How to Write Heroes

“I need a hero

“I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

“He’s gotta be strong

“And he’s gotta be fast

“And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight…”

Excuse me while I digress, but the classic Bonnie Tyler song, “Holding Out for a hero” – and the soundtrack to the 1980 film “Footloose”, starring Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer – is as good a place as any to start when creating the hero or heroine of your novel. It’s a nice little summary if you like as to just how to create a hero and the key traits.

The hero is also a good place to start when you are thrashing out your plot, although some writers prefer not to plan, but rather to just write more organically and see how the story evolves.

Regardless of your approach or preference, the role of the hero or heroine is central to most stories, especially fantasy and science fiction.

American mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell famously came up with the concept of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ (or monomyth) in “The Hero of a Thousand Faces”, published back in 1949.

In it ‘The Hero’s Journey’ was divided up into 17 different stages and while not all stages will necessarily happen in every story or myth, it’s a useful starting point if you do want to plan your novel out and have some sort of framework to work too.

The idea of ‘The Hero’s Journey’, however, is not something only Campbell has discussed. Nor was he the first – think Vladimir Propp, who did something similar with Russian fairy tales and came up with ’31 functions’ in his 1928 book, “Morphology of the tale” – and since Campbell’s 1949 “The Hero of a Thousand Faces” a number of other scholars have put forward their own versions too, be it David Adams Leeming in “Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero” (1981), or more recently Christopher Vogler in his “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers” (2007). The basic framework, however, tends to be split into three.

We’re talking:

  • Departure
  • Initiation
  • (and) Return.

So the hero gets the ‘Call for Adventure’, eventually embarks on said challenge or journey (Depature), perhaps reluctantly initially, before overcoming some trial or hardship (or it could be trials and hardships) (Initiation) and then eventually triumphing and returning to the where the ‘Call for Adventure’ began (Return). ‘The Hero’s Journey’ has gone full circle. The hero or heroine will also often start off as the underdog, and just like in real life readers love to see them rise up and achieve the unexpected. The crucial point is to make the reader identify with your lead character and to ensure any actions or responses are justified and realistic.

Don’t necessarily think of the hero or heroine in your story in the singular sense either, as you could have several characters helping them along the way, each heroic in a different way.

Whatever you decide just get creative and be aware that your journey as a writer will in many ways mirror that of your characters and once you have your hero or heroine thought up and fleshed out, you can turn your attention more fully to the villain or villains because as the cliché goes, ‘every hero needs a villain’…

Interview with Fairfax Library Foundation’s Director of Development Abigail Fine.

This weekend, a number of CQ authors will be attending the Fairfax Library Foundation’s Barnes & Noble Bookfair. This event wouldn’t be possible without Fairfax Library Foundation’s Director of Development Abigail Fine, who met CQ managing partner Alisa Gus, when she entered a Twitter pitch event. Alisa faved the pitch, requested the full (at which point they found out they’re neighbors). Alisa ultimately ended up having to pass (but only because CQ have a couple of similar stories – it really is Survival Kit’s Apocalypse meets President’s Daughter! – not because she ended up not liking). Then they started talking about a joint promotion – and the rest is social media history!

Alisa and Abigail recently got together to dicuss books, libraries, the publishing industry, coffee and cats!

Alisa: Interesting how social media works. We wouldn’t have met if not for that Tweet pitch contest. Are you a believer? Or do you think person-to-person, live interaction is where it’s at, when it comes to building yourself up as an author?

Abigail: The writing, reading and library communities on social media are quite impressive, and I’m a total believer. I’ve found countless book recommendations, critique partners and beta readers for my writing projects, fantastic articles with advice for writing, publishing and library programming, and I’ve connected with industry professionals through the Twitter contests and hashtags. I can’t say the person-to-person is not important, but there is a lot of connecting to do online. And we have Twitter to thank for this partnership that will turn into person-to-person in a few short days on April 15!

 

Alisa: We are local to one another, both around DC area. Do you think there’s something to having a local publisher, or do Big 5 have it right, keeping themselves to NYC? Oh, and have you heard about an attempt to move BEA to Chicago as response to the skyrocketing prices at the traditional Big Apple venue? Unfortunately, the attendance dropped like a rock, and I am wondering – is there a reason geographical location still carries so much weight in this business?

Abigail: Change is hard, isn’t it? Our library system did send folks to BEA in Chicago, but we heard the turn-out wasn’t the same. It’s too bad. I’ll report in the next section that reputation does matter for our library selectors, and that industry reputation is still centered on NYC.

But at the library branch level, we love all things local. The Library and Library Foundation cannot afford to bring in guest authors from out of town very often, unless the author or their publisher agrees to cover their own expenses as an in-kind donation. So connecting with local authors and publishers is critical for us in creating exciting, meaningful programming for our library patrons.

 

Alisa: Say you could have anyone review your book – publisher, author, film director – who would it be, and what sort of commentary would be most useful? A blurb? An editorial review? A professional review? What would your library most care about – whom it is published by? Which distributor it is coming from? (inquiring minds – in our marketing department! – want to know)

Abigail: I’ll skip the first part of the question because…. That’s a tough question! I’ll get right to what you really want to know. Here’s the inside scoop from one of our library selectors about what she looks for when purchasing books for the library collection (and remember, when budgets are as constrained as they are, there is pressure on every purchase):

“Basically, reviews from professional journals are the gold standard for selectors. Journals like Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus, Hornbook, Booklist, VOYA, etc. have the reputation and cache that really provides a reassuring basis for selecting (or not selecting) a title to be added to our collection. In the absence of professional reviews, we will go to Amazon or Goodreads to look at reader reviews there, but we always have to be careful since those can so easily be biased (a lot of times it seems like the reviews are mostly from the authors’ family and friends).

For books without reviews, the publisher also is something we look at – for example, a lot of children’s non-fiction does not get reviewed, but if it comes from a publisher whose titles I’m familiar with as generally being of high quality, I will be more likely to purchase.

Distributors don’t make too much of a difference, but we do purchase a lot through wholesale vendors who provide us with a volume discount, so it is always preferable if we can purchase through these vendors.

Blurbs can be helpful in a way, but professional journal reviews are much more useful. I tend to think of blurbs more as a potential boost to the book’s popularity because of the well-known name providing the blurb. Since all the blurbs I’ve ever seen are positive and pithy, they don’t usually tell me too much about the book itself. But, for example, if John Green or Maggie Stiefvater were to blurb a YA book, I’d know that their name/blurb on the book would help it out a bit if I did buy it for the system.” –Library Selector

 

Alisa: Now that we’re working closely together, are you finding it would end up useful for the libraries to foster closer relationship with the publishers, and how do you think we can mutually help each other?

Abigail: Absolutely. Connecting library patrons more directly with publishers and authors is very exciting to us. As the Library Foundation, our mission is to enhance the library. Connecting with Curiosity Quills allows us to enhance the library experience for library patrons who are interested in discovering new writers, or interested in learning about the publishing industry.

Plus, we always get more interest for our organization—and therefore more donations—when we invite fancy folks like yourselves to our events! On our own, we’re not that interesting. So we like bringing authors and publishers along to elevate the image of our organization! Thank you!

 

Alisa: If your library system could get its hands on anything – or have it be created to order – what’s missing? What piece of technology, software, manpower is most lacking, and does fund raising usually help in making up the lack?

Abigail: The library is always serving the community, so what we want to get our hands on most is what the community tells us they need. The library Board of Trustees completed a big public engagement survey in 2016 and found the #1 interest in our county is increasing library programming and materials for children age 12 and younger. So we are in the early stages of planning updates to our children’s areas—and figuring out how to raise funds for it—as part of a strategic planning process.

Another major priority that emerged in the survey was support for English Language Learners. The Foundation recently launched a funding campaign for this purpose: The New American Initiative. We want to refresh the English Language Learning materials in our branches. Many beloved materials are more than 20 years old, and still faithfully checked out by immigrants in our county.

Our fundraising helps close the gaps where county funding falls short, but there is never extra funding lying around for dream projects. We (libraries and Foundations) have to budget and plan very carefully to expand our programs and services at all. At least in this economy.

 

Alisa: Has the library ever considered doubling as something like a co-working space / alternative to Starbucks? Charging for that, even – because I for one would love to have an office among the books, and I bet a ton of our authors would as well.

Abigail: Yes, but it hasn’t happened yet in Fairfax County. One reason is that our libraries are already full—there’s just no room for more writers or other professionals to hang and drink coffee all day. If you’ve ever been in a library branch after school or on the weekend, you’ll see a crowd at the door before the branch opens, every table full, and lines to use the computers. Meeting spaces get booked up weeks or even months in advance. As the branches slowly renovate, we create more room for work stations and other innovative spaces. The newly renovated Pohick Regional Library has a teen area with comfy seating and everything you need to play video games—with headphones on.

