Of course, I’d like to open up my blog post today by linking you to a blog that discusses one of my all-time favourite topics: me.*laughs* While I’m perhaps not quite *that* egocentric, I did enjoy the interview that the lovely Megan Cashman posted with me, earlier in the week. She typically only interviews novelists, and while I hope to have that particular title one day, I’m glad she found me fascinating enough to make an exception. If you haven’t, please visit her page and read as we chat about what it’s like to be someone who is still publishing poetry in 2013, and believes that crowd-sourcing is the future of the indie artist. (In fact, perhaps it’s the future in general, as it gives established artists the freedom to *become* indie artists and pursue projects and passions that aren’t considered widely marketable.)

If you missed it, I also participated in the All-Authors Blog Blitz, where I was interviewed by a charming woman across the pond in Dublin named Paula Black. Her site, Raven & Black, is really geared towards readers of gothic erotica–and while I neither read nor write gothic erotica, it’s safe to say there’d be nobody on the planet shocked to learn that I did. Yet, I had the strangest writer’s block in trying to do a guest introduction for the page. I simply decided to share that struggle, and it came out in a rather humourous fashion, if I do say so myself. Hop on over and visit me in what seems a little like home, surrounded by black and crimson. ;P

Thanks so much to Paula and Megan for having me as a guest!! I’ve really been slacking on my Sunday author interviews lately, but it seems there are only so many hours in the day, and on my introverted days, I spend a majority of them writing. Earlier today, I began communicating in one word sentences along the lines of “Words. Difficult. Tired. Brain. Point. Unimportant”.

Why have I been working so much, you ask? As I alluded to in the last blog entry, but did not fully explain because it was another author’s day in the spotlight here, I had some last minute news tossed in my direction. Perhaps about a week ago, I was informed in the middle of July that I was going on a family vacation, and then home to visit my parents. I was also informed I’d be expected to pay for my part of the trip and backing out of going home was not optional, as I hadn’t been in two years, and my mother’s health is very bad. I’m not sure if it’s her physical health or her mental state, but her last stroke left her unable to walk without assistance and talking with her is certainly a labour of love, as it takes her ages to find the words to string together a sentence. It is one case in which my highly intuitive personality and active listening skills come in handy, because I’m able to finish her thoughts for her. Still, for a highly impatient person like myself, it’s a challenge.

On top of paying for the trip, the expense is compounded by the fact that I need to find a dog sitter. When I first agreed to take care of my dog, whom I love (but let’s face it, I’m not terribly good at taking care of things, nor am I the most nurturing person around.), I had plenty of people who were willing to take her when I was out of town, help out with getting her places, etc. These days, not a single one of those friends is available, and I’m left in the position of being a single parent. I have numerous things on my calendar each year that take me away from home for at least a few days at a time, and I can’t give up my life because I have a dog and everyone who was so eager to help is suddenly like, “I’m sorry, I wish I could”. So, the result is that the cost of every trip effectively doubles, because I have to find a pet-sitting solution. This has most definitely sent me into “working overtime” drive, which for me, means putting words on the screen as frequently and eloquently as possible.

I’m a bit nervous about the trip, because I’ll be returning to the Jersey Shore, and then to Philadelphia. This is where I got very sick in the first place, and because I didn’t get treatment when I needed it, my body had a particularly rough time with panic attacks and unrestrained adrenaline. I also didn’t get much support from my family, who thought I was being dramatic and inconvenient and attempting to be the centre of attention (when in reality, I needed to be in the ER, hooked up to IVs and heart monitors.) It was the beginning of one of the toughest experiences of my life, and I am afraid that, having a history of suffering from PTSD, revisiting these places will trigger negative physical symptoms. I understand this is simply a fear and there is no logical reason to assume this will happen, but I still have very bad days, health-wise. Thinking about this trip causes me anxiety in advance, but I feel obligated to do it, because when someone says “Your parents may not have that much time left”, you can’t just continue to ignore the fact that your family exists because you don’t get on with them too well.

There is an intuitive voice in my head that tells me it is time to go home, because it may be my last “normal” trip home. I do not know if this is because of my mother’s deteriorating health, or because I wonder if I am the one who may not be around next summer. All I know is it seems a lot like saying goodbye to something I lost a very, very long time ago. “Home” hasn’t been something I’ve had for a large part of my life, and so it’s hard to visit my family’s home and pretend it is in someway mine. It feels so much like visiting strangers, and I realise that’s because sadly, they are.

Of course, I’m still on flight restriction due to my inner ear disorder, which means taking the bus everywhere I go. So, I figured that if I have to do all this work and deal with things I’d rather avoid, I’m going to take my time coming back and spend a few days with people I really *want* to see. I planned a route that allowed me to visit some of my favourite people in four different cities, even if not for a terribly long time (I must say that I appreciate good friends and free Welcome Rewards points for making the trip easier, and people who like me enough to rearrange busy schedules just to see little old me. It’s definitely not the quantity of time you get to spend with the people you value, but the quality. :) ) I’m actually a pretty organized, logical trip planner—a quality that also comes out when I put together events—which is contrary to how I live much of my actual life. I don’t necessarily like being informed I need to travel at the last minute, because I plan my life in advance, but when last minute things happen, I like to make the most of them and enjoy them. However, every time I travel, there’s always an unexpected something going awry…and a lifetime of travel has taught me that organization is a huge way to cope with the unexpected.

I’m also planning to be a minimalistic traveler this time around, as I’m not as strong as I once was, and have no intentions of schlepping 50 pounds of luggage up and down the East Coast. If finances were not a concern, I’d likely take the advice of a friend of mine and “always just take an empty suitcase. You’ll find new things to bring back, and you’ll value them more because they’ll remind you of the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, and the things you’ve seen.” A wonderful perspective, but, well, she makes more money than I do. Once I become famous for…you know, whatever I’m destined to be known for….perhaps this will be the perspective for me.

So, there’s that, and in between, I have some events for my social group, catching up with the people here in Atlanta I like, and of course, the return of “Big Brother”.

Every so often, there’s a season that makes me glad I didn’t reapply for the show that year (I was a finalist for Season 1, which tells you exactly how old I am. *laughs*), and each year, I get a correspondence reminding me that I am on file with CBS and asking me to submit updated materials. This year, they’ve managed to pick a lot of shallow, vapid Hollywood kids (even if they come from all over the country), and the “old lady” of the house is 37. In addition to lowering the average age by a decade, it’s obvious that many of these people are obsessed with their physical appearance and the physicality of others, and talk about little else. I love Big Brother, but I have to wonder if they accidentally swapped buses with MTV and got the finalists for “The Real World”, instead?

Rachel Reilly, one of my favourite redheads (and former winner of the show), is not on this season. However, her spirit is there, somewhat, in the form of her sister Elissa. Sadly, like Rachel, Elissa seems to be a divisive personality and people are already campaigning to get rid of her in the first week. I truly hope that doesn’t happen, because I need some valid reason to watch the show this season. I’m sure it may improve over time, and once some of the more vapid characters are sent packing, but it’s truly shaping up to be a weak season. On top of that, Showtime dropped its 3-hour per night “Big Brother After Dark”, which was one of the main reasons I started subscribing to Showtime two years ago. The show is now 2 hours and on the TV Guide Channel, which is just atrocious. They censor everything, and half the time, they simply cut conversations. If the show was a B-plus on Showtime, it’s barely getting a passing grade on its new network. It will be quite sad if I completely lose interest.

There’s my recap, and what’s been going on in my world! If I have any reason to look forward to vacation, it’s that sitting on a bus is definitely much needed “downtime” (if only “down” meant asleep!), and I will need to recharge my batteries to get excited for all the fun (albeit tiring fun) that goes on in September and October in my world. I just need to convince myself that sun will not kill me, and I am not *actually* a vampire. ;P

I’ll see you all on Sunday, when “Literary Libations” will be back with a charming and interesting author you’ll be delighted to get to know! (nope, it’s not me. ;P)

Life has been pretty overwhelming this week, between an increased pressure regarding work/money/practical things, social obligations, trying to keep up with “optional things” like the workshop over at Writer’s Village I’ve been taking and wish I had more time for and this blog, and making time for the people I care about. I’ve been going to bed exhausted, and waking up extraordinarily early.

