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.

Digital

Prompt: Do you have a writing kit – a physical set of tools you rely on (certain pens/pencils, notebooks, etc.)? Different websites you rely on for particulars? Maybe even mood-setting accouterments like music or candles? What’s your scene?

When your mind didn’t want to break, your rusty mouth consented

 
I wish I had a scene. I think I’d be more inspired if I had a scene. I read something like Poems Are Everywhere!  or I Feel for the Clouds  and I’m totally jealous. I wish I saw poems in a million everyday things. Sometimes I get lucky and I might end up with something like Chocolate Angel Wings, in which I literally mock myself for seeing poetry in an everyday thing. *Facepalm*

I do 95% of my writing on my laptop. Actually, probably more than that. Probably 99%. That means I’m sitting in my lounge, in my reclining armchair, with my feet up. Sometimes there is music playing, sometimes Steve is watching TV. I wrote a description of it once, although that was in the old house – The scene in Elle’s lounge…. I guess being on Writing.com inspires me to write.

Sometimes my mind wanders when I’m in the car or in bed and I get a partial poem happening or an idea for something. If I’m in the car I’ll use the audio memos app on my phone to record myself so I can complete the poem (it’s usually a poem) later. If I’m in bed, I’ll make a digital note on my phone. Sometimes I forget about them until the next time I go to use the app and it’s always a cool surprise finding half a poem. *Laugh*

I can’t remember the last time I wrote something and I didn’t use a digital format for it. For years I’ve had visions of these amazing handwritten journals or scrapbooks or smashbooks or whatever you want to call them, and I’ve started handwriting out my blog posts (literally copying them from my original digital versions on to paper) but it’s time consuming, and it makes my wrist ache, and because I type SO much faster than I handwrite, I get further and further behind. I inevitably give up with a week or two’s worth of blog entries in the front of an otherwise empty journal.

I used to write my poems on paper, but I find it a lot easier to revise them digitally. I can add or delete words, or rearrange lines or whatever, without making a big mess. Back in the day, when I was happy with the final version of a poem, I’d write it in to a hardcover exercise book that was literally just a neatly hand-printed collection of my poems. I’m missing one of those books now. Hopefully I find it some day. I have two and the third is AWOL. Anyway, when I started writing digitally, I stopped doing it. But I bought a book and started copying the poems into it, in chronological order. (Are you seeing a trend here?) I keep a copy of all my poems, short stories, etc. in my Livejournal, so I have them all there, in order. So yeah, I’m slowly working on that. Really slowly. *Rolleyes*

I look back at my old journals and I miss them. I truly do. I love journals. I love pens. I love handwriting (yes, even my own, which I know is a rare thing). It’s so cool to see things handwritten on actual paper. Am I weird for saying that? Anyway, it is. I wish I could do that again. But somehow I’m a digital girl now, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to break out of that.

How about you?  Do you have a writing kit?  A scene you set for writing?

Stay true, whatever that means for you

Prompt: Musician David Bowie, born on this day in 1947, once said “All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.” How true (or false) is this about your own writing? What’s more important: pleasing yourself, or your audience?

Hmm, I don’t mean to be the classic fence sitter here, but for me, there needs to be a balance.

When I was blogging at Livejournal, I wrote for myself. That was years of writing for myself. It enabled me to develop a unique voice in my writing, which is something I’m really pleased to have. I also have some amazingly honest entries to look back on, and it’s quite fascinating to see my point of view as it was then. Looking back, of course, we have a different view of things. If I’d been writing for an audience, I don’t think I’d have the same blogging voice. By blogging in what was essentially a vacuum for so long, I know that my style is…me.

While my blogging evolved (maybe not into anything advanced, but it evolved dammit!), my poetry and short stories did not. It wasn’t until I came to Writing.com and started getting ‘audience feedback’ (also known as reviews) that my poetry and short stories started to improve. And before you question whether they needed to improve, yes, yes they did. I had a very simple style of writing, and I honestly wasn’t satisfied with my writing. I wanted it to be better. I wanted to be able to express myself better in those mediums. I love some of the pieces I’ve managed to create in the last seven and a half year. Woah, has it really been seven and a half years?! That’s insane. So while not everything I write is amazing, I know that some of my favourite pieces, and some of the pieces I’m most proud of (not always the same thing) wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t had that audience feedback.

Ultimately, we’re all in this for a selfish reason. Some of us want fame or fortune from publishing or becoming the next blogging sensation. Some of us want an outlet. Some of us want a hobby to occupy or entertain us. Some of us want to learn skills that can be put to use in other fields. Some of us want to educate. Some of us want to record our lives for prosperity. Many of us want a combination of things. No one writes because ‘it makes my mum happy’. Or if you do, you’re unlikely to stick with it. We do this because we have a selfish motivator one way or another. So ultimately, sometimes you need to be selfish and stay true to yourself. But unless it defeats your entire purpose of writing, why not find the balance that works for you? Take the feedback that works with your style and leave the rest. And while I’m no all-knowing guru, I think that you’ll find you can grow and learn, and still stay true to yourself.

How about you?  Do you lean more towards selfishness or writing for your audience?

Grand & Epic Adventures

Guess what! Okay, you’ll never guess. I’m so excited though. This is big news. HUGE! *Laugh*

Today, I finally finished writing Grand & Epic Adventures, the novel I started in 2012 for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). *Shock*

It’s taken me FIVE YEARS, but I finally finished it!

Mum has done some amazing illustrations for it, and so has my son, and I’m going to submit it to Blurb for printing before their sale ends on Wednesday. If it arrives in time (fingers crossed!), my kids and my nephew will finally get to read it on Christmas Day.

I can’t believe I’ve actually finished it! Five years! Ha ha! I’m almost giddy. I was busy writing the last chapter today while my mum and son were working on the drawings, and I’ve just finished it. Squee! I did it!

It’s nine chapters, plus two bonus ‘prequel’ short stories that I wrote for a NaNoWriMo prep challenge on Writing.com in 2012 that I’m going to include. The nine chapters are 33,827 words, and the short stories are 834 and 549 words, so 35,210 words in total. I think that’s within the realm of normal for a chapter book aimed at (gifted) 11-13 year old children.

Of course, my son is now 16 (oops!) but better late than never, right? *Laugh*

Anyway, I’m so happy. Partly because I can’t believe I actually finished a project for once. *Rolleyes* *Smirk2*

PS. I’ll try to share the illustrations soon. They’re awesome, you’ll love them!

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.