Author Interview: Jordan Neben

Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome the author of A Lot of Questions (with no answers)?Jordan Neben, from Atmosphere Press, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.

About The Author

A Lot of Questions (with no answers)? is Jordan Neben’s first published book. Jordan has always possessed a life-long passion for learning, and especially reading history. This book is an attempt to try and pass some of the questions and insights that the author has arrived at after decades of learning and consideration. Jordan was born in and currently resides in Nebraska.

You can connect with author Jordan Neben here:
Author Website | Twitter


Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin. 

Well as it said in the author bio of my book, A Lot of Questions (With No Answers?), I was born and currently reside in Nebraska. I’m in my late twenties, I am part of a family of parents and four siblings, I am 6’7”, no I didn’t play basketball when I was in high school or college. Since my book is a philosophical work covering topics such as history and how it is viewed and interpreted, you can probably guess I am interested in history. I have always been fascinated by history, and lately I have devoted myself to learning more about history that was never taught or even mentioned in public school or college. For example, I have recently been reading Jason K. Stearns’ books Dancing in the Glory of Monsters and The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name about the decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At least in my experience living in the central US, African history and current events are never mentioned, and in my opinion that is a detriment to us all.

Another one of my passions that doesn’t relate to my book at all is aviation. I have been fascinated by flight ever since my maternal grandfather showed me his collection of aircraft books when I was a toddler, and when my paternal grandfather took me on my first flight in his old Piper J-3 cub. Someday I would like to be a pilot, though for someone of my height that will not be an easy task.

Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?

As is mentioned on the back cover, the book is a collection of six essays, but publishing a book was not how I originally planned to start my career as a writer. The first two essays in the book are the first ones I wrote; I initially thought I could get them published in a philosophy magazine. However, none of the magazines I approached were interested in publishing such long essays, even as a multi-part series, and to get the essays down to a suitable length would have meant getting rid or more than half the material, which I felt would be too reductive for the subject matter. After having no luck with the magazines, I had an idea. Through the course of writing the first two essays, I had inspiration for yet more essays to write. I thought to myself: “Instead of trying to get each individual essay published separately, if I can write enough of them, and put them together, I would have enough material for a full-length book.” As soon as I had this idea, I knew this is what I wanted to do. Combining the essays into a book meant that I wouldn’t have to make compromises on how long I wanted each essay to be, and I could write until I felt I had done the topic in each piece justice.

Why did you choose this particular theme for your book? What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?

As readers of my book will see, the essays cover a variety of topics ranging from religion and belief to the recent (and currently ongoing) pandemic, to how history is perceived. However, even though the book visits widely ranging subjects, there is a central theme that acts as a foundation that all the essays are built upon. Naturally, the theme also relates to the title of the book: questioning. Questions such as: Why do people believe what they believe? How often do people take the time to consider why they hold the beliefs that they do? Theoretically, could a person’s convictions be altered by changing the circumstances of their life? For example, someone is born in the United States and grows up to be a staunch American nationalist in the early 21st century, and this person has strong anti-China views, out of a fear of China’s growing economy and global influence. What if the circumstances of this person’s life were changed so that now they are born and raised in China in the same time period? Could this person become a staunch Chinese nationalist, who possesses similarly strong anti-American views, believing that the US has been a chauvinistic and hypocritical global hegemon for too long? How much are our convictions based on genetic traits, and how much are they based on factors completely outside of our control, such as the society we were born into? These are the types of questions readers will find in my book, and questioning is the central theme.

What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?

As I mentioned above and will discuss in more detail in another question below, the first essay of the book is the first one I wrote, which I initially intended to be a magazine article. But more specifically, why did I write this type of book, a philosophical piece with the goal of challenging the reader to think more critically about their own beliefs and humanity as a whole? That term I just used, “critical thinking,” is one that has been used a lot recently, so much so that it has to an extent lost its meaning and impact. Which, in my opinion, is a disservice to us all, because critical thinking is vitally important, especially in the age of mass information and social media. Now hopefully I am not about to sound like some out of touch old codger lamenting about what the kids are doing these days, and as readers shall see I believe that humanity has changed little over time and that history reveals patterns of human behavior that are cyclical in nature. With that being said, the digital age and social media do represent a sea change in technology. It is easier and easier for politicians, businesses, celebrities, and ordinary people to tell others what to think, what to buy, what to love or hate, what to think about themselves, what to think about their nation and the world, and so much more. I wrote my book in the hope that it will inspire the reader to examine their own views and those of others more closely, and to believe something not because they were told to by someone else, but because they used their own critical thinking.

