Thursday, September 29, 2011

[Interview] Omen Muza

Omen Nyevero Muza holds an MBA and runs a financial advisory firm he co-founded in Harare.

He is also a financial columnist with a local daily newspaper. 

One of his short stories appears in the anthology, Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe  (amaBooks, 2011).

He writes and plays guitar in his spare time. 

In this interview, Omen Muza talks about his concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

My first serious attempt at writing was while waiting for my O-Level results. I cobbled together a collection of poems which was, however, never published.

Before that, I recall that my Grade 7 teacher put my name to something I didn’t write and submitted it to some obscure publication. Perhaps as some form of poetic justice, the publication misspelt my name to something entirely unrecognizable so in the end it was never attributed to me anyway. I am sure my beloved teacher meant well and obviously had a soft spot for me but I wonder whether she was aware that she was making me an accessory to an act of plagiarism. I certainly wasn’t aware!

How would you describe your writing?

Intermittent and undisciplined.

Although I have attempted a novel before, I now tend to focus only on short stories because they are less demanding, time-wise. The rigour of full-time work and contributing a weekly newspaper column on banking and finance does not leave room for much else, apparently.

I have never consciously thought about who my audience is or should be. I just write, really. Sometimes your audience can come from the most unlikely quarters so it may not be wise to have pre-conceived notions about who constitutes it.

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

My pool of influence is quite an eclectic mix. However, if I have to name one person I consciously sought to emulate during my formative years, it would have to be none other than Dambudzo Marechera. With the benefit of hindsight, I was trying to emulate his lifestyle, not his writing style.

And have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

I would say extensively.

Most of my creative work is based on my personal experiences, sometimes to the point of being crudely autobiographical, I must say.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

To write in a manner that is believable... to be authentic... to write in a manner that people can relate to.

Perhaps this explains why I only write fiction when I have to. I no longer write for the sake of writing.

Like Nhamo, the character in "The Poetry Slammer", from the collection Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe, my biggest challenge is the balancing act between finding time to write while working full-time in the financial services sector. It’s never an easy road.

Do you write every day?

I don’t write every day but I read every day. And when I write it is never structured - there is no formula. I let the chips fall where they may. At any given time, I usually have several incomplete stories that I am working on.

I haven’t published a full book yet but I have published a number of stories in various online and print media.

My latest short story, "The Poetry Slammer" was published in early August as part of amaBooks' latest collection of short stories, Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe. I cannot remember how long it took me to write the story but because I wrote it for submission to a literary competition, the story can’t have taken much time to write.

An earlier short story of mine had been one of the top ten stories in the Intwasa Short Story Writing competition in 2007 organized by amaBooks in Bulawayo, so amaBooks was the natural destination for "The Poetry Slammer".

Though largely fictional, "The Poetry Slammer" draws significantly from real events and places. Under those circumstances, the challenge was to be faithful to the zeitgeist – the true spirit of those events and places because some people who went through the experiences on which the short story is based may read the story one day. I had to do quite a bit research in order to deal with that concern. For instance, when I was writing the short story, I actually visited the Book Café for the House of Hunger Poetry Slam in order to get into the right groove, and I remember chatting to Chirikure Chirikure one night in the Mannenberg Jazz Café.

I enjoyed writing every bit of "The Poetry Slammer", not only parts of it. I wanted it to be different from anything I had written before in terms of style, plot and characterization.

What will you be working on next?

Interestingly, or maybe strangely, it will not even be a work of fiction. It will be a collection of my NewsDay banking and finance articles written over a period of more than a year, tentatively titled Banking Insights from an Economy in Transition.

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

Not giving up on writing... staying true to my craft in spite of the odds heavily staked against writing.

Related books:

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Related articles:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

[Interview] Karen Wodke

Karen Wodke lives in the Midwest, in the United States and is the author of James Willis Makes a Million (CreateSpace, 2011), a novel for young readers.

She also writes for websites and magazines that include Associated Content, Adventures for the Average Woman, Foliate Oak Literary Journal and Ehow.

In addition to that, working with P. J. Hawkinson, and writing under the name Wodke Hawkinson, she co-authored books that include the novels, Betrayed (CreateSpace, 2011) and Tangerine (___, forthcoming) as well as the short story collections, Catch Her in the Rye (CreateSpace, 2011); Blue (CreateSpace, 2011) and Alone (___, forthcoming).

In this interview, Karen Wodke talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I have always enjoyed writing, but only in the last few years have I gotten serious about it.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a book for young readers, James Willis Makes a Million. I made the decision to self-publish that book. I felt it would be the first of, hopefully, many books I would write.

In publishing my solo work, I started out with Lulu.com and was pleased with them. I still knew next to nothing about marketing or promotion. In fact, I’m still learning.

On the novels I co-authored with P. J. Hawkinson, we tried the traditional route first. Many traditional publishers do not accept simultaneous submissions, which tied up our manuscripts for months at a time. We grew weary of the process and began to consider self-publishing our novels.

We ultimately decided to put together short story collections, self-publish them, and see how it went before making a decision about self-publishing our other books. I think at this point, however, we were pretty sure self-publishing was the way to go, even with our upcoming novels. We like the control we have over our material, the higher royalties, and the freedom to explore controversial topics that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to traditional publishers.

We are just now getting the first of the reviews on our short story collections.

How would you describe your writing?

I would describe it as a fictional smorgasbord.

We don’t stick with one genre, which may or may not turn out to be a mistake. For instance, our upcoming novels couldn’t be more different from each other. One is set in the future, almost a sci-fi novel, entitled Tangerine. It has aliens, space-travel, and other elements you would expect in that sort of story. The other, Betrayed, is the tale of a woman who is abducted and abused, who finally escapes from her captors only to end up lost in the wilderness at the onset of a harsh winter.

Our target audience is anyone who enjoys a good story, regardless of genre. Both of our short story collections offer a variety from contemporary fiction to sci-fi to noir, and even a little humor here and there.

I myself love to read and will read almost anything short of technical manuals. I figured there are people out there who feel the same way, people who just want to be drawn into a tale regardless of subject matter.

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

I suppose I am most influenced by the authors whose writing really reached out and grabbed me. J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Dean Koontz ... to name a few.

I took something different away from each author’s work. From King, it was the realization that dark themes are petri dishes for literary ideas. And I love the way he uses sentence fragments almost as tools to deliver his stories. Teachers of English may not like them, but sentence fragments are a powerful element in fiction writing, as long as the technique is not overdone. If it’s overdone, it just makes your writing look poor.

