Friday, September 24, 2010

[Interview] Bosley Gravel

Bosley Gravel was born in the Midwest and grew up in Texas and southern New Mexico.

His work includes the novels, Servant of the Mud (Shadowfire Press, 2009) and The Movie (Bewrite Books, 2009).

In this interview, Bosley Gravel talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember.

I first sought publication in the mid-90s, but that didn't amount to much. In 2006 I took up writing again and have written close to half a million words since then. About 200,000 of those have seen publication in some form.

Between 1996 and 2006 the Internet became a critical tool for writers and I’ve leveraged that in a predictable way by targeting online journals, using it for research and making cheap, efficient submissions via email.

The number one thing I did to achieve the goal of publication was to write every day and study the craft of storytelling. As for the reasons for seeking publication, that is hidden in treasure chest and buried deeply somewhere between my ego and my id.

How would you describe your writing?

My novels typically involve plots centering around personal growth.

I tend to use simple structures and complex characters (all male so far) who, through extraordinary circumstances, must come to terms with a hidden aspect of themselves. These characters have built entire worlds of myth around themselves and subsequently struggle to align themselves with both the myth and the reality of their lives.

Essentially, these are coming-of-age stories built on top of the hero’s journey formula. If that sounds rigid, it’s not.

I pride myself on not being afraid to take a chance and follow some strange and unusual paths. For example, I’ve written about an independent filmmaker who struggles to get his absurd imagination on the big screen; a troubled polymath who must come to terms with not only the brutal world, but his own fears of loss and love; a handsome anthropophobic accountant who finds his true nature in a new found world of organized crime and sorcery; a gifted musician who is orphaned at an early age and soon learns that even fame and fortune can not fill an empty soul; a could-be messiah who must come to terms with both his human needs, and his divine responsibility.

With my short fiction pretty much anything goes though. Most of that is available online in some form or another. A lot of it is genre stuff with emphasis on plot and trope, some literary and some just a kind of unclassifiable other. In my short fiction I’ve written everything from splatter-punk horror to morality fables.

I read widely and I think my fiction reflects that.

Who is your target audience?

I’m sort of a selfish writer, I hate to say.

I don’t think much about audience and, since I don’t really stick closely to one genre, I pay for this by not having consistent readership. When I write, the only loyalty I feel is to the story and, ultimately, to the protagonist.

With that being said, I have a handful of faithful readers who read early drafts and I’ll often oblige their tastes or tailor content for them in some fashion. But it will always be on terms that are true to the character or story.

Which authors influenced you most?

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn had a tremendous influence on me. I still go back and read that book occasionally. The depth and layering of both the Huck character and the story itself has had a big impact on me and introduced me to concepts of irony and metaphor in fiction -- although I didn’t know that the first time I read it of course.

Also, there is a book called Wyvern by A. A. Attanasio that is story about a Bornean native/Dutch half-breed who goes from the jungles to the shore of America in the 1500s. It’s really a story about destiny and human potential. A great book.

In terms of something I’ve read more recently, I think Rebecca Wells wrote some excellent short fiction in Little Altars Everywhere and Ya-Yas in Bloom.

Little Altars Everywhere, in particular, inspired me to start writing again after a 10-year hiatus. I was impressed with the depth of her characters and the simplicity of her prose.

Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker and William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Poppy Z. Brite, Louis L'Amour and Lawrence Block have also all made significant contributions to my writer’s toolbox.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My writing is in stark contrast to my day job.

I deal primarily with computers and computer networks in the real world and, when I sit down to write, it’s the last thing I want to think about. So my stories almost never contain elements of technology. In fact a good deal of my longer works are set pre-1990 in order to avoid having to deal with the Internet, texting, cell phones, etc. I find all of that terribly boring.

Obviously though, as I writer, I’ve been gathering details on people, places and situations for years, and these come out in my writing. I think all the ups and downs of my life do come out in some way or another in my writing. I’m a bit reluctant to reveal any specific details though, so like the reasons for seeking publication, it will have to remain a mystery.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I think writers have an obligation to tell the truth.

The truth isn’t always pretty and the truth is often subject to perspective. Worse yet, the truth is sometimes fluid and changing.

I get concerned that a reader will misinterpret something I’ve written and use it to justify a rigid view of the world.

In the same vein, it would bother me a bit if I thought people were associating me too closely with my characters.

I try to avoid the problem of having too loud a moral voice by writing about people and less about ideas.

Apart from being accused of evangelizing some half-baked belief, my only other real worry is being a bore -- the worst sin ever for a writer (makes me shiver just thinking about it).

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge is finding the time to go back and edit what I’ve written.

By the time I’ve completed a chapter or a short story or even an novel, my imagination is already taking me to the next one, and the previous one becomes a lot less shiny and pretty.

The only cure for this is discipline, and the desire to be published. No editor wants a first draft on his desk; well, no editor in their right mind, anyway. The only real way to deal with the final polish is to just go ahead and do it.

