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6527212 April 27, 2011

Obsessively Successful: Julianna Baggott

"Writing is part of the disease, but because it allows me to escape into another existence, it's part of the cure."

When I was in college, I was obsessed with writing schedules of what classes I would take each semester during each year of my education.  I can't explain it, but it gave me bizarre pleasure and satisfaction to write it down over and over and over again.  I couldn't stop.  It was a harmless obsession and compulsion.

Others weren't so harmless. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

It took quite a few years, but I finally accepted that I'm likely borderline obsessive compulsive. Now I know when it's happening and when it's getting out of control; I monitor myself and channel my obsessive nature in positive directions.  Doing so has enabled me to flip a weakness into a strength.  It's driven me to accomplish quite a bit.

My guest today, critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott, has published 16 books over the last ten years.  She writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N. E. Bode. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) runs in Julianna's family.  She views writing as part of both the disease and the cure. 

I can relate. 

Over the years, I've learned that I must have something to obsess about.  It can change day to day, hour to hour, but I need a vice to grip. It's sort of an underlying thought process that provides a baseline on which to support the rest of my mental world.  It may seem odd, but if I don't have something specific to feed my obsessive nature, my mind finds something.  If the thing it happens to settle on is negative, my world starts to implode.  Everything falls out of balance. 

The primary thing that seems to keep my racing brain occupied enough to keep me out of trouble is art, whether it's writing or painting.  Creativity never ends.  It never stops feeding my ravenous, racing mind that craves baseline occupation.

Maybe I shouldn't admit to this issue; but it is what it is.  I've come to embrace the way I am because I know that it's enabled me to achieve many of my creative and professional goals.  I don't know what full fledged OCD sufferers feel like or how close or far I am from their world.  Unlike Julianna, I will stand by an idling vehicle.  In fact, I've come dangerously close to being hit by cars.

I'm lucky I have observant folks in my family who watch out for me.  They know that my issue is one of being too much inside my head to remember to put kitchen utensils away in their proper places, wipe door handles, or pay attention to how much money I'm spending on any given day.  I have more important things to think about ...  I forget to eat.  I tend to be messy.  Just last week, I got caught in slamming subway doors because I wasn't listening to the loud voice that was saying, "The doors are now closing!"  Being me can be quite the challenge. 

With all that said, I no longer care.  Of course, I don't want to get slammed in doors or hit by cars.  I work on that.  I try to pay attention to the little things.  However, I've come to terms with who I am and how my mind works.  I wouldn't want to be any other way, thank you very much.  I'll find my own cure: I no longer need the one I thought I needed once upon a time.

Like Julianna, many creative folks are lucky in that we have the ability to mine our disease and discover a cure within.  This blogger, author, artist, professional, mother, wife, nutcase, etc. is finding a way to make it work.  It's not always easy, but it's worth the effort.

Many creative folks struggle for years to achieve some sort of success.  Your work was first published when you were relatively young.  How did that mold your writing goals?

I published my first short story at twenty-two and sold my first novel before I turned thirty. Still, young for this game. What I love about writing is that you get better as a function of living, surviving. Of course, there is also dedication to craft. You have to be devout to get better. I knew I wanted to be a writer young and was deeply invested at an early age. I had some talent, lots of hours, but it took a while before I could actually have things to say. Hopefully my work is more insightful now.

Was there someone in particular who inspired you to love books and/or take an interest in writing?

My parents dragged me to countless plays as a kid. By ten, I'd seen more plays than movies. Just the way it was for me. And that had a huge impact on my writing life, early on.

Where do most of your creative ideas come from?

THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED is filled with events that happened to my own family. It starts where we now live in Florida. The narrator, Heidi takes her 8-year-old son and 16-year-old niece to the family's home in Provence, to renovate it after a fire. We lived in Provence as a family--with our four kids and my niece in tow--for a month. The injured swallow, the robbery, the warthogs, snails, vineyards, archaeological dig, the paper lanterns on Bastille Day--all of it came from our own experiences.

With regard to your new novel, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were so many. I knew the first half of the novel and where they were headed--the small village of Puyloubier--but I had no idea what was going to happen there. One of the characters had a huge secret--so secret that I didn't even know about it. When that was revealed, it fit. It was an ah-ha moment--in that sometimes you must follow your characters and truly let them live their lives beyond you, as creator. An important lesson to relearn and relearn.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder runs in my family, on my mother's side. We don't bare-hand doorknobs, eat sushi, stand near idling cars, etc.  The strange brain patterns of obsessions and compulsions play into my work.  I'm also compulsive about writing, which means I spend a lot of time at the page. Writing is part of the disease, but because it allows me to escape into another existence, it's part of the cure. The 8-year-old in THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED has a mild case of OCD. My first time writing about an OCD character. He gets better.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Mostly there's an upside. I get away with a messy house, making comments that are non sequiturs, dressing mismatched, not brushing my hair, etc.  Sometimes people regard me as a giraffe--like the normal rules just don't apply. Kinda sad, but, "What can you do? She's so creative!"

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role the discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

I believe, deeply, in really seeing the world around you, seeing people as real people with as many needs, wants, desires as I have. This way, if you don't see people as cliches, you won't write them as cliches. Also, practice plotting, muse when you're going through your daily life. I call this "writing while not writing." It's crucial.