From Tolkien, I loved the elegance of his writing, his ability to describe a scene, and the complexity of his plots. Dean Koontz inspires me because he knows how to grab a reader’s attention and hold onto it. Asimov’s work, of course, is brilliant. Ahead of its time.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Great story ideas come from many places. Sometimes it’s a person I’ve met, or a scene I have witnessed. Other times, just a phrase spoken to me will trigger a story idea. In that way, my own experiences have an impact on my writing. It is rare, however, for me to take an actual event from my life and write about it.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Like most writers, I wonder if I will gain an audience for my work, and how well it will be accepted. There is also a question in my mind of whether I can ever justify the time and effort I have put into it.

I deal with these concerns by writing what I want to write and doing it to the best of my ability. Both P. J. and I are painstaking editors of our own work, and even then things can slip past.

The biggest challenge for me is the promotion of the books. The writing is a labor of love, and the proofreading/editing/revision are just part of that process.

I sometimes have to really push myself to do the promotion. But to make it as an author, you have to be willing to promote your work.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, I would say I write something every single day. But all too often, it isn’t on our current project, but rather blog posts, networking, promotion, emails, or reviews of other authors’ books.

A good writing session starts for me in the morning with a cup of French vanilla cappuccino. My desk sits before a window that looks out over my front yard. I will sit at my computer, open the blind so I can see outside, sip my cappuccino, and write. I love it.

Generally, my writing starts with editing our current project, doing revisions, and emailing the manuscript back to P. J. for her to review. If I have time and feel inspired, I can start a new story.

It usually ends a few hours later out of necessity so I can tend to other things. However, if things are rolling along smoothly, I have been known to stay up late at night to finish a chapter or conclude a story. I admit I’ve lost some sleep at times.

How many books have you written so far?

I wrote James Willis Makes a Million, a story for young readers about a boy who starts his own business and ends up a millionaire by the time he is grown. I initially self-published this book with Lulu.com in January of this year, but it’s now available in other places as well.

With P. J. and, together, writing as Wodke Hawkinson:
  • Catch Her in the Rye, Selected Short Stories Vol. One, published on createspace.com in May, 2011. Short stories in a variety of genres.
  • Blue, Selected Short Stories Vol. Two, published on Smashwords in June, 2011 features more stories in various genres. Blue is a bit darker in tone than Catch Her in the Rye.
  • Our next book, Betrayed, the story of a Denver socialite who is abducted during a botched carjacking. She is held captive in a remote location and abused for days and, although she escapes, she ends up injured, nearly naked, and hopelessly lost in the forest at the beginning of a harsh winter. Almost at the end of her endurance, she happens upon a wild-looking, reclusive mountain man who takes her back to his secluded cabin where she fears she has traded one form of captivity for another.
How long did it take you to write the stories that appear in Blue?

The collection of short stories was written over a period of about nine months.

We published the e-version on Smashwords in June of this year and the paperback version on Amazon in July.

We chose Smashwords because they offer a wide variety of formats for their ebooks. Another advantage with Smashwords is how easy it is to format the book. They offer a free guide that is excellent.

For our paperback version, we chose CreateSpace, which puts the book on Amazon.

The disadvantage to any self-publishing venture is that the author is responsible for all marketing, distribution, and promotion. It’s a daunting task, but we are learning as we go and researching other authors who have experience in promotion.

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

The most difficult aspect of the actual writing of Blue was deciding how to handle delicate and controversial subject material.

We approached the task with the attitude that we will tell the story even when it’s an unpleasant one, but strive not to unnecessarily bludgeon our readers, but instead to inform and entertain them. Unfortunately, they are some who might nevertheless still feel they’ve been bludgeoned by the end of the tale. (I say this with a smile.) But if they do, they can rest assured it was not intentional.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Putting the words together. Then tearing them apart and putting them together again in a better way. But it’s rough sometimes, getting things just right.

I love writing with P. J. It helps so much to have another brain and another set of eyes working with me to create our fictional realities.

What sets Blue apart from other things you've written?

While Blue has its wholesome elements, I feel it generates an overall darker tone since it contains stories about murder, incest, and suicide.

Blue is similar to Catch Her in the Rye because it too offers a variety of genres and storylines.

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

I would like to think the most significant achievement hasn’t happened yet. But it will. It’s just around the corner.

Related books:

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Related articles:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

[Interview] Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a Zimbabwean writer currently studying at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.

In 2009, she won the Intwasa Short Story Competition.

Her short stories have been featured in anthologies that include The Bed Book of Short Stories (Modjaji Books, 2010); A Life In Full and Other Stories: Caine Prize Anthology 2010 (New Internationalist, 2010), African Roar: an Eclectic Anthology of African Authors (StoryTime, 2010) and Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe (amaBooks, 2011).

In this interview, Novuyo Tshuma talks about her concerns as a writer:

Which authors influenced you most?

The novels of Orhan Pamuk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arundhati Roy, Sembene Ousmane, Naguib Mahfouz, Tsitsi Dangarembga, James Baldwin.

A particular piece of short writing which comes to mind is Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s "Kin la Belle: In the clear light of Song and Silence" which was featured in the Pilgrimages Project and was about her pilgrimage to Kinsasha. I love descriptive writing, writing that engages one’s surroundings, and in this piece a stark, out-of-the-box creativity merges with the writer’s experiences to create an intensely sensual reading. Absolutely beautiful.

I read an online excerpt of Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning where landscape merges with the emotional state of the protagonist in an intense poetic prose that is just awesome.

Brian Chikwava’s "Seventh Street Alchemy" is a read filled with memorable scenes painted with linguistic prowess.

The short fiction is endless.

Why did these particular writers have this influence? For me, they each offered something new in their readings, something beautifully executed, something I had not previously encountered in my readings.

Arundhati Roy’s gymnastic linguistics in The God of Small Things showed what was possible with language in literature, how words could be bended, stretched, rearranged and created to form a rich literary mosaic. Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk offered intense characterization, as did Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.

In Palace Walk I found myself in an intricate love-hate relationship with many of the characters, the father-figure who was the true depiction of chauvinism, his wife Amina who had an irritating blandness, and their son Yasin who embarked on the most mischievous escapades. I formed a complicated bond with these characters, irked often by their complexities, disappointed by their short comings, in love with their 'humanness'.

Nyasha in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is a beautifully complex character with acute perceptions and an original flair.

Orhan Pamuk’s novels offer philosophical characters set in plots that give a great view of the complexities which have plagued Turkey at different points of its history; a lot of tugging between fundamentalism and secularism/westernization.