But no coffee shop yet!

Abigail: How are things these days for an indie publisher? What are the biggest challenges you face now? What are you most excited about for the upcoming year? What does Curiosity Quills dream about?

Alisa: Hey Abbie, thoughtful questions – and tough ones!

Things are… not easy, I have to admit. We are one of the bigger independent publishers left that can trace its origins to the Kindle revolution. But… what Amazon giveth, it taketh away. The visibility is utterly dependent on its ecosystem, and as such we live and die by constantly putting in resources to drive traffic to… you have guessed it, Amazon. It’s really a terrific business model, I have to give props to Jeff Bezos for growing what used to be an-out-of-his-garage operation into the stunning octopus with its arms reaching up into skies and in every industry below.

BUT… I am glad to say we are keeping strong, and we do have a ton of stuff cooking up this year that will not only let us continue keeping on, but really turn things around for many of our fellow authors, publishers – and even folks in other industries. WishKnish is a subscription marketplace we’re about to launch (literally next week), and is something we hope we can use to sell physical books to households, schools, libraries – bypassing the traditional distribution model – AND offering the same opportunity to any other creator that wants to do the same.

That’s kind of what we’re dreaming, eating, talking, breathing this year – and beyond!

 

Abigail: Responding to your question about location—how does location affect you, the publisher? Are you finding pros or cons to being based outside of NYC? Do you have preference for working with authors that are geographically close to you?

Alisa: For us…. there really isn’t any difference, believe it or not, especially considering we’re close to such hubs as Washington DC, Baltimore, Reston, Fairfax, to bring in the awareness and the crowds – at least to the press as a whole, and to the local authors. As for the rest of the authors – they are still constrained by their own location, and willingness / ability to travel. As for social media, e-book sales, etc – luckily, these days, one can do it from anywhere. And should!

I do know that some authors prefer the press be based out of NYC, however, as these is definitely a perception of status attached, but it is becoming progressively less weighty now that things are becoming more decentralized – with editors coming from across the world, illustrators being found on Behance to match an individual project, and publicists setting up podcast events all over the internet.

For me, personally – I do like having authors close, but it’s not really for any business reason, so much as because a lot of them become personal friends, and it’s nice to have a chance to meet up every once in a while, which is obviously less of a possibility if someone is say in Australia — as is one of our authors and a close friend, Tyrolin Puxty, whom I’m hoping to lure to the US (and our neck of the woods) one of these days.

 

Abigail: What is one thing you wish librarians knew about small publishers? What is something the average reader should know?

Alisa: For the professionals in our industry, I guess I would say I want you guys to know that we (quite a lot of us, anyway!) work just as hard as the Big 5 to bring the perfectly edited, entertaining content to our readers, libraries, and partner bookstores.

And as for the readers… well, that – and that we can get away with cooler, edgier, timelier material – because of our shorter time to production, and our ability to pick based on what we and our readers would like – rather than please the accountants only after the bottom line in their P&Ls.

 

Abigail: We’re so glad to be connected on this first event, and we have plans for the future! What are your thoughts on how libraries (and library Foundations) and publishers can work together?

I am pretty psyched as well! SOOO glad you invited us join in. I think joining together two sides of the publishing coin can only benefit the readers, AND help us get the best bang for our buck, in terms of offering discounts, building joint awareness of the challenges we’re all facing today, bringing the books in even before publication for readers to check out – and render their opinions on, and letting both social networks comingle – if you ask me (which yeah, you kinda did!) – there can never be enough books, just like there can never be enough bookworms to gobble them up!

 

Abigail: What would you want to see in the library or library programs that you don’t find already? (I’m guessing, coffee!)

Alisa: OK, how did you know? Also cats! A lot of cats. Cats are the writer’s (and editor’s) best friends.

Seriously though – I think more beta readers would not never be amiss, as well as a way to facilitate more opportunities for writer talks and author connections for the purpose of forming crit groups.

I have a young author acquaintance (she’s a sophomore in high school!) who is looking to work with other authors in her area – and so far found her opportunities limited in this respect. I am thinking authors would very much benefit from the libraries functioning as this sort of resource – and the libraries would find being visited, talked about, and donated to a hell of a lot more often.

Abigail Fine is the Director of Development for Fairfax Library Foundation, with ten years of experience at nonprofit arts and culture organizations. On the business side, Abigail has an MBA from George Mason University and is an Adjunct Professor of Management. As for creative pursuits, she is a professional theatre director and fiction writer. Abigail is a local girl, born and raised in Fairfax County.

Fairfax Library Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to providing supplementary support to Fairfax County Public Library. The Foundation, while reinforcing the need for continued and increased public support for the Library, serves as a catalyst for attracting private funding from individuals, businesses, organizations, and foundations to enhance library services for our community. www.FairfaxLibraryFoundation.org.

Interview with Professional Knitting Designers Norah Gaughan, Rosemary Hill, and Karen Clements

As well as being an urban-fantasy author, CQ’s Vicki Stiefel is an avid knitter. In fact, when she was preparing for the launch of her novel, CHEST OF BONE, beta reader and fellow knitter Rosemary Hill suggested the novel needed a book of knitting patterns to accompany it.

Vicki got together with renowned professional knitting designers Norah Gaughan, Rosemary (Romi) Hill, and Karen Clements (knit1LA) to collaborate on a knitting patterns booklet, and the rest they say is history.

CQ CEO Alisa recently sat down with Norah, Rosemary and Karen to talk about how they met Vicki, and the knitting community.

1) I guess to get everyone started, can you tell me how you have met, and how you have decided to collaborate on your knitting patterns booklet, to go with the Chest of Bone? I understand it’s not exactly done, right? Also, are you ladies doing this professionally, or do you still hold “day jobs”?
Norah: I don’t think we have all met. Our group centers around Vicki.  I met Vicki when she called me to ask if I would contribute a pattern to her book A Laidback Knitter’s Guide…  She was convincing. I said yes and also went with her on a road trip to the NH Sheep and Wool Festival.
I’ve been designing handknit professionally since …well, for a long time.  It provided me with two day jobs in the past, each as a design director. Right now no additional day job.
Karen: Hi Alisa, I only know Vicki. I’ve never met Nora or Rosemary, though I know of them and their work. I’m fortunate to not have to have a day job and to be able to design patterns full time.

Rosemary: Vicki and I met years ago when she co-wrote a book called “10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters: A Guide to Holistic Knitting, Yarn, and Life.” I knew her co-author and they asked me to design a pattern.

