A Conversation with the Team Behind Querent…

Last Arisia, I met up with a fellow author, fiber artist, and all around interesting individual who also is creating a game incubator. They were talking about this project online, and I happened to see a post about the game’s character creation process. It struck me that this would be an excellent way to create a character for a novella I was working on, but it also seemed like a cool game that I might want to try out in the future. Through my contact, I asked the team to come on the blog to talk about their project. They are just two weeks out from launching a Kickstarter, so go drop them a follow (info at the bottom) and see what they’ve got going on!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Querent seems to be in the beginning stages of the project. Can you tell me a bit about what the project is going to be, and where you are in the process?

A (Querent Team): Querent has actually been in development since about February. It started out as an independent class project for Kayla and Mish, with the intent to get enough of a proof of concept that we could start developing it into something that could be on Kickstarter.
Now we are working on developing a full roleplaying game with tarot cards. We’ve completed our personality creation spread, and we have plans down the line to create a secondary background spread for players who want to go even more in-depth into developing their characters. Right now we are working on story generation spreads. We have one that outlines a story, and another that follows the Hero’s Journey structure for storytelling. We’ve tested all of these but are looking forward to developing them more in-depth!

We hope to make a roleplaying game that gives players and GMs the freedom to tell a story, and keep a story moving, without having to juggle stats or roll dice. Everything is narrative-based and story-driven, while still allowing for freedom from the players. Currently, we are working on creating content and testing our different “spreads” so we can revise and adapt for the final product.

As far as art goes, Amila’s current process is contributing to the design and layout of our book, as well as creating any other assets needed by our designers. A stretch goal for us is to create a custom deck of tarot cards that is unique to Querent, but that’s a very time and labor intensive project for our artist so she’ll either be chipping away at it slowly throughout the school year, or if a grant Amila applied for is approved, then she’ll get to work on it as a part time job and complete it much more quickly!

Q: In the world of tabletop games, what makes Querent unique? What might seem familiar to tabletop gamers?

A: Querent is unique in a number of ways! Our biggest difference is the fact that we use tarot cards instead of dice. Tarot cards are subjective and we use them to create a random, yet personal experience as the players get to interpret for themselves what the cards mean. Using cards helps to make sure that every experience is unique but that the player still has flexibility to interpret their cards as they wish.

We still want to incorporate familiar elements, like character sheets and the whole character creation process, and we also want to incorporate campaigns / campaign generating and a way for players to handle and play through encounters that isn’t reliant on dice rolls. We want it to have enough familiar elements that players of other tabletop roleplaying games can pick it up quickly.

Q: What are/were some of the personal challenges in creating this project?

Kayla: The game itself has been the easier part for me, because we have had a pretty clear vision of what we wanted it to be from the start. What’s been hard has been getting on the path to put this game onto Kickstarter. There’s so many new skills (like social media, marketing, business, finance) that we’re having to learn–we’re basically starting our own small business! There is so much logistical information to learn and to sort out and there’s still work to be done before our Kickstarter campaign in October.

Mish: The biggest personal challenges that came up mostly came from the fact that Querent wasn’t our full time jobs over the summer. We all had other jobs/internships which we had to prioritize, so simply having time to complete the project was a challenge. We had to adjust the amount of work we promised to do so that it would fit our busy lives! Overall, though, this has been one of the smoothest projects that I have ever worked on, and I really have to thank the rest of the team for that.

Amila: We’ve managed really well to work remotely together so far, but going into the school year I could see that being a challenge. We’re all pretty good at communicating though so we’d just have to make sure to continue that.

Q: What are/have been some of the personally satisfying moments in creating the game?

Kayla: For me, some of the early playtests of the game were hugely satisfying. They let Mish and I know that we really had something with this game idea and that we needed to develop it further and past just a class project. This was really inspiring and whenever we test we get at least a few people that really enjoy our game.

Mish: Testing, by far, has been most rewarding. Although we are obviously had a lot of changes to make, people seemed to genuinely enjoy playing our game, and that’s always good to see! Right from the beginning, we knew were onto something based on the response from testers.

Amila: Seeing people’s excitement for our game on social media and during QA testing.

Q: When people are playing this game, what do you hope they will get from it? How is the experience designed to give them that experience?

A: We want the player to get an experience that really seems unique to them, as if they were “meant” to be part of and connected to the world they are playing in. We want them to get invested in the character they created and the story itself in a way that other game[s] don’t allow. We have designed this through the use of tarot cards. The way that the cards work allow for a degree of randomness in interpretation, but also allows the player to project into the characters what they think the card means, giving them some control over the character and with world without having to come up with all this information from scratch. We really want to help players and GMs create rich experiences.

Q: What’s coming up next for Querent?

A: Right now we are working on an outline spread that would help players create the outline of a campaign that they can play through. As soon as we can get the content done we want to start to test it out with new players as well as GMs/DMs (gamemaster/dungeonmaster) of existing RPGs to see how playable our generated campaigns turn out.

We also have our Kickstarter campaign coming up at the beginning of October!

Q: Anything to add?

A: Thank you, Rachel, for this opportunity! We can’t wait to see how our game can work for you!

If anyone wants to follow our process, you can find and follow us at:

Twitter – @QuerentGame
Instagram – @QuerentGame
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/querentgame
Website – https://querentgame.com/

 

A Conversation with Josh Macias, Photographer…

I met Josh when my spouse and I first moved to Texas a few years ago. They had gone to high school together, and we finally got the chance to head down to San Antonio, enjoy some of the sights, and spend time with him and his family. When we were there, he was just getting into photography. Now, a few years later, I enjoy catching up via social media and taking a look at the work he’s doing. I invited him to come on the blog to talk about photography, and in particular, his work with Beyond the Canvas, a bodypaint-focused art project … but I’ll let him take over from here.

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a bit about your area of expertise. What do you do? How long have you been doing it? Where do you share or publish your work?

A (Josh Macias): I am a photographer, for the past 10 years I’ve specialized in portraits & events. My work can be found on FB: Dreamland Studios & Beyond the Canvas.

Q: Can you share with me some of the story of your journey? What first interested you in what you do? What were some challenges along the way?

A: I’ve always loved looking through photos, yearbooks, fashion & travel magazines, but most of all National Geographic; those were my favorite.

Photo by Josh Macias

The first time I saw the NG cover with Steve Mccurry’s famous (Afghan girl), I can’t say that this was the defining moment that I decided “I would be a photographer,” but I will always remember how that image made me feel. It was sad, beautiful, haunting, it was so simple but captivating—the definition of a great photo.

I actually never planned on being a photographer. I was a music major—the saxophone & clarinet were my passion. I wanted to play Jazz & travel, I wanted to be a part of big ensembles & record movie scores.

But life doesn’t always pan out how you plan it. Not having a creative outlet, I spent years in a slump until I found photography.

Q: What in particular do you find most satisfying about your work?

A: To be able to create & capture a moment in time—”super cliché, right?—to be able to preserve a moment that may never happen again, to see someone smile or get emotional over a moment I captured is the moment I live for.

Q: What piece of advice would you offer someone interested in this field? What piece of advice do you find yourself giving over and over to people who are hoping to learn from you?

A: [If you’re] looking to get into photography, do a little research, talk to a few photographers especially photographers that are shooting the subject matter you are interested in.

Also, gear is not everything. You don’t have to spend thousands for top of the line when you’re learning.

