Author Interview – Jemiah Jefferson

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
I’ve been secretly wanting to write a long-form work of erotica for many years – I always sort of mixed it in with a lot of genre elements because I love to also make up my own fictional reality, but I had these characters so firmly in mind I just wanted to tell their story uncomplicated by the supernatural. I had really been living with and developing those characters for years and I just had to determine a framework for them to exist inside, and the story would tell itself.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
Lots and lots. The major obstacle is one of the most major in life – I have multiple sclerosis, and though I am doing extremely well compared to others managing the syndrome, my daily life is generally exhausting and painful, and it takes up a lot of time that I’d prefer to spend in other ways. I injured my arm about six months and ten chapters into the writing process and was unable to sit and type for hours as I had been used to doing. Then I found that my usual position, posture, and location for writing was having a very painful negative effect on my left hip! Having to change my physical position for writing was a thousand times harder than I’d ever imagined – I’d been doing it that way for a couple of years at that point, and writing as much as 50 hours a week (for years!). And then my former publisher went under and I had a months-long, drawn-out battle to secure the rights to the material I’d had published with them. Then I had a major surgery and was too wasted on pain meds to be able to write (or think clearly) for several months. Then my self-esteem as a writer, as a producer of content for the world of publishing, took a terrible hit and I didn’t just give up on this particular novel – I gave up as a writer altogether. So I self-published a novel I’d had sitting around for more than ten years just to learn the world of self-publishing. It was great! But it wasn’t the same as actual WRITING. Somehow I managed to write something totally else – once again fan fiction saved the day – and I realized that I’d written at least a novel’s worth of content since “giving up.” So I went back to this story… and then was unable to get feedback on the material. So I gave up again. And THEN, once again, wrote some fanfic, which was very satisfying, and realized that I had a novel ALMOST entirely finished – I thought I might as well finish it, and self-publish it, and just get on with it – determining its quality, or its relevance, was not something that was up to me to determine.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
I honestly don’t know. It changed my life in some ways, in that I haven’t felt so discouraged as a writer for decades. I’ve taken some nasty hits of self-esteem and belief in the years, but this one was pretty major. Fundamentally I’m a writer – I have a certain core identity in addition to that, but writing is what I do – it’s what I love and where I feel my greatest talents lie. It’s not the healthiest perspective, but there it is. I guess the only real answer is “I’m glad I’m finally done with it!” I started writing it more than nine years ago. I’ve never taken nine years to do ANYTHING. I gave up multiple times. But I realized that my self-esteem would be even more destroyed if I just dropped it and conceded defeat.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I self-published Before and After Michael. I don’t have a publisher or an agent or any “official” formal entry into the world of traditional publishing anymore, and to be totally honest I don’t even know how to go about securing any of those things. The fact that it happened in the first place, I tend to regard as a fluke. I was very unprepared for the only agent I’ve ever had to just drop me and vanish off the face of the earth, or for my publisher to literally go out of business. So basically, I don’t understand the process of traditional publishing – but I now have all of the necessary skills to not just write a book, but to edit, proofread, format, obtain visual talent to produce cover images, obtain an ISBN, and publish using online resources. And I love to do it. I always wanted to have some kind of input over book cover images, and also book jacket copy, and things like the interior design of the book – its typeface, its margins, its title treatment, and all that stuff. And now I do. However I have no publicity apparatus, and not very much money for marketing, so my sales will probably not be very good. That, more than anything, is the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing – companies have publicity and marketing departments with skilled staffers, as well as a budget to make those things happen. It makes a huge difference in terms of visibility and potential sales.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
I am friends with tons of other writers of all types. I wouldn’t say they really influence my writing very much, actually – I am the only one doing the thing I do, and I do it because nobody else does it – so there’s not really much chance of influence. I do want their feedback to my work, though, but it doesn’t happen very often. It’s interesting to see other people’s paths and how they approach the work, and the subsequent promotion or discussion of the work. It’s always very different from mine.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
I used to write hours and hours every day – I’d come home from work and write until I went to sleep, and repeat again the next day. One day – about 6 or 7 years ago, now – I sort of hit a wall, and I haven’t been able to do that anymore since then. Now, I don’t write regularly at all. I only write when I’m not just inspired, but I’m physically comfortable, I’m liable not to be disturbed for a while, and I have enough energy to get the ideas done coherently. That doesn’t happen super often these days. I’ve managed to write three novel-length works of fiction in those six or seven years, which seems pretty great except compared to how I was before, when I wrote a novel every six months to a year – for almost 20 straight years. Writing has become increasingly difficult, though I have no shortage of ideas. I’m just exhausted (and admittedly discouraged) more than anything else.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
No actual novels have been started in the last ten years, unless you count fan fiction, and I don’t, because despite their finished lengths being in the 90,000 word range, they are written and constructed as linked long short stories or novellas that average about 10-12,000 words each. A whole novel seems really intimidating to me now. But I’ve got a few vague ideas that I’ve been kicking around for years that, if the right spark happens, I will be noveling again! In the meantime, I have two fan fiction series that need a final installment, so I’m mostly trying to get my head in the game to finish those. One of them’s been waiting for four years for me to get back to it!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
Only in the sense that it’s what I feel I truly do, and it’s what makes my life matter. I mean, sure, I have a job and all that, and I have a pet, but that’s pretty much it. When I am writing I feel amazing. It’s the best fun ever and I love it and it makes me feel like a genius. It’s a drag that I’m too tired and/or depressed, most of the time, to actually feel like doing it. I have to keep my job and that’s all I have the energy to do.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
It’s bleak. I’ve been there. I haven’t got almost anything else to live for – just being a good person is worthy, but I really want and need more out of life. But I also have to do without those things I need and want (because there are plenty of other things I need and want, but I can’t just have them for the asking – or even the working towards it), and that’s just reality. Yeah, I’m a grim soul.

