Interviews

Interviews

Interview with the League of Extraordinary Authors

League of Extraordinary Authors

L-R: Christina Benjamin, Caitlyn McCrea, and N. Jane Quackenbush

Caitlyn McCrea, poetry editor, interviews two members of the League of Extraordinary Authors: YA author of The Geneva Project Series, Christina Benjamin, and children’s book author of The Rocket Ship Bed Trip, N. Jane Quackenbush.

Where are you from?

Benjamin: I’m originally from Northeast Pennsylvania. I moved to Florida after I graduated high school to go to Flagler and study art. After Flagler I attended Keystone College and University of Central Florida.

Quackenbush: I was born in upstate New York, but I moved to St. Augustine, FL when I was 5 years old and have been here ever since, with the exception of my college years in West Palm Beach.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Benjamin: I think I’ve always known it. Ever since I was a child I loved telling stories. My dad and I used to have the best time making up stories every chance we got; driving to school, sitting around a campfire, hiking, etc.

Quackenbush: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I went to college and studied the literary greats like Shakespeare, Lord Byron and John Keats. I was in awe of their talent and hoped that if I studied them enough, some of their talent would transfer to me.

What are your books about?

Benjamin: The books I’ve published so far are young adult fiction. They’re about friendship, adventure, courage and self discover, with a little bit of magic and romance mixed in for fun.

Quackenbush: The first book I have written is based on a dream that I had when I was about 4 years old. I dreamed that my bed turned into a rocket ship and I went on a fantastic journey through outer space. In all my books I have a signature style which includes an educational component that most readers are unaware that they are learning. In The Rocket Ship Bed Trip I introduce the young reader to astronomy. My goal is to fuel sweet dreams.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Benjamin: I love Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments, and that sort of addictive YA fiction, so I think I was naturally drawn to write a series in that wheelhouse. I figured why not write something that I would love to read? That’s what Stephen King says anyway. I finished the last books in the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight series all within the same year and was at a loss for what to read next, and that’s ultimately what inspired me to start my own series. I figured that way I could be in charge of the characters, creating the fantastic world they exist in, and I would never have to wonder what happened to them after the series has ended.

Quackenbush: I prefer to write poems, as they seem to write themselves. When I sat down to write The Rocket Ship Bed Trip, it came out so quickly and naturally that it didn’t feel like work at all. At that same time a lot of other poems in the same genre came in a rush that I had to put to paper. I have to say, I love those moments of inspiration. I am currently trying to expand my scope in writing a middle grade chapter book.

What was/is the most difficult part of writing?

Benjamin: Finding the time to actually sit down and do it. In a perfect world, I would live in a little cottage on the water filled with good books, great music, wine, my dog, and my husband, with no distractions of the real world.

Quackenbush: The most difficult part in writing is having the writing look effortless. One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost, and I adored how his poems appeared as if they were waiting for him to combine the words perfectly with the rhyme together forming a perfect body of literary genius while looking so natural.

Are you self-published? If so, how did you start that process?

Benjamin: Yes I’m proud to be a self-published indie author. My first book, Truth, was really just supposed to be for me. It was something to do after my favorite books came to an end. I thought I’d become a writer instead of a reader for a while. I wrote everyday on my lunch break at work and never told anyone I was writing a book. I didn’t even know if I could do it or if it would be any good. But when I finally finished it, I gave it to my husband. He loved it of course, but he’s my husband, he has to say that, right? He’s a very talented graphic designer and after reading it he designed a book cover, researched how to start our own publishing company and then worked with Createspace and Smashwords to format the book into paperback and eBook versions. And as they say, the rest is history. I’ll never forget the day I held the first copy of my book in my hands. I think I may have cried. After going through the whole process, start to finish, I have such a huge respect for authors. So much more goes into publishing a book than I ever would have imagined. I really enjoy being self-published because I’ve been a part of every single step and I’ve learned so much about the business of writing, which in turn makes me a better writer.

