An interview with Elle

I gave my friends at Writing.com the opportunity to interview me this week.  Here’s the result!
What is your favorite thing to write? Poetry, short stories, novels, etc?
I find poetry easier to write, because you don’t need a plot. I suck at thinking up plots. I enjoy writing short stories, and minimum word counts have never really been an issue for me but even my short stories don’t really have plots. They don’t have beginnings, middles and endings. They’re more like vignettes, just snapshots of a scene. I have written one children’s fantasy novel, which I self-published. It was never intended for sale, just as a gift to my own children. I think if I was one of those people who easily came up with ideas for storylines, my answer would be different, because I feel like I write prose more naturally than I write poetry, but alas, the ideas just aren’t there.

 

What is your favorite genre to write in?
Um… That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t even know what genres I most commonly use. Let me check…

Oh, I like writing m/m short stories. The only other trend that seems to show in my short stories is relationship and emotional. *Rolleyes* That doesn’t necessarily equate to romance and love though I don’t think. More like, my stories focus heavily on characters rather than plot. Kind of ties in with my previous answer.

I think my poems tend to be either emotional or about nature. I have written more fictional poems than autobiographical ones, and I find that a number of my poems are about difficult relationships, despite my own relationship with my husband being very happy. *shrug*

 

Do you go back and edit items after you’ve written them? Why or why not?
Editing is a major weakness of mine. I know that my work is better when I edit it, but ugh. I hate editing! One of the reasons I have so many projects on the go at a time is that I get bored easily. I get bored with one project or hobby and I move on to the next. Then, in due course, I come back to the original one. It keeps me motivated. But coming back to a completed poem or short story (or novel) and editing it or rewriting it, I find that boring. So I rarely do it. I strongly believe in the value of editing, and I encourage everyone to do it, but I just dislike it, so while a few of my poems have been edited or rewritten, most of my work (including virtually all my short stories) are effectively first drafts.

 

What do you do when you need to find inspiration to write?
One of two things:
#1 – I don’t write. It doesn’t bother me to take time away from writing, particularly if I’m taking time away from just poetry or just story writing.

#2 – I use prompts. I mentioned above that I suck at coming up with ideas, so I find prompts incredibly useful. A lot of my poems and short stories have been inspired by prompts.

Oh and #3 – I give myself a deadline. It’s amazing what you can crank out when you’re running out of time! Often if I just start writing, I end up with something reasonably coherent. I mean, it doesn’t always work, but if all else fails… *Laugh*

 

What goals do you have for your writing, both long and short-term?
I have goals? *Laugh*

Um… In terms of my poetry and short story writing, I think my goals are just to continue improving and write as/when I want to. I don’t really have any deep and meaningful goals, but I always want to get better and improve.

For my blogging, I want to a) record all the significant and a number of the insignificant moments of mine and my children’s lives and b) print them in books. I started blogging in 2001 when I was pregnant with my son, and I have blogged every year since. Sometimes weeks go by between blog posts, sometimes I write multiple posts a day. I also have a massive collection of memorabilia (things like concert or movie tickets, letters and postcards, photos, etc.) from 2001 to now, and I want to print the blog posts in books and add the memorabilia, to make it a sort of tactile scrapbook. I have a whole stack of projects I’m working on though, and so that one has been put on the backburner. In the meantime, I try hard to keep blogging regularly. And in case you’re looking at this blog and thinking ‘Really? Seems pretty sparse to me!’, I’d like to point out that the vast majority of my blog posts are not public. I started using Livejournal in 2001, so that’s where all my entries are stored. I have a public blog here, but my personal entries are mostly at Livejournal and that’s the ‘master copy’ that I’ll use for the project. It will also include all my poems and stories.

 

Why do you write?
I think I started writing because that’s what teenage girls did. *Laugh* I kept a journal and wrote stupid angsty poems about boys I liked. Then I started writing simple rhyming poems when I was on scout camps, and they were always a hit. Looking back, they were so shit, but I guess people like hearing themselves in poems? Maybe? Anyway, I’d compose poems about hiking trips we’d been on, mentioning every person by name in a different verse, and noting funny or silly things that had happened. It became something that people liked/appreciated about me, and that inspired me to do it more. I always found English to be my easiest subject at school, and that contributed too. When you feel like you’re good at something, you’re inclined to do it more often. So I wrote, because I thought I was good at it, and because people seemed to enjoy reading my efforts.

I would give up writing before I gave up reading. I could never give up reading. But I do find that I miss writing when I take too long a break. The first thing I always miss is blogging, and that tends to manifest as a feeling of guilt that things have happened and I’ve not blogged about them, and therefore they’ll disappear into the mists of time without ever being recorded. Sometimes I’ll think of an idea for a poem, or compose a poem in my head as I’m driving or waiting somewhere, and that’ll get me back into it. Generally though, I start missing the people here, and once I’m back I get sucked into contests and challenges, and that’s what really gets me writing.

So I guess it’s a combination of things. I’m not sure if it’s a passion so much as something I do because I like it, and I like the people I do it with. *Smile*

 

What genres do you avoid and why?
I avoided horror for a long time, because I can’t stand horror movies. I just don’t like horror movies. Or any scary movies. And there’s a reason I read romance novels (hint: it’s for the guaranteed happy ending!). But I have written a semi-decent horror short story.

I genuinely don’t understand steampunk, but I also have to admit that I haven’t spent a great deal of time trying to understand it.

Comedy is so incredibly subjective, and that’s pretty risky.

I’ve lately started dipping my toes into romance. You’d think romance would be my go-to genre for my writing, but it’s not. I’ve actually read so many romance novels that I’ve put myself off writing romance. Not because I’m sick of it, but because I’m scared of it. Two things. Firstly, I struggle to come up with a unique idea, because I’ve read so many romance novels that I feel like everything I think of is just a revision of something I’ve read and therefore it’s already been done. Secondly, I feel like I’m not going to measure up. Which is silly. You only get better with practice. So I have started dipping my toes into that genre. I’ve mostly written m/m romance, and that’s probably because I’m reading more of that lately, but hopefully I can break through this ridiculous fear and start writing some decent length pieces in the romance genre. Let’s call it a goal! *Laugh*

 

Are you a planner, pantser, or somewhere in between?
Oh, definitely a pantser! *Laugh* My standard way of writing a short story for a contest entry is to wait for the last minute, start typing without knowing what my story is going to be about, and then find out as it develops. *Laugh* Yes, that is how I write short stories. I start with some vague concept of a beginning, and write until it feels like it’s finished. The end. Yeah, it’s no wonder my stories don’t have beginnings, middles and endings!

I found doing the prep for NaNoWriMo incredibly valuable, but I think that’s because if you pantsed a novel, you’d end up with a wandering story that went nowhere. But I’ve never actually planned a short story. I never know how they’ll end when I start writing them, and I almost always write the entire thing in one sitting without stopping.

 

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
If the writing is flowing easily, I really like that. When I’ve started writing a short story and it’s just basically writing itself. That’s awesome. I don’t tend to get that with poetry, as it is shorter and requires more deliberate thought. Other than that, it’s the satisfaction of reading a completed piece. Actually, it’s not even when you sit back and say ‘Done, and not a bad job if I do say so myself!’, it’s more like when you find something months or years later and re-read it and think ‘Holy shit, did I write that?’ That’s my favourite part. *Bigsmile* Of course, sometimes you re-read something and think ‘Woah, I can’t believe I thought that was good!’ *Rolling*

 

What’s your favorite thing about writing outside your comfort zone?
Two things – learning and surprise. I shall explain. *Smirk*

I love learning. I’m a lifelong learner. I suspect I get it from my dad. He’s a teacher. He hasn’t always been, because he was a farmer for years, but he’s passionate about education. He definitely believes that all learning is a good thing. I love learning, and in particular, I love to learn new skills. I believe I once coined myself the title of ‘perpetual poetry pupil’. *Laugh* With writing, there’s always something new to learn. If you believe that a successful bestselling author has nothing left to learn about the craft of writing, you’re dead wrong. The most obvious thing is a change in genres. Each genre requires slightly different handling, slightly different skills. I can’t imagine someone thinking that comedy and horror require the same writing skills. Clearly they don’t. And then there’s all the multitude of poetry forms out there (I think if you wrote in a different form every day, you’d never run out!), and all the different forms of prose from micro or flash fiction all the way to novels. They all require different skills. Different points of view, etc. So much to learn. So one of the things I love about stepping out of my writing comfort zone is learning new skills.

The second thing is that sometimes you try something new and surprise yourself with what you create. I love that. My first prose poem, Waiting, won a Quill Award on Writing.com. That totally shocked the hell out of me. And one of my favourite short stories, That horse has bolted, came from a challenge to write something in the Western genre. I liked my attempt (Sophia) at writing something in the history genre too. None of those are my favourites, but I was really pleased with how they turned out, and there’s just something so damn satisfying about surprising yourself like that. Trying something just to accept a challenge and being really pleased with what you produced. It doesn’t always happen, of course. My holiday story, Christmas Rescue, is pretty crap! *Laugh* And I don’t think I’ve ever written a decent haiku or senryu. Actually, most of my form poetry sucks. I think the one I hate the most is The Beautiful Birds in God’s Own which is a kyrielle. That poem is an embarrassment. *Blush*

 

Who in your day-to-day life knows you’re a writer? That is, how open are you about this part of yourself?
My husband and kids know, but they don’t read any of my writing. Not unless I make them. *Laugh* My sisters have access to the poems and short stories when I post them on Livejournal, but they rarely comment so I’m not sure if they read them or just skip past the poems and stories. I sometimes print out my short stories for Mum to read. Not the erotica or m/m ones, but the others. She really enjoyed Sophia, I think that’s her favourite of all my work. She even encouraged me to print out a bunch of my short stories and send them to my grandmother (which I did). One Christmas I printed a little book of what I thought were my best poems at that time, but she’s not really into free verse. She likes rhyming poetry. So she was polite and all, but I haven’t redone the gift for her with my more recent poems. If I was going to, I’d probably stick to my rhyming poems, and I’m not sure I have enough of those for even a mini book (I think I’d need a minimum of 40 poems). She’s always supportive of my writing though. Always has been. She just doesn’t understand free verse.

I have one friend in real life who has always known that I write.  She writes too, although I don’t know how much she’s written in recent years because she hasn’t been sharing with me. She was the one who encouraged me to write in my teens though. Don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for her.

I did tell my colleagues at work that I blog. I even gave them the link to this blog. They seemed impressed, but I don’t think any of them looked at it more than that once. One of them says things every now and then like ‘I bet that’s going in your blog!’ But I’m 99% sure none of them actually read it. Actually, it was a girl I worked with that put me on to WordPress in the first place, but she seems to have disappeared from there now herself.

One of my 2018 bucket list items was to share my WordPress blog on my Facebook page. My colleagues had reacted well, so I guess I thought it was time to be brave and share it with everyone else. None of my writing links back to the name I use for work, and I’d never share it on LinkedIn. Last thing I need is a prospective boss reading my erotica. Or my angsty ‘bad relationship’ poems. *Laugh* But yeah, I took the leap as recently as last month and shared the first few posts I’ve done about our UK trip on Facebook. I guess I thought that was a gentle introduction, rather than sharing poems or prose, or a book review, with them all. I’m not sure if any of them actually went and read the posts or not, but I was proud of myself for having the courage to share them. So from now on, when I post something at WordPress that I feel is appropriate to share on Facebook, I’ll share it. We’ll see how it goes.

So yeah, I guess everyone kind of knows now, but that’s a super recent thing. I’m still trying to get my head round it. *Smile*

 

What do like to do in your down time? You know, besides writing.
Down time, what’s that? *Laugh* Reading is the easy answer. I read every day. I particularly like to read just before bed, because it helps me to turn my brain off and stop thinking. It’s funny, because my husband used to complain about my reading at night, even though I used my phone and use the ‘black background with white text’ option so that there’s no screen glare and he just goes to sleep. So I went a couple nights without reading…which meant I ended up tossing and turning or just chatting away to him while he tried to sleep. Eventually he gave up and said “Will you just bloody read?!” *Laugh* So he doesn’t complain anymore now that he knows what I’m like when I don’t. I often read at lunchtime too, and I sometimes listen to audio books in the car. I have an hour long commute each way to work, so that’s plenty of time to get into an audio book. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for music, but I find that audio books make the time pass faster.

Otherwise, I’m usually on my computer. I’ve had people (usually colleagues) ask me how I can be on the computer all day at work and then go home and be on the computer again, but it’s different. I’m on Writing.com or WordPress or Livejournal… Sometimes Facebook or Instagram. That’s entirely different to being on the computer at work. And yes, I know I read on a screen too. I’ll end up with square eyes.*Pthb* I have a large gaming laptop, which I bought not for gaming but because it can easily run Photoshop and Blurb’s BookWright software. I have a black leather reclining armchair, and I sit in that with my laptop and potter away. Sometimes I potter while my husband games in his study, sometimes I potter while he watches movies on TV (you have no idea how many movies I’ve ‘sort of’ seen because I’ve been half watching them and half on my computer! *Laugh*) and sometimes I put the computer away and just watch movies with him. I’m not really a TV person. I like some movies, and I really enjoy cooking shows, but most of the time I’d rather read or be on my computer.