Advice I’m always giving for someone hoping to learn from me is, “You have to study!” I’m constantly studying. I’m good, but I didn’t start out that way; I got a D in my first photo class.

I’m always working on composition & lighting, I study & analyze lighting in my favorite movies. I save images that inspire me so that I can draw inspiration from them for future shoots.

Q: What work are you most proud of, and why?

A: For the past 4 years I’ve been the lead photographer & Co director for Beyond the Canvas which is an art organization focused on body art, or body painting, which is one of the oldest forms of art.

A normal bodypaint can take up to 6 hours to paint & may last an hour, which makes a photographer an important part of the process.

I’ve not only documented the growth of the artists & artwork of this group, I’ve contributed to the growth & recognition of this community to an international level.

Q: Do you ever work with a team? What are some things you do to make creativity work when you’re working together with people?

A: I do from time to time work with a team. I always try & put together a story board from ideas I’ve pulled from either magazines or images saved on my phone.

I will share these images with the MUA [makeup artist], Hair & model before the shoot so that everyone can get a good understanding of what I want to create.

Q: Can you talk a bit more specifically about Beyond The Canvas – where it is, how long you’ve been with them, the people, getting the right shot?

A: Beyond the Canvas is both an Art Community as well as an Organization based out of San Antonio, Tx., & its primary focus is bodyart.

The people that make up BTC are comprised of Artists (ranging from beginner to advanced), models which we call Canvases (for obvious reasons), photographers & videographers.

I’ve been with BTC for five years & the Lead Photographer for four. In that time, I’ve also taken the roll of Assistant director & Brand Ambassador, helping to create a bigger platform & more awareness to the Art scene here in SATX.

BTC holds regular paint jams & workshops where we bring in famous artists from around the world to teach.

BTC is also the host of the Texas Bodypaint Competition, a yearly contest that has grown from just a few local artists to now an international event that brings artists & performers from all over the world to SATX to compete for the title of TBPC Champion.

Even though I don’t paint, this group has challenged me in so many ways as an artist.

My method to “getting the right shot” has been with a Creative Journalistic approach. I document the process from start to finish & cannot influence the scene in any way during the painting process.

I can’t move the artist or canvas to get the shot; I have to find that candid shot to tell the story.

Once painting is over, then it’s me & the Canvas. I push them to embody the story that has just been created on their body.

The pressure of creating a beautiful bodypaint portrait is a real thing. A full bodypaint can take upwards of 6+ hours & only exists for a short time, then it literally is washed down the drain. There’s NO GOING BACK.

Bodyart portraits are a balanced equation. (Artist + Canvas)time + Photographer = X

If one of those variables is off, then the final product is mediocre at best.

 

A Conversation with Lara Coutinho, Capocomico…

Lara Coutinho is the sort of person who needs no introduction, and yet you can’t help yourself from introducing her because you want people to know ALL THE COOL THINGS about her. We became friends in the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Barony of Windmasters Hill, where she introduced me to her passion, Commedia dell’ Arte. Later, in an incredibly generous act, she invited me to direct her troupe in a Commedia version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that we performed at a Baronial event. She is an inspiration, a teacher, and an amazing woman. Someday, when she is handing out orange belts, I hope to be graced by one. (SCA reference. 😉 )

And now, without further ado, I introduce Baroness Sophie the Orange, mundanely known as Lara Coutinho!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a bit about your area of expertise. What do you do? How long have you been doing it? Where do you share or publish your work?

Photo by Bill Frazer.

A (Lara Coutinho): Performing arts of the 16th century in Europe including music, dance, and theater with a specialty in Italian Commedia dell’ Arte. I also love any kind of improvisation theater, puppets, and circus arts.  I always loved every kind of dance and music, and when I found the SCA in college, I found an outlet for my wide variety of interests. The SCA is a historic re-enactment group with a limited scope of pre-1600 Europe, but that was a huge arena for me to play in. I found teachers and friends of like-mind that enjoyed dance and music as much as I did. From the summer of 1992 until about 2004, I focused my hobby time in the SCA on learning and teaching European dances and the music that matched them. A few of my friends and I joined together to create a band called Musica Subterranea which played and recorded historically accurate dance music for 16th century European dance. The SCA has a robust community of dancers, and they enjoyed our live dance music performances at balls and revels. We produced 5 CDs of recorded dance tunes which are still available on CDBaby.com. We have all the sheet music for the 104 tunes we recorded available on our web page http://musicasub.org.  

Musica Subterranea is the result of amazing teamwork between the band members, but one critical piece is the research and music arrangements created by our Music Director, David Lankford. His understanding and skills in both early music and dance are of the highest caliber. We are always blown away by the beauty of his arrangements and how detailed he gets in matching every phrase to the choreography. I could go on for days about the incredible skill and creations of my buddy Dave, so for now I’ll just say that Musica Subterranea would not exist without him.

In August 2000, I discovered the theater style of Italian 16th century Commedia dell’ arte, and I was hooked. I found my place in the world. The characters of commedia plays were the cartoons of 16th century people. Performing and watching commedia made me laugh and explode with joy. I really can’t stop laughing when commedia is happening. Since then, I’ve been reading and learning about commedia wherever I can. I’ve created 3 troupes of actors that share this joy with me: i Scandali in Dayton, OH started in 2002, i Firenzi in Raleigh, NC started in 2011, and the Commedia All Stars troupe that only comes together at the SCA event called Pennsic War in August started in 2014.

Q: Can you share with me some of the story of your journey? What first interested you in what you do? What were some challenges along the way?

A: I started playing the cello in 6th grade. I thank the adults in my life for insisting that I learn something about music because it’s helped me connect with friends and enjoy performing arts throughout my adult life. I was never very good at the cello because I did not invest the hours of practice that it takes to get really good. But I did develop an appreciation for musicians by being an enthusiastic amateur. Same with dance. I got pretty good at folk dance and loved every opportunity to dance to any kind of music. I also loved theater, but I never had focus. I loved all the performing arts and wanted to play with all of them since I can remember. I remember doing dance numbers and skits at a Girl Scout camp session called “Greasepaint” during many summers.

Photo courtesy of Lara Coutinho.

I never felt that urge to practice until I found commedia.  I’d dabbled in every kind of crazy performing thing one could do: juggling, stilt-walking, mime, tap dance, jazz, recorder, ukulele, drumming, belly dancing, ballroom dancing, choral singing, puppeteering, hooping, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  But commedia made me want to practice. I wanted to revel in it and work at it until I got good. I still do. I want to dig into every aspect of this art and improve my skills all the time.

Commedia gives me a way towards laughter for both myself and others. I feel the healing power of laughter when it happens, and I want to keep it going. I want to live in those moments where the pain of the world is forgotten because we were laughing so much.

Don’t get me wrong – life can’t be 100% laughter. We have to manage our lives in this world with some amount of responsibility and work. But I do want to maximize the laughter and squeeze every bit of joy out of every moment I can. So far, improvised commedia is my favorite tool for that. 

Challenges along the way are many, and they keep coming. First, finding other people to do commedia with me is the hardest part. I live in the volunteer world where no one gets paid in money. We get paid in laughs and fun experiences. So, the troupes I put together have to be people that are friendly to each other and hopefully get to be good friends. And they have to want to learn something about the historic basis of commedia, improvisation skills, and basic stagecraft. I can teach all of that, but it takes time. And since we’re all volunteers, members of the troupe will come and go as their lives change.  When kids are born or jobs are taken or marriages shift, the volunteer hours these actors have to devote to practicing commedia goes away.

