Aspiring Voices is going on a short hiatus through the end of the year, but we’re stepping out on a high note with the spirited and unique Alexander Chantal. I spoke with Alexander about his unique take on forms, the scientific perspective he brings to crafting a narrative, and the eclectic array of authors that have influenced him.
Paul: Tell me a little bit about how you got started writing. Was it something you always enjoyed, or did you come into it at a later point in time?
Alexander:When I was young, I enjoyed writing little bits and pieces here and there. My mother got me a “My First 500 Words” book when I was very little. I read it all in little or no time, it was fun. Then I was given eights volumes of an encyclopedia, at that point in time I realized three things: I wanted to write small stories with the stuff I already knew, I loved science and reading was like alcohol, once you’re addicted, there is no way out.
I didn’t start off writing like most people, writing small stories on a notebook, but rather making board games with ridiculously elaborate stories and rules. It was crazy, but then and there I realized I loved Sci-Fi. What really got me writing was the Left Behind series. I was’t much of a religious person, but the story was so interesting, then my love for anime grew in intensity.
Initially, I started writing poetry. Didn’t think for a second I’d try and become a writer. A poet, that’s what ran through my mind. Seven years ago, I started writing my first story, I never gave it a name, and then my recent work-in-progress: Adagio for Canon.
I’ve been trying to write a post to provide some updates for various happenings in the past month or so. But my efforts to make such a post informative and clever have run up against my decided lack of cleverness. Therefore I will leave the frills behind and simply info dump a few assorted tidbits.
I had a piece set for publication last month (it was Lost And Found, if you’re curious). Then a week or so before the issue it was to appear came out, the publication shut down. It was disappointing, but from talking to some of my other writer buddies, this happens a not-insignificant amount of the time.
So, while that temporarily kept me in the land of the unpublished, I’m hopeful that my next acceptance will actually see print. The wonderful folks at Buffalo Almanack picked up my story, From The Blog Of Exceptional-Man, and its issue should drop in a mere five days. @BuffaloAlmanack has been tweeting about it (and the other intriguing-sounding stories in the issue) for a little while now so I’m pretty excited. I should mention here that based on the ironsoap.com ratings system, had this been published here I would have rated it R for strong language. It deals with angry Internet postings, so if you spend any time online it’s not something you don’t see a thousand times a day. Still, fair warning.
I participated in, and completed, NaNoWriMo last month. They call it “winning” in the sponsoring organization’s materials, but I don’t really like the idea of referring to it as such. The implication is that the people who attempted it and did not complete are somehow losers. In any case, I made it to 50,000 words on a novel I titled Lessons In Necromancy. I intend to have a much longer post about the experience, but on the very real chance I won’t get to it, I wanted to at least highlight the accomplishment once.
One of the side effects of the madness that accompanied my efforts to finish NaNo was that I totally dropped the ball on Aspiring Voices for a couple of weeks there. If you’ve been enjoying the series, I’m sorry for the interruption. But, in addition to slipping on the posting schedule, I’ve also been falling behind on the in-progress interviews as well, so I may run into a position where I don’t have any completed ones in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow you’ll see my interview with the fascinating and unique mind that is Alexander Chantal. Following that, though, there will be a break which we’ll call the holiday break until the new year. I have some great young and working authors lined up, too, so look for 2014 to start off strong.
However, while we’re on the subject of Aspiring Voices interview subjects, I thought I’d put out a wider call for additional volunteers and/or recommendations and requests. If there is someone you’d like me to interview, or if you’re a writer working to break in and would like to be featured in the series, add a comment to this post or drop me a line at email@example.com. For Aspiring Voices, I have a loose guideline that the subjects should be writers who do not write full time (i.e. their income is not entirely earned through writing). It’s my site and my feature so I can make exceptions if I want, although in some cases I’d be happy to interview people who are more well established, it just may not be posted under the Aspiring Voices banner.
I also slipped and goofed a bit on the 200 CCs schedule over the last couple of months. Planning for the future is hard. Anyway, I had originally thought I was set through November (the idea being I didn’t want to have to worry about pumping out two flash pieces per week on top of my NaNoWriMo word count), so as of earlier this month I finally burned through all my backlog of 200 word stories. So when I sat down to write some more I thought back to earlier stories I had done and, recalling Deep Carolina, thought it might be fun to do something else in that vein. So I came up with the Fifty States Of Crime sub-series. Basically I’ll do one 200 word crime story for each of the 50 US states. Sometimes the state-specificity may not be all that heavy. This is intended to be an exercise in quick research and thematic variation, not an effort to capture to the true essence of a bunch of places I’ve never been. As with all my 200 CCs posts, I expect them to be hit or miss. I do these quickly with minimal editing and almost no outside feedback. They’re basically my writer’s scratchpad to try new things and flex my creativity a bit. But I think this will be fun detour. As always, if you see any of these you particularly like, I’d truly appreciate a retweet, Facebook like, Tumblr share, Pin, whatever suits you. They take a few seconds to read and the exposure of getting my work in front of new readers is invaluable.