I became fascinated with Nigerian dishes after tasting them in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.

There is always something new, something refreshing offered in the memorable reads.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Hmmm ... I have said before that I like to keep it 'purely fiction'. However, pieces of oneself, one’s experiences are invariably interweaved in one’s writings.

I like to explore characters who may be removed from my direct self, but perhaps whose bits of experiences here and there, are my own. Taking, for instance, my story "Crossroads" in the Where To Now anthology ... it is a fictionalized piece and yet the descriptions at the border are details of characters I have observed, conversations I have overheard and so forth.

It helps in a piece of work to be familiar with setting and to be able to capture the atmosphere of a place, its edge or its bluntness. So, for me, personal experiences function well for setting and atmosphere.

I like to experiment with characters who are not directly linked to me as a writer, characters who I may feel do not exhibit too much of myself. I do not like too much self-examination in a piece of fiction; one becomes self-conscious as a writer, and rather apprehensive of this idea of self-depiction.

People may, nevertheless, link a character to the writer. I have had people read a story and then come to me, agape, and say, "You really did that?!" The excitement lies in stepping into the shoes of a fictionalized character and capturing such a character as though it were you, which then becomes, on some level, a humanizing of the self.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The biggest, I would say, is the apprehension about one’s writing, capturing a story as best you can. One is ever aware of how much one is yet to learn, how much one does not know. These apprehensions are most easily tackled by ever writing, ever reading, ever exploring.

The biggest challenge is finding a home for your work. One gets more rejections for one’s work than acceptances. Some publications don’t reply. So one needs a persevering spirit.

I remember when I first started sending out my work. I was very bold and persistent in my letters. Got many rejections. I always kept sending.

Another challenge is fighting inertia ... it is important to ever grow in your writing, especially as a young writer. It is crucial to step out of one’s comfort zone and experiment, in order to discover the things one may be able to do in and with one’s writing. Some experiments fail. But that is part of the learning process, isn’t it? To discover what works and what doesn’t. Writing is a constant state of patience.

Do you write everyday?

Not every single day. I would say four to five days a week for several weeks, and then reading takes over for the next week or two and so forth. Some days are busier than others.

The trick, I find, is to allocate writing its space in your life, and to ensure that others respect that space. I usually write early morning, as that is when I feel sharpest.

My sessions usually begin by reading the previous session’s work. This helps me get into the mode of my work. Some editing usually takes place during this time. After reading, one simply delves into the writing. Many times, particularly with first drafts, one feels that one is writing a lot of rubbish – it is as though one is feeling for a thread in the dark, searching for the vein of a story.

Many first drafts end in despair! I find I have many first drafts of different scenes, different stories, and usually the stories that I finish at a point in time are alterations from first drafts written a while ago, which when perused with a fresh eye, offer a gem or two worth pursuing. And so that is how it goes.

If it is during a morning where I have to attend lectures, then time constraints end my sessions. You find that when you have had a good writing session that must end before you want it to, the story stays in your mind, and you ponder sentences and scenes as you go through your day. When you feel you have a particularly good hunch, you are impatient to get back to your writing.

If it is on a day when I do not have lectures, my sessions can carry through the day, which then becomes an intermittent act of writing and revising, and a lot of editing. This is on a good day, when one has tapped into the vein of a story.

Usually such sessions end because one is tired, and feels satisfied with the work one has managed to do on that particular day. And success on any given day is not judged by quantity but by quality – writing is a constant state of patience (unless one is working with a deadline and needs to balance number of words and the quality of the wording.

Time constraints sometimes pull the writer out of a surreal state where all writing can take place forever! So one may write three thousand words, and only a thousand of that three may feature in the final story.

Some sessions end in despair, when one is struggling with a scene, a story, a character. Usually when this happens I just grab a book and read – it helps to calm the mind.

My sessions usually begin and end in solitary space. I deliberately live alone, as I find the space invaluable for the writing. Growing up, I always used to crave the idea of a space to write, as there was always a lot going on around, interruptions and the like. The act of writing is ultimately an act of solitude. So it is good to have a space where you can just wake up and begin writing, and not have to entertain disruptions.

When did you start writing?

I began writing stories for fun when I was nine, thereabouts.

Influences change. It was during the Echoes of Young Voices young people’s anthology project with British Council and amaBooks publishers in 2006 that I acquired an inclination towards what you would call 'African Writing' ... I was eighteen at the time.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Realist fiction.

Who is your target audience?

Everybody who loves to read ... but this statement itself carries preconceptions, whether even subconsciously, of what our generic readership is, based on the common culture many of us consume or are invariably exposed to, through technology and other mediums.

It is interesting how the idea of Western influence (through, say, its preconceptions) becomes the focal point around which a reaction is lodged, whether towards or against it. Is the idea of a target audience presupposed by the idea of a commercial concern?

It is interesting ... in certain reviews you hear reference to what we, the readers, think; how we may view this and this, and one wonders who this we is. In lumping a generic readership, the question is, who or what informs the tastes of this readership? From where do the influences stem? And what of the other readership, take the rural masses who may 'love to read' but who do not have the commercial viability? Who or what shapes whatever literature they have access to? The relationship between writer-reader can be a complex one.

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

Hmmm ... Achievement ... That word. I am skeptical of it.

There have been wonderful isolated moments, which I would not call achievements: My first story ever to be published. The very act itself of being published. Working with publishers on a piece of work at an intimate level, such as Jane and Brian of amaBooks. Mixing with writers on a whole other 'political' level at the Caine Prize Workshop, and building friendships there. Learning from writers I greatly admired at the Farafina Workshop. Growing, from these workshops and these interactions, into a more solid writer. Interacting with writers online and meeting some great people I hope will be lifelong friends.

I guess the idea of achievement goes back to a question: What is it that one sets out to achieve as a writer? Hmmm ... Interesting question, that.

The more obvious ideas of achievement are just that, too obvious, and therefore immediately boring.

I do know one thing though, which is that probably, this achievement in writing and I, shall always play a cat and mouse game.

Why?

Because it always feels I have not captured what it is I would like to capture in this thing called writing because the element to be captured is ever evolving. There is always a better way to capture a story, a new story to be told, a new story idea to try. The more one reads, the more one meets with freshness, and the more one’s critical horizons are expanded.

I am a young writer, I really cannot speak of achievement, whatever this suspicious thing called achievement is, and whatever it should mean to a writer. There is much work to be done, much writing to do, so little that has been done. The focus is on the future, spurred on by past and present writings.

