Melinda is also the driving force behindSURVIVORS BLOG HERE, a collaborative of online mental health advocates who write and make art.
If you have questions about in joining the Survivors Blog, send a tweet to @SurvivorsBlog2.
When did you decide to start your blog?
I started my first blog, Defining Memories, in 2005 when my Granny had a stroke. Defining Memories was an outlet for the pain and frustration of caring for my grandmother.
Why did you name your blog the ‘Looking for the Light Blog’?
I wanted to find me. I have a psychiatric diagnosis, heart disease and for the last four years Chronic Lyme disease. To move beyond illness I decided to write about other topics. I am good at research and learning, so I started the ‘Looking for the Light’ blog.
Was the decision to be open about your history of abuse a difficult decision to make?
Writing about the trauma that caused my mental health problems is not painful. The response from other bloggers was amazing; I think sharing my worst moments might help someone else to hang on another day.
Do you see some of the stigma surrounding mental illness beginning to lift?
In 1941, John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary suffered from an agitated depression. The procedure used to control her outburst was a Prefrontal Lobotomy. The surgery went wrong. At the age of 23, Rosemary was institutionalized. Her father never acknowledged her mental illness; she was called retarded. Today the stigma continues. Too many people see the fiction in movies as the truth. I want to scream when someone refers to ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. People believe what their fed. I was scared of my first ECT treatment but not because a movie but because it was the first time. I have since had 22 ECT Treatments and can say each one was essential to my health. Am I going to cry why me, or blame or question God? No. I have to use the treatments that work and do my best.
Is there a political dimension to your blog?
The ‘Looking for the Light’ blog is about education and advocacy. I get angry when politicians make uninformed decision that hurt people.
What advice do you have for bloggers who write about mental illness and trauma?
Write about what you know and be comforting. Most of us are not professionals so don’t tell people what to do but guide them to good sources of information. The best way to help others is to work on yourself, and avoid platitudes. The Sun will come out but not every day.
Tell us a little about The Survivor’s Here.
The ‘Survivors Blog Here’ was born of frustration. I believe in consistent focus on ones mission. I decided to turn the Survivor’s Blog Here into a group effort and invited other mental health bloggers who seemed to share the sense of mission to the group.
Answer: My seventh-grade teacher gave us an assignment that truly inspired my young mind — Write a story. However, we only had two options about the story 1) Write it from the point of view (POV) of a cartoon character, or 2) from the POV of the shoes of a famous person. Well, 12-year-old me watched talk shows after school, not cartoons. So, I saw plenty of “famous people” and “used to be famous” ones too, on Merv Griffin’s TV show. I liked the ones who talked about their pets. So, I wrote my story as a pair of red pumps belonging to actress Doris Day. (Back then I don’t think she was still making movies, but she was known for all her dogs.) I had so much fun that I also gave half the class verbal outlines for their stories.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I did a few stories on my own. My teacher wanted to see them. She said good things about the one for the assignment so (not that I thought I had any choice) I let her have the stories. They were Twilight Zone-ish stories and one was about child abuse. They got a lot of attention…
My teacher spoke to my parents.
My parents told me very sternly to never do that again!
That said, I guess I started writing in my late thirties. Throughout my life novels were my only escape from the personal difficulties (yes, abuse too) that I faced each day. I had read a couple of interviews with writers, and decided to write a fantasy novel. I did a lot of research and work, read more interviews, and then I dove into it. With that start, I never stopped.
You started your blog as an adjunct to self-publishing, how do you define your blog now?
Answer: I’m sure you’ve seen the same advice I always see for us Indies – You must have a blog to promote your work! Well, I couldn’t bear the thought of droning on about my novel with every post. Instead, I modified a writing exercise I created for myself long ago. I brought that exercise to my blog (Teagan’s Books). I had the readers send me three random things. I let the random things drive every detail of a serial story, setting, plot, and characters. That resulted in The Three Things Serial Story, which gave birth to my current release, a culinary mystery. However, this time the “things” are food related — or ingredients. So that one is Murder at the Bijou — Three Ingredients I. I’ve published both of those serials in book form.