The Aspiring Voices Contest
So, while we’re on the subjects of social media and site features, to compensate for the slippage in posting and the sort of unplanned holiday break on the interviews, I thought I’d take a minute to look back on the wonderful guest writers I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and take the opportunity to try and spread the word a little as well as get these amazing writers’ words in front of some new people. I am going to need your help, but I’m willing to game it up a little to make it worth your while.
I’m running a contest with the astoundingly original name The Aspiring Voices Contest. I’ve asked each of my guests so far to tell me about the best book they’ve read recently. They had some fantastic recommendations. I’m going to give away a copy of one of those recommended books to anyone who promotes an Aspiring Voices interview on social media between now and December 31st.
There are some minor stipulations. One is that you have to be able to prove you promo’d the article. This means the easiest way to enter is to promote on a public network and post the link in the comments. You may also promo interviews on private networks (I’m thinking here of Facebook shares behind privacy settings), but you’ll have to provide a screenshot or some other method of showcasing the signal boost. In any case you must comment on this post with a point of contact, the name of the author whose interview you are recommending, the method/network used, and some kind of verification to be eligible. The post must include a direct link to the interview and be an original coming from you (i.e. retweeting someone else’s promo does not count, you have to post it yourself). Also, maybe it goes without saying, but you must be complimentary to the featured authors. I’m not going to reward you for bashing one of my fellow writers. And you don’t have to promote the interview where the book you want is recommended, but I think that adds a nice bit of synchronicity to the deal.
On January 1st I’ll select one verified signal boost from the qualifying entries and ship them a copy of the book that looks the most interesting to them from the following list:
Note that these are just the available prize titles. You may promote any Aspiring Voices interview that is posted between now and the end of the contest. Also, there are 13 instead of 12 because Sam cheated and recommended two titles. That scoundrel. Personally, I think any of these books would be a great choice, so I don’t envy you trying to choose.
We’re back after a short break with a new installment of Aspiring Voices. This week I’m happy to welcome Susan Stuckey to the interviewee seat. She talks about the spirited inspiration that keeps her writing, the challenges of staying on track with your vision, and highlights the importance of teachers.
Paul: What would you say was the catalyst for making the pursuit of writing a priority for yourself?
Susan: Back when i first started writing I was told by a member of a writing group I belonged to that i would never write anything worth reading. I decided to prove that statement wrong.
Paul: That’s an incredibly positive response to such negativity. Have you found a different (hopefully) better in-person writing group, or did that experience kind of turn you off from the whole scene?
Susan: There aren’t any “in-person” writing groups anywhere nearby, and feedback is important. I searched for on-line groups. Tried several of them. Found one that was tolerable (better than the others in most ways).
Paul: Is there a part of writing that you find particularly difficult?
Paul: Describe your process a little. Do you plan and outline extensively? Do you discovery-write?
Susan: I think that is has become part of the motivation issue. When I first started I was a pantser. All I knew when I started writing was the beginning and the ending – and the adventure was finding out what came between those two points. Then I was convinced by others that I should outline. I tried. I really, really tried, but discovered I couldn’t work with an outline. But I think the damage was done and the stall induced by trying to outline just continues now fed by my own self-doubt.
Paul: What would happen when you tried to write with an outline? Did the structure get in the way of your process? What are you doing now to try and overcome that doubt?
Susan: With an outline it means you know it all already – you have point “X” beginning & point “Y” and everything inbetween. So where’s the adventure, the fun of discovery? So I wrote nothing. After I realized the issue, I tossed out the outlining and and now trying to recapture my old “pantser” fun (and frustration when the writing heads down a sidetrack).
Paul: So when you discovery-write, do you have any idea of the ending or are you taking the journey along with the characters, as clueless as they are where it will lead? You mentioned the sidetracks that pantsing can sometimes lead to. How do you identify when a discovery-written story has gone off the rails and what do you do to bring it back?
Susan: I know the beginning and a general ending. The “off track” is either discovered in editing – or when a block is reached and I’m trying to figure out why the story won’t progress. Usually those scenes/chapters etc that are off track are snipped out and put in another file. They sometimes become another story.
Paul: What was the first story you remember writing where you finished and thought, “Yeah, there’s something here”?
