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Penelope Przekop October 02, 2015

Chasing Love is Like Chasing Your Own Tail

I came across this on Facebook today. So true! I learned it the hard way, and then wrote a book about it ... Please Love Me

The good news is that with determination, we can learn and grow from all our relationships and experience. I sure did; I will never forget the boy that broke my heart while I was breaking his. I'm so thankful I went on to have such a wonderful, fantastic husband ... going on...

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6527212 September 14, 2013

All is Write With the World

For these books, I have dug floppy disks out of corporate trash dumpsters (long story); re-typed nearly 100,000 words due to computer crashes; spent hours and hours on research; endured rejection after rejection; cried; and labored, driven by my unflinching belief that it was important.

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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 January 27, 2011

Beautiful Alien: Emily Lisker

"I always knew I was a Martian of sorts."

About ten years ago, my brother, my mother, and I had a conversation about high school.  My brother commented about how everyone around him seemed to be from another planet--not his.  Then my mother went on to describe similar perceptions.

I sat, quietly, choosing not to offer up my own story.  Doing so seemed as if it would somehow belittle my own memories. Listening to them, I wondered if every teenager feels that way, or if we simply were different as a family, that maybe we shared certain oddities due to our genetic code.

I felt sad that I failed to realize during those years that my brother, who is just over a year my senior, was feeling so much like I was.  We somehow missed a valuable opportunity to connect and find some solace within the family. We were lonely together and lonely apart.

After all these years, I'm not convinced that every teenager feels like an alien.  Perhaps they do for a moment, a day, or even weeks at a time.  For some of us, it has been a lifetime.  Like my guest today, artist Emily Lisker, I've learned " ... to counterbalance. My whole body is my antenna, it's very intense physically and sensually to be a human on this earth. I try not to push my emotional limits, instead I try to live like a farmer, early to bed, early to rise, fertilizing and nurturing my crops."

In my non-scientific research into the hearts and souls of creatives, I've noticed that more artists than writers have relayed this feeling of being alien.  I've always thought of myself as a writer, first and foremost; however, I can say without any hesitation that I grew up feeling like the biggest, brightest alien in the Universe. I was an avatar, creeping around inside an unfamiliar body.

I recognized my alien nature as young as 4 or 5 years old.  I knew I was different.  My major flawed assumption was: Something is wrong with me!  I held onto that belief for years.  It guided my early life, creating a self fulfilling prophesy.  I also assumed that I was different for a reason, and that became my great counterbalance. My dream in life was to find that reason.

Everyone is different.  Each person is unique and to be celebrated. I absolutely believe that.  It may be politically incorrect to say so, but some people are significantly different in various ways.  They are outliers on the graph of what's normal.  Some of us realize early that we are dangling on a bell curve tail.

I've never met Emily. I can't tell you where she actually fits on the curve.  All I know is that she gets it. I suspect that I could sit with her and describe my life, and she would get it. More and more I question the significance of my realization that most of the artists I interview seem to get it more than the writers. What does that mean about me, and where I'm headed?

I will always be a writer, but I'm becoming an artist.  It feels right.

What's your story (in a nutshell)?

I was from a family of artists in Westchester, New York. My parents and step-parents were in different aspects of advertising. I ran away from home, first to Brooklyn and then Chinatown in NYC, then finally to Providence RI at age 17. I worked odd jobs, then enrolled at the RI School of Design and studied painting, literature, and photography. After graduation I became a freelance illustrator for magazines, newspapers, theater productions, children's books, etc. Eventually I decided it was time to make paintings.

How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist?

I got hooked on drawing and painting as a young child, and never stopped. I had a lot of artistic confidence by the time I graduated from college, and then got lucky landing a lot of illustration work right away. Editorial illustration disappeared with the advent of the computer, so I started over with children's books. In publishing, though, you don't so much establish an artistic record as establish a sales record, and I became weary of that attitude. So I started over again, trying to establish myself as a painter. I'm 50 now, and I have a respectable local reputation. Thanks to the Internet, I got hooked on publishing my words and paintings online, and that has certainly increased my audience.