It’s fair to say I don’t do well with stress, because it turns me into a person I am not, a person who becomes overwhelmed by worry and anxiety and has trouble completing goals because they seem too large. You don’t have to know me outside of this blog to know that I am a bit of a bon vivante–I enjoy life and a little dash of the finer, more memorable things, and living to the fullest. When every day, practical matters get in the way, I become bogged down and overwhelmed by them. I feel as if I am carrying around a heavy burden, and my creativity level is practically non-existent. In a different era, I’m sure I’d have been the typical highly-strung artiste, but in today’s world, the kindest way to put it is that I am not the best with practical matters and a little flighty when it comes to taking care of them. It’s actually not because I’m terribly flighty by nature, as I’m not—I’m intelligent and have a pretty decent head on my shoulders— but I wish to largely avoid the stress that comes along with all those “adult problems” whenever possible. Therefore, I excel at procrastination and find it difficult to focus on goals that seem too unrealistic and large, and am rarely surprised when the things I want to happen simply don’t work out, or I screw up in some major way. In the freelancing world, this can be a challenging character flaw, because no matter how talented you are, deadlines and rule-following are typically valued a bit more. I have, sadly, had to learn this the hard way. However, I don’t operate well under deadlines—the stress of the deadline blocks out the creativity or the motivation, and anxiety keeps me from allowing my brain to rest.

I am either by nature a very type-A personality who has learned to live life differently as a coping mechanism for anxiety and what is common labeled “too many feelings”, or someone who is not at all focused and driven that’s forced to handle very challenging situations from time to time, with too few people to help. I am not sure which. Either way, since I got some news earlier this week about a lot more pressure being put onto my shoulders, I haven’t felt like myself.

Since I haven’t been writing anything myself lately, nor keeping up with promoting and networking and blogging, I’m happy to have this week’s “Literary Libations” finished ahead of time and ready to go! I’m afraid I’ve been less communicative with this wonderful author than I typically am with my interview subjects, but fortunately, she is a very level-headed and organized type who managed to send everything I needed, regardless. ;)

For the very first time, I’ll be chatting with an author in the genre of children’s fiction, the lovely Deanie Humphrys-Dunne. While a majority of my readers are single, urban types without children, I thought it would be nice o have Deanie stop by for a visit to provide a bit of a new and fresh perspective to the blog. She is friendly, creative, and quite accomplished. I, for one, am thrilled to have her here, so I hope you’ll pull up a chair on this Sunday morning (whatever time it happens to be for you), and settle in to meet her.



tailscover orignial
1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?

I spent my childhood in the tiny town of Easton CT, where my parents owned a riding school. The farm was called Sweetbrier and life there was always exciting, as well as challenging. Presently, I live in New Fairfield, CT, but I lived in FL for several years as well. I miss the FL weather in the Winter, but my husband really disliked the hot, humid Summers there. I’m working on another book for the Charlene the Star series called Charlene the Star and Bentley Bulldog. My sister, Holly Humphrys-Bajaj, beautifully illustrates my books.

2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book? What is it about your writing that gives it a unique voice and appeals to readers?

My newest published story is called Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes. Charlene the Star is a stunning red horse, who is becoming renowned for her jumping talents, but she and her friends are looking for something exciting to do in their spare time. They start an amazing new career, which helps other horses. The story is told from Charlene’s point of view and the animals all discuss their problems and work together to find astonishing, creative, solutions. Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes is amusing, entertaining , and it emphasizes the value of friendship, teamwork and setting goals.

3)
When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.

It’s most important to me that my books promote positive messages for children. I want them to realize that they are all unique. In my book, Charlene the Star, Charlene comes from a family of famous race horses so everyone assumes that will be her forte. But what happens when she doesn’t like racing? She goes to great lengths to show her trainers that she is completely bored with running in circles! She even considers becoming a model at one point. Her career takes a completely different turn. After that, I wanted to create something different for Charlene and her friends. Some of the same characters are in both books, but they set different goals in Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes. It was fun to create the story and I certainly hope that children enjoy reading it. I make every effort to assure that each of my books is my best effort, because that’s what my readers deserve.

4) Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?

I chose to self publish because I wanted to retain the rights to my work. I was aware that I would need to do my own marketing and promoting, but I don’t mind doing that. In my experience, most traditional publishers will not consider publishing your work, unless you’re already famous. Also, many traditional publishers are not accepting submissions, so I believe that self publishing was the best course for me.

5) Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? Is this your first publication?

I took two writing courses with the Institute of Children’s Literature. I learned a great deal from their excellent instructors. But I didn’t have the confidence to actually try to publish anything for some time. One morning, I had a strong intuition that I should write a story for children that would be inspirational so I created my first book, Tails of Sweetbrier, which is an autobiography of a little girl who wanted nothing more than to become a champion equestrian, in spite of her handicap. I can’t give away everything that happens, but the story does show that anything is possible if you persevere. This book was chosen “Most Inspirational” by the staff of the Pawling Book Cove in 2009. Tails of Sweetbrier was published in 2009.



Hattie in jpeg
6)
You’re the first person I’ve had occasion to interview on this site who is a children’s author. What drew you to that genre, rather than writing for young adults or an older audience? Do you illustrate your books, as well?

I love children and I thought it would be a tremendous amount of fun, as well as a challenge, to write stories that would inspire and encourage them. My goal is always to write funny, exciting, stories that would have helpful, positive messages for children.

7) What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for younger readers? What do you consider to be the most rewarding?

I think it’s challenging to find new ideas for stories. There are so many children’s books that it’s necessary to find different subjects and/or innovative ways to present your ideas and characters. It’s also important to have sufficient action and lively dialogue to keep young readers turning the page. Some of my readers are kind enough to send notes, telling me how much they enjoyed my stories and what they will remember most about them. That’s a huge reward!

8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?

I love books by children’s author, Sherry Ellis (That Baby Woke Me Up Again! And That Mama is a Grouch!) They are adorable, fun to read, and have good messages. I am very impressed with I Spy a Dragonfly and My Name May be Peanuts, but I say Nay to PB&J, by Carla Burke. Both of these authors are award-winners and they do a fantastic job. I’ve had the honor of interviewing Carla. We had a great time together discussing her books.

9) Is writing a full-time career for you, or something you do in your free time? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish as a writer?

Yes, writing is a full-time job for me. My goal is to continue to write stories that children enjoy. Of course, I hope to inspire them as well.

10)
Do you experience “writer’s block”, or a point in time when your imagination simply decides to turn itself off? If so, what do you do to get past that mental stopping point?

Yes, sometimes that does happen. I find that taking a break is helpful. If I take some time away from writing, I can look at it with a fresh perspective, and that’s helpful. Sometimes I ask advice from my family, which is often enlightening. Eventually, the creative side of my brain wakes up again so I can get back to work!

11) Do you enjoy other types of media and artistic creation, such as television, magazines, movies, music, fashion, social media, etc.? What are some of your favourite things?

I love watching equestrian events, such as jumping, horse racing, etc. Also, I enjoy watching figure skating, swimming, and gymnastic competitions. Additionally, I’m a baseball fan, especially a Yankee fan.

12) What’s your Zodiac sign?

I’m a Libra.

13) If you were to give advice to young or aspiring writers who are looking to write for children, what would be the most important lesson you’d wish to share?

I believe that if writing is your passion, you should pursue it, even if some of your friends are discouraging you from that. You must have the passion, in order to make your work outstanding. I think we should never abandon our dreams. Of course, it’s also important to keep writing, because the more you do, the better you become at it. I would also advise aspiring authors to remember that revising your work is essential. It’s rare that your first attempt is your best effort.

14) Of course, we both want readers to rush right out and grab a copy of your latest book! Please tell us where we can find it. Additionally, if you have a blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter, please let us know so we’re able to follow you.

My website is: www.dhdunne.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Childrens-author-Deanie-Humphrys-Dunne/574820065875628

Book Titles: Tails of Sweetbrier, Charlie the Horse (Kindle), Charlene the Star, and Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes

All of them are on Amazon.com. You may also order them directly from me by emailing; www.dhdunne.blogspot.com. Soon you will be able to order signed copies of my book from my website.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Alayna. I’ve really enjoyed our time together.