 

How do you keep yourself focused and motivated?
Hmm… I don’t know if I would call myself focused. I actually have a really short attention span when it comes to tasks and projects, which is why I have so many of them. I flit from one to the other constantly to keep myself interested. But in terms of motivation…

I love lists, and I especially love crossing things off lists, so I do find that making a ‘to do’ list helps. It helps me to be more methodical about getting stuff done so that I can cross it off, and it helps to motivate me.

Also, I find a way to challenge myself. If I know I haven’t done any short stories lately, despite them being on my to do list (yes, this is currently the case), I’m likely to sign up to a short story writing challenge, or commit to entering a short story contest. Deadlines are a big motivation for me. I’m a procrastinator, so without a deadline, I just never get shit done. Most of my short stories are written a couple of hours (or less!) before the deadline of a contest or challenge. I’ve done it with blogging too, like signing up for blogging challenge to get me blogging regularly again.

Is that the kind of thing you meant?

 

Have you ever walked away from a story, realizing it was never going to become what you’d envisioned?
Yup. I don’t think Christmas Rescue is worth revising. It’s a pretty crap story. To make it better, I’d have to take the character and put him in a different situation entirely. And I don’t actually know anything about the character. It’s written in first person, so I don’t know the character’s name, appearance, anything. So it’s not worth revisiting.

Hoping For Change is a bit different. I wrote the first chapter of a ‘novel’ and then the last chapter, for a writing contest, but I never really had any intention of writing the whole novel. I think, deep down, I was hoping it’d be so good I’d be inspired to complete it, but it’s not.

Hands-Free is another one I won’t bother revising. It’s a lost cause. *Smile*

 

Who is currently “wowing” you in the writing world?
Eek! I’m very out of touch with the writing world. When something truly captures my eye, I tend to paste it in to my Livejournal. It’s like pasting something you like into a scrapbook, I guess. That’s how I see it, anyway. I always use a private entry so that I’m not re-sharing someone else’s work on my blog. When I print my blogs (which won’t be available publicly because they’ll contain a whole shitload of private memories), I’ll include these little things that caught my eye. So… These are the things that have most recently found their way to my journal.

The Universe as Primal Scream by Tracy K Smith. It amused me because it’s about kids screaming, and yet it’s written in such a poetic way.

Some Answers You Never Considered by Robert Okaji. I thought this was a very clever poem.

State of the Union by Lorelai Kilmore. Actually, I love a lot of Lorelai’s poems. She has a unique way of looking at the world and sharing that in a poem. You should definitely check out her blog. I’d love to hear what some of you think of her poetry. If you read her stuff, let me know your thoughts.

imaginary dramas by Rowena McGregor. This just spoke to me. Like a moment of truth. How often do we dwell on the stupid, petty things instead of appreciating what we have?

In terms of new published authors I’ve read, I think my greatest new discovery was the Kingmaker Chronicles by Amanda Bouchet. Loved it. Three five star books.

 

Is this a side career? Or is this a major hobby of yours?
It’s definitely not a side career, considering I make zero money from it. *Laugh* In fact, it costs me money, so if it was a career, it’d be a pretty terrible one.

Writing is just a hobby of mine. I dedicate a lot of time to it because I enjoy it. If I ever stop enjoying it, I’ll stop.

 

What down and dirty person, joke, book, movie, etc., makes you laugh out loud?
Michael McIntyre. He’s a British standup comedian. I’ve seen him live twice, and both times I laughed until I nearly wet myself. Speaking of British comedians, I love John Cleese. He’s #1. I got the chance to see him live recently and totally fangirled. I like a bit of Jimmy Carr. I definitely like Stephen Fry, he’s brilliant.

I’m usually not that big on American humour. I liked Robin Williams and I like a lot of Jim Carrey stuff (but not all of his stuff). I like some (but not all) of Adam Sandler’s movies too. Like Grown Ups and Pixels, but not really Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy.

 

Do you believe in the possibility of anything and everything? Known and unknown?
Um, yeah, I kind of do. I consider myself agnostic. I’ve been a Christian, but don’t consider myself one anymore. I don’t really believe in anything anymore, but I’m open minded enough to acknowledge that I might be wrong. I don’t believe in God or gods or goddesses, but I know people who do. I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits, but I know people who do. I don’t believe in aliens and UFOs, but I know people who do. Who is to say that they’re wrong and I’m right? Maybe I’m wrong and they’re right. I just don’t know. I have no proof that there’s no god or ghost or alien, it’s just what I believe. And same goes for them, I guess. So I don’t really believe in anything EXCEPT the possibility of anything and everything. *Wink*

 

How much of what you read affects what you write?
Oh, it definitely affects it. When I read historical fiction, I’m more likely to write historical fiction. When I read fantasy novels, I’m more likely to write fantasy fiction. And so on and so forth. Sometimes I have to stop myself and think ‘Is this my work or is this more like fanfiction?’*Blush* The Phoenix was definitely one where I thought that.

I don’t read much poetry except on Writing.com, but that works the same way. The more of someone’s poems I read, the more mine started veering toward that same style. When I was in my teens, the only poetry I read was my friend’s, and so I went from poetry that was very similar to my mother’s (simple rhyming poetry) to these sprawling monologues (that’s what we called them in those days) similar to what my friend wrote. I’m very impressionable. *Laugh*

About the only thing I write that doesn’t really change style depending on what I read is my blogging. I actually have my own unique voice when it comes to my blogging, thank goodness. *Smile*

 

When not writing, do you enjoy other creative ventures? If so what?
Photography is probably my biggest hobby after reading and writing. I love it, but I don’t devote enough time to it to be really good at it. I love taking nature photos, especially birds or macro (close-up) photos of insects and bugs. And flowers. I also like taking candid (unposed) photos of people. I particularly love capturing people in moments of genuine emotion, like laughing out loud, or gazing adoringly at each other. Or photos of people in their everyday lives, like cooking or working.

I’ve photographed four weddings. Wasn’t paid for any of them, although I did get given a bottle of port from one bride and groom. *Laugh* I enjoyed it, but weddings are stressful times, and it’s hard to know that you have so much responsibility to capture this one special day. If the couple genuinely can’t afford a professional photographer and are going to do without, then I don’t mind stepping up. That’s been the case for three of the weddings I’ve done, and the other one was my husband’s grandfather remarrying and I don’t think they were worried too much about fancy photos. But I know my work isn’t good enough to compare to a professional, and so I would also recommend a professional instead if the couple can afford it.

You can see my photos on Facebook if you want – *Facebook*The Road To Elle.

I really enjoy family history and genealogy. I do the genealogy side of things on Ancestry and love adding new people to the family tree. My family tree currently has 3,456 people in it. Ha ha, I just realised that’s such a cool number. 3456. It’s almost a shame to ruin it by adding another person! *Laugh* I’ve traced ancestors back to the 1400s, which is wicked cool. I’m the only one in my family who does the research, but the others like to get updates on my discoveries every now and then. I’m passionate about recording the stories to go with the people though, and I am trying to interview everyone in my family. It’s funny the things you learn when you interview people (she says, in an interview! *Rolling*). Sometimes you learn things you didn’t expect to. I know my parents and siblings fairly well, but asking my parents questions about their childhoods was quite fascinating. And even more so with my grandmother. How life has changed.

I like to cook, but it’s not something I experiment with often. I tend to get out my cookbooks when I’m on holiday. Sometimes the things we make become part of our everyday repertoire (like my rice risotto) and sometimes they’re just something different to change things up. My husband also likes to cook. He’s become known in the family for his slow roasted pork belly, and his slow roasted lamb. Both beautiful meals to have when you’ve got a bunch of people to feed.

I enjoy scrapbooking. I started out with traditional scrapbooking and then moved to digital scrapbooking because it’s less messy, takes up less room and costs way less money. But I kind of like traditional scrapbooking better because it’s more tactile. I love being able to incorporate tickets, receipts, postcards, etc. My very favourite thing is having a page where you literally open an envelope and remove a letter, read it, put it back, turn the page. That kind of thing. Interactive pages, I guess. Love those. And I’m a huge fan of handwriting, which you don’t get with digital pages unless you scan your writing (which I’ve done). I love people’s handwriting. Especially little kids. *Bigsmile*Ooh, or people from several generations back who had handwriting that looked like beautiful calligraphy. *swoon* I don’t do much scrapbooking now, but it’s only because I’ve been distracted with other things. I have several projects that I need to get back to. Still haven’t finished my wedding scrapbook and I’ve been married 15 years. *Laugh*

Last time I wrote about my hobbies, I also included collecting, but is collecting really a hobby? Hmm, the internet says yes. *Laugh*

My oldest collection is bookmarks, which I started collecting when I was 14. My personal favourite is actually not a bookmark at all (although that’s what I use it for) but a ‘solid gold money clip’ that my dad received for going on the Sale of the Century TV game show. I’m not sure it’s solid gold either, but that’s okay. And I really like the leather bookmarks I’ve collected from historical places around the UK.

I have two crockery collections. So when Steve’s grandmother died, we inherited a set of four soup bowls in the J G Meakin Golden Court pattern, and a tureen in a very rare pattern (so rare that I don’t even know its name) by Grindley. We’ve added extensively to the Golden Court setting and now have enough pieces to have a full meal. The Grindley one is rarer, so we only have a few pieces in that.

I also collect figurines. I started with Royal Doulton ladies, then added some that weren’t Royal Doulton, then added some Anne Stokes fantasy figurines… So yeah, I have a bunch of ladies and elves and fairies… *Smile* They’re not on display at the moment, they’ve been packed away since we moved as I don’t really have anywhere to put them. Might get them out when one of my kids leaves home.

Somehow, I’ve also ended up with an alcohol collection. *Laugh* It started mostly because my husband likes Scotch whisky, and as he started to buy more and more expensive whiskies, the collection started to grow. You don’t drink a $200 bottle of whisky as quickly as you drink a $50 bottle of whisky, right? So he’d have a cheaper bottle for everyday drinking (not that he drinks every day, but you know what I mean) and a more expensive bottle for special occasions. And it kind of grew from there. Altogether we have about 55 bottles of alcohol, and about half of that is whisky. Mostly Scottish, but with a couple from New Zealand and one from Ireland I think.

I don’t drink whisky. Actually, I hardly drink at all. If I do drink, I’ll have a vodka with lemonade, a toffee vodka straight or a small glass of port. But I probably have less than one drink per month. Hence why the collection grows rather than shrinks!

We have 8 bottles of wine. Mostly red. Only one is a particularly nice bottle of wine, and that’s a bottle of Obsidian that we bought on Waiheke Island. One is sparkling feijoa which I bought just because it sounded cool. And it’s made by Lothlorien Wines, which is cool too. I buy most of my alcohol that way – by name or looks, rather than by taste. My mother-in-law can’t understand it, but oh well. If I was a bigger drinker, I’d probably be more inclined to buy the ones I like to drink, but I just like having the cool bottles in my collection. *Laugh* The wine also includes a very cheap, but very cool bottle of Blue Nun 24k Gold Edition dry sparkling wine. It has real gold in it, and comes in a box that looks like a gold bar. I think it cost me less than $10 though, at the supermarket. *Wink*

I have a couple of bottles of Purple Death, which are some of my favourites in my collection. I actually like Purple Death over vanilla ice cream, but it’s the label that makes it such a wonderful addition. It’s made locally (the vineyard is only about 10 minutes drive from us) and it says:

An unusual “Rough-as-Guts” aperitif that has the distinctive bouquet of horse-shit and old tram tickets. It is best drunk with the teeth clenched to prevent the ingestion of any foreign bodies. Connoisseurs will savour the slight tannin taste of old tea leaves and burnt cat fur. Possessors of a cultivated palate will admire the initial assault on the taste buds which comes from the careful and loving blending of animal manure and perished jock straps strained through an old miner’s sock. The maturing in small pigs’ bladders gives it a very definite nose.

Marketed under the Saviour Brand (9 of out of 10 people who drink it for the first time exclaim “Je-e-esus Chri-ist!”).

Caution: Keep away from “naked flames” (both old and new).

Bottled by the Mad Scientist – just for fun.

I think it tastes a bit like Irish Moss cough medicine. It’s nice over ice cream, but I don’t know many people who can drink it straight.

I’ve got a few bottles of Taylor’s port, because that’s my favourite for drinking. I’ve also got a bottle of Graham’s port which I don’t like (it was a gift). I don’t really like any Australian ports. Too raisin-y. And I have a bottle of Mazuran’s port which is made locally. Steve has promised to buy me a bottle of Mazuran port that was bottled in 1980 for my 40th birthday. Will cost about $200, but how cool is that? Port as old as I am! They have port that dates back to the 1940s. *Smile* Oh, and I’ve got pink port which I keep in the fridge.

I’ve got toffee vodka (yum!), feijoa vodka and two bottles of Royal Dragon vodka. One of the Royal Dragon vodkas is for drinking, and the other is special. It has a dragon made of glass blown into the bottle, and the vodka has gold flakes in it. Looks amazing. I’ve got a bottle of Smirnoff Gold too, which is cinnamon flavoured with gold flakes, but it’s super sweet, and is more like a liqueur than a vodka. It’s not great actually, it has a weird texture, but it looks nice.

I’ve got Baileys and strawberry Baileys which I only got recently in the fridge. The strawberry Baileys isn’t great, but I can imagine would be nice over ice cream. And in the freezer I have a bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire. I love the spicy ones. We did have a bottle of Jagermeister Spice (cinnamon and vanilla) too, but I’m not sure if we used it for our boozy fruit mince or not.