I've seen a lot of strange art in galleries, as well as more traditional pieces. How do you define great art? Is it more about the technique or emotion? What the heck is it about?

Art can be a pyramid of tomato cans in an Italian grocery store - it's about vision, not about the art object. Inspiration for that vision comes from all places. I have no idea how to define great art and I'm not sure I could for another person. I just know that I am constantly engaged in making art, and it comes out through all of my senses and pores. I exercise my receptivity - the more avenues I have to express my vision, the deeper and more widespread my receptivity. If you are doing your work your appetite increases.

But the vision has to be true. There can be no falseness, no compromise. I recently saw art that moved me and changed my life because it was visionary, and it was sincere. You can smell the slightest insincerity. The artist in this case was self-taught, his craft exquisite, but it was his vision, the truth of it, that made for greatness in my eyes.

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

I believe we must counter the forces in our schools and our society that say unless you are THE BEST at something, you are not allowed. Imagine if everyone shared their food and played music with their neighbors and walked everywhere, rather than hiding in their pod cars and houses, hiding behind computer screens? Yes, I am a dreamer and an idealist, but this belief is very meaningful to me. I worry about a society that is not stressing the vital importance of making music, art, poetry as part of daily life. Don't give creating over to the celebrities! Embrace it, love it, encourage it in each other! It's about engaging in life in this moment and all moments. Be alive! Live!

For you, is making art more about creation or expression? It can be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

I'm not sure I know the difference between creation and expression, or, maybe for me there is no difference. My imagination is like a wild horse that needs daily runs, a stall, hay, and carrots. My imagination must be used, otherwise I get stuck on worrying and making myself miserable. I call creating the opening of the ziti. I open, I receive, something moves through me, I visit another planet, I look over the edge at the abyss. What comes of that is my expression. I never really know what that will be, and it isn't really the point. The creative energies will turn to disease if they are not harnessed and expressed.

Many artists focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I wouldn't know anything about career development, or the development of style. My audience tells me that I have a distinct style, but it's not what I focus on. When I am painting, I first sketch freely on canvas until an image strikes me as being something I'd like to develop further. Certain images may come up repeatedly in a batch of paintings, then over time new obsessions take over. I never run out of ideas. Its a bit like how I write. I write spontaneously in longhand, and stuff jumps out at me to develop. Then I write, standing at my computer and moving words around.

What I take in from reading and looking worms its way into my imagination while I walk and sleep, and things develop unconsciously. Visually I've developed a language, a style, which evolves naturally and organically through regular visits to the studio. I don't worry about it. My vocabulary is always evolving. I had a fabulous art teacher in high school. She used to show us slides from art history, not letting us draw or paint right away until we'd filled up, bursting to express. I still do this. When researching to solve illustration jobs I always load up on imagery. Now my writing makes me hunger for reading ten books at once. As I play the sax I hear everything more, just like drawing makes you see more.

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 had to look up aberration to help me with this one.

1. A deviation from the proper or expected course. A deviation from what is normal, expected, or usual.

2. A departure from the normal or typical (aberrations from the norm).

3. Psychology A disorder or abnormal alteration in one's mental state.

I guess I can relate to all of it. When people admire my imagination and humor, they see me as crazy, in a fun way. When they see the truth behind what I do, they are terrified. That is the artist's role, to be the fool, the jester, and also the prophet, the myth maker. I am actually very non-crazy. I continually try to ground myself through writing, walking my dog for miles each day, baking bread, washing my clothes. I have always had a delicate chemistry that can carry me up, up, and away. So rather than fly off like a rocket I have learned to counterbalance. My whole body is my antenna, it's very intense physically and sensually to be a human on this earth. I try not to push my emotional limits, instead I try to live like a farmer, early to bed, early to rise, fertilizing and nurturing my crops.

I guess you are asking about crazy artist syndrome. I do see the world from the ceiling as if I were dangling from a swinging chandelier, and this is helpful for my art. As a child I noticed the differences, for example, between myself and my older, more conventional sister. I figured some part of my brain had melted from the ether I was given during my tonsillectomy. My husband says no, silly, you were born this way. Biologically I am blessed with a sensitive temperament, moodiness, and all sorts of stuff I've had to befriend and ultimately respect. I've needed to figure myself out. Read, read, read, hunt down books at the library! Libraries are the churches of my heart.