Why do you write?
I don’t know, but I have to. I have been doing it all my life – when I was a little kid I called it “stories” and I’d just make up narratives for play. Once in a while I’d have a friend and they would share in the narrative and it was great, but most of the time I didn’t have even one friend I could share that with – and that’s when I started writing the narratives down so that I could re-read them myself. It’s a literal compulsion. I have to do it or I lose my mind, quite literally – I have too many ideas and I have to delineate and narrate at least some of them so I can get to sleep at night, and have a reason to get up in the morning. Also, I completely live on praise, and when I have to do without that for too long, I really fall apart.


Jemiah Jefferson is the author of the vampire novels Voice of the Blood, Wounds, Fiend, and A Drop of Scarlet, as well as the dark comedy, Mixtape for the Apocalypse and erotic literary fiction, Before and After Michael, her latest novel. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a tuxedo cat, blackout curtains, and a collection of books and graphic novels that has grown completely out of control.

Author Interview – Kristin Oakley

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
Strange as it sounds, my protagonist, Leo Townsend, compelled me. I didn’t know that I’d be writing a series until I’d written the last line of my first book, Carpe Diem, Illinois, and once I did, I knew Leo had more stories to tell. In the second book, God on Mayhem Street, which is my most recently published book, Leo is forced to deal with his estranged father and learns things about his family he never knew – I never knew, until I wrote them. The book also explores the idea of a front-running presidential candidate who is openly gay and who is likely to win. How will the country deal with that?

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
Most of God on Mayhem Street takes place on Leo’s family farm outside my fictional town of Endeavor, Wisconsin. I’m a city girl and have been on a farm maybe six times in my life, so I didn’t have a clue about the farming life. I was lucky enough to meet fellow writer Dr. Bill Stork, a Wisconsin veterinarian, at the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival a few years ago which was run by our mutual publisher, Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press. Bill helped me with the terminology, the farming culture, and the best way to poison cows.

The other obstacle I had was my protagonist, Jacob Landry. I knew he wanted the Townsend farm but he was reluctant to let me know why. He gave me a lot of headaches. I figured there was something valuable about the land, oil maybe? In Wisconsin – no way. After many hours of research, I did find out something interesting and unique about Wisconsin that made sense to the storyline and led me to Jacob’s secret.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?Strange as it might sound, I finally felt like a novelist. I guess it’s because there are many writers who only produce one book and then move on to something else for whatever reason. While publishing my debut novel was a huge accomplishment, creating more than one book meant I’ve turned my writing into a career. In some ways, it’s made me take my writing all that more seriously.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I took the hybrid route of self-publishing by hiring Little Creek Press. I had pitched my first book to agents and got some interest, but nothing came of it. I knew Carpe Diem, Illinois was good, ready for an audience, and I didn’t want to wait years for it to be published. I decided to hire Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press because she’s first and foremost a graphic artist and her book covers are beautiful. Since I’d spent years of my life crafting my books, I wanted beautiful covers for them as well. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of my time figuring out the publishing and distribution processes. I just wanted to write.