I beta read “Chest of Bone” for Vicki and LOVED it! I’m a huge fan of the urban fantasy genre. We just started talking about there needing to be knitting patterns to support the book!
I am a full time knitwear designer. I also teach at retreats and festivals.
2) How long does it take to put together a pattern, and what goes into it? I hear a lot of readers are knitters, and most knitters are readers, but I have never gotten into it myself – my grandmother knitted, but somehow she has never gotten around to teaching me or my mom, so the patterns look cool, but “all Greek” to me.
Norah: I am juggling so many things at once i don’t really know how long it takes to put one pattern together.  I can’t count the hours that ideas are bouncing around in my head, or that I spend on Pinterest looking at fashion inspiration to combine with whatever my current knitting or construction jag is.  When I do sit down to sketch it happens pretty quickly. Then come swatching stitches for the right fabric / silhouette combo – give that an evening or two.  Figuring out the construction and writing the first instruction for my knitter may take a couple shots of a few hours each.  I like to mull over things and change my mind. I need the extra time to remain flexible and open to new ideas of how something could be achieved.  The actual knitting takes from 40 to 60+ hours depending on the size and complexity.  The sweater then needs to be blocked. Changes are made to the instructions and it needs to be written in more sizes. My least favorite task. Sometimes I farm that job out.  There are still some checking tasks to be dome, but you get the ideas, right?
Karen: The length of time depends on the piece. How I work is I start constructing my sample and write the pattern along the way. I then send it to a tech editor to check my math, size it and make a schematic. I then photograph the sample. Once I have all the elements I can make a pdf that I upload online making it available for purchase.
Rosemary: The amount of time to develop a pattern varies all over the place. Some patterns take years to come to fruition while others almost write themselves in just a week. Basically, it is designing a piece of clothing and then figuring out the best way to create/knit it. After that, you need to make the directions understandable to others, so that they can create the same garment successfully.
3) Do you guys knit a lot these days? Try out all the patterns yourself? And what do you do with the proofs of concept?
Norah: I knit every day. I definitely knit all of my proofs of concept. We call them swatches.  I hoard all of my swatches in a big basket until i don’t know what to do with them.  When a friend of mine wanted a batch to use in an art project I was thrilled.
Karen: The length of time depends on the piece. How I work is I start constructing my sample and write the pattern along the way. I then send it to a tech editor to check my math, size it and make a schematic. I then photograph the sample. Once I have all the elements I can make a pdf that I upload online making it available for purchase.
Rosemary: I knit almost every one of my designs. Those that I don’t, I will do a giant swatch to test all the stitch patterns and shaping, and then send it on to a sample knitter. I keep all of my samples (if that’s what you mean), since knitters like to see trunk shows with all of the knitted pieces. I keep most of my swatches, as well.
4) Are you thinking of using modern technology to make things easier to visualize? Like virtual reality and whathave you? I would imagine it might be useful. Or do you just keep track of the patterns in your mind?
Norah: I draw sketches on my iPad and make diagrams on my MacBook Air. It’s a combination of old and new. Not exactly virtual reality. Sometimes I fold up paper models. That’s fun.
Karen: I use a computer solely to write the pattern, but need that hands on process.
Rosemary: I’ve always been able to think in 3D, so no – no plans for virtual reality or 3D models! It would take too much time to set up for limited benefit. What’s really important is the type of fabric you are creating, and the way the garment would drape on a human body. With 3D modeling or VR, I’d be assigning a fabric type and a fit to the garment that may or may not be the same as the ultimate finished object. It’s more helpful to swatch and create a “muslin” of the design by sewing up knitted fabric if I need to visualize the fit. 
5) Do you have a marketing plan for the booklet? Where are you planning to find your reader base? Are there knitting / sewing expos? How does one make a name for him- or herself in the community?
Karen: I think Vicki is taking care of that end with the booklet so she would be the person to ask. For the latter question, the internet makes it easier to get your name out there. It’s just a matter of putting your time in on social sites like instagram or on a blog or website. People respond to good design and well written patterns, word of mouth is big in this community.
Rosemary: There are knitting shows and events, retreats, yarn stores, forums, and even a dedicated social media platform for knitters. Overall, knitters are very tech savvy. We’re on social media a LOT. Marketing for a knitting pattern booklet is just like any specialized hobby where the hobbyists are online quite a bit. 
6) Since we’re a reading community – I have to ask. What is your favorite book (this question is for everyone) and what book hero / heroine would you have loved to meet the most in real life. How about the least? What would you tell them, if you could?
Norah: The Secret Garden remains one of my favorite books. I read it over and over when I was a child, so I would like to go with Mary and Dickon as the heroine and hero I most would have like to have met.  I would like to teach them how to knit. They both would have been happier if they could have known the power and thrill of making something with their own 2 hands.
Karen: Hmmm, I have too many books I like so I can’t think of one particular character I’d like to meet. I know who I wouldn’t want to meet, Madame Defarge!
Rosemary: That is a difficult question! I love books. So I’ll tell you the book I read when I need a boost in spirits: “The Secret Garden.” I don’t even know how many times I’ve read it! Other books I love: “Pride & Prejudice,” “Persuasion,” “Gone with the Wind,” and the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. To be honest, I’m not really interested in meeting any book heroes or heroines. I love books because I can imagine the characters any way I wish. I wouldn’t want to meet the actual character and have my whole idea of the person dashed away. I often have that problem with movies, as well.
7) And because we’re a community deeply divided these days by politics, fears for the future, financial woes, I have to ask. Does knitting really help, relaxation-wise – as it does the protagonist in Vicki’s Chest of Bone? And if you are doing this for a living, are you really constantly relaxed – or do you need to search elsewhere for something to take your minds off things. And if so, can you recommend some of your techniques?
Norah: I suspect Knitting does help settle my fears. I am not at all constantly relaxed. I am always plagued with guilt about something else I maybe should be doing… BUT imagine how I would be without knitting. 🙂  Knitting adds focus. It’s amazing how much I can remember about whatever I am listening too when I am knitting.  I have been cooped up all winter now and haven’t been out walking in nature. I highly recommend walking in nature to make things feel better.
Karen: Regardless of the climate, I have nervous energy that knitting satisfies. Anything fiber related I do. Knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning… I don’t necessarily want to take my mind off of things but rather be able to think more clearly. Being a fiber artist helps me achieve clearer more mindful thinking (if that makes sense). My technique was passed to me from my grandmother, mother and aunts, “just do” and I do, everyday! 😉

Rosemary: Okay, so I completely burst out laughing when you asked if I was always relaxed! I think whatever you do for a living, there will be stresses. The trick is to do something you love so that the stressful aspects are overcome by the pleasure you get in doing your job. I love creating and designing beautiful things. I also love the math involved. And I’m a workaholic, so I have to do something I love. There’s no such thing as leaving my job at the office for me, so I chose something I enjoy.

But back to your questions…yes, knitting can be relaxing, especially if you’re someone like me who constantly fidgets. But there are people for whom knitting or working with their hands is frustrating. To each his or her own. I do knit for relaxation and I also design things in my head and engineer them. But I don’t actually swatch a new design or write up patterns for relaxation. That’s the part I least enjoy.
When everything is getting to me, the best thing I can do is go outside. I live out in the high desert and the sky is so huge and there is so much open space that it always puts things in perspective. I feel small and comforted at the same time. I also do positive affirmations. If I badly need a boost in spirits, I read “The Secret Garden” or listen to it while knitting.

About Norah Gaughan

Raised by artists in the Hudson Valley (her father, Jack Gaughan,  was a well known science fiction illustrator in his day) Norah was immersed in both art and the needle arts from an early age. Norah went on to earn a degree in Biology / Art from Brown University.  During the years that followed she concentrated on her greatest love, knitting. First as a freelancer for yarn companies and knitting magazines; then as the design director at JCA and more recently, as the design director at Berroco where she headed up the design team and published sixteen eponymous booklets. Norah’s upbringing, schooling and experience coalesce in her two hardcover volumes Knitting Nature and Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook, both published by Abrams.
You can find her patterns online at http://norahgaughan.com/

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About Karen Clements

Karen Clements of Knit 1 LA is a knit and crochet pattern designer specializing in heavier gauge yarns. Growing up in a family of knitters and sewers has fostered a life long enthusiasm for fiber that she loves to share, especially with her two young daughters. You can find her patterns online at http://knit1la.com/

About Rosemary (Romi) Hill

Knitwear designer Rosemary (Romi) Hill lives on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern Nevada, where the high desert nights are cool and the air is clear and crisp. A lifelong crafter and knitter, she is inspired by the natural surroundings in her corner of the world, and her designs have an organic flow. Her work has appeared in publications such as Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, Knitscene and Twist Collective, and in numerous books. Romi’s book New Lace Knitting from Interweave Press was published in September 2015 and features timeless patterns for garments and accessories. She loves dark chocolate with chili peppers, and she’s a sucker for a great pair of cowboy boots.
See Romi’s full pattern collection at www.ravelry.com/designers/rosemary-romi-hill .
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @RomiDesigns, and on Facebook at Designs by Romi.
www.designsbyromi.com

Interview with A.W. Hill

Curiosity Quills author, and Grammy Award winning composer, A.W. Hill recently wrote a very thought provoking political article on Medium. It resonated so much so that CQ CEO Alisa, who is also active in the political field, just had to sit down with A.W. Hill to ask him some questions on the current political climate, how that effects his writing, and his hopes for his son’s future.

1) You are a composer, and author. And a dad – a damn cool one, I’m guessing, if your teen doesn’t mind collaborating with you on a major project, which is no little feat, I can tell, as mom to a pre-teen. Now you are jumping into politics. Is this a new development? Or have you always considered yourself an activist?

My earliest political memory is of being taken by my mother to a John F. Kennedy rally in a Chicago suburb. It was in a high school gym. There was a lot of love in the room, but also a lot of hate. I wanted to understand the hate. It was both horrifying and fascinating. In those days, there were “John Birchers” around. I suspect that some of my friends’ fathers were sympathetic, if not card-carrying. Many of them, in their shadow selves, would have wished Kennedy dead. Why? What was so threatening? I was too young to make any rational sense of it, but a couple years later, when my mom called me into the livingroom to witness black children being water-hosed and beaten in Birmingman, two things happened in my brain, one a purely emotional jolt, the other more like a new wrinkle. The cruelty was the jolt. It came from the hatred, and the hatred was painted bright red on the black and white TV on the scowling faces of the white brutalizers. But the hatred was only possible because the brutalizers didn’t see the others as being “like themselves.” And as I say in the Medium piece, we favor our own kind. I’m sure that this “racial awareness” colored my visceral anger about the Vietnam War. I carried it in my belly for ten years. Once again, we were making war on the stranger. I felt a young man’s fury in those days, and within about six weeks of arriving at Knox College in the cornfields of western Illinois, I’d converted every one of my Republican’s son dormmates to opposition. It wasn’t just my rhetorical skills. I also got them high. And when they were high, I made them see their own death in the jungle, while listening to The Beatles Revolution #9 spun backwards on a turntable. I’m a little embarrassed to say that on the night we announced the unified opposition of the Drew House Men’s Dormitory to the War in Vietnam—a night when the snow fell heavy and wet and made perfect iceballs–we also broke every window in the building. So, yeah, the political feelings have always been there, but my expression of them at a scale beyond my own circle is something new, and that’s only possible because of the Internet.