Charlie's cover from Amazon

Deanie Humphrys-Dunne is a children’s book author with four books published at this time: Tails of Sweetbrier, Charlie the Horse, (now on Kindle) Charlene the Star, and Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes (now on Kindle). All of her books offer positive messages for children. Her sister, Holly Humphrys-Bajaj, beautifully illustrates her books. She and Holly are currently working on their fifth book together,” Charlene the Star and Bentley Bulldog.”

Tails of Sweetbrier is an inspirational autobiography about a little girl whose one desire was to become a champion equestrian, in spite of her handicap. Tails of Sweetbrier will show children that anything is possible if you persevere. This book was chosen “Most Inspirational” by the staff of the Pawling Book Cove in 2009. Tails of Sweetbrier is in the process of being published in a second edition. Deanie’s other books, Charlie the Horse, and Charlene the Star, and Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes, are amusing, fictional tales, which contain important life lessons.

Deanie is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, as well as a member of Cambridge Who’s Who. She has been featured on several author websites and she is administrator of Claire Power Murphy’s group, the Pen is Mightier than the Sword and Claire’s group on Womens Radio.com, called “improve Every Year” She has completed four radio interviews on www.womensradio.com. Her last interview with Claire, “Building Character Through Children’s Stories” received top billing on www.womensradio.com.

Deanie enjoys watching equestrian events, and figure skating competitions, music and singing, spending with her family, and their dog, Elliott. She is also an avid Yankee fan.Deanie has just been selected as “Author of the Year” by Geri Ahearn. Additionally, she has been nominated for the following blogging awards: Sunshine Award, The Best Moment Award, The Dragon’s Loyalty Award, The Very Inspiring Blogger Award, The Leibster Award (twice) and the Super Sweet Award, and the Shine On Award.

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Thanks so much to Deanie Humphrys-Dunne for stopping by to be our guest on “Literary Libations” this weekend, and I hope many of you will be inspired to check out her lovely and imaginative creations. Deanie is also part of the Goodreads author community, as more and more independent authors are, so I highly recommend checking out what others are saying if you happen to be part of the website.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be featuring not one but two other interviews this week with talented authors from around the globe, and keeping you updated on some of my own endeavours! As for me, I’ll have to bid you a fairly early good night from my part of the world, as we have a trivia tournament tomorrow and I’d like my brain to turn itself back on. ;)

Sweet dreams, and a lovely Sunday from over here at
Jaded Elegance.

On Thursday night, I experimented with sleeping half-naked on the floor of my apartment. It was kind of like camping at Burning Man, but without a tent, and completely sober. It was, for the record, far less fun.

This sounds like a classic Alayna-type story of “Something that should not have happened”, but it was definitely not my fault.

As always, life has been a little crazy lately, and so today’s “Literary Libations” is not getting itself posted today. It will be postponed until Monday, when I’m a bit more awake and stuff. I think I exhausted myself a little, between some fun social events, deadlines, and what was likely the most uncomfortable night in recent history. Not sleeping is OK for a little while, but at some point, the gas tank most definitely hits “E”, for exhausted.

Thursday night seemed like an ordinary, low-key night. I had a bunch of articles with a deadline of Friday afternoon, and needed to get everything out of the way before my events on Friday night. I had also been set to participate in the “All Authors Blog Blitz”, basically a day where independent and self-published authors each posted a guest post on one person’s blog, and hosted another author on their own blog the same day. Obviously, that didn’t work out for me, but more about that later. I will be posting about the Blog Blitz, and featuring my guest author on Monday’s blog.

I managed to get my guest blog written at somewhat of the last minute, and made my way through about half of my assignments, when tornado warnings began to come through. Tornado warnings and strong thunderstorms are common here; nothing at all like the storms I’m used to in the Northeast. I actually *love* thunderstorms, as long as I can watch them from the inside or under a covered porch. I think they’re romantic and beautiful and never fail to remind me of some of the better moments of my life. (Ironically, I will always remember watching rainstorms from a daybed in New Orleans, and feeling wistful and sad and happy all at once. I thought it was really the kind of city I wanted to call home, even though it was small and Southern. I didn’t, of course, but New Orleans had some problems with water that were not at all romantic, so it’s interesting that I think of that city and remember how beautiful the rain is. Most people will always remember the devastation in following years.)

Tornadoes are a different thing entirely. We get a lot of warnings regarding them, but I don’t take them too seriously. I once threw an event in the middle of a tornado, thinking nothing was going to happen. Meanwhile, across town, the tornado hit Downtown Atlanta. I’d like to think my penchant for not taking things too seriously helped keep people safe. *laughs* On Thursday, I saw the alerts on TV, heard thunder, and assumed there was a storm.

Then, of course, the power went out. Fortunately, it was still somewhat daylight, but I became alarmed when the thunder started to shake the floor of my apartment. Ornaments fell off my Christmas tree. I went to hide in the little area of space that serves as a “closet” in my Zen room. Of course, I could still see the storm from my window, and my phone made the horrible emergency alert noise that always makes me feel really anxious. It said, “Emergency alert—danger imminent. Take cover now.”

That did not make me feel better, as the giant tree in front of my window started to shake, loud thunder seemed to be in the apartment, and the blackest storm cloud I’d ever seen was staring me in the face. Even on my beta-blockers, there was definitely an adrenaline problem, because I was alone in a closet and went from “Oh, storm, la la la…” to “Holy crap, we’re all going to die!”. My dog hates storms, so she’s really not a calming presence when a tornado comes through.

The storm ended, nobody was hurt, but the power was out. It was, of course, hot. It was 92 degrees that day, like it has been every day, and humid, and not a fan or AC unit to be had. At 8 PM, they said the power would be on by 9:15.

By 12 AM, I was starving (realising I had no food other than candy that didn’t require cooking), and walking around lighting up the apartment with my Kindle. By 1 AM, I was annoyed that The Guy I Am Currently Dating didn’t come to rescue me, because I’d used up my phone battery with the sporadic messages I was allowed to send (cell networks were also down) and calls to the power outage hotline. At some point, they didn’t give an ETA and my phone went dead.

By 1:30, The Guy I Am Currently Dating scared the hell out of me, because I’m sitting in a pitch black apartment and hear someone rattling with the knob at the door. I immediately think of every horror movie I’ve ever seen, but fortunately, he showed up with McDonald’s, which I ate in about 7 minutes. (If you know me personally, you know it takes me forever to eat food, so this is an important indication.) He also brought a flashlight, which was good, because the phone died and the Kindle was down to 15%. (I did read a book during the power outage, which was kind of nice. If it had not been hot and dreadfully uncomfortable, I would have appreciated the alone, non-electronic time.)

By 3 AM, I wanted to sleep, but couldn’t. The porch door was open, because it was 10 degrees cooler outside than inside. Walking the dog was particularly weird, because the lights were out EVERYWHERE. It was rather like a post-apocalyptic scene in a movie, and I felt like I needed a bow and arrow or something in order to channel my inner Katniss. The Guy I Am Currently Dating later told me that 200,000 people lost power, and there was not a light in the entire area.

I tried to sleep in every room, on every piece of furniture. I think I successfully got about 4 non-consecutive, uncomfortable hours. It really sucked. I am not a fan of summer power outages, for the record.

The next day, it only got hotter, with the apartment reaching 82 by 1 PM…and no power. The Guy I Am Currently Dating showed up again, drove me to McDonald’s, and tried to find a place to charge my phone. The parking lot was full of people who looked like they hadn’t showered, brushed their hair, eaten, slept, and were aware it was 90 degrees out. It was a cranky day. Finally, by 5 PM, a little girl shouted “The power is on!”, and you could hear a huge cheer throughout the apartment complex. I was lucky, as I had enough time to shower and get ready to go out, but I was exhausted.

Not everyone was so fortunate. On Saturday night, we saw a news headline that said “Parts of Atlanta Still Without Power”, so it could have been worse. I don’t know if I’d have survived another day.

(Interestingly enough, as I’m writing this, a thunderstorm is running through the area….)

While I still had access to my phone, I got the news that winners had been chosen in the short story contest over on Mysti Parker’s blog, and my little story I wrote at 4 AM one night won first place. YAY!! I’m totally honoured that my story, appropriately entitled “All That Glitters”, was something that stood out and captured attention. If you haven’t read the story or visited Mysti’s site yet, I totally recommend it.