The first thing I had to do was find a good editor. At the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival I mentioned earlier, I met one of Kristin’s editors, Karyn Saemann, and we clicked immediately. After the book was edited, I sent the final manuscript to Kristin and she did the rest—acquiring the ISBN, formatting the book for both paperback and Kindle, getting it in various distribution sources, and advertising it on her website. I liked the results, so hired Kristin and Karyn to help me with God on Mayhem Street.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?Definitely. The majority of my friends are writers. They give me valuable feedback on my pages, brainstorm ideas, help me set up and meet deadlines, pass along resources such as contests or book signing opportunities, and give me encouragement and support. I can’t imagine writing without them.

I have a critique group I meet with every two weeks or so for valuable writing time and feedback, a couple of friends who I retreat with twice a year, and several other writer friends who’ll I’ll periodically meet at coffee shops. I’m also on the board of the Chicago Writers Association (CWA) where I’m managing editor of our online magazine, The Write City Review, and our debut anthology, The Write City Review. I’ve made some wonderful connections through CWA and even won their 2014 Book of the Year Award for Non-traditionally published fiction for Carpe Diem, Illinois which opened a lot of doors for me.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
Sort of. I’m in editing mode right now, editing the second draft of the second book in my Devil Particle Trilogy (which I hope to release next year) so I try to edit about 30-50 pages each week. I shoot for editing every day because then the story stays fresh in my mind, but at least I manage to set aside three to four 2-hour or more blocks of time each week to devote to my work-in-progress. What works best for me is to establish deadlines because I’m really good at meeting them. I plan on finishing this round of edits on the second book by September 1st and then working on the first draft of the third book, which I hope to have completed by the end of this year.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
Four books – or more. As I mentioned, I’m currently working on The Devil Particle Trilogy – a young adult dystopian series. I also have 30,000 words of the third book in the Leo Townsend series written and can’t wait to get back to it. Leo’s mad at me for neglecting him! And I have ideas for two more Leo Townsend novels bouncing around in my head. Oh, and ideas for a woman’s fiction and another futuristic/dystopian book. I guess that makes 8!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
I guess it depends upon your definition of spiritual. Writing definitely fulfills me and brings joy to my life, especially when a reader tells me they’ve been moved by my writing.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
It would be very different—it’s hard to imagine. I would probably concentrate on my art – oil painting and photography. Right now, those are somewhat neglected hobbies.

Why do you write?
For the money – lol! Oh, don’t get me wrong, the money would be nice, but it’s not realistic to think I’ll get rich from my writing. And even if I do, that would be wonderful, but it wouldn’t be the reason why I write. I write because of the thrill of creating whole worlds, strange and interesting people, and surprising situations. I like tackling the big issues of our time through the lives of intriguing characters. For instance, what would life be like if children never attended school? Or why should it matter to anyone else that two people of the same sex love each other? I love developing characters that are intriguing, and words fascinate me – how just one word can inspire or incite. Plus, like all writers, I get a definite high when the words flow. Good writing is definitely addicting.


Kristin A. Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers
Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a
finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in
the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem
Street, was released in 2016. Kristin is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the
managing editor of The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, and a UW-
Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor where she critiques
manuscripts and offers a variety of workshops.

 

Author Interview – Ava Collopy

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

It began to change my process when I was editing the book. At the time I didn’t have the money to hire a professional editor so I asked some acquaintances from writing workshops if they wouldn’t mind reading even the first chapter just so I get some feedback on it.

People were quite generous with their time, which I very much appreciated. It was through this process that I of course had to start thinking more about the process of communication, of how you convey a whole entire world that’s in your mind into someone else’s mind so that when they read your words they are picturing a whole world too. It may be somewhat different from how you imagine it but it still gives them a complete—not just picture, but experience.

When people came back to me and felt something for my protagonist, Sean Flanagan, and wanted to read to the end to see what happened to him, it was very gratifying.

By the time I was publishing 8 Days a Week I felt very thankful for the help I’d gotten.

The process of publishing made the audience much more real to me and me try to keep checking myself every so often when I write to make sure I’m still writing in a way that will be invite an audience in and not confuse anyone too much.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

For years I had many pieces of this and that; poetry, a few old songs from my teens, old characters I came up with before I had the skills to write for them, a few opinionated essays, mostly related to classism and sexism: the two main things that defined and ravaged my life for many years. I assume this is typical for all writers. We’re pack rats surrounded by scraps of our ideas from over the years.

In more recent years I worked very hard editing, revising, and rewriting everything I had, and ultimately throwing out what I had that wasn’t good enough. So at the moment I don’t have any extras lying around. I have just an idea for two other books, but I think they’re far off into the future. I have to take time for my master’s degree and my career at the moment.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? Why or why not?