That “pantser” style of writing, combined with engaging my audience (having them send “things” or otherwise promoting them) seems to have defined my blog.
I also mean for my blog to be a sanctuary for everyone. I keep it free from religion and politics, even though there are issues about which I feel strongly.
Where were you raised and how does that affect your style?
Answer: I’m a southerner by birth, but I was “enchanted” by the desert southwest of the USA when I moved to New Mexico. Like the old John Denver song, I had come home to a place I’d never been before. The truth is, I wish every day that I had never left. However, many things about the southeast – the deep south made an impact that remains with me. Following the advice, “Write what you know,” many of my stories have a southern setting.
What writers give you inspiration?
Answer: Robert Jordan (the Wheel of Time series) inspired me with his detailed world-building. Charlaine Harris influenced me with writing in first-person. That was something I never cared to do until I did my first National Novel Writing Month and created my début novel, Atonement, Tennessee. To my surprise, all the serial stories at my blog turned out to be written in first person as well. David Eddingsinfluenced me with the way he showed his sense of humor, particularly in the Belariad series.
What are your top 3 tips for new bloggers?
Reciprocate. Answer every comment, and try to do so with more than just “Thank you.”
Don’t “act/look like an expert” if you are not. If you have credentials then say so – and make that information something the reader can find without digging. If you found useful information, and you just want to share it, then say so.
Make it easy to read. Light colored (or splotchy, speckled) backgrounds with medium colored text are hard to read, no matter how good your content. Also, those horrid pop-ups, soliciting subscriptions. If I’ve barely started reading and one of those things blocks me from that read, I don’t care to continue.
Thank you Teagan! A short section from one of your books would be great way to close the interview.
Answer: Since I’ve been promoting the release ofMurder at the Bijou — Three Ingredients I, I want to share a short story. It is not in the book, but it’s still from that “universe,” and features the heroine of that 1920s series.
Pip’s a Chicken
“Bock, bock-bock. Bock! Baaawk!
Of all the nerve! My mouth dropped open. I was speechless. Granny Phanny bocked at me like a chicken. She bocked. She put her fists under her armpits and flapped her boney elbows — and she bocked at me!
Then, to make matters worse, she laughed.
Why that banty little old woman. Of all the self-important, cockalorem…
“Oh Pip, if you could see the look on your face,” she said, still chuckling. “It’s not like you to chicken out. Now tie on your apron and we’ll look at this recipe together.
Granny hung an apron around my neck, and then put her hands on my shoulders to forcibly turn me around. She tied a bow in back that I knew without looking was perfectly symmetrical.
“But Granny, I nearly set the kitchen on fire last time,” I complained, sincerely afraid of what damage I might cause.
“Hush that nonsense right now, Sweetpea. We’ll not be having any fires. Just because your fried chicken turned out as tough as an old rooster doesn’t mean you can quit.”
“An old rooster?” I exclaimed, mortified.
I looked at the recipe card. “Chicken Fricassee…” I read aloud. “Dredge chicken pieces in the flour mixture; coat well. Oh Granny, this sounds pos-i-lutely like a repeat of the fried chicken disaster. Granny?”
Phanny Ilene Peabody was gone. Her purse was missing from the corner table. I called out again and she hollered from the living room.
My eyes fell on the calendar that hung on the wall. Wong’s Chinese Restaurant made one annually for Chinese New Year. Granny was going to an early dinner with friends.
“No wonder she wasn’t worried about me ruining dinner again,” I grumbled. “Granny!” I yelled.
“I’ll be back this evening, Pip. Just keep the stove set to low while you fry that chicken, and follow the instructions for the fricassee.”
I blew a raspberry as the front door closed with a thud. My hand plopped down on the plump poultry with a smacking sound.
“Old rooster, huh? I’ll show her,” I muttered and went back to the recipe card.
This month my featured blogger Candice Louisa Daquin of thefeatheredsleep.
I’ve long admired your poetry. Thank you for agreeing to this interview,
When did you start to write?
As a child. I had a best friend who wrote and we would write poetry together. At the time, I was most influenced by the idea of giving a voice to feelings through the world around us. I liked to combine what I saw with what I felt. It was pretty childish and simplistic because I was a terrible speller, since English is my second language. I have since worked hard to become a more eloquent and careful writer and I do employ a lot of consideration rather than just writing out and posting.
Who are your poetic influences? My favorite book of prose-poetry is by an author called Elizabeth Smart and it’s called As I Sat Down at Grand Central Station and Wept. That book has influenced my writing more than any other it is an incredible tour du force of emotional landscape and language and unlike anything I have ever read before. Second to that I am drawn to the metaphysical poets. Toni Morrison is not really a poet per say but when I read her work it reads like poetry, I think she has the most magnificent understanding of how to use language of any modern author, she is both phantasmagoric and highly realistic and that blend really stays with me. Nikki Giovanni’s candor and magnification. The erotica of Anais Nin. Maya Angelou’s truth and wisdom. The mythology of Tennyson. Audre Lorde’s history. The impenetrable landscape of William Blake. Gwendolyn Brooks raw honesty. Emily Bronte’s world and sadness. My friend introduced me to Anne Sexton about five years ago her work appeals to me more than Sylvia Plath. Of course e.e. Cummings especially his poem about little hands that was quoted in Hannah and her Sisters (Woody Allen). I admire the preciseness of Mary Oliver and Stevie Smith though they write very differently from myself. My family were forced out of Egypt to France due to being Jewish. I have long been influenced by the wonderful writing of Nawal El Saadawi who campaigns for gender equality in Egypt and Vandana Shiva a Hindi woman who is a huge campaigner for non GMO in India and environmental equality. Neither are poets but they influence me in their courage and thinking as much as any poet. I am drawn to the feminine many times but there are some excellent male poets, though since the world has been so dominated historically by men I do appreciate the voices of women. I could probably produce a list of 100 people who influence me, many are song-writers like Kate Bush and Tori Amos, Supertramp and Bruce Springstein, Dory Previn and Ry Cooder.
Where were you raised and how does that affect your style?
In France. Then I was educated in Britain where I lived a long time before moving to America where I have lived 14 years aside one where I lived in Canada. People often ask me where do I think of as home. I cannot say. I don’t feel particularly influenced by a country so much as varied cultures. My Jewish culture influences me, it’s very different from the most Anglo Jewish culture seen in the USA. Sephardi culture is Spanish maybe that is why living in San Antonio which is predominantly Hispanic is so comfortable for me. Style-wise I speak English as taught to me in England with the influence of my varied cultures behind it (Egyptian, France, and some Americanisms!).
I hear strong politics in your work, Are you politically active?
Perhaps not as much as I used to be or as much as (we all) should be but enough that I cannot believe an armchair approach works or we should hope that others do the work for us. We should be the change we want to see. Most immigrants will confess they have felt helpless in politics, that their voices were not heard, it is up to us as adoptees of new countries to do our part and not expect others to be our representatives. Equally as a woman this is also true. I get disheartened by the lack of support women have for one another, and the continued attack on women politically but that said, we need to ensure all people are heard, rather than merely concentrating on those causes that are our own.
You write on your blog, “Please do not visit if optimism is your single mantra as you’ll be disappointed. This strives to be a judgment free zone. I appreciate critique but ultimately I cannot write with social restriction or fear of offending or being hated for what I choose. It’s my story, I make no apology.”
Have you had the feeling that other people expected you to apologize for your life? In what way?
Yes definitely. I come from a very talented family who had very high standards. I always fell short of them. I am not as technically ‘clever’ as some of my relatives and I knew that at an early age. For many years it stymied me (through my own fault) and prevented me from really writing it out. I used to work in publishing then I re-trained in Psychotherapy and worked in Rape Crisis Centers but got very burned out. I was told often I should write, but I couldn’t bring myself to because I knew I would be criticized and having grown up with a heavy dose of criticism it is hard to put yourself out there. Finally when a publisher took a chance on me that gave me the courage and confidence to go forward, the rest has been thanks to the support of my friends of my work. This year I have seen myself grow and I can only attribute this to others who have both influenced and inspired me, and kept me going when I felt I should give up. As for actually apologizing for my life, no not my actual life but what I choose to reflect in my poetry (which is by no means all autobiographical). Equally the purpose of the quote was to rebut the idea that everything we write should be optimistic and happy, I just do not agree with that. I have written uplifting and positive poetry but equal due should be given to realistic, or even sad poetry. I don’t much care for the positive movement that ironically condemns anyone who isn’t, if it were working less people would be depressed. It condemns those who are mentally ill and struggling and ensures they are further alienated, how is this progressive? I’d like to see more inclusion and less exclusion among cliques and minorities. That is what I mean when I wrote that, as well as basically asking people to take me or leave me because as any writer will attest, if you let the opinions of others hold you back you will cease to be authentic and truth to yourself.
My first book published by STPGI I was very proud of a bit like the sentimentality of a first car. I cannot really say what is my ‘best’ work because I don’t relate to the idea of ‘best’ versus whatever the opposite of that is. As Popeye says, I yam what I yam and that’s my philosophy too. For some they will be drawn to one book over the other, they all have valuable work and lesser work I’m sure.
What matters to you most as a writer?
It matters incredibly to give voices to things I feel society cuts down or dismisses. This is what drives me. I am often told aside the language I employ, what people feel drawn to in my work is my honesty and my willingness to ‘go there’ and talk about things others feel may be indelicate. I started a movement on WP called #unsung, it was the idea of writing about an unsung hero and many people took it up and wrote their own version. I feel as a culture we spend too much time on people that we’re told have worth like reality TV stars, and not enough time on those who actually do. It’s neither about fame nor fortune, but the messages ordinary people have that can change the world. I am very positive about the power of change through sharing truths. Truth really is everything. I expose myself not because I’m an exhibitionist (I’m probably the opposite) but in order to shine a light on truth and not be a hypocrite by hiding behind any fear of what that may bring.
What key influences do you have when it comes to subjects and emotions in writing and where do you think they came from?
I am deeply influenced by our varied cultures and the wars that go on between us, as we seek to force our opinion upon others. It angers me that anyone should tell a woman what she should do with her body, because I believe until we have walked in the shoes of someone else, we cannot understand what it is like for them to make the decisions they make. Racially I see a divide in this country like I have seen in no other, though my native France has struggled since I left, with growing divides between Muslim and non-Muslim populations that has really gotten out of control. In America I see a lot of people of color feeling they have no voice, and a lot of anglo people feeling guilty about this but not enough changing. Equally I do not believe it should be a one-way-street, as there is racism from people of color toward anglos in equal measure. The key is being honest, and calling ourselves on our stuff and that includes our hypocrisy and our feelings of entitlement. I do believe things can change and I think all writers are part of that change because we channel it through our expression. In addition I feel strongly about the voices of the mentally ill and the homosexual community, and I have tried to express this alongside equality for all oppressed peoples. I don’t know I stretch myself enough because I think our inherent bias toward certain subjects means as writers that’s going to be the bulk of our work but I try to reach into other subjects as much as possible.
What motivates you as a writer and what demotivates you?
I am motivated by other writers who are kind enough to read my work and comment on it. I am motivated by the passion and rawness of other work and the variety from say, a Millennials perspective to someone in their eighties. I love the WP community for that, we come together from everywhere in the world and learn so much from each other. I am particularly enchanted by the rise in Indian poets, they are among my favorite and they can write better in English than most native English speakers which says something about our education system versus theirs! One of my favorite poets on WP is Tetiana Aleksina, she is Ukrainian and her understanding of language is unbelievable, she compels me to always try harder. What demotivates me is pretty obvious, if someone is particularly unkind, I can be defeated, and I am working on not letting that happen. Struggling with some inherited depression can influence my output but I try to work through it. Confidence is a hard thing to keep going, though I’d rather struggle with my confidence than be overly-confident, as our world already has too many narcissists. I admire humility and honesty.
Why do people feel drawn to what you write?
I think I appeal for different reasons. As a gay woman I’m one of the only gay women I know who writes regularly about our specific vantage point. As someone who is multi-cultural and of mixed ethnicity I can tap into that, and the voices of immigrants and displaced people. I try to continually improve my use of language, I am not much of a fan of rules in writing especially the forms of Tanka and Haiku but I admire and learn from those who employ them. I like to write it out without such restraints but often I am told my work has a sound that is very resonant and lyrical, if this is true it shows you can rhyme without rules. I’m working on my first book of prose, a psychological thriller of all things. I’m fortunate to have enough time in between my job to make this happen and I work really, really hard because you have to earn everything you get in life through hard work. Maybe people respect me because they know how hard I work and hopefully sometimes the result is worthy. That’s all we can ever hope for.
the child menstruates
bleeding away her
need to play
she is captured
starched and polished
until catching the eye of a man
old enough to have given her life
she is sold
in so much some marriages are not
and her private parts are laid bare
under a shard of glass standing in for knife
then the girl knows
she is a woman
spreading her wide to ensure
she was not defiled
her hymen reinforced
her clitoris removed
if she is not sewn tightly enough
her husband will not feel
special nor soak the ritual bed sheet
she could die if she does not tear apart
sufficiently for the relatives
who bay for her blood
if she feels anything but gratitude and pain
she may be tempted by someone else
perhaps the boy her age
who with her in the dirt played
before she had to give up
being a child and become
a woman slain
in shackles of faith
Candice has worked for Rattle poetry magazine and the Northern Review as well as being featured in many publications. She also collaborates with a bundle of talented writers at hijacked amygdala
You can find Candice Louisa’s poetry at the following links:
Before we begin, thank you for accepting my invitation.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Robert. I’m honored to be chatting on your blog.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from and how that affects your point of view?
Great question as I do think our roots inform who we are. I come from a family that spent its free time in the forest. My parents used to drop my younger brothers and me off at a trailhead in the Green Mountains and pick us up 4 days later, 25 miles down the road. Sort of “Hansel and Gretel” except we carried maps. The first time we hiked without adults, I was about 11 years old and my youngest brother would have been 7. We were fearless and adventurous kids. Sometimes the raccoons got into our food or we got stuck in a snowstorm, but we survived. Those are some of the best memories of my life, and they had nothing to do with “things.”
I was also raised by left-wing liberals, and though I labored in business for 18 years, I hated the focus on money. After 9/11, I started working as a volunteer with grieving children, quit my job, and returned to school for a counseling degree, which I loved. Today, as an author, my fantasy books reflect an appreciation for a simple life, nature, and the human pathos that arises from choices: fear, greed, power, compassion, sacrifice, and love.
You mention that your profile that as a child you preferred television to reading until you read the Hobbit by Tolkien. What was it about the Hobbit changed your life?
Reading was b..o..r..i..n..g until I turned 13 and opened The Hobbit. I plowed through it and the LoTR series in about 2 weeks. I was entranced by the characters and the epic story. When the book ended, I had a serious book hangover and cried myself to the library. I’m certain I would never have considered writing if I hadn’t cracked that magical book. Books can change lives.
