Interview with children’s author & illustrator Judy Mastrangelo

Judy Masrangelo Framed

My guest today is an author and talented illustrator of children’s fantasy books. She seems a bit shy, but I was able to coax a few answers out of her, regarding writing for children and creating beautiful illustrations. Because, after all, at least half of writing for children is creating visual images, so an author who can do their own illustrations comes into the game a step ahead. Please help me welcome author and illustrator Judy Mastrangelo.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Judy: I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was very young.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Judy: As a child I would write little stories from my imagination, or about my everyday experiences.

Coming from a fine art background, I’ve always loved the wonderful artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration”, who illustrated books from about 1850 to 1925.  I like to think that I continue along this line in my own small way.  I enjoy writing stories that I illustrate, and also love illustrating classical stories in the public domain.

Many of my paintings have been licensed for various markets, such as art prints, wall murals, greeting cards, jigsaw puzzles, oracle cards etc.  I have written and illustrated several published books.  And I have both illustrated and written the text to a new inspirational Oracle Card Deck which will be on the market next year, published by “RED FEATHER MIND BODY SPIRIT”, a division of Schiffer Publishing.

You can see and hear podcasts about my artwork on Youtube.

These include some radio interviews, plus several teaching podcasts about the steps I take in the creation of my Art.  To learn more about my Art and products, you can visit: www.judymastrangelo.com

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Judy: I am a “movie buff” and enjoy many genres of film.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Judy: I try not to “talk down to children”.  Just having fun at writing is what I enjoy doing, and making my stories come from my heart, expressing how I feel. My books are really intended to be appreciated by all ages ~ the young and the young at heart.  I attempt to appeal to the “Child in all of us”, and to rekindle the wonderful feelings we have all experienced in our youth, of the awe and beauty of the world around us.  As we grow older, life seems to become more mundane, with all the everyday things we have to do in order to survive.  The realm of art certainly plays an extremely important part in everyone’s lives, so that we may feel uplifted and inspired to higher worlds.

Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to teach children?

Judy: I like to impart the wonder and beauty of the world around us; sensitivity to nature and to all living beings, including animals, plants, and trees, as well as humankind are excellent lessons to understand.  I feel that developing creativity as an art form, and one’s imagination, are very important aspects of life. Many people seem to place imaginative painting and literature more in a children’s category, although I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre of fantasy art is appreciated by all ages.

CINDERELLAMany adults also enjoy themes, such as fairy tales, and other types of fantasy. I’m sure no one will dispute the fact that great authors such as William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Barry, etc. wrote memorable outstanding fantasy stories. And that’s why I feel that my writing and paintings can also appeal to any age person.

One just has to “let go” of their preconceived notions that fantasy, fairies, fairy tales, etc. are just for the young. It will keep us all “Young at Heart” if we believe in the magical power of art to unleash our imaginations.

Kaye: Your books are illustrated in bright, vibrant colors. What medium do you work with?

Judy: Acrylic paint on canvas is my medium of choice.

 

Kaye: What is the most challenging thing about illustrating your own books?

Judy: The art of illustration is very dear to my heart, something I have been developing my entire life. It is a labor of love for me, and I paint because I enjoy doing it so much. I usually paint slowly, because I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and as a result my paintings aren’t created very quickly. This can sometimes present a problem. But I do enjoy illustrating my own books that I also design. Many of my books I have written myself, and others have stories or poems that are in the public domain which I illustrate. It’s all great fun to illustrate, and I relish every moment I spend doing my paintings!

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a children’s story for you?

Judy: Delight, imagination, and fun.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Judy: Be true to my heart, be myself, and enjoy the process of creating.

Kaye: Flower Fairies is focused on the characters. What comes first in your mind, the character, or the story?

Judy: I’m a very visual person, and often I first get images in my mind of a painting that I would like to create. Often this “germ” of an idea or image leads to a story, or a series of paintings. So I would say that the story as a whole comes first.

Kaye: As a children’s writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?

Judy: I often research period costumes for my characters to wear, and I also consider other art forms which portray the ideas I wish to develop in my stories. I love all forms of great art, and often music, drama, dance and other literature is a great inspiration to me, as well as great painting of course. So I immerse myself in art that I love, as part of my research for a specific project. It brings me great joy to do this.