You've written under different names, and have also written various types of fiction. Why did you chose not to use your real name, and what are your favorite types of writing projects?

To be allowed to be prolific, contractually.

To build audiences for certain kinds of work.

I often think about the difference between writers who seem to attack it from a business perspective (i.e., James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, etc.), versus those who seem to be simply driven from a deep need to write regardless of business concerns (i.e., J.D. Salinger, Pat Conroy, etc.). How would you describe the differences between these types of writers? Where do you fit in?

I see myself as an artist with some projects and an entertainer with others. But only I can see the difference. When writing art, entertainment happens, and vice versa. This is my job, too. It's an industry. I believe it's my job to try to understand it.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I try to be kind--honest and kind. I believe in empathy. I think these things should be important to everyone.

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6527212 May 24, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True: Sandra Carey Cody

"There are, of course, times when someone will try to push me in a direction I know is wrong for me."

The more years I spend writing, the pickier I become as a reader. Lately, I've been digesting a lot of disappointing novels. Who am I to judge the literary work of others?  I may not have earned that right but assessing writing has become second nature after years of tearing apart my own scribblings.

My guest today, author Sandra Carey Cody, says she gobbled up books when she was younger, never considering the elements required to create a great story.  I gobbled a lot, too. It was great! Like stuffing your face with candy, fries, and gigantic burgers topped with too much cheese before having a clue about calories and fat content.

It's not so easy these days: no more woman versus books. Rather than simply tasting a book as a whole, each ingredient jumps out at me one by one. And when you realize fat-free milk was used instead of whole, the wrong spices were added, or that a key ingredient was left completely out, the whole shebang loses something.  These days, very few books strike me as perfect. Interestingly, those I've found are as unique as the writers who crafted them.  This is one of the reasons I'm so hard on myself.  I want to write perfect novels, genius works not easily forgotten, work that can only take rise from me as an individual. 

In 1980, around the time my dreams were solidifying, Irene Cara sang:

You ain't seen the best of me yet,
Give me time,
I'll make you forget the rest.
I'm gonna make it to heaven,
Light up the sky like a flame.
I'm gonna live forever,
Baby, remember my name.

She wanted fame. All these years later, I still just want to be excellent at something that lives forever and makes my life meaningful. I sense that it's there. I'm trying to find it, tap it, dig it out and show it to you.

Is that sad, or am I narcissistic?  How vain is this dream I've always had?  Well, don't be so hard on me. Sandy has a similar dream. Maybe it takes a dash of vanity to be a writer.  To believe others will be interested in all the fantastical, crap, craziness, ideas, conversations, whatever, that spin round and round in your head.   

During the five torturous years I spent writing my first novel, I couldn't read fiction.  I feared reading would somehow hamper or twist my own voice. Now, I can read anything while writing my own stuff. While it doesn't confuse me, it does makes me think about what I aim to say and how I want to say it. 

We writers must stay true to ourselves. I read so many books that are similar. I wonder how these carbon copies of plot and prose rose out of the heap literary agents, editors and readers pick through.  It's puzzling, and sometimes discouraging, but I forge on.  

Sandy is a self-professed late bloomer.  She didn't start writing until she was about fifty. On days when I fear time is running out for me (as I slide over the hill), I think of her journey and realize I'm just getting started.  You see,  there's no set recipe for success. Many writers, or people who want to be writers, try to follow a nice, neat formula straight into the bookstores.  I'm sure some can and have, but not people like me. I was never one to follow a formula anyway; I'm just not good at it.

If I have the opportunity to share all that I've created with the world, I want it to be just right, nothing skipped, nothing out-of -whack, and nothing spoiled. I'll wait and work toward that, even it takes a lifetime. I'm creating my own recipe. So what about all those twenty and thirty-somethings already on the shelves of Barnes & Noble?  I don't know who they are but they aren't Sandra Carey Cody, and they're not Penelope Przekop.  Great for them but I'd rather be me.  

What’s your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

My story is a little different than most writers in that I didn’t begin writing until I was about fifty. I started with short stories. I made up characters, put them in places I wanted to be and gave them lines to say that were much more clever than my ordinary conversation. I was having a grand time, but it didn’t take me long to realize that, while my stories were fun for me, they were probably too abstract to appeal to anyone else. I knew they needed structure (in other words a plot). I was lost when I tried to do this. Though I was an avid reader, I had no clue about how a story is built. For most of my life, I had just gobbled up books without realizing that there are certain elements common to all really great stories. Just as buildings as different as the Taj Mahal and the Guggenheim Museum both need to follow certain principles if they are to remain standing, so do stories.

I started reading writing books. (I know. I should have done that first.) John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction

As for being surprised at where I am, the answer is a resounding “yes”. I’ve always loved books, but I held them and the people who create them in such awe. I didn’t dream when I was younger that I could be a part of that mystical process. I think that’s why I was such a late bloomer. I had to reach a certain age to gain the confidence to actually write a book. Also, there’s an element of courage involved. You’re stepping way out on a limb when you expose yourself to that degree.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an “ah-ha” moment you can tell us about?