So yeah, quite a lot of alcohol. Apart from the wine, most of it can be opened and savoured over a long period of time, which is good. Means we’re not total drunkards. *Laugh*

So yeah, I think that’s all of my hobbies. Reading, writing, photography, family history and genealogy, cooking, scrapbooking and collecting.

 

Apart from writing, how do spend your free time? Your creativity time? I know you have a LOT of hobbies, but reading doesn’t count cause that’s like breathing. 
So, did you really mean to ask what creative projects I work on when I’m not writing or blogging? I love talking about my projects, so hopefully I haven’t just interpreted your question this way because that’s what I want to talk about. *Laugh*

Seriously, if you thought I rambled on about our alcohol collection, just you wait! *Rolling* Originally these were all projects that I just worked on whenever I felt like it, and I’d just move from one to another depending on my motivation. Which is why none of them ever got finished. *Rolleyes*But I was talking to a colleague at work about them, and she pointed out that I need to finish the ones that are intended for my older relatives, because at the rate I’m going, they’ll never get them. *Blush* So that’s the reason for the prioritisation of the projects.

My first priority (now that I’ve finished the photo book we gave my sister for her wedding) is a family recipe book. I started it in 2010. Yes, that means it has taken eight years so far. Here’s what I wrote for the front of the recipe book (it explains a lot about the project):

This project really began in 1999 when my mother decided my sisters and I were old enough to learn how to make Pop’s cream liqueur. She called it an heirloom recipe – our legacy from our grandfather. That was the first time I’d ever thought of a recipe as an heirloom, as something tangible to be passed from one generation to another.

When I had children of my own and they wanted to make stuff in the kitchen I realised that I had heirloom recipes of my own – Mum’s roast chicken gravy and Uncle Philip’s Welsh Rarebit for instance. But all of these special recipes were on bits of paper or scattered through cookbooks in various kitchens. Or worse, in someone’s memory and not written down at all. No single person had all the recipes, and I started thinking that one day those special legacies would be lost. And who would remember that Uncle Glyn’s granddaughter came up with the name for Welfare Soup? Or that the scalloped potatoes recipe came from 20 years of sitting down to Christmas dinner with the same neighbours? Or that Grandma gave Mum the fruitcake recipe after her wedding because it was Dad’s favourite? Someone needed to put all those recipes and all those stories in one place.

I could NEVER have predicted the response I got when I put the word out to family and friends. Poppa Pete pulled out his mother’s old handwritten recipe book and I just about cried. And finding Gran Schroder’s copy of the Edmonds Cookbook – the original 1955 edition – with her comments and notes in it…

I have received recipes from every branch on the family tree and the response from my family and my in-laws made this project so much more rewarding than I ever could have guessed. I hope that they (and you) see this book the way I do – as a true family heirloom and legacy.

I got more than 400 recipes. Some of them date back to WWII and the oldest ones are from Steve’s great-great-grandmother. We found them in his great-grandmother’s handwritten cookbook. Like, that’s just such an amazing family heirloom, don’t you think? Handwritten recipes from your great-grandmother? That was the oldest collection of recipes, but there were also recipe books belonging to my grandmother (deceased), to Steve’s grandmother (deceased) and his grandfather (who was alive at the time), and other recipes that had been handed down. Then from the relatives that were alive, we got recipes from grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins. Half these people I’ve not met or have only met once or twice, and yet they all contributed. Some of the recipes are modern, like Steve’s recipe for slow roasted lamb that was actually a Jamie Oliver recipe originally.

It’s a mammoth project, but people are really keen to get their hands on a copy, so I need to get cracking on it. I’m digitally scrapbooking each recipe, mostly so I can include photos or the handwritten recipes or comments and stories where appropriate. You can see the ones I’ve completed here: *Facebook*Elle’s family recipe pages. I think some people will only want the recipes from their side of the family, whereas others will want all of them. Some aren’t really useable anymore. Who wants to make wartime butter? And ingredients have changed over the years, as have cooking methods. But the majority of the recipes are still worth making.

Okay, that was project #1. You see how this is going to be a massive reply? *Laugh*

After I’ve finished on the family recipe books, I want to work on a series of family history books. I found this awesome site that basically sucks your family tree data out of Ancestry and converts it into books. It does family pages (so it shows the data for the parents and all their kids) and then shows all the photos and relevant documents for that family group. I want to do that, but also include the interviews I’ve done with various family members. I had originally planned to compile all the interviews with some photos and call it ‘Well, as I remember it…’ (because everyone remembers the same events differently), but this new site will make things a lot easier. I’ve used them to make some family tree posters for relatives too, and the quality was awesome, which is important. I want to make a book for me, a book for my husband, and then a book for each of our parents. Potentially I’d also do copies for my kids that have the whole lot in. We’ll see. Money will be the big restriction on this project, as I have to pay for the books to be printed.

After that comes a project near and dear to my heart. *Wink* My blog books. I’ve been blogging since 2001 when I was pregnant with my son. I don’t blog every day necessarily, but altogether I have 3,632 entries in my Livejournal blog. *Shock* That’s a lot of entries. Spread over 17 years, that’s 213 per year, which isn’t bad. I also have boxes of memorabilia stashed in my bedroom that correspond to those same 17 years. So what I want to do is print the blog posts (which includes all my poems and short stories) and print them in books. I plan to do one book per year, so currently that’s a total of 17 years. Then I want to put the memorabilia in the books. That’s the tricky part, because I have to work out in advance where the memoriabilia is going to go, so that I can leave a space in the printed book for it. The memorabilia includes letters (which I hope to put in the book in their envelopes where possible), postcards, photos, cards, receipts, tickets, pamphlets, etc. Most of the photos are digital, so they’ll be printed with the blog posts, but there’s a few that aren’t digital for whatever reason, so they’ll be stuck in. I’ve designed the covers for the books, and I’ve transferred all the entries for 2001 to my book software, but still need to work on creating the spaces for the memorabilia. Then rinse and repeat for the other years. I’ll only be able to make one copy of each book that has all the memorabilia in it, and I have two children, so I’m not sure what will happen to the books after I go. Not sure my son is really interested in them, so that might help, but I guess we’ll see. Easy enough to reprint just the blog posts by themselves, but I’m a scrapbooker at heart, so I really want to include the memorabilia.

After that, I should probably finish my wedding scrapbook. I have a sneaking suspicion though that the memorabilia from my wedding scrapbook will end up in my 2003 blog book. We’ll see.

These projects are in no particular order:
*Bullet* I want to handwrite all of my poems into journals. I used to do this in high school, and stopped in 2010 when I found Writing.com. I started backdating them in, but I think I’m only up to 2013 or something, so have heaps still left to do.
*Bullet* I saved a whole bunch of my daughter’s baby clothes and blankets with the intention of making a quilt for her godmother. I’ve never quilted in my life though. I think the bag of old clothes got thrown out when we moved, but I still have the baby blankets. So not sure if this project will go ahead or not.
*Bullet* I have a jumper I started knitting for my son when I was pregnant. He’s 17 now, so chances are it won’t fit him now. *Laugh* Would like to finish it one day. Maybe I can give it to my first grandchild. (Holy crap that makes me feel old!).
*Bullet* Make a photo book of my 2018 UK trip. I did this for my 2014 UK trip and it turned out really well. My mother has already started talking about how she wants to see it, and I haven’t even started it yet!

Hmm, I think that’s all my projects at the moment. So yes, that’s what I work on when I’m not on writing or reading. *Smile*

 

When you write, do you prefer silence or noise? If you prefer quiet, how do you achieve this with children? If you prefer noise, what background noise heightens your muse? Does this change depending on what you are writing?
I like to listen to classical music when I write prose, and music with lyrics when I write poetry.

For the classical music, I have a playlist on Youtube that includes some of my favourite classical pieces (I love Tchaikovsky’s 1812), choral music such as some Pavarotti, and movie scores (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Carribean, Star Wars, etc.). So it’s a mixed bag. Some of it is dark, some of it is upbeat, some of it is loud, some of it is quiet… I don’t find it affects my writing, but allows me to stay in the zone and just get the words down on paper.

For poetry, I like to have a range of songs because every now and then a word will just leap out at me and I’ll either use it or it will trigger a series of brain jumps until I get something that will end up in my poem. I’ve even been known to write entire poems based on music videos. *Pthb* Again, it’s a mixed bag of genres and styles. I usually put it on shuffle.

I don’t have much issue with my kids these days because they’re both teenagers now. They’re 17 and 13. My 13 year old is a chatterbox, but she often holes up in her room with Youtube. I can’t concentrate on anything when she’s watching her stupid Youtube videos on the TV in the lounge, so I usually make her turn it off. When they were younger, I either had to time my writing so that I was doing it when they were asleep or busy with other things, or find distractions for them. Distractions never worked well with my daughter because she had a short attention span. So yeah, not much a drama now, thank goodness. Makes life much easier. *Smile*

 

You’ve interviewed a few authors for your blog…what has that meant to you? What have you learned so far, and has that contributed in any way to how you read/review or write? Will you be doing more interviews in the future? I ask because I’ve enjoyed your interviews, as well as the experience of being interviewed by you…you tend to bring a lot out of your subjects that most may not know.
I’ve really enjoyed doing the interviews, and I’ll definitely be doing them for as long as people continue volunteering to be interviewed by me. I am thrilled that people enjoy reading them too. Bonus! *Laugh*

As to what I’ve learned:
*Bullet* People are flattered to think themselves worthy of an interview. Even published authors. This was an interesting insight to me, because I’ve been afraid of approaching some of the bigger names in the publishing world, but I should do it. People like talking about themselves. And some of the people who think ‘I’m not worth an interview because I haven’t published anything or I’m not interesting’ end up being the most interesting to interview.
*Bullet* There are no rights or wrongs to writing. It doesn’t matter if your book takes you 20 years or if you never plan on being published, if you’re a planner or a panster, if you edit or you don’t (yes, I’m looking at you there, Norb!), or if you write what you know or write crazy off-the-wall stuff that defies imagination. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why you write or what you write or how you write. All that matters is that you enjoy it. That’s the underlying truth.

I don’t think it’s changed what or how I read or write, but I do think it has changed how I review. It reminded me that there are real people behind the works I read and review. I knew that for the unpublished work I read on Writing.com, but it’s also true for published work. It’s a good reminder. *Smile*

Please feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments below. *Smile*

Interview with writer Norb Aikin

Even in big groups, surrounded by friends or in successful career phases, I was still starting to feel very alone. In some way, shape or form, I’ve always stood out. I’ve got a funny name, or ugly clothes, or a dumb haircut. And even when I was fitting in more, I was still somewhat of an outsider. The whole “fear of having good things because good things always go away”…that’s very real to me. I’m afraid to open up, because I will likely wind up scaring people away at some point. And it isn’t always because I’ve done something wrong (although there’s been my fair share of mistakes). It’s because I don’t give people the chance to understand me. Even when I deliberately try not to be complex, it comes off the wrong way. It’s hard to describe; it’s certainly one of the reasons I’m seeing a therapist, and I still can’t seem to get out what I want to say or what I mean.

And now I feel like I’m babbling. Over the years this song has meant a lot of different things to me; mainly toward other people, and it’s written from the perspective of a fan toward the changing attitudes of his favorite performer. But as time goes on, and the more distance I put between myself and my home and everyone and everything, the more I turn it in my direction. The more I write, and try to understand myself and clarify myself, the more confused I seem to end up sometimes. I don’t want to think that that’s my destiny or anything, but the longer it goes on, the more likely it seems. Ya know…something like “Make a mistake once, it’s an accident; make it again, it’s a decision.” What if my decision has been made for me? What if I’m not supposed to be figured out? It’s not as empowering as it sounds…it’s frustrating, in reality. But it’s my normal setting, I guess.
~ Norb Aikin

How long have you been blogging?
Ten years now, maybe? I just looked it up, because you asked…I created my first blog on January 7th, 2008…so nine and a half years. A lot of life lived in that time, that’s for sure. Nearly 1200 entries.

How has blogging changed since you started? Have you noticed any trends?
There weren’t as many options back then, obviously (on Writing.com and on the internet in general). Now on WDC there are plenty of blogging groups and contests, and there are sites tailored to the average person that combine the ease of word processing with the connectivity of the internet. Like anything else, the more people do it the more functional and important it becomes…the websites dedicated to blogging are easier to use and more people are sharing what’s important to them, and in many ways that’s a good thing.

What compels you to blog?
Personally? Nowadays, a really good prompt that begs me to speak to it. I’m woefully prompt-dependent *Laugh*. And I have to feel like I have a really solid response almost instantly, or some kind of spark at the very least. It’s easy for me to look at prompts and feel very disinterested, almost as a default. Once I can get past that and get the proverbial wheels turning and ideas start forming, the rest often takes care of itself…if my head starts rambling with ideas that I can wrangle down into paragraphs and sentences, without much thought, that’s how I know for certain it’s a prompt that I can offer something worthwhile to. More often than not it’s mentally a case of “Do I wanna do this?” more than anything (even when I see a prompt that mildly interests me), and that’s the biggest obstacle most days.

What you do think makes your blogging style unique?
Ya know, it’s really hard for me to answer that. I’ll never be able to read my entries the way anyone else will; I won’t see things how they see what I write. Blogging is often just an extension of my internal monologue, really. I’ve read many different reviews over the years; people saying nice things and sometimes lesser-nice things *Laugh*, and while I appreciate that it’s hard for me to get a sense sometimes exactly what they mean, because I’m not trained to see my words the same way I would read someone else’s.