By the same token, I try to avoid over-polishing a piece. I think too much commercial fiction is edited to mush and really has no remaining voice. I'd rather not do that.

Do you write everyday?

I write every morning. I go for about 500 to 750 words; on occasion more. I just grab a cup of coffee and write a page or so, get my kids out the door for school, then hack out another page or two.

I've written about five novel-length manuscripts. Two of those were released at the tail end of 2009, one as an ebook, and the other as a paperback. The others remain in various stages of drafting.

The two that have been released are:
  • Servant of the Mud, Shadowfire Press, Dec 4th 2009. This is a mythic urban fantasy that follows Pauly, a reluctant Christ figure, who transitions from an irresponsible street kid into something far more, and
  • The Movie, Bewrite Books, Dec 10th 2009. This is a story about a small town kid with big dreams, and a very weird imagination.

What would you say your latest book is about?

In The Movie, the unemployed young feller’s dream is to break into Hollywood with a DIY movie called Cannibal Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space -- versus -- Doctor Clockwork and his Furious Plastic Surgeons of Doom. This was the book’s original title and still stands (in small print, artfully hidden in the front cover image -- my publisher added The Movie as main title).

See what I mean about my characters taking myth and building reality?

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Twenty-four very, very busy days.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I’ve always been keen on small presses. I’m still cutting my teeth as an author and I like the idea of dealing with editors who are hand-choosing their projects and not having them assigned by acquisition folks.

I like the idea of a ‘mom and pop’ style press in this day and age.

BeWrite Books was one of the handful of small presses that turned up in my research as being flexible and open to literary-type fiction that is fun and unpretentious.

What advantages and/or disadvantages has your association with BeWrite Books presented?

BeWrite has been everything I’d expected it to be ... and more.

Craft is obviously very important to the staff, and it shows in their titles and the attention my manuscript received (the first draft took me twenty-four days ... it was almost a year in edit as revisions passed between me and BeWrite Books over and again).

The disadvantage, I suppose, is that small presses can’t afford the media-blitz marketing big publishing can do ... with an emphasis on can. It doesn’t look like big publishers do much advertising for their authors these days anyway, other than a select few.

I think in the day and age of virtual everything, handling distribution/production the way BeWrite does it is the future that big publishing will eventually yield to anyway. So that’s really less of a disadvantage and more of a ahead-of-their-time kind of thing with BB ... but it still limits sales.

Bewrite’s no-pulping methods are a lot better for the environment. And while I’m rarely seen hugging trees, I think being frugal with our limited global resources is important.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into The Movie?

This book wrote itself. I’m told every author gets one of those sooner or later.

I think the most difficult thing was to go clean up the prose and punctuation, etc.

I read once that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on a single sheet of paper that rolled continuously through his typewriter, he used no punctuation and no indents. My manuscript was not much different.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

This book was just fun to write. The characters all have an innocence about them, an innocence they’ve chosen to indulge. In direct opposition to this innocence is the lead character’s screenplay with these bizarre and decedent scenarios.

I enjoy deliberately blurring opposing concepts like that.

I’ve had beta readers from all over the world, from middle aged American housewives to Australian teenagers, even a moderately curmudgeonly (but brilliant) Scottish editor -- they've all loved it.

The idea that I could write something that would be enjoyable by such a vastly different group of people is immensely encouraging.

What sets The Movie apart from other things you’ve written?

This is the most light-hearted manuscript I’ve written. My other books tend to be dark and only cautiously optimistic about human nature.

In this case, caution is thrown to the wind and I’m thrilled that it came out this way.

It’s also written in first person which is a rarity for me.

In what way is it similar to the others?

It includes several hallmarks of a Bosley Gravel story: male protagonist with a somewhat flawed sense of reality and vivid imagination, a meta-story woven into the story proper, love, sex, death, the absurdly tragic ... and the tragically absurd.

What will your next book be about?

My current novel manuscript, American Woman, is about Hollywood Tommy.

Tommy is a self-absorbed womanizer, who as a way to deal with a mid-life crisis, rekindles a relationship with his ex-wife and his children in suburbia.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Writing one word after another. Finding a reason to do it each and every day.

Having the guts to get things in front of editors and readers.

Aspiring to write a book better than the last one I wrote.

Having the guts to get my work out there to editors and readers.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

[Interview] Mary Fawcett

Mary Fawcett is an early years consultant and an evaluator for 5x5x5=creativity, an arts-based research organisation that supports the expression of children's feelings, thoughts and ideas.

She has worked as a Social Work lecturer and was Director of Early Childhood Studies at the University of Bristol.

Mary Fawcett edited Focus on Early Childhood: Principles and Realities (Working Together for Children, Young People, and Their Families) (Wiley-Blackwell, 2000) and Researching Children Researching the World: 5X5X5=creativity (Trentham Books Ltd, 2008).