I suppose the realization that it’s important to me that my stories resonate with other people could be called an “ah ha” moment. At some point, to feel complete as a writer, you need to share what you’ve written. When I write the first draft, I write to please myself. When I start to revise and polish, I’m very aware of the need to connect with a reader. Writing is communication.

For you, is writing more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer?

That’s a tough question. The line between the two is fine. I guess I would say creation. I’m not really trying to express a point of view. I’m inventing my own universe. It’s exhilarating to start with a torn photograph in a trashcan and to spin it into a story of a doomed love affair or . . . you fill in the blanks. The possibilities are endless.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc.) Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

That’s a tough question. The line between the two is fine. I guess I would say creation. I’m not really trying to express a point of view. I’m inventing my own universe. It’s exhilarating to start with a torn photograph in a trashcan and to spin it into a story of a doomed love affair or . . . you fill in the blanks. The possibilities are endless.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life’s aberrations, or both?

First, I have to say that I’m not sure I am highly creative. One thing I would like to change about myself is the fact that I am very shy. I suppose shyness could be considered an aberration in that it deviates from conviviality, which is supposedly a normal human trait. Has this shyness helped me deal with life aberrations? It causes me to observe and to reflect on those things that may at first seem aberrant and thus increases my chance of understanding them. In that sense, yes, it is helpful.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you’ve dealt with it?

For the most part, I’ve been blessed to spend my life among people who are willing to accept me as I am. There are, of course, times when someone will try to push me in a direction I know is wrong for me. When that happens, I find that if I take time to first figure out the real root of the misunderstanding and then speak about it as honestly as I can, it usually works out. If that fails . . . well, sometimes you just have to stand your ground and be misunderstood.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

When I first started writing, my dream was to have a published book, one that would be in the library, sharing shelf space with all the great authors I admired so much. I have achieved that (actually I have three published books, with another coming next spring) and, though it is satisfying, it is not enough. My dream now is that my books will last, that they will still be read when I’ve been dead 100 years and that the reader will feel our common humanity. How vain is that!

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Interesting question, one I hadn’t considered before. To me, a talented person is one to whom accomplishments come easy. They have the ability to do things, and do them well, without expending too much effort. Creation is different in that it involves struggle, reaching deep within one’s self. That is not to say that a talented person is not creative. When you combine the two, talent and that extra effort, the reaching within, wonderful things happen. From this, I believe, comes real art–even genius.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Shakespeare said it best (isn’t that usually the case?): “… to thine own self, be true.” I hope to be true to my own self, to be always growing in awareness of exactly what my own self is and, just as important, to always be open and respectful of the others as they seek their own self.

To learn more about Sandy, also visit her blogs: www.avalonauthors.blogspot.com and www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com.
 
             

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6527212 May 11, 2010

Beingness, Memories, and Relevance: Mari Yamagiwa

"People get the impression that my art is fanciful but my paintings are not fiction."

For quite a few years, I choose to ignore my past. Like many people, I wanted to forget. As a young adult during my struggling sprint forward, I wrote a lot about the experiences and emotions I aimed to leave behind.

You might lift your brows and say, "That doesn't sound like trying to forget."

It seems the opposite, doesn't it? It's interesting how physically and emotionally moving away from the people and situations I longed to forget while writing about what happened and trying to understand why and how, ultimately brought me to the best place. For me, it was a recipe that worked.

My guest today, Japanese artist Mari Yamagiwa, tells us that while her art appears quite fanciful, it isn't fiction. Instead it represents slices of her memory. Everything that happens to us plays a role in our evolution, even the things we forget. Now as I write and paint, I seek to recall people, places, and emotions as if they occurred moments ago because I understand that everything I've experienced fills and fuels my creative toolkit.

There's an important recipe I follow that involves heaping amounts of:
  • memory
  • imagination
  • emotion
  • intellect
  • honesty
  • beingness
Mari used the word beingness in one of her responses below. When I first came across it, I wondered if it's actually a word in the English language. As usual, I looked it up. Well, however awkward it may sound, beingness is a bonafide English word. It means the state or fact of existing.

For my recipe, I'll take beingness a step further by suggesting that for creative folks it includes existing in the present moment. I think this ties to the idea of relevance that our dear Simon Cowell loves to talk about. After all, relevance means bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand.

Of course, many creative folks could care less if their work is relevant. Well, I would argue that true talent longs for relevancy. True talent is driven to find and create relevancy. They either recognize what is relevant, or what they offer up becomes relevant based on their keen ability to exist in the present, whether from a cultural, intellectual, or emotional perspective.

I find it fascinating that despite being on the other side of the globe, operating within a vastly different culture and language, Mari is able to communicate so plainly to us (US citizens) what it means to be creative using a word one of us actually had to look up.

When we strip away desire in terms of creating or expressing something specific, we're left with what exists inside and drives us at a primitive level. Imagine standing alone in an empty, white-walled, square room. Standing there, thinking about who you are, what would you come up with?

What you'd like to create or what you need to express changes over time, but the naked animal standing in the cage goes on.

Some believe the creative drive is a genetic trait, while others believe it's a gift God bestows upon us. Growing up in a ultra-conservative, Christian home, stuffed with creative, unconventional thinkers struggling to conform, my mother used to talk a lot about the "fruits of the spirit," or "gifts" we all have. As a child, I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of having a gift or talent. I was fascinated with the concept, and made it my goal to discover my special gift.

