Author Calvin Bond, the founder of Achilles Tribute Project, discusses celebrating heroes, writing and finding his voice.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Emotion. Last year, motivational fitness icon Travis “Achilles” Williams was tragically killed in an accident. He was an amazing guy and I had the honor of meeting him in 2010. His timeless words and photos helped him gain international fame and continue to inspire thousands worldwide today. After he passed, I decided to curate a photo-book of Achilles’ most powerful works, to preserve his legacy. But when I decided that the proceeds should go to Achilles’ daughter, the scope of the project changed. I knew that outsiders would need a background on who Achilles was, and how he became that man. So, I began interviewing Achilles’ closest friends and the project kept evolving. It’s evolved into a 110-page, full-color emotional rollercoaster.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Yes, but it varies. This book is a chronicle of Achilles’ life, as told through his photos and his friends’ stories. My writing is largely biographical and ties together the various storylines presented in the book.
Outside of this project, I write for the adventure blog Spork & Flask. Most of my writings are coarse narratives on ridiculous trips and experiences I’ve had.
What books are you currently reading? Why this author?
Sixty Meters to Anywhere – Brendan Leonard. Leonard and I have a lot in common as we both value a dirtbag-esque lifestyle. Leonard’s writing style is similar to mine and I appreciate the revelations he has over the course of his travels.
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie. One of the most influential books of all time, so I figure it’s probably worth a read.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your latest work?
Yes – I’m still making changes. Although the design is nearly finalized, I’ll still be making minor tweaks until the Kickstarter campaign ends. I just ordered the seventh draft and I’ll likely have one more. I’m a perfectionist, so I’m sure I’ll still find issues, even in the final product. But overall, I’m ecstatic with how it turned out.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing or coming up with a concept for your book?
The concept itself was simple. Curate Achilles’ most powerful quotes and photos into a story which can be told to preserve his legacy and to help his daughter. The writing part, however, was not so easy – see next question.
What was the hardest part of completing this project?
There were two key obstacles. First, due to the nature of the project, the writing portion was extremely emotional. Every time I would conduct an interview or look back through the pages, I had to relive the pain that so many still felt.
Also, I really had to play a role of politician. Some of Achilles’ friends were reluctant to help on the project – many were still struggling with how to express their emotions. Additionally, some folks were hesitant to help due to some external circumstances (some of the contributors had previously butted heads and were reluctant to work together). It was my job to bring everyone together, to ignore any external drama, and to produce the project.
What advice would you give other writers?
Go with the flow. Don’t try to force anything. If you don’t feel like writing on a certain subject right now – don’t. Write what your heart is telling you to write.
Describe the process of getting published.
Well, I’m self-publishing my book, so it has been an adventure. I’ve spent the last year and a half compiling, interviewing, writing, designing, and editing. I’ve had to serve, not only as author and director of design, but also director of marketing and finance. From researching trust funds to reading through IRS code to writing press releases and shooting product photography and video, I’ve done it all. The project has certainly pushed my abilities.
What were the literary, psychological and/or logistical challenges in bringing your work to life?
Truly the biggest challenge was psychological. Although Achilles’ quotes are so incredibly inspirational, re-reading them over and over was really painful. I gained new perspective each time I looked through the words, but it is hard to work with a heavy heart.
Everyone’s process for writing is different. Explain yours.
Checklist: Coffee, music, good light. If those things are available, I can generally get in the flow. My process varies and I often jump around from various tasks (writing, editing photos, designing) to keep myself refreshed. Then again, there are days where I may work 18 straight hours on the same task.
What are five of your favorite books and why?
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho – I’ve read it at least 10 times and I get something new out of it every time. It’s utterly life-changing, and I encourage everyone to read it.
Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac – Kerouac’s writing style really catches my attention – the way that he poetically flows about life and existence. Dharma Bums is of particular interest because it focuses on camping and travel, and the revelations that arise from those experiences
Anything by John Muir. – Muir’s ability to eloquently and vividly describe a landscape and the way the landscape transforms him is entrancing. Certainly one of my biggest influences.
Desert Solitaire – Ed Abbey – Similar to Muir, Abbey has a uniquely poetic style of writing which really captivates a reader. I appreciate the way Abbey can combine coarse writing with vibrant, educated descriptions.
A Walk In the Woods – Bill Bryson – A book which ignited my passion for the Appalachian Trail (which I thru-hiked in 2012). Bryson’s humorous storytelling ability, coupled with his obsession with detail, provides an account which is as entertaining as it is informative.
Please provide three “good to know” facts about you. Be creative. Tell us about your first job or the inspiration behind your writing.
1. I have a degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech, but I don’t use it. After graduating, I through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, then got a job working as a project manager for a commercial construction company. I worked there for two years, but my soul was being crushed. Construction comes with long hours and endless work – things I appreciate, but only when I’m passionate about what I’m doing. If you’re not passionate, then it becomes a grind. So I left that job and I’ve spent the past two years traveling, taking photos, writing, and working a handful of odd jobs to piece together a living.
2. I believe that life is short and you need to pursue what you are passionate about. My father passed away from liver cancer when I was 7 years old – he was only 40 at the time. That undoubtedly affected the way I go about life. Achilles’ passing only furthered that sentiment. You can read more on that topic here: Off-Trail: 7.24.1996
3. I’ve hiked over 4000 miles and I plan on hiking the Continental Divide Trail next year. Living outdoors and documenting my experiences in nature are truly what I live for.
What is the mission you set out to accomplish with your voice in this book?
I want to provide an accurate account of the man that Achilles was. I want to spread his legacy and share the way he impacted me and so many others. And I want to help support Azarria and help her understand the man that her father was.
Who are the authors you reread and why?
Coelho – His words speak to me differently each time I read them.
Muir & Abbey – Their writing style directly impacts mine, and I get sucked in with their stories
A great book has what?
A relatable protagonist, an entrancing story, a captivating writing style, an impeccable design, and some sort of existential conclusion.
You develop characters and ideas by….
I like to write out recurring themes and storylines in a journal. Seeing it written on paper helps me map out the best course of action for organization.
Where would you travel if you could to write your next book?
Deep into the woods, to a cabin with a wood-burning stove and a lifetime supply of coffee. Note: whiskey is an acceptable alternative to coffee.
What is the gift of reading and why does it open up a new world?
Reading is about creating an outlet and providing a new perspective. A good book will sweep you out of whatever situation you are in. It will transport you to other worlds and introduce people and ideas you’ve never considered before. Even if you are in the worst of situations, a book can lift you up and remove you from them. It is truly transcendent.
A Kickstarter campaign launched Wednesday, Aug. 17 to fundraise for the bulk publishing and distribution of Bond’s book.
Interested in helping? Here is the link to the Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1908120963/achilles-a-meditation-on-purpose-and-inspirational
You can find more ways to help at 5 Simple Ways to Help Change a Life.