In an example of synchronicity, Mysti is one of the mentors for the online writing class I’ve been doing at Writers’ Village University. I am not in her class, but it was one of her posts that pointed me to the community. Since she’s my friend on there, and my screen name is “PrincessAlayna”, I figured she knew it was the same person.

She laughed when she found that out, because she didn’t put the names together. (there aren’t that many Alayna-s floating around, and I have a photo posted, so that makes it even funnier.) An even greater example of synchronicity is that I received copies of books written by people I’ve actually met through the class, which I only started two weeks ago. Even cyberspace can be a small world.

Writing isn’t always something that gives you much validation. You publish a book, and as someone posted recently, “Oh, I sold a book this year, which is one more than last year. Things are looking up.” is not an uncommon scenario. For all the promoting people do, nobody is actually BUYING books, which makes it seem like a gigantic exercise in ego-reinforcement. I am not sure whether anything I write is good or not, ever. I am also not sure it matters, because everyone with a computer is an author these days, and what I’d really like is a paycheck. The things you receive paychecks for are often written in a drone-like fashion, without your name attached, and feedback is rare and almost always focused on punctuation. (Apparently, I suck at adverbial clauses and the use of commas.)

So, small things like someone you’ve never met liking your story actually count a little in the “You don’t totally suck” department. :) Are all the little bits of positive feedback enough to convince me I’m talented enough to actually be a successful writer…and does it matter if people don’t really read? I don’t know. But it’s cool to be appreciated now and again.

It’s the little things, like ice, Chicken McNuggets, and winning short story contests that make a hot June day without power a little bit better.

For the record, electricity is my new favourite thing.

As you may have noticed, the blog has been a little quiet, and I slacked off and skipped last Sunday’s “Literary Libations”. In addition to the health issues, June has turned out to be quite the busy month for me, and I wish I had the same level of energy I once had, before I got sick. And old. OK, mostly old. The oldness is certainly to blame.

I’ll start off with talking about my favourite subject: me…and where other people are talking about me! :P Long ago, I did an author interview I figured the interviewer simply wasn’t interested in. As it so happens, she simply published many of them at the same time. While it was one of my first interviews and therefore not one of my best, and the interviewer spelled my name incorrectly, I enjoyed reading it because the questions were a bit different from the usual. If you’re interested, you can catch me talking about me here. You know you want to.

Every so often, you have an interesting weekend. This one was definitely an interesting one for me, one that started on Friday when I planned an event at an upscale restaurant that literally just opened a few weeks ago. I’d sent a friend of mine to scout it out, and she’d told me the menu was limited, but the decor was really nice. I later found out the dinner menu was more extensive, they had excellent martinis, and the place really is beautiful. I fully expect to see it on “Real Housewives Of Atlanta” sometime in the near future.

The staff was extremely friendly, and we had occasion to meet both the manager and the owner. I found out that the owner was my kind of guy, an exuberant Italian man from New Jersey, and he seems to treat his customers and his employees like family. The food was good, but overpriced. For instance, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I ordered a bruschetta appetizer and decided to split an entree, so we could have dessert. I ended up going for the teriyaki chicken breast with pineapple salsa, because it seemed at least somewhat healthy.

To my surprise, the chicken arrived….and, well, that was it. No veggies, no potatoes, not even garnish on the plate. I absolutely realise why America is fat and unhealthy. 20 dollars either gets you one chicken breast without accompaniment, or enough food to feed 6 people at KFC.

The oddest thing was the drinks. We saw they had a special offering $5 martinis, which turned out to be only available upstairs in the lounge area. Downstairs, the same drink with Absolut vodka was $10-$12. Upstairs, the $5 martinis were made with Grey Goose, and significantly better. Of course, they were only for the ladies and only served until 11, facts not widely advertised until you received your bill.

Nevertheless, the club area was a fun bar, although a bit loud and with some flashing lights. There were couches, tables, a large dance floor, and once the crowd around the bar dissipated, it was a nice place to hang out. A friend of mine decided to leave early, and because she lived nearby, The Guy I Am Currently Dating drove her home. I went to pull up a chair and sit next to another friend of mine, one with whom I wished to exchange gossip and, you know, typical girl chat.

We talked for a bit, and that’s when things got weird. I somehow found myself rejected by an 80 year-old guy.

OK, maybe he wasn’t 80, but he was old. And boring. And, although I’m a modest person (sometimes), I definitely have to say I’m quite out of his league unless he happens to have invented the first dot matrix printer or something, and is one of Atlanta’s eligible millionaires.

When the seat on the other side of my friend opened up, he got up and moved to sit next to her, informing me “It was time to upgrade”. Really? I mean, WTF, dude? Is that not the rudest thing someone you don’t know could say?

The funniest part is that he seemed oblivious to the fact that we knew one another. He immediately “upgraded”, bought her a drink, and completely interrupted our conversation. From time to time, she would attempt to resume it. We took pictures together. The bartender brought us champagne, compliments of the owner (at my suggestion. :P ), and still, at one point he suggested we should get to know one another because we both played musical instruments. I don’t know how oblivious someone who has been on this planet for so long could be.

He then basically stalked her for the rest of the night, made her feel uncomfortable, and when she left, he grabbed his coat and made a quick exit as if hoping to catch her. The Guy I Am Currently Dating, whose job it is to oversee all damsels who may find themselves in distress (seriously, he often has a car full of women.), ran after her to make sure the guy didn’t have an opportunity to catch up with her. I later told the bouncer, who was cute and talkative in that Southern country way, that the feminist side of me was angry that girls should be made to feel so uncomfortable they choose to leave rather than cause a scene. On the other hand, I’d have had no problem making that guy feeling uncomfortable enough that he’d have left the building first, but my friend is far nicer than I happen to be.

Regardless of the fact that it was a creepy old stalker delivering it, I am still irritated by the comment. By the time you’re 80, you should know how to treat classy women. In my mind, that includes me. My friend is also a beautiful, intelligent, and classy woman…but it isn’t that often that people walk away from me, informing me they’re planning to upgrade. :P

I also had an unexpected and short visit from a good friend who was passing through my part of town, and took some time to catch up with me. This friend does not like to be mentioned on the blog, so I’m violating one of my rules here. However, we don’t get to see one another as often as I’d like, so it’s worth noting in a vague and positive way. :P

I think everyone has a larger group of friends and acquaintances in the world, but a very small and select number that can be described as “favourite people”. This friend most definitely falls into the latter category. There are some people in the world who, once you break down a certain number of barriers, reveal themselves to be among the most caring and uplifting people you know. I count this friend in that category, and we somehow have formed a very natural and authentic connection over the years. It is a unique dynamic and not always uncomplicated. There are few people with whom you can honestly share a full range of often-uncensored emotion and experience, and still like one other, and laugh at the absurdity of it all even when life is this complex and uncertain thing. Of course, this friend and I will likely never live in the same city, which makes actually getting to see one another a more valuable thing. (Sadly, this is true of many of my closest friends. I do have a few “favourite people” in Atlanta, and they play a huge role in keeping me in Atlanta. Atlanta is not one of my “favourite people”.)

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe it just means people like me more when they don’t live anywhere near me. :O (insert abject disillusionment here.)

Finally, I’m not sure if I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I felt like I needed a new and challenging project for the summer, especially since my physical being is still less than cooperative and I always seem to be too broke or too busy to travel. So, when I saw an introductory course being offered at Writers’ Village University for fiction writers, at a mere $10 fee, I decided to sign up.

I really had no idea what to expect, but the community seems very diverse and very supportive. There are some extremely skilled writers, and there are people like me, who have never taken an online workshop before. The “getting to know you” phase of things seemed to be successful, as people had a very positive response to “meeting” me (which is always a self-esteem boost, if you’re me.).

However, I feel like I might be a little out of my depth in this writing community. At the very least, it’s a humbling experience that points out, “Hey, my writing isn’t quite as appealing as I though. Maybe there’s a reason my collection was rejected.” Hopefully, I can learn from being surrounded by better and more imaginative writers.

The class hasn’t officially started yet, but they kicked things off with an optional writing prompt. The prompt for my room was to write a story about nature using words like “stapler”, “billboard”, “car”,”phone”, and “hard drive”. I sent what I concocted to The Guy I Am Currently Dating, and he said he liked it, but I suppose he’ll probably always say that. My reply to him was:


The comments left by the mentors leave me with the vague impression that they didn’t quite get it. Maybe they just didn’t like it that much, but I think more of the first. I notice that I don’t tell stories in a way that is as straightforward as some of the other people in my group, and I rely more on description and you needing to insert yourself into the situation.