As a small child, when the yelling and screaming began, or when my mother was too sick to take care of me, and instead asked me to take care of her, I often retreated into my tiny square, white-walled room to color, read, write, sing, and make believe all kinds of things.

I rearranged my sparse furniture in as many ways as I possibly could within that confined space, all while wondering, what is my gift? What special trait will redeem this family suffering that surely must be my fault simply because I can't stop it. I was a bright kid, and thought I should know how to stop it. I thought a lot about how I could do that but nothing I tried worked. In the end, by age seven, I felt old and powerless.

So who was I then and who am I now?

I'm exactly the same, a grown woman still reading, writing, make believing, and rearranging components. I do what I'm still driven to do, what brings me purpose, and I do all this in the moment as I did then. I'd like to imagine that what I created at five and six reflected the world around me at that time, and perhaps for that reason, it was beautiful and valuable. I just bet that if my mother held those desperately colored pages in her hands today, tears would come for what she lost, for what we all lost.

Like me, Mari seeks to draw from her memory banks and share who she is at the core. In describing her art, Mari says that it's filled with the dirty part that exists in a deep inner and hidden side. I believe what she's describing is the primitive nature that never goes away and never changes, despite the present moment.

What's your story? Are you surprised by what you're doing and creating these days, or did you always see it coming?

I am a self-taught artist living in Japan. My art works represent pieces of the memories I have of all my experiences. I am often confused and dither and take wrong actions but painting is the best way to eliminate the stress caused by that. People get the impression that my art is fanciful but my paintings are not fiction. They are records that time was deleted from my memories. I have continued to create art since 2004. It's an unavoidable activity for me.

When you are creating a piece, what goes through your mind?

I always feel small afflatus and sensations during creating. Pictures evolve through several reprises. It's hard to explain it with concrete descriptions because it's really subtle evolution. However, I think all artists experience this.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? If could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist?

When I'm creating, first of all, philosophy and several inspirations must be added onto instinct. And then I put pigments and objects on supports.

In a word, expression is output. Art is beingness for artists. Creation is very important but when a painting is finished, it is completed. I think art is neither creation nor expression.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than one, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

It is impossible to do two things at the same time to me. So I'm clueless. However, I think considerable physical strength and cunning are necessary to continue giving their ability or 100% of the soul.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I don't think people can find aberration within their mind. And I don't think they can create it on purpose. People have a tendency to categorize others who are honest with themselves or minority people into a category of aberrant but I don't think that is right decision. And I don't know where the border is between normal and abnormal. However if I have some aberrations in my mind and they are pabulum for my creativity, I appreciate that.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive?

My art works are were met with various misunderstanding in the past, but I realize that they have won acceptance by little and little in the last few years.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

I'm only giving vent to something from the inside of me with creative activity. And the activity of accumulating things that I need is important. My finished art works can be shown at exhibitions that I choose. Some of new works will be shown at a group exhibition in Kyoto in the end of this autumn. The attractive gallery deals in a lot of works of international outsider art. I am attracted to creation activity itself, and I don't have time to dream except creation because I need a lot of time to complete art works.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

I think that being creative means being instinctive and valuing philosophy. Being talented means being reasonable and being excellent at skills.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Never regret or change my decision. As humans we must make decisions.

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6527212 April 28, 2010

True Creative Blood: Charlaine Harris

"... by reminding myself that I can’t do a lot of things that other people manage with ease, I maintain an even keel most days."

This week The New Yorker said, "Przekop clearly has a gift for language." Awesome! (Never mind that I'm still looking for a new publisher.) On most days, I have to remind myself of comments like this one to boost my confidence. Being able to write (and paint) gives me hope that I just may be good at something after all.

Why is that so important? Well, because there are so many things I suck at. To name a few: I can't cook; I think too much for my own good; I'm terrible with managing money; my head is too often in the clouds; sometimes I'm a poor listener; I'm messy, forgetful, impulsive, obsessive, impatient; sometimes my motives are misunderstood due to my approach; and the list goes on.

I think there's something bad in my blood.

My guest today, author Charlaine Harris, is having phenomenal success. She knows a thing or two about blood types. I was interested to read that she also thinks about all the things she's not good at. Perhaps once you've reached a certain level of creative success, those things keep you grounded?

Okay, I'll shoot for that.

Meanwhile, I'm in New York City today writing this at a place called Earth Matters. It's a bit of a dream come true--venturing into the big apple on my own, hanging out in a hip joint surrounded by folks who are writing, reading, and surfing the Web. Later, I'm headed to The Pearl Lounge to meet artists, photographers, gallery owners, and all kinds of creative, interesting folks (more on the Pearl in an upcoming post).

During my hour-long train ride from Philly, I thought of all the girls I've wanted to be at one time or another, and how I either failed, was rejected, or missed the boat. To continue last post's Wicked theme, there were so many times I could have sang, I'm not that girl. But today as I watched Hamilton, Newark and Secaucus rush by, I was happy that I sucked at, got bored with, or fell just short of all the girls I could have been, despite any pain I've suffered.

