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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Dr. Kevin Vost - Author Profile

Dr. Kevin Vost, a modern renaissance man. He has taught Psychology, a research and review committee member for Mensa. Strength trainer and exercise master, with over 40 years experience as person trainer and competitive weightlifter. . A man who seeks to balance body, mind and spiritual development and help others find that same balance. We at Book Reviews and More thank him for taking the time to answer some questions.

1. In many ways you are a modern renaissance man, body builder and fitness expert, Doctor of psychology, educator, researcher, student, author and more. Very few people today are as well rounded as your are to what do you attribute this?

Well, from my earliest memories as a child, I was really into superheroes, especially Superman. In my early teens, my idols were Mr. Universe winners and world champion weightlifters. In my later teens, I developed a fascination with philosophers and great thinkers like Aristotle, the Stoics, and other great Greeks and Romans. By my mid-forties, though I didn't see it coming, I was ready to get theological, if you will, and I became fascinated with the lives of great saints. So, my areas of interest have been body, mind, and soul -- and those three cover a lot of ground. When we strive to fully develop them, it puts us in the best position to most fully experience and enjoy this fascinating universe we've been given. I've sought to learn from the very best from whatever period of history, and to seek out practical ideas that can be applied in daily life. So, if I'm well-rounded, then I owe it to all the bodybuilders, philosophers, theologians and saints who have fascinated and inspired me.

2. You write such varied book, from body building to memorization, development of faith, and biographical. Few authors span such diverse topics, to what do you attribute your success in such different fields?

Whatever success I've had probably comes from trying to model (or at least mimic) some of the very best thinkers of ages past, like Aristotle, St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and a few from recent times, like Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer in the field of strength training. Some of the lessons I've learned from the ancient thinkers include the recognition of the great thinkers who have come before us. We should never start from scratch on a subject, but make ourselves aware of the great contributions that have come before us so that we may or may not find something to add, or hone, or tweak, or apply to some new situation - rather than reinventing the wheel - or perhaps reinventing some square-shaped thing of old that didn't roll too well. I also try to share in their search for broad, integrated knowledge, trying to see the "big picture" and the interconnections, rather than becoming too narrowly focused on one thing. At least I try, that is. I'm also intrigued by the concept of virtues as perfections of our human powers, and I strive to find fun and effective means of perfecting those powers, be they the memory improvement techniques developed by the ancients and medievals or the high intensity strength training techniques pioneered by people in my own lifetime.

3. You seem to have achieved a great level of personal balance between body, mind and spiritual development, and maintain it. How do you keep so balanced?

Though I don't necessarily claim more balance than the next guy, I do believe I've been blessed with a natural desire for things that are good for that balancing act. I've always enjoyed exercise and philosophical and historical reading, for example. Still, it wasn't until I was 43 years old that I began to get my spiritual act together (through the grace of God, of course.)What helps me now are the simple habits I've developed. I've been strength training regularly now for almost 35 years. I started at 15 and next January I'll be 50. I've been reading regularly for almost as long, and in the last 6 years the majority of my reading has been focused on learning about Christ and the Catholic Church, with its incredible 2,000 year history of fascinating individuals and ideas. Using high intensity methods, I only lift once a week, so it's pretty easy to keep it going. I tack on a cardio session or two with my wife, and two weekend runs with a couple of friends, and that takes care of the physical (along with a decent dietary regimen.)

4. Are there some specific tools you use to help keep yourself so centered?

Yes, especially a couple of swivel rockers in the living room, our coffee pot, and "Colossus Maximus." Colossus is the name of this huge, over 8 foot long oaken desk/bookshelf that fills my study. I had it built for my writing and reading. Its decorations include a Roman helmet replica, a Greek vase painted with scenes from the Iliad, a bust of Poseidon, statues of Augustus Caesar, The Virgin Mary, St. Thomas Aquinas, and more. These mementos are among my daily reminders to try to strive for the best. I'll explain the rockers and coffee in the next answer.

5. What does your typical day or week look like for our mind, body and spiritual development? Do you try and keep to a specific regime or schedule?

I'm an early riser, about 4:30 with no need for an alarm clock. I start usually with a quick perusal of my email in my study and then I move to one of those swivel rockers with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a good book in the other, and with classical music going softly in the background (Anton Bruckner being my favorite for reading.) This way I start every day rested, relaxed, and fired up with good ideas. My work hours at the disability office are 7:00 - 3:30 PM, so it leaves me with a fair amount of free time in the evening until I conk out around 9:00 PM. As for my weekly routines, in terms of fitness, I run with a couple of wonderful ladies from my office every Saturday and Sunday morning, usually about 5 or 6 miles. My wife Kathy and I will then get to a gym, usually twice a week after work. One day I'll do a brief 20-minute HIT strength workout (mostly just upper body these days - my legs are a strong point and are well-maintained by running and biking) and then do about a 35-minute interval session on an exercise bike and the other day I'll just put in 40 or 45 minutes on the bike. I alternate between traditional and recumbent bikes. Oh, just this week I bought Kathy and myself an outdoor tandem bicycle for our 26th anniversary. We'll be working some leisurely rides into our fitness routine as well. (And if I tire out, Kathy can just get peddling and make up the slack!) Of course, Mass is also part of our weekly schedule. We usually go at 4:30 PM on Saturday and then out to dinner. When I retire in a few years I hope to make daily Mass a part of my routine.