She is also the author of Learning Through Child Observation (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009).

In this interview, Mary Fawcett talks about her work:

How did you become interested in Early Childhood Studies?

I decided to become a teacher of young children (as a school leaver) largely because I liked the idea of sharing my enthusiasms, such as music, gardening, literature, scientific ideas, painting, making and cooking. In fact, I was able to do all these things as a teacher in the 1950s and 60s.

While my children were young, I was deeply involved in the early days of the playgroup movement. Through this I learned about adult learning, community development and different forms of provision. With each new experience my fascination with children’s early development increased. Since then, the rapid growth in research in the area of Early Childhood Studies has continued to feed my curiosities.

How has the field of child observation has changed since 1996 when the first edition of Learning Through Child Observation was published?

At the time of the first edition I was lecturing on Social Work courses and was surprised at how little preparation there was for these students in terms of observation skills and knowledge of child development. There was a clear gap in the market for students’ books and especially a book for the variety of professional groups concerned with young children. Today there are many books on observation, but they still tend to concentrate on specific professional groups.

The government’s more joined-up approach to children’s services now means there is an ever greater need for a multi-professional approach. Though the rhetoric is all about ‘every child matters’, personalisation etc, I feel that prescriptive, goal-driven approaches may have diminished open-minded observation and led to less sensitive understanding.

Another factor, addressed in the second edition, is the changing view of children. Through my work with 5x5x5=creativity, as well as personal observations of three grandchildren, over the last few years, I have become much more alert to the dynamic capacities of all young children and conscious of how they are underestimated.

The second edition also demonstrates the importance of the many forms of communication children use to express their feelings and ideas.

The new edition of your book includes insights from your work with the arts based educational project, 5x5x5 = creativity. Can you tell us more about the organisation?

5x5x5=creativity is an arts-based educational research project that has been evolving over the last 9 years.

The name came from the first cohort of five early year’s settings working with five artists in collaboration with five cultural centres (galleries, theatre, music centre, etc).

The project is concerned with creativity in its broadest sense -- Anna Craft calls this ‘life-wide’ creativity -- where open-minded problem-solving can be used in all kinds of situations.

My observations of hundreds of children through this project has opened my eyes to their brilliant imaginations and their ability to share their fascinations with others through the ‘hundred languages of children’ i.e. through drawing, moving, music, and many other modes as well as talking. This is an important matter since talking, reading and writing tend to overshadow all these other forms.  

What do you think are the main challenges/attractions of working in Early Years settings?

I suspect that my personal enthusiasm for this stage comes through in the answers to the first three questions. Working in the early years can be a time when adults can share the excitement of discovery with these intrepid young explorers if the conditions are positive.

Children need an environment which supports their inbuilt drives -- especially their curiosity and intense desire to communicate with others. This playfulness, energy and sense of fun are nature’s ways of ensuring that each generation develops and grows to their best advantage. However, in the drive to regulate and ‘raise standards’, to achieve targets and to ensure safety (none of these are undesirable in themselves) -- those working with young children often seem very pressured and anxious.

Maintaining a sense of optimism and remaining open to children’s own energetic efforts towards membership of social groups as well as their individual striving for development is certainly a challenge in the current climate.

What was the last book you read and what are you reading at the moment?

The current book I'm reading (and its taking a long time!) is Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010

This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Social Work Newsletter in July 2009

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

[Interview] Nana Awere Damoah

Nana Awere Damoah is a Ghanaian Chevening alumnus who studied in Ghana and in the United Kingdom.

He keeps a blog of his articles at Excursions in my Mind.

So far, he has written and published two books, Through the Gates of Thought (Athena Press, 2010) and Excursions in my Mind (Athena Press, 2008).

His short stories have been featured in Ghanaian newspapers and magazines that include The Mirror and The Spectator as well as in the anthology, African Roar (Lion Press Ltd, 2010).

In this interview, Nana Awere Damoah talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

My very first article, published in Through the Gates of Thought, was written in 1993 -- so I trace my writing life to that year. I was 18 years old then. But my appreciation of the literary form and my involvement in things literary actually started much earlier, in preparatory school, in the early 1980s when each class had to perform a play a day before the vacation day ... Small beginnings, appreciation of the arts, learning the rudiments of prose and poetry.

I remember being taught, in preparation for the Common Entrance in preparatory school, to answer the question: "Write a story ending with ‘…  and the boy learnt a lesson for life, that obedience is better than sacrifice" ... Small beginnings of creative writing.

Then in Form One, in 1986, I wrote what I consider my first creative work, in (you won’t believe this) my history class: “A Day in Carthage”. It was purely fictional, and I loved it!

In the sixth form, we wanted to form a Literary Club and that was what led me to write that first article published in Through the Gates of Thought.