I could have taken a hundred other paths but the life I have today has emerged as the best possible scenario. I could have married my high school sweetheart, the one who shattered my heart in college, or the one who gave me a child and then ran away. I could have become a teacher or a physician. I could have progressed as a corporate executive with little time for anything else.

Screw all that. I'm too busy attempting to defy gravity. So what if I'm not that girl. I'm on top of the world, swinging on the star I gazed at as a lonely, confused 15-year-old determined to find happiness.

If folks talented enough to work at The New Yorker believe I have something to offer, I'll not waste that gift--that chance. So what if I can't cook? So what if balancing a checkbook or keeping track of my spending feels like having my skin peeled. Other people can do that stuff.

Thank God for them. Amen.

Similar to Charlaine, I'm not surprised about where I've landed, but I am surprised that I'm sitting in the Lower East Side on a Wednesday afternoon. It thrills me to consider where I'll be next year, or in five years. Life is a wild ride, and I intend to stay on it. I know now that I can survive multiple falls and still keep moving forward. Like Charlaine's mother observed, "Women do whatever they have to do."

So what if I'm not that girl. I'm the best kind of girl.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by your success, or did you always believe it would happen?

I decided to switch my career after I’d been a mystery writer for many years. I decided to write a book with a touch of everything in it. It took my agent two years to find a place for the first Sookie novel; a lot of editors hated it. Finally, he found an editor (John Morgan) at Ace who would take the book. I’m not surprised I’m successful, but I am very surprised by HOW successful I am.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

I’ve had a lot of “ah-ha” moments when I was working on the Sookie books. Since I’m not a great planner, almost every month I have an “ah-ha!” There was the day I realized Sookie had fairy blood, the day I realized why Bill had come to Bon Temps, and the day I realized that Elvis was a vampire.

For you, is writing more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer?

I think more about creation. I love making my own world come alive. I love being the queen of that world with the power of life and death.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

I’ve never thought about this before. The only comparison I can draw is with athletes, who eventually must commit to one sport. If a gifted athlete keeps trying to play several sports, eventually she’ll exhaust herself or incur an injury that will put her on the bench for the whole season.

If I follow that analogy, I think it’s best to select a main focus and only “play” the other ones as entertainment; holidays, if you will.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I’ve certainly had some terrible and destructive things happen to me in my life that I managed to spin into gold. I think the creative force uses what raw materials it has to hand, be they wonderful or awful experiences, and transmits those events into something useful to the writer --- either emotionally or artistically.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Of course I’ve had to deal with people who don’t understand why or how I do what I do. It’s like being a perpetual teenager, some days; perpetually misunderstood and disgruntled about it. However, by reminding myself that I can’t do a lot of things that other people manage with ease, I maintain an even keel most days.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Do you have any advice for those still struggling to make their creative mark? Is there ever a time when it's best to "give up" and find a new focus?

I’m sure there is a time to give up, but I’m never going to tell a struggling artist that he/she should abandon his art. That’s an individual decision, one that has to be based on many factors.

Do you ever wonder if what you're creating or expressing is as meaningful to others as it is to you? How important is that to you with regard to your overall goals?

I don’t care if people get my message or not. I’ve made it, it’s out there to accept or reject or ignore as the reader chooses.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Yes. There are lots of ways to be creative in your everyday life, but not all of these are driven by a specific talent. They’re just imaginative ways to make your life and the lives of those around you more interesting.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

“Women can do whatever they have to do.”

That’s what my mom always told me, and I think she’s right. She’s always felt that women are incredibly strong and resilient (on the whole), because they have to be to get through life – keeping a home running, raising children, and (now) working outside the home, too. My mom was raised in a different, but equally tough, time. I see the truth in that simple statement, and it’s kept me going when I felt like crumpling.

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6527212 April 21, 2010

Just Getting Started: Christine Havrilla


"I've felt energized by my small accomplishments--especially knowing how tough it was to get where I am today."

I stumbled upon my guest today, singer/songwriter Christine Havrilla, in my kitchen while eating a bowl of Cream of Potato Soup and a handful of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos. I usually make my lunch, take it to my office, and eat while I work. However, on the day I ran into Christine, I decided to plant myself in the kitchen for some reason. I turned on the television and began flipping through the channels.

Click. Stupid.
Click. Boring.
Click. Oh, brother.
Click. What the hell?

Click. And there she was on some kind of local programming channel. Her spicy sweet chili-packed voice and lyrics caught my attention. When her performance came to an end and her website address flashed across the screen, I knew I had to find out who this woman was. I absolutely loved her soulful, honest voice and the original song it relayed. Once I read about her and listened to some of the music she's written, I knew she'd be a wonderful addition to Aberration Nation.

And I was right!

Now here she is!

Her story reminds us to take joy in our small accomplishments. Over time, it's easy to grow numb to all the positives in an effort to survive the negatives. If you're like me, you tend to focus on the big picture, the end goal, the shimmering mountain top. Christine's made me realize that I've become highly skilled at squelching away the excitement I used to get from the small wins, those tiny shimmers of hope and support I so desperately needed and appreciated.