Related books:

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Monday, September 19, 2011

[Interview] Jess C. Scott

Jess C Scott is a short story writer, a novelist and a poet. She lives in Maine in the United States.

Her work includes the blog novel, EyeLeash (jessINK, 2011); the collection of erotic short stories, 4:Play (jessINK, 2011) and the novel, The Other Side of Life (jessINK, 2011).

In this interview, Jess C Scott talks about her writing:

Do you write everyday?

I don’t write everyday, though I try my best.

I like writing by hand (at least initially), especially when I’m planning things out before a first draft ... there’s just something about seeing the words appear in ink on paper that beats typing (despite the efficiency and convenience of the latter).

If I’m working on a story, it ends when I feel it’s complete (everything has to be “tied together,” there must be some form of resolution, etc.). By that time, I’m usually mostly focused on the next writing project.

I like to challenge myself as an artist and keep improving that way. Stagnating is bad because I think I’d be regurgitating material, if I allowed myself to put in less effort.

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written novels, anthologies, short stories, and poetry, so here’s a selection. They are all published under jessINK, my burgeoning publishing empire that's committed to producing "authentic, original work ... rather than the same old re-packaged mass-market pulp" (review by Bibrary Book Lust).
  • EyeLeash: A Blog Novel (2009). EyeLeash captures self-discovery in the 2000s, and showcases the colorful, intricate drama in two youths’ relentless search for themselves—and what’s really in their hearts.
  • 4:Play — A contemporary cocktail of erotic short stories (2009). With a scope and style that is fresh and compelling, 4:Play dives into the depths of navigating gender, sexuality, and the lines of desire.
  • The Other Side of Life (2011) . Book #1 (The Other Side of Life): A thieving duo’s world turns upside down when an Elven rogue uncovers the heinous dealings of a megacorporation.
  • And more @ jessink.com/books_genre.htm
What is your latest book about?

My latest book is a non-pornographic BDSM-themed anthology. It’s taken me slightly longer than I expected to finish it (was aiming for a May 2011 deadline; probably will be finished in August 2011). It’s part of my Primal Scream anthology, my second collection of erotic short stories.

On the mainstream, non-erotic side, my latest book is the first installment in an urban fantasy series featuring cyberpunk elves (January 2011). That one probably took at least a year to write (while I was completing my bachelor’s degree).

I’ve self-published my novels since mid-2009. I enjoy the speed and efficiency of indie publishing and see it as a tremendous opportunity for writers everywhere.

Disadvantages include the necessity for constant multi-tasking (I handle the book design, writing, editing, publishing, web design, marketing, publicity, accounting — basically everything, at the moment).

I deal with it all by understanding that this is something I chose to do, that I want to do, and that I’m capable of doing.

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

I’ll talk about Primal Scream since it’s a pretty big anthology that spans several genres/styles (erotic fiction, erotic literature, “factual fiction” and “contemporary fiction with erotic elements”).

I think the BDSM-themed collection was the most difficult (as I suspected), because of the subtle implicit route I decided to take.

I’ve always felt that BDSM can be a very intimate form of love and affection, a perspective which is heavily compromised when BDSM is presented in a purely pornographic form.

I’ve nothing against porn on the whole, but when people start thinking that pornography is real sex (when it technically isn’t — it’s a business that generates money from graphic depictions of sexual fantasies which stimulate arousal) and how sex should really be all the time ... that’s when I try to do something with my work, to present a more relevant, down-to-earth, insightful perspective on love/life/sex.

Sexuality is a core component of humanity. It should be respected (as it was in ancient times), not feared, exploited, or repressed.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Masochistic as this might sound, I enjoyed working through the difficult aspects of the project. As an old saying goes: “There’s no glory without sacrifice.”

What sets Primal Scream apart from other things you've written?

 It’s a little more sophisticated than my earlier work (which was more raw and “in-your-face” at points). It covers less ground in terms of genre, but covers more ground in the internal lives of the characters involved (I think).

In what way is it similar to the others?

The focus is still on the characters and the storyline. That’s the basic thing I never stray too faraway from.

I’ll next be working on an anthology titled Naked Heat (an incubus/succubus-themed anthology). It’ll be an interesting and unique take on the “paranormal romance” genre (one third of it is complete).

After that, I aim to complete the other two parts of my Cyberpunk Elven Trilogy. I’ll consider it an achievement if that one’s completed over 2012.

So far, what would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Generating an income from my writing. Seeing the dream materialize so that it’s not just a fantasy I play out in my mind, but the life I have always worked towards securing.

When did you start writing?

 I used to write lots of fantasy-themed short stories as a kid. I began to take the craft more seriously when I wrote my first poem (around nine years old; there was a creative writing type course at school). I journalled a lot throughout my teenage years, and someone requested an erotic story from me when I turned eighteen. I started writing my first proper full-length novel when I was around twenty years old.

How would you describe your writing?

Non-conformist and authentic. I don’t tend to follow trends or formulas. I usually aim to write something honest and relevant.

I don’t think I have a specific audience in mind (in terms of a commercial genre label, as is used for marketing/advertising purposes). I always try to include universal themes to appeal to a wide audience (across genders, age groups, lifestyles, etc.).

I think I’ve always been aware of “certain things in the world” which the mainstream media tends not to cover thoroughly or truthfully enough. I’ve never wanted to narrow down my target audience so “it’d be easier to target/market towards a specific niche audience.” That being said, I am aware of the business aspects of publishing, so I do both alternative and mainstream writing (to strengthen my brand on the whole).

Which authors influenced you most?

I think the authors that influence me the most are the ones that I love and hate the most (I’m very intense... no grey areas... when it comes to passion!). I’ve read and love many classic works (books by Vladimir Nabokov, Anais Nin, Roald Dahl, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, etc.), and I’ve read material that I’ve found really superficial and/or shallow.

I try to emulate what I like, and be somewhat of a diametric opposite to what I loathe, and am confident that someone somewhere in the world will appreciate what I do.

How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?

Hugely! I used to journal voraciously through my teenage years — I recorded every single detail of every thought and feeling down. I journal less nowadays, but I continue to spend a lot of time on the whole self-discovery and self-understanding concept. The things I think about, am frustrated about, wish to see addressed in the world, are all direct influences on my writing.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

One of my main concerns is balancing artistic vision with commercialism (the financial aspect, so that I don’t end up a perpetually starving artist existing in complete obscurity).