Once we have people that like each other and start learning some commedia skills, we have to find venues to perform at where we will enhance the environment. Those venues have to be easy enough for our actors to get to, eat at, and sometimes stay overnight at. Sometimes they bring their kids along. Sometimes they’re juggling their own paycheck jobs around the performance time. There are a million challenges that get in the way of making a performance happen.

But when it works, it really works. Laughter thunders throughout the area to anyone within earshot. Smiles and joy are created and shared. It does my heart good.

Q: What in particular do you find most satisfying about your work?

A: I want to be laughing, and this is how I get there. Laughter is best when shared, so performing comedy so all of us can laugh together makes me the happiest.

Q: What do you find most challenging?

A: The administration of making a theater troupe come to life and run is incredibly overwhelming. It’s more work than anyone else knows who hasn’t done it.

Q: What piece of advice would you offer someone interested in this field? What piece of advice do you find yourself giving over and over to people who are hoping to learn from you?

Photo by Hauk Photography.

A: Start small and let it grow. Success breeds success.  Starting with a goal of “Let’s make a commedia troupe!” is setting yourself up for failure. Starting with a goal of “Let’s perform some commedia!” is much more realistic and useful. Start with 2-3 of your good friends that you want to spend time with anyway, and do a commedia-inspired skit. I have a few small skits in the booklet I wrote with some friends and published by the SCA called The Compleat Anachronist, issue #173, Bring Sixteenth Century Commedia dell’ Arte to Life.  It can be ordered for $4.50 on www.sca.org under the Marketplace. Or go to my web page at www.ifirenzi.com and look at the tab for “Starter Kit” where there’s another short 5 person scenario.

One suggestion I’ll give to anyone starting out is to find some mentors. I’ve had many generous mentors, but one was key to my growth. Paul Adams, known in the SCA as Duke Steffan Glaube, is a professional actor, director, and producer in Brisbane, Australia who also happens to really like SCA heavy combat. So much so that he became King of his region, “Lochac”, and travelled around the planet to attend the SCA Pennsic War in 2015. He’s also a Master of Arts, part of the SCA Order of the Laurel, for his expertise in Theater Arts. So, when I met him at Pennsic War, we geeked out about SCA theater and stayed friends online. His own personal mission in life includes mentoring, so he was happy to talk with me about many topics all leading towards excellence in Commedia. His dedication to mentoring had him waking up early and staying up late for online calls with me privately and also my troupe. He watched our rehearsals via web cam and gave constant feedback and suggestions that improved our performances. His unique combination of excellence in theater, leadership, teaching, and SCA life made him a key source of wisdom for me. His devotion to mentoring means that wisdom is shared. I’m one of many recipients of his generosity, and I hope everyone can find an effective mentor like him.

Q: What work are you most proud of, and why?

A: The Commedia All Stars troupe performed particularly well this past Pennsic, just a couple weeks ago, and I think that was the best show I’ve ever directed. The troupe came together with some new folks and some very experienced folks, and we clicked like we’ve never clicked before. No diva energy from anyone, no slumpy energy from anyone, and no one had a health or family crisis that made me find an understudy. Our work was clearly producing results within the timeframe we had, and once we felt the magic of the audience’s energy, the laughs just kept on coming.

Photo courtesy of Lara Coutinho.

I’m also really proud of the Compleat Anachronist I wrote with my buddies Drea Leed, Robert Schneider, Dina Turnello, and my husband Scott Dean. The CA is a quarterly publication of research papers produced by the SCA, Inc. Dina wanted to write a CA on commedia with me as a team, and our dreams expanded enough to easily fill two issues. Those two little booklets have become a manual in How To Make Historically Accurate Commedia Happen. I’m exceedingly proud of my part in making those CAs happen because they’ll be around for years to come helping people make commedia inspired laughter. I love that.

Q: Anything to add?

A: Bringing theater and other performing arts to life is hard. And rewarding. I love the teamwork part of theater and the magic of working with an audience. It’s the kind of energy that makes the work worth it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for the adventurer. I hope if anyone reading this feels inspired to try it, they will bring their boots, water, and protein bars.  Get and read the two Compleat Anachronists on commedia and email me. The thrills and laughter is so worth it!

~~~

For more information, check out www.ifirenzi.com,  www.earlycommedia.com, www.musicasub.com, and www.sca.org/marketplace

~~~

 

**Featured image by Hauk Photography

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Bobby Nash, Author…

I met Bobby Nash through the Sangria Summit Society, after a mutual acquaintance reviewed his SNOW series. In today’s Conversation, Nash talks about the journey of becoming a writer of multiple formats and genres…

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a bit about your area of expertise. What do you do? How long have you been doing it? Where do you share or publish your work?

A (Bobby Nash): I am a writer. I write novels, comic books, short prose, graphic novels, novellas, and have dabbled in screenplays. I’m usually opening to whatever best fits the story that needs to be told or whatever the publisher needs.

My first published work outside of a school setting was in 1992 when I had a comic book published and I started writing and drawing a comic strip for a local kid’s magazine called Keeping Up With Kids. I did strips for them for 12 years. It was fun. In 2000, I sold my first professional comic script, DEMONSLAYER, that came out in 2001. In 2004, I sold my first novel, EVIL WAYS, to a publisher. It debuted in 2005. I’ve been rather busy ever since.

I work for several different publishers. I have worked for larger publishers, small press publishers, small indie publishers, and have self-published a book or two as well. My work is generally available at the usual spots: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, on-line retail outlets, comic book stores, and the occasional bookstore. I also sell books through my website for those who would like autographed copies. www.bobbynash.com is where you can find my work.

Q: Can you share with me some of the story of your journey? What first interested you in what you do? What were some challenges along the way?

A: I was fascinated by stories when I was a kid. I often mimicked the TV shows I watched or the books/comics I read when I played. Eventually, I started to make up my own stories, creating characters and situations for them to get in and out of before moving on to the next story. I knew that I wanted to tell stories, but it took a long time to find out exactly how to do it. It took even longer to find a way to do it and reach a larger audience. I’m still working on trying to make a living at it.

There have been challenges along the way. Breaking in with a publisher is tough. There was, and still is, a lot of rejection. I doubt that will ever change. Thankfully, I’m too stubborn to quit. Ha! Ha! Being creative is not easy. There are those that dismiss your creativity as “flights of fancy” or “lack of focus,” both of which I have heard said about me at one time or another. It took a lot of years to convince my family that I was serious about what I was doing. I don’t think they ever really understood my passion for it though, but they try to be supportive.

Publishing has changed a lot and so have the challenges. With the rise of self-publishing, it is easier to get work out there, but it is more of a challenge to get your work noticed. As a writer, I’ve had to learn marketing, promotion, salesmanship, customer service, accounting, things like that. Writing is a business and I have to treat it like a business if I want it as a career.

Q: What in particular do you find most satisfying about your work?

A: I love what I do. I love creating and getting to know characters. I love crafting stories and plots, trying to come up with something new or at least put my own unique spin on a familiar idea. I love traveling and writing has helped me do that. It has also introduced me to a host of wonderful people over the years, some of whom have become lifelong friends. All of that comes from my being a writer. Beyond that, discovering that there are fans of my work was a big thrill. Being asked to autograph something or have my photo taken with a reader, those things are just icing on the cake.

