 1984.
On the other hand, it’s never been as clear to so many people that there in fact exist different ways of going about our lives by working with nature, rather than against nature. The Zeitgeist of today is that we have reached a mult-furcation where the paths we have taken are leading to potentially catastrophic outcomes for humanity, and where the paths to avoid them aren’t all, necessarily, going to include the freedom of the masses. We have come to a time of personal reckoning, where the leaders have shown to act in their own interest, so it is up to each one of us to decide what feels right. It is up to us writers and artists to decide whether the stories we tell are going to be stories without substance—fast food without nutrients—or will fulfill the original purpose of Story: to help choose the paths of survival of the individual, and the species.
9. What would you wish for your writing?
To be shared with as many people as possible, to help them understand reality rather than escape from it, and to give me the ability, as a result, to lead a good life filled with abundance.
10. Which question would you like to ask yourself at the end?
Why have people stopped asking the right questions about life, the kind of questions that will help them understand what is happening, rather than present their answers—mere opinions—as certainties?
And the answer: people fear losing their comfort, and thus hide in their (given) certainties to avoid the discomfort of eternal doubt.
Dear Leonardo Wild, many thanks for this inspiring interview!