Quackenbush: I am self-published. I went to a writer’s conference and learned that I wanted to keep all the rights to my stories. I didn’t want a big company have the right to decide whether my books would be available to the public. I knew it would be harder, but I think my books will become worldwide and I’m really excited to see all the places The Rocket Ship Bed Trip will go.

Why did you form the League of Extraordinary Authors?

Benjamin: Writing can be solitary profession, but I’m a social person, so I really enjoy any time I can get together with other writers or industry professionals. I learn the most from speaking to other talented writers and I love that this is a profession of such creative people. I felt a positive energy when I worked with two special authors in particular; Jaimie M. Engle and N. Jane Quackenbush. The three of us have so much fun together and share the same focus on learning, sharing, and success. Forming a platform where we could work together to share our passion for writing and enrich the lives of young readers through literacy was a natural progression.

Quackenbush: Christina Benjamin, Jaimie Engle and I got together and decided that we could all help one another in areas that each of us was having trouble with. Being an author can sometimes feel lonesome and overwhelming, but when you have a support group, a lot of those fears disappear. Together we are stronger and most importantly we have a lot of fun!

What are you reading now?

Benjamin: I like to read a lot of books at once, so I’m reading Clockwork Princess, Ready Player One and my book Secrets for the millionth time, to make sure that the third book I’m writing meshes.

Quackenbush: I love to read historical fictions. I am currently reading The Outlander Series.

What do you hope to do in future projects?

Benjamin: I’m really big on giving back. I feel so blessed to have been able to follow my dream of being a professional writer. In a way, books have saved me. There has been so many times where I’ve found solace in the pages of a book or in just writing down my own thoughts. I want to share that with as many other people as I can. I’ve recently started a One for One initiative program for the sales of my books. For each book I sell from my website, I plan can donate one. My goal is to give 1000 books to schools, libraries and literacy programs in need. Here is the link if anyone wishes to partake: https://squareup.com/market/thegenevaprojectstore

Quackenbush: I hope to expand my literary style and open myself up to writing more challenging work. It’s hard for me to stay focused, which is why writing poems come so much more naturally than books, but I want to strengthen and grow in my writing.

What is/are your favorite book(s)?

Benjamin: This is always such a hard question. I feel like there’s no one book that I can single out because I’ve been shaped by so many. I love Shakespeare and I think he should get the credit for making me fall in love with literature; A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular. Then there’s J.K. Rowling. I’m so grateful for the trail she has blazed for YA fiction and I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I also love Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Quackenbush: I love so many books, but some of my favorites are Here be Dragons, Wicked, The Red Tent, World with No End, etc.

What are your thoughts on FLARE? Would you have submitted?

Benjamin: I love FLARE! I would definitely have submitted. I think it’s so important for students to learn about the industry and have a creative outlet that celebrates them in so many diverse ways. Flagler as a whole does a great job of that. I often say that if I had followed my passion for writing at an early age I wonder where I would be now. I didn’t start my first book until I was 31! Start now! There is no better time than right now.

Quackenbush: I think FLARE is an amazing catalyst for artists to have their work displayed. As well as a learning device for students and staff to develop and construct. Flagler College is a big step ahead in areas like FLARE and WFCF. I would absolutely submit my work to FLARE and hope for inclusion with my fingers crossed!

What advice would you give to struggling writers?

Benjamin: Don’t give up and don’t compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different; enjoy yours, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Focus on what you love about writing and do more of that. Finding a way to bring myself back to what made me start writing in the beginning always keeps me grounded and brings my writing back to it’s truest form. I love the idea that writing is limitless and that anything I can dream up is possible. Writing is truly the only form of magic that I’ve seen in the world and that’s what I love about it; the magic.

Quackenbush: Don’t write because you want to become famous or because you want to write the next big blockbuster; write because you love it, because you can’t help it, and your reward will come.

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Interview with Lucian Mattison

Lucian Mattison is the author of Peregrine Nation (The Broadkill River Press, 2014) which won the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. His work appears in FLARE, Bodega, The Boiler, Everyday Genius, Hobart, Muzzle Magazine, and Spork, among other journals, and has received Pushcart Prize nominations. He edits poetry for Green Briar Review and Barely South Review. To read more visit lucianmattison.com

Mattison pic

FLARE: Tell us a little about yourself.