6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publication?

Now this has varied a bit from book to book, but here is the general game plan. I'll have a idea from who knows where and I'll try to come up with an overarching theme and organizing principles. For example, for Fit for Eternal Life, this special organizing theme was the use of the virtues. In my biography of St. Albert the Great, I broke his life of many roles up into three parts labeled "Thinker, Doer, & Lover" and a special theme was the way he displayed the virtue of magnanimity - "greatness of soul." (He's Albert the Great after all!) I'll usually generate a proposed title, table of contents, introduction and at least one chapter and then email it off to a potential publisher. If they like it, it usually takes me 3 - 4 months really going to town to craft a first draft of 200 - 250 pages or so. I work in a disability office full time, so this is early morning, evening, and weekend work, though sometimes I'll take an afternoon or even a couple of days off if things are really rolling with my writing. A few months go by and the revisions start coming back from the editor. These I can usually finish pretty quickly, in a matter of days or weeks, depending on how fast they get things back to me. Usually after I've made my last revisions, a book pops out of the publisher's headquarters a few months of so after that. Then I start contacting the folks in Catholic radio and TV, and happily, they sometimes respond or contact me themselves! As I refresh and prepare for radio interviews and now, live talks, I try to come up with new twists and angles, so my learning on a particular topic continues long after the book is published.

7. Nearly all of your books are with different publishers. Some authors write for the same publishing house their whole career, and yet you seem to have good relationships with all of your publishers. How do you account for that success when so many fail in that arena?

My first three books were with Sophia Institute Press. My fourth book on my reversion story was done with Our Sunday Visitor. The reason was that Sophia was going through some restructuring of sorts and it was taking such a long time for Unearthing Your Ten Talents to come out, that I figured I'd try the idea for From Atheism to Catholicism (which I'd initially proposed as Theology for Atheists) on Bert Ghezzi at OSV and it worked out very well - and very quickly. Those two books were published within a month of each other this year, though Ten Talents had at least a year head start! My fifth book on St. Albert the Great will be with TAN books. Why? Well, it just so happened that Todd Aglialoro, my Sophia editor, now works at TAN. St. Albert is our fourth joint project. All of these publishers have been very good to me and, those publishers and the good Lord willing, I hope to work with every one of them again. In fact, I'm in a project with a fourth publisher too. I'll discuss that in a later question. Oh, as far as my success with multiple publishers, it may have to do with the fact that I can't rest easy with a project afoot, so I work fast and get them what they need when they need it!I also very much appreciate what my editors and publishers do, so I very much try to promote all my books with as much radio, TV, live talks, articles, etc., as I can muster. I also hope that any attention any one book gets helps draw attention to those with the other publishers. I imagine these Catholic publishers see it is to their advantage for them all to stay strong. They are ultimately on the same team!

8. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?

I like that statement as long as we realize that to teach the proper thinking methods we also need to pass along a very healthy serving of content, providing a broad and vast knowledge base upon which we can then pass our judgments. In my book on St. Albert, tentatively subtitled by the publishers, by way, The Last Man Who Knew All There Was To Know, I point out how the ancient "trivium," (literally, three ways) formed the basis of classical and medieval education. By studying grammar, logic, and rhetoric, students learn in depth how to reason logically, see through propaganda and false arguments, and to express their own thoughts clearly in writing and in speaking. So, I'd say the goal of higher education should indeed be how to teach one to learn how to think, building upon a knowledge base of the thoughts of great thinkers before us. You might guess from this that I'm also a fan of "great books," and I see that later questions are leading us there.

9. You write about topics many would prefer not to year about these days, discipline, virtues, obedience, and personal responsibility. Yet even with writing about such unpopular topics in our culture and even in the church in North America, you are developing an ever growing fan base and popularity. Would you consider that a result of people realizing what the need?