2) President Trump has won on a platform of “making America great again”. Do you think his presidency can really achieve that, if only by making people come together, awaken politically, find courage to speak up in the face of adversity? In fact, is any true socio-economic growth possible without major political upheavals?

People, including myself, gave Susan Sarandon a lot of grief for saying America might get to where it needed to go faster if Trump, not Clinton, were elected. But it’s true that authoritarian regimes have always inspired rebellion and creativity, and occasionally, an Enlightenment. Eventually. But in the meantime, people get crushed. Many of them just disappear off the face of the earth. They can’t survive what happens when all the money and power gets moved up to the head of the snake. So it’s a kind of accelerated Darwinian purge, a passive genocide. On a very primal, pre-rational level, I think that’s what the people around Trump are aiming for. That’s not what they see, of course. They see a shining city on a hill, hard steel glinting on Hyperborean ice, and the friendly faces of those like themselves. Isn’t that what “anti-globalism” and “neo-nationalism” really mean: erecting the fortress walls and huddling with our tribe in the castle keep. Then, inevitably, a Resistance forms, but not quite the way it does in Game Of Thrones or The Hunger Games. It can take years of suffering. So, all in all, despite the excitement and frisson of watching that resistance take shape, I’d have rather seen people fed and borders broadened under eight boring years of Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel than count the weeks before the next war begins.

3) To come back to the article. I know it must have taken you days if not weeks to get all the reference material together. Where do you see this being used? And do you intend to produce more of those deeper think-pieces?

It took a while, but not weeks. I work very fast when I’m motivated by both intellectual curiosity and unemployment. But yes, there were lots of puzzle pieces, and if you’re going to make a case, you have to put them together. “Where do you see this being used?” Man, if that isn’t the question that dogs my every step. Through five novels, two screenplays, hundreds of songs and homemade productions, those nearest and dearest to me have asked, “So what are you gonna do with this thing?” I never know. I am possibly the least entrepreneurial person in my universe of friends and workmates. I really, truly, sincerely and ‘literally’ do this stuff because I have to. I would love for people to read it. I would love for as many people to read my words as read Trump’s idiotic tweets. I’m not a true Bohemian. I do write to make a living. But I write about what interests me and I long ago let go the of expectation of immediate reward. As to writing more think pieces, it’s probably inescapable. There are quite a few up on my authors site at http://www.awhill.net/blog.htm and http://www.awhill.net/disc.htmIt isn’t just politics. I like to write about music and sex, too. Ultimately, all writers follow desire—not just their own but that of the readers. If enough people express desire for A.W. Hill think pieces, then that’s what I’ll write. 
 

4) Medium, your blogging platform on which your piece is actually published in full, has become a handy portal for politics, science, economics. Do you see such sites as Medium or Breitbart replacing traditional journalism now, or in the foreseeable future?

I hope not, because if journalism unmotivated by profit ever disappears completely, we will be truly screwed. It’s never been pure, of course, There was always a need to sell papers and air time. But there was a time when journalism received kind of a tacit subsidy from media organizations, a bit more like what happens with the BBC. That was the journalism that took down Richard Nixon. Open blogging sites like Medium are great public squares—an opportunity to nail your bill of grievances to the church doors—and if a piece happens to go viral, it can make a difference. But I’ve given up most faith in the transcendent power of the Internet.  Now, maybe if a highly respected institution (and there are few), like Stanford University, set up its own “Medium,” using endowment funds and not advertising dollars, and it came to be widely cited and quoted in mainstream journalism, we’d see it having something like the effect that public intellectuals used to have, especially in Europe. But for now, uninformed, unmoderated opinion rules. Trump really sets the paradigm for that, with his one hundred-forty character squawks about things he thought of thirty seconds earlier. It’s a firefight, and if we disagree, we have no choice but to pick up a flamethrower. I just hope the opposition never becomes as reckless and shrill as the Trump people are.

5) Speaking of your co-author, what does Nathanael think of all this? Are he and his peers now finding themselves more involved in the “grown-up affairs”? Did he participate in the writing of the article? Do his friends see themselves now getting involved in activism, not unlike the youth of the 60’s and 70’s has been so instrumental in the influx of progressivism into the reactionary, anti-Communist climate of the 50’s?

Nathanael didn’t have a hand in writing it, but we’ve talked about all of its subjects, and he’s beginning to find his own voice. He just did a paper for his APUSH class comparing the pre-Depression 1930’s to the Reagan 1980’s—both eras pushing money to the top and then watching it fall—and I was surprised by the conviction behind his words. Yes, I think that as long as young Millennials (and whatever the next generation is called) don’t fall into either dogmatism or apathy, and avoid fashionable nihilism like the plague, they could be the current that overcomes the reactionary tide.

6) To bring this back to a more literary topic – are there any fiction books you would recommend modern youth had added to their curriculum that it does not study now, as a precautionary measure? How about non-fiction? Do you ever feel yourself thinking / feeling, “well, in my day, we used to study this, but now…” Or do you feel the current education standards cover adequately cover what you want your son to be aware of / internalize at his age?

Well, they all seem to be reading 1984 these days, and that can’t hurt. A dose of Kurt Vonnegut and R.D. Laing —maybe even Carlos Castaneda—for good measure. But mostly, I would wish for my son and the children of others to read books that are empathy-inducing. Not necessarily political. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, for example. I have no doubt that books like that are out there right now, but with the demise of authoritative weekly book reviews, many of us never hear about them. They got a good start with the Harry Potter books. Those were far more subversive than we realized (the reactionary Right knows this—that’s why they burn them!) It’s also good to go back to sources, like Plato and Rousseau and Gandhi. To see where ideas come from. Until I sat down to write this Medium piece, I’d never really understood what “classic conservative” theorists like Edmund Burke and Thomas Carlyle espoused. This debate has been going on for a very long time.

7) Last question: Switch has been written in the pre-Trump era. Will the outcome of the last presidential election, with which clearly you are nowhere close to satisfied, influence the content / direction of the sequel? Why or why not? Do you believe young adult fiction has a role to unobtrusively serve as sort of a primer on ethical adult behavior, or would adhering to such a standard unnecessarily, and unavoidably, limit the author’s creativity and tunnel their vision?

There’s a passage in The Switch where Gordon, who is the most experienced of the multiverse-hoppers, speculates that whoever has installed the switches wants to make a new kind of human. One who can find a home in any universe, with any set of contingencies, within any culture. It’s not so different from the idea of the “warrior as peacemaker” idea that’s found in a lot of very ancient mythology. I don’t think that fiction should ever be overtly about ethics, and I understand why some conservatives bristled at the politically correct bedtime stories of the 80’s and 90’s. But we can use the tried and true methods of allegory, satire, and fable to create models of both good and bad (which, for me, is basically empathetic v. sociopathic) behavior. Fiction has always done that, and I don’t see that obligation as limiting. Within just the last year, young people hves felt the life of the world—the life outside their own bubbles–suddenly take on a real urgency. I expect that the next time Jacobus Rose and his cohort pull the switch, it will be with deliberateness and with a fairly urgent mission to perform. Maybe even a rescue.

Excerpts from the Article

“If you want to understand a political movement, look to its fringes. That’s where its most committed ideologues huddle: the true believers, the people willing to suffer scorn for its sake.”
What the thinkers who constellate the Alt-Right/Anti-Globalist universe seem to have in common is a disdain — no, let’s call it what it is: contempt — for the ideal of egalitarianism and its political expression as democracy.”
“There is much confusion about political labels these days. What may clear the air a bit is to remind ourselves of the historical origins of the terms “right wing” and “left wing.””

Read the Full Article on Medium

About A.W. Hill

A.W. Hill is a classic late bloomer. He began his writing career in 1995, under the influence of California—a place that makes one believe that crazy things are possible. Until then, he was (and still is) involved professionally in one aspect or another of the music business. He was a rocker, playing the circuit until he turned 31. His last band was called TigerTiger, after the William Blake poem, which may indicate that his literary aspirations were already germinating. In 1995, when he began work on what would become his first novel, ENOCH’S PORTAL, he had just left a 9-year stint as Vice President of Music Production for Walt Disney Studios.

(PORTAL, in a textbook instance of beginner’s luck, was optioned by Paramount Pictures and slated for production as a $60mil movie, only to crash into turnaround when the producers, director and studio couldn’t agree on a script)

That was 2000. That same year, he won a Grammy Award, which ought to have made it his favorite year, except that it was also the one in which he reported the lowest adjusted gross income ever to Internal Revenue Service, consisting in part of my meager earnings as a pseudonymous writer of women’s erotica.