Susan: I wrote a ghost story in high school. I kinda thought it was “cute” but the English Teacher called me into her office to talk about it. You have to understand this English teacher was demanding, strict, and didn’t believe in false praise. I was scared to death (knees quaking, hands sweating etc) as I made my way to her office. She totally floored me because she loved the story and told me I had talent and from now on she wouldn’t accept anything but the best from me.
Paul: This is a nice flip side to the writer’s group thing. Was this teacher instrumental in shaping your interest for writing? Have there been other teachers that helped ignite that fire to write?
Susan: Just the one about writing, but there were several who encouraged and ignited the “fire” to always do one’s best.
Paul: Tell me about the best book you’ve read recently.
Susan: Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light. The book has been discussed to death by people. Suffice it to say that I thought it was an amazing conclusion to the fourteen book series and very well done.
Paul: Were you familiar with Brandon Sanderson when he took over the series after Jordan passed away? What did you think of his handling of the series’ end? Did you notice a distinct shift post-Jordan?
Susan: I had no idea who Sanderson was before the announcement. I thought the books he wrote from Jordan’s notes were some of the best of the series.
Paul: Have you read any of his solo books? I actually gave up on the Wheel of Time before Sanderson took it over, but I’ve read a couple of his Mistborn books and found them to be really great.
Susan: I’ve read his Mistborn Trilogy. I started the first book of another series he wrote, can’t remember the name of the book now, but I couldn’t finish it then. I’ll pick it up again one of these days and try it again.
Always an avid reader, Susan wrote her first fantasy story on an Apple 2E – and lost it when the computer died. She resumed her affair with writing when the “nest” emptied and has continued writing (off and on–usually off) until the present day.
This week’s Aspiring Voices guest is Nancy Zrymiak, bringing a welcome look into the non-fiction scene. She’s working on a book about her time spent in India and I was thrilled to get a chance to ask some questions about how the project got started.
Paul: You’re currently working on a book about your two-year relocation from your home in Canada to Bangalore, India. Can you describe a bit about the events that led up to the decision to make the move, and how you arrived at the conclusion that you should transplant your family halfway across the planet?
Nancy: Give me an opportunity and I’ll take it. When my husband came home and told me there was a job possibility in India, I thought it was a crazy idea. But his timing was good. First, it was November, the rainiest, dreariest month in Vancouver. Secondly, I was tired of the the rat race and the routine that comes along with living and parenting in the western world: carpooling, commuting, grocery shopping, packing lunches, making dinners. When I thought about India, I thought about adventure, culture, and travel. Once I began to think of the move as an opportunity, the decision to uproot the family became much easier. The warm weather kind of lured me in too.
Paul: You blogged pretty extensively while you were living in India. What made you want to write a book about that experience as well? Are you finding the book is more an expanded version of the blog or is the blog more a framework you can use to weave stories through that you didn’t discuss at the time? Or are they completely independent of one another?
Nancy: My India blog was more of a travel blog with photos. In the book, I delve into the lives of the people I met in India, especially the locals, and the roller coaster of emotions that they bring to the story. You’ll meet some interesting characters and learn about their daily lives as well as mine. I also write about the misconceptions that I had about India before I went, what I learned about India and what I learned about myself.
Paul: What were some of your misconceptions about the country? Do you think those are pretty typical of how North Americans view India and Indian culture?
Nancy: In the west we tend to hear about the extremely poor people of India and the corrupt rich. So I was surprised to find a growing middle class—university educated, dual income families, living in high rise apartment buildings. I also thought that India relied on western organizations and funds to take care of the poor. But there are countless Indian people volunteering and running charities—taking care of their own people. Yes, I think the media portrays India one way, and that skews our views in the west. I was lucky to be able to live there and see the many different sides to India.
Paul: So you’ve got this story you’re telling that is, in part, about yourself and your encounters and it includes real people you know and your family as characters. And then you have these much broader themes and concepts like foreign culture and the perceptions and expectations, plus a sense of setting and the truths of life in a place many of your readers maybe aren’t all that familiar with. How do you weave those together in a way that is both effective, compelling, and also true to your experience? Does it become sort of an intensely personal book where you say, “Look, I don’t know what is ‘true’ in the objective sense, but this was my experience”, or do you try and pull back a little and dig in to some research that you can use to reconcile your personal observations so it becomes more of a comparison and contrast?
Nancy: It does get a little complicated, trying to weave it all together. For now I’m writing the story chronologically, so I might be writing about something really funny and then all of a sudden some sort of tragedy happens out of the blue. Then I’m left wondering how and why did this happen and can I do anything about it? But that’s India—it’s never boring and you’re always left wondering “What next?” As I write I do add some history and research here and there for interest and that helps tie things together too. I wouldn’t say the book is intensely personal—it’s not a self help book and I didn’t move there to “find myself”—but India definitely changed me and that is part of the story.