Q: What do you find most challenging?

A: Breaking into new publishers is still a challenge. My body of work helps make that a little easier, but most manuscript sales are still a lot of work. On a personal level, my biggest hurdle is me. Making myself sit down and get to work is the biggest obstacle I face daily. It’s like that old joke where a writer says, “It’s time to write. But first…” and then you fill in the blank with whatever non-writing chore they are about to do like laundry, cleaning the office, etc.

Once I sit down and get started, I am usually good to go, but getting my butt in the chair sometimes takes work. There’s always something trying to distract me.

Q: What piece of advice would you offer someone interested in this field? What piece of advice do you find yourself giving over and over to people who are hoping to learn from you?

A: I give this advice often: If you want to write for fun, do so. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to write as a career, then you must treat writing like a job. That means meeting deadlines, long nights, missing out on social events to handle last minute edits, and other things like that. Regardless of why you write, or what your writing goals are, have fun with it.

Q: What work are you most proud of, and why?

A: I usually answer this question with EVIL WAYS, which was my first published novel. I wrote Evil Ways without knowing what I was doing. I wrote how I wanted in the manner I wanted. It wasn’t until after that I was told there are certain things I should have done differently. Who knew? Ha! Anyway, I think that Evil Ways is the most “me” of anything I have written because I didn’t know what I was doing. In some respects, I miss that ignorance.

You can learn more about EVIL WAYS here: https://ben-books.blogspot.com/p/evil-ways.html

These days, I have found myself changing that answer to SNOW FALLS on occasion. I’m not sure what it is about the SNOW series that has caught on with those who are reading it, but they are loving the characters in this series. The title character of Snow is former undercover operative Abraham Snow. When his undercover alias is blown, he is shot and left for dead. He survives, having had a bullet miss his heart by a mere half an inch. Due to his condition, he is forced to retire. Snow returns to the only home he’s known, the one he ran away from right after high school. As he reconnects with family and friends he hasn’t seen in over a decade, Snow also finds that he can’t quite leave the job behind. While trying to track down the man who shot him, Snow also finds himself getting involved in other situations… the kind that he is uniquely suited to handle.

At present, there are 4 SNOW novellas on sale.

Book 1: Snow Falls
Book 2: Snow Storm
Book 3: Snow Drive
Book 4: Snow Trapped
Book 5: Snow Business (coming late 2018 or early 2019)
Book 6: Snow Down (coming 2019)

Series 1 will include 6 novellas.

The first 3 have been collected in a trade paperback collection. The second 3 will also be collected.

SNOW Series 1, Vol. 1
SNOW Series 1, Vol. 2 (coming 2019)

If all goes well and sales warrant, there will be a SNOW Series 2.

You can learn more about SNOW (with links to the above) here: https://ben-books.blogspot.com/p/snow.html

Q: Anything to add?

A: Rachel, I appreciate the interview questions and for letting me talk a little bit about my work. Thanks again.

~ ~ ~

For more information about Bobby Nash and his work, check out the following links, or follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon and/or Patreon!

www.bobbynash.comhttp://BEN-Books.blogspot.comhttps://ben-books.blogspot.com/p/snow.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Barbara Smith-Davis, Performer

One of my most memorable encounters with Barbara Smith-Davis came when I took voice lessons with her. While I was only able to go to a couple of lessons before life got in the way, I remember saying something along the lines that I used to be soprano, but now I thought I was more of a mezzo. Maybe an alto. After running through some scales and other techniques, she turned to me and said: “You are a soprano who’s lost her nerve.”
I thought that was the most elegantly blunt feedback I’ve ever gotten. Unfortunately, New Orleans is quite a bit too far away for more voice lessons, but I wanted to invite Barbara to do a character study interview to share her amazing talent and background. (And if you are in the New Orleans area, and might be interested in studying vocal performance, check out her website!)

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a bit about your area of expertise. What do you do? How long have you been doing it? Where do you share or publish your work?
A (Barbara Smith-Davis):  I am a performer, primarily of opera and musical theatre, but I have sung recitals, church jobs and even cabaret shows. I have always loved to sing and “pretend”. My first stage experience was behind a puppet, and I still own and use puppets as teaching aids.

Q: Can you share with me some of the story of your journey? What first interested you in what you do? What were some challenges along the way?
A: I was probably about 6 when I first saw a television special starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan!  I was completely captivated by the singing, pretending, flying, crowing! When it was televised the next Christmas, I sang along, with all the characters.  Mary Martin has always been my hero. I learned so much from her recordings, and even studied with her teacher, Helen Fouts Cahoun, when I lived in Dallas years later. One of my great treasures is a signed picture of Mary Martin as Peter Pan. I always admired it in Ms. Cahoun’s Studio. When she died she left it to me. The next year I went to NY and saw Mary Martin in The Sound Of Music. I took the picture backstage and Mary signed it for me.

I didn’t realize what a challenging path I had chosen. I assumed everyone loved to sing, and dance and act like an idiot. My dear parents offered me lessons and I loved it.  After high school, and many musical performances there, I won an audition with The Dallas Summer Musicals. During the next two summers I performed in 12 professional productions there, and learned more than my classes at SMU could ever teach me.

Q: What in particular do you find most satisfying about your work? Q: What do you find most challenging?
A: I finally went to New York to study opera. I was mentored by a wonderful man named Boris Goldovsky. I attended his workshops and then joined his touring company. I loved traveling and being part of a family of performers. I even met my husband of 50 years, J.B. Davis.

The most challenging part of this business was now evident. NYC is the Mecca for everyone interested in the theatre arts! Competition was daunting, and auditions were often referred to as “cattle calls”! I hung in and hung on and discovered new opportunities.

After the birth of our daughter Debbie in 1974, we traveled with JB and I discovered how much I enjoy teaching! I studied music education at SMU, but teaching singing to one motivated student instead of a class of bored kids, is a tremendous joy!

Q: What work are you most proud of, and why?
A: There is nothing like helping a singer catch on to something as nebulous as vocal technique and seeing his pride when he realizes  he can do it! .  Music has always been an important opportunity for kids to get involved, make friends, work toward a common goal and discover yourself. My constant advice to students and myself is, “Just do it!”

Q: Anything to add?
A: As Debbie got older I resumed my performing career, but I continued teaching voice from our home in northern NJ. After 53 years in the East, I am now living in New Orleans where I have established a new voice studio.

I’ve taught many students, shy and fearful like myself, and I hope that in addition to bringing out their unique vocal talent, I have instilled in them a sense of confidence, and courage that they can take out into the world. Everyone is intimidated by “the cattle call” auditions of life. But the truth is, there can be no competition. Each of us has his own magic, his own unique contribution to make to humanity. We are here to give these Gifts.

~ ~ ~

 

A Conversation with Patrizia K. Ingram, Painter…

I became aware of Patrizia’s art through mutual membership in a Facebook group for military families in our neighborhood. She posted a vibrant watercolor painting of the cutest otter, as well as other paintings she had done on commission. I’m hoping to add one of her paintings to our art collection before we leave California, but can’t decide which one… In the meantime, I’ve asked her to talk a little bit about her life as a painter…

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a bit about you…

A (Patrizia K. Ingram): Growing up in Germany and Switzerland I started drawing and painting at a very young age. The earliest I can remember is an oil painting of a field with apple orchard at age five (this painting hangs at my brother’s house right now, 25 years later….)