Mattison: My mom was from Argentina and my father is from the United States. My father always travelled a lot, he grew up in Alabama and then joined the Navy. We had been moving my whole life, kind of moving around between the U.S., Singapore, and Argentina for as long as I remember. 

FLARE: What was that experience like for you growing up?

Mattison: To some extent, it just makes you more adaptable. I never really felt tremendous connection to any one place, so one thing I had to keep doing was making new friends and new homes.

FLARE: Do you think that experience has impacted your writing at all?

Mattison: I mean, of course, I think it does. This first book I just had published was kind of centering around that idea. I’m writing about a place that is a home away from home. Whenever I go back to Argentina, it’s always familiar but always a little foreign. That’s something I’m accustomed to at this point. I think it also helps me to see things from an outsider’s perspective as well, where you’re always kind of on the fringes, but at the same time, a part of it. It just allowed for a more witness-based mentality.

FLARE: What is your source of inspiration?

Mattison: Pablo Neruda is one of those poets who makes things feel effortless, even though it’s really well-crafted and it’s really well thought out. The way he writes makes it seem like it’s off-the-cuff when really he’s been revising and trying, but it just feels effortless, light, and beautiful. I find that very inspirational, and makes me feel like I should be striving to have that same quality to some extent whenever I write. 

FLARE: What was it like winning this award for Peregrine Nation?

Mattison: It was a really big shock, actually. I was working on my thesis for my Master’s, and it was actually this manuscript and I was gonna take it into my Master’s year, my third year, but I was kind of sending it out under a different title and it got rejected in a couple of places and it was a long time coming. I’d been working on it for three years. When I first starting working on this series, I was living in Chile, and I was teaching English. They had a lot of riots going on at the time, so it was kind of hard to not write about what you were seeing. Then I started bringing in my family, my experiences in Argentina and abroad, and brought in the concept of being an outsider-inside. That’s where this manuscript came together. It felt really good, I never imagined to leave my Master’s program with a book already, cus that was one of my goals. It kind of just blew me away, honestly

FLARE: What are you working on right now?

Mattison: I’m compiling and sifting through poems that I feel would go best together in another book. Where Peregrine Nation was more memory based, these poems are more idea driven, and less narrative driven.

FLARE: What is your greatest accomplishment?

Mattison: Publishing this book. I had a goal to publish before I finished grad school. Next to graduating, I’d say that’s right up there.

FLARE: Where do you hope to end up?

Mattison: That’s a good question. I don’t really know. I’m moving up to D.C. after school, and will be kind of moving out of academia I think for maybe a year or two, just to kind of position my head on my shoulders a little more stably. When you’re in college, there’s a certain way of thinking and a way the world works, and I kind of want to break out of that. And I want to work on publishing another book. I just want to focus on writing out of academia. 

FLARE: If you could be any literary character for a day, who’d you be and why?

Mattison: For a day?

FLARE: For a day. Just to try out their shoes.

Mattison: (laughing) Uhh, hmm, that’s a good question. I recently finished reading this book Death With Interruptions by José Saramago and he portrayed the character of death as the stereotypical hooded figure we think of, but it had a personality and fell in love with this cello player, so maybe that would be an interesting character to embody for a while.

FLARE: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Mattison: I think it’s important to trust yourself. Especially when going into a market that has a lot of people telling you how to write, it’s important to hold onto what makes your writing interesting and unique. Choose your critics and only listen to them so much. The only person who’s going to benefit is you: no one else is writing your writing. Also, READ.

Stephen Kampa

Our featured faculty member of FLARE‘s 2014 Student Edition, Professor Stephen Kampa, talks about “nales,” kung fu, and Dante.

FLARE: Tell us a little about yourself.

This is one of my favorite diary entries from when I was a child, maybe ten or eleven years old: “This weekend is the science fair. I hate the science fair. I hope I win.”

FLARE: How did you get started?