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does writing soothe or inspire you? Is it therapeutic in any way?

Totally. I started writing as suicide prevention. I tell this to everyone because it was that bad, and writing worked to lift me up S-L-O-W-L-Y one word at a time. When I wanted to build my own guillotine to chop off my head, my friend Susan said to me, "Try writing." When I started keeping a journal, I actually went to the window to make sure there wasn't someone there to shoot me for writing. That's when I knew I should keep writing, that writing was important, and that I had things to say.

Painting grabbed me at age 12, especially when my step-father introduced me to an amazing painter who was exhibiting in a Soho sidewalk sale. But it worried my parents when I was in high school that I was chasing poets, not boys. I still would prefer being in my studio or walking my dog or dancing in my living room to Brave Combo than being most anywhere else. The poets are my heroes, they are our national treasures, our royalty. I look to them to understand my job.

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? 

Only my husband and fellow artists REALLY understand me to the core. People are either frightened, entertained, or recognize me as a fellow traveler. Mostly they are frightened. I have taken the word friend out of my vocabulary. It gets me in trouble. I have acquaintances, pals, audience. I do not generally hang out with people.

It has been crucial for me to recognize that I can support my drive without apology. I've never had a huge desire to be normal, or to fit in, or be cool (perhaps I knew it was impossible!) so in this way I have been extremely lucky. I see many people get caught up and distracted by this need. I always knew I was a Martian of sorts. I was also lucky that my few high school friends were poets. I didn't suffer peer damage but I did suffer family tribal damage.

How did I deal with it? I ran away to a safe place, and I sank into my art. Nothing else worked. I couldn't drink or take drugs, they've never helped. I still loathe parties. I now think I was lucky in this way. My life is still beginning anew each day. I am excited that I will be teaching art again to high school students. That was a crucial age for me growing up. Having mentors and adult artists in my life helped me envision a path. So I'm excited about being part of this for students now.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

I am drawn to work, to communicate, and I am drawn to the solitude I need in order to do so. As a kid it was because I had a crush on this artist or that poet, etc. But now I am motivated to communicate in both a personal and creative sense. My ideas come from feeding myself food, literally and metaphorically: imagery, story, music, but also getting out each day walking, and really sleeping well at night too. All of this ferments in the brain and the magic is how it comes out. I love what Ray Bradbury said, "Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way."

He also said:

"If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories - science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world."

Isn't that wonderful? That's how I feel.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

I'm not sure I can be the judge of that. Perhaps it's about having a particular vision or take on things. I know that when an artist has affected me I don't see the world the same way again. Last night I read Haywire, a book of poetry by George Bilgere. This morning at five AM I woke up from a dream and raced to my desk to get down the words inspired by the book. His poems had been messing with my head while I was asleep, and I am grateful. This happens a lot when you eat good poetry, art, music.

A few months ago I saw the art of Stephen Huneck. I had my library find a book of his art, and I spent all night reading about him and looking at his art. My life has been forever changed. When I first heard Brave Combo's music, I sobbed I loved it so much, and felt I had wasted my whole life not being a musician. So I began playing music. Obviously their music released something important in me. Years ago I read The Fire Eaters by Bill Cobb, and I was forever changed. I had to write!

I love to write fan letters. It's a habit that started when I was 13 and wrote to some of the illustrators my step-father represented. He was their agent, and I would bring home samples of their work and study them. I often got to meet them in their studios. It is so important for kids to meet artists. Still to this day I write thank you notes to poets and musicians and playwrights whose art has affected me. I am actually shy, so letter-writing is how I converse. I never expect a reply, but I have had lovely experiences corresponding with some of them. And once in a while what I am doing interests them, too, and then it's a lucky love-fest.

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

Communicate! Connect! Envision, all through your art! I guess I am communing with life when I engage in these things. Now that I am fifty I want to make sure I pass along the enthusiasm to the ones in my community just starting. I write, I paint, I play music, and I need to do it all, to keep dancing! My name means emulate, and perhaps that is what I do. I try everything in the banquet of life.