My first break as a writer came in 1995 when I submitted a short story, ‘The Showdown’, to the popular weekly newspaper, The Mirror -- and it was published! Seeing my name in print, knowing that this newspaper was the best selling paper in Ghana and circulated all over the country, gave me immense confidence and encouragement.

My skills were further honed when I joined the Literary Wing of the Christian fellowship during University.

In my early days, and this hasn’t changed much, I wrote a lot during the day, in my study notebooks, on sheets of paper, whenever and wherever inspiration hit. I continued to submit stories to The Mirror, The Spectator (which published one story), magazines on the University campus and shared my writings with the Literary club and also posted them on notice boards in the Department and my hall of residence, Katanga Hall. Some of them were published, some were rejected!

I also did a lot of reading in the secondary school and University, to learn about various writing styles.

I started my writing journey with essays, but moved swiftly into short stories. In 1997, I entered and won a national competition for true short stories. I got into poetry in the University, during my undergraduate years, and used to recite my poems in church. I started writing these essays which form the material for both books, in Oct 2004 and circulated to my friends via email. When I was in the UK for my masters, I started updating them on my first blog, Excursions in My Mind.

After a while, friends who received my Empower series started encouraging me to publish a compilation for a wider audience. That was around 2005 whilst I was studying for my Masters in the UK.

I did a compilation and seriously started looking for options, whilst still writing the articles and sharing them online. On my way to Ghana, after a business meeting in Israel, I saw an advert in the Economist by my publisher and I decided to submit my manuscript.

That was in November 2007.

My first book was published in October 2008.

How would you describe your writing?

I write fiction, non-fiction, and poems.

I like to refer to my non-fiction as reflective, rather than motivational. The analogy in the differentiation is this: a motivational book may provoke you, positively, to start running, in whatever direction -- that is speed. A reflective book, which is more than (yet inclusive of) motivational, will cause you to run, in a direction, knowing where and why you are running -- that is velocity. Because it matters not how hard you row the boat if you are headed in the wrong direction.

Who is your target audience?

I write with young adults in mind, mostly.

I have, however, had middle-aged readers react very well to the books, because I believe the lessons adduced in the writings are universal -- across ages, cultures and social classes.

We practise oral tradition in most African cultures, where the thoughts, ideals and knowledge of the family, tribe or clan are transmitted from one generation to the other without a writing system. However, this system is flawed in the sense that a lot of African innovation, experience and culture have been lost.

I think of my descendants ... two, three or four generations from now; I think of my children ... 40, 50 years from now; I try to remember the stories my dad shared with me about his life’s experiences. Will my descendants know what I am going through today, what my wishes were for my generation and for them? Can the lessons I have picked up from the varied peregrinations in my life be crystallised for eternity, for the benefit of those yet unborn?

My attempt to answer these questions gave birth to my Empower series of articles, which form the materials for both Excursions in my Mind and Through the Gates of Thought.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

In terms of how I write in my Empower series which form the material for my two books -- Through the Gates of Thought and Excursions in my Mind -- Dale Carnegie has been a great influence on my style and the simple approach in my writing.

In terms of my works of fiction and drawing on my culture, Chinua Achebe has had a strong impact on me, and his book Things Fall Apart is an all-time favorite.

I look to the Bible (David, Solomon) for inspiration for my poetry.

I am, however, a voracious and indiscriminate reader and have been influenced by numerous writers of varied styles and genres. For instance, in my teenage years, I read a lot of fairy tales translated from Russian!

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

As indicated above, I draw lessons from my personal experiences, and also from what I read and hear.

I see myself as a distillation plant, that takes issues around me -- mundane, routine everyday occurrences -- as my raw material; then reflects on and processes them, producing various fractions, fit for use by my readers.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

In sharing thoughts through my writings, my earnest hope is that I may be able to change even one mind. If I can change one such mind, I would have contributed to the agenda of building our nation, our continent, our world.

Thus, in my books, I ensure the reader is not left hanging without an action point; each article provokes the reader to take an action, upon reflecting on the main points.

In my works of fiction, the main aim is to project African culture and folklore, which is where I am researching more and more these days. I am in love with our traditional sayings and proverbs and seek to incorporate them more in my stories. This is evident in my story, "Truth Floats", which appears in African Roar.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Being able to juggle my full time job with Unilever in Ghana (I am presently the Research and Development Technical Manager), my family and social responsibilities, and my passion for writing!

Seeing my writing as an extension of my Christian ministry, as the main vehicle and medium for me to impact my generation and beyond, helps to keep me focused. Because I see it as such, I invest and make time for writing, knowing and believing that through this talent, I can be significant. My wife has been quite supportive in this endeavor, giving me room to indulge in my literary passion and ministry.

Do you write everyday?

My principle is to write, think about my ideas or read daily. At least two hours a day. When I write, it is usually at dawn: when the world is asleep, my thoughts are clearer.

Usually I would have the idea in my mind, and would ruminate on it for some time. It took me three years to write one particular article; some articles take me a week from inception to finish.