In fact, my favorite subject has always been nature such as landscapes, floras and birds. I would spend hours of my childhood years drawing and painting. I got my ideas mostly from hikes in the woods and nature fieldtrips. Even now you will find me picking up random leaves and rocks from the ground- I just can’t help myself but to admire them and bring them home for future painting inspiration.

Part of growing up involved marrying a US Army officer and earning a degree in BUS & ADM from Mount Saint Mary College in NY. I never stopped pursuing my passion for art while becoming a mom of a wonderful little girl. I now work as a freelance artist. I am more motivated than ever to paint every day as I try to teach my daughter the beauty around us and the joys of discovering picturesque countryside.  I enjoy what I do and believe my work gives happiness to my clients.

Q: Tell me a bit about your area of expertise. What do you do? How long have you been doing it? Where do you share or publish your work?

A: I am crazy about watercolors; it is my preferred method of painting because of the unique qualities, unexpected results and fun techniques.  Watercolor is what I live and breathe. I am so blessed to wake up every morning to what I love. As I sip my coffee every morning in my backyard garden, I get to sniff the flowers and listen to the hummingbirds and plan my next painting of the day.

I believe good quality art can change your mood, transform the reality into a magical place and also capture precious memories.  This is why a lot of my work is house portraits. I capture memories made in each place such as the first house bought together after getting married or the place where babies were born or brought home from the hospital.  Sometimes it is grandma’s home after she passed away and sometimes it is [the] family lake home where every year there’s a family reunion. I see my work as so much more than just a simple painting; it is helping people remember all the beautiful places with the people they love. God knows how military people get moved around, one can lose track easily – I myself have moved 6 times in 10 years.

Every time I move I try to find local “landmarks” local people love and paint just that. For the place I live right now it is otters, seals, sea gulls, whales, monarchs, California poppies and Monterey Cypresses. I’m on a mission to fill this world with gorgeous art that makes you smile every time you look at it.

I’ve been painting my whole life but professionally for other people I started about 2 years ago. My friends kept asking me to paint this or that and eventually it turned into a business. I found that I have a lot to say through my paintings and get lots of commissions to do just that. I regularly share all my paintings, pictures of work-in-progress, behind the scenes, as well as tips and tricks to watercolor on my Facebook page, Patrizia K Ingram Art. I recently started an Instagram account where I publish my paintings, and I have a website as well with my name, patriziakingramart.com.

Q: Can you share with me some of the story of your journey? What first interested you in what you do? What were some challenges along the way?

A: I think the story of my journey is very simple: I try to listen to what people tell me, what my customers ask me and go do just that. Couple years ago I saw a movie called Yes Man, a 2008 comedy with Jim Carrey. In a nutshell the movie is about guy whose life is going nowhere—the operative word being “no”—until he signs up for a self-help program based on one simple covenant: say yes to everything…and anything. Unleashing the power of “YES” begins to transform his life in unexpected ways, getting him promoted at work and opening many doors…. So, I am the YES woman, haha. Anything my customers ask of me, I always say yes. They asked me to talk to Girl Scouts end of summer and teach them nature art, I said yes. They asked me to donate my local paintings for a fundraiser, and I said yes three times this year. They asked me to paint a seal for the Marine Conservancy Center, I said yes. They asked me for prints, framing, private art classes, art demos, I said yes. They asked me for a mural, well that’s still pending but probably yes. The list goes on and on but my point is that it is important to listen, slow down sometimes and listen.

I think the biggest challenge is, besides moving every three years, being a mom and a wife full time (because that’s not going away) while also trying to work full time and grow your business. Being an artist is a journey and it is not about the final destination but about getting there and the people you meet on the way and the experiences you gather. It is a process of growth and personal development because I leave a piece of myself in every painting. Being a mom to the most beautiful and most perfect little girl ever is incredibly rewarding but can be stressful at times as there only is so much time before bedtime.

Q: What in particular do you find most satisfying about your work?

A: I feel like I can help people with my art. If grandma died and there’s not at least one good picture of her house left, I will piece together her house from multiple photographs (including Google maps) to give the grown-up-by-now grandchildren the feeling of freshly baked cookies and homemade dinners, that only grandma could do, back to them. I often see myself as a solution to many people’s problems: if you need a promotion or graduation gift for your husband, I have done a bicycle painting or nautical chart of Monterey Bay or painting of the work place just for that kind of occasion; if you need some local scene painted like an otter or a seagull because your friend is moving and you want them to remember the place, I can help with that; if you need to beautify your kids room and are looking for custom-painted art of their favorite animals, again, that’s me; if you moved 11 times during your military career and can’t remember which house is which, I’ll do house portraits to keep them straight; if you need some sea animals on your patio chairs to make them more fun, call me for that; if your dad’s beloved puppy suddenly passed away and you need a dog portrait to commemorate the puppy, I’m happy to deliver; if you just bought a house from Over the Moon Realty, Amber and Allison probably gave you a house portrait painted by me… I could go on an on but my point is that every painting has a story that is almost always heart touching and me being a part of it is the most satisfying thing in the world. It doesn’t get better than this!

Q: What do you find most challenging?

A: Deadlines are hard, deadlines I put on myself are even harder. No one pushes harder than my own schedule and self-imposed deadlines and endless lists of “to-do’s”. One of the things many artists struggle with is the chase for perfection and I am no different. Yet being creative means that there are always new ideas and thus more work to do.

Q: What piece of advice would you offer someone interested in this field? What piece of advice do you find yourself giving over and over to people who are hoping to learn from you?

A: The worst day painting is still better than a great day without painting. I think if somebody is thinking about becoming an artist it is important to keep that spark that keeps you going at the beginning and treasure it, stay motivated and don’t give up. It is so easy to get discourage or even give up if the painting is not going your way or if somebody makes a negative comment. That could be said about all creative people like writers or poets too. This is where you need to surround yourself with people like you who are also passionate about the same things that you are whether it is art or music or creative writing. I think having somebody who you respect around you to provide you with honest feedback who would help you grow is just gold. It could be somebody in person or it could be online. My fellow artist friend is Amanda Paschal, an amazing illustrator and we are actually talking about creating a Facebook group just for military artists who need a supportive and mentoring place as beginning artists. And lastly, if you want to get better, paint, paint and paint. Then paint some more. Once you’re done, go and paint. There’s no way around it but to practice.

Q: What work are you most proud of, and why?

A: I am most proud of being part of the community as an artist and using my talents to raise awareness about wild life in the Monterey Bay Area. I often donate my art to multiple fundraisers in the area; it is almost always an otter painting or two.  Every time I paint an otter or a seal I make sure to include some educational facts when posting on social media to help people understand the need to protect the wild life and to keep the ocean clean. By living in Monterey, CA I am exposed to a magnitude of wild life and the ocean itself; being in love with the nature makes me want to protect it.

 

Q: Anything to add?

A: I am most grateful to my husband for his support, my daughter for the constant hugs and kisses, my followers and supporters for encouraging words and feedback every day, for my community and being part of it, and all my family and friends who believe in me. I am always happy to teach and answer any (art-related) questions so please find me on Facebook and Instagram and check out my website. If you love beautiful, light-filled, happy paintings then you are in the right place with me.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Studies

When I graduated middle school, one of my teachers signed my yearbook: “Rachel, You are a “why”!” I didn’t have to ask. The nickname came about because I often cannot stop asking questions.