The first time an agent called to request a copy of my manuscript, I literally danced through the house. I screamed. I cried myself to sleep with tears of joy. It was as if I'd won the lottery. That was back in 1994, five years after I'd begun writing my first novel. I had no idea about all the twists and turns ahead. I wouldn't have cared anyway. I soaked in that moment of joy and accomplishment for all it was worth. It energized me and reminded me how hard I'd worked and how much it meant to me.

When I was offered the opportunity to write a book for McGraw-Hill, I walked on air for months. Again, I cried. I was going to be in print! Someone was interested in what I had to say. I was legitimized as an author. I knew it was a positive step, regardless of any other stumbling blocks yet to come.

Today when agents or editors love my work, a sad clamp closes across my heart and a little voice whispers, "It probably won't amount to anything. Don't let yourself get too excited." When people send me notes about how much they were moved by my novel, Aberrations, I feel myself shutting down, squelching the joy.

Does this feedback mean any less to me than it did in 1994? Absolutely not.

In fact, it means more to me with each passing year and with each word I write. It's difficult sometimes to explain the toll of surviving ongoing rejection, year after year after year. To walk away from it and keep going, I've become a bit numb. I hate that. I've become like some kind of dark prairie animal who tunnels through the terrain, ignoring the painful bumps and jabs, and also the clear, smooth silky pathways that seem to clear out on their own. It's almost like none of it--the negative or the positive--matters anymore as long as I'm moving forward.

I miss that early joy.

Someday I hope to stick my head up out of the tunnel and realize that I've achieved my goal. Christine has reminded me how much happiness and pride I may be missing by not allowing myself to celebrate all the A-list editors who now know my name and have acknowledged that I'm a talented writer despite not picking up my work; all the fantastic reviews Aberrations has received although it's not flying off the shelves at the moment; and all the people who've so appreciated reading and being highlighted here on Aberration Nation.

Once upon a time, as a twenty-something with low self-esteem, I feared that writing a novel was an impossible feat. It literally felt like an attempt to jump into the stars and fly. I wondered if people would laugh at me if they knew what I did late at night. I didn't tell anyone except my family that I was writing a book for three years.

Now I've written four.

Thanks to Christine, I realize it's time to remember where I started and get busy sucking that positive energy out of all those small accomplishments. I suspect she's just getting started. So am I. Those shimmering mountaintops may be just over the horizon.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?


I picked up a guitar around the age of four and taught myself how to play. I was inspired by my dad who played as well as my aunt, two uncles, great grandfather, and great uncle who all had guitars, mandolins, accordions, drums etc. I was surrounded by a family who loved music! I used to take my guitar to school (I went to catholic school and played in church with the nuns!).

As I was growing up, I always had a friend around to play music with. I finally joined a band and then started my own band doing my own music…As I noticed more and more people coming out to hear us, I wanted to make an album & really go for this “music-thing” that had been pulsing in my veins from an early age. So now I am still making recordings, writing, and touring all over as a full-time musician. I'm not surprised because I knew I was always drawn to that flame of music. I had other interests (sports, drawing, photography) but always came back to music as my main passion!

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

One of the first ones was about two years before my first recording when I realized people were coming out in large numbers to hear my music and support what I was doing. It hit me and touched me in a way that has made such a difference as far as really going for it. The fact that there was a very cool connection happening at shows made me feel like I was right where I was supposed to be.

As far as my current creative focus--that concept seems funny at times because I'm finding myself creating three different kinds of projects right now and not always having an easy time focusing. It is not a bad thing because I am still creating. I believe I'm gearing up for an “a-ha” moment very soon that will help me decide which direction to go!

For you, is music more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a singer/songwriter?

My music is both. Yes, I create songs; however, I feel as though it is just as important how I am expressing it to an audience. A piece of work can be made, a song can be written … but there is more passion when it's being expressed from my heart and gut. To me, one does not dominate over the other. To be a singer/songwriter you need a song to tell your story and if you can tell it in a way that people see and hear the passion behind it, it will make much more of an impact.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

I do believe an artist can be drawn to different types of creative outlets, but if you're giving 110% to a certain project, it should be your main focus and commitment. It should be sucking the life out of you. That is what propels me to want it and want to get somewhere with a new project. It works because it “matters” in a extreme way.

I do also find that mixing it up and finding another creative outlet can help you express yourself in a new way. It may help you see from another perspective and then that relate back to your main project.

The other issue I sometimes face while working on a song is that I end up getting ideas for a new song and then take a right turn. I eventually go back to the main song I was trying to work on. There are times when I just let myself be taken in a different direction by my music and ideas. It's great to see where it leads!

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Being creative and wanting to follow my heart and gut to be a musician has led me down a road that is different from others who might have chosen a “safer” path. Yes, this may have lead to aberrations in life but, in the long run, getting through those struggles and really getting over the huge mountains that were laid before me (I put them there sometimes) has turned out to be highly rewarding. I've felt energized by my small accomplishments--especially knowing how tough it was to get where I am today.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Yes, I've had a few people in my life who may not have understood to the fullest extent what my passion for music is and why I must do what I do. I knew I could never convince them or make them see through my eyes so I had to slowly weed out some people from my life who were negative or trying to bring me down. Now it's all good. However, I will say that when challenged by people, you need to try to understand their motives. It may not be as simple as a failure to support you.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

Many creative people never achieve their dreams but it's the pursuit of these dreams that keep up creativity and the ability to continuously challenge ourselves. I still have goals that I want to achieve but fortunately have been blessed by many accomplishments along the way that nudge me to keep going! I'm thankful that I've been able to do what I absolutely love and have had songs in films, won awards and grants, recorded albums, played amazing shows with bigger names and have also played at amazing venues. However, I DO want more! I want to continue all of this and reach out to larger audiences.