How has your own blogging style changed since you first started blogging?
This is a really good question! I think for the most part it’s a lot truer to who I am outside of my blog. In the early days I felt more like a showman, a performer. I felt like I was trying to physically entertain readers in a non-physical medium, and that’s hard if you look at it that way. I felt more like a radio personality or a talk show host rather than a person who enjoys writing. And it’s fine to be like that in the short-term, but it’s not for everyone and it’s hard to maintain readership and interest after awhile because you’re constantly trying to invent and reinvent on top of something that maybe wasn’t already stable to begin with. Today, I feel more like the person whose blog you’re reading today is the same one you’ll bump into at the grocery store tomorrow or have dinner with next week. I’m not slipping into a cartoon of myself so much anymore.

Who do you consider your audience?
Anyone who reads it! *Laugh* No, I try not to limit myself to certain demographics or groups. Like a lot of people in this position, I want to reach as many people as I can while knowing full well what I write isn’t for everyone. But my job isn’t really about pleasing the people who will always read it…it’s more about pleasing those who might not always read it or who once thought maybe it wasn’t their thing when they read something a couple years ago and maybe stumbled upon a link recently. How do I connect with that person? How do I make it more interesting for them, while also making it enjoyable for me and the people who would read my blog regularly? I look at that as a challenge almost as much as trying to come up with interesting content.

Do you advertise or market your blog? Do you get much traffic?
I used to advertise it a lot more on social media, which I really should get back into doing because I find it does make a difference. People who aren’t WDC members but find links to my blog through Twitter (@fivesixer) or Facebook have told me in the past how much they’ve enjoyed it, and it becomes easier to grow an audience organically like that. It’s nice to have that universe of tangible people I’ve grown up with and around coinciding more with the universe of online friends.

Do you care how large your audience is, or do you write more for a select few?
I think this goes back to what I said about an audience. I’m not really concerned if 10 people or 1000 or a million consider themselves “my audience”. I write more for myself first (which sounds terrible but trust me, I don’t mean it egotistically *Laugh*), but I also do it because people seem to like it and enjoy it, and as long as that still happens I’ll have reasons to keep doing it.

Have you ever received negative or distressing comments/feedback on your blog? How did/do you cope with them?
The two most important things to keep in mind are: 1) Consider the source; and 2) Know the context of situation. If someone I don’t know wants to slam me for something I said, I may want to understand why they feel that way before I consider if I’ve said anything wrong. If I’m wrong, I’ll own it…but like anyone else, I’m entitled to my opinion and the majority of the time I’m sharing just that. It’s ok to call my opinion wrong, as long as you’re respectful and sensible. What I don’t have time for is anger and hatred over something I do for fun. Like I said, I get it that what I write isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea- I’m opinionated, I swear, I make jokes sometimes at the wrong time, I swear while making ill-timed jokes- but there are ways we can agree to disagree without being jerks about it. There is a tendency, especially in this day and age, for people to regard their own opinions as fact…and that’s where a lot of internet comments sections turn into the filthiest cesspools on the planet. People don’t believe they can be wrong, and hate being told as much. If I’m wrong and you can point out how, without making an ass out of yourself or me, I appreciate that. But go in the other direction, and I have no problem telling you to not read me anymore. I just don’t have time for that kind of drama, pettiness, and nonsense in my life.

How important is reader feedback to you?
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a big deal to me. It’s not a big deal, but at the same time it’s a reminder that yes, people are paying attention, and in that moment you connected with them enough that they felt compelled to give something back to the discussion. Feedback and comments are a big part of why we do what we do. We have something to say and we’re initiating or responding to something, and it’s in a format that lends itself to two-way longform conversation that’s different than just emailing a couple people or texting someone. The reader contributes to the conversation, depending on the topic, and it becomes another way of sharing information, or a laugh, or even just an implied hug.

Do you have any ‘tricks’ you use to engage your audience (such as asking questions to trigger a response)?
I hesitate to call them “tricks”, but you know as a writer the way you word something will elicit a different reaction than saying something people are used to hearing. There are zillions of words in the English language, yet people tend to think describing certain things the same boring ways over and over are going to make them somehow sound better because it’s coming from them. Even if the response is a simple “lol”, if you do something different people are going to remember that more. A blogger/audience relationship, on a lot of levels, is just like any other human relationship you have…with family, friends, partners, etc. You have to keep it interesting. Keeping it honest, fresh, and fun…sounds like a slogan or something, but it’s true! *Laugh*

And when I tried to take a nap to clear my head from it all, this song kept playing over and over between my ears. I couldn’t shut it off. The refrain is simple- “cash rules everything around me”- but the verses are intricate and deep. Meaningful. I would bump this cassette maxi-single from my old Plymouth Horizon, the first car I ever owned.

When you’re strugglin’, sometimes you’ve gotta do whatever you can just to survive. You make the tough decisions, because if you don’t someone else might, and chances are you’ll like that a hell of a lot less. For a lot of people, cash is king. It’s what makes the world move, as much as we might hate to admit it…try puttin’ it on your spouse or your deities or your faith to pay your bills each month, and see how far that gets you with your creditors. I’m not mocking religion; I’m just sayin’ doin’ nothin’ but hittin’ your knees for thirty straight days prolly ain’t gonna pay your rent.

It’s not easy when you’re low-income…which makes people feel all the more rewarded when they start payin’ bills with a little bit left over each month. That’s when you know things are lookin’ up for you.
~ Norb Aikin

How do you feel if an entry gets no comments?
Eh, it happens. And I’m not gonna lie…sometimes it seems like it happens more on the entries I feel like I’ve worked really hard on, or entries that I’m really proud of how they turned out *Laugh*. If you let it affect you and demoralize you, you’re never gonna write again. And if you’re writing just to get clicks or likes, maybe you’re not doing it for the right reasons…maybe you need to adjust your perception of validation. Sometimes the internet’s odds aren’t in your favor, for whatever reason. It’s ok. Every song can’t be #1 on the charts, every chapter of every book doesn’t get a writeup in the New York Times, and you can’t always count on the eyeballs you’re hoping for meeting up with your entry that day. You just make sure you’ve shared it in the places you’ve wanted to share it, make sure it says what you meant for it to say, and the rest is really up to the fickle nature of human beings. Some days the produce section at the grocery store is empty, and other days they can’t give it away. Either way, there’s another day, another prompt, another experience or memory to share.

What about if an entry sparks a conversation among your readers, even if it deviates from the original post and ends up entirely unrelated? How does that make you feel?
As long as it’s good-natured, well-intentioned, what have you…it’s honestly fantastic! *Laugh* You’ve transcended that conventional blogger/audience connection and the readers and yourself have felt comfortable enough that a left turn takes on a journey of its own. I’ve been on both sides of that- as the blogger, and the commenter- and there’s a bigger sense of community when that happens. Your audience, who came together for one purpose, is now turning their attention to something else, because of what’s transpired. It’s like hosting a party and all of the sudden another party breaks out at your party…as long as everyone’s cool and the cops don’t show up, who’s got a problem with that? *Laugh*

Are ‘likes’ as good as comments?
Ummmm…yes and no. Depends on what you’re looking for, I guess. A comment may not necessarily be a like, but it may mean more than a like. A like just means the reader was there and approves and left to go somewhere else. They showed up to your party, thanked you for the drink, and went to another party instead of throwing a party at your party *Laugh*. Then again, I’ve never minded being the guy who shows up to your party and sits off to the side to have a quiet conversation about matters unrelated to the party but of interest to one of the other guests, whether I know and/or like him or not.

How would you describe the content of your blog? Does it have a theme?
My current blog, Soundtracked, I guess doesn’t really have a theme. None of my blogs ever really did other than me getting out thoughts on different topics, or relating the things I did that particular day, or relating a prompt to my life experiences. I’ve always wanted my blogs to lean more on the humorous side than anything, first and foremost. I guess you could say Soundtracked is the closest to a themed blog as I’ve ever gotten, in that it was originally designed for music-themed contests and challenges. It’s since sort of slipped back into the loose template of its predecessor (Still Figurin’ Out Who I Think I Am) while branching out into poetry a little more…it’s maturing! Soon it’s gonna ask me for the car keys and come home smelling like cigarette smoke and loose women *Laugh*.

How much thought do you put into the content of your blog entries? Do you plan each entry or do you wing it?
I don’t plan as much as I used to. I would get so wrapped up in planning that by the time it came down to typing it up I was really doing double the work and not trusting my instincts enough…and I think that’s what blogging should be, more of how it started than the homogenized corporate-speak that you see so much of today. It should be raw, open, honest (brutally, if need be), and genuine….more “in the moment”. It’s easier to encapsulate all of that on the spot than coming up with an outline and arranging this part and that part and how you want to open or close it and so on. That said, I’ll still write some things down, especially if I see a prompt at night before going to bed and thoughts on it occur to me. I hate getting halfway into composing an entry and knowing I thought of something really funny three hours ago or the night before and I’ve forgotten what it was. It could be a one-liner, or something to remind me of an old memory that’s relevant to the prompt, or just a word I heard or came across that I want to use because I hadn’t seen it in awhile. I may write down a song title or video clip I want to use, or a link I’d recently seen. So I still do some prep work, but I can’t do as much as I used to. It takes a lot of the fun out of actually writing an entry for me, and that’s mainly why I’d taken a break from it for so long last year.

How has blogging changed your life (if it has)?
Well, it’s hasn’t made me rich, or even close to it *Laugh*. But has it changed my life? Perhaps. Probably. It might be the closest I’ll ever come to writing an honest-to-goodness autobiography. But “change your life” is kind of a strong term, isn’t it? I think when people hear that they tend to expect radical departures from an implied norm; the reality is that it’s enhanced my life in certain ways for sure, in a positive manner. When I was at a dead end writing poetry, I started blogging, and as that grew legs my poetry began to come back around…so in that aspect it’s been a success. I’m a believer in the whole “you get out of it what you put into it” thing, and it’s given me a lot in terms of writing and community and inclusiveness…some of which haven’t always been available to me in the non-blogging world. I also believe in the idea that sometimes you need to see things out in front of you in order to understand them, and talking things out with an understanding crowd can be beneficial…blogging for me serves that purpose. If I’m struggling with something, I can put it out there and not worry too much about being judged for it, but I can get feedback and maybe some enlightenment if I’m really looking for it.

Share your favourite blog entry (from your own blog, past or present) with us (or a couple of favourites if you can’t choose).
Ohhhhh my…so many entries alone that I can’t really even…where would I even begin? Let’s take Misunderstood/Sunken Treasure and 30DIC Day 13: Silver At Sleep from Soundtracked, and why not This one’s about bad driving, chaos, and C.R.E.A.M. and This one’s about sex. from the Quill-winning Still Figurin’ Out Who I Think I Am. I can’t even say that these are actual favorites, to be honest; I just didn’t feel like actually trying to find them (out of almost 1200), and then proofreading them again for content and making sure all the links work. These just happened to catch my eye today. Maybe tomorrow I’d like different ones, ya know? I just don’t spend a lot of time looking back.

Do you read other people’s blogs?
Obviously, as the guy in charge of the 30-Day Blogging Challenge, I do read a bunch…but I will definitely try to make time for some of the entries I’ll catch on my Personal Newsfeed (at WDC). And also as the person who runs a blogging competition, don’t ask me to pick a favorite, because there’s probably something not ethical about me saying I like so-and-so’s and then they show up in the 30DBC *Laugh*…that’s just my luck.

Do you read blogs outside of Writing.com?
I do, when I have time. I’m a fan of Deadspin and Jezebel, and Jezebel’s The Slot has some excellent (mostly US) political commentary. Alan Cross’ A Journal Of Musical Things is something I try to keep up with; I was a fan of his radio show growing up. And I follow a few topics on The Mighty as well; it’s a site that focuses on mental health mainly and takes reader submissions, which is an avenue I should probably be more seriously looking into, if I can ever get my head together and focus long enough on writing non-fiction in that vein.

What do you look for when you’re reading other blogs (or what appeals)?
I like blogs that are written like the person doesn’t walk around saying “I write a blog” in a big-deal voice. Hook me early with interesting language and phrasing. Don’t give me a book report or an essay…I want emotion, humor, and a sense of who you are and what your purpose is. After about 3-5 entries, I should be able to tell if you have a distinct voice; something that separates you from a pack. Something that distinguishes you, whether it’s in your tone or in the way you write about the things you write about. I don’t want to reread the same things over and over; I don’t want the same vanilla perspectives. People often ask me what makes a good blog, or if I have any tips, and I have no idea what to tell them. I know what works for me, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be good to you. I may not know what’s good, but I know what’s not good. Three sentences do not make a good blog entry. Answering what is little more than a glorified yes/no question with basically a yes/no answer? Not interesting. I like fun and whimsy and smart and engaging. I want to feel like I’m being conversed with, like the writer wants me as part of what he or she is trying to get across, even if it’s just to sit and listen.