Uh-oh. I think I might be creating the literary equivalent of Darren Aronofsky films when I write short stories. Oscar committee gives a thumbs up. People are like “WTF just happened?”.

Remember all those people who got mad when they thought the cable went out during the final episode of “The Sopranos”, but it was really the ending? Yeah. I’d have been responsible for something like that. *laughs*

I did get some positive feedback from other members of the class, but I’m looking forward to the challenges that come from writing with a very diverse and gifted group of people.

One of the cool things is that The Guy I Am Currently Dating, who is not a writer, but a very imaginative and talented person, decided to take the class with me. We’re in separate classrooms, but it’s fun to have someone with whom to share the journey. I don’t often share my work with people, so frankly, I’m never sure if anything I come up with is good or not. I always rather assume it’s not, but have not yet stumbled on to that secret of success that says, “Hey, your writing is now good! Isn’t that awesome?”

Regardless, I now have something interesting to do over the summer when I’m not out socializing or home watching Big Brother. Let’s face it, those things occupy 70% of my waking hours during the summer, because I still have not mentally accepted that I am an adult and need to work even if it’s July. In my mind, I’m on summer break! As it turns out, that’s not a thing in life when you’re old. :(

Now, if only I could get my body stabilized from the medication-change fiasco, I might be a pretty happy camper. Or, at least, a pretty content one. :)

First of all, I have a very important announcement to make:
I think I have defeated the Spam-BotOfDoom
once and for all.

Ever since I was evicted from my old domain for not renewing promptly enough and moved my blog to this one, I’ve been plagued by a relentless Spam-Bot. Even though I moderate comments and nobody ever sees what the Spam-Bot says, I have close to 60,000 comments in my queue. They are almost all from the Spam-Bot. I’ve installed all sorts of anti-spam, malware detector, and nifty widgets to shut it down. Nothing worked. Additionally, WordPress wants to make it difficult for you to make comments not an option.

I finally found a solution, in the form of changing my settings so that comments close ONE minute after I post something. Then I added a CAPTCHA. The Spam-Bot has not been seen for days. On the down side, nobody can actually comment on this blog, but, hey…opinions are overrated. :P (and, seriously, there are tons of other ways to contact me. I just updated my social media box. )

So, hooray! I haven’t had many wins in my life lately, but I can proudly say this: Alayna, 1; Spam-Bot, 0. :P

Because I got behind on my interview schedule during my time of illness (you’d think being stuck in bed does not limit your ability to use a computer, but you’d be completely wrong.), I’m doing a “Literary Libations” interview on a Wednesday! Woo hoo!! Talk about being an unpredictable, rule-breaking kind of person. :P

This is one of the most interesting interviews I’ve done to date, absolutely no thanks to me. :) I happened to have to have the good fortune to speak with J. Guenther, the author of a very large amount of stuff. While most people drop by to promote the one or two things they’ve published, J. has put together an impressive resume of almost unstoppable creativity and energy, both on the page and off.



JGuenther-Sm
I learned a valuable lesson I’ll never forget while editing this piece: “There’s no UNDO button on a radial arm saw”. :)

Like myself, J. is not a person of few words, so….let’s get started, shall we? :)

1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?

I was born in Los Angeles, but lived in Denver for several years, as well as Ventura/Ojai and Bakersfield. Bakersfield is not bad. It reminded me of Denver on a smaller scale. “B-town” has some great views; I especially liked the one in my rear-view mirror. I’m living in the South Bay in the Los Angeles area, now, not terribly far from Hollywood.

I keep several projects active at the same time, so which one is latest is hard to nail down. The most recently recent is Green Dragon Drool, a short play about a not-too successful wizard and his unfortunate apprentice.

My latest full length book in progress is Something Wicked in Ichekaw. I’d been hammering at writers in the Ojai workshop to “shoot the sheriff on the first page.” Just for fun, I wrote the first page of Something Wicked and did just that. It’s a mystery/western/romance and is about half finished, now.

2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book or project? What is it about your writing that gives it a unique voice and appeals to readers?

One-act stageplays are my favorite kind of project. My latest project, Green Dragon Drool, started as a short story that I wrote a couple of years back. I got into a playful mood a few weeks ago, and decided to adapt it for the stage. In Green Dragon Drool, Barnaby is summoned by his master, Monte the Magician, to participate in a new spell. Since the last one turned Barnaby into a lizard for a week, he’s understandably reluctant. An excess of green dragon drool in the new potion results in disaster, and Barnaby has to wield the wand himself in an attempt to rescue Monte.

I add humor to whatever I write. I can’t help it. I wrote a three-act tragedy ten years ago. It has many bits of humor. When it was produced, my director asked me at one point, “Do you really want this line to be funny? The character is about to be sentenced to death. People will laugh.” At her urging, I did modify the line. We cast an actor for that role at the very last minute, and somehow, despite the change in the script, he delivered the line exactly as originally written. And everyone laughed. I’ve since restored the line as it was.

3) When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.

Good writing inspires me, sets an example, shows me the possibilities. For one example, the opening of Keith Roberts’ The Signaller showed me the beauty of choosing the precise verb needed to convey scene to the reader.

Bad writing also inspires me. I saw an awful play in Santa Barbara, once. It was performed in a black box, so sneaking out was not an option. The next morning, I woke up and thought, I couldn’t possibly write anything worse. I sat down and started on Midnight in the Temple of Isis that same day.

My most recently published book is Sail Away on My Silver Dream. The story centers around a poem that I’ve written about companionship and escaping from troubles:



Come, sail away on my silver dream,

Cast off the hawsers of care,

Leave all your troubles and sail away

Over the ocean with me…

I created two children who needed to sail away, if only in imagination: Eleven year old David’s mother contracted cancer; his true friend Sharon is the daughter of an abusive alcoholic. I started the novel in third person, wrote five chapters, then couldn’t go any further. I rewrote those first chapters again and again, with the same result. I was stuck.

Ultimately, I stood back and looked at reformatting the book. I considered adding various story-related items, such as David and Sharon’s report cards, a note from the teacher to David’s dad, and a transcript of David’s first session with Dr. Appelman, his therapist. That transcript was the key. First, it got me in deeper touch with the character. Second, it flowed smoothly, sailing away with me, practically writing itself, because it was in first person. I changed the book to first person and finished it in a few months. There have been several rewrites, since, but the hard part was over.

4) Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?

Traditional publishers no longer exist. What we have are mostly amalgamations of the remains of legacy publishers, stumbling zombie-like across a literary wasteland in search of riskless manuscripts by famous names.

I chose to go with a locally-based boutique publisher with the most effective business model for high-tech times. The common model of one SP writer with one book publicized on one blog doesn’t make good sense. It creates too many small voices “crying in the wilderness,” with no one listening. The best model, in my opinion, is a coop or small publisher, with a dozen or two high quality titles, providing synergy among their authors by sharing resources and methods. World Nouveau Books comes closest to this model. It’s more of an us thing than an us-them thing.

☺The drawbacks are the same as currently apply to a “traditional publisher.” I have to provide my own marketing effort. Since I’m not John Irving, I can’t expect marketing services, free publicity, etc.

The advantages are (1) Access to the publisher. I try not to bother them with every problem I run into, but it helps a lot to know that I’ll be listened to and responded to in a timely manner. (2) World Nouveau’s distributor is Ingram. Bookstores like working with Ingram. (3) Cooperation: Being local, World Nouveau’s authors can work together on marketing and publicity, etc. Just today, I made a sales call to a store and picked up books for another WN author at the same time, saving her a trip. (4) Shared methods. My visit to the bookstore was expedited by following a WN procedure for store contacts. (5) Good editing. I’d say WN’s editor is superior to those at many large publishers. (6) Graphics. Again, WN’s graphic artist is top notch.

5) You are, by far, the most prolific author I’ve had the pleasure to interview. Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? What inspired you to choose writing as your path?