It’s a delicate balance, and can sometimes be fraught with wildly differing views of opinion and sentiment (in my personal experience). I usually deal with it by keeping things real — by taking a good, hard look at myself to do my best to align my personal goals with business goals. I like having both personal/artistic integrity and business ethics. I can’t ignore one at the expense of the other.

One of my biggest challenges is cultivating patience (haha). I have a tendency to expect results for my efforts, fast. I can get grouchy or discouraged if things don’t happen as quickly as I’d like. I try to deal with it by telling myself that I am wasting time and energy by fretting about things I cannot control.

I used to draw a lot and meditate during my late teen years, which did help calm my mind down ... I should probably schedule some time for those activities once again.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

[Interview] Ayodele Olofintuade

Ayodele Olofintuade lives in Ibadan, Nigeria where she works as a creative writing teacher.

She made her debut as an author with the publication of the children’s book, Eno's Story (Cassava Republic, 2010). The book has been shortlisted for the 2011 Nigeria Prize for Literature.

In this interview, Ayodele Olofintuade talks about her writing:

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written several but have only one, Eno’s Story which has been published by Cassava Republic.

The story is about an eight year old girl who was accused of being a witch because of the fact that she’s an unusual child. It is the story of how the love of a parent can make the difference in a child’s life. It is about how Eno was able to hold her own in the face of great adversities. Eno is a child who does not have the victim mentality people are fond of giving to children of African descent... you know the usual story, a victimized and downtrodden child holding out a begging bowl and feeling sorry for him/herself.

How long did it take you to write Eno’s Story?

It took me about three months to write but the editing, illustrations and proofreading took longer.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I sent my manuscripts out to several publishers and got a "We love your book but we are not publishing anything along that line" story until I sent one of my stories to Bibi Bakare-Yusuf who loved it and gave me a contract for a series of books about a pair of twins Tounye and Kela who got into a lot of trouble and had many fun adventures.

When the ‘child witches’ issue started in Calabar, I sent in a story and Cassava Republic decided to publish that one first, because it is a one-off story.

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

I have never been to Calabar before although I have been to several other cities in the South South so it was a bit difficult working on the locations. Luckily, one of my friends and co-workers, Esther is a Calabar woman she made a lot of contributions to the book in terms of research.

Every aspect of the work was enjoyable. Eno practically wrote about herself, the research was done with a friend and the subject matter was close to my heart, child rights.

What sets Eno's Story apart from other things you've written?

Each book is always unique. There can never be two that will be the same. Even with my series that is yet to be published, although each book in the series has the same main characters in common, each adventure is unique.

What will your next book be about?

In addition to my Terrible Twins series, I am also working on a sci-fi novel for teenagers.

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

The fact that children read and enjoy my works.

I remember a story told to me by a friend about a boy who walked into a superstore with his mum and after their shopping he wanted my book but the mother was not interested in purchasing it for him, he started crying and my friend bought the book for him. The fact is, contrary to widespread rumours, Nigerians do read, especially the children.

Do you write everyday?

Not really.

It’s the Muses, they descend on me and I find myself bashing out a story.

In most cases I allow the story to write itself and afterwards I go back and look at it. Then the stories develop gradually.

And I got myself children who read and critique my stories because those are the people who understand me the most.

When did you start writing?

When I learnt that I can string words together to make stories, which I then wrote on pieces of paper sewn together with needle and thread.

I didn’t decide to become a writer. I discovered that the only thing I did really well was writing and reading and I kept writing and giving my manuscripts to the children of my friends to read and I kept sending my manuscripts out to publishers until Cassava Republic published me.

Who is your target audience?

I didn’t particularly set out to write for children, I just wrote and discovered that children understood and enjoyed my stories.

Which authors influenced you most?

I can say D. O. Fagunwa, Ajayi Crowder, Mabel Segun, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Enid Blyton.

I grew up on their books. My grandfather made me read all the D. O. Fagunwa books to him while I was young and they all stirred my imagination. It was as if I entered each of the books and participated in all their adventures.

I also love telling stories to children. I love the rapt expressions on their faces when these stories are being told and this greatly influenced me. It is a great experience that keeps me returning to the keyboard to bash out more books because the thrill of seeing a child read and enjoy good stories is one of the best feelings in the world.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My greatest concern is that I will grow old, broke and busted because one cannot make money as a writer in this country.

How do you deal with these concerns?

I got myself a day job so as to make ends meet and still be able to follow my passion.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

[Interview] Suzi M

Suzi M is the author of several novels, among them, Nemesis (Smiling Goth Productions, 2007), Lamia (Smiling Goth Productions, 2008) and The Tower (Smiling Goth Productions, 2008).

In addition to that, ten of her short stories appear in Cover Stories: A Euphictional Anthology (CreateSpace, 2010).

In this interview, Suzi M talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

Many many years ago. Roughly 1990.

Writing came very naturally to me, as did storytelling. It seemed evident to me that eventually my work would be published. It was never a question of 'if' but was more a matter of 'when'.

I began writing my first novel, Nemesis in 1992. It took nine months to complete, and it was exhausting. When I held the full first draft of the manuscript in my hands, I had such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that I stopped writing for two years.

I sent the manuscript to agents and publishers, and got some very nice rejection letters. One in particular suggested my novel was too violent for a romance. After checking the cover sheet to make sure I had indeed typed 'vampire horror', it became apparent that my particular brand of writing may not be for everyone. By everyone, I mean mainstream folks.

Thirteen years later, Nemesis finally did get picked up by a small publisher. Sadly, the publisher ran into difficulties and Nemesis missed being published by one month. At that point I realized it was now or never and published Nemesis under Smiling Goth Productions. Since then, it's all been a bit of a strange rollercoaster ride.

How would you describe your writing?

I do quite a bit of what I jokingly refer to as 'real writing', meaning not vampire horror. My main published works so far are mostly vampire horror, however.

Typically, my target audience is anyone looking for horror, or who isn't afraid to try out an author that isn't mainstream. Of course, if I become a mainstream author, then my priorities will inevitably shift to include whoever wants to read me.

Which authors influenced you most?

To be honest, much of my influences are gothic writers such as Ann Radcliffe, Horace Walpole, and more recent and of this century: Stephen King.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Anais Nin and Henry Miller in there, as well as Jim Butcher and Neil Gaiman.

I enjoy details as much as I enjoy a good story. In the case of gothic literature, it felt almost like I was there standing beside the characters. The other writers I mentioned are equally rich in imagery and story, and it's not spoon-fed to the reader.

I like stories that stick in my head and make me think about them. All of the mentioned writers have had that effect, and it's an effect I hope to inspire with my writing as well.