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6527212 December 29, 2010

Blue Man Rising: Scott Heydt

"My previous employer failed to appreciate and understand my creative personality, interests, and drive."

When I went to bed last night my throat was a bit scratchy.  I woke up this morning feeling terrible.  I'm sick. My head hurts. My ears hurt. My throat hurts. My back aches. I'm congested and tired.  Sitting here writing this, I'm also sick of editors not falling in love with my novels; not having enough hours in the day to do all that I'd like to do; and a mother who somehow manages with almost every word (whether intentional or not) to make me feel guilty for who I am.

I've had it!

On the other hand, tonight I'm going with my family to see The Blue Man Group in Philly. I'm also starting a new job in the pharmaceutical industry on Monday.  I have a great husband and two wonderful kids.  I have a roof over my head, and plenty to eat.  Life is good!  I feel better than I did twenty years ago, ten years ago, and even three years ago.  I'm still evolving into the person I was born to be, and it feels awesome.

My guest today is Scott Heydt, a young man I met a few years ago at a book signing event.  My youngest daughter and I read his book, O.Y.L. together, and we both loved it.  He's an excellent writer who I've seen go through some ups and downs recently. But he keeps moving toward his goals, following his passion.  I so admire that and am honored to have him on Aberration Nation.

In his interview below, he writes about an employer who didn't understand his creative personality. I've been there. In my situation, even with great yearly reviews and successes, I felt that I wasn't quite 100% there.  Something was missing.  As fate would have it, I had the opportunity to take a few years off to focus on my creative endeavors.  During that time, I wrote two additional novels and began painting. 

What I learned, and what I believe Scott has learned, is that life goes on and that in the end, we must be true to ourselves to find our best self.  I'm still finding mine. I'm headed back to the pharmaceutical industry within a week, and I'm optimistic that I'll bring my best self to the new job. Over the last three years, I've gained confidence by pulling together the scattered pieces I longed for--the pieces I thought I had to hide, subdue, and disguise to be successful in the corporate world.  They are all here now, front and center, along with all the more traditional aspects of success I honed over years of hard work.

I'm thinking a lot now about what I want to do next with my writing.  I have three novels circulating with editors.  I'm in transition again with regard to agents.  I'm discovering the world of electronic publishing.  The good news is that over the last three years I've gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my creative abilities, and I will without a doubt carry on the dream that took spark so many years ago.

As a little girl, trying to soothe a screaming mommy, imagining all the dark, scary demons she saw around us, I knew that it was all happening for a reason.  I was born blue, and all that angst and stress deepened the shade. But somehow I knew that the reason for it all would ultimately be something positive.  I'm still reaching for that promise.  The screaming is no longer part of my life.  The demons have fled, but I still remember them.  In the end, if the reason is as simple as the ability to now feel true joy on a day such as this--filled with an aching body, a pounding head, and underlying rejection (of my creative work)--I will gladly take it.  That feeling of happiness alone is all I ever wanted.

Scott says, "Writing makes me hyper-sensitive to my life and my surroundings ..." He wonders if I consider that an aberration.  Yes, I do.  But those of us who find positive ways to channel that sensitivity are lucky. Now I know that being blue is a gift.

Tonight as I watch those larger than life blueberry guys beating drums of vivid, splashing color, I will celebrate my past, present, and future.  Aches, pains, rejection, and all ...

What's your writing story (in a nutshell)?

Six years ago, my extracurricular life consisted of marathon running. When several injuries requiring surgery sidelined my running career, I used my recovery time on the couch to write. This first literary surge since college produced my first novel, O.Y.L. Running still plays an important role in my life, but now shares equal time with my passion for writing.

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

My current creative focus involves teenage brain
growth and building relationships. This first nonfiction venture evolved during the final year of my Masters degree work at Duquesne University. I’ve read so many books about the teenage brain geared toward parents and teachers, but few address the brain’s owner—the teen. Gray Matters: Build a Relationship With Your Teenage Brain is a guide for teenagers to harness their powerful, changing brain through practical, relationship-building tips.