How long did it take you to write this particular book?

All six essays put together took about a year to write. I did not write the entire book from beginning to end all right away, however. After I finished writing the first two essays, I spent some time trying to get them published, thinking I would write more essays after the first two had already been released. When that fell through and I had the idea to combine all the essays into a book, that is when I began to write non-stop until the manuscript was complete.

What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today? 

Hopefully 5 years from now I will have published one more book and possibly be working on a third. I do have several ideas for books covering a variety of topics. These new book ideas will more than likely require more time and much more research to complete. A Lot of Questions is mostly a philosophical work, and any historical events mentioned in the text are not meant to inform the reader on the events. Rather, they are used as a way to create discussion. A scholarly historical text recounts the events and lists the author’s sources, while A Lot of Questions looks at the event and asks, “What can this tell us?” The books I plan to write in the future, however, will be carefully researched and cited. I have never written a book of this type before, so it will likely take time to learn how to write it and cite my sources correctly.

Are you working on any other stories presently?

I do have a topic for my next book, and I have begun the preliminary research to test the waters of the subject to see what information is out there and what other authors have already written about. That is all I will say about my next book at this time, since it still remains a kernel of an idea and it will likely be years from now until I have a book that is ready for publishing.

Do you also dabble in fiction?

As readers of A Lot of Questions will see, in each essay of the book I use what I call “hypothetical case studies,” as a tool to help the reader understand the topic of each essay. Through the course of writing the first essay I realized that I had several pages of nothing but abstract questions, which could be difficult for a reader to intellectually digest, and frankly is not the most entertaining reading. That is when I had the idea for the “case studies.” These case studies are short stories where I take the questions and ideas that have been postulated in the essay and put them into the context of the stories. Hopefully, readers will find these stories entertaining and engaging. More importantly, as readers consider or discuss these hypothetical case studies, they will be considering the questions raised in the essays. My hope is that these fictional stories (often based on an amalgamation of real events) will show the reader how abstract questions can have ramifications on the real world.

I wanted to highlight that aspect of A Lot of Questions here, because I think it is an important component of the book’s character. However, to return to the spirit of the question above, have I written any fiction, or do I plan to do so in the future? As of right now, no I have not written any fiction, and I do not plan to in the future. That does not mean that I do not thoroughly enjoy fiction and do not want to write a large and successful fictional book. To be honest, at this point I do not think I have what it takes to write a fictional novel. I have had a few ideas for books, but I never get further than the initial idea. I imagine that if I took that initial idea I would get buried or lost trying to build a fleshed out fictional universe, create believable characters, and write a compelling story all at the same time. If I do write any fiction in the future, I will probably start small, with much more manageable short stories, and build from there. 

When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you to follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way? (feel free to give us your story, we love hearing author stories!

For me there wasn’t really an exact point where I said to myself “Yes I shall become a writer.” And this may be a bit of imposter syndrome talking but even after publishing a book sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a writer. However, as I have mentioned before, the first essay in the book was the first one I wrote, and there was an initial moment of inspiration that started me on the path to writing my book. By nature, I am an introspective person, and I enjoy thinking about the events or ideas that I have heard in podcasts or from books. One day at work, I was thinking about the subject of faith and organized religion when I thought to myself, “I should write some of these ideas down so that I can remember them.” I didn’t realize it at the time but those little notes I quickly jotted down on a sticky note would eventually grow into an essay eighteen thousand words long. Once I started writing and thinking about the subject of the essay more and more it was relatively easy to get new ideas on how to expand and make the essay large enough that no magazine wanted to publish it.  

What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?

As I said in the question above, I started the first essay of my book by jotting down a few ideas on a sticky note so I wouldn’t forget them. That is actually how a lot of the book was written. When I couldn’t sit down to write, if I was busy at work or at home doing chores, I was still thinking about what I wanted to write continually. Whenever I thought of a sentence I wanted to write or a concept I wanted to discuss, I would quickly write it down on a sticky note or a small composition notebook I had so I could remember it. These notes would probably make little sense to anyone but me, not the least because of my terrible handwriting. I usually only wrote enough so that it would act as a placeholder for my brain, so when I read the note again, I could say “That’s what I was thinking about.” Once I had time to sit down with my laptop to write, I would go to my essay outlines and transcribe my hastily written notes in greater detail. When I was in high school and college, I usually sneered at the idea of creating an outline for a paper, mostly because I couldn’t stand the extra work. Only once I started writing a book did I realize how useful they actually were. The outlines were crucial to my writing process, not only for forming a basic structure for the essay, but also as a tool to take all the random notes I made and put them all together. But the outlines were not static and immovable; as I wrote each essay the outline would change, too. Notes and ideas would shift around as I wrote, and I would make additions or deletions as the essay took shape.