Later, when my Dad and I were commuting to work together, he would often get impatient and turn the radio from NPR to the Classical Station of the New York Times WQXR. Usually, it would be in the middle of a radio story about some obscure topic in some country that I would remind myself to look up on the map later. He wanted to listen to news that was more locally relevant; I remained fascinated by the eclectic and the obscure. (We’ve been continuing this same conversation in one form or the other for about the past 20 years or so…)

When I joined the military and trained as a 46Q print journalism and public affairs, I finally found a job where I could ask a lot of questions AND seek out obscure and eclectic stories and make them interesting and known to other people. I enjoyed writing features–getting to know people, what they did, fun facts about their lives.

Now that I primarily write fiction and do the occasional interview for my blog, I find that a lifelong interest in the obscure and eclectic has paid off. I enjoy doing the interviews for my character “Conversations,” although I’m realizing that the time I have for them is very limited. I still have a couple I need to write up and publish, but I still want to expand into sharing interviews with people whose creative abilities are outside of the scope of writing. I will still, of course, continue to share interviews with writers, but I want to branch out to painters and musicians and medieval re-enactors and more.

I am going to start a new series of Conversations, interspersed with my traditional interviews with writers. My goal is to have them up on Mondays and share them throughout the week. Check them out and if you think you might have an interesting story to tell, let me know. If you have a friend with an interesting story to tell, send them my way.

And now, back to my word count.

A Conversation with William C. Markham

I recently put Night Run back into a few featured giveaways on Instafreebie, and one of them happened to be an “Urban Noir” collection of urban fantasy. The author running the giveaway, William C. Markham, had an excerpt from his book, “Missing: A Mason Gray Case.” The blurb read: “Mason Gray, a former cop, has a knack for solving puzzles, but the corpse on his living room floor is a piece that doesn’t fit.”  Of course, I had to check it out. I ended up reading not only the giveaway sample, but went over to Amazon and got the rest of the book to finish reading that day. I was prepared to buy the series only … well, keep reading to learn more about Markham and his urban fantasy take on detective noir fiction.
Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a little bit about yourself and your path into writing Missing: A Mason Gray Case.
A: 
I’ve always enjoyed writing. I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories when I was in high school. I even worked on the high school literary magazine. But acting was always my passion. In college, I dabbled in playwriting and took a creative writing class with Nikki Giovanni, a published poet who had some name recognition at the time. I started writing a fantasy novel then, but it never amounted to anything. It wasn’t until much later, while I was living in Chicago, that the idea for Missing and Detective Gray came to me. It took me ten years to finish it, mostly because I kept getting distracted. But once I did, I realized that I had it in me to write an entire book.
Q: In Missing, the city of Chicago becomes its own character in the novel. Can you talk a bit about using the city in your novel, and building the world around it?
A: I love Chicago. I lived there for six years and relished the vibe it gave off, the sense of opportunity, the hope of making it big. But there was also this other side, a darker, grittier version of the city that carried its own romanticism in a way. I tried really hard to capture that personality in the book. I wanted to incorporate my own experience there to make it authentic to my readers. Gray’s apartment was one I lived in, and the Deluxe Diner was right across the street. They had great mozzarella sticks.
There’s so many aspects to the city that convey a sense of mystery. Looking at the lights of the all the skyscrapers in the loop at night made me wonder what life was like for the people that lived and worked there. I discovered Butcher’s Dresden Files and enjoyed the feeling of actually knowing the places he mentioned. I wanted to do that in my own story. The idea of mixing reality with fantasy intrigued me.

Q: This novel evokes a gritty noir world with a modern urban fantasy touch. What were some of your influences in creating it?
A: 
The Dresden Files certainly influenced me, but I think the idea really hit me after watching Blade. Something about vampires running corporate America appealed to me.

I also listened to the Prairie Home Companion on NPR a lot. There was a segment with a character named Guy Noir. It was my favorite. Being an actor, I’m a sucker for interesting characters. When I started writing about Mason Gray, it was more an exercise in character development than of storytelling. But then I wondered what would happen if I put that character into a world with vampires. And so the journey began.

Q: Your bio talks about your work both as an elementary school teacher, as well as a an actor and theater company founder. How does your writing life fit into these other creative endeavours?
A: 
In addition to Missing, I have one other book out, The Great Bacon Escape. I wrote it specifically for my fifth grade students last year. I teach writing and thought it would be an excellent way to show them the process in all its messy glory. When I taught about snapshots, I wrote a snapshot of a character. When I taught about problem/solution, I had them brainstorm problems the character might face. I ended up writing the while thing as a present for them in two months. Then we talked a lot about revising. It turned out to be a great experience and I was able to give them all a copy at the end of the year.

For my theatre company [Impressions Theatre] we do original plays for young audiences. The first two shows I wrote myself. Then I hired someone else to write them due to time constraints, though I do come up with the ideas and a rough outline.

I also have four children. As you can imagine, I keep pretty busy and it is difficult to find time to write. I squeeze in time whenever I can, though, but I’m not as prolific as some authors.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the novel? How did you meet/resolve that challenge?
A: 
I think plotting is my biggest challenge. I started out as a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants), throwing events at Gray to see what choices he would make and where it would take him. I reached a point where I realized I needed more than that. I needed a road map to get to the end and I didn’t know how to do that. So I contacted a good friend of mine, who is an excellent author in his own right, and asked for help. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, I had what I needed and was able to move forward.

Q: My only complaint about the novel is that the sequel isn’t out yet. What is coming next for Mason Gray? When do we get to read the next book?
A:
The next book is called Stolen. I started on it as soon as I finished Missing. I am 40K words into it. Missing was only 52K, but this one is going to be longer. It’s going well and I hope to have it out by Christmas. And I plan to write another kids book this year too.

Q: Anything to add?
A: 
Thanks for your interest in Mason Gray. I love to hear from my readers so visit my website and drop me a line. Make sure to sign up for my mailing list for a free Mason Gray short story: Beaten. You can also find me on Facebook.

 