And since I tend to write while listening to music, I'd have to say Fields of the Nephilim and Combichrist are two of my favorite bands to listen to while writing.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

There have been quite a few experiences in my life that have helped my writing expand into something more.

Sometimes people I meet get thrown into the character mix with others, sometimes situations and events get pushed into a story or become a story on their own. In the case of Nemesis, the story bloomed around the main character, who just walked into a dream one night and stuck around.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Insomnia. I tend to stop sleeping when I'm working on something creative, and if I'm not reminded to eat, I forget to do that, too. Other than eating and sleeping, writing is more an exercise in exorcism for me. There's a story inside me that needs to get out, and my only concern is how fast I can make that happen.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Writer's block.

How do you deal with it?

I don't force it. The worst thing I can do to myself and those around me is to try to force writing when the words won't come. Instead, I work on some other creative endeavor that requires me to use my hands, and when the story is ready to be written, I go back to it.

Do you write everyday?

Write, yes, but not always creative writing.

To get the creative juice flowing I start off drawing circles in my notebook until the words come.

Once the words flow, I write down as much as I can, then edit. When the basics or sometimes the entire story are in the notebook, I type it into my laptop.

Sometimes it can end mid-sentence. Other times it ends at the end. I let the story go where it needs to go.

How many books have you written so far?

I've written three novels and a book of short stories so far.

Nemesis is the first novel, published in 2007, followed by Lamia in 2008, and The Tower in 2008. All three are books in The Immortal War Series, and follow the story of Nemesis and Lamia, two vampires that love to hate each other in the most brutal ways. All are available on Amazon as both print and Kindle editions, and are also available anywhere books are sold.

Most recently, ten of my short stories have been included in the Cover Stories: A Euphictional Anthology, which is also available on Amazon.

In Cover Stories, I had a real chance to stretch my literary legs and show off my other writing.

How would you describe your latest book?

The Tower is the most recent novel I've published. It ties up loose ends, and explains the origins of the vampires. We also get to meet our main characters' parents.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Thirteen years.

The novel was published internationally in 2008. I went independent with The Tower in order to keep my sanity and storyline intact. Since I'm the publisher for my novels, can I say it's because I'm awesome? *grin*

Optimistically speaking, the advantages to going independent publisher for my novels have been numerous, but so have the disadvantages. For example, I now get to work specifically with those I know will understand my writing, and who have a knowledge and liking for the story and characters. I know my editors well enough that they can say 'this needs to be changed because...' and it makes sense for the story.

The downside to being independent is that I'm not a marketing person. Most of my sales have been largely by word of mouth and via social networking. I'm okay with that, though. It means I get to interact with my readers on an individual basis, and really get to know them. By getting to know my readers, I can then write stories for them instead of just to them.

What sets your contribution to Cover Stories apart from other things you've written?

Cover Stories features ten of my short stories, some of which feature Nemesis and Lamia from my novels, and other stories that are completely unrelated to anything vampiric.

With Cover Stories, Christian Dumais contacted me to be part of the book, and I said sure. Cover Stories was an official nod to the musical influences that play in my writing soundtrack. It was also the first project I had worked on following someone else's lead.

What will your next book be about?

I'm currently working on a novelization of a horror movie called The Fallen Ones. It is about a family that goes on a killing spree for fun and revenge.

I'm also kicking around an expansion of one of my short stories.

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

Finishing what I started writing. *laughing* But seriously, each year I build on what I accomplished the year before, so I would like to think my most significant achievement is always yet to come.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

[Interview_2] John Eppel

John Eppel is a teacher, an award-winning poet, short story writer and novelist.

His books include the poetry collections, Spoils of War (The Carrefour Press, 1989) and Songs My Country Taught Me (Weaver Press, 2005) as well as the novels, Hatchings (amaBooks, 2006) and Absent: The English Teacher (Weaver Press, 2009).

In this interview, John Eppel talks about Together (amaBooks, 2011), his latest book:

How would you describe Together?

My latest book, Together, is a joint affair, combining poems and short stories by Julius Chingono and me; so it’s our latest book – a poignant phrase since Julius did not live to see it in print.

I wrote my portion of the book in 2008. Since I was earning almost nothing as a teacher, I applied for a year’s leave, and wrote three books: a novel, Absent: the English Teacher, a collection of short stories, White Man Walking, and a collection of poems, Landlocked. I sent them to Weaver Press who accepted the novel but rejected the poems and short stories. It was from these rejected items that my contribution to Together was made.

I sent Landlocked to three other publishers, Snailpress (Cape Town), Bloodaxe (UK), Carcanet Press (UK), all of whom rejected it.

Then Julius and I met with Brian Jones and Jane Morris of amaBooks, and we decided to bring out a joint volume. The title was suggested by Brian, and the project was generously supported by the Zimbabwe Culture Fund Trust. Dr Drew Shaw of Midlands State University agreed to write an introduction, and it wasn’t long before the University of New Orleans Press and the University of Kwazulu-Natal Press agreed to co-publish.

What advantages and/or disadvantages has your choice of publishers presented?

amaBooks of Bulawayo would have been my first choice for all my books, but they seldom have the wherewithal to finance a publication; that is largely because they have the commitment (and courage) to promote new Zimbabwean writing, including poetry, which almost nobody buys. Indeed, more people write poetry than read it!

An obvious disadvantage with a small, underfunded publisher like amaBooks, is distribution; and the sort of promotion you get with big publishers, like book-signings at major retail outlets, appearances on radio and television etc.

A huge advantage for a writer like me, who has a tiny readership, is that small publishers, who are more committed to promoting literature than to profiteering, will accept my books. My most recent, still unpublished novel, The Boy Who Loved Camping, spent more than seven months with Penguin South Africa before it was rejected on the grounds that the publishers did not think they could make a commercial success of it.

One significant way amaBooks has dealt with these problems, in the case of Together, has been to persuade publishers from two other countries to co-publish. That can only benefit the distribution and the promotion of the book.

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

I didn’t find anything difficult. The publishers, on the other hand, were particularly disturbed by one of my stories, “Of the Fist”, set during the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections, which they asked me to omit. It’s a very violent story about political rape and murder, based on a real incident. Come to think of it, most of my stories and poems in this anthology are based on real incidents. We replaced “Of the Fist” with a harmless satirical sketch called “The CWM”.