When I was young, I used to write and illustrate little stapled books, and then I’d try to sell them in the front yard. One of them was a short tool reference book. I correctly spelled “hammer,” “screw driver,” the always tricky “wrench,” and then I had a page with a big drawing of a nail and the word “NALE.”

FLARE: Where do you find inspiration? What is your writing process like (what kind of routine do you have, if any)?

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Kampa and his first poetry collection, “Cracks in the Invisible”

Although I lived in Brazil for a year when I was a teenager, I have written very little about it. I have written about the movie Sand Sharks, which stars Brooke Hogan as a marine biologist.

I also watch a lot of kung fu movies. This may explain why I tell my students to revise by saying, “You need to punch that into shape.” I confess I may have an incomplete understanding of the net effect of punching.

FLARE: What are you working on right now?

This interview. Kidding! Dobby Gibson has some lines I love:

“You are the monster of your own campfire story,
and the telling of it
has been your life’s noblest deed.”

I think that’s where I’m headed.

FLARE: Where do you hope to end up?

Heaven.

FLARE: If you could be any literary character for a day, who’d you be and why?

It follows from the last question that I would want to be Dante the Pilgrim (not Dante the Poet) in the Divine Comedy. He may go through hell, and he may feel like he’s stuck in purgatory, but eventually he does make it to paradise.

 

Find out more about Stephen at his website, stephenkampa.com

Ira Sukrungruang: Part One

FLARE conducted an interview via Skype with Ira Sukrungruang, associate professor of English at the University of South Florida. He has published several works, most notably Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy and In Thailand It Is Night. Despite some minor technical issues, FLARE was able to have a fantastic conversation with the Chicago native and learn a great deal about his background, processes, and writing philosophy.

Skype ringtone…

Ira: Hi!sukrungruang

FLARE: Hi!

Ira: How are you?

FLARE: Good, how are you?

Ira: Wait – can you see me? Let me see if I can do something about that […] Can you see me now?

FLARE: Yeah! There you are!

Ira: Awesome. So this is going to be an interview – what, recorded? To be published in the magazine? Or…

FLARE: Well, we couldn’t figure out how to record it, so we’re doing an audio recording right now. And if that quality is good, we might upload just the audio or we might type it out and put it on the website.

Ira: Okay! Well I have to stop and tell you that at some point, someone is going to call and tell me to go pick up my lunch [FLARE laughing] so that I might have to run downstairs real quick. Okay, cool.

FLARE: Alright, so, just for starters, tell us about yourself.

Ira: I’m Ira Sukrungruang, I teach at the University of South Florida. I have two books, Talk Thai: A Memoir about growing up in Chicago and In Thailand It Is Night, a poetry collection. I have a new book coming out in the fall called South Side Buddhist, which is really an odd kind of oxymoron – growing up in the South Side of Chicago, which is kind of a working class world, and juxtaposing that with being a Buddhist…kind of an interesting little mix. So that’s coming out in the fall. I also teach in the low-residency MFA program in Hong Kong – City University of Hong Kong – and I edit Sweet: A Literary Confection.

FLARE: Wow! So when do you teach in Hong Kong? How does that schedule work out?

Ira: So I spend about ten days in Hong Kong every summer and it’s called “low residency,” so basically it’s a pretty intense ten days where I’m teaching a workshop classroom with students from about nine to nine: just attending lectures, attending classes. And then throughout the rest of the semester, I’m paired with three students and they have to turn in packets of work every two or three weeks, and then I talk via Skype or email just to give them [support]. Pretty much it’s on them to give me the work on time, but I set up the deadlines and everything.

FLARE: Okay. Let’s see – how did you get started? Getting published, or how you ended up getting the teaching positions…where did your success start?