“My blushes, Watson!” Thank you for saying that. It’s been a gradual process, with few definable milestones. My writing started with reading. My father’s idea of a great day off was to drive downtown and make a tour of used bookstores, bringing back a box or two or three of books. All four walls of our den were covered with bookshelves. My mother also used to take my sister and me to a local library for children’s books. Later, I read tons of science fiction, starting with one my sister liked: Van Vogt’s World of Ā.

The actual writing? My sister and I used to make pretend newspapers [“The Daily Bloop”], complete with fictitious radio program schedules and news articles. I think the serious writing started when I signed up for a night school course on creative writing taught by Edith Battles, my mentor for many years. The course rolled over into a workshop, and I’m still in contact with former members.

My first sale resulted from working for a company that resembled, in many ways, the story of the building of the Tower of Babel. I wrote a parody called, “Beware the Wrath of Abibarshim” as a joke to give to the harassed CEO, then later submitted it to several engineering magazines. Production Engineering bought it, probably the only piece of fiction they ever took. Abibarshim is on the internet, if you want to read it.

I’ve gradually ramped up to my current level, such as it is, mostly through participation in workshops over the years. I recently felt the need for more challenges, so I signed up for Jeff Hoppenstand’s screenwriting course at Harbor College, one of the smartest things I’ve done. It was a huge leap for me, and I’m still in mid-air, to continue the metaphor, working on In the Mouth of the Lion.

My inspiration(s)? My best friend’s mother, Dr. Margaret Fate, said I should be a writer, after seeing something I wrote in college. Also Peggy Connelly, the ramrod of the Bakersfield Children’s Writing group. Edith Battles and Lyn Hardy, Dave Kenney, and Paul Thompson, from her workshop. Dr. Julia McCorkle of USC. Mrs. Gardner, my 5th grade teacher, who showed me my reading comprehension score with barely restrained glee. I didn’t see it as of much importance at the time.

6) Not only have you been prolific in the amount of well-reviewed work you’ve published, you’re also one of those rare writers who is able to successfully write in multiple genres and formats. What is your favourite form of crafting stories and bringing them to life?

First, let me say, I try not to write the same thing twice. That forces me into new directions a little at a time. Not surprisingly, the crafting method also varies from work to work.

I sometimes start with a “what-if?” What if a man arrives in a strange city and doesn’t get the map promised by the travel agency? The answer was the dystopian A True Map of the City. What would it be like to be the apprentice of a drunken wizard? Green Dragon Drool tells us. What if an Indian servant continually makes terrible mistakes for a good reason? The Moon of Other Days resulted. How would a senile retired professor with few visitors get them to come back week after week? The Scheherezadean Roses in December shows that.

Or sometimes I read something that resonates and feel a need to bring the story to the stage, as in Midnight in the Temple of Isis. The evolution of Mountain Where Rain Alltime had three inspirations: First, a geologist friend, Don Coates, told my sister and me of his trip to the South Seas, where the people spoke only pidgin. Second, Lyn Rollins warned us at Ventura College never to use a lot of dialect in a story. Muhahaha! I immediately put together a short story, half in pidgin dialect, about a visit to the Island of Parangatoa. Third, a few years later, someone in the Ojai workshop said, “Hey, that would make a good one-act play.”

7) Are there times when you experience “writer’s block”, and what do you find is the best way to get past that? Do you have a set schedule that allows you to keep on task, or do you write whenever the muse strikes you?

I subscribe to the theory that if I get writer’s block, I’m writing the wrong thing. Isaac Asimov used to work on dozens of manuscripts concurrently. I’m no Asimov, but I have at least a dozen things I could be working on right now. If I’m stuck, I move on to whatever feels good.

I’d like to say I have a schedule, but the truth is, I don’t. I write when I feel like it. If I’m going gangbusters on a particular piece, I usually keep cranking on it into the wee hours until it’s finished. In odd moments, I sometimes open a file and just do a little bit, then put it away. I wrote A Present for Robbie that way. When my publicist, Dana Macy, told me Theatre 150 was looking for 10-minute Christmas plays, I opened the file and found it had grown to nine full pages. I finished the last page in a few days, and Theatre 150 performed it as a reading that December.

Very important: when the muse presents me with a good idea, I write it down right away. I once found my idea for a story squirreled away on a scrap of paper in my stationery box. Six hours later, I had the first draft of Prisoner of Suggins Holler done. Prisoner won a prize in Elite Theatre Group’s contest that year.

8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?

John Irving? Iain Pears? Michael Crichton? Isaac Asimov? One of those.

Three books stand out. Agent Zigzag is a great character piece, picaresque non-fiction. Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost was also outstanding, recommended by a good friend. Another friend told me about Kurzweils’s The Grand Complication. The latter was intricate, mysterious, puzzling. I like puzzles, and maybe that’s what drives me. I also design puzzles and have two patents on them.

9) Has writing always been full-time career for you? As an artist, what do you hope to be most remembered for? What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I am a retired chemical engineer, so writing has never been “full time,” though I do little else, now. I’d like to be remembered for my plays. My greatest accomplishment? That’s a tougher question, since I don’t think of any of my work as “great.” Maybe the screenplay, if I live long enough to finish it. I’ve done easily 500 hours of research on it.

10) What’s one thing—artistic or otherwise—that you haven’t gotten around to exploring yet, but would really like to try your hand at doing?

Can’t think of much I’ve not dabbled at. I’ve played at chess, cryptography, watercolors, wood carving, acting, woodwork, photography, puzzle crafting, some oil painting. I made a chess set using a radial arm saw, while standing on a bowling ball. I determined the orbit of a comet without a computer. I’ve done some computer programming. Okay, someday I want to make a violin. I have a theory…

(I was kidding about the bowling ball. There’s no UNDO button on a radial arm saw.)



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11) Do you enjoy other types of media and artistic creation, such as television, magazines, movies, music, fashion, social media, etc.? What are some of your favourite things?

I’m currently preparing to copyright a song I’ve co-written with my composer/ actress/ director/ singer/ teacher friend, Judy Sanger. I love chocolate, good films, mysteries, classical music, gallery/museum crawling, dancing, Heavy Metal Magazine, steampunk style, art nouveau, art deco, cryptic crossword puzzles, photography. I taught a college course in computer drafting for a year; that was good in many ways. I’d like to teach creative writing sometime. I’ve written a fair amount of poetry [Moon Over the Lost City] but not much lately.

12) What’s your Zodiac sign?

I was born under the sign of the donut. Mathematicians will understand.

13) One of the interesting things about you is that you’re not only well-educated, but well-traveled. What is your favourite place in the world, and why? Where haven’t you visited yet that you’d love to explore?

Home is my favorite place. Also, I lived Ojai, California, in a guest house for 5 years. I have some roots in Santa Barbara, too. Hawaii is nice, and Italy, for sure. But I’m in second draft on a novel about a crazy poet from Zaragoza, so, given enough income, I’d head to Spain for a week of research in Zaragoza.

14)
What is the best advice you have to offer writers just starting out today?

Have a set time to write every day, like I do. [Hahaha!] Don’t be a perfectionist. Join a workshop. Read new novels and books on technique. Start from the ground up: Study haiku, then flash fiction, and work your way up to novels in steps. Plan your work. Outline. Rewrite from the ground [theme] upward. Write down your ideas. Remember that thinking about your story counts as writing, too; treat thinking time with the respect you show actual writing. Shoot the sheriff on the first page, Bad Bert McGinty on the next to last.

15) Of course, we both want readers to rush right out and grab a copy of your latest book! Please tell us where we can find it. Additionally, if you have a blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter, please let us know so we’re able to follow you.

Sail Away on my Silver Dream is available on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and at many local bookstores. If your store doesn’t have it, they can order it for you from Ingram. The book has a Facebook page. I’m blogging at jguentherauthor.wordpress.com, and I tweet as @Jguenther.

Thank you for this opportunity to connect with your respected readers.

**********

J Guenther has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Southern California. Lately, he has been studying cinema at LA Harbor College. He is a past president of Southwest Manuscripters and Torrance Toastmasters.