I sit behind the PC and just write, once I have the flow in my mind. Then I do my edits, and do further research for quotes etc to enrich the scripts.

I never send out the first draft -- one rule of mine is to let the sun go down on my writing.

I write in chunks -- a chapter at a time. For my books, I circulate the articles, chapter by chapter first and get more inputs/feedback from my online readers and friends, to help enhance the final product.

How many books have you written so far?

I have two non-fiction books:

Through the Gates of Thought (Athena Press, April 2010) and Excursions in My Mind (Athena Press, October 2008).

I have also contributed to one anthology, African Roar (StoryTime, June 2010).

How did you chose a publisher for your latest book?

My latest book, Through the Gates of Thought, took about two years to complete.

It is an eclectic collection of stories, articles, poems, which touch various aspects of everyday life. I write about everyday events, common thoughts, normal issues -- but in a style that distills the key essence of life's lessons.

The stories will cause you to pause and think, think and reflect, reflect and take action -- an action for a positive change. Through these, I seek to affect my society, community, continent, world -- one mind at a time.

Through the Gates of Thought was published in April 2010, in the UK and USA. Athena Press published my first book and I stuck with them. I am happy so far with their professionalism, the thoroughness of the publishing process and the quality of the finished product.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Through the Gates of Thought?

None, really.

Perhaps making the time to complete within my targeted schedule.

I enjoyed the interaction with readers online as I blogged the various chapters. And to hear the impact it had had on people.

Finally, the opportunity to mentor young readers who write to me to advise on their own writing, and other aspects of life -- it makes writing worthwhile and is in line with my vision to affect lives.

What sets  Through the Gates of Thought apart from other things you've written?

The interesting bit about my books is that each chapter is a standalone, unique in the lessons and thrust. So Through the Gates of Thought is as unique as the number of chapters it contains!

Personally, I see maturity in this second book as well. I keep reading the chapters again and again, as I go through similar situations.

In what way is it similar to the others?

The similarity comes with the simplicity of the topics intertwined with the power of déjà vu: stories that remind you of your own experiences, lessons of everyday life served with a different perspective, making you look at your experiences again -- resulting in new learning, all your own.

What will your next book be about?

I am already in chapter four of the next book. I am yet to find a title for it!

Its focus is more inspirational and aims to provoke the new generation of Africans, especially, to be the game-changing generation for our continent.

A long-intended project is to write a novel about the legendary spider in Ghanaian folklore.

I am also doing a compilation of my poems for publication soon -- we live to see which of these three books will out first!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Can I give two?

First, winning the first prize in the Step Magazine National Story Writing Competition in 1997, which led to my story being published as part of an anthology.

Second, getting published, with my name on the cover of two books!

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Friday, September 17, 2010

[Interview] Joshua Pringle

Joshua Pringle is a novelist, singer and journalist living in New York City.

He is also the web editor for the international political affairs magazine, Worldpress.org. His latest novel, Downward Facing God, is currently being reviewed by literary agents.

In this interview, Joshua Pringle talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, then went to college and studied magazine journalism. In college I also wrote a lot of songs.

It wasn't until the tail end of college that I started in on prose. I wrote a couple short stories, a screenplay, and then dove into my first novel. That was in 2002 that I started the novel.

Writing has never felt like a conscious decision to me. Instead, a story finds its inception in the back of my head and asks to be let out. With each book or screenplay I've begun, I sit down at a keyboard with an opening scene in my head, start typing, and then ask myself as I go who these characters are, where they're going, what they want. Then the story slowly unfolds in my head over an extended period of time.

So, part of the process is very intuitive for me. But the other half of it is simply hard work, forcing myself to sit down, write, and rewrite. A novel is almost like a marriage in the level of commitment it takes.

As far as wanting to be published, that just seemed like a natural next step after putting all the effort into writing a book. I didn't find an agent for my first novel, so I self-published it, printing enough copies for my inner circle.

With my second novel I'm putting more effort into selling it. I'm currently in the process of sending query letters to agents, which is a drag, especially for an unknown writer, but it has to be done.

How would you describe your writing?

In the literary world, my novels would be described as "accessible literary fiction," which basically means the writing is not the kind of jaw-dropping prose that you'd find in, say, The Great Gatsby or a Dostoevsky book -- it falls somewhere between there and mainstream fiction, which is usually just about plot and not the subtleties and nuances of the writing.

The book I've just finished, called Downward Facing God, is written in first person and is very conversational. It flows pretty smoothly, like you're just listening to someone tell his story. But the subject matter can be pretty loaded, ranging from the main character experiencing a loss of God to reacting to the 9/11 attacks. There are layered looks at the practice of yoga, philosophy, personal relationships.

I think the writing can be light and full of humor on one page and unabashedly vulnerable on the next.