Kaye: Tell me a little about your Portal to the Land of Fae series?

Judy: The world of nature spirits has always been fascinating to me. I love the realm of fantasy. And the tiny folk, such as fairies and elves are of particular interest. For many years I’ve done paintings of these lovable spirits, and have enjoyed writing about each painting I create.  I love writing poems to go with my artwork, and have enjoyed describing my feelings about the fairy world. The idea of making a series of books incorporating these works was an intriguing one for me, and four categories developed from them:

Flower FairiesFLOWER FAIRIES: This book tells about the precious Elves and Fairies who live amongst the Flowers, such as: the graceful ROSE FAIRY, and the comical little SWEET PEA ELVES.  I often depict Flower Fairies to appear as graceful ballet dancers. In this genre of art, I have been inspired by the Flower Fairy paintings of British artists Cicely Mary Barker and Margaret Tarrant.

 

 

SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES COVERIn my SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES, I portray the secret life of elves and fairies that I imagine to exist in amazing places.  There are many delightful things that i depict these creatures doing.  They often enjoy frolicking and playing in a garden.  These secrets tell of the hidden world of elves and fairies, little known to mortals. I’ve also written and illustrated depictions of the four seasons with the fairies, and their beautiful romantic lives.

 

FAIRY TALE FAIRIES, various forms of fantasy have always been the closest to my heart.  They include fairy tales and myths.

The world of fairies has often inspired the arts of other great literature.  Some excerpts from classical literature for this FAIRY TALE FAIRIES book are included in this volume. You will see some of my illustrations from Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, Cinderella by Charles Perrault, Peter Pan by James Barrie, and many others. Sometimes authors and painters depict elves and fairies in a darker way, but I prefer to focus on depicting the lighter, more cheerful and spiritual side of the fairy realm.

MYSTICAL FAIRIES COVERMYSTICAL FAIRIES:  In this volume, I want to share my feelings of Spirituality and Goodness, Love for Life and Nature, and the Healing power of Art. I feel that Elves and Fairies, are beautiful, Magical, and Spiritual Beings which can inspire and uplift one to higher realms.  I often depict them as radiant beings, which glow with an inner light, with radiating and sparkling auras, glow like spiritual Angels.

 

Kaye: Your Come Play with Me series includes bonus features. Would you like to tell us about the series and bonus features?

Judy: My Come Play With Me book series is designed to give readers high quality illustrated storybooks in full color.  They also include some delightful interactive bonus pages.  These books include fun filled things, such as How to Draw pages, coloring pages and recipes, etc.

THE STAR COVERMy first book in this series, THE STAR, illustrates the entire famous TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR poem, written by Jane Taylor.  I’ve interpreted this beloved poem, as a fanciful, Dream-like adventure.   I’ve included a delicious bedtime snack recipe, some “how to draw” pages, a creative writing section, coloring pages, and some decorative gifts to cut out, etc.  An Audiobook of my book THE STAR is also available, where people can listen to this song being beautifully sung.  If the kindle ebook, or paperback versions of my book THE STAR are purchased also, along with the audio book, people can sing along with the audiobook as they read it interactively.

Two other books in this series have a Bunny theme: The first one, entitled WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? is my original story of a little Bunny’s first adventure.  Some interactive pages include Mama Bunny’s recipe, coloring pages, creative writing and drama ideas, and decorations to cut out from the book.  An audiobook of this story will be available soon, to be listened to interactively along with reading this book in kindle or paperback.

 

The second Bunny book in this series, LEARN TO DRAW BUNNY AND HIS FRIENDS, is a companion book to my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY?  In it I show easy to do, attractive, and fun ways to learn to draw little Bunny’s animal and flower friends that he meets in the book about his first adventure.

 

Some of the animals I show how to draw are rabbits, frogs, butterflies and turtles. Then daffodils, daisies, and buttercups are several of the flowers I describe drawing, all in three easy steps.  It’s a delightful interactive book, which also includes special pages for people to draw their own pictures, with small border decorations for inspiration.

Kaye: Which character is your favorite? Why?