Have you had any set backs that you can tell us about, and if so, how did you manage to keep moving forward?

In 2009, an independent press awarded my second novel, Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken, an honorable mention in its first annual contest. Soon after, the same press offered a contract for publication. For nearly a year, I edited, created a book-specific website, and pre-promoted. One month before my publication date, I learned of deceptive and illegal practices within the company. Since then I’ve regained the manuscript rights and will now publish through my original publisher, Helm Publishing. Trust since then hasn’t been easy, but I have renewed hope with every word I write.

You write books for kids. Is that what you've always wanted to do, and if so, why? Will that continue to be your focus moving forward?

I’ll admit, I read young adult and middle grade fiction more than I read adult fiction. This not only keeps me current with my young students (I teach as well), but it keeps me knowledgeable about the genre I enjoy. I doubt I’ll ever stray from writing for kids, although I have a stronger gravitation toward young adult fiction and nonfiction the more I hone my craft.

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?

Writing makes me hyper-sensitive to my life and my surroundings (if you consider hyper-sensitivity an aberration). The highs and lows are more substantial when I consider how I might turn my emotions to words or transfer events in my life to story. I wouldn’t trade this sensitivity, though, because it makes me a passionate and caring individual.

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does writing sooth or inspire you? Is it therapeutic in any way?

While I certainly find writing therapeutic, this question is best turned on its head—the difficult and challenging times in my life sooth and inspire my writing.

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?

My previous employer failed to appreciate and understand my creative personality, interests, and drive. While I loved my co-workers, I knew that to compromise my drive is to compromise my values. With my wife’s support, I chose to leave that position. Since then I have joined ranks with several close friends and colleagues that share my creative personality and drive: the difference is indescribable.

Do you think there is a difference between creativity and talent? What are your thoughts on this?

I believe the two work in tandem, creativity acting as the accelerant for talent. I can write creative sentences day after day, but unless I can work tirelessly to weave those sentences in a unique way, I’ll never develop talent. Sure, some creativity and talent is inborn, but the majority (especially of talent) comes from hard work and dedication.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it? Where do most of your ideas come from? 

I draw my ideas from life. Wherever I go, my writer’s notebook is not far beyond reach. I don’t stalk, but I do people watch. If you’re observant, twenty minutes in a crowded mall or restaurant can transform into 100 manuscript pages.

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

My mantra is “Live, Learn, Teach.” Education is my life. I must live fully, learn from my relationships and experiences, then pass along that knowledge in service of others.