Do you ever wonder if what you're creating or expressing is as meaningful to others as it is to you? How important is that to you with regard to your overall goals? If you've created something that purely expresses who you are, is that enough, or is the circle only completed when someone else says that you understand them or how they feel?

I create a song with a story in mind or something that inspired it. When I share it with an audience, it can land on them as the way I see it or they can totally have their own interpretation of it. I'm satisfied if a song can “move” someone and there is a connection. At the end of the day, I don't need people to “get” me or my music to feel complete. When I can finish a song that is one satisfying feeling. When it goes over well, that is the second. If it compels someone to write in to tell me about how much it touched them and how life-changing it was for them, then that is the most amazing feeling there is!

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I do believe there is a difference between being “creative” and being “talented.” If you can have both, that is amazing!

I know some musicians who can read music and play any song you lay in front of them; however, they can't create a song of their own from scratch. They are very talented musicians, but maybe not as creative.

For me, just playing a song is not enough. Getting back to the point I made about “HOW” you play a song, I feel that if you are creative and can write a song that is one thing. If you can write the song and then be talented enough to express it in the best possible way, there you have the collaboration of the two working for you.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

There is an Emerson quote I love that says, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." Those words always grounds me and remind me that no matter what great thing I've done, here I am now. No matter what is going to come, here I am NOW. What I've learned inside is more important that what I've accomplished. I try to take that with me and be “present” for every show and every moment. It's sometimes difficult, but a challenge I will always take on.

I also have a motto about music being, “How you sing … and how you play it.” I never want to go through the motions.

The last thing is that I will try any music experience once to see how it goes. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by how amazing it is when I originally thought it was something to pass up.

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6527212 April 06, 2010

Hope Can Set You Free: Antwone Fisher

"What are the stereotypes? I know so many creative people who are so vastly different."

Since January I've interviewed an overflowing handful of gifted folks. Perhaps those few fail to statistically represent all creatives but hopefully they provide insight into the hearts and minds of this fascinating group.

Unfortunately, one thing I've learned through the exercise is that I'm as guilty as the next guy of having a few preconceived notions about creatives. There are certainly many similarities yet, in reality, there exist vast differences.

One of the main variations that stands out for me is childhood experience. Not every creative person had a difficult, tough, or downright tragic childhood. I continue to wonder how having such a start has molded many of us, and how that might impact the innate creativity we have. Yet I see more and more that we're all unique.

In the end, perhaps it comes down to:

  • How we experience life, whatever our world may be
  • How we breath stimuli in, assess it, and assimilate it into who we are
  • What we take from our experiences and what we ultimately seek to give
Perhaps it's a breathtaking, complex mix of genetics and destiny that brings us together.

My guest today, Antwone Fisher, has a remarkable story. When I read his memoir, Finding Fish, it instantly jumped onto my short list of favorites. I fell in love with it not only because his story is so inspiring but also due to the way he expresses it--the way he relays his experiences and how he shows us who he was and who he became. In 2002, despite his lack of notoriety, Antwone's story managed to emerge as a powerful movie that marked the directorial debut of Denzel Washington.

I wasn't surprised.

Many of us have demons that vary in shape, size, density, etc. whether from the bowels of childhood or from more recent adult experiences--aberrations we long to forget. Yet often they ultimately drive us forward. Antwone's story and his ongoing courage expresses the very heart of Aberration Nation.

In reading his responses, I sense that he has done the work of forgiving and letting go. Now he marches on to the beat of his own personal drum, which seems to ring out with a tune of quiet strength.

His new book, A Boy Should Know How to Tie a Tie, will be released on April 20th. I can't wait to read it. I'm sure that whatever Antwone has to share about succeeding in life is valuable not only for boys, but also for me and you.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? How did you end up where you are today? Are you surprised by where you are, or
did you always see it coming?

I was born to an incarcerated teen mother and placed in foster care until she was to claim me. She never did. My father died two months before I was born and neither family (my mother's or my father's) knew that I existed.

In the foster home, I endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse and as an adult, I had to learn to overcome the anger I had as a result of how I was treated as a child. I have lived my life day by day so I am not surprised by where I am nor did I see it coming.

It all happened gradually and with lots of work.

With regard to your current focus in life, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

When I was a teen, I was emancipated from foster care and I ended up homeless. At one point, I went to live with the daughter of my foster mother and I realized I was right back where I started, so I had to do something about it.

I went back to being homeless, then I saw a sign that read, "Join the Navy and see The World." It changed my life.

What are your thoughts on the stereotypes that creative people sometimes fall into?

What are the stereotypes? I know so many creative people who are so vastly different.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

My creativity, my imagination, my ability to reason is what has saved me and helped me endure.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

No, I have been surrounded by people who have always encouraged my creativity.