He wrote two more books with the same protagonist as in PORTAL—THE LAST DAYS OF MADAME REY and NOWHERE-LAND, published, respectively, by Carroll & Graf in 2004, and Counterpoint Press in 2010.

The fourth year of the new century was also the one in which he first had short works of literary erotica published under his own name, in Susie Bright’s BEST AMERICAN EROTICA and in an esoteric journal called Absinthe Literary Review, the latter of which awarded him its Eros/Thanatos Award for short fiction.

Along the way, he was introduced by his literary agent, Dorris Halsey, longtime agent to Aldous Huxley, to an Indian physicist in need of a ghostwriter.  Together, they dove deeply in quantum physics and the mysteries of the cosmos. He allows that his experience in editing two books on these subjects is perhaps the only thing that gave him the confidence to undertake THE SWITCH. Between 2012-2015, he spent four years teaching film composers in Europe, and along the way, produced an independent album, Another Country, for iTunes .

Interview with MG & YA Author Aimee Lucido

Curiosity Quills Press recently had the pleasure in interviewing children and young adult author, software engineer and pasta aficionado, Aimee Lucido.

1) I hear you’re writing a cool new MG about a code-learning girl? Can you tell me more about it? Do you feel that’s something you want kids (girls, especially) to learn in middle school? How soon is too soon to pick a career path?
 
I’m currently working on a middle grade novel in verse whose working title is THE MUSIC MY KEYBOARD MAKES. It’s about a lonely twelve-year-old girl named Emmy who winds up in a computer science elective because she doesn’t have any better options. She builds a friendship with the only other girl in the class, Abigail, who is learning to “come out of the closet” to her friends and parents about her love of computers. The two girls, along with the other kids in the class, slowly discover their voices through the programming language of Java, and the poetry progresses, it begins to incorporate Java’s syntax and concepts as the students, and ultimately the readers, learn to think in code.
Computer science should be taught in schools as early as possible in the same way that math and reading should be taught in schools as early as possible. We don’t read “Goodnight Moon” to our infants because we expect them to be writers one day, or teach them to count because we expect them to be mathematicians, we do this because math and English are important skills for whatever career path they choose. Similarly, computer skills are becoming more and more necessary in any field as we leap towards the future. If a child plans on pursuing computers professionally in some capacity, then that’s fantastic! But that’s not the primary purpose of mastering computer literacy.
2) Speaking of careers, how do you see your own path playing out in the next 10 years? Writing fulltime? Or was writing something you dreamed of doing as a kid, or is this something you have come into just now? Is this MG your first book? Any other cool ideas?
 
Writing has always been a huge part of my life, and no matter where my software engineering career goes, writing is never going to leave me. I think I would go crazy if I ever dropped writing, simply because I would lose my primary creative outlet. Similarly, no matter what happens in my writing life, technology is never going to leave me, even if I do quit one day to write full time.
THE MUSIC MY KEYBOARD MAKES is the first book I’ve ever tried to write explicitly about tech, but technology is such a deep part of me that even if I’m not writing about it literally, it sneaks into my writing in other ways: in a picture book I’m working on, a girl builds a jungle gym inside her kindergarten classroom, engineering her way out of her problems; In a middle grade ghost story I wrote during my first semester at Hamline, the main character’s mother is a cryptography professor at Stanford; I have a dream of a nonfiction project about shrinking down to see how a computer works from the inside; and, since I’m an analytical person, my characters tend to be too, thinking like coders even if they aren’t.
I have a *ton* of cool ideas and not nearly enough time to work on them all! That’s a point in the column for one day quitting to write full time, I guess. But would I go just as crazy without code as I would without writing?
3) One part of writing is, well, writing, but the other is self-marketing. What are you doing to get yourself brand recognition? And what would you recommend to other authors just getting started on that path? Do you think tech would help you with that, or are face-to-face signings still the best way to a reader’s heart?
 
Answering interview questions here is a start, no? I don’t do enough brand recognition stuff, and that’s a weakness of mine that I want to work on. I could tweet more, I could blog more, I could go to more SCBWI events. But it is tough to work on my writing on top of a full-time job, so that’s my excuse for not being proactive on that front.
I would hope that the tech work helps me with brand recognition. Especially for projects like MUSIC, which are specifically about technology. I have a lot more experience than other writers who choose to write about the same subject.
In addition, I write crossword puzzles, and there’s a bit of branding in there as well. Hopefully all these feed off each other and one day I’ll just burst in a single glowing ball of fame-flame!
4) Speaking of books. Or, especially, sci-fi… Where do you think tech will go next? In which direction? Quantum computers? Fully conscious AI ala the movie Her and I am Robot? Have we cleared the top of the fast development hill, or will we still be rushing ahead?
 
The cool thing is that we’ll probably go in all these directions at once. Just… slowly. “Fully conscious” AI (or at least AI that passes the Turing test) comes in tiny baby steps. Uber, Tesla, Google, and others are all putting self-driving cars on the road *today*, and SpaceX is working on interplanetary tourism as we speak. I have an Amazon Echo and a Nest in my house and even without any more development, those machines are pretty darn cool. I don’t see us slowing down any time soon!
5) To follow that up, I have to ask… is it sci-fi or fantasy for you, and have your preferences changed based on what you have witnessed firsthand in the tech trenches? Which book is on your to-read list this spring? How about, which movie? Which video game? Oooh, and do you ever dream-cast your favorite books?
 
Fantasy over sci-fi, but my true love is magical realism. I like when mundane things are talked about as though they’re magic, versus magic things being talked about as though they’re mundane. It’s entirely possible that my life surrounded by technology makes the sci-fi mundane (or at least not an escape the way fantasy or magical realism is) but I have always loved stories like The Golden Compass or Matilda, or anything by Nova Ren Suma that show a magical flip side to our current reality.
My to-read list is about a million miles long. I’m currently halfway through three books: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (magical flip side! See???), Freak The Mighty (just started, love the voice so far), and the third book of Gene Yang’s Secret Coders (It’s so dreamy. A beautiful, fun window into the magic of technology).
I am very much looking forward to watching Get Out and Moonlight, but I’m not very good at watching movies, so it may be a while before I get to them.
Zelda just came out for the Nintendo Switch (!!!!) and I am making my boyfriend wait for me to have free time to play it with him before he’s allowed to start.
And I do dream cast my favorite books, but I do it with people that I know personally, not famous actors. Every YA/MG book I read automatically gets transplanted into the setting of my life when I was the age of the protagonist, and the supporting characters all get the faces of my friends of that time.
6) Happy ending or you would rather be surprised? Is it different between game / books / movies for you? Why? Can you elaborate? (The eternal romance vs. love story debate).
 
I like bittersweet endings in both my movies and books. I like endings that don’t go the way you’d expect, but still feel complete. Holes is my idol in this capacity in that it ties up all loose ends, but is still surprising and intriguing. I want to be left thinking about it months after I’ve put the book away. And I don’t play as many games as I would like, but my favorite ones tend to end bittersweet as well. Link’s Awakening? I cry every time I wake the windfish.
7) If you could tell something to our ancestors, anything, without fear of messing up the timelines – what would you say, and to whom?
 
Oh gosh… If I don’t tell my ancestors to watch out for Hitler than I’m kind of a monster, right?
That and I’d tell my parents to invest all our money in Microsoft back when they first went public.
8) And the reverse question – if you could ask any of our ancestors / famous figures anything – whom would you ask, and what would you ask them?
 
This isn’t exactly a question, but I would love to get a sense of what it was like to be the wife of one of the famous, powerful men of the history of America. I consider myself pretty loud and strong, but I wonder what I would have been like if I had lived back when women weren’t encouraged to be loud and strong. I hope I’d be an Angelica over an Eliza, but who really knows?

9) So, I know you’re both an author and engineer at one of the mover-and-shaker companies in Silicon Valley (you have asked not to be identified beyond that, and we certainly understand your reasons). But being there on the forefront of a computer age, do you feel we’re heading toward a dystopian or utopian future? Is this a big concern of yours, or do you think scaredy cat sci-fi authors have it wrong?

