Even though students may hate to hear it, English Instructor John Abbott is telling the truth when he says it takes dedication and discipline to become a good writer. His first novel, The Last Refrain, was published in April and is available at local vendors and online. His chapbook, Near Harmony, was also published this spring.
The Last Refrain is about a family band that tours under the belief that they’ve landed a record deal. “Through a series of miscommunications, Ken, the band’s front man, gets everybody believing that they really do have a record deal, which transforms their performances, their relationships, and, ultimately, the attention they receive from reporters, disc jockeys, rock critics, and fans,” the book cover explains.
Abbott, who has taught English and the History of Rock and Roll at Kalamazoo Valley for the last five years, does his best writing when he is consistent with a routine. “When I was working on different drafts of the book, I worked on it every day, usually first thing in the morning unless I was teaching an early class,” he said. It took a total of two years to complete the book.
The process of getting the book published was also arduous. Abbott worked off and on for four years to find a publisher. At one point, he put the book aside and focused on other projects. “I did some soul searching,” Abbott said. “I had to decide if I believed in the book enough to pursue it.”
Abbott has always loved writing and reading. “For sure, I’ve always been a book lover and from a young age, I loved writing,” he said. Although his interest in music and the demands of completing college took his focus away from writing for a time, his devotion to the craft hasn’t waned. “I’m always writing down ideas for poems or story assignments for classes I’m teaching,” he said. Inspiration for a book character might come from a conversation or from observing someone casually.
Abbott said his readers are sometimes surprised that his work has such a dark side. “It’s not necessarily my personality,” Abbott said. “It’s kind of a channel that I use to get that out. I deal with emotions though my characters and it doesn’t affect my day to day outlook.”
Abbott graduated from Michigan State University and Western Michigan University with degrees in English and Creative Writing. He lives in Kalamazoo with his wife and daughter. He has had stories and poems published in The Potomac Review, Arcadia, Midwestern Gothic, Two Thirds North, upstreet, Bitter Oleander, and many other publications.
Abbott has relied on input from several other writers in Kalamazoo. “I’ve studied with a lot of amazing writers and at WMU there are many great teachers. I sometimes show my writing to a couple of people I took classes with. We still comment on each other’s work.” Abbott is already working on his next novel. He admits that the task can be frustrating. “It’s not easy, but good writing will seem like it was effortless to the reader, even though it took a great amount of work for the writer. It’s hard to make yourself sit down and write, but it definitely gets easier.”
Abbott is proud that several of his students have won writing competitions with their work. He encourages anyone with a passion for writing to stick with it. “As long as you are passionate about it and you make a commitment, you can do it – and have fun with it.”