Is writing your profession or do you work in some other field too?

Currently I work a 9-5 job that I am not passionate about; it just pays the bills. I hope to someday become a full-time author, but I would have to write something successful enough to give me that financial freedom. I’m hoping the promotional work I’m doing for A Lot of Questions will help me realize that goal.

Can you recommend a book or two based on themes or ideas similar to your book? (You can share the name of the authors too.)

No doubt the two biggest inspirations for me as I wrote my book were authors and podcast hosts, and their work I cited in the “Suggested Reading and Listening” section of A Lot of Questions. They are Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History and author of The End is Always Near, and Mike Duncan, host of The History of Rome and Revolutions and author of The Storm Before the Storm and Hero of Two Worlds. My book is very similar in style to Dan Carlin’s book, and I hope that readers of The End is Always Near will enjoy my book as well. Carlin took many of the themes and questions he had been developing in his podcast and put them into a book that his listeners had been demanding for some time. The End is Always Near is a fun and thought-provoking read and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In the Revolutions podcast, Mike Duncan walks listeners through some of the most complex and tumultuous periods in human history, while still delivering a coherent and cohesive narrative that not only provides context for each revolution, but also gives concise and informative biographies of the major players in each revolution. Listeners of Revolutions will recognize many similar themes as they read several of the hypothetical case studies in A Lot of Questions.   

I also wanted to mention here that my two brothers helped me a great deal as I wrote my book. We often had discussions as I was writing the book that helped me develop my thoughts more fully, and they read through the early drafts of the essays which helped reduce the number of errors before it was sent to the publisher.

How do you deal with Writer’s Block?

I never actually planned anything that helped me deal with writer’s block. My schedule for writing, however, accidentally helped whenever I did encounter it. Usually, I tried to devote two to three hours a day to write. Since I was working full-time for the entire book writing process, that two to three hours was always broken into smaller chunks as my free time allowed. Every once in a while, as I was writing, I would get a burst of inspiration and would be able to write several pages in a short period of time, and I would be upset that I didn’t have more time to write. But those bursts of inspiration were rare. More often than not writing was a slower process, and there were times where I would get completely stuck and could waste an hour writing a single short paragraph that I was never satisfied with. It was at those moments I was glad that I didn’t have a lot of time to write. Going to work or running errands allowed me to clear my head and ease my frustration, so that when I returned to writing later I could do so with a better frame of mind. If I ever do become a full-time writer, I will have to develop a ritual to help with writer’s block. For me it would probably involve going outside. I find nature rejuvenating, so a walk or a bike ride would probably serve the same purpose of helping me feel more relaxed and ready to write again.

What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction writers?

Since my book is a philosophical examination of different topics, it didn’t require a lot of in-depth research, so I doubt I could offer a lot of practical advice on how to do research and citations. In fact, I am the one who could use advice in that department. The advice I would give any aspiring author might sound cheap or obvious, but I do think it is essential: read as much as you can. I have always had an interest in learning, and I spent years with the goal of reading several new books every month just for the sake of reading. There is no way I could have ever written my own book had I not spent those years learning and observing how other authors wrote their books. I know everyone says it, but reading is important if you want to be a better writer. It is the same as if you wanted to become good at a sport or learn to play a musical instrument proficiently: there is no magical shortcut to becoming an author; it just takes time and practice.

Thank you, author Jordan Neben, for your insightful answers!

About the Book

A Lot of Questions (with no answers)?

How often do people take the time to question the basic assumptions that underlie their beliefs and worldview? How strong can a person’s convictions be if they cannot allow room for doubt in their minds? Is a great deal of conflict generated by people’s refusal to question what they believe? Can a person’s beliefs be molded in a specific direction?
These are the types of questions the reader will encounter in A Lot of Questions (with no answers)? In a series of six essays (essays with whimsical titles such as “Make Sure Your Death is Sudden and Violent”), we will discuss topics ranging from religion, to history, to the recent pandemic.
The goal of this book is to encourage the reader to consider not only their own beliefs, but also humanity as a whole. Can humanity overcome its flaws? Are we doomed to repeat history in a cyclical pattern? Is being able to examine our flaws and shortcomings the first step to bettering ourselves (on an individual and collective level)?

This sounds like a lot to discuss in the course of a short book. Indeed, it is, and by no means is this essay collection definitive, but hopefully it is the first step to the reader becoming more discerning.

You can find A Lot of Questions (with no answers)? here:
Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

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