Paul: I think life is really full of those odd juxtapositions where lighthearted moments are suddenly contrasted with very somber experiences. In fiction I think this is often done for dramatic effect or as a transitional moment, kind of intentionally jarring. In nonfiction do you feel there are additional narrative or mechanical efforts you need to go to in order to avoid having it seem either awkward or sort of fabricated?
Nancy: Well, as so many people in India said—you just can’t make this stuff up. So I don’t think it will seem fabricated, but yes, the challenge is to make it flow.
Paul: Can you tease a little sample of this in action? What’s something you experienced that made you say, “Can’t make this stuff up”?
Nancy: Okay, long story short. My husband’s work provided us with a driver named Sanjeev—really nice guy, knew all the short cuts. We met his family, went to their house, met his parents, wife, children. One day Sanjeev tells us that his wife had a “family planning” operation. She’s having some problems with the recovery and he wants to take her to Chennai to recover at her parent’s house. He takes her on the overnight train and comes back a few days later. That same afternoon he tells me the doctor in Chennai wants to talk to him in person. He wants to leave right away and he’s arranged for another driver. So he goes, and two days later we get a call from the company that employs Sanjeev. They tell us they saw him on the evening news—he’d been in a huge brawl, he’d been gambling, owed people money. We said, no it can’t be true, he’s in Chennai. But they insisted it was Sanjeev and he was in Bangalore. They wanted us to use a different driver, saying that if people were after Sanjeev they might come after us. So, that’s the short version. Oh, and the driver that Sanjeev arranged for us—turned out to be some guy that didn’t speak English and didn’t know how to drive a van.
Paul: [laughs] Oh my goodness, that’s crazy! Did you ever determine if the story he told you was true or not? Was the operation just a smokescreen?
Nancy: That’s the million dollar question. Believe me, we felt a lot of loyalty to Sanjeev, he’d been with us almost a year. And I used to be an Operating Room nurse, so when he told me about his wife having the operation, I was intrigued and asked him a bunch of questions about it. But why would he take her to Chennai if she wasn’t feeling well, and why couldn’t the doctor talk to him on the phone? I could go on and on—it was really emotional and we got very caught up in trying to be detectives for at least a week. But I’ll leave all that for the book.
Paul: Is the style you’re going for in your book more of a memoir or a personal narrative? Why did you choose the style you’re working with and what are some of the advantages or disadvantages of one versus the other, particularly with the stories you have to tell?
Nancy: The book is a travel memoir. I didn’t consciously choose a style—I just started writing. There’s actually quite a bit of dialogue and interaction with other people. I’m trying to write in such a way that is engaging and keeps people wanting to turn the pages.
Paul: Okay, one more. Describe the best book you’ve read recently.
Nancy: The book I’m reading right now—Dune by Frank Herbert.
Paul: I read that one for the first time last year. I really enjoyed it. Is this a re-read or are you a newcomer to the series?
Nancy: Newcomer, and I’m really enjoying it too.
Nancy is writing a book about her experiences in India. Nancy, her husband and two children, leave behind the comforts of the Canadian cul-de-sac and move to Bangalore, India for two years. Her book is a vivid and humorous account of their time in India: the beauty, the culture, the people, the believable and the unbelievable. Check out her website, follow her on Twitter, and Like her Facebook page.
Regular readers may remember this week’s Aspiring Voices spotlight writer from her excellent guest fiction post, The Gun’s Fear, earlier this month. I chatted with her about her past life as a dancer, the role of criticism in improving your skill, the nature of success and how one defines “making it” as an author. Plus, she teaches me about Kinetic Fiction.
Paul: What was the first story you remember writing where you finished and thought, “Yeah, there’s something here”?
Alisia: The first story that really changed my view on writing was something I wrote in ninth grade. I had just finished reading On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony and was inspired to write my own short introduction to Thanatos. The piece was only about 500 words, but it was the first time I had finished a story with a sense of accomplishment. I had never had the urge to share any of my previous writings, but I was so proud of this piece that I mustered up the courage to post it on Fictionpress. I didn’t get many views on my story, but one person left me a very flattering comment. She told me my story was the best she’d ever read on the site and she urged me to write more. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word from a stranger for you to realize that not everything you write is complete garbage.
Today’s Aspiring Voices guest is the whip-smart Melanie Drake. I talked to her about her complicated writing process, scrutinizing readers for their reactions, and why she may someday be the rare writer/paleoanthropologist.