Judy: One of my favorite characters is Little Bunny in my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? He is a sweet innocent little rabbit who is delighted and excited at the opportunity of investigating the big world all by himself for the first time.  I’ve modeled this little animal on our own dear little Netherlands Dwarf pet rabbit, who is very loved by my husband and me.  He gives us both a lot of Love in return.  Knowing this adorable Little Bunny intimately was a great inspiration to writing and illustrating my story.

Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?

Judy: My inspiration comes from many things: my love for nature, for instance.  When I am in a flower garden, I imagine delightful Flower Elves and Fairies living there.  I visualize them wearing costumes made of leaves and flowers, acorn caps, etc.  I collect things such as leaves, pine cones, berries, ribbons, and scarves, to give me ideas for their fanciful clothing.

I take photos of beautiful places that I visit, to give me ideas of backgrounds for my paintings. Great art of the past and present is always an inspiration to me, such as: wonderful films, great literature, beautiful music, ballet dancing, and beautiful paintings. They always kindle my enthusiasm.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your creative process?

Judy: I have developed a method I call “Mind Painting”.  This is my own personal way of capturing ideas and images for my paintings and writing, which develop in my mind.  This is a procedure used by many creative authors, composers, painters, poets, choreographers, etc. throughout the ages. I just close my eyes and “visions” appear in my head.  I do this during the day, or at night before going to sleep. These images often develop into stories which evolve into my books. It’s a delightful process.

Kaye: What is your greatest achievement to date in the literary world?

Judy: Reading and hearing the wonderful and appreciative compliments from people who have read my books, and who have seen my illustrative paintings, has always been very encouraging to me.  I receive these compliments from all kinds of people, worldwide, and of all ages.  I feel that these wonderful responses have been the greatest achievements in my literary and artistic world.

I want to thank Judy Mastrangelo for sharing with us here today, both her wisdom and her fabulous illustrations and book covers. You can learn more about Judy and her children’s books on her website or on her Goodreads Author or Amazon Author pages.


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“Writing for a Y.A. Audience”: Are they real?

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

SPOILERS AHEAD

I was at a book signing in October. A woman came up to my booth and asked for a quick synopsis of each story. I was happy to oblige, and when I got to GOAT CHILDREN, the woman teared up.

Goat Children

I wrote GOAT CHILDREN based on my experiences taking care of my grandmother when she suffered from dementia. This woman’s mother was diagnosed with dementia. She went on to share a few examples, and I could identify with all of them.

The woman bought the book for her daughter, who feels alone while helping her grandmother. The other kids in high school don’t understand.

I went through the same thing when I was in college and high school.  My grandmother was “weird”. I was a “freak” for trying to take care of her. She was “scary”. Okay, the unpredictable moods were scary, but she was still my grandmother. Fear goes hand-in-hand with dementia.

After the woman bought the book and moved onto the next book at the fair, my mind kept returning to GOAT CHILDREN. It was one of my first books published and one very dear to my heart. Now come the spoilers…

The Goat Children are a mythical warrior class who the fictional grandmother, Oma, believe to be true. The main character, Keziah, can’t figure out if they are real or not.  The story provides glimpses into the truth behind the female warriors.

My grandmother believed in little people living in her fireplace and dancing in her basement. When we asked her if she was scared of them, she said no, they comforted her. The Goat Children comfort Oma too.

firewood burning in fireplace

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

At the end of the story, the grandmother and Keziah both leave Earth to live with the Goat Children. They are together and strong, and immersed in a world of magic both of them longed for. I decided to make the Goat Children real because I always wanted the little people to be real too, taking care of my grandmother, keeping her safe.

Jordan Elizabeth currently lives in the house her grandmother lived in. She’s still looking for the little people in the fireplace. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.


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Lost Village of Delta

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

My earliest years were spent in Westernville, NY. Right down the street was the beautiful Lake Delta, a place we visited frequently. My parents and I played on the beach. We walked the trails through the woods. One day my father mentioned that when he used to fly his plan over Lake Delta, he could see the foundations beneath the water. That puzzled me – why would there be foundations down there? Were they like the shell fossils we found in our backyard sometimes?

trees near body of water photo

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

He explained that a village used to be there, but it was flooded to create the lake. My imagination went wild. He also told me that my grandmother’s house on the farm where we lived was moved from the lost village. That amazed me, and gave me my first glimpse at history. My fascination with Lake Delta continued, but we moved to a neighboring village and didn’t visit the state park as often.