I don’t believe that any world, either in real-life or in sci-fi, is ever fully utopian or fully dystopian because any world is ultimately made up of real, nuanced, and complex people, none of whom are either perfectly perfect or perfectly imperfect. And so, the best fictional worlds, the ones that ring the most true to me, are the ones that explore the reality, nuance, and complexity of technology and the people who use it.
If you take a beautifully crafted “dystopian” book like Feed by M.T. Anderson, or The Giver by Lois Lowry, what makes these futuristic worlds so compelling is that they have their pros and cons. I remember reading The Giver as a kid and just wanting to be swallowed up into the closeness and safety of that world. But that comfort in the beginning is intentional on Lowry’s part so that it hits harder when she reveals that the world is colorless, and that the society will even resort to killing babies in certain circumstances.
Similarly, in Feed, some of the technology is pretty incredible. I would love to have a pill that takes pictures of my colon as it goes down instead of undergoing a colonoscopy. I would love to have quick and affordable transportation to the outer reaches of the universe. I would even love to be a teenager in a world so safe that parents will let their high school kids go off to the moon for a weekend. While the style of the writing emphasizes the cynicism of the world, there are also moments of intimacy and potency that demonstrate that the world isn’t as simplistic as it might be in the hands of a less skilled writer.
In fact, M.T. Anderson writes that he himself feels the love/hate relationship with his world: “I don’t think this would have been an interesting book to write (or to read) if I had only hated the hyper-marketed world I describe. For me, the key to the discomfort is how much I love some of it, how much I still do want to be slick like the people on the tube, beautiful, laughing, surrounded by friends. And how much I legitimately do think that the technology-based information resources at our command now are incredible (things like Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, instant music and movie downloads, even the much-maligned Wikipedia). These are tools for an amazing new intellectual understanding of the world, though they come with strings attached. Think about the way technological progress over the last twenty years has revolutionized the artistic possibilities in film, or the scientific processes of medical experimentation – or almost any field. We have at our fingertips knowledge and power like no other generation before us, and that’s intoxicating. I am no Luddite. And this would not have been an effective satire, in my opinion, if I hadn’t also been seduced by what I was mocking. It is the anguish of indecision that animates it. This is indeed a brave new world, but there is a cost.”
When it comes to real-life technology, we must remember that these breakthroughs don’t erupt from nothing. They evolve over time from the brains of humans, who spend their hours working and thinking critically about their work. This is something that bothered me about, say, The Circle by Dave Eggers. The book treated The Circle as a company full of toadies, who smiled and applauded at whatever the visionaries said. But what makes real-world technology so intriguing, and what makes it something that I want to spend my days working on, is that we are very aware of the negative implications of any forward movement in technology. For every idea that someone comes up with, there are a hundred people poking holes in it, and arguing passionately about why it should never exist.
As an illustration of this, there is one scene in The Circle where they meet as a whole company once a week for something called “Dream Friday.” Eamon Bailey, one of the “Three Wise Men” gets on stage and presents on something that he’s working on. From the get-go, Eamon is painted as a beloved leader. Shouts of “We love you, Eamon!” rise from the audience, and no matter what terrible joke Eamon comes up with, the audience bursts into laughter. Even Mae marvels at his “off-the-cuff eloquence.”
The scene progresses as Eamon walks the audience through his plan to put hidden cameras up at beaches so that surfers can see what waves are like before they head to the water. He adds that there is a feature to share your secret cameras with someone else, and even shows a camera in Cairo with two unsuspecting citizens having a conversation in Arabic. He boasts that the crime rate in the world would be cut down 70-80 percent if people were watching all the time, he drops the phrase “All that happens must be known” and accidentally livestreams a video of his mother in a bathrobe, all to roaring applause from his employees.
This is supposed to make us feel icky, and it does.
And it would never. Ever. In a million years. Happen at a tech company.
Tech companies are full of some of the most cynical, critical, pessimistic people in the world. If my CEO ever got on stage to accidentally show a picture of his mother in a bathrobe and suggest that everyone should be able to put cameras anywhere at any point and give access to those cameras to whomever they want, the employees would walk out. We’d rage about the voyeurism, the security implications, the risk of abuse for things like child pornography, rape culture, terrorist attacks. If we put out that product there would be Tech Crunch headlines, brand deterioration, and our company’s value would crash, not to mention the fact that that the vast majority of us would be unable to sleep at night.
Not to say that our existing technology doesn’t have its downsides. The Circle is written as a parody of Facebook and Google, and there are certainly privacy implications surrounding every feature that those two companies put out. But that’s where the intelligence and and caution of the employees come in. That’s where government regulation comes in. That’s where employee and customer outrage comes in. That’s where people sue, refuse to pay for services, eventually putting the company out of business.
Let’s not forget that Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said no to the NSA accessing user data, and that Facebook spends thousands of engineering hours per year thinking about how to give users more control over who sees their data. Uber doesn’t show the rider’s picture to the driver to protect their identity, and almost every highly-trafficked messaging service allows users to encrypt their messages in order to keep them off-the-record.
When we as authors paint our dystopian worlds with strokes that are overly broad, we not only do a disservice to the actual future, but we make bad literature. We write two-dimensional, mustache-twirling villains that at least this reader would never pick off a shelf.
So in summary, no we are not moving towards a *-topian future, because technology is just a tool. A very powerful tool, perhaps, but it is still just a tool. And like any tool, it is no more benevolent or malicious than the people who use it.
Thank you, Aimee. It was fantastic speaking with you, and you had some very insightful answers to our questions.
Aimee Lucido is a software engineer by day, writer by night. She is finishing up her MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University and in her free time she writes crossword puzzles and performs musical improv with her team Flash Mob Musical. She lives in San Francisco where she has made it her personal goal to eat at every pasta restaurant within a ten mile radius.
Find Aimee Online: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Interview: Marisa Siegel and Lyz Lenz of The Rumpus

Some of you might have heard that The Rumpus has a new Editor-in-Chief and owner, Marisa Siegel. Curiosity Quills Press were recently lucky enough to get an interview with Marisa, and The Rumpus Managing Editor Lyz Lenz.

Thank you ladies for joining us on the CQP blog, and agreeing to answer some of our questions!

For Marisa:

You have mentioned poetry as being your first love. Is it still?

Poetry is like breathing. I’ve been writing less of it in the last few years—though I scribble lines here and there—but reading more of it. I don’t know who or where I’d be if not for poetry. Something I’ve said a lot is that I starting writing poetry “before I understood what ‘poetry’ meant. That’s indicative, I think, of what poetry means to me. But is it still my first love? I have a child now. Nothing comes before him in my heart. But poetry is the foundation I built my entire life upon.

Which poem do you think best represent The Rumpus—and your hopes for it? 

This is a really interesting question. I’m going to with the first poem I ever read, and one from which I have a line tattooed on my arm, “Love Is a Place” by e. e. cummings. I think it speaks to my hopes for The Rumpus, and for humanity.

Love is a Place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

– e. e. cummings

 

What poet are you reading now? 

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry written in response to Trump’s election and subsequent inauguration—we published the Rumpus Inaugural Poems project, put together by our Poetry Editor Brian Spears, and truly every poem included is amazing. I’m a little too busy these days to sit and read a collection in its entirety, but if you want poetry in your day-to-day life—which is, for me, critical in times like these—I recommend two things: sign up for the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day newsletter, and follow Kaveh Akbar on Twitter.

And, I’m always returning to the poets that are foundational for me: cummings, Neruda, Bishop, Plath, and Dickinson jump to mind.

 

How about a prose writer? 

The last novel I read was Abandon Me, forthcoming in February from the outstanding Melissa Febos. When I read it, it was for pleasure. I loved it so much, though, that I begged Melissa to help us make it our February Book Club pick. So, pleasure became business.

Similarly, I’m about to start Julie Buntin’s Marlena, which will be our March Book Club selection. So I’m reading it “for work,” but then again, I reached out to Julie and asked if we could make this happen because I knew this was a book I wanted to read, and that our readers would want to read.

 

Is this for business/review, or for pleasure? Is there a difference for you? 

I don’t have much time to read “for pleasure,” but the work I read for The Rumpus is a pleasure, almost always.

 

In your article, you mentioned your focus shifting to small presses rather than Big Five. Is there any reason for that? In our experience, a lot of publications hold to a different opinion. Will you also be featuring self-published authors?

The conversation began around the Simon & Schuster controversy. We didn’t necessarily feel that a “Rumpus ban” on Simon & Schuster books would be effective, and it might also unfairly punish authors we love and want to celebrate. But shifting our focus to small, independent presses allows us to make a statement about the kinds of publishers we support and believe in. This doesn’t mean we’ll never cover a book or an author from the “Big Five.” But in keeping with our desire to be a platform for voices and writers that wouldn’t otherwise find a home for their work, we’d also like to be a platform for and to champion the underdogs of the publishing industry who aren’t being covered elsewhere but are putting out important books and publishing wonderful writers.

 

I know The Rumpus has a Book Club, and started it before book subscriptions were cool. Are there any plans for it? I’ve read that the books are recommended by trusted sources—is that still the case, and if so, can you tell me a little bit about who those sources are? 

The Rumpus Book Club began before my time, and has remained a popular program. We actually have two clubs now: our Book Club and our Poetry Book Club.