What do you consider the do’s and don’t’s of blogging?
Like I said, be interesting! Be funny, and be yourself. Besides the obvious “have good grammar skills”, don’t be a yes/no person. If you’re writing an entry based on a prompt, don’t just answer the question like you’re taking a test and then move on to another prompt…again, two or three sentences doesn’t really make for interesting reading material. Do embed videos! Do use links from other websites! Do include pictures occasionally, but not too many, and if you’re gonna go that route just link to a photo album. Other than that, I really kinda suck at the “what kind of advice can you give” category…it’s your blog and you choose to do whatever you want; I think a lot of people tend to forget that when they’re starting out, and that they’re in full control.

Which do you find easier, writing poems or blogging? Which would you give up, if you could only do one?
At this point I can’t put one over the other. Either the purpose for doing it is there, or it isn’t (and that goes for both). I’ve recognized that I made blogging a lot of work for myself, because I’m only satisfied in writing an entry if I’m 100% committed to spending the time to really say what I want to and have it turn out a certain way. And because I don’t consider myself a “true poetry scholar” (not meant in offense to those who are), it’s easier for me to write down a poem, flip a page, and do the proverbial “kick a hole in the speaker, pull the plug, and I jet” *Laugh* (Google it, kids). One’s not really easier than the other; both have differing degrees of physical and emotional demands that require attention…but I started out as a poem-writer before blogging was even a thing, and given how some corners of the internet look at blogging, poetry is seen as less shameful than it was maybe 20 years ago *Laugh*.

No And No

This is the noise that keeps me awake,
the tie-dyed sentiments flung
from dirt that can’t be un-dug,
and this is me saying no
to a wish that “no” isn’t an answer to.
The curl, pulled straight.
The antidote, failed.

Nothing good can come of this
and that’s why I’m here.

This is the lookalike and this is the duplicate
and I am the difference
that goes unnoticed
until it’s too late.
There’s something, and nothing,
and something from nothing,
but I walk on the outline of the void-
I won’t fall in from the push;
my recoil does all the work for me.

Let’s not and say we did
before we have to pretend,
or at least until we get caught.

This is the noise that keeps me awake
and this is the escape I can’t seem to make
when I least expect it
but that’s what I’m doing now
and no one’s gonna tell me otherwise
even if they wanted to.
Like a joke not worth explaining
to people who don’t understand laughter,
I can’t help myself from myself.

~ Norb Aikin

Do you write poems instinctively or do you craft them? Are they blurted out on a page, carefully edited, or some mixture of both?
This might upset the so-called”purists”, but I don’t care…90% of what I do is based on instinct. The only difference between my notebooks and what shows up in my online portfolio are the parts I’ve clearly scratched out (probably because I couldn’t spell something right or had a mental spasm of indecision over where to break a line *Laugh*). I don’t labor much over poems like I’ve learned many others do; maybe I should, because that would improve them…but what would I be losing out on from an impact standpoint by readdressing something when I wasn’t in the original moment? There’s a small element of crafting I guess- the genesis, or hows and whys, mixed with a thought or memory or some other nudge- but once instinct takes over, it’s up to me to respond and I find that if I’m struggling in parts and aren’t able to put concepts or thoughts together in a way that seems to work for me, then it’s not gonna work in the minds of the people reading it either. It’s maybe a more complicated standard than it needs to be, but it works for me and I can’t be worrying about touch-ups and finagling…that’s taking time away from working on something else I might have on my mind.

How would you describe your poetry style?
*Rolling* Rebel Rap Tennis (*Laugh* that’s a story that goes way back, to my teen years!). I don’t know how else to describe it, and I don’t know if anyone’s ever asked before (or if I’ve considered an answer to)! There’s really no true “definition” other than an amalgam or conversion of various parts and pieces that were put together in ways that not only made sense to me but resonated with others.

Do you ever share your poems in real life?
Not at much as I used to; hardly at all in fact anymore. Life happens and often gets in the way, ya know? As people grow and move on, your circle becomes smaller and there isn’t the same time to invite someone over and say “Hey, I just wrote this…what do you think?” like I could ten or twenty years ago. And having a place like WDC means I can reach people on their terms, so they can read at their leisure, because let’s be honest, one of the worst parts of being a writer is that moment when someone’s reading something of yours right in front of you. What do you do with yourself in those moments, where seconds feel like minutes? You don’t wanna be too anxious, even though you’re wondering what kind of response you’re gonna get. And then the balancing out of wondering if the response you’re getting is genuine or just placating. Ideally I’d like to find a real-life community where I can open up a little more; I haven’t been able
to find that yet where I live now but I’d like to believe it’s out there.

Also, I do find it kinda hard talking about poetry in general. I just finished Matthew Zapruder’s excellent Why Poetry, which addresses some of the stigmas and preconceived notions attached to poetry, and I think anyone with even a passing interest in poetry would find it advantageous to read…if only to get past some of the ideas and stereotypes that exist because of poetry and the people who write it. People have asked me about my own writing- people I didn’t realize even knew I wrote- and I’ve never been sure what to say, because they didn’t strike me as people who would be interested enough in the first place. Hopefully I won’t just brush them off anymore.

Do you feel your audience genuinely understands your poems, or is there always a hint of ‘I’m glad they liked it, even if they’ll never truly understand the hidden context’?
Both are in play, I think. Understanding and interpretation are funny, fickle beasts, and I’m still trying to figure out who or what my audience is. With blogging, it’s easier and you can play to them more…poetry is more intimate, even though to me I compose blog entries and poetry similarly. You hope they get it but can’t plan on it, and liking something isn’t the same as understanding it. The difference is that with blogging you can be more straightforward if you want, which leads to better understanding. With poetry, it’s easier to purposefully not be understood at times. Words have meaning but context is applied randomly by the reader through their own relation to the same words. Some will understand, some will feel confused…if everyone “got it”, what good would secrets be? 

Skateboards and Notebooks (for Mike)

It starts with a thought-
a silly hobby.
Use it to pass time,
blow off steam,
and/or engage friends.
Sometime comes when you realize
you’re pretty good,
eventually better than everyone you know
and at least on par
with what you’ve seen
outside your broken half-circle.
So you work.
Improve. Expand. Practice. Build.
Not only is it yours,
it becomes you.
Your humble pride begins to swell
everywhere.
You’ve found freedom within
from what has left you out
and circulated it
into your universe,
for use at your own discourse.
You’ve not merely won,
but created a dynasty in positive proportions.
Ingredients are more than hard work;
your talents, once marked and scarred,
when exercised hand you
a grace to overcome your detractors
and turn their hurt into your wit,
determination, skill and chance
to overwhelmingly succeed.
It doesn’t happen overnight,
for forever’s rewards take immeasurable
but not infinite
time to earn.
It starts with a thought-
a silly hobby.

~ Norb Aikin

Who or what has had the greatest influence on your poetry?
I was fortunate to have a couple English teachers throughout high school that really appreciated poetry and encouraged me and made time for me. They normalized it for me, nurtured my interest, and above all were honest with me in regards to what worked and what didn’t. Having a strong foundation means you can do a lot more than you realize you’re capable of, and having people who can inform you from a practical standpoint when you’re testing limits is indispensable. And from there, you just try to take in as much as you can from around you, and you turn it into yours.

Who are some poets you admire, or some favourite poems by other poets that you’ve appreciated?
Richard Brautigan…a coworker friend turned me on to him, and I found his language easy to relate to. It took me awhile, but once I’d read In Watermelon Sugar I really understood life in general to be a lot different than I imagined. And Saul Williams…I came across a copy of , said the shotgun to the head while working in a bookstore and was blown away. His free verse is the post-9/11 soundtrack America needed and yet maybe slept on out of fear that fear of everything was in vogue. As for people I’m more familiar with, I’m a huge fan of Cinn…her word economy against emotional impact is leaps and bounds over 95% of what’s out there. Charlie has an incredible soul, warmth, and texture…the things you can’t measure. And I really admire Minja, because she tackles a lot in her poems and does it with English being her second language. She’s another person who brings these great undefined emotional tendencies to her work that makes everything she does stand out.

What’s going to happen to all the poems you write? Will they end up lost in cyberspace? Collated on a website or blog for posterity? Scribbled into a bunch of notebooks to be carefully treasured?
I don’t look that far ahead anymore. I used to be obsessed with the idea of timelessness and writing things that hopefully one day kids would read in their Literature textbooks instead of the same dreck they’re force-fed, but the internet did change everything and with the nature of “cyberspace” being so current, it makes me question what 10 or 50 or more years will be like. I know there was intent once of having a kid that I could instill this love in and pass these notebooks down like some kind of heirloom, but as I get older the likelihood of that diminishes (obviously). I’m cool with uploading as much of my old stuff as I can take to WDC *Laugh* when I feel like it. I do want some kind of digital archive like that…but putting in the work to do that is a bit of a pain.
I know if I don’t though, the alternative is building the coolest landfill outside of the one in Arizona where Atari buried all the unsold ET video game cartridges *Laugh*.

How often do you look back at old poems you’ve written? How has your poetry changed over time, and do you think it will change again?
I don’t look back very often. Some don’t age as well as I thought they might, which is fine…we can’t predict the social climate we’re going to be living in. And like I said, archiving old notebooks is cool, but it’s energy I’m spending on not moving forward. But there are some gems I come across…maybe I was too “in the moment” to share them and then just forgot about them…having a healthy separation from your work is key to not letting it drive you totally insane *Laugh*, whether it’s days or years. Has it changed? Maybe it’s evolved, if anything, or at least I’d like to think it has. Hard to say…I’m not focused on giving myself critical evaluations. I’m just doing what I can, the best I can, when I can.

Do you ever write stories?
I don’t. I probably could (and should), but I don’t have the attention span or attention to detail required. Blogging is as close as I’ll get to writing stories, because there’s a bigger emotional payoff for me in doing it I guess…which is a garbage answer, because I’ve read some really cool short stories this past year alone, but it’s not for me. For as long as I’ve been a WDC member, I’ve only ever posted one (that I can remember, at least: Painted Rock) and that was for a specific contest that got me out of comfort zones completely. I know it needs some tweaking but it was nominated for a Quill Award, and that blows my mind. I wouldn’t wipe writing more shorts off the table completely, but it’s not a priority. I don’t blog enough as it is anymore anyway *Laugh*; those are the short stories I’m most interested in writing…getting little personal anecdotes of my life out there before I forget them.

Check out more of Norb’s work at his Writing.com portfolio, and you can follow him on Twitter – @fivesixer.

An interview with author Adrienne Lilley

You have a particular interest in non-fiction, including reading medical writing. What is it about these that interests you? Do you utilise the knowledge you gain in your own writing?
Oh, you know, when you find something you’re good at, you often tend to embrace it. I lost my amazing ability to multitask in a stressful environment that earned me my income, so nowadays, I have a near perfect memory for dates, doctors, diagnoses, and just about anything medical– once I’ve learned it, I rarely forget it. In fact, if I were well today, I would likely be a Pharmacologist. It’s a weird thing to admit, but we all have our talents! I do of course take many medicines but I can tell you what each one looks like, what writing it has on it, if any, and their color and purpose.

When I was a young child, I read every single ingredient from every single shampoo bottle, food product, anything with writing in the house– I devoured the written word. I repeatedly read the same products and words over, and over, until at last I could at least recognize their phonetic breakdown, spell them, YES even if I didn’t know what they meant. Certainly I was teased and called ‘wordy’, which is a nice compliment now. Ha!

I remember going to the public libraries and researching my kidney symptoms when I was only 14-16 years old. My mother and I spent many weekend days there, because the doctors didn’t believe my pain was serious, and because I kept insisting something was seriously wrong. I was six when it began, and seventeen when the kidney and gland were removed. It was in these old physician’s only medical texts that I first learned some medical jargon, and gained a rudimentary understanding of the urological system. It saved my life, just not my kidney nor my adrenal gland.

Once high school was over, I had no need for medical knowledge, and I tossed it all away. However, in just a few short years at the age of twenty-two or so, I got hit with the adrenal crapola from hell! Then, I was too sick to really go to the libraries, and the internet wasn’t even around for anything other than gaming. We’re talking 1993 here. I was working 80-90 hour weeks and had no time for research. Seriously.

Once I was back in the ‘system’ (the medical system) in my home state of S.California, it was a matter of picking up the lingo and information as I went along. I had so many tests, not just the normal x-rays, blood tests, but also MRI’s, IVPs, just nuclear medicine tests at the cost of thousands of dollars. Once I learned this adrenal failure happened because of corticosteroids I was given to help me breathe, I became nearly obsessed with not allowing my ignorance to ‘bite’ me in the ass again. Had I of known, been told, read the package leaflet… maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t have become so ill. So, essentially, I either understand everything they are DOING to MY BODY, and I make intelligent suggestions along the way thus becoming an active participant in my OWN healthcare, or— I die. It became as simple as that. I was close, there were mistakes in medication, diagnoses, and malpractice and an amazing amount of pure negligence along the road these past twenty-five years. There’s friends who have died. People younger than my nearly 47 years. BUT, it IS a choice: you either buck up and do THEIR job WITH them or FOR them, or you could easily die. And not peacefully usually!