One day, the Westernville Town Clerk, Mary Centro, spoke at my hometown about Delta. My mother and I attended the lecture, and we were enthralled. I wanted to write a story at once, but I didn’t know where to take it.

My parents moved back to Westernville and I met with the town clerk to discuss Lake Delta in more detail. She told me about walking the land while the lake is low and finding treasures washed up on shore. The next year, my parents and I walked the lake, but we didn’t find anything. Again, I felt the need to write about the lost village of Delta, but I didn’t know who my main character would be yet.

The town clerk wrote two non-fiction books about Delta and my dad bought copies. While visiting my parents, I looked through them, and then did some research online. I learned that one house hadn’t been torn down the first time they flooded the land. It wasn’t until later, when the water receded, that they demolished it.

That was my story. A little magic seeped into the tale, and Lottie came to life. You can read about Lottie in DELTA, my first historic fiction novella that is appropriate for teens and adults.

A woman in antique clothes near a swamp

About the real Delta…

landscape photo of riverand pine trees

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

New York State decided it was time to expand the Erie Canal. Many of the ports along the canal were no longer being used, because shipping goods by train became the more popular method. Shipping by train was cheaper than shipping via canal. It wasn’t just the price, though, that encouraged manufactures to choose train travel. The modern barges that were needed to ship the goods couldn’t go on the Erie Canal, which was too small and far too shallow. The water level of the Erie Canal tended to fluctuate. By expanding the Erie Canal, the ports would flourish once again. Many farmers were excited by this. They would be able to transport their goods to cities elsewhere in New York State. Expanding the canal required the use of five reservoirs. These reservoirs would provide enough water to keep the level of the canal even. New York State chose Delta because they would only need to build one dam.

The village of Delta rested inside of a deep valley. This made the perfect bowl-shape to fill with water from the Mohawk River nearby. Flooding Delta meant that privately owned land would need to be seized by the government. Everyone living on that land would need to move elsewhere.

In 1903, surveyors arrived in Delta to measure the land and create maps. In 1908, New York State officially authorized that Delta would be cleared to make way for the reservoir. Blue evacuation notices were presented to the village’s five-hundred residents, forcing them to relocate. One hundred buildings were torn down and destroyed. Some, however, were dismantled and moved to other towns in the area, where they were rebuilt. People moved away and their village became a reservoir. The dam was completed in October 1912. Water first went over in May of 1916.

Despite the great expenses incurred in the relocation of the Black River Canal, it closed in 1921.

65490592_10219455854724443_1722693824599293952_n

Jordan Elizabeth is a fantasy author who is obsessed with history and ghosts.  You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.  The photo above shows Jordan on the shores of Lake Delta.  You can often find she and her son enjoying the beach.


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Seeking out Christian fiction in September

Christian Fiction

In his 2012 Relevant article, “Where Did Good Christian Fiction Go?“, Micah Levi Conkling claims that Christian fiction has been marred by the Left Behind series and Amish fiction, and is very difficult to find. So, in September, we’ve been seeking out Christian fiction to see if Conklin’s claims are true. Is there really no good Christian fiction out there anymore?

To start off, I want to define what Christian fiction really is. It’s not really a genre. Not really, because as you’ve seen if you have joined me in my search, Christian fiction comes in many genres. The two books I reviewed from the Thanksgiving Books & Blessings collection, Texas Tears and Mail-Order Misfire, are both western romances, and I also had the pleasure of interviewing the author of each, Caryl McAdoo and Davalynn Spencer respectively. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest, Angela Hunt writes historical fiction, historical romance, heart-warming tales of love and friendship, and children’s books that can all be classified as Christian fiction.

Christian fiction is really a category that other genres fall under. The aforementioned Left Behind series might fall under the science fantasy genre, given it’s futuristic, alternative universe setting. As Christian novels can be so varied, let’s take a look at what they have on common like the portrayal of Christian lifestyles, and an underlying message of a loving God. A book in virtually any genre could be considered Christian fiction if it has these two components, even if the message is subtle and remains in the background of the story. According to the Christy Awards website, the award is “designed to nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview and showcase the diversity of genres.”