I do have plans to help grow the clubs beyond the site’s audience and to be more inclusive of different sorts of writing—I’ll be working on the Book Club myself beginning with February’s book, as I mentioned above. Our Poetry Book Club is managed by Brian Spears, the site’s Poetry Editor.

I’m not sure whom those trusted sources were, but I can share that I will be choosing books by exploring the catalogues of presses I admire, talking with my editorial staff and our advisory board, and keeping my ear to the ground as to what people are looking forward to reading.

 

What has been the reader response to the book club from the start? What is the response now? 

I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this question. I haven’t been involved in the Book Club or Poetry Book Club for very long—I’m only just getting started! My role as Managing Editor didn’t involve working with the clubs.

That said, I am hoping to engage readers more, and in new ways. There are so many ways to connect online now, and I think we may try some new tools for the clubs going forward.

 

How difficult is it to manage the book club, on top of running Rumpus? What, for you, are the challenges and rewards of running it? And what are the challenges and rewards of running Rumpus itself?

I’m a multitasker and always have been. I’ve joked that I make my OCD work for me, but it’s really true. I’m compulsively organized, which allows me to wear a lot of different hats at once. And, while I’ll be taking on the task of running the Book Club, I’m also bringing on a new Managing Editor (Lyz Lenz) who will assume many of the responsibilities I used to handle as Managing Editor. This will allow me time to work on larger goals for the site, as well as to handle the business aspects that come with being the owner and Editor-in-Chief of a website.

The biggest challenge, for me, is to stop working. When you work for a website, you’re never “off” because the website is always live. There is always an email to be answered, a technical problem to troubleshoot, an essay to give thoughts on, etc. I admittedly am not great at setting boundaries when it comes to work, and so I’m pretty much always “on” when it comes to The Rumpus.

But because I can be flexible in the hours I work, I am also able to be home with my toddler (with part-time help). That, for me, is invaluable and the biggest reward. Of course, it is also incredibly rewarding to work with a talented staff and to connect daily with writers whom I admire greatly. And, now that we face so many dangers as a country, it is rewarding to have a platform to speak out against injustices.

For Lyz:

How long have you been with The Rumpus?

I’ve been working with The Rumpus in some capacity or another for three years.

 

How did you find your way there?

After the birth of my second child, I was desperate to find a job and honestly I just wanted to build out my resume. Despite what people may say, a resume that has a four-year gap due to taking time off to birth children isn’t looked favorably on. So, I was looking for a way to get myself back into editing. The Rumpus put out a call for bloggers and I thought it would be a good way to start working again, and for a place I loved. I also deeply believe in the value of being a good literary citizen and in working to put good words and good stories into the world. So, the opportunity to work with The Rumpus was one I couldn’t pass up. After working as a blogger for a year, I began helping Brian Hurley with the Books section, which was fun and has been a real learning experience.

 

What do you love the most about the publication, and what do you want to see changed now that Marisa is taking over the reigns?

I love how the Rumpus is dedicated to good stories and new voices. Under Marisa, I don’t see this changing; I see it being enhanced with better site design and more functionality. Marisa is an incredible manager with an eye for detail. I anticipate her being the Bert to my Ernie and together, rededicating The Rumpus to what it does best—telling good stories.

 

How do you pick your bloggers/reviewers, and how much autonomy do they enjoy in their pick of topics?

Our bloggers and reviewers come to us. In spring 2016 we began paying feature contributors and reviewers, but we still can’t pay bloggers, so we rely on people who come to us.

 

What sort of time commitment do you look for in your reviewers?

Some of our reviewers review regularly and do it for the love of books. Other reviewers write one review and move on. We take any kind of reviewer—the only thing we look for is a clear and incisive review that values analysis over opinion and shows thoughtfulness about literature.

 

Is the goal to make it possible for them to make reviewing a full-time job?

I think one of the benefits of The Rumpus is that we take people at any point in their career as long as the writing is good. So, if an emerging writer is looking for clips to begin a career as a reviewer, they can find a home with us. And Brian and I certainly do our best to help our reviewers in any way we can. I’ve connected reviewers with editors at other publications and helped them with pitches for other publications, to guide them on their way in their writing goals. I’ve seen Brian do the same thing.

This is true of all of our contributors. We are so grateful to our writers, and we do our best to help them in any way we can. If that means ushering them into a new career, we are here for it. The best thing about The Rumpus is that we are very much dedicated to writing and the writing community.

 

How far in advance of a book’s release date do you prefer a publisher send you an advance copy?

As far as possible. Since all our section editors are volunteers and our writers aren’t making much from us, we tend to run a little slower than other publications.

 

You do a lot of reviewing at Rumpus. Who picks the books? And what are the criteria you look for in picking/judging them?

Well, mostly our writers pick the books. We have books we are super-excited for, but if we can’t find a writer to review it we are often out of luck. The times I’ve written reviews, those reviews have been about books I was so passionate about that I begged Brian to give me some space.

As we go forward, The Rumpus is really going to look for books published by small and independent presses. We are also looking to highlight the work of underrepresented writers, PoC, and writers with disabilities. There is so much exciting work happening in the publishing world, and we hope to highlight what might otherwise be overlooked.

 

Will you be putting out any physical publications/collections/anthologies in the foreseeable future?

My motto in life, besides “valar morghulis” is that I’ll do anything once except eat hemlock. So, I’m not ruling out this as a possibility, but we have a lot of groundwork to cover in solidifying our baseline as a business and working on site redesign. So, one big project at a time.

 

Is this a job you would recommend to your daughter or younger sister?

I never recommend writing or editing to anyone. So much work for so little money. And the hate mail is always in plentiful supply. But I can find no other job that justifies my extreme reading habit. I am pushing my own daughter into a career in engineering.

 

What other job would you want to see more women coming into, that they haven’t in the past?

President of the United States

For both Lyz and Marisa:

What is your audience, and are there any specific segments you’re looking to connect to more in the next few years?

Our audience is really varied in many ways. But we know that if we are going to affect real change, in addition to inspiring those that think like we do and talking amongst ourselves, we also have to reach across the issues that divide us and try to offer new perspectives to those who wouldn’t necessarily find them otherwise. This is a big challenge, but storytelling has always been one of the greatest tools in breaking down walls.

 

Where do you see The Rumpus heading in the next few years in general? Will The Rumpus be participating in any sort of political activism in the next four years? If so, in what way?

Marisa: As I said in the announcement on the site, The Rumpus will not back away from the dangers ahead and we believe that writing has an important role in the fight against inequality and injustice. The Rumpus will continue to be a voice of dissent against policies of hate. We’ve already been participating in political activism and partnering with other organizations who do so, and we’ll continue to grow those relationships and to do what we can. We are limited financially, but again, we have a platform and do intend to use it for these purposes alongside more traditional literary content.

Lyz: Any story told well is a political act. Stories give voice to the voiceless. They celebrate what is good, while also revealing what is rotten. Any story is political, because anytime you show truth in story it becomes a weapon for change. Is there anything more political than Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat”? Or Bartleby the Scrivner saying, “I would prefer not to”? These stories accomplish more than any hot take or op-ed ever could, because they reveal essential truths about political systems and people in a compelling way.

I hope that the stories on The Rumpus become agents for change. In the next four years we are going to focus on sharing the stories that might not be read anywhere else and in the process we hope to better tell the story of America.

 

If you could feature an interview with any author/actor/political figure this year, or personally review any upcoming or newly released book, which one would it be?

Marisa: If I could feature an interview with anyone it would absolutely be Barack Obama, especially now.

If I had the time to personally review a book, I’d definitely review Abandon Me by Melissa Febos. You’ll read an interview with her on the site in late February and again, Abandon Me is our February Book Club pick so in late March you’ll be able to read a transcript of the chat we have with our club members and with Melissa. This is a special book—I wrote Melissa a “love letter” to this book when I finished reading it. Every sentence feels finished. The story is so compelling, and the language is perfect. I cannot think of another instance where I felt both story and language were on such equal footing. I hope this book receives the acclaim and audience it deserves.

Lyz: There are so many writers I love and admire that I know I am going to leave some off. But as far as people I’d love to talk to, who aren’t currently answering my calls—Chris Adrian (write me more books, Adrian!), Marilynne Robinson, Junot Díaz, David Grann, Maggie Nelson, and A.S. Byatt. I’d also commit many crimes for the ability to talk to Milan Kundera. His work just suddenly became very prescient for the United States.

And books I want to review, well—I’m excited for Morgan Jerkin’s book from Harper Perennial, and Esmé Weijun Wang’s book forthcoming from Graywolf. Nicole Chung’s book through Catapult is going to be fantastic. And I also love the work of Matthew Salesses. Michelle Dean is never wrong and her book is going to be aces. Sarah Weinman’s forthcoming book sounds very exciting and I can’t wait for it. Same with Saachi Koul, Rachel Syme, and Alana Massey. And whenever Jia Tolentino writes a book, I absolutely demand that I be allowed to interview her and review it.

