Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author D’Ann Katsu Davis about her writing and her recently released, Playing Mantis: A Workbook For Inner Peace And A Playbook For The Revolution, an allegorical memoir, a uniquely thoughtful exploration of life. (Read the review here.)
D’Ann Katsu Davis is a writer, sound ceremonialist, traveler, and homebody. Mostly though, she is a human being, being a human being. She lives on the road in her rolling micro cabin with her micro doggies. D’Ann plays music for those who wish to experience a connection to stillness, insight, and creativity itself. Listen to the music at katsudavis.com.
I am looking forward to starting a music TikTok channel soon…
Playing Mantis combines a book and an album into one multimedia experience for readers and listeners. Did you always know you wanted an accompanying memoir to serve as the lyrics to your album, or did the two projects start separately and then come together later?
The music was first; the book came by surprise. When I was working on an album project with Todd Snider and Dave Schools, at Bob Weir’s Grateful Dead’s Tri studios, I was asked to write a music bio.
But when I sat down to write it, I realized, almost immediately, that I was much more interested in writing a bio of the music. That bio of the music became a book of essays, which became, upon the urging of my first (god-sent) editor—a story…which in time became Playing Mantis—a blend of mystical realism and allegorical memoir, told from the traditions of my ancient ceremonial instruments, and from the perspective of a praying mantis.
So no, I had no idea I was going to write a book. But now, I’m not sure if I like writing books or making (consciousness-altering) journey music better. I really love both.
Tell us about the creative process behind this project.
In the end, there was a lot of sweat and heavy lifting. But always, I keep a keen eye on whether I am enjoying the process or not. I do not force anything. Even though it is a colossal amount of work to write a lyrical story of hundreds of pages—enjoying an engaged life is always a main goal.
Like right now—I’m enjoying this, and I hope you are too.
My music has been motivated by the desire to create sound that has the effect of drugs, without the effect of drugs. Of course, it is a human right to change the state of one’s own consciousness, at one’s own will. My music simply assists in that process, without the requirement of substance.
My music (and writing) is an honoring song to nature—including human nature. It is an invitation to explore the topography of our inner landscape—that liminal realm available in the outermost reaches of the innermost self…where, in the Source of Creativity, insight and love Are.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Not making art as a reason to be mean to myself. This has been a learning curve–and a larger life lesson. Using art as an excuse for self-flagellation is against the rules. Making art is a birthright to all humans—it is what makes us human; it is what keeps us human.
I like the African proverb that says, “If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.” Same with painting, which has no rules; and writing, which can transcend words; and of course my lifelong interest in nonphysical sound, which transports us to realms also metaphysical.
Playing Mantis is divided into Book One and Book Two, with different themes encapsulated in each section. Would you ever consider adding to the book in future installments, like a series made up of memoirs, to tackle other themes in your life?
Yes. A third book is in the works, but it is only in my mind at the moment. As to Book One and Book Two that comprise the Playing Mantis novel, initially both stories were one, but it just didn’t work. The mystical beauty of Book One was so warm and inviting that it made the socio-political themes of Book Two feel like an out-of-the-blue left hook.
In the end I had to separate them, yet one needed the other. I didn’t feel like it was fair to discuss the spiritual without also addressing the socio-political context of our time (especially from a Native cosmological and other-species point of view).
The themes of Book Two look at harsh socio-political realities directly. Yet to feel true to my vision, I embraced the whole of this process in an uplifting metaphor. I was not interested in telling the story of good versus evil—again. Nor am I interested in its outgrowth—a violent, dystopian (white male) “artistic” vision.
It is not at all how I feel. So when looking at harsh truths in our current American society, I wrapped it in a larger metaphor of transformation. Again, using the shamanic perspective of insects.
This keeps the story moving in beautiful ways while simultaneously maintaining a brave and unflinching look at what is true now, as we evolve as a society, and as a humanity of globally connected individuals.
How does your spiritualism inform your writing?
In every way possible.
After the writing’s finished, either lyrically or musically, how do you judge the quality of your work?
At its best my writing renders the deeply arcane as so highly digestible and understandable, that it’s outrightly funny. That is the most satisfying feeling, and a lot of fun. When I pull this off, I feel successful.
With the music it is all about the experience of the listener. The feedback I get is phenomenal–exactly what I intend and wish for the work. All kinds of insights, and all sorts of life altering experiences unfold and blossom within its vast holding and transporting container.
Who are your musical inspirations?
Tom Kenyon inspired me as a very young person. Coming of age, my lover Ani DiFranco and my friend Todd Snider helped my voice along quite a bit. Most recently I have been loving Billie Eilish. It feels so good to see a young artist advancing the ball like she is—as a person, and with her work as an artist.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
A new sense of Godd/Us and the divine.
What’s next for you?
Touring my music, and my books, while making more of both.
But like I said in Playing Mantis, my lifelong goal has always been to experience love in my innermost private life (marriage); and to experience love in my outermost public life (art). But I have realized more recently, how important self-love is. Somehow I forgot that. Life has been teaching me a lot about self-love lately.
Currently it is a popular notion that one must love themselves first, to be able to love another—which I do agree with—but I also think loving another, and being loved by another, is a powerful path to self love. These are the lessons in my life right now, and, consequently, the central theme of my third book.
Book Three has a title, and the first lines came to me a few days ago, but I’m not sure if I jotted them down. I hope I did. If not, something better will happen.
Art is about trusting the process. I hope the end-product is beautiful and helpful, but I aim to always enjoy the process—even in its agony—its sweet agony. In the end, life and art are a letting-go process…I hope to do both with as much beauty as I can cultivate and share…
Categories: BookView Review Interview