In spite of Conklin’s claims, not all Christian stories boldly shove the message of God down the readers throat. (Many children, and adults as well, turn tail and run from a story that give a hard push to moralistic messages, as is discussed in this month’s “Growing Bookworms” post.) I think the message in good Christian fiction is delivered subtly, in small doses, giving the reader the option to take it or leave it while still being able to enjoy the story.)

Christian fiction really has a bad rep in some circles, where any story  with no sex, no violence, no cursing, and no vice, it is believed that the reading of which might be comparable to eating white rice with no seasonings. Christian fiction, from my view, is a tale which portrays Christian beliefs and values in its character’s lifestyles. I think the historical may even be flavored a little more heavily with this, because in days of past Christian lifestyles were more prominent. That could explain why historicals and westerns, like those we’ve looked at here lend themselves so readily to the Christian aspects. I’m guessing that it would more difficult, although not impossible, to work Christian aspects into a futuristic work of science fiction or fantasy, but I have seen them worked into thrillers and mysteries, and they are easily worked into contemporary romance.

Most Christian fiction stories that I’ve read are heart-warming and inspirational, and I’ve walked away with a warm feeling at the story’s end, as if there might actually be hope left for this world, or for love, or humanity, depending on the individual story. In short, Christian fiction works are stories which are written for Christian readers. But you don’t have to be searching for something with Christian undertones to enjoy one if you come across one. A good, well-written Christian story lets the characters carry the reader through without being preachy and moralistic. The power of God shines through in the character’s lives.


Into the Catskills

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

I’m a huge history lover, so anything old has always sparked my interest.  I imagine that an old building can tell me the secrets of the past.  If I walk through its ancient doors, I’ll be transported back in time.  I’ll be able to experience everything that came before.

It hasn’t yet, but I’m still hoping.

One day I was bored, probably tired from work, and decided to look at abandoned buildings online.  I was scrolling through Pinterest and voila, there was a beautiful, crumbling resort.  The image showed an old pool.  Vines crept up broken windows and ferns fought their way through cracked cement.  It was beautiful and haunting.  I clicked to learn more, and discovered it was a resort from the Catskills.

daylight environment forest idyllic

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In their heyday (1920s through the 1960s), the Catskill Mountains were home to numerous fancy resorts.  People came from all over to experience the thrill of the mountains.  Many New Yorkers left the city to experience the calm of the country.  The popular movie, Dirty Dancing, takes place at a resort in the Catskills.

Overtime, interest waned.  From articles I read online, it seems that the readily people could travel on airplanes to distant wonderlands, the less they wanted to travel upstate.  There are still some resorts left and I hope to vacation there someday.  I must admit, though, the abandoned resorts fascinate me more than the ones still standing.

abandoned ancient antique architecture

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

While looking at more pictures of those abandoned resorts, a story idea came to me.  The world ends and the remains of civilization are holed up inside a crumbling hotel.  Thus was born my post-apocalyptic novella, BUNKER BOY.  If you decide to read it, let me know what you think!  I’d love to know if it has inspired you, too, to check out the old memories of the Catskills.beautiful blond young woman in black hood looking at camera

Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author.  She is most likely gazing at something in awe, something she will soon include in one of her novels. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.


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Poetry For Yourself

The Many Faces of Poetry 2

 

Poetry For Yourself

Poetry has an odd position in the hierarchy of creative media. It’s too personal and intense to be an instrument of mass exposure. How many famous poets are there? Five? Ten? Who comes to mind? Mary Oliver. Of course.

So why do you write poetry? Asking that question is like asking “Why do you fall in love?” You just do…because the love is in you, wanting to get out. It’s a way of falling in love with yourself. Having created something beautiful, you sit back and think…”Oh..did I do that? Where did it come from? Did I channel it from some ethereal spirit?” Sometimes the poems we write seem to belong to independent spirits. They are alien and strange.

face in space with stars

Ghost voices grow

like weaving spires in the corridor of the night.

Stalactites of moonlight,

they hum and fade

through the wake of other minds.