By the way… I have no issues with dying really, but I’ll be damned if it’s going to be from neglecting myself. I do the best I can to be a compliant patient, but I am nobody’s fool. Now. So why DO I really write about it? Because I feel very alone in it. Nobody has all the circumstances and quirks and diagnoses that I do, I mean, my body’s its own Whata Wreck. But. . . surely there are others that can benefit from my experiences? There is no one protocol for much of this adrenal / endocrine system failure. And I am NOT afraid to give some pretty strong advice. Ha! But really, I write about it also because the physical act of typing it all out makes it clearer in my mind what needs to be done. I always have to have a plan or three, and I must constantly evaluate those to weave in the variables of my illness… nothing stays the same for too long. Writing usually makes me feel like I am SPEAKING to someone, for once. That illusive someone who may read my hypotheses for recovery, or may at least agree with me on how little value life can be. I need no sugar coating– I like my reality with a double shot of ‘just the facts, ma’am’. I can come to my own ‘hopeful’ or ‘bleak’ conclusions. I did not put myself back together with glue and tears and medications just to be taken apart by their lies and indifference again. No sirree.

Tell me about a piece of writing that stayed with you or was particularly memorable.
Oh, I’d have to say Mannequined allowed me to express a feeling of why I used to consider myself to be stupid, in an interesting way. I stayed pretty quiet in my relationships because I had no basis for anything resembling normal. I hadn’t had time to develop yet; like a Polaroid photograph that is still developing, but I was so impatient with myself. I figured it out though. Eventually.

My inner child was just too
indelibly written within.
A life spent in survival mode
was still just… too raw.
My spine was too weak,
my tongue too flayed…
to speak my truth, then.

So I mannequined instead with other men.
Gave away my bits, one page at a time.
Such self destructive behavior.
Mannequined by Adrienne Lilley

But really i hate carnations because my dad was a hard person to get to know really deeply, kinda like myself. He just showed the shallow stuff, mostly, and waited for a person to be interested in more before revealing anything vulnerable about himself. And because I feel him closer to me when I read the poem about the day of his farcical funeral. Rather a comedy of errors and incidents that weren’t too funny, but then my dad and I shared our weird sense of humor, so….

Some of your writing is very personal. How important is it that you share your own story, or is sharing your work merely a byproduct of your need to write your experiences for yourself?
I figured out a while ago that if I don’t post my more intimate poetry for public consumption, then I just won’t write it. Then it all gets stuffed inside, and people are not supposed to be olives, right? We aren’t cannon that will one day just implode! Well, we aren’t supposed to be, I’m sure. I just kind of start to lose it if I cannot express a time in my life that was painful. Writing about it sucks—it hurts. There’s such indecision, and second-guessing going on. But once it’s completed, there’s a sense of satisfaction at having turned something ugly into. . . I dunno, perhaps something another person can relate to. Maybe there’s truly a few people who read it and feel better just knowing they aren’t alone in their experiences and / or feelings. I think cancer finds its way in when we refuse or cannot release these negative, pent-up emotions. I mean, I’m going out a different way, not cancer. A great example of how personal is too personal would be: Transient Murderer. There are not many who could share something like that, and I envy them because they likely don’t NEED to share it– but I really did. What I am NOT doing is airing my dirty laundry in some half-cocked contest of who’s had it worse. Everyone has their shit in life– I’m saying, this is mine.

How has writing changed your life?
Tres bien, ah de trop Madame! So, so very much. Before I found Writing.com, it was just me and my illness. I had within one month been put on permanent disability from the job of my dreams; I’d had to give up my swanky little apartment and move back in with my mother; I had to quit college– my life just was put on hold. About a year later, my mother got a home computer and I began to research my ‘Cushing’s Syndrome’ and umm etc. I’ll spare you ha ha! But finding WdC was fun. I was WhataWriter and it was a total joke! Whata did I ever write? Some, not much.

I can’t really socialize with my illness—it stresses me out too much. I’m the worst kind of friend, unreliable due to something that really wasn’t ever my fault. I know that now, but I still must be vigilant. And the older I get the worse it all gets so hey, lots of material to write about eh! So separating my medical ‘crapola’ as I refer to it and my writing endeavors is pretty difficult—which came first, the chicken or the egg? Who knows. But writing helps me cope.

Do you listen to music when you’re writing? Do you have a favourite ‘soundtrack’ for writing?
Oh aye, of course, I simply must! Anything will do, but it goes with the theme of my writing. If it’s sad, then sad songs; if it’s angry or fun it could be heavy metal to Imagine Dragons to Scorps to… I do so love music. In fact, a phrase in a song might playback all manner of memories; it is often the beginning of some dark poem. If I’m really into something deep, something as yet intangible (or even a punctuation or structural nightmare) I’ll switch to instrumental only music. I love the ‘Lost Christmas Eve’ album from Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And Archangel, a newer one. I like Andrea Bocelli. My friend Bobby is always great for some music referrals if needed! This poem was like that, and I’m still contemplating a few edits on it: Archivist of. . .. I wrote it to mimic four movements, but the subject is how to fill the hours. My favorite movie as well, ‘The Hours’.

Do you have a favourite author?
Definitely. I hearken back to my first favorite author, because it’s kinda like a first love, even though I’ve quite a few more favorites since: Diana Gabaldon. She writes the voluminous ‘Outlander’ series which I think there’s nearly twenty of them now? Not slight, modest books are these—they’re like 800-1000 pages. Hardback. Anyways, I used to work (for years) in bookstores. I found ‘Outlander’ before it was an international bestseller. Yeah, I like to say I made her rich ha ha ha. But it’s just that great a series. The TV Show has been amazingly true to the books as well. She made me want to BE a writer. I just haven’t found the time away from my emotions to get serious about writing fiction! But I want to. I have a little something-something in the works….

Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
My favorite fantasy series are on Amazon by Robert Anton. It’s an enchanting world, wonderfully written. Amazing talent. But he is also my favorite non-fiction author on Writing.com, I can get so engrossed in his philosophical and scientific articles! Yeah, I just love to learn new things… ancient civilizations are kewl too. Yup, Bobby is a huge inspiration– and one of my biggest fans. Not to mention my editor when he isn’t TOO busy and I have tough enough skin to take it. He’s a rare, excellent quality gem.

What’s your favourite piece of your own writing?
Well, it’s actually my epic 4600 or so word biography, Just Another Walk in the Rain. I began writing it when I first joined Writing.com, waaay back in 2002. When I came back as simply ‘whata’ two years ago, I thought what absolute shite! I had to rewrite it. It took months. It was most difficult because the medical events were mostly so long ago, I couldn’t get the timeline cohesive enough. I do so loathe structural issues. So when it was completed, I really did feel such a sense of accomplishment. It isn’t the easiest material to write about. However, in reading it over once again this morning, I vow to make a part II. What more could I possibly add? I was more optimistic when I rewrote it just two years ago; I’d like to infuse some of my dark charm into it. Because I’m neither happy-go-lucky-Whata, nor down-in-the-dumps-Adrie. I’m kinda stuck right now, somewhere in between. I mean, I am, after all, a realist. I used to be such a dreamer….

We are all born into this world as innocents, right? To me, life is not so easily defined. After years of obsessive research, I’ve concluded that we are sent to this earth as a lesson. This lesson teaches us to be kind, to persevere, to help our fellow man, to love and be loved in return. Most of all, life is a lesson to never, ever, give up. We must keep fighting, not merely to survive, but in order for us to thrive. I surmise these are the lessons we are meant to learn before our corporeal selves die, and we are released into the spirit world.

No, I am not a Shaman, nor am I a wiseass: I speak in earnest. I am a person who has seriously visited a kind of hell, one on this earth, and have learned many lessons from my unhappiness. Now, at the age of forty-four, I am quite set on my path of righteousness. Not that everyone will, or should, follow my path, as it is for me. I have earned it, you could say. However, I do stumble, but I’ll continue to drag myself up, dust my bum off, and try in earnest to learn from my life’s lessons. It is this knowledge, and my secret hope that propels me to seek a more fulfilling life.
Just Another Walk in the Rain by Adrienne Lilley

Yes, this is me. Longwinded. Irreverent. But hopefully always as truthful as I can be (according to how much denial I’m in at the time, of course).

You can read more of Adrienne’s work at her Writing.com portfolio.

An interview with author Phil Taylor

Do you think humour differs significantly between countries or cultural groups?
There are definitely differences. The Americans are much funnier than the Brits. No, I’m just kidding. I love my blogging friends from the U.K. and I laugh at their posts all the time. I don’t know if the differences between cultures or countries are significant, but I think there are some. I like the differences though because they teach me different ways to use humour in my writing.

Are there niche humour groups, and if so, which one do you belong to?
I’m sure there are niche humour groups, but I don’t pretend to know them all. I’m sure that if you Google some stuff that you don’t want in your search history you can find some very niche humour groups. If I do belong to a niche group, I think it’s deadpan sarcasm.

You’ve been blogging since 2005. How has your blog changed over time?
My blog has definitely changed over time. For instance, now sometimes people read it. I’m more structured now and I definitely put more time and effort into it as my audience has grown larger. When my blog was in its first few years, I definitely took more chances with my humour and what I posted more closely approximated my humour in real life. Now I try to write for a broader audience.

How much do you consider your audience when creating posts? Do you write for the audience, or for yourself?
First and foremost, I write for myself. I write what I enjoy. For my audience, I try to write to make people laugh. When there is a big headline tragedy in the world I try to write something funny completely unrelated, so that, if even for a few minutes, it takes people’s minds away.

Are there rules for blogging? Should there be?
Yes. Rule #1, if you’re reading this, you must subscribe to my blog. Other than that, I don’t believe there should be rules. In general, I don’t think that rules are necessary. The blogging world is a very Darwinism kind of place. If people don’t like your blog content, they won’t read it.

Other than those in the comedy genre, what kind of blogs and books do you enjoy reading?
I like horror and suspense. Stephen King and Dean Koontz are two of my favorites. I also like sociology based books like those written by Malcolm Gladwell.

What did you do to celebrate the release of your first book, White Picket Prisons?
White Picket Prisons by [Taylor, Phil]
I didn’t really do anything. To be honest, everyday felt like a celebration because people I knew and strangers from all over the world were contacting me by social media and telling me that they enjoyed my book. That’s the best part of any book for me, not the writing or creating, but just talking with people.

Has the writing process changed significantly between your first book and your most recent one?
Absolutely! When I wrote the first book I imagined it as a stand-alone and I didn’t know if I’d ever write another. Now, when I imagine a story, I think about all the possibilities going forward not only for the story I’m writing but for the characters after the current story.

Tell us about your latest work, Time to Lie.
Time to Lie (Landon Bridges' Story Book 1) by [Taylor, Phil]
Time to Lie is a new twist on the time travel genre, not only in how the time travel is accomplished but how Landon decides to use it. Also, the time travel isn’t the star of the story. Landon’s growth as a person is actually the story.

“Landon, c’mon! Hurry up!”
Idiots, I said to myself. I slammed the door behind me and ran. My footsteps pounding down the hallway echoed off the aged tile floors and painted cinder block. Without slowing down, I pushed open the swinging door at the end of the corridor with my outstretched hands. I didn’t worry about anyone’s safety – just barreled through the door, banging it against the wall. My feet skittered a little as I tried to turn on a dime. When I faced the elevator, my eyes met hers for just a split second before the doors closed, severing our all-too-brief gaze. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear I saw her pupils begin to dilate and the corner of her mouth turn upward before the spell was broken. I stood there, breathing heavily. Somewhere – I think it was Twitter – I read, the first kiss is not with the lips, but with the eyes. If that was the case, I was pretty sure my eyes just tried to make out with her, with tongue.
Time to Lie by Phil Taylor

The new book is noted as ‘Landon Bridges’ Story Book 1′ – how many books do you envisage the series being?
I haven’t envisioned an end point to the story. The medium of time travel opens up a lot of possibilities. As long as people enjoy Landon and his friends, I’ll keep writing more stories.

What made you decide to mix horror with humour?
I flipped a coin and it came up heads for humour. No, just kidding. It wasn’t a decision to mix in humour. Humour is part of who I am and I don’t think I could write about anything without mixing in humour. I wrote Landon as a character I would be friends with if I knew him in real life.

Have you got a bottle of something special set aside for when you receive the call about the Thurber Prize?
Aaah! The Thurber Prize! That would be the ultimate. Forget the Pulitzer, I want the Thurber Prize for American Humor. I haven’t planned the celebration yet. I’ll do that when I get nominated. Trust me, it will be a big celebration involving a champagne, a ballroom in New York City, all my blog subscribers, The Rock, and a fair amount of exotic animals.

You can find out more about Phil at these sites:
The Phil Factor
Amazon
Facebook
Twitter

An interview with author Hadiqa Inam

Do you consider English a first language or a second?
I am an ESL. I was born in Pakistan and my mother tongue and first language is Urdu. Whenever I am not on WDC, the language that not only I but majority uses is a mixture of both English and Urdu. Many of the English words have found a way into our daily life conversations making it easy to understand what the other person is saying more efficiently. However, on WDC, I speak and write only in English because there are hardly any Urdu speakers here, except for one whom I met a month ago on WDC.

Do you write in both Urdu and English? If so, do you find your writing changes from one language to another?
I write mainly in English because writing in Urdu is a very difficult task and a challenge I found myself unable to do. Sure I can write a letter or a short story in Urdu, that’s easy but the poetry is where I can’t even attempt without getting proper classes first. Urdu literature poetry has nothing like ‘free verse,’ there are so many tools, so many techniques and requirements and forms. Another obstacle I find in Urdu is the limited vocabulary I have. The vocabulary used in Urdu poetry is beyond one’s imagination and I bet there isn’t one person who knows all the words of Urdu.

Hence, I have written poetry and short stories only in English.