So far, the majority of those I've interviewed about creativity say that the internal question of, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" has never crossed their mind. Is this true for you? Am I the only one who has, at times, wondered if I'm just kidding myself?

I have always been an artist in some way. I thought I would become a paint important paintings, but now I paint with words. I never thought of myself as anything other than a creative person.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

I dream of directing great films. I started thinking about that a few years ago. I just finished the editing on a short film that I wrote and directed. So ... I can't imagine that I won't direct films in the future.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. Is there one method or way that you get most of your ideas, and if so, can you describe that? If not, can you tell us a little bit about how your mind works?

Many of my inspired thoughts come from music, but I also get ideas from being outside and feeling the breeze cross my face. The ocean inspires me. After all, I am a sailor.

What are the top three characteristics highly creative people need to be successful, in your opinion?

I need a clutter-free work environment, the belief that I can do or say anything and pull back later if I must and the freedom to dream.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

A quote from the Shawshank Redemption movie poster, "Fear Can Hold you Prisoner; Hope Can Set You Free."

The thought allows me to get over any apprehension I may have.

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6527212 March 17, 2010

Disciplined Dreamer: Melissa Walker

"It's discipline--not the muse--that gets the work done."

I strive to be stay focused and exercise discipline. I make lists and enjoy crossing off the items as they're accomplished. When I worked full time in the pharmaceutical industry, my daily list was usually two pages long. There was so much to do! If I stopped for even a moment, I'd fail. I couldn't "do it tomorrow" because I knew morning would bring a brand new list my way.

I got a heck of a lot done! I also watched a lot of life pass me by. I lacked the time and energy needed to reach out and grab it.

Now that I'm writing and painting full time, my basic to-do list has shriveled.

It's more like:

1) Email
2) Write blog entry and post
3) Paint
5) Write novel
4) Fold and put away laundry

I often break a few of these down into much more detailed lists, but overall, it's still shorter than it was when I was: working as global director at Johnson & Johnson; raising a teenager and a toddler; working on a Master's Degree; writing a novel on the side; finding time for my husband, etc. That took tenacity, gumption, dedication, organization, and discipline!

So now that I have more time, I often feel like I'm in slow motion. It's a strange phenomenon. Sometimes having all the time in the world isn't quite the great medicine you thought it would be. The feeling of "I can do it tomorrow" sucks the life right out of you--if you lack discipline. And as my guest today, author and journalist Melissa Walker, points out, discipline is needed to bring creativity to life.

Leaving the corporate world was a huge adjustment for me, especially in terms of the writing. For nearly twenty years, I dreamed of being at home writing. Forced to carve out time, I wrote at lunch and pediatric waiting rooms. I wrote at 1:00 in the morning and while waiting in line to pick up my cheerleading daughter.

I got used to it; I adapted. Now that I'm sitting at home with nothing to do but write, it's somehow more difficult to get started. I won't say that I have writer's block, yet something is holding me back. I've written about 10,000 words on my new novel when I should have written 20,000 (according to my list).

Melissa has kindly reminded me that no matter what your situation may be, discipline remains key to seeing the work move out of your head and into your hands.

I'm giving myself a sharp slap on the wrist. Once this is posted, I'm working on that novel!

Thanks Melissa!

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I always wanted to write. I banged out my first story, "The Very Vain Cloud," on my parents' typewriter at age six or so.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I enjoy visual arts also--I love contemplating cover designs of books and thinking about colors, fonts, shapes, etc. But the truth is, that's just for fun. I don't think I have talent in that area. Writing is my real focus.

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I think creative people dream more, and that's a good thing!

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I believe being creative has both caused some aberrations (just the fact that I don't have a traditional paycheck, for one) and helped me deal with some too. The idea of working in an office all day is an aberration to me--I knew that from the first year after I graduated from college and I set about trying to be sure I could find a career that wouldn't insist upon that. Writing pointed me in the right direction and showed me a job I could do on my own time, in my own way.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I haven't, really. I've been lucky. My parents were always very encouraging of my dream of becoming a writer, and I think that's why I'm sitting in my pink flowered writing chair today.

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

Oh yes! I can't distinguish any talent. I just wing it and hope against hope that I've put up enough smoke and mirrors to make someone think I can do this writing work. I think all writers are insecure that way. At least, that's what I hear.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How did (or do) you cope with disappointments? What motivated you to keep going, to not give up?

I struggle with this regularly. I think everyone has ups and downs, but rolling with them instead of fighting them is important. Also: Do what you love. Then even if success feels far away, you're enjoying the journey.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

I outline. I put on music. I watch TV. I take walks. My mind circles the whole time and then I sit down to work. It's really the sitting down to work that does it. It's discipline--not the muse--that gets the work done.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

I don't know about everyone but I feel that my creativity comes from:

1. Being a big dreamer

2. Watching the world around me closely

3. Reading anything and everything I can get my hands on.

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

I think fear of failure gets in our way a lot. If something's unfinished, you don't have to show it to anyone and you don't have to risk rejection. But getting something done? That's a step toward the scary process of giving it to the world. It's terrifying!___________________________________________


Next Week: Kevin O'Hanlan, Photographer/Filmmaker and New York Gallery Owner

Also watch for NEW questions on creativity in upcoming interviews.

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