As to whom I'd like to read it, I suppose anyone with a deep well of emotion in them and a taste for thinking outside the box. The yoga crowd will also like this latest one. But I don't think about my audience while I'm writing. I just try to write the best book I'm capable of writing.

Which authors influenced you most?

Ethan Hawke had a significant effect on me while I was writing my first one, because his writing is so fluid. It goes down like clear water. That was a refreshing contrast to some of the other stuff I'd been reading at the time, like Tom Wolfe.

Ethan's stuff made me want to write something that was deep and insightful while also being an "easy" read. Dave Eggers has a knack for this as well.

Other books that influenced me include The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kite Runner, The Road. The list is a long one.

Then there is the occasional book like Gatsby that just makes you sick because it's so elegant.

Why did they have this influence? I don't know how you answer that. All I know is I was living in San Francisco when I read Kite Runner and there were times I missed my bus stop because I had my nose buried in that book.

Trying to explain why a book is beautiful -- to steal a phrase from a film -- is like dancing to architecture.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Every experience I have gets stored away subconsciously. When I go to create an imaginary world in a novel, these experiences are the clay I'm working with.

Sometimes I pull directly from things that have happened to me, but most of the time that mysterious artistic laboratory inside my brain concocts those experiences into something else. It's like when two people's DNA combine to create a child. It's clear enough where the child's personality comes from, but that personality is always something completely unique and different from the parents'.

My writing is autobiographical, but only in the loosest sense. The characters and the story develop their own agenda, and I sometimes feel like I'm letting them come through me, like it's not actually up to me how their story plays out.

What are your main concerns and challenges as a writer?

I hit rough parts where I really have to fight to get through a section because it's giving me trouble for whatever reason.

In the editing and rewriting there are always rough spots as well, especially when you know something's not working and you have to cut or re-do something that you really thought was going to be good the first time you approached it.

I sometimes deal with this by taking a step away and coming back to it. Or I re-read, rethink, re-approach.

Sometimes feedback from a friend can be really helpful.

Honestly it's different every time. Solutions to writing problems are often ad hoc.

Do you write every day?

I definitely don't write every day, even when I'm in the middle of writing a novel. This might be different if I were writing novels for a living, but I don't think writing every single day is good for my process.

A lot of my story development actually happens when I'm not at my desk -- on the subway, in the grocery store, in a yoga class. When I'm focused on a story, my characters follow me around. They're in my head. And so little things will trigger ideas about what should happen with those characters. By the time I get home I might have a full page of notes that I compiled in the course of my day.

I'm a very organized and scrupulous note taker, which helps me a lot. Because I figure out how I want a scene to go before I write it, the actual writing is often merely execution of something already figured out. And when I'm writing something that requires a lot of research, having organized notes is essential.

I did a ton of research for this last book on philosophy, politics, yoga, and a couple of other topics. I do the same thing when I'm writing a journalistic article, but the research for a novel is on a whole different level, simply because of the enormity of the task.

A writing session usually starts with me reviewing those notes. It usually ends when I run out of scotch.

How many books have you written so far?

Two.

The first one is called Don't Say the Word Love and is about a psychologist with an addictive personality. It's about sex, drugs, and psychology. It took me two years to write and edit.

The second one, as I mentioned, is called Downward Facing God and is a bit harder to sum up. I guess it's kind of like a male version of Eat Pray Love. There are several ways that that comparison doesn't work, but I make the comparison because both are about a person who's going through some pretty serious life changes. Mine isn't a memoir, but it kind of reads like one.

My protagonist gets hit with some heavy blows (which I won't give away) and is thrust into levels of adulthood he wasn't prepared for. Over a period of five years, spanning three different cities and a few different professions, he battles and stumbles and evolves.

One of the ideas behind the book is that he, like all of us, doesn't reach an ultimate destination. The journey winds, and the learning process goes on indefinitely.

The second one took longer. Just under three years, I think.

Which aspects of Downward Facing God did you find most difficult?

There is a section in the book where I had to work to not impose my own political views too much.

I also had to resist including too much factual context. It can be difficult when something requires a monumental amount of research and you know as a writer that you can use only a small portion of all that information you dug up.

I imagine there are actors who do extensive work to fill in a background for a character, knowing all along that none of it will explicitly show up on the screen. With that kind of thing I just have to grind away and be smart about it, find a way to make the book work as a whole.

On the other hand, there were sections of the book that were really fun to write. A couple scenes come to mind where I was probably smiling as I wrote them.

What will your next book be about?

I don't really know.

I think I have to live the next stage of my life first, so that the book is grounded in experience to some extent. I'm fairly certain, though, that it will have an international aspect to it.

I've become very interested in the disparities between privileged and desperate people. For instance, the amount of extreme poverty in the Global South is simply staggering to me. Living in the United States can bring with it a level of oblivion when it comes to this kind of thing. I'd like to find a way to shed light on another part of the world with my next book, in a way that's positive and bridges the gap between cultures while still telling a compelling story.