For most of my writing life, I have thought of my predicament as someone who is neither African nor European to be a disadvantage; as if, somehow, I had slipped through a crack; but now that my years as a Zimbabwean have caught up with my years as a Rhodesian, the crack has metamorphosed into a threshold, a magical place where opposites merge, where contradictions become paradoxes. Now I don’t have the bitter thought that I am neither African nor European; I have the sweet sensation that I am African and European. And it is this aspect of my work that I have enjoyed most. I can imagine cutting-edge experts in postcolonial literature snorting at these sentiments, but I’m too old now to care.

What sets Together apart from other things you've written?

The potent symbolism of two elderly Zimbabweans from different cultures, races, regions… coming together and sealing a fissure. It’s a pity one of us isn’t a woman!

In what way is it similar to the others?

It is steeped in irony, which can so easily be misread.

It is frequently funny in the way that a cartoon is funny. When Ranka Primorac said, in an essay entitled “Poised for Literature’s Last Laugh”, that “There is remarkably little laughter resonating across the history of Zimbabwean literature”, she swept Julius Chingono and me under the carpet.

How many books have you written so far?
  • Spoils of War, 1989 (The Carrefour Press, Cape town), poetry.
  • DGG Berry’s The Great North Road, 1992 (The Carrefour Press, Cape Town and Hippogriff, Johannesburg), novel.
  • Hatchings, 1993 (The Carrefour Press, Cape Town), novel. [re-published by amaBooks in 2006]
  • The Giraffe Man, 1994 (Queillerie, Pretoria), novel
  • Sonata for Matabeleland, 1995 (Snailpress, Cape Town and Baobab, Harare), poetry.
  • Selected Poems 1965-1995, 2001 (Childline).
  • The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, 2001 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), novel.
  • The Holy Innocents, 2002 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), novel
  • The Caruso of Colleen Bawn, 2004 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), poems and short stories.
  • Songs My Country Taught Me, 2005 (Weaver Press, Harare), poetry.
  • White Man Crawling, 2007 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), poems and short stories.
  • The Boy Who Loved Camping, 2008 [awaiting a publisher], novel.
  • Absent: The English Teacher, 2009 (Weaver Press, Harare and Jacana, Johannesburg) novel.
  • Together, with Julius Chingono, 2011 (amaBooks, Bulawayo and UNO, New Orleans and UKZN, Durban), poems and short stories.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think, the way I have learned to fuse, mainly through parody, prosody with socio-political commentary.

In my poems in Together, you will find examples of the Blues, the sestina, the haiku, the ballad, the sonnet, the Sapphic, vers libre, dramatic monologue, pure lyric... I even invented a new form, which I (no longer secretly) call duodecadina. It is called “Yet another Flower Poem” and it consists of two ten-line stanzas. Each line consists of fifteen syllables, and the end words of the first stanza are repeated exactly in the end words of the second stanza. If you don’t notice all these details when you read it (with enjoyment!) it succeeds. It is an attempt at the art which conceals art. Of course, a lot of this has to do with healthy self-mockery.

Do you write every day?

I write during school holidays and occasionally over the weekends.

With poetry I get an image or a rhythmic cluster of words, almost never an idea. The moment of inspiration is passive, like a flower awaiting pollination. With prose (most of the time), it’s the other way round, a bee looking for a flower to pollinate.

In a sense, my writing never ends - it stops.

Photo credit: Ben Williams, Books LIVE

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Monday, September 5, 2011

[Interview] Lorette C. Luzajic

Lorette C. Luzajic lives in Toronto, Ontario where she works as an artist and an author.

Her books include The Astronaut’s Wife: Poems of Eros and Thanatos (Handymaiden Editions, 2006); Goodbye, Billie Jean: the Meaning of Michael Jackson (Handymaiden Editions, 2010) and Fascinating Writers: twenty-five unusual lives (Idea Fountain Editions, 2011).

In this interview, Lorette Luzajic talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

The cliché but true answer is that there was never a time I didn’t write. I started making up stories and researching projects as soon as I could read, which was very early on. There was never a time for me outside of that identity.

I was very earnest in my childhood, dutifully preparing my double-spaced typewritten poems for submissions to literary journals, complete with the obligatory self-addressed stamped envelopes, in the days before email submissions.

It never dawned on me that submitting my youthful-hearted works to adult literary journals was a waste of time. I saved each rejection and kept track of what pieces were sent where. Many editors kindly took the time to encourage my talent and direct it to more appropriate venues – for years I treasured these handwritten rejection slips as meaningful.

It wasn’t all for naught, however - quite a few childhood poems made their way into the pages of small zines and journals, and I wrote a few religious articles for magazines that had no idea I was a teenager. I won a contest in a Christian magazine when I was twelve. Since adulthood, hundreds of poems, stories, and articles have been widely published in zines, journals, blogs, magazines, anthologies - from Modern Poetry to Dog Fancy.

My colleague, writer Crad Kilodney, who is brilliant, once wrote that getting accepted by a magazine or publisher at a young age is the worst thing that can happen to a writer. Ever after that, they are sure they have what it takes and don’t prepare for another life.

How would you describe your writing?

Right now I am wrapping up a collection of short fiction stories.

I also just released a collection called Fascinating Writers: twenty-five unusual lives.

The topics I write about range extensively, but I think what my favourite and most inspired works are people stories. The best response from my audience so far has been about my Fascinating People series - which are subjective, experiential essays about interesting personages throughout history, especially artists and writers. People who are curious about culture and history and people are the readers who most appreciate these pieces.

I confess that I go about everything backwards.

To be successful, you should probably decide on your audience and write for them. I tend to write what interests me most and hope for an audience. I don’t recommend this approach to writing or art, not unless you are independently wealthy or have a day job.

Which authors influenced you most?

Isabel Allende was a true inspiration in her way of experiencing the magic of life.

Ray Bradbury inspired me because he has written every single day for some eight decades, and striving for this kind of tenacity has helped teach me great discipline and focus, which are not in my nature.

I admire the way different authors use language, from e. e. cummings to Donna Tartt to Haruki Murakami - I am given permission to use the language I see fit and see if I can’t create something of my own, something original.

I read Oscar Wilde when I need to regain a caustic sensibility and a dose of courage. But by and large, I devour non-fiction on nearly every topic under the sun... Mark Kurlansky, Camille Paglia, Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer, Thomas Moore... I believe in unlimited thinking.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I have lived a life of great passion and intensity. I think those things come through in my work, both my writing and my visual artwork.