A Conversation with Dr. Susana H. Case, Poet

Sometimes, reading poetry will trigger a memory so intense that it takes a moment before you realize that the memory it triggered belongs to someone else. That’s what it felt like to read Susana H. Case’s work. Here, I’ve asked her to speak on her work, in the hopes of sharing it with some fellow poetry enthusiasts who would also like to spend some time in the moments she crafts…
Q (Infamous Scribbler): As I perused the Internet, I found many author bios that included a list of your many publications, but not many that talked about who is Dr. Susana Case, and where did she come from. Can you share a little about yourself, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ so to speak?
A (Susana H. Case): I grew up in New York City in one of the outer boroughs (Queens), though I’ve lived in Manhattan most of my adult life (except for a few years in Ohio). Though I’ve traveled widely, sometimes for months at a time, I’ve always lived in the United States. The only child of a public school English teacher and a dietician, who gave up her career to become a full-time mother, I first had some of my poems published in my late teens, but then went in another direction. I earned a Ph. D. in Sociology and became a university professor. In the early 1990s, I returned to my first love, poetry, though I still continue to teach Sociology. The combination of interests means that there are a number of social themes that run through my creative work. For example, I teach a course in gender, and there is a lot about gender that runs through my poems. I’m also interested in power from many different perspectives and that interest is threaded through several of my poetry collections, for instance, my first full-length collection, which was inspired by archival materials from the Salem witchcraft trials (IS Note: Salem in Séance), and also a later book of prose poems inspired by copper mining and the early history of the labor movement in the United States. I’m interested in injustice, but I’m also interested in love, in its many manifestations. You can find one or the other or both practically everywhere you look in my poetry.
My interest in war comes from that interest in power and injustice and is the reason that warfare is the background of two of my collections. My first published chapbook, The Scottish Café, which won the Slapering Hol Press chapbook competition in 2002, and was later translated into Polish and re-published as a dual language (English-Polish annotated) edition by the University of Opole Press was the first series of poems I wrote in that vein, with World War II as the imminent event for a group of mathematicians in what was, in those years, a city that was part of Poland. I returned to thinking about life under war with Erasure, Syria, which has just been released. Having never had to live where a war was in the process of being fought, I consider myself lucky, and my interest in looking at what happens while people are living in those conditions has led me to try to imagine it within the framework of my (very different) experience. What I connect to is the interest in survival, in trying to fashion a life under the worst types of circumstances, a form of persistence and luck. Those are things that interest me. I’m married, to a visual artist, and also live with a dog, an elderly Scottish Terrier.
Q: In your poem, The Apartment, you explain that it was part-experience, part-research, part-imagination. Is this a common theme in your work? If so, how does that amalgamation coalesce when you’re working on a poem? If not, what about the process made this poem unique?
A: Yes, it’s common for me to draw upon my own experience or to project my own experience onto unfamiliar situations and I use imagination a lot. I also read widely if I’m writing about anything that has a historical basis or a basis in fact. Empathy probably also helps. But what I like about writing poetry is the ability to shift from the documentable to the realm of fantasy. “The Apartment” is a poem written about the apartment in which I currently live and the state it was left in at the time I moved in. There had been two people living in the apartment: an elderly man and his schizophrenic adult son. The son was not able to live on his own, and his remaining family eventually moved him out, but the disheveled state of the apartment piqued my interest in the two of them and what their lives must have been like in those final years. I didn’t know them, though I previously lived across the street. The apartment was full of guns, and there were external locks on the internal doors. The son did sleep on a mattress in the middle of the living room. Most of the rest, I imagined from what I know about schizophrenia. I did hear a few details from neighbors as well, the detail about the squeaky wheelchair, for example, which belonged to a resident who had died way before I moved in, coincidentally one of the wives of Robert Moses, the New York planner-builder. I was told that the noise of the wheels irritated the father enormously, that he was not a nice man, but in the poem, I ascribed the disturbance over the sound of the wheelchair to the son.
Q: Your book, Drugstore Blue, resonates, I think, with any woman who grew up in the 1980s. Can you talk about the decisions you made of what to include in the poems in the work, as well as a bit about creating the work in the present with the memories of the past?
A: Although I draw upon my personal experience and biography quite a lot in Drugstore Blue, it’s not a straightforward autobiography. The collection began in its conception as a book of poems about travel. But I soon realized that I wasn’t writing about travel so much as I was writing about the nature of navigating the world as a woman. I then organized the poems in terms of expanding circles of experience, starting with my roots, then moving outward to other parts of the United States, then moving further outward to the world, finishing with a section populated by many who are not of this world, have died, or are mythological, and so forth. But within each of those levels of experience, it’s the nature of being female, and what that means in terms of growing up, love, work, respect, etc., that were important to me for inclusion. I do not have a great memory, so whatever I can remember I’m grateful for, and what I can’t remember, I make up. I generally have not kept a journal, though maybe that would have been a good idea. I think adversity can be mined for creative content and we all struggle, we all have setbacks. I’ve tried to take some of that and turn it into “lemonade” so to speak, something better than it might have been as I was experiencing it. I don’t mean to suggest that my life has been terrible; I’ve been relatively very fortunate. But struggle is universal. We all have problems we are trying to solve. We all want to be loved, and to be happy, and to be fulfilled in our endeavors, and to be somewhat centered. None of that comes easy.
Q: I see from your schedule that you often read your works in public. What about reading the work aloud (as opposed to private creative process) is similar or different to publishing it in a book or online?
A: I was an extremely shy college and graduate student. If anyone had told me then that I would make my living teaching or, worse, that I would get up in front of a crowd of people to read my poems, I would have laughed and said, “no way.” I don’t know exactly what happened—maybe it was the sheer repetition of doing it that eliminated the anxiety, a form of immersive desensitization therapy—but I’m not that shy person anymore, thank goodness. I’ve very happy about that because it made my life at the time more difficult. I could barely say anything aloud. From that kind of history, I’ve come to a place where reading my work in public is something that makes me feel very much alive. But part of the private process for me is also hearing it read aloud. I need to hear it to see if it sounds right before it’s ever sent to be considered for publication.
Q: Your newest work, Erasure, Syria, from Recto y Verso Editions, came out this year. Can you talk about the creative process that went into the works in this book? Many of your other books bring an aspect of personal life from private experience to the public profound. How do you bridge the gap between your process and the lived reality of the war in Syria? 
A: I have no ethnic roots in Syria and, as I mentioned earlier, have never lived or worked in a war zone. I had been following the news. My reaction was to the destruction of a country. It was less a political reaction and more a response to the heartbreak of the situation. I have met a number of Syrians over the years living in other countries who would have preferred to be home, if there was an intact country to return it. It doesn’t look like that will be possible. I mean for my project, which has just been released, in fact the link isn’t even up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble yet, to be a universal response to this kind of upheaval, even though it uses news coverage specific to the situation in Syria. I have been interested in erasure poetry for a while, though I have not included erasure poems in my other books.
Erasure, Syria is a series of erasures of the daily news on Syria. I created one erasure a day and condensed the erasure into a black square in which I paid attention to spacing and other visual elements. It was an attempt to make art out of tragedy, something positive out of something horrific. I was fortunate to work with a publisher with excellent in-house design skills (Christian Ortega) and the book, which is about a terrible sets of events, turned out to be very beautiful. It was the publisher’s idea to also include some pages that showed the process of using this technique to select and arrange text and so it’s also instructional in a sense.
In addition, not that there’s any real money in poetry—that’s not why poets write—I decided I would donate from my part of the royalties to the International Rescue Committee’s programs in Syria. They provide medical and emergency help to refugees within the country and also in bordering countries and also provide water, sanitation, educational, and counseling services within refugee camps. Children and at-risk women are a substantial part of their client base. In this way I felt I would not just be feeding parasitically on someone else’s tragedy. In line with this, if anyone donates $35 to the International Rescue Committee directly, through this link (help.rescue.org/donate), and sends me a copy of the receipt via facebook messaging, I will send that person a free copy of Erasure, Syria. If you live outside the United States, please make a donation of $45, as my shipping costs will be greater.