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6527212 September 24, 2009

Following the Carrot: My Writing Life

... I'm nothing at all without the writing. Without truth, my truth, the only truth I know, it's all a gambol in the pasture without rhythm or sense. It's empty. God gave it to me (so help me, Deist or no, I believe that!) and I can't cheat myself or you or them or anyone by not doing it the best way I know how. --Harlan Ellison
I had a dream last night that my skin kept peeling, literally ripping apart. No matter how many times they stitched it up, it kept splitting. It didn't hurt, yet I knew that without something cohesive to hold it together, I couldn't survive. Writing is a bit like that for me. Things keep splitting, bursting out, and without an avenue to hold it all together, to make it mean something concrete, it overwhelms me. That's when I feel most lost. So I keep writing, year after year, agent after agent, rejection after rejection, assuming there's a purpose, a plan, and that there will be an ultimate outcome.
There are times when I want to rip my skin to shreds and dance through life unfettered by rules, pressure, publishers, and readers. I wish I didn't care about those things, but I do. Some people write because they simply enjoy it. They don't care if anyone reads it, how it sounds, what it means. That's not me. I've always been one to set goals and drive toward them like a donkey after a carrot. Sometimes it's torturous. I'm trying to squelch an insatiable hunger. I think a lot about where that hunger comes from. Am I like an actor who longs for applause night after night? Am I emotionally wounded and therefore need constant reassurance? Am I vain? Or do I just have an unending need to find myself, and the only place I seem to truly be is embedded in a series of words splashed across my computer? Whatever it is, it's been there for a long time. It was there before I realized my life was flawed, or that I was anything more than a little girl with giant pigtails. I meet, read, and hear about tons of writers who have all sorts of reasons for writing. I wonder if they feel like I do. When I see all the books at the bookstore, I wonder, and it makes me sad that life is filled with hoops we must jump through to be heard. There are so many of us, each with so much to say. So how do a few rise above the crowd and get the attention needed to make it to The New York Times Bestseller List? Did they run faster after their carrot? Did someone hand them a carrot? Or did they compromise and ditch their glowing carrot for sloppy seconds (the market)? I sit here today in an orange shirt--of all things--wondering if I should eventually give up? I'm 43 years old. If 40 is the new 20, maybe I have a few more years ... This week I met a writer, Sandra Carey Cody, who began writing at 50. Avalon has published three of her novels. I also read an article about James Michener, who wrote his first novel at 40. Cougar Town and Courtney Cox are hip. And to top it off, I just heard that Phyllis Whitney (who died in 2008), wrote her last book, Amethyst Dreams, at age 92, and began writing an autobiography at age 102. Wow! So here I am with another finished novel in my hands ... staring at the carrot. This is my creative journey ( with babies and degrees mixed in) from 1988 through today (21 years): Graduated from college Had a baby and got married Moved to the Northeast Started Pharmaceutical career After reflecting on the Deep South and my childhood, began writing first novel, Boundaries After ~ 5 years, finished Boundaries Signed with first literary agent Hit Manager-level in Pharma First literary agent passed away unexpectedly Began second novel, Aberrations Had another baby Wrote Six Sigma for Business Excellence for McGraw-Hill Hit Director-level in Pharma Finished Master's Degree After ~ 8 years, finished Aberrations Continued to edit Boundaries Signed with second literary agent Second literary agent decided to go into entertainment law Self-published Aberrations Aberrations picked up by Greenleaf Book Group and re-launched Continued to edit Boundaries Signed with Planned TV Arts (A-list Publicity Firm) Took step back from Pharma career to focus on writing Launched blog, Aberration Nation Began painting Signed with third literary agent Began writing third novel, Centerpieces Awarded honorary degree in publishing by third literary agent After ~1 year, finished Centerpieces After ~2 years of painting, my work included in major EU exhibit Began research for fourth novel, Dust Waiting .... In this economy, trying to sell an unknown author is like selling ice to Eskimos. My husband says that in time the ice will melt, and I'll be ready. It would be foolish to give up now. I had another skin dream a couple of years ago. In that one, my skin was too large, dripping and dragging around me. I pulled and tugged it around, expending all my energy just to get from point a to point b. I was nothing more than a blob of flesh. During the dream, I grew inside, slowly filling the bag that had so painfully trapped me. Eventually my shape took form, and I ran. Phyllis Whitney said, “Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too). Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.” ... or taste that elusive carrot. To read more about my writing life, also see: Author Karen Harrington Interviews Penelope Bookish Ruth Interviews Penelope DeAnna Cameron: The Business of Books with Novelist Penelope Przekop

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6527212 June 16, 2009

NOTE TO ... The Oprah Magazine

I don't believe in coincidences. To lean on an overused analogy, the details of my life create an endless, jumbled mess like the back of a giant tapestry. I see life that way. Perhaps that's one of the attributes that make me a writer.

So what's the coincidence, you ask?

Well, I promised myself I'd refrain from too much reading over the summer, and instead devote the time to finishing my fourth book. Like Oprah, my specialty is recovering from perpetual failure and using those dips in life to creatively propel myself forward. Last week, I kicked off my failing spree by reading Newsweek, which happened to have the article about Oprah's support of questionable medical practices, theories, and practitioners. So I had Oprah on the brain when I quickly went through three novels: A Room with a View by E. M. Forster, Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen, and The Hours by Michael Cunningham. How's that for a wagon fall?

Later in the week, I found myself at the Rochester, New York airport looking for another magazine. And there was Oprah, looking coy behind a yellow book on the cover of her very own rag. Since I had her on my mind, I couldn't resist taking a quick look to see what the newly crowned medical kook lover might be dishing out this month. Low and behold, there he was--Michael Cunningham! And of course, since I don't believe in coincidences, I had to buy the magazine.

