Derek Murphy Interview with Waakao Magazine, 2/22/2011
How was studying Theology, Art History and Philosophy on the Mediterranean island of Malta? What did you take away from that experience?
Beautiful. Sea-scape, colonial buildings, perfect weather, ancient stone temples, olive skinned dark-eyed women… I had an apartment on the coast and a red Toyota Ford. Those were good times. I went through many personal developments in spiritual beliefs; I arrived in the heavily Catholic country Christian and left much less so.
Why did you come to Taiwan? Have you enjoyed your time here? How does it compare with the time you spent in Italy?
I was always on a course towards Japan, have been my whole life. But somehow Taiwan popped up instead; I came and I stayed. What I like about Taiwan is that it is convenient. I like the 24hr lifestyle; driving my scooter anywhere in any direction I want; the lifestyle I can afford by teaching English a few hours a day. Even though Italy is amazing, much more scenic, and much more inspiring and relaxing, Taiwan is a better fit for me, at least for now, because I can get more done.
How did you get into art? Why do you call yourself a surrealist? Are there any artists that you feel are your inspiration?
Dali and Magritte have a similar philosophy of life and of art. Surrealism is mixing some real elements in ways that don’t really go together. Some of my work doesn’t really qualify I suppose. It’s not the bizarre dreamscapes of Dali, but can be pretty similar to the oddity of Magritte. My mother painted sweatshirts and attended craft fairs; she got me into arts and crafts. It’s a challenging hobby to try and portray what you can imagine.
Your paintings are very tongue-in-cheek about Taiwan and Asian culture in general. What are the reactions you get by Taiwanese people when they see them? Have you ever upset anyone with any of the works you’ve done?
Most young people get them intuitively. Older people often think they’re weird, or don’t “get it”. They get offended either by the irreligious depictions of Buddha, or the blasphemous pictures of Jesus. One foreigner was angry at me for painting girls with big boobs. She called me a bigot. I think you have to be either an irreligious foreigner in Taiwan or someone involved in the space between cultures to appreciate them.
Which is your favorite painting you’ve done? Why? Which one has caused the most “controversy”?
I like “KFC” a lot, which uses real ghost money as feathers for a kid in a chicken costume that Colonel Sanders is about to BBQ. It should have caused the most controversy but I think it’s too subtle. Taiwanese are more interested in Happy Meal Buddha, or the Mao/Hello Kitty. My worst is First Communion; a priest holding up a cross and two young girls giving it fellatio – it’s terrible.
Besides being an artist, you are finishing your master’s degree and also a writer. How do you have any free time? Which branch of art do you enjoy creating the most?
Unfortunately I don’t have any free time. I’ve started my PHD now at NTU. I spent the last 6 months finishing the book I’ve been working on for years and it’s pretty good at this point. So that’s a long term accomplishment. Eventually some of my hobbies might start making income and I can take it easier; or at least focus more on my hobbies without also stressing about survival. Writing and art are completely different; I probably enjoy painting more, it’s a little easier and completely non-mental. It’s physically taxing and time-consuming, but I can just zone out. Writing on the other mind messes with your mind; choosing just the right way to organize everything, which words to use… I’d like to be more easy and fluid but it’s not there yet.
Please tell the readers of Waakao about your new book, Jesus Potter Harry Christ.
Jesus Potter Harry Christ is a result of a long interest in historical Christianity, comparative religion, astrology and mythology. For my Master’s thesis I decided to rewrite a lot of earlier material through the lens of Harry Potter; it’s a great idea and I think I’ve pulled it off pretty well. Basically I think Harry and Jesus are both literary (fictional) characters employing older, universal symbolism that is heavily based on constellation mythology. It sounds pretty “out there” but the research is tight. I think I’ve made a convincing case, and feedback has been good.
Is this your first book? How does one go about publishing a book in English in Taiwan? How long did it take you to write the book from start to finish?
The way you’re supposed to do it is find an agent who will support you, sell your idea to publishers, and then eventually get about 10% of sales. This is the real, successful way to be published… except the majority of books don’t sell well anyway and it’s almost impossible to get an agent these days because the publishing business is collapsing. Technology being what it is, I can get the book written, edited, formatted, designed and upload the PDF files to amazon.com – who will print and mail the book for me to anyone who orders it. And I keep about %50 of profits. Traditionally publishers took care of preparing the book, as well as the marketing; but I hired freelancers and personal assistants all around the world and am gaining the support of many other authors and bloggers. It’s definitely possible to be successful independently. I may sell much less, but my profit is higher. If it’s popular and it takes off, a “real” publisher will pick it up. On the other hand, I retain all the rights so I can sell the international language rights myself, over and over again (I’ve already contracted 4000 copies of the book to a Russian publisher for the Russian language version). There’s still a stigma against ‘self-publishers’, but it’s fading.
How did your religious views after you “drifted away from his Episcopalian upbringing…towards a more inclusive, holistic idealism” affect the writing of this book?
It’s a complicated question. Obviously my ability and interest in writing the book is shaped by my ideology; but I want this to be a well-researched book on history, not a soapbox sermon. So I’ve kept beliefs out of it and focused on a) what happened and b) how do we know. I argue lightly at the end that a transcendent, universal, spiritual Jesus is more valuable than a historical one, but that’s not the point of the book. I don’t argue against Jesus or Christianity – it just seems to me, given the evidence, that there was no historical founder behind the Christian movement – and I think that’s really pretty incredible, and that people should know more about it.
What do you want to accomplish with this book? Where can readers purchase it online?
I think I had something to contribute to the discussion, and so I wanted to be able to hold my own and put together a good argument… “make a name for myself”, etc. I want people to be impressed by the catchy idea, but also the research and the amount of work that went into it. A lot of people will probably assume that I’m just a “punk atheist” (as some internet commenter already called me) trying to make a quick buck; but I treat the topic seriously and there’s a massive amount of references. It’ll be up on Amazon.com worldwide soon, and then I’ll start selling to international publishers; hopefully I’ll find one in Taiwan also who will want to translate it.
Do you want to write more books? Do you prefer paintings? Does the flow of creativity from writing and painting ebb and flow?
Creativity definitely comes and goes; although actually I’ve probably already had most of my great ideas. I have enough great ideas to last me a long, long time. The trick will be to try to finish them all. My next book is called “Satan is my Hero”. There’s also “Jesus, Aliens, the Easter Bunny and Other Things I Used to Believe In”. My crowning achievement and first novel will be “The Bible: Part II”. I’ll be happy if I ever make it that far.
What’s next on the agenda for Derek Murphy? What are some of your goals for the future?
In the immediate future, I want a cruise to Mexico, $10grand USD in publishing rights sold, a scholarship so I can finish my PHD without teaching English, and a pet cat. Eventually I’d like to be able to support myself from books and paintings only.
Anything else you want to add?
What I need people to do is get the free review copy of the book I’m giving away on my website and then go to Amazon.com and say nice things about it, give it 5 stars, or mention it on their blog or facebook. It’s got potential but it needs everybody’s support to make it big. Here’s the link: