Interview with Sarah Buchanan, Author of “That Book I Wrote about Me”


Sarah's book coverAfter three ex-husbands, two successful novels, and one disastrous book she’d rather forget ever having written, Fiona Fields has hit a wall. Days once filled with critics gushing over her latest masterpiece have given way to endless hours spent lying on her living room floor in Lakeview Valley, the tiny North Carolina mountain town of her youth, and staring at her ceiling.

But after Fiona’s agent calls with an opportunity intended to drag her back into the land of the living, Fiona finds herself inspired by her ex-step-daughter, Karen, and she’s soon off and running with a brand new idea for a book and a brand new lease on life (sort of).

What Fiona doesn’t anticipate is long-buried family secrets revealing themselves and threatening to upend her newfound momentum. As she struggles to make sense of revelations about the life she thought she knew, Fiona will find that the past often shows up in the present in very unexpected ways, and that, try as she might, she’s not exempt from the 215-year-old Lakeview tradition of long-forgotten secrets coming to light in spectacular fashion.

I tracked down author Sarah Buchanan to grill her about her debut novel. Even upon first meeting, talking with Sarah is like talking with an old friend. She can tell a story about someone waving a gun at her small town newspaper office after disagreeing with a high school football article and you’ll be surprised to find yourself laughing along with your gaping. It’s that gift for telling stories of troubles with charming humor that has me most excited about her new book.

Have you always been a writer?

Definitely. The first thing I remember writing was a play when I was in 3rd grade that involved these fish puppets we’d made in art class, which was a smash hit during its limited run of one performance. My first major completed work was a 75-page or so *NSync fan fiction I wrote when I was 15, and which my high school boyfriend, Jason, had bound and printed for me. That thing is still on my bookshelf! I also have a journalism background (magazines, newspapers, online media, etc.) and have been running an oft-neglected food blog for about 5 years, “Sarah Cooks the Books.” Currently, I work as a technical writer, but that’s not even vaguely related to the type of writing I’ve generally done.

This book deals with the revelation of life-changing family secrets. Discovered any scandalous family secrets of your own? 

One of my ancestors was hanged as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials, but that’s about it, and I’m pretty sure that happened because of a land dispute. If there are any deep, dark family secrets, they’ve remained well-hidden to this point.

In what way are you and your main character most similar and in what way are you most different?

We’re both writers from North Carolina who love a good pun and who find our own jokes screamingly funny even if no one else does. Especially when no one else does.

I think the main differences between us lie in terms life experience; not that I have no experiences of my own, but Fiona has racked up a handful of ex-husbands, has seen huge commercial success and the financial gains that go along with it, and has managed to navigate the waters of an especially difficult relationship with her parents, and she’s not that much older than me. As a result, she comes in with a lot of baggage and lot of stuff she maybe hasn’t dealt with in the healthiest ways yet. She’s more than a little self-destructive. My own life has been way more low-key. (I’d also like to state for the record that Fiona’s mother is not based on my own. My mom is great!)

The book is set in a small, North Carolina town. What inspiration did you bring from places you’ve lived to the book? Were there any particular slices of life from your own experiences that you put into the book?Sarah That book

Well, I’m originally from North Carolina, so the book setting was pretty well ingrained in me. The first part of my life was spent in a pretty rural area, and then we moved to a more suburban area, and then I lived in another rural area for a while, so the small town dynamic is something that has always fascinated me and was the biggest inspiration for the book. A lot of people have this idea of what that kind of place is like: everyone knows everyone, everyone is in each other’s business, etc., and they’re exactly right in thinking that, but the real-life towns have way more heart than outsiders might think. I wanted to celebrate that.

Whether things from my own life make it into my books is a question I get asked a lot, actually. It’s hard to write a whole story without inserting some aspect of your experience into it, so I guess there’s definitely stuff that inspired the story, but almost nothing is pulled directly from real life. I will say, though, that there’s one exchange between Fiona and another character that is a word-for-word replica of a conversation I had with my husband once, but I won’t say what it is. Leave a little mystery out there since my family history is so devoid of scandal.

Does the book have a particular theme that inspired you?

When I started writing it, I didn’t really know what it was about. I had the idea of one character and a single circumstance that happened to someone else that I found interesting, but not a whole lot else. It wasn’t until I actually finished it that I realized that the theme of family had come about, and when I realized that, I thought it was pretty cool. The theme of being born into a family but, ultimately, creating your own from people you choose to allow to be around you is something I feel really strongly about in my own life, so it’s not really surprising it showed up in my book.

What advice would you give to a young or new writer?

I have beaten myself up for years because a lot of writers say “Write every day.  If you don’t write every day, you’re never going to be successful, you’re never going to finish anything.”  I wasn’t able to write every day, and I felt like because of that, I was failing.  My first piece of advice would be to not beat yourself up if your project is going slowly.  If one day, you sit down and write 2,000 words, and don’t pick it up again for a month, it’s really okay. Work at your own pace (unless you have a deadline, obviously.  Then maybe kick it up.)

Secondly, I feel that to be a successful writer, you have to also be a voracious consumer of words.  Read constantly, and not just stuff in your particular genre.  Also, watching television shows (scripted, not like the marathons of The Real Housewives that I’m guilty of) is great for learning to craft dialogue, settings, and stuff like that. Oh, and watching people and their interactions with each other can be really inspirational.  Of course, my writing is really dialogue heavy, so listening to people and taking notes of their speaking habits is something I do a lot.

If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?

Love.

I don’t necessarily mean the romantic, kissy love that so many songs, and books and movies are centered around. I mean loving what you do and wanting your work to be the best it can be; the love of people around you, supporting you while you do what you do; and the love of things that other people find inane, but that are the things that make your own, personal life worth living.

That Book I Wrote About Me will be available June 9, 2017. Pre-order your copy on Amazon.

bio pic sarah.jpgSarah Buchanan grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has worked as a waitress on a dinner train, a radio DJ, a preschool teacher, a journalist, and a technical writer. She now lives in Southern California with her husband and their cats. Her first completed work was a play written when she was 9 that was performed by several classmates and the fish puppets they made in art class.

Sarah’s debut novel, That Book I Wrote About Me, is the first in a series about the fictional small North Carolina town of Lakeview Valley.

Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sarahbuchananwrites.

Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sarahwroteabook.

Track her progress in her year-long attempt to post one new photo every day on Instagram at www.instagram.com/sarahbuchananwrites.

www.authorsarahbuchanan.com/


If you too are a budding novelist, check out Online Resource Guide for Aspiring Authors.

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy other interviews in the “Inspiration and Perspiration” series such as:

 Turning Interviews into Kids’ Books with Erica Swallow

Travel Photography and Journalism with Megan Snedden

Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker

Ever wondered about the challenges and triumphs of releasing a debut novel? Leave comments on the interview or questions for Sarah in the comments below!

Be the Match: My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of Be the Match: My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor (Part 1). Click the link to start there! 
Every3min 450x267px

If my bone marrow donation felt like being carried on the shoulders of a Red Cross phlebotomist team, imagine me accidentally kicking one of them in the face and the whole team crashed to the ground in a mess of apple juice boxes and cookie crumbs. That should set the tone nicely for my white blood cell donation.

The bone marrow donation had been done in the SF Bay Area. I was now back at college, so the organization did a big shuffle and scheduled the new procedure to be done in LA, about two hours away from my college.

This time, when I went to the local blood donation center to get some samples drawn, I got yelled at for not drinking enough water beforehand. I cowered. “But the Red Cross phlebotomists gave me juice…”

To extract the cells, I’d have a needle in each arm. My blood would go out one arm, spin through a machine, and come back in my other one. It would take about four hours and I’d get to watch TV the whole time, so it sounded pretty easy peasy. I let my professors know. One even gave me a one-on-one makeup lecture so I didn’t fall behind.

So I could start the procedure at 7am sharp, the organization arranged a hotel room for the night before. I was used to having allergies, so my when my nose was runny earlier in the day, I didn’t think a thing of it. But as I started to drive, I started to feel bad. It wasn’t allergies. I was getting sick. I never got sick!

I frantically called the number they’d given me and explained the situation. The person on the other end asked me a lot of questions about the color of my snot. It was not a good snot color. She said to come down anyway. It was fine. 

Relieved, I checked into my hotel and jumped on the bed a few times. It was the first time I’d stayed in a hotel by myself. After clicking out the lights, I stared at the closet door, realizing someone could have been in there the whole time, hiding and waiting for murder. I lifted my textbook over my head as I ripped open the closet door.

I am now much better at staying at hotel rooms by myself.

I was not an early bird, nor big on breakfast. The procedure was due to end at 11am, which was when I’d normally eat anyway, so I figured I’d wait and celebrate with a nice meal. 

This time, the hospital was a lot less intimidating, knowing I didn’t even have to change out of my clothes for this procedure. I settled onto a bed holding my box of kleenex next to the one other patient in the place. They’d closed the curtains around the lady next to me, announcing she was, “all done!”

“Oh my! That WHOLE thing was in my arm?”

Uh…what now?

My straining to catch a glimpse of said needle was interrupted when a doctor appeared, frowning. His expression was not kidding around. “You told the intake nurse you have a cold?”

“Uh yeah? I called down yesterday. They said it was fine.”

“Who did you talk to?” From the look on the doctor’s face, that person was in huge trouble. This was a serious problem.

ancestry.jpgThey tried to call the recipient’s doctors, but they couldn’t get a hold of them—something about them having closed and time differences (someone had already let it slip to me that the recipient lived in Germany) and having to track people down off-shift. We’d have to wait.

I kept yo-yoing between staring at my stupid kleenex box with horrendous guilt and wanting to pace around in defensive anger. I had called. I hadn’t meant to get sick. Oh god, was my cold really going to kill someone?

A nurse came on shift who didn’t join the huddle of tense whispers. He sat next to me and switched on the TV, making jokes about the available movie options. He confided that he was going to tell everyone I needed his strict supervision so he could ditch his job and watch movies too. My stomach unknotted for the first time in hours and I had never been more grateful for another human being in my life. 

Finally, at around 1:30pm, Frowning Doctor walked up. They’d already “destroyed” the recipient’s immune system, so we had to do this now. Well, that sounded horrifying, so okay, let’s do this thing. Everyone left so a nurse I hadn’t met yet could hook me up.

The nurse held up the needle and I had the same reaction as the lady from earlier: Sweet baby Jesus, are you certain that’s not a joke needle ma’am?

The nurse started having trouble “threading it up” my vein. Frustrated, she wiggled it around, then took her free hand and began hitting the end of it to try to jam it up into my arm.

Another nurse sprinted over, jaw hanging open. “What are you doing????” She pushed the first nurse out of the way. “Are you okay?”

I flapped my free hand. “Yeah, yeah. Only, I should probably tell you that I feel a little weird…”

The nurse took one look at my face and ripped a pin out of the bed. The head of the bed slammed down to be fully horizontal, just as my breathing started to come in fast gasps.

Competent Nurse raced into a storage room, screaming orders. She was soon pressing ice packs on my wrist, neck, and legs. Across the room, some young guy in scrubs was looking through his brown lunch sack when someone viciously ripped it from his hands and dumped out the contents, missing the counter in her urgency. A pudding cup exploded across the floor at the poor guy’s feet and he let out a startled, “Wha?” probably thinking this was a petty hazing ritual.

His lunch bag was shoved over my nose and mouth and a nurse hovered over me, coaching me through slowing down my breathing, though it felt impossible to get control back over my lungs. My nurse buddy would later explain that when you hyperventilate, you breathe out carbon dioxide so fast, it messes up the balance in your body. The paper bag forced me to breathe some of it back in to restore the balance. So yeah, I may have skipped cultural anthropology class that day, but I got a rather hands on biology practicum. Don’t be jealous.

Once the crisis was over and the paper bag was removed, Frowning Doctor loomed at the end of the bed, arms crossed. “When did you last eat?”

In all the stress, I had completely forgotten about my 11am post-procedure breakfast plans.

Frowning Doctor shooed everyone away and took me down to the cafeteria. Miserably, I apologized and blew my nose. Frowning Doctor softened for a minute and bought me some food. “It’s been a long day.”

I am pretty certain we were both thinking this day was turning out a lot like that nurse’s pudding cup.

18 to 44The next set up went without a hitch. The needle in my right arm rested against my vein, which would flutter uncomfortably for the next few hours as though a butterfly had been trapped inside my arm. My nurse buddy spent a lot of the time next to me, trying to cheer me up. I did my best to let myself be cheered up.

We were finally done around 7pm. Be The Match tried to book me another hotel for the night, which I absolutely should have taken, but I insisted on going home. I walked into the parking garage and finally turned my cellphone back on (there had been “no cellphones” notices glaring at me while I’d been inside and I didn’t have a text plan). I had about seven voicemails and a dozen missed calls from my mom. The voicemails got increasingly panicked. After I hadn’t responded to her for eight hours after my procedure was supposed to be done, she’d concluded that I’d been kidnapped by the recipient’s henchmen to be taken back to Germany and harvested for my marrow. 

As I had spent the previous night attacking closet phantoms, this struck me as insane, but strangely logical. 

Several months later, I was walking through campus when my Be The Match representative called me. She said they usually waited longer to talk to a donor about the outcome of a donation, but if I’d like to know, she’d tell me now. I braced myself and said I’d like to know.

My recipient did not survive. The representative explained that she’d been on the registry for a long time waiting for a match and she’d been very sick by the time I’d come along. The recipient and her family had known this would be a long shot, but they’d wanted to feel as though they’d done everything possible. They wanted to try. 

And so, I’m glad I tried with them. People sometimes think that because this story didn’t have a happy ending, I must regret having signed up. I must regret the time and the discomfort and the involvement since it was all for nothing. 

But I don’t think it was for nothing. The reality is, it was a few days from my life spent trying to help someone else. I was back on my feet less than a week after my bone marrow donation surgery, and that’s considered a longer-than-typical recovery time. I had to recover more from my cold than my white blood cell donation. Maybe all I gave was hope, but other people do save lives.

I’d never tell anyone they should register—it’s a highly personal choice. But I hope this story does defeat the idea that it would take a superhero or a saint to donate bone marrow. 

In my case, it only took a clueless girl not wanting to look bad in front of her friends who was given a chance to step up.

Pinky Poo.JPG
Pink Poo, the lamb (not poodle!) my mom got for me after my bone marrow donation who still rides around with me for luck.

Learn more about bone marrow, PBSC, or cord blood donation and other ways to support the National Marrow Donor Program at BeTheMatch.org. If you’re interested in registering, they’ll mail you a mouth swab kit for free.

If you’ve got questions, I’ll answer them as best I can from my experience. Just leave a comment below or head on over to the Contact page.  

Be the Match: My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor (Part 1)

campus be the matchWhen I signed up for the bone marrow donation registry in my freshman year of college, I wish I could say I did so with the noble passion to save lives. The truth is, I started following a group of girls from my dorms before I knew where they were going, then felt I couldn’t ditch out without seeming like a jerk. A pamphlet got me nervous about what I was signing up for. Surgery? For a stranger?

As I was getting my blood sample taken (they’ve since upgraded to a simple cheek swab), I quietly expressed doubt to the phlebotomist.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “the chances are so slim of getting called, if you ever do, you’ll be 80 and too old to do it.”

All the way back, we giggled over cartoon drawings of what looked like a doctor drilling through a patient’s butt cheeks. Yeah, thank god I’d never actually have to go through with that. 

Less than three months later, I got an envelope in the mail.

I was a match. I wasn’t 80. 

But that letter represented a real person out there in a terrible situation. What if it had been my mom, or me, or a friend? I know how desperate I’d feel.

The first thing my roommate said when I told her I was doing it was, “You’re getting the butt surgery??”

You know, in case I was feeling too much like a sexy hero.

BTM_MythsFacts_3From there, we did a lot of medical testing to ensure I really was a good match and that I was healthy enough to be a good donor. In preparation for the surgery, I went to a Red Cross blood donation center. Apparently, it’s helpful to have your own blood on hand during a surgery so they can give it back to you to replace any that’s lost. To do this, they take more than in a normal donation, and because I’m rather small, the staff was certain I was going to pass out on them. The only patient in the clinic, the staff pushed apple juice boxes and cookies at me like I was being fattened up for a pie. The blood draw went smoothly and when it was done, they surrounded me with more juice and wouldn’t allow me to even sit up as though they were the loyal servants of a queen, aged 6. (“More juice and cookies, I say! And fetch me a crayon box!”)

I broke the news to them that I really did have to get up because I’d drunk more than my weight in juice and had to go to the bathroom. They offered me a bed pan. I looked to the floor to ceiling windows right next me. A child skipped by, looking in. I declined the offer. My entourage of about five women held my arms during the walk, then stationed themselves in and out of the bathroom, ready to defend my privacy against the zero other people in the clinic (I was not allowed to close the stall door) or to rush in the second I pitched sideways.

At one point, the front door chimed and a man said, “Is this where we give bloo—”

“Sir, we are handling a situation right now!” one staffer half-screamed.

When the man watched me emerge, admittedly wobbly at that point, with the entire staff of the clinic shoving snacks and juice at me, I wonder if he thought I was famous.

Sorry sir, not all of us can be donation celebrities. 

2b-be_the_match-3_ways_to_donate_marrowThe only time I got nervous throughout the entire process was right before going into surgery. To calm myself, I summoned my deepest level of nerd meditation and recalled a fan fiction story I’d once read where Harry Potter had bone marrow surgery and nearly exploded with magic. In my anxious state, it made sense that if a fictional wizard in a fan’s story could do this, surely it was all going to be fine.  

When I came to, my mom, face tense with worry, held up a cute stuffed pink lamb she’d gotten me from the gift store. I could tell this whole thing had been harder on her than me.

An orderly tested my blood. “Ah, it’s a nice, rich red.”

Groggily, I muttered, “At least it’s not green anymore.”

The orderly looked sympathetically at my mom. “She’s still delirious from the anesthesia.”

My mom gave me a knowing look that read, If only we could blame your sense of humor on drugs.

I’ve heard other donors talk about going back to work the next day. I, however, am very sensitive to painkillers and spent the next couple days sleeping and comfortably hallucinating about helicopters. Within a week, though, I moved myself back down to college in a car filled to the brim. Insisting I did not need help with that move may have not been my smartest call, but I did it. A few weeks later, even the bruised feeling in my lower back was gone.

When the lab I worked in found out what I’d done, they put my name up on the white board of the lab for, “saving a life.”

…They then violently erased it when I said I didn’t find Tom Cruise attractive.

“But I saved a life!” I pouted.

“And you have no taste,” said my lab director. It was a unique managerial style.

In actuality, none of us knew if I had saved a life. I’d explained when my name went up that the organization wouldn’t be telling me the outcome for one to two years. But I was so happy I’d done it. My director sent out an email to the lab titled, “Brandi is a H-E-R-O,” and I admit, it made me feel proud.

A few months later, however, the organization got in touch with me. My recipient was not doing well. I was surprised. All the advertising I’d seen was about saving lives and it hadn’t really occurred to me that my donation might not work, even though they’d tried to explain that was a possibility.

Prefacing everything with the acknowledgement that I had already done more than enough, they asked if I’d be willing to give white blood cells. I agreed without hesitation, now feeling less like this was some feat of bravery and more aware that someone out there had heard this same news and had to be scared. I asked them to send me the information right away.

As this is a long story, I’ll break here. Stay tuned for part two…

how marrow donation works_960x540px_v2


While my experience is with bone marrow donation, many people donate through a non-surgical process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation. You can learn more about either process and hear other people recount their experiences at www.bethematch.org.

If you have questions about the bone marrow donation process, don’t hesitate to ask! I can only speak from my own experience, but I’m happy to share what I can. I’d also love to hear your stories.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Apartment Horror Stories, Part One: Santa Barbara and the Microwave and Petty Crime and Disco: An Ode to Mariah.

“Quitting” Ain’t a Dirty Word

Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.By day, I work with college students. Often, those are students who are in academic trouble. And every day, I ask questions like, “Why didn’t you drop the class when you failed the midterm?” or “Why are you so determined to stick to a major that’s making you flunk out of school?” The answer, inevitably, is, “I don’t want to be a quitter.”

I get it. You don’t want to run at the first sign of trouble. That’s not what we’ve been taught to value. We’ve been taught that when you’ve worked hard for something, or hell, even if you’ve started something, the disciplined among us will stick with it ’til the bitter end.

So what happens to those people who are miserable and decide it’s time to throw in the towel? What’s the cost when people realize that despite trying, they’re not succeeding? Through interviewing dozens of people over the past few years about their career paths, I’ve discovered the dark truth about walking away:

Quitters prosper.

It’s true. I’ve found that interviewees who’ve had the experience of quitting something unfulfilling are the happiest I talk to. Having taken that risk to hit the eject button and start fresh along a new path, they feel more in control of their lives rather than feeling stuck along a path they mistakenly wandered down. And moving forward, they tend to be less anxious about the decisions they make because they understand that there is no perfect move, there’s just giving a variety of things a real, all-in try until we find something that clicks. They are kinder to themselves, more forgiving of mistakes, because they know they are never trapped. And these people are still motivated, determined, and hard working. When they find something they love, they dive in.

I once quit a job after two days. I had gone through three months of interviewing. I’d been put through tests, writing samples, and role-playing interviews (my nightmare). This was supposed to be my first real job out of my masters program. I bought my first smartphone for it. I bought a suit jacket.

But in those first two days, I became baffled. They weren’t training me for the position I’d been hired into. They were training me for one much lower. (It was also the weirdest training I’ve ever experienced. At one point, I was asked if they could videotape me. But that’s a story for another day.)

When I confronted the owner about why I sensed I was being demoted before I’d even started, he tried to dodge the question. I pressed and insisted I wasn’t leaving until he gave me a straight answer. Eventually, his temper snapped. “Do you expect me to let you around clients with your pedigree?”

I was stunned. I knew he meant where I’d chosen to go to college (he’d brought it up a suspicious amount of times over the past few days), though I also don’t think I’d impressed him by still having a flip phone when I interviewed (I’d bought my first smart phone for the job. This was 2013. I am not quick on the technology.).

So, I quit. I’d like to say I gave a sassy one-liner and strutted out the door à la Bridget Jones instead of anxiously calling my mom on the way home, then pulling over to send in my resignation via email on my new smart phone.

But I did quit. And every time I think about how I might have been trapped in that awful, degrading place, I’m so, so thankful I walked away. The memory makes me feel empowered and free. I found a new job that was still crappy but allowed me to do the work I’d been hired for. And I worked hard. I’ve always worked hard. Quitting didn’t change that.

We ought to be kinder about quitting. When people in our lives end up in a situation that makes them unhappy, we should think twice before saying, “Don’t quit now! You’ve worked so hard for this!” Sometimes people do need encouragement, but there can be bravery in realizing that just because a lot of time and effort has been sunk into a goal, doesn’t mean more time and more effort should be lost toward something that no longer makes sense.

People should share their quitting stories with people proudly. And I don’t just mean the “And I told my boss to shove it!” stories. I mean the times a major wasn’t working out. The times we gave up on relationships. The times we realized our dreams had shifted and needed to let go of an old idea. It might be the encouragement someone needs to leave a bad situation. Sometimes it takes quitting something that’s wrong to start something that’s right.

If you want to hear people sharing their experiences with walking away from something big, check out my interviews with these inspiring and brave quitters:

Kelsey Gorter: Wine Enologist (Quit biotech and teaching)

Rebecca Gayle: PharmD (Quit her residency)

Nicholas Lee: Bakehouse Owner (Quit his major, quit sales and tech)

Kristen Care: Attorney (Quit her dream major, then quit her first career goal)

What about you? Do you have a time when quitting something made your life that much better?


If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews or Where do ideas come from?

Turning Interviews into Kids’ Books with Erica Swallow

15241180_1144296242344899_7164375719047770981_nThis month in the Inspiration and Perspiration series, I tracked down Erica Swallow, co-creator of a non-fiction picture book stemming from Erica’s real-life interview with kid entrepreneurs. I met Erica at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, where, in our first chat, she asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you with your project?” I was later shocked to find her on a panel discussing social media for writers. I had no idea she was a panelist instead of just an attendee! With a giving, humble spirit like that, I was thrilled to discover she’s also a powerhouse of creativity and innovation.

I talked to Erica about what inspired her project.

Tell us about your current project and how you got the idea for it?

I just finished my first picture book series. It’s called Entrepreneur Kid, and it’s a four-book series about real kids with real businesses, written by myself and illustrated by my good friend, Li Zeng, a very talented graphic designer and design professor I’ve known since moving back to my home state, Arkansas. We’re self-publishing the series on Kickstarter and just launched today. It was been an absolute whirlwind adventure learning how to be a publisher!

The whole premise behind the series is the idea that kids can do anything they set their minds through. The books feature the stories of four kid entrepreneurs from across the U.S., from sock designer Sebastian Martinez (CEO of Are You Kidding?) and barrette inventor Gabby Goodwin (CEO of GaBBY Bows) to lacrosse equipment maker Rachel Zietz (CEO of Gladiator Lacrosse) and electronics reseller and recycler Jason Li (CEO of iReTron). These kids have done amazing things… sold their goods all over the world, figured out manufacturing, partnered with non-profits, and achieved so much while so young.

I’ve been seeing more and more young Gabbyentrepreneurs popping up around the country, and I started researching what kids are achieving today. I couldn’t help but be inspired.

While I’ve been a journalist for a while now, I thought this was the appropriate set of stories to launch my career as a debut children’s author.

The illustrator Li and I have been collaborating on projects since early last year, mostly educational programs focused on inspiring the next generation of thinkers and innovators. She and I got serious about Entrepreneur Kid in September, and we’ve been rolling ever since.

What is it about entrepreneurship that you find inspiring? Is there a connection with your own life to that world?

Yes, 100% – there’s a huge connection. I’m a small business owner, and I’ve worked with countless entrepreneurs throughout my career in journalism and marketing. I started my career as a marketing consultant at The New York Times in 2009, right out of college. That’s where I developed a love for storytelling, as well as a love for entrepreneurship. After all, you can’t lead social media at the world’s paper of record without falling in love with brilliant storytelling.

Part of my job was to collaborate with startups like Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, and I really loved how they believed in moving fast and breaking things. It was so exhilarating working on campaigns with people like Tristan Walker, this spunky business development all-star who led Foursquare partnerships at the time, while still pursuing his MBA at Stanford. He’s now the founder and CEO of Walker & Company Brands, which makes health and beauty products for people of color. It’s entrepreneurs like Tristan who make me excited to keep growing and learning. I want to work with people like him who are trying to build things that make the world a better place.

That’s what entrepreneurship is to me – it’s making the world a better place, through your creativity and ingenuity.

What’s been the hardest part for you as you’ve developed this series?

15000800_1113898918717965_3619267930297421633_oWriting for kids! It sounds odd, but I’ve been writing for adults for the past… forever!

My bookshelf is now full of picture books, because I had to learn how to structure the story. It wasn’t until this past December, though, that I realized writing picture books isn’t so different from writing a news article. I was at the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference, and legendary picture book author Andrea Davis Pinkney – who has a background in journalism as well – said of how she uses her journalism experience in book writing: “Use a compelling lede.”

I was stunned, because for some reason, I had never considered my writing experience of relevance to children’s books. I went back to my manuscripts and did some tweaking. I’m definitely going to think journalistically for my next book, and the lede is going to be out of this world!

What’s been the biggest triumph so far?

Besides finishing the series and launching the Kickstarter, we’ve already received great feedback from the industry. We were a finalist in the Children’s Book category of the San Francisco Writers Conference writing contest, for “Sebastian Creates a Sock Company,” the first book we wrote in the series. Just prior to that, I was honored with a Highlights Foundation James Cross Giblin Scholarship to continue my writing in nonfiction children’s literature.

The kid’s lit community has certainly been welcoming. I don’t think I’ve ever pursued a project that’s been welcomed so overwhelmingly so early on. We’re really grateful for that.

What advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur or writer?

Do your thang. That’s all. Just keep going. 15241429_1145555655552291_2580009388373791058_nWriting is tough. Starting a business is tough. You just have to persist. Get it done. Keep going. End of story.

Tell us about your Kickstarter and where to find it!

Yes, yes, yes. We launched the Kickstarter this morning to fund the first print run of the Entrepreneur Kid book series. You can find the project easily from our website or directly on Kickstarter. You can back the project and choose from one of 11 rewards, which include getting a simple thank you on our website, a single book, the full book series (in print, digital, or both forms), multiple sets of the series, or an author or illustrator visit (U.S. or international). There’s something for everyone. Well, if you like stories about kid entrepreneurs!

We are so grateful for all of the people who helped make the project itself possible. From the entrepreneurs who we featured to our early readers, there have been so many helpful people along the way. Adding to the equation are our backers. Thank you to everyone who supports us over the next 30 days. The project closes on April 27th, at which point, we’ll put our order in for 2,000 books if the campaign is a success. Fingers crossed! 

If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?

Humanity.

erica-swallow-2

Erica Swallow is a status quo wrecker, entrepreneur, journalist, and debut children’s book author. Her thoughts have been published in ForbesFortune, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. A first-generation college student, she was raised in Paragould, Arkansas and believes education is the key to opportunity. Erica holds degrees from New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the founder of Southern Swallow digital strategy consultancy.

Find behind-the-scenes photos and more at www.facebook.com/entrepreneurkid.

Check out and consider supporting this project by clicking here: Entrepreneur Kid Kickstarter.


Want more interviews that pick the brains of creative people? Check out Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker or Travel Photography and Journalism with Megan Snedden. And keep an eye out for the next entry in the Inspiration and Perspiration series by following the blog! Just find the “Follow” feature at the top right of the page!

Petty Crime and Disco: An Ode to Mariah

door-knob-1924315_1280.jpgI once had a neighbor named Mariah.

I had just moved, leaving behind a city and my roommates. The first weekend in my apartment, I was missing the constant chatter that meant no TV episode could ever truly be watched, but was excited about this new, mature stage of my life. This was my big step into independence. I would be a real adult now. Nothing could stop me now!

The first time I took out the trash, I locked myself out.

I had been weekend-cleaning like a grown-up. Listening to my time-warp playlist like…a cool person? The high pitched voices of the Jackson Five mocked me from the screened windows too high up to reach as I shook the door with both hands and begged for it to open.

I had no phone, no keys, no wallet. I knew no one in town.

Wincing, I knocked on my neighbor’s door.

The door opened to reveal a girl in her young twenties and an apartment covered in reggae posters.

“The landlord doesn’t give out his number,” she said, following me outside, “and the property manager’s closed on weekends.”

I let out a pitiful groan.

She pointed at my windows. “Oh, we can totally get you inside.”

I was skeptical. “Aren’t the screens screwed in? And it’s too high.”

With a dismissive wave of her hand, she went back into her apartment, presumably for a chair. Instead, she came back out with a driver’s license. She reached above her head and started jimmying the screen. At second glance, I realized the driver’s license was not hers.

She must have seen the look on my face. “Don’t worry,” she said, “my boyfriend showed me how to do this.”

This made me worry for other reasons. 

Mariah paused. “Is that…the BeeGees?”

I went red. “Um…”

“Hell. Yeah. I love the BeeGees.” She danced along to Night Fever as she worked.

The screen popped out. I let out an embarrassingly excited, “Look! Look! You did it!!!”

Without a word, she threaded her fingers together and we shared the look of two former cheerleaders (or…burglars? Mariah, what is your life?), and she heaved me up and through the window. I grunted as I tumbled through and landed in an awkward crash of limbs and furniture.

I limped-ran over to the door and threw it open in triumph. “We did it!” I exclaimed, as though my watching her had been a meaningful part of the effort.

Mariah wiped the dirt off her fake ID and slipped it back into her jean pocket. All in a day’s work, her casual smile seemed to say. She said nothing, just swung her hips to the final notes of the song. I did my own little dance of happiness that was nowhere near as graceful.

Then, she wandered off to lock her boyfriend out of their apartment until he banged on the door, demanding and then begging to be let in. He might have known how to get through windows, but apparently wouldn’t dare climb through Mariah’s windows while she was peeved at him.

That was my only interaction with Mariah before she moved away, but here are some things I know in my heart to be true about her:

1. If I needed to flee town in the midst of a movie-like, every-man-for-himself disaster, Mariah would have a seat in my car. Her skills would be important to the survival squad as we road-tripped through destruction. She’d hot wire cars and siphon gasoline, all while humming disco standards.

2. In a heist, Mariah wouldn’t break a sweat as she lock-picked a safe, even as police sirens drew closer and closer. She would spend the entire time bickering with her boyfriend as he patched together some quick flash-bang explosives. 

3. In a zombie attack, Mariah would inevitably lock her boyfriend out of the compound while zombies advanced. He would yell to be let back in, but she would calmly demand he apologize first. He would scream, “I’m sorry, okay?” This would not be good enough. She’d tell him he didn’t sound like he meant it as the zombies drew near and her boyfriend clawed frantically at the door. She’d finally open the door, letting her boyfriend collapse inside while she smoked a couple reaching zombies without effort. When she locked up after them, over the sound of zombie-hands pawing at the door, she’d put her hands on her hips and say, “I deserve respect around this compound.” And they’d yell at each other all the way to the kitchen.

4. Mariah is the coolest neighbor I will ever have.

disco-ball-1006746_1280


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy, Apartment Horror Stories, Part One: Santa Barbara and the Microwave and Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare.

Throwing it to you: Have you ever had an intriguing neighbor? Ever locked yourself out?

Travel Photography and Journalism with Megan Snedden

1.jpgNext in the Inspiration and Perspiration series, I talk with Megan Snedden, travel photographer and journalist for publications like BBC, USA Today, and National Geographic Traveler. Every time I talk to Megan, I leave our conversations inspired to conquer the world. She’s overcome tremendous obstacles to create a career out of what she loves and makes the people around her feel like, with a dash of adventure in their souls and a willingness to take a risk, they just might be able to follow in her dancing footsteps.

What inspires Megan isn’t really a mystery. Who among us isn’t drawn to far off, exotic places? But to turn that inspiration into a career takes some serious work.

I interviewed Megan about her experience.

When you do something creative as a career, there’s often an assumption by outsiders that you’re getting paid for a hobby, and that anyone could jump in if they wanted to. In reality, what kind of work goes into making a career out of travel photography and journalism?

It’s funny to me that people have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes. There is so much hustle going on in order for your career to not only take off initially, but to stay afloat and relevant. In order for stories to get published, I’m always coming up with new ideas and developing pitches. When you’re in this freelance world and you’re pitching editors ideas, not everybody bites at what you think is going to be a great story. It depends a lot on what’s happening at the publication. Magazines release public editorial calendars with what they plan to write about months before an issue comes out, but a lot can change in that time. Even online magazines and publications pursue different verticals (niche content) at different times based on how stories on their website are performing. So you might send them a story about Cuba and they say, “Oh we’re so over Cuba right now, no thank you.”

Also you can’t just approach it like, “Oh I went on this awesome trip, here’s a story!” You have to come up with an angle you might call a, “Why now?” You’re essentially a salesperson when it comes to getting your work published. You develop pitches and contact editors and keep those relationships healthy so that if you’re freelancing for one publication and you switch and start freelancing for another, that you still could go back to the first one. Sometimes you’re funding yourself, other times you’re collaborating with PR people to get a trip to happen, then write stories about their clients in the travel and destination industry. It’s all very fascinating, but there is so much more legwork behind it than, “I went on a vacation and took a few photos and just want to write.”

The other piece of the puzzle isfiji-3 that most people I know in this line of work don’t invest everything into one bucket. We’re working on several different types of creative projects all at one time. It might be advertising, branding, or social media work for other companies that still incorporates writing and photography. It’s not all travel journalism all the time. I mean, it is for some people. I know people who’ve gone the Instagram Influencer, build-your-own-blog route and they have such big audiences of their own that they can do that. But when you’re a writer—the journalist photographer type—you really have to balance a lot of different kinds of creative work.

When your job demands the constant production of ideas, do you ever struggle with feeling inspired?

It’s not so much feeling uninspired because I’m a curious person. It’s more that I can sometimes get overwhelmed because when you’re thinking of the context of the world, there are so many directions you could go. I can very easily end up down a rabbit hole researching one thing before realizing I need to switch gears. So it’s mostly a matter of keeping myself organized. I keep an idea boneyard in Google spreadsheets. I read a lot of news and when I read stories and go, “Oh, it would be interesting to do a spin off of that,” I put it into the spreadsheet. Later, when I’m trying to think of ideas, I can look through and go, “Oh yeah, let’s research that idea and see if I can develop a pitch.” I also keep calendars, timelines, and other spreadsheets that organize what I’m doing. I’m not only pitching ideas and looking for work, I’m also doing the work at the same time so I have to split my day between the two.

What trait do you think makes someone good at what you do?

You really have to be tenacious. 4You get a lot of rejections. Rejections are not necessarily personal. They more or less say something about where the publication is at and what they’re looking for. But when you pour your heart and soul into a pitch and you send it to an editor and they respond with, “No, we’ll pass,” it can be really bone-crushing, especially when you’re at a moment where you’re like, “I haven’t landed any stories in a while and I really need to.” But you do get these incredible wins and all the work ends up paying off. Sometimes you end up in a flow. And you have to be able to meditate through that process and really stick to your guns and keep on keeping on no matter what happens.

You also have to be a bit of a risk-taker. Someone who is willing to go 100% all out on something. That entrepreneurial spirit.

What’s been your most rewarding experience as you’ve pursued this career?

It’s many, many things that keep me going. In terms of travel photography, you have these amazing, soulful moments that you get to share with people all around the world. I went to Uruguay by myself and met this woman who lived there. I just struck up a conversation with her and before I knew it I was shooting portraits of her. I left that day and looked back at the pictures. They were so beautiful. It just felt so good to relate to somebody in that way. If I didn’t do what I’m doing now, maybe I wouldn’t have talked to her and had that interesting connection and learned as much about Uruguay in that hour that I spent with her as I did. There have been other major, “Pinch me. Is this my job?” moments. I went on assignment to Fiji for ten days for the International Business Times and standing in that lush, tropical environment surrounded by people who were so warm and happyFiji 4.jpg and so loving, to be embraced by the locals, I just felt really lucky. It was also fascinating to be in such a small and remote and mysterious part of the world, looking around and going, “Nobody really knows where I am right now. My family and my friends kind of know that I’m traveling but they have no idea what’s happening in my life.” It’s a freeing feeling. 

If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?

Regret.

I know, that’s such a weird thing to say but oh it’s so true! It’s such a strong motivator for me. At the beginning of this whole journey, I had this moment when I was planning my first trip to South America by myself, wanting to get away and having gotten a gig writing about it for a small, local newspaper. I was young, like twenty-two, and I wasn’t necessarily supported by the people in my life about the choices I wanted to make. They were like, “This is so crazy and dangerous!” I was also hung up on things like the fact that I’d just graduated, we were entering an economic recession, and I was feeling the pressure to get a “real” job.

But when I really sat with the idea, I asked myself, “If you were to fast-forward five years and look back on this moment, how would you have wanted to respond and what would you regret the most?” And I really felt in all of my heart that, man, even if it was going to be rough trying to convince other people, I was doing the right thing for me. Sometimes you’re not going to have the support. It sometimes feels crazy and scary and like a huge leap into the unknown, but I would never have it any other way. And had I gone five years later and looked back and not have done that, my life would have taken a totally different trajectory. I always would have regretted that. So I’m always sort of framing my life that way. When I’m in a position of making an important decision, I go, “Okay, well, I know this is insane, but what am I going to regret? Doing it or not doing it?” I think that we all have the capacity inside of ourselves to handle anything that comes our way, so hit the road!

What are you working on now?

I’m really excited because I’m going to be hosting a free webinar on Monday, April 3, 2017 about how to essentially do exactly what I do and get published in mainstream media outlets. I’ve hosted online courses before on the topic, but this is the first time I’ll be offering a free hour and a half training. It’s going to be live and it’s going to be really fun! Learn more here: www.megansnedden.com/mainstream

headshot

Megan Snedden is a travel storyteller and photographer whose words and photos have appeared in publications like BBC, USA Today, and National Geographic Traveler. She helps creatives get their work published in mainstream media outlets.

Website: www.MeganSnedden.com

Add beauty and adventure to your Instagram and Twitter feeds by following Megan on social media:

www.Twitter.com/MeganSnedden

Still intrigued? I interviewed Megan in depth about her journey to her career and the personal obstacles she faced, from frightening health concerns to a family tragedy, that ultimately led her to where she is today. Megan’s Spotlight Interview

You can also check out the first interview in the series with art model and artist, Krystal Becker.

Online Resource Guide for Aspiring Authors

reading-stack-of-booksThis past week I spent four amazing days at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Everywhere, groups tucked into corners between panels to help each other get ready for the great and scary pitch sessions. Someone mentioned feeling intimidated to come to their first conference, ready for battle in the Hunger Games of aspiring authors. Instead, they found themselves wrapped in the comfy arms of the writing community. I’ve been wrapped in those arms for years. It’s nice in the arms!

For me, most of those arms have been virtual ones. And something I noticed at the conference was that many writers weren’t familiar with the online community and sources that make this whole writer-to-author process so much less frightening! Want your query package critiqued? Want to learn which agents will be good fits? Want to learn more about craft? The online writers community has got your back.

Here are some of the most helpful online resources for writers hoping to become authors that I’ve collected during my years of learning about writing and the publishing industry.

Writing Craft:

First up, K.M. Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors.” Hold onto your hats, because there’s both a website AND a podcast! You not only get bite-sized tips on all sorts of topics, but K.M. Weiland’s guides on characters arcs and plot structure are fantastic. They’re a huge help at the editing stage, guiding you to examine key moments and deliver memorable moments to readers.

Like the idea of learning while brushing your teeth in the morning? Another podcast I faithfully subscribe to is the Writing Excuses Podcast, which delivers craft advice from a panel of published writers. Pro tip: their archives offer gold beyond what’s available on iTunes.

Former agent, now freelance editor and consultant, Mary Kole has an incredibly helpful blog, Kidlit.org, that tackles both the industry and editorial advice inspired by her experience working with writers. While the focus is supposedly on children’s and teen lit, I’d say 90% of the content can apply to any novel. Mary Kole walks you through common mistakes writers don’t even know they’re making. She also has a book called, “Writing Irresistible Kidlit,” that has a respected home on my bookshelf.

notecards
My revision notecards. Learned this technique in “How to Revise Your Novel.”

Lastly, I can’t talk about craft without mentioning one of the most significant impacts on my writing, Holly Lisle, who offers both articles and courses. Her articles are refreshingly practical. Instead of, “Have high stakes!” Holly breaks down how to actually accomplish those overly-general writing tips. During a revise/resubmit where I was completely overwhelmed, I splurged on her course, “How to Revise Your Novel.” It changed everything about how I approach revision. I jumped right into, “How to Think Sideways” after that. If you’re ever getting frustrated with reading things like, “Give your characters voice,” “Fulfill your promises,” or “Start with a strong premise,” and are screaming, “But how?!” I recommend Holly.  

Query Package:

First mandatory reading assignment: the Query Shark Blog. Aspiring authors send their query letters to The Shark (literary agent, Janet Reid) for public critique. It’s…brutal, Game of Thrones-esque entertainment, with a high dose of snark, but oh so educational. Read from the beginning. Yes, the beginning. And enjoy the chum bucket as you get whipped into querying shape.

At the same time, make your way through Nathan Bransford’s thorough guide to querying. It answers questions about what agents want to see, a mad lib guide to get you started, even strategies for how many to send at a time.

Then, when you’ve a solid grounding in what makes a good query, head on over to the QueryTracker Forums, where you can critique and get critiques for query letters, pitches, first pages, and synopses. While there are other writer communities online that do similar things, after spending time in a few, I’ve found QT to be the most supportive and welcoming of the bunch. It’s also a great place to do arrange page swaps and feel out potential for critique partners in your genre.

Finding the Right Agent

Now it’s time to take the plunge and approach agents. I highly recommend QueryTracker.net. Wait, didn’t we just cover that one? Nope. While they’re run by the same crew, they are separate sites with distinct purposes. QueryTracker.net is an amazing, beautiful, magnificent tool for exploring agents and keeping track of the queries you’re sending out (hence, the site name). You can search for agents by genre, but also see data like how long they take to respond and whether they’re more or less likely to request pages. You can easily see who you queried, whether you’ve sent out pages, and how long you’ve been waiting. If you get to the point where you’re querying in large batches and maybe have partials out, this is a great way to avoid embarrassing confusion.

Agentquery.com is another agent data base. It’s very basic, information only, but has the benefit of collecting information on preferences beyond stated genres. Instead of just, “Mystery” listed as a genre accepted, they’ll post information gleaned from interviews or provided by agents themselves like, “Not interested in mysteries unless it’s chicklit.” This is great in helping you figure out if your project is up an agent’s alley.

My ultimate secret weapon in the agent search is the Literary Rambles Blog, though it’s only geared toward picture book through YA. While not as exhaustive as an agent database, the depth is incredible. The blog hosts pick an agent to feature, then scour the internet for any information, from preferences to reputation. The picture you get of agents here is likely to be more complete than what you’ll find elsewhere, and there’s often a ton of links provided to interviews and sources to explore.

So there we are—the resources that have been warm shelters along this shadowy path toward publication. It’s certainly not the only resources I’ve tried, and I’ve also read tons of books on all of these subjects, so if you have any questions about the process or want peeks into my writing bookshelf, just ask! You can comment below (you don’t need to be a WordPress member to comment!) or shoot me an email at brandilyn_gilbert@yahoo.com.

In the online community, we love to help, and we have cookies.

(Okay, not real cookies, but we love saying we have cookies and offering each other cookies. It’s a thing. Don’t worry, you’ll learn.)


 

Want more posts about writing? Check out Why I Write for Kids and TeensWhere do ideas come from?, or NaNoWriMo: Your 50,000-Word Writing Challenge.

Tune in Monday, for the next Inspiration and Perspiration interview! I talk to Megan Snedden—photojournalist for BBC, National Geographic, USA Today, and more—about what it takes to turn a creative passion into a career.

Want more stories, writing adventures, and interviews with creative folks? Check the top right of the page, to follow the blog! And post any questions you have below!

Why I Write for Kids and Teens

Sometimes, when I tell people that I write for kids and teens, they respond with something along the lines of, “Oh that sounds fun! Do you think one day you’ll be good enough/serious enough to write for adults?”

popular-blank-meme-templetes-022-not-impressed

I then launch in to all the reasons I love writing for young people. The challenge of creating a layered story that can appeal to different types and ages of readers. Characters learning their places in the world, moving from relying on adults to trusting in themselves and their friends. The room for genre-blending and experimenting with style since the books are primarily sorted by age group instead of genre!

Then I take a breath and realize they’re gone.

Having to defend the merits of writing for this age group makes me think a lot about why I’m drawn toward it. In last week’s interview, Krystal Becker talked about getting into art modeling because she wanted to go beyond admiring pictures to living in them.

I wanted to hug her. Because, that’s just it, isn’t it? Kids don’t just read stories. They live stories.

When I was a kid, there were a few series I was obnoxiously obsessed with particularly engaged in. Early on, it was The Baby-Sitters’ Club by Ann M. Martin. I still have a letter I wrote to my friend, disappointed that my dad had said we couldn’t start our own baby-sitting club until we were 13 (you know, the age when you’re totally mature enough to take charge of young children’s safety). Despite this set-back, I laid out my plans for making my favorite fictional club come to life.

When I was in fourth grade, it was Spooksville by Christopher Pike. While I did my chores, I pretended that I was climbing a mountain to the beautiful witch’s castle or wiggling into the magic tree that ate children. I also was into the X-Files at a perhaps inappropriately young age and my sister and I slung on my parents’ trench coats and made files for alien abductee and monster victim cases.

I then grew up and grew out of playing in the fictional universes I loved.

img_4473
Um, ignore this.
hp-premiere
And this.

I remember my fourth-grade self thinking that one day, if one kid out there in the world was daydreaming of being part of one of my stories while in class, or running around the neighborhood, or while they were doing the dishes, I would have all the success I’d ever want.

Today, as I write my middle grade novels in particular, I go back to young-Brandi’s goal. I ask myself what elements could make the story easier to play in. Maybe it’s adding something to a character’s appearance that would make a Halloween costume recognizable. Maybe it’s including props that could be duplicated at home. Maybe it’s a magic system with rhyming spells. The richer the world, the easier it is to jump in deep.

So why do I write for young people? Kids and teens tend to live in stories, share them socially, push the canon worlds created into new territory. And when they do, they give those books life beyond the confines it’s pages. I, for one, would be thrilled to provide the starting material and see what they build.

What do you consider when thinking about the audience or consumer of your work? I’d love to hear from you—comment below!


Haven’t yet read the interview with Krystal Becker, art model and artist, mentioned above? Find it here: Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker

Similar posts: 

Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews

Create the World You Want to See

Where do ideas come from?

Want to keep on top of posts and upcoming interviews with creatives? Find the Follow widget at the top right of the page.

Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker

16244815_10212811651832955_1751613662_oWhere does inspiration come from? Ask the ancient Greeks and they’d point you to the muses—goddesses with the role of inspiring artists, writers, and scientists.

Today we meet Krystal Becker, a modern-day muse (or art model) and an artist herself. Meeting Krystal in person, you’d be unsurprised artists are drawn to her. Her retro features and style are stunning and one gets the sense that she has somehow emerged out of a different time. But despite having been the centerpiece of paintings and photographs, Krystal is somehow completely grounded, even modest about her past, with an offbeat humor she used to write a zine about how to get abducted by an alien. Seriously, how can you not be inspired by this person?

I asked Krystal to share some thoughts around the topic of inspiration.

How did you get involved in being an art model? What was the experience like?

In my mid-twenties, I decided I didn’t want to only be an admirer of pictures, I wanted to live in them as well. Most of my art modeling was in collaboration with fine art photographers. The thrill of going on adventures with these brilliant artists, and having them reveal themselves through me, was intoxicating. When I see the photos, paintings, or film I’m in, I don’t quite recognize myself. I mostly see the artist. It’s interesting, I remember an artist that I’ve worked with more than a dozen times telling me that he could never seem to create an image that mirrors how he sees me. I think that’s because he would see an amalgamation of him and me in the photograph.

Edith Lebeau in particular often uses your image her art. What is that relationship like?

15390783_10157919480545338_9003289589754792178_n

Edith is a beautiful human and an absolute pleasure in every way. Because we live far away from each other, I cannot physically sit for her, so we improvise. She tells me, or shows me through images, which poses she’s searching for and I’ll provide photographs of myself in that pose. A few weeks later, I’m presented with an amazing painting. Again, the paintings, for the most part, reveal Edith, not myself.

What do you think artists get out of working with you or other art models? Do you think that the inspiration comes from a model’s look, personality, or something else?

I’m not really sure as I don’t work with models. I think it may just be a simple thing like they’re attracted to that model. It’s all very magical if you think about it. All throughout your life you’re attracted to different people, falling in like with them without even speaking with them. Then it turns out, once you get to know them, that they were perfect for you. That’s been the case in every artist/model relationship I’ve had. They’ve all been gifts in my life.

What was your most interesting experience as an art model?

224378_1086888819280_3768_n-26

There are so any! I’d have to say when a photographer [uncredited per request] put me in a men’s tuxedo. I had never crossdressed before and I found it exhilarating! The photos from that photo shoot are still my favorite photographs of me. They remind me of Alfred Hitchcock film stills.

You are an artist yourself. Where do you find inspiration?

That changes all the time for me. Currently, I find it in shapes and color. I’ve just finished a series of abstracts. I had never worked like that before: with zero premeditation. The paintings painted themselves really. I found it incredibly freeing. There wasn’t the pressure that realism evokes.

Do you ever struggle with feeling inspired? What do you if that happens?

Yes, of course. I just show up consistently. I play and experiment when I don’t have ideas. I’ve found that some of my favorite works were born in that in-between time. I also think it becomes more and more difficult to return to creating after long hiatuses. So yeah, always show up.

What advice do you have for a young or new artist?

Just enjoy it and have fun, don’t take art or yourself too seriously. I heard a great line the other day. It went something like, “Life is two numbers with a dash in the middle. Make the most of your dash.” Don’t spend your dash being hard on yourself or comparing yourself to others or sabotaging your own creative exploration with self-loathing.

If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?

Beauty.

16229573_10212811653312992_996823629_o

You can find Krystal’s artwork and get linked to her Etsy shop where you can find her zine, “How to Get Abducted by Aliens” at krystalbecker.com. You can also follow her on Instagram at krystal.becker.

If you live in the Ventura, CA area and want to see Krystal’s artwork exhibited, check out, Back to the Future—on display at the NAMBA Arts Center from Jan 21 through Mar 5, and Defying Doyena collection from a small group of contemporary artists on display at Atrium Gallery from Jan 27 to  Feb 28 (formal reception: Fri, Jan 27 from 5:30-7p).


Next up in the series, many of us get inspired by taking photos of travel, but actually turning it into a career takes a whole lot of work. I interview Megan Snedden, a travel photographer and journalist for publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, and Huffington Post. 

To learn about the Inspiration and Perspiration series, check out Where do ideas come from?

Share your thoughts below or follow the blog to get notifications of future posts.

That’s a wrap! Until next time, nerds.