Marisa Siegel currently lives and writes near NYC but thinks twenty times a day about heading back west. She is Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus. Find her on Twitter at @marisasaystweet.

 

 

 

 

Lyz Lenz is Managing Editor at The Rumpus. Lyz’s writing has been published in the New York Times Motherlode, Jezebel, Aeon, Pacific Standard, and others. Her book on midwestern churches is forthcoming from Indiana University Press. She has her MFA from Lesley and skulks about on Twitter @lyzl.

 

 

 

 

At The Rumpus, we’re here to give you something more challenging, to show you how beautiful things are when you step off the beaten path. The Rumpus is a place where people come to be themselves through their writing, to tell their stories or speak their minds in the most artful and authentic way they know how. What we have in common is a passion for fantastic writing that’s brave, passionate and true (and sometimes very, very funny). The Rumpus wants to change the conversation. We want to introduce you to authors you’ve never heard of before and to provide perspective on books, films, and media that will make you look deeper.

Pitch Contests, Publishing Queries, Na-No Virtuoso contests, and Halloween! Oh MY!

As the leaves turn red and gold (which might have something to do with the steadily worsening near-drought conditions here in Virginia), I am reminded of the spirit of the season.

And reminded that we don’t have many new Halloween-y, horror-y offerings this year.
We will have sales, and themed posts, and tubs of pumpkin spice lattes consumed between the CQ crew, but nothing that screams (ha!) Halloween.
Which brings me to wondering why that is. Is this our personal wishlists and tastes? The lack of submissions WE receive that fits what CQ currently sees as our standard of quality? Or is it that authors these days are feeling increasing need to limit themselves to such a strictly limited definition of any genre that perforce, the titles that do pop up via the contests and regular submissions all too often feel stale?
Of course, during contests, one is limited to 140 characters – or at most, 3 lines of text – doesn’t exactly help matters. The elevator pitch is king, and even queries are only expected to range from 1 to 2 longish paragraphs when it comes to describing the actual story.
All of which seems to contribute to dearth of submissions that do not have that sense of been-there, read-that, wore-out-the-T-shirt.
And strictly genre-identified fiction, such as contemporary romance and horror fare, seem to suffer the most from this sort of confirmation bias. But not just on the authors’ side.
We, as publishers, ask for a unique voice. For a different story. For something to catch our attention – but do we really mean it? Do we feel confident in being able to sell something that doesn’t quite fit into a specified niche? For that matter, do we, as readers want to give something really original a try on the off-chance we will like our venture into the unknown?
So, you gentle reader, author, fellow publisher – what do YOU want to see in you query wish list / beta reading queue / among your seasonal offering? Asking for a friend here! 😉

Flying The Friendly Skies

Customers have long memories.

As I have sat down to write a blog post about picking winners (or those we hope will be winners) for our next year’s catalog, I was rudely interrupted by our cat being chased by our 3-year old across the foyer floor in concentric circles.
Needless to say, whatever thoughts I had rattling in my pregnancy-addled brain just went and disappeared – and were replaced by the gem above. A truism if I ever wrote one.
But that doesn’t make it any less…well, true. And so, I figure, I might as well expand on that while I’m still of relatively sound mind.
I have long made it a point to fly Delta if I can. Not because they have the best customer service in the world. Or have been the most scrupulous airline company in the world. Or, Mammon forbid, the cheapest.
No, it is because when 12-year old me came to the United States from Uzbekistan, all woozy from the mother of all jet lags and a steady, near 20-hour long diet of non-stop Fanta guzzling, it was only to realize that Delta has forgotten my kitty in her cage on the last waypoint of our journey.
And what did they do in the middle of the night, when confronted with a non-English speaking teen crying her eyes out in front of a yawning clerk’s counter?
Yep, they went and sent a PLANE, an empty one, to a different city – AND flew it back – just so they can deliver that teen her tiny, shivering kitty.
Mind you, they wouldn’t have had to do that if they didn’t forget her cage there in the first place or allowed us to keep it with us in the passenger compartment, but the very fact that they had gone out of their way? Yeah, I am a believer.
And where am I going with that?
Oh, only to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. Real life, even!
Dear authors, CQ and otherwise, please, please remember we are not working in a vacuum. We are not writing for ourselves – or even for just the rather insulated community of booktubers and reviewers.
We are writing for friends, coworkers, lovers of the genres we hope will become our lifelong customers.
Do not spam them, folks. Do not expect them to like us just because we think we are God’s gift to publishing. Do not expect instant praise. But instead, give THEM value – and let THEM get to know your writing – and you.
Get them to like you for the person you are, and then let them fall in love with your talent. They would really be much more likely to do so once they know who is behind the pen (or the keyboard), and be helluva lot more forgiving of an occasional bum piece when they know you help your granny with her shopping, have kids to take care of, a cat to feed in between producing your next magnum opus, or a haircut to wrestle into place despite two full loads of laundry clamoring for your attention.
Oh, and don’t forget to help out those that are in the same boat we are in – a review posted, a sale link spread around, a part of proceeds donated to a charity of your pick, even a kind word said in response to someone’s Instagram picture is exactly what can make a difference between your next BookBub flying under the radar – or propelling you to the Top 100 overall.
And now, having proselytized my piece… off I go, to see if I can rescue the cat again – considering that Delta doesn’t yet do housecalls!

P is for Publishing Today (being a newby in the field of Publishing)

PDandelion, oh dandelion,

You are the spring’s bright bloom

You are lovely and fluffy

But a cow will eat you up

As quietly as you were born,

So quietly will you go to your grave.

Of course, it looses something in the Russian to English translation, but essentially, this is my first magnum opus, written at a ripe old age of three, finally seeing the light of day. You could say, I have now published it 🙂
Which I suppose is fitting – for both what I do in the general run of things and the purposes of meeting today’s A-Z challenge. Letter P.
I should note Eugene and I had not originally set out to do any such thing – publishing, that is. Coming into this as a programmer with a background in foreign currency trading (Eugene) and an entertainment industry marketing professional with aspirations of authorly fame (me), we have first ventured into this arena with our joint upper MG novel, the Gatecrashers, and its spunky teenage universe-hopping heroine. Now, before we have ever set out to find ourselves an agent, we have undertaken a massive crash course via Google on just what it takes these days to sell oneself successfully to both the gatekeepers of the hallowed halls of the then-Big 6 as well as to the general readers.
And what we have found is – this is the age of self-marketing, and social media is an unprecedented (and unprecedentedly affordable) king.
Which happened to mean the beginning of our joint blog, Curiosity Quills (nearly named Curiosity Kills – and only changed to something a little less bloodthirsty at the last possible moment; who says one can only see the error of one’s ways after the fact?). Soon, CQ turned itself into a bit of a portal, where innovative authors such as Lizzy Ford, educators like DIYMFA’s Gabriela Pereiera, and industry big names such as Jane Friedman and Nathan Bransford were given a progressively taller soapbox, from which to share their opinions and experiences with other writers and readers.
As a pleasant, albeit not very long-lasting, side-effect, that also meant we now had time to put final polish on Gatecrashers before finally deciding whether we wanted to go the traditional publishing route or self-pub it, as an increasing number of authors were trying at the time.
But why not very long-lasting, you ask? Why, because we are gluttons for punishment – and because of Eugene’s mile-wide entrepreneurial streak that went and infected me too 🙂 That, and author Michael Shean’s talent that immediately made fans of us both.
In October 2011, we have signed our very first author, Michael Shean, and opened the fledgling Curiosity Quills Press’ doors to submissions, promptly adding Rod Kierkegaard, Jr., Matthew Graybosh, and Vicki Keire to our little catalog. All of them are still with us, and we haven’t looked back since.
While incredibly rewarding, our journey as publishers has been incredibly nerve-wrecking, as well, and fraught with as many ups and downs as that of any individual author’s – or, in a way, more so. Because all our authors successes and failures are our own, and we feel that’s one of the things that stands us apart from the somewhat impersonal nature of how now Big-5 run their business.
Yet having witnessed the challenges and changes that the last three-plus years have wrought in our professional world, we feel that our approach of personalized marketing, our consistent innovation in the areas of marketing and production (hello, PaperBrain TM and Novelful TM), is what is going to continue keeping our heads above water, our names on authors’ and readers’ minds — and our own writing firmly on the shelf.
Time, even for us, especially for us, is not elastic. And that’s OK, because with the authors we are consistently retaining and acquiring for our catalog, we know that if not our own novels, at least CQ authors’ books will find their way onto Kindles, iPhones, and bookshelves of more and more fiction lovers everywhere!
And for now… well, at least my little tragic Dandelion has finally found its audience. Who knows what that bodes for Gatecrashers…