I think writing can be spiritual depending on the writer or the type of writing. Sometimes writing is more an act of storytelling, or an analytical exercise in truth-telling and making good arguments, and doing point-counterpoint. I’ve always seen poetry as more right-brain and emotional, and even more spiritual, and prose as far more left-brain. Sometimes when you’re writing you can feel like you’ve tapped into an incredible energy that may even go beyond yourself… but that could just be the endorphins, dopamine, or whatever else the act of creating art stimulates in artists. (Or both.)

How many hours a day do you write?

At the moment I can’t write much with work. But there have been times I was writing all day, every day. I literally wrote the first draft of 8 Days a Week in under two weeks, writing almost non-stop all day, every day, by hand. I’d have to put ice packs on my hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder at night to get the swelling to go down. But after a decent waiting period the dam broke and the story just flowed. The editing process took months, of course, but the first draft just kept coming.

What are your favorite literary journals?

I don’t have consistent favorites. I like to move around a lot so I get a very good mix of different genres, styles, and writers. When I want a new mix I go onto Poets & Writers online and look through their market listings, filtered by whatever criteria I’m in the mood for at the time. Then I find often obscure publications, usually online so I can easily access them.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I suppose simply that when I’m really deep into one of my books I can’t really do anything else. I remember when I was getting ready to write Live Boldly, Fear Nothing I was going to an Irish dance class for a two or three weeks and I had to stop because I couldn’t concentrate. My head was just in Darian’s world, or thinking about Jenna’s storyline in it and what I wanted to say about (and say to) young women in her position, from her kind of background.

Art is a great gift and so is creating it, but it can also be incredibly draining and there are times when life just has to be put on hold for a while and that can be very hard. A few years ago I had a housemate who thought it was insane that I once went a few years without so much as going on one date. She couldn’t fathom it. I just said, I was busy learning how to write, edit, and publish books. I had no time for a personal life. It was worth it, but that was still an incredible sacrifice.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Why or why not?

I’m aware of it. I think it probably happens to all artists, it’s just more obvious with writers. For example, just think about all the singer-songwriters and bands who’ve had maybe two or three really good albums and then just had pretty bland albums. They can still play instruments and sing but that real, true spark of inspiration is gone. Once in a while they may still make a real gem but for the most part, their work isn’t very good anymore. If you do other forms of art you can still go through the motions but that’s a lot harder with writing.

I think the answer to this problem is to think about sources of inspiration. For the aforementioned musicians the answer is probably to leave their new mansions and go back out into the world. There they’ll find inspiration. The same is true for writers. If you’re blocked then go travel somewhere new, or go volunteer at a soup kitchen. Do something that will inspire you. Sitting at your desk (or wherever) staring at the problem won’t help.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I couldn’t really say, especially since with 8 Days a Week in particular the editing process was so long, and although I didn’t make any changes to the plot or the characters, how I presented the last two chapters—especially the very last one—changed a great deal through the editing process.

I think the important thing is to write until it seems finished and let the work itself guide you rather than trying to make a schedule for it. Real art doesn’t work on a schedule.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

One of my best author friends has been Jennifer Fulford, although we grew apart after I moved to Ireland (she’s still in the U.S.) When I met her she’d written a new book about one of the three musketeers and a collection of poetry. I met her at a Unitarian Universalist church and we got along immediately and shortly thereafter were sharing some of our work at a poetry and writing group at the church.

I went to a free workshop she did about how to use Weebly and other sites to make your own website. She not only showed us how to use the sites but how to have fun with them and make the act of building a website not strictly mechanical but an act of creativity in itself.

Shortly thereafter I tried making websites and blogs as a new form of self-expression. This was also very helpful for promoting my work since my novels were too important to me to risk having to change the endings, the stories, or otherwise compromise the works like I knew I might have to if I got a traditional publisher. She said she found it inspiring how I would just go for it like that. Meanwhile, she got published—her musketeers book through a traditional publisher and her short collection of poetry through self-publishing. She said I helped inspire her to have the confidence to publish her own poetry book. I felt very heartened by that. One of my favorite things in life is to help bring out the best in others.

She was quite supportive of me in my writing endeavors and as a friend even though she’s happily a mom and I’m happily childless. In my experience, many women writers basically shun you if you’re a woman who’s happily childless. I had a lot of my work rejected by female editors until I learned to keep my mouth shut about being a happily independent woman when submitting to most female editors. I genuinely don’t understand this kind of behavior; I think it’s best when we all support each other. I assume this means those women are secretly very unhappy with the choices they’ve made in life.