But first, I'll have to do more traveling.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Finishing a novel is always a huge achievement.

However, I think my crowning moment is still ahead of me. Perhaps it will be when I sell my latest book and see it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Or perhaps it will be when I get a call from Keira Knightley saying she read my book and wants to go out to dinner and talk about it.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

University Encourages Literature for Inmates

By Tim Handorf

Baylor University, located in Waco, Texas, is taking a new approach to classic literature and community service.

For the first time, the Baptist school is sponsoring a program that will attempt to lower inmate recidivism through classic literature reviews provided by the Baylor students.

This program, called an Engaged Learning Group (ELG), is one of several sponsored by the University that aims at providing a select group of students with an opportunity live and learn together, and to explore a challenging social issue in a new way.

The Unlock the Imprisoned Mind with a Digital Key ELG was designed to allow students to give back to their communities over a three or four semester length period by educating prisoners about "great books."

The program synopsis states that "studies show that recidivism among the incarcerated reduces dramatically if the prisoners become involved in literacy programs." And through essays and journal entries, Baylor students aim to accomplish just that.

The program admits around 12 students into this ELG.

Each student will be required to read at least two classic pieces of literature each semester and write a thoughtful journal entry, around 200 words, or an critical essay, roughly 500 words, over the text. Examples given include Homer's Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Euripides' Medea.

Each written piece will then be submitted for blind peer review, meaning students won't know who is reviewing their papers, or whose paper they themselves are editing.

After the best six papers are selected by the students, they will collectively create a newsletter containing the pieces to be distributed amongst the inmates listed on the Chiara's Community database. Chiara's Community is an educated-based prison program that also aims to educate inmates through literacy and learning.

In total, at the end of the program's three semesters, students will have written about and read at least six great classic pieces of literature, not to mention the numerous other peer papers they will review.

At the same time, the inmates that receive this newsletter will be able to learn about and analyze 18 great works.

"We want to provoke thinking serious thoughts about these works and thinking about how these works can still live, can still inform our lives," Dr. John Thorburn, co-director of this ELG said. "And so we want the students to think about this and we want the prison inmates to think about this as well."

Without a doubt, Baylor University has found a way to bridge the gap between classic literature and community service. With students' help, inmates will learn the lessons provided to all of us through these great works, while also hopefully turning their lives around.

About the author

This guest post is contributed by Tim Handorf, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. He welcomes your comments at his email Id: tim.handorf.20@googlemail.com.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

[Interview: Part 2 of 2] Jay Mandal

Gay romance author, Jay Mandal's work includes the novels, All About Sex (BeWrite Books, 2006) and Precipice (Bewrite Books, 2005) as well as the short story collections, The Loss of Innocence (BeWrite Books, 2003); A Different Kind of Love (BeWrite Books, 2002); and Slubberdegullion (BeWrite Books, 2001).

His work has also been featured in anthologies that include Best Gay Romance 2009 (Cleis Press, 2009)and Best Gay Romance 2010 (Cleis Press, 2010).

In this interview, Jay Mandal talks about how his poems, short stories and novels have been received:

We had our first interview about three years ago. Have the challenges you face as a writer stayed the same or have they changed?

On a personal level, my depression seems to have worsened, which means I can’t write as much as I’d like.

Oddly enough, as my depression gains more of a hold, my writing seems to be becoming lighter in tone. I’m not sure whether that’s some form of escapism, if it’s normal change, if I’ve temporarily exhausted my supply of more sombre pieces (or if gay life is generally more accepted/acceptable/less angst-ridden) or if I’ve found ‘my voice’. And there have been legal changes recently, one being that gay couples can legally register their partnership in the UK.

As far as publishing goes, there are fewer bookshops around, both individual, independent stores and chains. We authors must wait to see if Print on Demand and ebooks take up the slack.

You've written poems, short stories and novels. Of the three, which do you think is easier or more difficult to write? And, why do you think this is so?

A novel is certainly hard to write. It’s far longer and has many more opening and closing scenes to create. With All About Sex, I wrote numerous short scenes out of order and then had to rearrange them.

I don’t feel I know much about poetry, although I’m pleased with some of the poems I’ve written.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Sometimes I really don’t know. But books, magazines, television, conversations -- even misheard ones -- are all sources of inspiration. Then there are news items, problem pages, holidays I’ve taken, pictures and photos, songs, a word taken at random from a dictionary.

I may start writing without any clear idea as to where the story is heading, and just hope for the best.

My target is 100 words per day -- in a year, that adds up to nearly 40,000. But I suffer from depression, so often don’t manage to write anything at all.

How have your novels been received?

Generally well -- I’ve sold over 2,500 copies of them (excluding the anthologies); and they were borrowed from UK libraries nearly 1,500 times for the years ended June 2008 and 2009.

