Interview: The Transgressions of John Roedel
Interview conducted by Nolcha Fox
John Roedel is a comic who unexpectedly became an Amazon best-selling poet/writer when he began to turn his faith crisis, depression, and struggles into poems that have been read all over the world.
John has published five books and his work has been shared millions of times across social media and his fearless writing has attracted readers from all over the world.
And he absolutely loves sharing the story of how he learned to turn his broken heart into a wind chime.
NF: Are you a professional or amateur comic? What brought you to comedy?
JR: Television was my third parent during my childhood years. I remember desperately wanting to be on Saturday Night Live or on a weekly sitcom. As a kid, I didn't have a huge skill set to choose from. I wasn't very smart or athletic - but what I could do was make people laugh. So, I worked on it by watching as much TV as I could.
These days, I perform improv comedy and have done a bit of standup. What I really love is finding a way to help other writers use the skills I learned while performing improv. I found so many natural threads that connect the “Yes…And” philosophy of improvisation and being a writer.
NF: Tell me about your personal writing journey. What drew you into writing?
JR: My writing journey is non-linear. I always daydreamed about being a writer, but never planned to actually do it. I began writing about 15 years ago, when I wrote sketches for the comedy group Ozymandian Theater that I helped form in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I wrote about 200 comedy scenes over that time.
About five years ago, after a series of personal setbacks and failures, I was feeling particularly unwell - and that is when my writing transformed into what it is now. I started writing about places in my heart I never visited before. I started writing poetry before ever actually reading it.
I don't think I ever really knew who I was until I started writing about myself. It was the way I started to introduce myself to my own skin.
After that, there was this strange itch inside of me to share my words on Facebook. This was the hardest hurdle for me to jump over. My normal operating mode was to not let people see past my funny guy armor. I had this fear of letting the world see me for who I actually was.
Once I overcame that and started sharing my authentic life with the world, everything changed. People started responding how they understood exactly what I was going through. And isn't that the point of writing/storytelling? To be understood. For the first time in my life, I felt understood by the world, and I felt this connection with others like I had never had before. It was a threshold into the kingdom of empathy.
NF: You mentioned that you were a crime writer, and you covered civic events for a newspaper. How did you get into journalism, and what kicked you out?
JR: I worked as a crime/community digital reporter in Cheyenne for about 3 years starting in 2019. To be honest, I was drawn to it because I thought it would be a wonderful way to serve the people in my community by keeping them informed. I had no agenda. I just wanted to make sure I was providing accurate information without showing any bias.
Then the pandemic came - and the fracture of trust between the media and those that consume it grew too toxic for my sensitive heart. I don't think I was designed to be a journalist. It's such an exhausting vocation, but I believe it helped me become a better writer.
NF: I find your writing to be very accessible. How did you develop your style of poetry?
JR: By not concerning myself with style or convention. I never spent any time with poetry before it started pouring out of the broken faucet in my heart. I didn't know anything about the craft until I started writing it.
Had I placed poetry on a pedestal or considered it a style of writing that only experts can partake in, I wouldn't have ever become involved with it. I don't attempt to sew together the most beautiful words that will impress academics. I just try and translate the words and symbols I read on the walls of my heart.
I often think of what I write as lyrics to music that hasn't been written yet. I often feel like my words are tied to the rhythm and notes that are playing inside of me while I am writing.
NF: It sounds as though poetry was a method of healing for you. Is that still the case, or has your poetry evolved in other directions?
JR: At first, what I was writing was a way for me to help untangle the knots in my heart. It was a way for me to explore the uncharted places inside of me. The writing wasn't a replacement for therapy - but it was absolutely therapeutic. I write about how I feel, and doing so helps me form a relationship with my emotions.
I used to try to avoid my grief and depression at all costs. I would spend as much energy as I could to help ignore those shadow parts inside of me. However, once I started putting those experiences into words, they didn't feel so sinister. They became parts of myself that I needed to be in a relationship with.
I think my writing remains the same. Writing didn't heal me as if it were a magic tonic. Writing is like a daily vitamin that helps keep the moss from growing on my soul. It's an everyday practice. It's my meditation. It's my church.
I don't write from on top of the mountain of enlightenment. I'm writing from the face of the mountain that I'm still climbing. I remain as much of a hot mess as I was a few years ago when I started on this journey. The only difference is now I have my eyes open to my adventure so I can notice every detail and write about it later.
NF: You self-published your books, correct? Why did you decide to self-publish instead of looking for a publisher? What do you recommend about self-publishing, and what are some of the pitfalls?
JR: I self-published five books and find it all to be a bit of a mixed bag of sweets and sours. I had some opportunities to work with publishers but never really felt comfortable with them. I think it has something to do with the fact that I am not certain I am ready to grow roots into the mantle of the Earth with my poetry. To build a relationship with an agency or a publisher would require me to be absolutely certain that this is a path I want to be on for a while longer.
And if I am being honest, I don't know if I am.
This style of writing appeared to me out of nowhere, like an angel needing a place to rest in my attic. I half-expect poetry/lyrics to someday leave me in just the same manner that it arrived: without any notice. I suppose that is why I write so much these days. I feel like the clock is ticking and I need to squeeze as much out before the timer buzzes. I would hate to commit to working in partnership with other people, only to find that my muse packed her bags and left for the horizon.
Self-publishing works great for me because I don't have much ambition to have my books appear in bookstores across the world. I never started writing to publish. I just pour my words out into social media and let them go out into the wild. I only started self-publishing once a lot of people asked me for hard copies of my work.
I look at the books I self-published to be more of a business card that I can hand to someone when they ask me during a family reunion what I am up to.
The pitfalls of self-publishing for people who want to sell a ton of books are vast. You have to be your own CEO, marketing firm, editor, and tech support. It's a lot of work. I just found it to be the safest path for me to be on.
NF: You are doing writing seminars now as a paid gig. How did you develop that?
JR: Over the past year, I received numerous requests to offer my perspective on writing to groups of people. I traveled to the beautiful Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina to facilitate a weekend retreat that I called “The Unafraid Storyteller,” and I am also bringing this program to Kripalu in Massachusetts later this fall.
Like publishing books, I didn't start out with any desire to create this. I only created this retreat after I was asked to help others understand my perspective on writing, which is maybe a bit unique.
We exist in a world where our photos are expected to be perfectly edited and our social media posts carefully crafted to prevent us from accidentally showing the real person inside. However, life is meant to be messy, adventurous, and a bit chaotic. This is exactly what makes being alive the best game in the universe
Through journaling, group interaction, creative exercises, physical movement, and hands-on activities, people who attend my retreats:
• Let people see past your Instagram filter and straight into your often untidy heart.
• Learn to give people a chance to witness the wildness of your existence.
• Appreciate the own miracle of your uneven adventure.
• Gain tools to tell your own story without fear of what the world will think of you.
End of Interview
Nolcha Fox has written all her life, starting with poop and crayons on the walls. Her poems have been published in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Alien Buddha Zine, Medusa’s Kitchen, and others. Her three chapbooks are available on Amazon.