Since I am quite averse to wasting any part of my life doing something banal that I don’t wish to do, my concern is how I can find my own place in the business of art and publishing. I don’t play the game well. I want complete creative control. I studied journalism in university but I have no interest in strict reporting. I am impatient and want to write about what I want to write about, as opposed to following a reasonable plan. It would have been much easier if I had just gone to work for a single newspaper or if I followed the advice of a literary agent who sought me out. But I didn’t want to stop all the things I have going on in my head to try to adhere to the tried and true methods of working as a writer.

I don’t want to wait or switch gears. I’m not saying this is wise, but it has made me incredibly innovative. I rose to the challenge by creating a creativity portal, the Idea Fountain, which combines my work as an artist and as a writer, along with my pet cause, freedom of expression.

Since I feel so strongly about freedom of expression being the fundamental human right, the foundation of all freedoms, and so grateful for my own freedom to write and paint, I tied all of this up as “fiercely independent.” Now I run the whole show.

I started Idea Fountain Editions for my books and for other people’s books in the future. I sell my art online and promote my ideas independently. I welcome buyers and sponsors and patrons. And I pledge ten percent, a tithe of my product earnings, to promote freedom of expression.

My biggest challenge is that when you do it all yourself, and you don’t play the game, then you actually are on your own. It can be scary. I take credit for everything I do - and that includes the mistakes. I am responsible for every aspect of my work, which includes the stuff I’m not very good at, like promotion and administrative work. But I’m learning, and I’m so happy and so grateful. And I feel a sense of authentic connection with my small but loyal fan base. Those who enjoy my work don’t want me to be anybody but myself.

Do you write everyday?

Yes. Around seven a.m. I bound out of bed and leap to the coffee machine. I can’t wait to wake up and get to my desk, starting even as I wait for the coffee to brew. I work for several hours on a particular project, determined in one of my many lists of things to do. Important emails and interviews and research are all part of it.

Then I spend several more hours working on a bunch of different projects for a half hour here, ten minutes there, an hour here. There are always many things underway. I thrive when working on fifty things at the same time, but each one advances slowly.

Deadline items take front seat in the morning. I also work in my studio in the afternoons, often moving back and forth from my desk to my easel in half hour shifts. I only stop working when my carpal tunnel syndrome forces me away from my desk or I have a meeting or some other obligation or commitment.

I try to take walking or stretching breaks and get a bit of exercise since the work is sedentary.

In the evening I make plans with family and friends, get some exercise, cook, and sometimes I stay home to read and to keep working. I am totally obsessed with creating. I can’t seem to create enough. I am trying to make up for lost time when in the past, I was not focused or disciplined or didn’t know how to go about what I wanted to do. But I remind myself that the well will run dry if I don’t get out and live, too.

How many books have you written so far?
How long did it take you to write Fascinating Writers?

My latest book is about fascinating writers, exactly as titled. I get to know 25 writers and share my experiences in a gossipy, personable style that invites everyday readers into literature, rather than limiting enjoyment to a more scholarly crowd.

Technically it has taken about three years to compile the 25, since I am never working on one thing at a time.

How did you find a publisher for the book?

As I mentioned above, I started my own publishing company, Idea Fountain Editions, as an initiative of Idea Fountain Productions.

The advantages of small press publishing include creative control, expediency, and innovation.

The disadvantages are stigma and the lack of marketing support. The stigma that self-publishers or small presses have is the idea that someone couldn’t find a traditional publisher because the books are sub-par or unprofessional.

This stigma is often founded in reality - there is a veritable sea of bad books drowning the populace with atrocious poetry from hopefuls everywhere.

With small presses, there might be only one or a couple of people working on everything from overall design to proofreading, so there might be errors that companies with millions of dollars to work with won’t make. But it’s all relative, since the independent press is also highly innovative, offering more variety since its investments and expectations are not necessarily to hit the New York Times Bestseller list (though no one would scoff at making it!).

Creative control in my small press means I get to decide what goes in and what goes on the cover - frankly, I can’t believe the terrible cover art of the vast majority of large press publishing.

Also, bad books are not exclusive to the small press. The vast majority of books are forgettable, and the vast majority of books are poor sellers. But to me, that doesn’t matter. If someone puts themselves out there, I admire that. Only a few people will have a million fans. Only a few books will be brilliant enough to transcend history as classics. And who cares if someone wants to share their bad poetry with their friends and family? We sneer at the gall of someone who dares to put their stuff out there, when we don’t have to buy it. But we all pay taxes that go into grants that pay for so-called legitimate writers to write boring books that no one will read.

We just as often sneer at the big best-selling writers for their mass-manufactured approach to writing - but it is these few who allow the industry to exist, since nearly every writer, old and new, loses money for its publishers. Publishing is a losing game.

I try to accept all of it, and believe there is room for all of us. This doesn’t mean that I think all literature is equal - quite the opposite. I think literature serves many different purposes. No one is forced to be an audience to what they don’t like - but I can’t see any harm in people expanding their horizons in different directions, either. Academic readers might do good to relax with sentimental mush from time to time - and readers who are intimidated by the elitism of classicists shouldn’t be discouraged from trying to experience the joy of hallmark literature. Everyone can benefit from reading from the opposite end of their political spectrum and learning something about their own confirmation biases.

I work hard at my art and writing. I try to find an audience that appreciates my work. I live humbly thus far, but I live in a “room of my own” and spend each and every day doing what I love.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is a collection of short fiction stories. It will be out this year. My second poetry collection is also pending and will probably be out this year, too.

The companion to Fascinating Writers is underway - Fascinating Artists: twenty-five unusual lives. I’m hard at work on it, and hope to see its completion this year, but it takes a considerable amount of time to write each piece and I don’t want to rush them. I want them to be inspired.

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

The Idea Fountain, which merged my visual art work, my writing work, and my passion for freedom for all people - freedom of expression - is my most significant achievement.

The Fountain will, I hope, continue to flow with new ideas and generate new ways to work, to market myself, and to support creativity and freedom for people who live under tyranny. Through the umbrella of the Fountain, I want to continue to learn about history and politics and promote the art of people who are not as fortunate as I am. It is a tremendous blessing to be born free, to 20th century Canada.

I used to feel guilty for “frittering” my time away on art and writing when I should have been doing useful tasks - “real” work. Now I know that it is a privilege wasted to not pursue my creative potential when historically I wasn’t allowed to do so. I would not have the same privilege if I were born into socialism or theocracy. In a way, I feel committed to making the most of my writing and art because it is a privilege few have.

I hope for the day that all men, women, and children will be free. And I’m optimistic, despite the atrocities and censorships and torments and war that people endure. The Idea Fountain is about my hope and optimism, and finding that place of gratitude is my most significant achievement thus far.

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