I hope you are right about that Steven, and hopefully this may be one reason why people are receptive. In his book, The God Delusion, Professor Richard Dawkins wrote that Christian writers are all about "sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, sin, sin." If I recall correctly, he wrote sin seven times for emphasis (perhaps playing too on the 7 capital or deadly sins.) Well, though this may be the emphasis of some Christian writers, I tend to focus most on things like virtues, the opposite of sins or vices. Sin and vice make us less than we are, but virtues make us all we can be. They perfect our powers and they lead to true happiness. So, I think people are receptive to the idea that by reading "religious" books we can find out things like how our intellects operate, how to develop very powerful memories, how to become very physically fit and strong, how to become kinder, and happier. These are the kinds of ideas that I've borrowed from great saints and theologians. I'm just trying to pass them along as a very nice alternative to some of the much more harmful, but also more boring and mundane alternatives (in my opinion anyway) given by modern pop culture!

10. Have you ever considered writing fiction? If so is it a project we might see in the near future?

I am so impressed by great writers of fiction, but I'm just not sure my mind works that way! I love historical fiction and have toyed with ideas like a St. Thomas Aquinas or an Epictetus popping up in our modern world kind of scenario, but God only knows. Not in the near future, but perhaps after I retire?

11. What books are currently in progress for you? Writing, researching, planning or even just ideas that you would like to work on?

I have just finished the St. Albert book for TAN which is due in March, 2011. I'm also to be featured in a chapter of a book on Catholic reverts by Lorene Duquin due the same month from Our Sunday Visitor. I'm also on the brink of formally proposing a book to TAN called Three Irish Saints: A Study in Spiritual Styles which will feature Sts. Kevin, Patrick, and Brigid, and include self-assessments for tendencies towards deep thought/devotion, action/evangelization, and interpersonal charity/mercy, with the goal of helping us grow these capacities within ourselves. I also want to write a book on St. Aelred of Rievaulx some day and a follow-up memory book -- The Catholic Art of Memory.

12. Do you see yourself return to the fitness industry and writing another book for physical development?
Absolutely!! In fact, your timing couldn't be better. At Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books' suggestion, Peggy Bowes, the author of The Rosary Workout, and I have also started just in the last couple of days a new book of 365 daily devotions of faith - and fitness. Each day will include spiritual meditations and also practical tips on nutrition, rest, strength training, cardiovascular training, stretching, etc. So, with Peggy and Cheryl's collaboration, I'll be racking my brain and pulling out all the stops to provide all sorts of practical tips and suggestions on improving the body for just the right reasons. Also, we are hoping to produce a joint exercise DVD next year, possibly in collaboration with Johnnette Benkovic of EWTN TV's Women of Grace Program. Oh, and I'll also have a new article on Faith and Fitness in the May, 2011 issue of Liguorian Magazine.

13. What authors influenced your writing style and format?

The one influence I'm most conscious of was the popular historian Will Durant. For example, I remember in his book, The Pleasures of Philosophy, he was writing about the pleasures of family life when he wrote that right at that moment he heard his young daughter downstairs calling up to her daddy. He wrote as if he were sitting there chatting with you. He focused on weighty things like history and philosophy, and he wrote like a real human being, living a normal life in our day, and hoping to share with us the great lessons in life he'd learned from others. I'm not saying I can do that, but he was one of my models. An ancient author whose style I greatly admire is the Roman Stoic Seneca. Just read one of his Letters and you'll see what I mean. He also influenced me personally in 2004 by one of his great lines, translated from the Latin - "There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living." Now, having been a very busy person, this really stuck me and motivated me to quit my adjunct college teaching. Having more time for reflection, within a year I found myself rejecting 25 years of atheism, returning to Christ and the Church, and becoming an author. (Thank you Seneca!) In terms of format, I think I've also been influenced to some extent by the modern philosopher Mortimer Adler. Being an Aristotelian and a Thomist, he always strove and succeeded in being very clear, organized, and logical. I give it my best shot.14. If you could only recommend 10 books to a reader looking to be a well rounded and whole person what books would you suggest?

The Bible St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics Epictetus's Discourses Seneca's Letters Marcus Aurelius' Meditations Thomas a'Kempis's The Imitation of Christ H.D.F. Kitto's The Greeks Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty II (strength training) Kenneth Cooper's Aerobics These are heavily weighted towards philosophy and theology, and especially ethics - how to relate to God, to regulate oneself, and to treat one another. If those areas are developed, everything of importance will tend to follow along nicely.

15. What fiction books or authors do you enjoy or recommend?

I don't read much fiction, though I prefer historical fiction and love it when I read it. In my youth, I loved Ayn Rand's novels, especially The Fountainhead - "Man's mind is the fountainhead of achievement!" I've enjoyed the Claudius novels by Robert Graves too. I much like the fictional novels on saints by Louis deWohl. His The Quiet Light on St. Thomas is a favorite. Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem about the last days of the Roman Empire was a great read a few years back, as was Angels in Iron by Nicolas Prata about the Knights of St. John's defense of Malta. My editor Todd Aglialoro got me into the various and hilarious Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse a couple of years back, and those are a lot of fun.