September 11 was another life-changing event and as a result, you returned to school. What was that like for you?
I wasn’t in New York, and I can’t claim any heroics or personal sacrifice. I still choke up thinking about that day: the fear, the lives lost, the families forever changed, the first responders and hundreds of souls who toiled tirelessly in the rubble, risking their own health. I was working in business and suddenly couldn’t deal with the sales and profits and money-is-king mentality. None of it mattered. What mattered were human beings, love, bravery, compassion, kindness. I quit my executive job and went back to school so I could be poor and happy doing something of value.
You graduated with a Master’s degree in counseling. What kind of counseling did you do?
I became a pastoral counselor – basically mental health with a spiritual (not religious) foundation. I wanted to work with people who were dying and grieving, and an openness to all variations in spiritual faith seemed important. I ended up doing most of my grief work as a volunteer and got a job counseling little kids (0-5) and their families. It was all transformative heart-based growth – especially for me.
What draws you to fantasy?
Oh. I’m a believer in magic – basically that the world is far more complex and interconnected than my pea-brain can possibly imagine. Just because we can’t prove something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because we can’t see or measure something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I know a teeny-weeny tiny fraction of all there is to know, which to me, means anything is possible. I like asking what-if questions about the nature of reality and ushering them down the path of my imagination to see where they go.
What do you find easiest about writing?
I find all of it rewarding but none of it particularly easy. The first draft is the most challenging for me. The story is outlined but unformed, and the characters can’t help but share their opinions about who they are and where they want to go. We’re in a constant state of negotiation and I’m often backtracking. Sometimes the words pour out and sometimes I have to wrench them out with plyers.
What writers give you inspiration?
I love character-driven stories and beautifully crafted words. I read a lot of fantasy, and like both stand-alone books and big, fat series. My favorite fantasy authors are Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Joe Abercrombie to name a few.
I read with a highlighter and mark up my books when I find something wonderful.
When did you start blogging?
I started in 2013, but I was completely clueless for the first 2 years. I didn’t know that social media was supposed to be social (duh) and had 7 likes my first whole year. I was so bad. I started watching what the successful bloggers did, the ones I enjoyed following, and finally the light-bulb flicked on. Now I have lively interactions with a large community on a daily basis. Much, much better.
What advice do you have for writers who want to use their blogs to market their books?
I’m no expert, Robert, but here are my two cents: Go ahead and market, but remember that the most important part of blogging is building relationships – interact and reciprocate. Be yourself, of course, but remember that your blog is also your professional platform; you are sharing yourself as a person and author as well as posting content that represents the quality of your work. Pay it forward by doing for the community what you would like the community to do for you. And most of all, enjoy yourself.
Some Word Press bloggers think of Word Press as a community. Do you think of it as a community?
Absolutely. I love that aspect of blogging. I love the way the world shrinks, the rich feelings shared by wonderful people all over the globe, the empathy and support of strangers who become good friends. There’s talent and kindness, beauty and compassion everywhere. It gives me hope and makes me smile.
How do you define success?
In all parts of my life: Happiness.
We only get this one life, Robert; there are no second chances, no do-overs. We are each miracles, here through the perfect alignment of billions of years of evolution, choices, and chance. It’s not a gift to be wasted. Happiness means different things to different people, but for me it’s choosing an attitude of kindness, care, and compassion and acting on that choice. Writing is something that brings me joy, no strings attached.
Thank you for your an enlightening interview. It was a pleasure.
ALL ABOUT LIFE BEYOND KINDERGARTEN! Kindergarten is the basic building block for all future learning. It is true that everything you need to know in life was really learned in Kindergarten. The trick is to remember what you learned when you were five or six. What you liked then will most likely be something you will like now. So be true to yourself and who you really are and who you will really be. Look back and you just may find your true self! Yes...this blog is about a variety of topics...because we are all a smorgasbord of thoughts and ideas.