Do you write differently when you’re writing for an international audience than for a Pakistani audience?
Absolutely, without a doubt! When I know I am addressing an audience of Pakistan, I automatically turn to things I feel very deeply about and things that affect me of my society so that others can understand and perhaps ‘come to life’ and try to make a change, bring a difference. For example, I was representing my country, Pakistan, on an online WDC contest and I knew I had to write something that was related to my country. For that purpose, I evoked emotions about social evils and religious views of the Pakistani people. Surely if Pakistanis read it, they would be influenced differently and more as compared to the international audience. For some reason when your mind senses you are writing for your own country, it turns to the matters about the country that disturbs or inspires the poet.

You’re young. Do you think that is an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to your writing?
Yes, surely. I believe that it’s fortunate that I started writing at a young age. I have lot of time, hopefully, to write, expand my horizon and experiment with new forms and techniques and learn something new every day along the way. Being young has it’s advantage when it comes to everything. ‘Young’ means young blood, new thoughts, new ideas, concepts, different perspectives, different analysis of the same situation and most importantly, the liveliness and rawness of the emotions found in the youth.

I agree that we, the youth, are inexperienced, there are so many things we don’t know but there is an addition to the ‘idea pool’ in the society, I remember five years ago when I got a review for my poem and the reviewer had mentioned the term ‘stanza’ and I had absolutely no idea what it was! The reviewer was kind enough to explain it to me and send me links of more poetry terms.

Young or not, every individual brings something unique to writing. So, my being young adds an advantage for me too.

You’ve tried your hand at poetry, short stories and novels. Do you have a favourite format?
This is a nice question. Hmm, if I have to choose between all the formats I have written, I’d say poetry is my favourite format. Poetry is easy and almost everyone can write it and have a take on it. Poetry has no limits, you can write free verse, rhyming couplet, quatrain and so many different invented and conventional forms of poetry! Any idea, any thought, any feeling can be expressed in poetry in just a few words.

Poetry are brilliantly powerful and influencing. A haiku is a three line poem, what could be in it? You’d be absolutely amazed to find the depth in it! When I finish writing a haiku, or any poem for instance, and go back to read it, hell sometimes I lose myself and wonder what did I create and how!

Time stood still the moment we saw
just the two of us in each other.
Fingers interlocked. Souls connected.
Such perfection; beautiful fairytale. I love you.

White wrinkles and pigmentation;
the cruel signs of time.
What improbable thought it was,
the idea of mere separation. Why?

Eternity – the time for us
yet it was proven so wrong.
There you lay, pallid, drained.
Unrecognisable. Incognito. Who are you?

Taken away unceremoniously,
without a warning, my hand
slipped through yours.
You never held on. I lost you.

The woman in the mirror, disheveled
hair with grief etched on her face. Screams fill
the silent nights; hands roam to find
the lost source of comfort. Where did you go?

A shard in my stomach that never
leaves. Choking the breath from my
body. Broken into pieces what was whole.
Emptiness where there was peace. I need you.

Unbearable suffering. Then I see you,
a hand on my shoulder, wearing the
brilliant smile you stole my heart with.
Just a gentle touch I needed. You have me.

The support it gives me
is a new light born within.
You never left me. The face
I see in the mirror is half you, half me.

The tides shall come and leave.
The strength in me drains as
the burden of life without you falls
upon my soul. Be brave, love. You can do it.

Assassin.
Keeper.
Lover.
Keeper.
Departed.
Yet you still remain
the light in my sea of storms.

My Light in the Storm, by Hadiqa Inam

What genres do you write in? Do you have a favourite?
I write poetry and short stories in different genres. I have noticed that I don’t write in the same genre for stories and poetry. When it comes to poems, I write mostly in Romance, Emotional, Personal Experience, Loss or Tragedy, Family, Dark and Psychology. However, on the other hand, when it comes to writing stories, I write in Horror, Dark, Romance and Fantasy. Sure there are some similar genres between my poems and stories but genres like Fantasy and Horror are ones that I use only in my short stories.

My personal favourite is Historical Romance. For years, I have been in love with historical romance and been reading so many books about it too. The entire era, the setting, the sophisticated people, manners, the dresses, the concept of romance, everything is perfect and I absolutely love it. Other than this, my favourite genre is fantasy mixed with romance. I don’t like ‘romance’ as the sole and main genre of anything, I’d prefer it to be mixed with some other genre. For example, I enjoy reading and watching fantasy movies where romance develops as a secondary genre but I dislike watching purely romantic movies or books. Same is the case when I am writing something of my own.

Are there any genres you’re afraid to try, or struggle to write in?
Historical Romance. There are so many things that I don’t know how worked and happened in the past so I can’t really attempt Historical Romance. Being an ESL, I have no idea what many of the dresses the women and men used to wear were called back in those days. I have learned a lot reading historical romance novels but still there are a lot of things I don’t know and I cannot attempt writing on historical romance unless I know about them to bring the realistic touch in it. Besides, I myself wouldn’t see the story from my eyes as it should be supposed to in those days.

I have written drafts of so many story and novel ideas and plots pertaining to Historical romance but the reason I am afraid to attempt is my lack of knowledge on the topic. I do hope to rectify that. I have followed some of the authors whose historical romance novels I have read and I even chatted with one of them and she was very nice to send me some articles and useful links to learn about the historian era and the way things were done.

Do you read in the same genres that you write in?
Most of the time, yes. I read romance, fantasy, supernatural, mystery/detective, dark, horror and family.

How do you choose which book to read next?
I pick the next book to read by the genre and then by the blurb.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
I have a very long answer for this but I’ll try to keep it short.

1. For me, anything around me that inspires me, gets me into thinking or in an emotional state, strayed from the equilibrium be it happiness or sadness, gets me writing.

2. I watch many English movies as well as TV seasons and read lots of novels. I have a very special gift of being a good observer. All of these combined inspire me to write, get new ideas.

3. When my muse has abandoned me or when I don’t have much time to get something written, I randomly find writing prompts either on the contests on WDC or search on Google. Among the results I find, those that really strike me and makes me say ‘Yes, I want to write something on it!” I copy and paste them into a notebook to get something written on them when I get time.

4. It happened once but it did that I read a beautiful, impressive poem on WDC (written by Norb Aikin) and after reading it, I was so awestruck that I wanted to write something along the same lines and I did write something and was very happy with it!

5. I have a very active imagination and every now and then, when I am lying waiting to fall asleep or sitting idle, I make up scenes in my own mind inspired by fantasy and other movies or books I have read. Sometimes, I draw a completely new setting in my mind and use some characters from movies or books I have read or watched to make a story and create conflicts, villains, relationships, how he/she speaks etc. I love this part of my day. I usually do this when I am on the bed to sleep or when I am coming back home from my classes so on my drive back, I imagine scenarios and stories. It gives me a lot of ideas and exciting plots!

Scotty, a good chum of mine here, always says, “Be a man enough to never fall in love. If you do, you’ll forever become a fool in love.” Everybody laughs, including him, but we all notice the tear that always slides down his left eye when he prays before going to bed and looks at an old photograph. Everyone here has his own story. Painful in their own ways but I try not to think of it in that way. I mean, a husband and wife should have a break from each other.

After all, wives don’t like the mess their husbands make and the husbands don’t like the scowl on their pretty wives’ faces. Husbands would like to, every once in a while, sleep on at least half of the bed, if not on the full bed. And wives, oh boy, the list of things they would die to get done when their husbands are gone like your weird spa treatments, skin care packages, body tanning and don’t even get me started on shopping. Who’s going to stop them from shopping! Man, it’s their independence day!
Dear Laurel, by Hadiqa Inam

Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Yes! I absolutely love Susan Ee and her trilogy. I used to hate apocalyptic movies, stories and novels. Hers was the first that I started reading and I fell in love with it immediately! It had the fantasy element with romance, both of my favourites, so I had to read it and I am so glad I did! I definitely see her as an inspiration because of the idea she brought forward, something new to me and I enjoyed it. It has allowed me to explore further possibilities in the fantasy genre mixed with real life to some extent.

What is your purpose in writing? Do you aspire to be published?
I write because I feel so happy writing, I want to share that with others. Writing brings great joy to me, and we all know how excellent of an outlet it is for the emotions and the human mind to relax. I write to complete torn lines and distorted images, plots that come to my mind and give them a complete beginning, middle, ending, characters and voices. I love bringing my creations and ideas to life through words.

I started writing because it was something completely new to me and in Pakistan, let me say that literature and writing stories and poetry in English is not very common and not everyone does it. I got started into writing when I read Shakespeare’s abridged versions in sixth grade and when my English teacher used to give the students a line or a theme and asked us to write a story on. Ever since then, I found my love in writing and have been writing since then.

Sometimes, I want to approach the audience, to make social awareness or inform others about something and for that purpose, I write. At other times, I write because I feel like it, when something is disturbing me mentally or affecting me deeply.

Published? Um, it would be nice to get published but that is not my primary focus. Being a full time student and aspiring to pursue in medical career, that is my main focus. Writing is more than a hobby, a part of life, but I won’t stress about getting published. I have been published twice in international magazine “The Literary Hatchet.” Every now and then, I read what I have written, select the best ones according to my opinion and then send them out to magazines. At the moment, I have three poetry submissions that are ‘in-progress.’ So I’ll definitely try to get published but if it doesn’t happen, there’s no stress or tension to get it done by any means.

If you’re on Writing.com, you can check out Hadiqa’s writing portfolio there, or you can visit her book review blog here on WordPress, Date night with Books.

An interview with author Alice J Black

Alice lives and works in the North East of England with her partner and slightly ferocious cats! Alice has always enjoyed writing from being a child when she used to carry notebooks and write stories no matter where she went. She would be the girl in the corner scribbling away while everything went on around her. She writes all manner of fiction with a tendency to lean towards the dark side. Dreams and sleep-talking are currently a big source of inspiration and her debut novel, The Doors, is a young adult novel which originally came from a dream several years ago. Several of her short stories have been included in anthologies and she is always working on more. When she’s not writing, she always has a book in her hand and will read from whatever genre suits her that day.

What are the challenges of writing in the ‘new adult’ genre?
Most of the writing I do is focused on the YA genre however, I have written several horror novels and a series of novellas based on a young woman struggling with alcoholism. For me the biggest difference between them is that I tend to write YA ‘clean’ and when I do write new adult, I don’t tend to censor as much.

Your debut novel released in 2014. How did you feel? Did anything change for you?
Having The Doors published was like a dream. Some days it still feels surreal that my novel is out there and that other people can read it! It did change for me, in a way, because I really started believing in myself, believing that somebody wanted to read it. Knowing that somebody had taken the time to not only read my work but say that they wanted it was like a dream come true. I was on cloud nine!

Since your first publication, do you now feel pressure to produce more publishable work?
I guess I do in some ways. Yet at the same time, the things that I have been working on came to me quite naturally so I don’t feel like it has been a huge slog to continue writing. I’m enjoying what I do and that was my aim, first and foremost.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author.
I have always been a writer. For as long as I can remember I was writing stories and doodling and asking people to read them. I remember writing a short story in my first school about an alien from another planet who ate food through his hand. Someone told me that ‘aliens can’t do that’ and I decided then, that yes they could! I’ve grown up with both reading and writing and so when I found writing.com (which used to be stories.com) I found a home away from home. A strong, online community of writers who didn’t look at me like a little girl with a notebook but who took me seriously and offered support and critique. Without finding my way there, I don’t think I ever would have got to where I am today.

Becoming published has always been a dream, but one that seemed completely unachievable but for me, when people started reading my work and helping me hone my craft, I knew I was producing something special, something different, and hopefully something that somebody else wanted to read.

I sent The Doors, my first novel, to one publisher who seemed to like it but then never got back to me. I sent it to another. Fire & Ice accepted it. I couldn’t believe how lucky I’d been and I feel like I managed to find the right person at the right time.

On their second night in the house, her mum cooked in the kitchen while Amanda laid the table for their meal. It was an alien process to her, something they’d never done back home. They always used to have their meals in front of the TV, out of their laps—TV dinners her dad had called them. She just thought it was cosy. Mostly, they did it because there wasn’t room for a dining table in their old house, but here, there was more than enough room and she couldn’t avoid having a more formal meal setup.
She glanced over at the mosaic doors that were the focal point of the room. They were a pair of double doors standing six feet high at least. Across their surface was a motif; tiny little tiles all shaped and placed together in a bizarre picture. It portrayed a man in his small fishing boat, angling in the rough, dark sea for whatever catch he could find. The sky was dark, overcast with thick clouds. Here and there, a patch of pale blue shone through, but to no avail for the lonely man. At the bottom of the picture there was land, a rocky shoreline of great big boulders, grey and covered in moss and seaweed. Below that, a grassy verge.
Stepping closer, she wanted to reach out and touch the tiles, but at the same time feeling a pang of revulsion. Silence reigned and as she stood there before the doors, the only sound she could hear was the pulse racing through her veins. Her hand, moving as if it had a mind of its own, pushed forward until her fingers finally came to rest on the tiles, cold and smooth. At that moment, her dad walked into the room. He froze as he glanced at the doors, then at his daughter.
Stepping forward he grabbed her wrist and wrenched it away. “Amanda, don’t you go near those doors,” he told her. He gripped her arm a little too tightly, the flesh beneath his fingers white. She pulled her arm free in shock, staring at him. For a moment they stood there in silence. She’d never seen her dad act in such a way. He was usually the more placid type. “They’re old and probably worth a lot of money,” he added as if in explanation.
The Doors, by Alice J Black

 

What made you decide to write/publish under a pseudonym?
I decided to write under a pseudoname as I wanted to keep my day job and writing separate so I could enjoy it to its fullest extent.