“Jay” loves puzzles and has patented two of them. His works often involve a mystery to solve, sometimes explicit, sometimes hidden. His work has been influenced by Bradbury, Borges, and Thurber. He has participated in writing workshops since 1972 and critiqued over 1200 pieces, including novels, memoirs, and short fiction. His publications include four magazine articles and three computer books. He has written over 50 short stories and 120 poems. His works include:

Fiction:

Sail Away on My Silver Dream, World Nouveau Books, 2012

Moon Over the Lost City (Poetry), 2004

Sorcerer of Deathbird Mountain (Fantasy)*

Sherlock Holmes and the Twelve Apostles, novelette, 2010

True Map of the City, novela, 2011

* Nominated, best novel award, Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, 2005

Plays:

Midnight in the Temple of Isis, 2009, Faulkner Gallery, Santa Barbara**

A Present for Robbie, 2007, Theatre 150, Ojai***

Prisoner of Suggins Holler, 2011, Elite Theatre, Oxnard****

The Five Hundred Goodbyes, 2013, EST, Atwater Village*****

The Moon of Other Days

Roses in December

Mountain Where Rain Alltime

Call of a Distant Song

A Robot of Dawn

Do Those Voices in Your Head Bother You?

** 3-act, semi-staged reading

*** performed as a Theatre 150 reading at El Giardino

**** 2nd prize, Elite Theatre Contest, 2010

***** performed & developed via Ensemble Studio Theatre

Work in Progress:

In the Mouth of the Lion (screenplay)

Something Wicked in Ichekaw (Western-Mystery-Romance)

Tenirax, Mad Poet of Zaragoza (Episodic novel)

Temple of the Permutants (Future/Postapocalyptic)

*********

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read such an inspirational interview, and to J. Guenther for stopping by to remind us all to live live to the fullest and constantly keep creating: on the page, and off. And, of course, please stay tuned on Sunday for your normal champagne brunch and book chatter! ;)

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

They always say “Better late than never”, but in this case, it’s totally true! Yesterday’s “Literary Libations” did not appear in time due to my complete lack of motivation to be anything but a giant lump on my bed (I still blame the whole drug/health thing.), and the fact that sometimes even *thinking* too much tends to tire me out these days.

However, I feel so badly for not giving this author much-deserved timely attention! Lost Reunions by Shuhin Ali looks like a fascinating read, and I’ve definitely added it to my list.

So, sit back, grab a snack, and even though it’s Monday, take a few moments and get into that Sunday frame of mind.



Shuhin_Ali_Lost_Reunions
1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?

I grew up in a small city in the north west of England. My parents are Bangladeshi so I grew up with a mixture of both British and Bengali culture, which was great. I graduated with a degree in Accounting from the University of Liverpool and later qualified as a chartered accountant. I currently spend my time living between Cheshire and London. I’m always looking to learn about different cultures and can speak English, Bengali and conversational Spanish. When I’m not writing I spend my time trying to improve my Spanish, keeping fit through running ten kilometer and half marathon races, trying to stay on my feet in Muay Thai training and watching movies, reading books and listening to music.

2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book? What is it about your writing that gives it a unique voice and appeals to readers?

My latest novel,
Lost Reunions
, is a contemporary tale of friendship, self-discovery and redemption. It explores the nature of staying true to your dreams and ambitions in the midst of the pressures and temptations of modern society. It charts the story of two friends, an investment banker and a doctor, who face very different challenges in staying true to themselves and the promises they’ve made. It’s set between the UK and Bangladesh and I’ve tried to transport the reader to those settings to give it a real world feel.

I think my writing appeals to readers because I try to write in a way that gives the reader the impression that the story could actually be taking place in the world around them, I try to do this by keeping the story contemporary and the characters’ emotions real. I like to think my readers finish the story feeling like they really know the characters.

3) When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.

I’ve always been quite a fan of books, movies and music finding that they are great avenues for storytelling; it was this love for story telling which inspired me to begin writing. I try to take inspiration from the world around me. My book came into being through the different mix of cultures I grew up around and my desire to tell a story that shows it’s never too late to reach out for your dreams.

4)
Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?

I decided to self-publish my novel. The same as most aspiring writers, I was sending the usual letters and three chapters of my manuscript out to agents and publishers only to receive rejection letters, and at times no reply at all. I was fully aware that the publishing houses would only publish a finite number of books and so competition was fierce for their attention, but I had faith and confidence in my writing and the novel I had written. After meeting a few authors who had self-published their novels successfully this gave me the impetus to embark on the self-publishing journey, it was either that or let my manuscript languish on my laptop forever. I am happy to say that I believe I made the right choice.

The benefits of the self-publish are that you maintain control of the publishing process and get to run with your own ideas. Additionally, you also get to keep a higher portion of the royalties from book sales. Also because you are closer to the process of inception to sale of the end product I feel it allows you engage with your readers more often as you have to be more hands on with the whole process.

The main challenge of self-publishing is going from being a writer to a project manager and learning about all the different facets of the publishing process. I gave myself a couple of months to research what a publisher does and learn about the different elements of the process as best I as I could. I worked with an editor to edit the final draft of my novel, I also worked with my cover designer to pull together a book cover that would best represent the essence of my novel. I had to establish the most efficient distribution channels and decided to go with Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace, and also used Smashwords to distribute to all of the e-readers. The hardest part for me was the time, it can be very time consuming especially as I already had a day job, much of the time I would work through to one o’clock in the morning. This went on for about a month, but it certainly felt good when I had the finished product.

5) Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? Is this your first publication?

This is my first publication. Writing is a hobby for me, I had an idea for a novel and within five months I’d written my first draft. After a few editions of my manuscript I thought I would take a chance and put it out in the world. Luckily readers have enjoyed my novel, so far.

6) Your book deals with some serious subjects. In addition to being a work of fiction, it serves to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by those living in cultures unfamiliar to most Americans. Have you gotten positive feedback on that front, and do you think your work helps people to get out of the mindset of concentrating on “first world problems”?

Yes. So far the feedback has been positive. Some of the issues in the novel are new to some readers and they’ve enjoyed being exposed to issues being faced in our world today, and some have been inspired to look into some issues further and have got involved with charities to combat social and economic problems faced in the developing world.

7) Are there times when you experience “writer’s block”, and what do you find is the best way to get past that?

I’ve been lucky enough not have experienced writers block. I’m quite a keen runner and find that gives me the opportunity to gather up plots and narrative in my mind, ready for when I sit down at my laptop.

8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?

My favourite author is Zadie Smith. I think her narrative is wonderful and her characters are always full of life and you very much get feeling that you could meet them out there in the world someday. Her debut novel White Teeth is one of my favourites.

The last book that really spoke to me was
One Day
by David Nicholls. The characters in the novel were so well developed that you finished the novel feeling like you had become close friends with them. I also thought the settings in the novel were great as the author used real life events throughout the novel which meant you could relate to the story and made you feel a part of it. It was one of those novels which I really didn’t want to come to an end.

9) Is writing a full-time career for you, or something you do in your free time? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish as a writer?

As I have a day job, writing is something I do in my spare time. At times it can be difficult to find enough time to write meaningfully but perseverance is key. What I ultimately hope to achieve as a writer is to tell stories that readers will find engrossing and enjoyable, and to write the kind of stories I would like to read myself.

10)
If there were one thing you’d like to improve about your life or your writing at this point in time, what would it be?

Something I’d like to improve about my writing would be to explore other mediums of writing such as screenplays. With screenplays lacking the narrative of a novel I think improving my dialogue would be my best way to successfully write a screenplay.

11) Do you enjoy other types of media and artistic creation, such as television, magazines, movies, music, fashion, social media, etc.? What are some of your favourite things?

I enjoying watching movies and listening to music. There’s so much variety in movies and music that there’s always something to keep me interested. However I have rarely found a movie adapted from a novel that has beat the book.

12) What’s your Zodiac sign?

I’m a Pisces.

13) One of the interesting things about you is that you’re not only well-educated, but well-traveled. What is your favourite place in the world, and why? Where haven’t you visited yet that you’d love to explore?

One of my favourite places in the world is Pulau Tioman in Malaysia. They’re two islands off the east coast of Malaysia with white sand and clear water. I spent some time there whilst backpacking around Asia. It truly was a wonderful place. Somewhere I’d love to explore is Madagascar because of the unique landscape and wildlife there, I doubt there’s anywhere else like it.

14)
Of course, we both want readers to rush right out and grab a copy of your latest book! Please tell us where we can find it. Additionally, if you have a blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter, please let us know so we’re able to follow you.


Lost Reunions
is available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon. The ebook is also available on iBooks and Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and most major ebook retailers.