A sheet of star rain glinting light,

a mist of moon- heat lost from sight

these spectral hints emerge

from the night floor in the dark.

Silver waving plants recede forever

in a song of twinkling echoes.

Ghost voices, shadow worlds

arise and converse

while my sleep waits beyond the hills,

listening.

 

If I wrote that it would be evidence that I am certifiably nuts. It must be read carefully, like drinking a fabulous milkshake one mouthful at a time.  Poetry can be a vessel for deadly serious topics, or it can offer room for comedy.

Shit

There’s shit on my shoes;

cat shit, dog shit, I hope that’s all shit.

Every step I take I risk stepping in shit:

Is this not life? There’s nothing wrong with shit.

We need it, like we need bugs

to nourish with its noxious stink the most natural growth.

This poo is for you, it says, as I wipe it off my shoe

with futile hope of avoiding my hands, then washing

again and again. How often in a day do I inwardly exclaim,

“Shit!”?

More than I would admit.

My mind is full of bricks, pies and purges.

Cats, dogs, owls, horses, all shit. People shit,

the cosmos excretes Dark Matter on these very shoes

which I try so hard to keep clean. Many are obsessed

with the minuscule taint of e.coli. Why should I bother to say

“Relax, we are exposed to e.coli and far worse

every day. We are sturdy,

knocking off shits and bugs heroic, undaunted

by the invisible stools of imagination?”. Instead I spread this blessing:

“You must be crazy in whatever way you want.”

Not every disease is preventable, nor is every affliction brought on board

by the shit on our shoes. When you stroke the cat, the dog, the horse

your hands investigate bacteria, resist infection.

After all, shit is the most common thing in the world.

 

 

I’ll be honest. “Shit” is one of the best poems I’ve ever written.  I think. I always feel that way about my latest poem.  It’s got rhythm and it makes people laugh.  What’s better than that?

I know, I’m taking up a lot of space, and I think I’ve posed enough questions. No matter how personal a matter is poetry, its importance is immense. It is filled with our most private introspection. If others read it, so much the better. I didn’t write these things to live in the dark. Some day they may find an audience. Meanwhile, I offer them for the pleasure of a small number of readers who may enjoy them.


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Jeff’s Pep Talk: Who Influences the Influencers?

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Who Influences the Influencers?

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

Are you an influencer? You might want to think about it a moment before you answer. In our culture, to influence is to make a big splash, to inform what individuals and groups value, how they think and interact. I’m an influencer because I’ve got a Mom and Dad, a wife, a brother, friends. I’ve had a huge impact on them, and it goes without saying, they’ve impacted me. We all influence each other, right? We can’t help it. If I know you and you know me long enough, we’ll start to get under each other’s skin. Science even suggests we’ll start to look alike, as terrifying as that sounds.

Human beings are the influential type. We’re social creatures, and usually, when one of us has trouble, there’s a whole baying wolf pack of supporters and naysayers coming up behind. One of the things I dislike most about our modern storytelling ecosystem is the fact writers today tend to favor death, tragedy, betrayal, all the nasty things in life. Whereas love, respect, loyalty, they seem to get left in the dust. So you’re a writer. You like to tell stories and communicate complex ideas that might otherwise mystify people. You’re an agent of truth, an avatar of righteous disclosure, and you need a clear mind and a firmly rooted foundation.

Enter the influencers. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be that grade school teacher who first read you your favorite book. Or the acclaimed author who, after forty years of alcoholism, workoholism, and abject failure, produced that one brilliant novel that sets your soul singing every time you read it. You can be your own influencer, too. Who is it that forces you to sit down at the computer and write? Is it your work ethic? Where’d you pick that up? I’m an all-or-nothing guy, much more comfortable working in bursts and spurts. Also more likely to face periods of intermittent burnout because of it. But even I get uncomfortable when I’ve allowed myself to rest on my laurels too long. Knock me down, I get back up (eventually). Who influenced me to perform this way?

It may sound sappy, but I don’t believe people come into our lives by accident. I learned to work hard from my family. They taught me to laugh as well, which means my stories are par-boiled and strange as hell. I didn’t know I had talent until people close to me told me in no uncertain terms. Even as an adult, there have been those moments a special person has come out of nowhere and made me feel suddenly and delightfully valuable. A little encouragement goes a long way, right? And thank god for that.