Ira: Well, when I was at Southern Illinois University, I took a six-year plan to graduate because I went from major to major, and then I found creative writing, which was really amazing. But even then, I started teaching at a high school for a year and I found out that I wasn’t writing when I was teaching high school. When you teach high school, it’s a completely – you’re life gets absorbed by the students. You think about them all the time. And at that time, I was really writing and enjoying writing and I was working with people at Southern Illinois University who edited The Crab Orchard Review, which is one of the best magazines, I think, in the country. And the people there, Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble, were so instrumental in just saying, “You know, maybe you should go get an MFA and see where that goes” and I really listened to them and decided to go to Ohio State to get my MFA. Everything kind of just fell into place, you know, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been publishing a lot and that got me a university job. If you are thinking about going into a university job, or anything in academia, the first thing that people will tell you is that you have to publish! It’s a field that demands that you constantly publish. So, I taught in upstate New York for six years and then finally I left that job and came to Florida. And it’s been great!

FLARE: So what’s your current writing process like? Do you set time aside, or do you just do it when you can…?

Ira: Every project has its own process, I think, so I’ll tell you when I was writing Talk Thai, basically I wrote the whole book in three months from, like, twelve midnight to four in the morning. [FLARE laughing] I just kind of locked myself up in the basement when I was living up in New York and just wrote, every night at night. The poetry book I wrote – I wrote the individual poems whenever I could, and so they didn’t really have a set place. I think [when I started] looking at poetry as a collection…it really took about two or three weeks of sitting down with them to see how they fit together. And I just did that whenever I had some time. Right now, because of the school year and because of all the things I have to do here at USF, I find niches of time. Like it doesn’t have to be an hour, it can be ten minutes, fifteen minutes. And in those ten or fifteen minutes, I make sure I write. So it’s more like a sprint than a marathon, right? And so a lot of time for me, it’s just finding these little niches of time to do something. My next book, the new book I’m working on right now is a memoir about being a monk in Thailand, so actually I’m waiting to go back to Asia and to do a lot of that work, because most of the time I just need to be there, see Asia, and be saturated in Thailand to really fully write about it.

FLARE: So the memoir about being a monk – how was that experience? I mean, you can’t give too much away –

Ira: No, no, I mean – the experience was fantastic; it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I went into it wanting to know more about Buddhism, and I came out of it, even though I did learn a lot, with more questions. And I think that’s the driving force of the book, these questions that I still have for it, and the “weirdnesses” that I find in any kind of religion. There’s a lot of strangeness in religion [laughing]. So I have a really intimate look at Buddhism from a guy who considers himself the worst Buddhist in the world [FLARE laughing]. So that’s really what the POV, point of view of the book, is about.

To be continued…

 

Scott Abrams & Andy Nance

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Nance (L) and Abrams (R)

FLARE sat down with Scott Abrams and Andy Nance of Awed Byrd Productions, a St. Augustine-based scriptwriting and project development company, to chat about their business, their writing processes, and their favorite literary characters.

FLARE: Tell us about yourself and your company (i.e., your crew, what your goals are, etc.).

Scott Abrams: We are local performers, writers and various creatives united by a desire to take our talents and aspirations to the next level. Vetting our skills through smaller projects, we will move on into ever-larger and loftier projects, including screenwriting and production for feature film.

FLARE: How did you get started?

Andy Nance: I suppose these projects got started last summer when we put on a comedic summer stock production of The Colonial Crew Revue. It was an outdoor production at the Colonial Quarter that featured comedic elements, improv, choreographed fights, song, and dance. When that ended we utilized that same stage with weekly comedy improv performances until the weather got too cold. From there we started on the Awed Byrd productions.

FLARE: Where do you find inspiration/material? Do you people watch or get ideas from television?

Scott: My mind is always identifying and reassembling aspects of story. Whether from other entertainment mediums (music, film, live performance) or real life, unique, interesting or incidental moments and characters present themselves and my brain starts turning the details and perspectives around almost on its own.

Andy: I find working with Scott Abrams and Madi Mack to be inspiring. Scott’s brain is always clicking and his enthusiasm is infectious. I had a career in personality driven radio for over twenty-years, mostly hosting morning shows that featured a lot of comedic elements. That experience is helpful in both writing and acting in our comedic The Writing Room: Unscripted, and Awed Byrds sketches.