Despite what anyone might say about Oprah's occasional lack of solid medical experts, her magazine hits home for its target audience. In this issue, I found out how I can toss out my blow dryer and still look awesome. I got advice on dressing ten pounds slimmer and on what books to read this summer (oh boy ...). Then, to top it off, your article, Castles in the Mind, provided a glimpse into the minds of three writers who are actually damn good at it.

I enjoyed reading what Jim Shepard, Toni Morrison, and Michael Cunningham had to say in response to the question of whether or not writing is hard. As a writer, I identified with all that they said, but having just read The Hours, I was particularly drawn to Cunningham's thoughts on the matter. Turns out, his were the most relevant for me these days. He brilliantly captured the emotional yen and yang of the writer's life.

I love writing, but it was particularly torturous for me last week. The words came, but once again, they were not the words that one important woman in my life wanted to read. I've cried many a tear over this woman and her never ending opinions of me, my life, and my future.

It ... just ... so ... happens that another book I read recently was Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. Interestingly, in this book, he writes:

"Sometimes I fear to write, even in fictional form, about things that really happened to me, about things that I really did, or about the numerous unattractive, cruel, or embarrassing thoughts that I have at one time or another entertained. Just as often, I find myself writing about disturbing or socially questionable acts and states of mind that have no real basis in my life at all, but which, I am afraid, people will quite naturally attribute to me when they read what I have written."

Chabon's comments bring to mind another risk writers face--judgment. Over the last year and a half, I've written here about topics that were taboo in the deep Southern culture from wince I came. Straws were building against me, I suppose. Just before I picked up the Newsweek article on Oprah, my mother decided to inform me, via a strong email, that she is ending all contact with me and my family based on how far apart we are in our thinking. According to her, she has "read enough."

It's interesting to me how, even as adults, our parents can continue to gut us at the core even when logic tells us we're stronger than that. She has managed to add insult to the very wounds the process of writing has slowly healed through the years. The very talent that renews me has now placed me in the firing line of the one who taught (or gave) me the ability to stand for something. Oh, the ironies of life ...

I appreciate how Castles in the Mind provided a mainstream avenue for Shepard, Morrison, and Cunningham to express themselves on the difficulties and joys of writing. In his piece, Cunningham writes:

"A surprising number of people--I'd put the number as high as 50% of the American population--believe they could write a good novel if they just had the time. The figures are surely lower when we move to whatever cohort of the population thinks they could, and quite possibly will, become neurosurgeons or firefighters once things quiet down a bit, and the kids are in college."

The acknowledgment I found in your pages was comforting given the severing events of my week. The true writer carries with him a unique nature and heart. (And perhaps no one truly cares except for those who must live with and love us.) I may not be famous or wealthy for all the hours, months, sweat, tears, and years I've put in as a writer. I may have failed to avoid creating the straw that broke my mother's back. I may never succeed but I can't stop. It was never a question of starting or stopping. As Morrison expressed in her piece, it's more than a profession, a hobby, or a calling:

" ... the world became alive ... and that feels like ... not exactly what I was born for, it's more the thing that holds me in the world in healthy relationship, with language, with people, bits of everything filter down, and I can stay here. Everything I see or do, the weather and the water, buildings ... everything actual is an advantage when I'm writing."

So this writing we do is not a wish upon a star, it's an integral part of who we are--like skin on a black woman and love within a gay man. I can't be any other way, and to write well is to either write what is true, or write words that help me seek truth. I can't write what someone else wishes me to write. Would my mother have a black man peel back his dark skin and cover his wounded body with a piece of her own? How sad that she may never fully realize that this is what she asks? And this, I cannot give.

So thank you Oprah Magazine, Morrison, Cunningham, and Shepard for tying off my week in a solid, strong knot. Tonight I will throw that securely knotted, ever-expanding tapestry that is my life across the cold and lonely parts of me that still hunger for true mother love.

Goodnight Mom. I'll always love you.

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