Do you have a writing routine or do you online write/edit when you’re inspired?
I try to write or edit every day, depending on what is going on. Recently my whole schedule has been taken up with editing. I’m loving getting my teeth stuck into future works to be released! I’m an early bird so I prefer writing first thing in the morning as long as my work shifts allow and love curling up in front of my laptop surrounded by my papers and pens!

Do you work with or utilise many other professionals, eg. editors, publishers, cover artists, etc.?
Occasionally. But most of the work I’ve had published has been through small presses so it tends to be organised by them.

How much do you work on your social presence? Do you feel like an online presence is a necessary part of marketing your book?
Not as much as I should! I think having an online presence is important but I struggle with self-promotion a little. I don’t want to feel that I’m clogging up feeds with images of my books etc, but I do know that having that online presence and showing myself to the world probably helps a lot. I’m trying to get involved in a few more things currently like doing interviews, taking part in giveaways and promotions. I’ll run a party when my next novel is released too.

What’s the latest thing you had published?
The latest thing I had published was Home Improvements, a co-written novella with David Owain Hughes which is about big bugs!

Home Improvements by [Black, Alice J., Hughes, David Owain]

What are you working on now?
Now I’m currently working on the edits for the first novel in the Demon Hunter series, A Shadowed Beginning. It is being released by Fire & Ice this autumn (date to be decided) and six more will follow! The series is a YA collection based on Ruby Dawson and is not one to be missed.

I’m also working on edits on a series of novellas which has been picked up by The Parliament House. If you like the supernatural, you’ll want to check these quick reads out!

You can follow Alice on Facebook, on Twitter and on WordPress.

An interview with author Rachel Peck

How long have you been writing?
I used to write stories as a child. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan, so most of them involved boarding schools and solving mysteries. I never took it seriously, though. When I was thirteen, I received a journal as a Christmas present, and I started journaling daily. I continued until I was in my early twenties, amassing over fifty volumes! As a teenager, I wrote a lot of angsty poetry. I never thought it was any good, though. I never shared it with anybody. I had a long gap after that, when it didn’t occur to me to write. Life kind of got in the way. Then, two years ago, my husband suggested I join an online writing group, and now I spend most of my time writing. When I spend time away from my computer for a long period of time, I actually feel twitchy. I write on my phone’s notepad, or in one of the many paper notebooks I carry with me. I don’t think I could ever go back to not writing again.

What genres do you write in? Do you have a favourite?
I was thinking about this question a couple of days ago. I don’t know the answer. I guess, literary fiction, mainly. I say that because a lot of my stories don’t fit into one specific category. They are stories about people. Real people, going through things that real people go through. I write with a lot of emotion, and I love to put my characters through the ringer. Seeing them survive and evolve is something I find really interesting. My stories always begin with a character, rather than a detailed plot.

I discovered, only recently, I can write non-fiction. Writing, with honesty, about the darkest (and lightest) parts of your life can be therapeutic. It is my ambition to write my memoirs, one day.

My poetry is free verse and, like my stories, packed full of emotion. I guess I’m still writing a lot of angst-ridden poems, if I’m honest. I’ve written my life story through poetry.

Letting Go

I sit next to the
sterile hospital bed and
wonder how she got this ill—
how I never noticed—
I was supposed to look after her.
I watch as the angry mask
furiously forces air into her lungs,
her body slamming into the bed
with every blast.
I hold her lifeless hand
and trace the misshapen
fingers and thumbs;
memories cascade before my eyes, and
I am a grown-up child,
five years old, taking care of my mum,
my precious responsibility,
but I was selfish,
all I wanted was a mum
who could play with me,
run with me,
lift me,
hold me.
None of that matters now,
I just want a mum who can hear me,
speak to me,
but I know I’ll never have that again,
so I turn to the doctor and
nod,
and the mask is removed,
the machines switched off.
I’m terrified as I watch her breaths,
almost imperceptible,
gradually fade to nothing;
she is still,
pain free,
and I am broken.
I look to her face,
in her very last breath
she has smiled,
and I know she has seen my dad—
the love of her life—
they are reunited in death,
and this comforts my shattered
heart.

Rachel Peck

Are there any genres you’re afraid to try, or struggle to write in?
A couple of years ago, I would have said Sci Fi, Fantasy, or Steampunk. I don’t read these genres, and I don’t understand them well enough to write about them. But, now that I have more confidence, there is nothing I wouldn’t try. I think it makes it interesting to try something new, sometimes. I’m sure if I did try to write in these genres, I would still turn my story into one about intriguing characters and their lives.

Do you read in the same genres that you write in?
I don’t read much literary fiction. I do read books with great characters. I also love psychological thrillers. Grip-Lit, your “Girl On A Train” kind of style. I like to read a wide variety of genres. I think it widens your imagination.

You write both poems and stories. Do you have a preference? Which do you consider your strength?
My poetry is more personal. It’s less polished, more raw. I think, poems have always been something I write when I have things I need to work out. They’re written for me, rather than for my readers. Stories are what I want to write more now. Specifically, the novel I’m working on. I think I write stories better than I write poetry. I’ve learned more about writing them over the last couple of years. Although, when my poetry is spot on, it’s pretty good.

The charity shop doorway looked inviting to Charlie. Walking the streets for hours, trying to stay away from J.T., had made his body heavy and in need of rest. His backpack hit the floor with a thud, startling the bundle of clothes lying next to it.

“You don’t mind if I grab this doorway, do you?” He pulled his lips into his most dazzling smile.

Donna was so young. It saddened him when he imagined the things that led to her thinking sleeping here was her best option.

“Knock yourself out.” Her smile had become sharper around the edges since they first met.

Springtime hung in the air, with its warmer weather finally reaching the streets. Even so, Charlie shivered, as he sat with his back against the door. He hugged his knees, and his eyes darted from side to side. He knew J.T. was out there watching him.

Screams drifted through the air, signalling the coming of Crazy Sue. She staggered between bodies, displaying a strange mixture of crying and guffawing. There were stories she ended up sleeping rough because her husband died and she lost her job. There were stories that back then she really wasn’t that crazy. Charlie knitted his brow as he contemplated how pretty she might once have been.

A whimpering sound drew his attention. He looked to Donna, who quivered and cried. Reaching out his hand and resting it on her back, he spoke in hushed tones. “Hey. What’s up?”

His friend gulped air, in an effort to breathe. “It’s C-Crazy S-Sue. She’s gonna k-kill me.”

The laugh had escaped his mouth before he could stop it. “Crazy Sue’s harmless. Why would you think she’ll hurt you?”

“I lay my stuff down in her spot earlier. She said if she saw me again she’d kill me.”

As the frightened girl buried her head in her blanket, Charlie shuffled closer to her. “Donna. It’s okay. Crazy Sue is . . . well . . . crazy. She shouts and screams at everyone. But she forgets all about it five minutes later. Honest.”

Donna peeked at him from under her blanket. “Really?” she whispered.

Holding her eye contact for longer than he normally managed, he nodded. “Really. You don’t need to be afraid of her.” He was tempted to add, “But J.T., well, there is someone you should avoid at all costs.” But it wouldn’t have made any difference. It never did.

Charlie’s Story by Rachel Peck

Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite ‘soundtrack’ to write to?
I always listen to music when I write. There is no specific soundtrack. I hit random shuffle on my iPod. I have to skip certain songs, as they can be really distracting (like, you cannot write whilst listening to “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees!). I love music. I listen to it all day long.

Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Yes. Marian Keyes. I love her. I first discovered her in about 1997. I was in a bookshop, and I spotted a book with a bright red cover with a pair of lime-green mules on it. It was like a siren, and I made my way over to it. When I saw the title—“Rachel’s Holiday”—I believe I yelped with delight. It was like it was made for me. I bought it, without reading what it was about. As it happened, I fell in love. Marian Keyes writes books about characters. She writes about the darker side of life, with topics such as drug addiction, depression, domestic abuse. But she also writes with humour and oodles of warmth. Her natural storytelling style has me laughing on one page, then weeping on the next. I would love, in my wildest dreams, to be able to write as well as her.

Tell us about something you read that was particularly memorable, for whatever reason.
About three years ago, I came across a book called “The Shock Of The Fall” by Nathan Filer. He was a new author to me, but I saw him speaking on TV about this book, and I had to look it up. It’s about a young man with paranoid schizophrenia, and about his past and his illness. I read it in one sitting, and I wept and felt my heart twist and turn. At the end, I felt like I’d gone through a bereavement or something. But, I realised I could write a story like that. I mean, I didn’t imagine it could be anywhere near as good, but it gave me the idea to start writing again. I had a story to tell. Maybe I could do it. Reading this book was kind of a turning point for me.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
My best ideas are always based on my experiences. I change them, play with them, but ultimately, they have events that are part of me at their heart. I also have a tendency to dream vivid, wild dreams. Pretty much every night. So I write them down and draw on those when I’m looking for an idea. Really, though, ideas are everywhere. Wherever I go, I see people who look interesting and imagine their life stories. I spend a lot of time inside my head. I think it comes from being an only child.

Do you think negative experiences are crucial in order to be a good writer? Do you find it harder to write well when it’s a positive experience?
For me, I wouldn’t be the writer I am without my negative experiences. Especially, where my poetry is concerned. I write so much better when I’m feeling unhappy. I always have. My negative life experiences are probably the reason my writing leans toward being emotional. For me, experiencing pain makes me more understanding of how it works. For example, I don’t think anyone who has never experienced the darkness of deep depression can really understand it. They can read about it and understand it on a logical level, but they won’t feel the emotional connection to it. I think that comes across in writing.

With regards to positive experiences . . . I find it much harder to write happy. It is good to do this from time to time, though. Like, sometimes I have an idea for something light and fun, and it feels good to write something happier.

Do you think that as an author you write better when you pour the emotion on to the page, or when you take a step back and refine your work?
Without question, pouring emotion onto the page is what works for me. I always get better feedback for my pieces that are from the heart. I never would have believed it could make such a difference, but it does. It comes back to that question of having a connection to your work. However, that isn’t saying I don’t edit my work. The first draft is pure emotion, and from there, I make it more cohesive and shareable. That’s an important part of the process.

What has been the hardest thing for you so far on your writing journey?
The hardest thing has been, without question, believing in myself. It’s hard to be objective about my work because, no matter how hard I try, whenever I read it, I hear my own voice. So it doesn’t sound very special. But, I’ve chosen to accept that my voice is okay. One thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that most writers also have doubts. It actually makes us better writers. We can harvest that insecurity and turn it into magic.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve received so much advice in the past couple of years. I’ve learned to always listen to advice, even when it’s tough. The best piece, though . . . probably to write about what you know. I didn’t believe it at first. When I did, my writing improved.

What is your purpose in writing? Do you aspire to be published?
When I stared writing, it was mostly about exorcising demons and validating my feelings. I never dreamed I could be good enough to publish. I never dreamed I would one day want to try. But, now, things have changed. I would love to be published one day. I have a novel I’m working on at the moment that is everything I’ve ever wanted to write about. It’s in the formative stages right now, but the feedback I’ve received on what I have written has blown me away. So, this book has to be published. That’s my dream. After that, my memoirs. This last year, I’ve had two poems and a story published. One of my poems is in www.threelinepoetry.com. The other poem and the story are in the WDC 2016 Anthology. I can’t tell you the thrill of that! Really, though, I just want to write. Every day; forever. That will make me happy.

How do you drawn the line between truth and privacy when it comes to publishing a memoir?
This is a tough one. Writing about people who are still living is difficult, and I wouldn’t write about anyone without first getting their permission. I know the trouble that can cause. I have a distant relation who published a book on my mother’s family. She had so many facts that were incorrect. For example, she made two of Mum’s brothers twins, when they aren’t. She also said one of her sisters was dead, when she isn’t. So, getting your facts right is imperative. Like I say, I wouldn’t write about living people without asking their permission. I know most of them would be happy. People who have died, I would say that as long as you don’t lie, some people may not like it, but they are probably people who aren’t that close to you in the first place. I think honesty is the key. Whenever you write about real people and your own take on events, you run the risk of upsetting others. You have to be prepared for that, if you want to write about true events.

How will you format your memoir? Will it be told as a story, as a sort of ‘letter to the reader’ or will you use excerpts from your journal entries?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I don’t want it to be a long narrative that moves linearly from event to event. I plan to write about certain events and certain time periods in an order that makes sense to me as I’m writing. I think chapters, covering events or time periods would make sense. Some of them short, some longer. Including some journal entries is a great way to show how it felt to be me at different times. So that’s something I will probably include.

Will you include photos, letters, etc. in your memoir? I love books that do that!
Yes! I love books that include that, too. I’ll probably have some photos dotted throughout the book, rather than a section with tons of pictures. But I will definitely include some.

Will you self publish your novel and memoirs or try traditional publishing?
Ideally, I would love to have them published the traditional way. I think most writers would probably say that. However, this is the real world and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, self publishing may be the way to go. Initially, at least. I can always hope I get noticed somehow.

You can read more of Rachel’s work at her Writing.com portfolio.