But let’s not forget the negative influencers in our lives. The people who tell us we can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t, that we’d never. Sometimes, especially when we’re just starting out, our naysayers seem more numerous than our supporters. I was an indie singer/songwriter until I turned twenty-three and decided I was a writer. Just about everyone in my life, my family, friends, even my fiancé, were puzzled by the sudden turnaround.

“Don’t you still want to do music on the side?” they asked, oblivious to the fact I might interpret their concern as doubt in my abilities.

I wasn’t born to write, not really, and neither were you. We worked at it, honed our abilities to finely pointed instruments of literary destruction. Sure, people like us have a natural aptitude for this sort of thing. But for crying out loud, my first completed short story was such a godawful mess I haven’t had the strength to look at it in all the years since. No, my family wasn’t super supportive of my choice. I think they wanted to be, but perhaps they didn’t know how. To say they were unequivocally negative about my chances wouldn’t be fair, but I was their golden boy when I had a guitar in my hands, something substantially less than that when I started cranking out sub-par stories. Like you do. Because we all have to crawl before we can crawl just a tiny bit faster.

Here’s the thing. I’m grateful for their doubt. I recognize now that if not for a little healthy adversity, there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today. Do you feel the same? Who influenced you? Who told you you could or couldn’t? You may be surprised to realize you needed both groups in equal measure. We never really know how bad we want something until it’s denied us. Ask any hard-case of unrequited love out there, it’s always so much more romantic when the answer is a resounding “no.”

I’ve got a brief writing exercise for you, a small motivational tool to unearth where you’ve been and help you ponder where you’d like to go. Write down the top ten people who have influenced you on your writing journey. Could be anybody, teachers, authors, loved ones. Now for each one, assign a numerical value from one to ten. Your high school language arts teacher, what was her name? She gets a seven because she’s the first person to compliment your out-of-the-box ideas. Tally up the final score for all ten influencers and answer one very simple question: did you do this alone?

No! Of course you didn’t. There were people ushering your progress the whole time, laughing at you, cheering you, doubting you, praising you. There were ghosts of old writers in all the books you collected, urging you to follow in their footsteps, to find truth in their work, such that it could be found. The sheer joy of the struggle, the artistic and cerebral strains, buoyed by hearts buoying hearts, the ability to sit down and craft a narrative that takes everything you are, were, believe, love, hate, condense it into chalky baby formula, slap it in the food processor, and then ka-blam! Gourmet word smoothies (literally speaking, of course).

It’s no small thing to think about these people from time to time. For so many of us, real support doesn’t manifest until we’ve been working for years and years. Imagine you were raised to go into business. Mom, Dad, I want to be a writer instead. Professors, Dean, sorry I’m leaving your wonderful but boring academic program. I’ve got the bug, you see, and there really is only one cure.

The older I get, the clearer it seems to me our desires don’t come to us by chance. Plenty of people try their hands at penning their first novel and never make it further than a chapter or two. So take for granted the fact that if the urge to create is so strong in you you’ve never been able to lay it down, obviously, much gratitude and respect, you are MEANT (that’s all caps, MEANT) to keep working. Saying nothing about MEANT to be super rich or super successful, MEANT to win awards, MEANT to change the world. No, simply MEANT to write, which is no small MEANT at all, thank you very much.

Do yourself a favor today and give some gratitude to all your many influencers. Without their love, support, disinterest, and bad advice, you wouldn’t be able to influence others in kind. Oh no, you didn’t think you were getting out of it that easy, did you? Of course you’re the biggest influencer of all. We don’t live in bubbled slip-space isolation, present state of geopolitical affairs notwithstanding. You never know who’ll come knocking on your door. That special individual may become the most important author of the millennium. Then again, they might just be a friendly guy or gal who needs a friendly pep talk and a kind word or two.

Don’t make your job harder, and don’t make them feel they should abandon theirs. Writers who make a point of discouraging others give me indigestion. Probably for the best, in the long and short of things. I never really listened to their sort anyway. Until next time, folks. Dream large. After all, if you don’t, who will?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

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