Q: Anything to add? 
A: I have accumulated a large number of poems in which crimes of various sorts are threaded through the works. I’ve now begun to focus more on filling in the holes remaining in the sequences I currently have and this will be my next project.
~~~
You can purchase a copy of Erasure, Syria from the publisher, Amazon, or by donating $35.00 to the International Rescue Committee and messaging a copy of the receipt to Susana Case via Facebook. You can also find her online at her Website.

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Clay Gilbert

Welcome back to any readers I have after that obnoxiously long hiatus … Our radio silence was for a good reason. We recently moved the entire Traveling Circus and Menagerie from one coast to the other, and have finally gotten settled in. I wanted to share an interview with author Clay Gilbert, who has been quite patient with me as I pulled myself and my interview list together. His a recent release, Cassie’s Song (Tales of the Night-Kind Book Two A Modern Vampire Novel), came out June 8. It’s the second in a series that gives a unique take on vampire fiction. I invited him here to talk about the series, as well as a little bit about writing in general. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the first book, Dark Road to Paradise, and check it out.

And now, without further ado or excuse, a conversation with Clay Gilbert!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): First, can you provide a short bio/insight into your writing career? 

A (Clay Gilbert): Sure.  I’ve always loved stories; I was reading and writing at a very early age.  I wrote my first short story—I’m not sure what else to call something that’s only five page long other than ‘short’—when I was four.  I know I was four because, at the time, I was in the habit of putting my age along with my name on the story. It was a science-fiction story.  I don’t remember the title.  I do remember the title of another one I wrote when I was thirteen; another sci-fi story called “The Computer Conspiracy”, about a shy, outcast boy who finds a way to live inside his computer.  Scholastic Magazine liked that one; they paid me $25 for it and published it.  From the time I realized writing was something some people did for a job, the way my father went off to his office every day, that was the job I wanted to have.  Pretty much everything I did in my life from that first sale to Scholastic, through two master’s degrees and a handful of other publications, was setting the stage for finally getting my first novel published in 2013, even though I took some other professional side-roads along the way.  Writing was a goal I never really let go of.

Q: In your novel, you tackle a number of weighty issues, from topics such as living with HIV to issues of adhering to the unspoken rules of a tribe or in-group, and the consequences that result from transgressing those rules. Are these themes that you sat down to consciously write about? How did you develop them? Where might we see them go in the next book?

 A: I’ve always loved vampire novels and vampire movies, and I had toyed with the idea of writing my own spin on the genre.  I began working on Dark Road to Paradise in the early Nineties, using some characters I’d come up with for the live action role playing campaign of “Vampire: the Masquerade” I was playing in downtown Auburn,  Alabama, once a week with some friends.  One of the things that concerns me as a person and as an author is the experience of life as an outsider, or life on the fringes of mainstream acceptance.  That certainly was a conscious concern in Dark Road, but it was also something I grew up with.  I was born with hydrocephalus, and growing up with that experience taught me what it was like to be pushed to the fringes.  It’s hard to be that one kid who doesn’t participate in gym class because his parents are afraid (and rightly so) that he might injure his head, or to be someone who people slow their cars down on the road to ask ‘why’s your head so big’?   True story.

Cassie’s health concerns are different, but they came both from wanting to explore my own experiences as an outsider and the empathy I felt for the lack of understanding I saw HIV patients being treated with in the late Eighties and early Nineties.  Finally, there was the historical fact that Dark Road was begun before any of the “Twilight” books were published, and a romance between a mortal girl and a vampire wasn’t all that common in fiction at the time.  Perhaps even more significantly, I recognized that somehow, there had never been another vampire novel focusing on HIV/AIDS in an actual, literal way, as the central concern of a story–and there still really hasn’t, even now, in 2018.  As for where the themes of Dark Road end up going in the next book, Cassie’s Song—Cassie grew up not really feeling like she had the freedom to make her own choices or live her own life.  What will it be like for her to have that freedom?  I think that’ll be as fun for readers to find out as it was for me.

Q: You’ve published a number of books in a variety of spec fic genres. What draws you to creating other worlds? What are some aspects of worldbuilding that you find essential when writing in these genres?  

A: ‘Worldbuilding’ is something I find myself speaking about on Con panels a lot, as I guess kind of makes sense for an author of speculative fiction.  And this may be an unpopular opinion, but in talking with younger writers, and particularly with would-be writers, I find that ‘worldbuilding’ is the thing that bogs down beginning genre writers most of all.  For me, characters are most important.  I care about the people in my stories first and foremost.  Once I know who they are, they can tell me about the world they live in.  Everyone does this thing called writing differently, but I’ve seen people spend so long on building the world of their story that they end up having no idea what the story is, or who it happens to.  People in a story are just like people in our world—they don’t live in a vacuum; they have histories, fears, hopes, likes and dislikes—but if you find out about the people in your story first, knowing about them will supply everything else you need.  That’s what happened when I started writing about an eighteen-year-old girl named Annah in the book which became Annah and the Children of Evohe.  I didn’t spend any time thinking about the world of Evohe in advance; instead, I got to know Annah as best I could, from her upbringing as someone whose odd opinions and obvious birth defects got her ostracized in her small community, to her claustrophobia, dislike for raw fish, and love of music.  She filled in the rest of her world for me.  I would advise aspiring writers to build their stories around the people in them, not the world they take place in.

Q: You have an MFA from the University of South Carolina; academia also plays a part in your novel, as well as your professional career. What are some of the insights into writing that going through a program like an MFA provides? What are some of the advantages? As a professor, how have you communicated some of those lessons to your students?

 A: I wouldn’t undo the time I spent in academia, although I don’t teach anymore, and haven’t done that since I became a full-time author in 2015.  I will say, though, that I find snobbery toward genre fiction to be alive and well in the academic arena.  Dark Road to Paradise was my MFA thesis, and it was a real struggle to convince the professor who eventually became my thesis advisor that there was any literary merit to a story with vampires in it.  I feel that any kind of story, whether it has vampires or aliens in it, or features people who could live across the street, must be rooted in human concerns to have any weight to it. I’m not interested in writing purely escapist fiction with no relation to the real world.  I’ve always found that the imaginative distance a writer gains in the genres of speculative fiction provides a great lens for focusing on the best and worst that the ‘real world’ has to offer, and enables an author to suggest ways that things might be made better.  As far as advice to my students, or to aspiring writers–if you have a dream, go for it.  Don’t compromise. Don’t settle.  And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

 Q: What is some of the best writing advice you’ve received? What’s some of the worst? 

A: Stephen King advised me, when I met him when I was thirteen, that he tried for ten pages every day.  I adopted that, and I still follow that.  Ten pages a day adds up fast.  Ray Bradbury added to that when I met him three years later, by advising me that it was important to be regular about writing—do it every day, in the same place, at the same time.  I still follow that advice as well.  Worst writing advice?  Whatever that was, I’ve forgotten it already.

Q: What can your readers expect to see coming up next? 

A: I’ve got an urban fantasy novel coming out real soon called The Kind Book One: The Golden Road.  It and its sequel, Terrapin and Back Again, comprise a two-part story mythologizing my own experiences following the Grateful Dead on tour during my college years, although the band in the book is called Coventina’s Well.  It also has a little to do with the value of myth in culture and history, and hopefully has as much fun in it as ‘meaning.’  I’ve also got a fourth Children of Evohe novel coming out called Annah and the Arrow, a third Night-Kind novel called Heartsblood planned for next year, and also next year, a standalone monster novel set in East Tennessee called Pearl.  I like to stay busy.

Q: Anything to add?

A: If you want to be a writer, remember this: you can do it, if you have the drive and put in the time.  Don’t wait for ‘inspiration’ to come; make it come to you.  There’s no such thing as writer’s block; that’s an excuse people make for not doing their job.  Just imagine if you had a stopped-up toilet, and the guy you called told you he couldn’t fix it because he had ‘plumber’s block’ that day.  You wouldn’t stand for it.  Don’t let yourself get away with anything like that as a writer, either.

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Check out Clay Gilbert online at Amazon Goodreads.