Paul: What was the catalyst that made you want to start writing seriously? Have you always considered yourself a writer or is it a relatively new thing in your life?
Melanie: I’ve considered myself a writer for a while, but it was only within the last two years that I began wanting to start writing seriously. I was in an accident on my way to work one Saturday, and it made me realize how short life really is. I want to spend the rest of my life doing something I love instead of being miserable doing something I hate just for money.
Paul: Wow, yeah. Sorry about the accident! So what do you do for a day job? Is it like writing is the one thing you can imagine being happy doing for a living or is it just one of the possibilities that you’ve decided to pursue for the time being?
Melanie: I currently work nights as a Customer Service rep answering phone calls, emails, and web chats and spend my days going to college full time. There are only two jobs I can imagine being happy doing for the rest of my life. First is my writing, of course, as it is my first love. The second would be a paleoanthropologist, which is the study of humans using fossils.
For this week’s Aspiring Voices, I talk with the savvy and articulate Alexandra Lynwood about her experience self-publishing and the opportunities opening up for new authors. We also talk about getting in The Zone, the siren song of the Xbox, and what still draws crowds into bookstores.
This week’s guest is the clever and articulate Noel Ashland. I talked to her about finding a creative environment, the joy of the short format, and her unexpected strategy to avoid writing the story you don’t want to tell, plus a lot more.
Paul: Have you always thought of yourself as a writer or was it something you picked up along the way? What attracted you to writing in the first place?
Noel: I remember when I was little, I loved to make up stories. I told stories to my family and friends long before I could write. I think I’ve always thought of myself as a writer or at least a storyteller. Fifth grade was when I really started writing, and I was attracted to it because I could unleash my overactive imagination and entertain people at the same time.
Paul: Was there a particular teacher in fifth grade (or other point in school) that encouraged you or was that just the point at which it kind of solidified for you, where you realized you could express your imagination and get a positive response for it?
Noel: My 5th grade teacher made a difference. Her name was Mrs. Dorsey, and we all had a writing notebook. She always encouraged me to read my stories out loud to the class (I was pretty shy then), and my classmates would always tell me how much they enjoyed them (I wrote a lot of humor at the time). I’m sure the stories were terrible, but that’s when I remember really spending a lot of my free time writing. I wrote stories, plays, and poems. I even made comic strips (I am not an artist, but the art was funny and went with the story). If I wrote before then, I don’t really remember it. I think it was that she gave us a lot of freedom to write about what we wanted and gave us some fun prompts to try out. She would even take the time to read things I wrote outside of class and make comments. Continue reading →
In this edition of Aspiring Voices I sat down to chat with ED Martin, author of the forthcoming novel The Lone Wolf. We talked about humanistic psychology and its role in her writing, how finishing her first book led to ideas for more, and the downside of having creative impulses in the morning.
Paul: So I was kind of drawn to the tagline on your website that reads, “…stories of love and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption”. What is it about those things that attracts you as a writer?
ED: I have a degree in psychology, and I really enjoy examining people’s motivations for their actions and reactions. The themes I write about are universal, no matter the genre. So many conflicts people have revolve around love, but for me there’s no story in that. For me, it gets interesting when you have a character who loves someone, but maybe he betrays her somehow. How does she react to that? Or a character loves someone, but her goal isn’t the same as his. What’s he willing to give up to help her? And more importantly, why does one character react one way but another reacts differently? These themes are something we can all relate to; by writing from different perspectives, maybe I can help readers open their minds and better relate to other people. Continue reading →
This week I’m welcoming the wonderfully thoughtful Lea Grover to the Aspiring Voices hot seat. Lea is a prolific blogger over at Becoming SuperMommy and writes fiction on the side. Lea and I had a chat about historical fiction as a connection point to your past and present, the paradox of wanting your children to understand suffering without having to suffer, the social aspect of writing, and why you can’t believe anything anyone says over the phone.
Paul: You’re a blog writer and have done work on a number of sites, many in the so-called mommy blogger realm. What is it about fiction that attracts you? Does it scratch a particular itch that slice-of-life or journal-style non-fiction doesn’t? If you had to choose only one, which would you pick?
Lea: Fiction has always attracted me. Making up stories, inventing characters… it gives you control over not only some version of the physical world, but over your own emotions as well. It definitely allows for a creative expression that non-fiction doesn’t. If I had to pick only one, I would probably pick fiction, but that’s only because I’ve had the opportunity to write about my life—which has had its fill of extraordinary events. I feel like my non-fiction is something that I write because it can be used to help people, and my fiction is what I write because I quite simply can’t not write.