16. What fitness authors to you recommend?

Anything by Mike Mentzer, Arthur Jones, Ellington Darden, or Clarence Bass. (Clarence has a very popular web site at www.cbass.com and I've written several articles for him myself.) These are the masters of HIT - high intensity strength training. I like Adam Zickerman's Power of Ten book on the super slow method of training too. I also recommend highly my friend and co-author Peggy Bowes's The Rosary Workout for a wonderful graded program of aerobic exercise and prayer.

17. What are some of your favorite contemporary religious authors to read?

There are so many. I'll name just a few. One of my great joys in coming back to the Church 6 years ago was to discover great new religious authors like Scott Hahn and Peter Kreeft. Scott Hahn has such a wonderful mastery of Scripture and Peter Kreeft of philosophy. They're both pretty humorous wordsmiths too! I've also become quite fond of my OSV editor Bert Ghezzi's books on the saints and spirituality. Bert's writing style is very warm, engaging, and unaffected. I've also had the good fortune to become friends with three up-and-comers (mark my words!) - Shane Kapler, author of The God Who is Love, Matt Swaim, author of The Rosary and the Eucharist, and the aforementioned Peggy Bowes (whom I refer to as your typical Catholic housewife, mom, fitness expert, former Air Force pilot, who drove around the country in an RV for 4 years home schooling her kids.)

18. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?

Hmm? Should I reveal this? I watch very little TV, mostly EWTN, and my favorite show is The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi. (In fact, plans are in the works for my own 2011 appearance! Please pray for that!) However, Kathy and I also watch Dancing with the Stars, and well, Big Brother. We like the elegance, the discipline, and some, though not all, of the humor of Dancing. Big Brother is the kind of thing I would never have chosen on my own, but a friend strongly recommended it and I finally acquiesced. I've found it an interesting experiment in social psychology, a good way to keep up with the behavior of modern young adults (not that what goes on in that show is always typical!), and I've been pleased to see, that even in that game, nice guys (and gals) who are honest and kind, often win! Oh, I don't seek this out, but when I happen to chance upon a World's Strongest Man competion, I always enjoy those and find them inspiring for training! Still, I usually just watch a little TV when I'm too tired for reading or writing. I also like superhero movies - Superman, Ironman, X-Men for example, though Kathy and I very rarely go to the theatre for modern movies. We do love to watch the old Turner classic type movies with people like Errol Flynn, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, etc., usually on Friday nights.

19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?

I'm thinking maybe it was Chesterton who once answered a question like this with How to Build a Boat. Actually, see #14, except I'd forgo the Aerobics book and bring along The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's an amazing distillation of the wisdom of great thinkers (Augustine, Aquinas, and others), as well as Scripture and the most important parts of the 2,000 years of tradition within the Church.

20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?
There's no way to know if you are called to write unless you actually write. There is a line in an early short story of Ayn Rand's in which one character mentions the need for having "a dream" or great goal and the other says the problem for most people is not that they do not have dreams, but that they only have dreams. Old friends used to jokingly use this line about the first serious gym in our city, where I used to work -- "Pro-Form Fitness Center - Where dreams become reality!" The Greek poet Hesiod has a similar great line - "To achieve excellence, you first must sweat!" Aristotle said, "We become builders by building and harpists by playing the harp." Of course, Nike sums this up with "Just do it!" So, that's my first advice. Don't just think about it. Think about it - then work hard and actually do it! Also, here's a tip for nonfiction authors. I've met several people who've been writing a book for years. Someday, when it is perfect, they plan to submit to a publisher. I've found that what some publishers are looking for is more like a unique and useful idea for a book, a good proposed table of contents, and a sample chapter or two. They like to help you shape the rest for their intended audience. So, would-be authors - get busy! If you have a good idea and are willing to work hard at it in collaboration with others, then get down to brass tacks and send something off to a publisher -- in this lifetime! (Most publishers have author submission guidelines on their web sites.)

Thanks so much for asking me these great questions Steven. Readers may also contact me through my web site at
www.drvost.com, if they should be so inclined.

Thank you again Dr. Vost for taking some time to answer our questions. I found them fascinating and am sure many others will also.


Books by Dr. Kevin Vost:
Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

One-Minute Aquinas
Memorize the Reasons!
St. Albert the Great
Hounds of the Lord
Seven Deadly Sins
Three Irish Saints
The Porch and the Cross
Memorize the Mass!
Tending the Temple
From Atheism to Catholicism
Unearthing Your Ten Talents
Fit For Eternal Life
Memorize the Faith!
Full Range of Motive

Books Contributed to:
Man Up!

Author profile interview with Dr. Kevin Vost.

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