You can also learn more about
Lost Reunions
on the Facebook page, my website and Twitter. Links below:

*Facebook

*Twitter

*Website

Thanks so much to Shuhin for being a fascinating and wonderful guest this week. I’d also like to thank Shuhin for being so patient with the delays! I was set to get this interview up last week, when health issues kept me from completing the project. Even this week, with me not being at 100%, it is a day late…but hopefully not a dollar short!

To make up for the weekend I went missing in action, we’ll have an extra “Literary Libations” this week, with another fascinating guest author on Wednesday! Get your Kindles ready. :)

You may have noticed that this blog hasn’t been doing its normal thing lately or following a schedule.

The past week and a half have been really, really tough on me, both from a mental and physical perspective. I wonder why it is that the best times in your life are weeks that seem like a day, but the worst times are days that seem like months?

The beta-blocker withdrawals have not been going well. The doctor wanted me to cut back my medication from 25mg to 12.5 mg. Since it’s one of those drugs from which you’re supposed to step down gradually, I spent a week in bed while I slowly reduced the amount I took every day. Somewhere in the middle, I felt a little better, and got close to the 12.5 mark. Then, I hosted an event I had on the schedule for a number of weeks (before knowing I was going to need to deal with this.) My pulse was up over 100, my BP jumped a full 20 points, I couldn’t stop sweating, and started to see stars. I started to think again about how there is something wrong with my body, something that no doctor has discovered, but this beta-blocker seems to treat. Without it, my heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat have returned, and a feeling of adrenaline that seems to rise up throughout my body whenever I’m in the car makes it tough to go anywhere. My migraines have returned. And, for the first time in well over a year, I had a full-on panic attack, the kind where I feel as if I’m not in control of body or mind, and I’m certain I’m going to die, and nobody can help me.

If there’s something that’s a cross between having the flu, a heart attack, and menopause at the same time, that’s what I’ve been feeling. It’s tough to remember that 10 days ago I was practically skipping to the doctor’s office, saying “I feel great!”.

It makes me a little sad to realise I am not cured, I’ve just been on a drug that masks the symptoms of whatever is wrong with me. And whatever is wrong with me isn’t just sheer anxiety; I feel it in my body, and see it in how my body reacts. I experience the same symptoms that sent me to the ER to start with, and it makes me feel as if I went through two years of hell and gained 30 pounds for no reason. I can’t just stay on this medication forever. But I can’t get off of it until they figure out what causes my pulse to race, my inability to tolerate warm temperatures, and the feeling like bursts of adrenaline are exploding all over my body, and why I have an irregular heartbeat. I’ve had so many tests done that I have to conclude it’s something no one can see, and something that’s somehow regulated by a relatively low dose of a beta-blocker.

Drugs are not cures, though. This particular drug is used to treat almost anything that requires your system to slow down to get better. A slowed-down system means you sleep more. You gain weight. You retain water. You lack energy. This particular drug is notorious for being difficult to withdraw from, even if you’re healthy enough to do so, and doctors often don’t know what’s a withdrawal symptom and what’s a symptom of illness they put you on the drug for in the first place. If you don’t have insurance, as I don’t, nobody cares much one way or the other. The drug is linked to Type-2 diabetes and blood sugar instability. There are tons of message boards with people sharing their stories about the drug, and for the most part, everyone’s doctor says “Side effects should be minimal.”

I wanted off the pill because I was tired of not being able to lose weight. The doctor gave the OK to adjust because my blood pressure was actually very low. Problem is, I wasn’t put on the pill for high BP. I was put on it because my pulse races and my heart was having palpitations and skipping beats. But, all the symptoms that made it impossible for me to function like a normal human being disappeared when I took the full dose. When you’re sitting in the hallway, hiding from your friends at a bar, with your heart pounding out of your chest and feeling like you might die, I can tell you, the last thing you care about is “Nobody will ever find me attractive again because I’m so fat.” You’d be willing to weigh 300 pounds for the rest of your life if it meant you could be healthy and live like a young, energetic person. However, it’s a vicious cycle, because once your health improves, you feel horrible about weighing 300 pounds.

I don’t know what happened to me, but I’m terribly depressed about it. I don’t often talk about my family on here, because they aren’t much a part of my life, but my mother has had numerous strokes and heart attacks. She’s deteriorated to the point where she can’t leave the house or string together coherent sentences. The only things that make her happy seem to be talking about things she used to love and will probably never be able to do, which is so sad, because I feel that way about my own situation sometimes. The doctors say that my mother has the mental presence and body of an 85-year-old woman. People in my family are talking about legal papers and wills and preparations for “What if she doesn’t have another few years?”. My mother is 62 years old.

My father, whom I’d largely not rather see or know at all, is 63. He’s of perfectly sound mind, if that means being as abusive as ever to everyone around him is a sign you’re a rational adult. However, after two failed knee replacements and a diagnosis of lymphedema, he’s confined to a wheelchair. He’ll probably live another 20 years, although he doesn’t want to. At his largest, my father was about 530 pounds.

I was 30 when I mysteriously got ill, and accumulated $50,000 worth of debt and endless months of anxiety trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. I saw 13 doctors, most of them specialists. They took so much blood for tests they weren’t legally able to draw any more for another 6 months. The cardiologist, whom I think should have been interested in my case, dismissed me and said, basically, “You have anxiety and you’re wasting my time.”

I clearly have anxiety as a result of this situation. I clearly had damage to my inner ear. But none of that explains the other symptoms; the extremely rapid pulse rate, the inability to be around hot or cold temperatures, the adrenaline rushes, the panic attacks prompted by a physical feeling in my body of being totally out of control. I am certainly mentally unhinged by all of this. But what doctors don’t understand is that I was normal—until physically, I wasn’t. And when I scale back my drugs, it’s the physical, not the emotional, symptoms that render me unable to function.

There is, and has been, something wrong with me for a very long time. If I had money, I suspect I’d have been put in a hospital and gotten the best treatment possible. Because I don’t, I’m told I’m fine, given some pills, and sent on my way.

I often joke that I want my tombstone to read, “Nobody would listen.”. It’s not really a joke.

I don’t want to be a casualty of the system, someone who didn’t have to lose 5 years of life—or end up meeting an early death—because all the doctors were confused and scratching their heads. And when doctors don’t know, they tend to tell you that it’s simply anxiety or depression. It’s a safe bet, because 2/3rds of the country has some form of anxiety or depression, and it’s better than “We just don’t understand what’s going on with you.”. Meanwhile, it’s hard to explain your anxiety stems from an intuitive voice that something is physically wrong with you, and the doctors never looked in the right place or did the right tests. The idea that your mystery affliction may one day kill you, and has totally changed your life in the process, will cause *anyone* to have anxiety or depression.

I feel like someone who’s falling through the cracks, because I don’t have money or insurance or the resources that inspire doctors to care. I feel like a decent cardiologist should have set me up with a holter monitor and done a stress test, rather than doing an Echo and telling me my heart had no physical abnormalities. Even I know that irregular heartbeat and palpitations aren’t often caused by visible physical abnormalities. I feel like perhaps an endocrinologist should have been wondering if I have a hormone imbalance causing these things, because why does a previously healthy woman in her 30′s show symptoms that are frequently associated with menopause? I can figure these things out using logic and a basic understanding of human anatomy. If I can, why in the world don’t the doctors?

The thing with “rare problems” that “nobody has” is that at some point, someone somewhere has them. And if they’re told they’re just anxious or need to see a psychiatrist, well, that’s not a productive solution to a physical problem.

I am actually a very smart person. I may be highly-strung, but I’m also highly intuitive. And for so many years, I’ve felt like something is destroying my life and nobody will listen.

There’s nothing more frustrating than that, so if I went to see a psychiatrist, I’d probably point that out. I bet I wouldn’t get one step closer toward solving an actual problem, though.

People don’t listen. It takes too much time, too much energy, and being a doctor is largely about volume and high turnover and writing prescriptions for commonly used drugs. It isn’t about spending time with one person and actually figuring out why something in her body stopped working correctly. But, it should be….because I want to live to see 35, and even 40.

So often, people mistake being in tune with your body and scared by what it’s telling you with being a hypochrondriac. They are not the same thing. One day, someone is going to find out, and I hope it’s not too late for me by that point.

And I hope I’m not completely alone in the world when that happens. :(