Readers encourage me to look again at Dandelion Clock as a screenplay. I think All About Sex would also be interesting as a film or television drama as it’s got plenty of dialogue and action.

Opinion on The Dandelion Clock, which has sold 1,500 copies, is polarised.

The Dandelion Clock is a gentle book more concerned with thoughts and feelings. It’s not an action book. A reader did comment on the amount of tea-drinking which went on, so, much of that has gone when it came to the second edition.

So far, you've written over 300 short stories. Generally, how long does it take you to craft a story from start to finish?

It’s difficult to say.

Some may take years, but I’ll have been working on them only intermittently. A story may not be quickly finished if I’m not well or if I can’t think what happens next.

Flash fiction -- perhaps 200 words -- may be written basically in a day or two, and then it might undergo editing.

Have all the stories you've written been published?

My stories have been published by BeWrite Books in three collections (A Different Kind of Love; The Loss of Innocence; and Slubberdegullion; and there are nine together with the novel, Precipice.

One appears in Best Gay Romance 2009, while another is appearing in Best Gay Romance 2010.

Some others are in process of being placed.

I occasionally toy with the idea of self-publishing, but am put off by the amount of time and effort I would have to expend on this route (which doesn’t guarantee much in the way of reward -- better to find a decent publisher who will do the donkey work for you, even if it’s a small publisher and much of the promotion side is down to you).

I’d obviously like all my finished stories to find a home. This may involve self-publishing occasionally, but BeWrite Books is very much on my side and will at least consider my work for full editorial treatment and ‘proper’ publication. You can’t hit the mark every time, though.

How have your short stories been received?

BeWrite Books and Cleis Press have published my stories in paperback form (e-books are available, too, from BeWrite Books and, shortly, Kindle versions through Smashwords).

Judging from reviews the stories have received, they are popular in the UK and US.

For example, one reader posted a review of BGR2009 on Amazon UK, and said my story was ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the anthology.

Which of the short stories would you say have been most successful?

It was the story, "Chiaroscuro", which received the ‘jewel in the crown’ mention.

I have also won a short story competition which had over 1,000 entries. And, oddly enough, that wasn’t a gay tale.

Some short stories I’ve sent to several famous people who’ve been kind enough to reply, so to some extent I can claim that these have been successful. Others have been mentioned specifically in reviews. Some stories are more humorous or poignant than others, and appeal more to readers.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

[Interview_2] Lori Titus

In an earlier interview, Lori Titus talked, among other things, about her collection of short stories, Green Water Lullaby (Sonar4 Publications, 2010) and about the factors that drew her to paranormal/horror literature.

Her latest offering, Lazarus is a novella set in the Old West which combines steam punk, magic, zombies and ghosts.

She had this to say about the novella:

How would you describe the new book?

Lazarus is a story set in the Old West, in a town in California.

A young widow named Luella Pemby comes to town, armed with a device that can detect the presence of zombies. Lazarus is known as a site of “natural reanimation”, where infrequent Risings of the dead occur.

Luella seeks out the local sheriff, Benjamin Drake and the mayor of the town, Jasper Cole. She offers her help, and both men are wary of her at first.

Luella comes to find that not only are the Risings occurring more frequently, but that there is more going on in the town of Lazarus than she thought. There are ghosts, family rivalries between warlocks, and a mystery surrounding the death of a young woman.

How long did it take you to write the book?

This book is fairly short (it’s a novella, actually). The first draft took about six weeks.

I found myself writing every day, usually writing at night or early morning and then doing revisions in the afternoon.

Lazarus will be published on October 31, 2010, and will be available in both print and e-book through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

How did you chose a publisher for the book?

I actually intended Lazarus to be a short story. I was planning to submit it to Sonar4 Publications as part of an upcoming steam punk anthology. Once I started getting into this story, it became clear that I was going to far exceed the word count.

A friend of mine recommended the Library of the Living Dead. I contacted the publisher, and sent him a synopsis of the plot. He expressed interest, and I sent him the manuscript.

Since this particular publisher specializes in zombie fiction, I felt that they were a good choice to start with. But because this story incorporates unusual elements, I wasn’t sure if it would be something that they would like .

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

The most difficult part of writing this book was the lack of sleep that came with it! I couldn’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I sat up writing, re-writing, and reading it for several entire nights in a row. When I did fall asleep I had dreams about the story, and soon found myself awake again and back in front of my monitor. I slipped into the odd habit of sleeping in the day and then writing at night.

I really loved this story. I loved the characters and breathing life into them.

Luella was the driving force, and her words flew across the page.

I enjoyed the male voices in the story, Jasper and Benjamin. The town came to life easily, including an engaging cast of supporting characters that popped up all by themselves.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

Lazarus is a Western, and my stories are usually set in the present.

The combination of elements is very different. There is a hint of steam punk, magic, zombies, and even some ghosts.

This story is similar to my first book, Green Water Lullaby, in the way it combines the paranormal with an element of romance.

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