Other writers I’ve known through workshops were helpful in the usual ways writers at workshops are, namely with critical feedback but also encouragement.

However, one writer I thought was my friend did the exact opposite but still had a very positive effect on me.

This was during the editing of 8 Days a Week. Like I said before, I was glad when anyone was nice enough to make the time to look at my little project. So imagine how good I felt when this woman friend insisted that we meet in a café so she could talk to me at length about my book project! Me of all people—someone from a working class background who back then didn’t have a college degree, unlike all the other women in the workshops.

When I got there she was very nice at first, then very quickly started picking the entire project apart. At first I just took it in stride and thought, this is just good practice for in the future when anyone asks me about my projects.

I’d already had years of experience submitting my work for publication to various places so—as any writer knows—that means experience getting your work rejected 99% or more of the time, and sometimes by editors who feel the need to go out of their way to tell you they think your work is garbage and that you’re guilty of an actual crime by making them waste their precious time reading your drivel. So I was quite able to be thick-skinned about critical feedback and to consider any good points.

But I quickly found that when I went to explain my artistic choice she wasn’t listening to me. In fact she was going out of her way to insult, belittle, and pick apart every last thing about my book. And she’d only read the first chapter. For example, one of her complaints was that it was slow. I said that was an artistic choice to show what Sean’s life was like, and to build to a shocking climax much later in the book. Of course she insisted no one would read my terrible, slow, boring book idea long enough to find that out. She also complained that the book was about a working class person and his life and said, why would anyone want to read about that?

Her seeming plan to obliterate my confidence had the opposite effect and made me want to succeed even more. And it just brought home to me how much women need to encourage each other more.

Shortly after that it seemed to me like all the women I’d known from that writers’ group stopped wanting to have anything to do with me. It only occurred to me much later that they may have resented me because I didn’t come from any money or education but still pursued writing. I can look at this logically and see the mechanism of it now but I still don’t really understand it. This is because I always believe that everyone should generally support and encourage each other. I think maybe they just wanted their workshops and to be left alone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for me it wasn’t just a hobby; it was actually the only thing giving me hope that I could ever get out of poverty.

What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

I think Poets & Writers is a great resource. They have a great deal of advice about the literary industry as well as varied markets to read and/or submit your work to.

But to be perfectly honest, my opinion of most writers’ magazines is that they’re for people playing at writing. If you want to write I think you should go out and experience life so you have something to write about. I’ve read many stories, essays, and poems in various publications that were linguistically well-composed and grammatically accurate but actually weren’t about anything. I remember one story that was very long, very well-thought of my the publication’s editor, and was ultimately just about a couple ordering soup at one restaurant and another one several years later. In the first instance it was too salty and in the second they thought they had the same waiter, even though it was a different restaurant. When I finished it I just wanted the last 25 to 30 minutes of my life back. More than asking yourself if you can write something and write it well, and more than editors than asking if they can publish it, I think people in the literary community should look at if a work is actually saying anything.

This is why when I read anything, I tend to look for online zines that are well off the mainstream. That way I can find things that will give me a new experience which no other writer (or editor) has given me before.

In my extended family there is one set of twins who love everything to do with writing and storytelling. They subscribe to all of the local literary magazines, watch soap operas all day every day (to study long-term stories), and read books voraciously. Sadly they almost never leave the house. Last Christmas I gave them two books. Angela’s Ashes (an obvious choice for a couple of Irish aspiring writers) and Never Broken, the singer Jewel’s last book. Jewel isn’t an expert writer but if it’s one thing you’ll learn from reading her book it’s that more than anything, if you want to write, you need to just go out into the world and experience life.

I don’t care if her grammar was perfect or not. What I experienced was a vast range of completely unique stories, so bizarre but so true to life she couldn’t have possibly made them up. It genuinely was stranger than fiction.

If you want to create something truly unique than you need to just go live. But then maybe read a little Poets & Writers or some of the articles in Writer’s Market about the industry so you can try to develop a thick skin before you submit any of your work. Artists can sometimes take rejection too personally and have you learn to just move on instead.

 


Works by Ava Collopy

A View from the Bottom: Short Stories
8 Days a Week: the Story of a Working Man, a novel
The Price of Peace: the Rise of Truthology and the Alliance, a novelette
Live Boldly, Fear Nothing: a Vigilante and a Painter, a novel

Ava Collopy is published in White Liquor Steemit, Beautiful Losers, White Liquor, and others. She’s from Portland, Oregon and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Learn more about Ava please visit her website.