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FLARE: What are you working on right now?

Andy: I am a writer with a couple of published novels under my belt. I’m currently a couple of hundred pages into a suspense/horror entitled, Oasis. Within Awed Byrd Productions, we’re constantly working on our sketch comedy show and I’m co-writing a couple of screenplays with Scott and Madi.

Scott: Starting with the comedy sketch show we just released, I have huge goals for 2014. Next we’ll try out hand at a suspense thriller series slated for internet distribution, followed by two feature films already in pre-production. I will write 13 feature length screenplays this year. I’ve already competed three since Jan. 1.

FLARE: Where do you hope to end up? Do you want to remain local or would you like a more widespread audience?

Andy: From a production company standpoint, we’d like to make feature length films and start a production company right here in St. Augustine. From our online comedy, our main goal at the moment is to constantly grow our viewership until we have a constantly expanding fan base who put our YouTube views into the hundreds of thousands or more.

Scott: Beyond that, we’d like to continue to write and produce screenplays right here. When a script reaches completion, we evaluate it and determine if it’s scope matches our current resources, if not, I hope to send these larger projects on for studio production.

FLARE: What are you reading right now?

Andy: I’m reading two books right now, James Lee Burke’s Light of the World, and into what is probably my twelfth reading of my favorite book, Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney.Awed 3

Scott: I have a bad habit of reading two or three books at a time. I’m currently reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk and Dr. Sleep by Stephen King. About once a year I plow through Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway. It serves as a cerebral enema, cleaning out the accumulated noise. I’m overdue.

FLARE: What is your writing process like? What kind of routine do you have, if any?

Scott: When I’m working on a project, I spend at least three-four hours a day working the material. Taking no more than a day off at a time to recharge as needed. I like to push through in a figurative ‘single sitting’ to maintain voice and rhythm of what I’m working on. A feature length screenplay, for example, shouldn’t take me more than three weeks for the first draft. Between projects I like to give my brain a week or so to data dump the last project and pre-load the next. Specifically, when I write, I sit at a high table on a stool with no back. And I write until I literally hurt. I find being comfortable or being able to lean back slows the process down. There also tends to be a great deal of caffeine an nicotine fueling this process.

Andy: I don’t have a rigid writing schedule, but usually write in the morning and early afternoon. I like to edit as I go along, maybe once or twice a week in the afternoon while sitting in a hot bath. Throughout the non-writing parts of my days and nights, I’ll get little ideas and either make note of them to work in later, or got add it right away. I also try to utilize my hypnogogic state, that’s the state you’re in between laying your head on your pillow and actually sleeping. Your brain is very creative at this point. If I have a problem with plot, motivation, or character development, I think about it before I go to sleep and often come up with a solution in the hypnogogic state. A lot of my comedy sketch ideas come to me right before I fall asleep.

FLARE: If you could be any literary character, who would you be? Why? What would you do for a day?

Andy: It’s hard to pick just one. Maybe Aloysious Pendergast, kind of a modern day Sherlock Holmes in a series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Going back to my favorite book, Dhalgren, I’d maybe pick a Awed 4character called Nightmare. He’s the leader of a biker-style gang (minus the bikes) called the Scorpions. They live in a dying city called Bellona and wear holographic projectors so that they look like giant scorpions at night. And I’d like to be either of the Weasley twins, I guess the one who doesn’t get killed. As a Weasley I’d spend my day flying around on a broom and playing practical jokes on people.

Scott: Tyler Durden from Palahniuk’s Fight Club or Roland the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series or maybe Hamlet. I identify with deeply flawed heroes whose victories often coincide with their own demise. For me, it has much less to do with the ultimate goal, and far more the nearly impossible journey I find compelling. As artists we couldn’t do what we do if we had any real hope of success. We push and we fight and we scream to be heard, but when people actually listen, when an idea actually works, we’re often as surprised as everyone else. At least that’s how it is for me.

Check out Awed Byrd Productions on Facebook and YouTube: 

https://www.facebook.com/awedbyrd

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3k02S7vIlDs8h7PHmz_SDg