For this week’s Feature Friday I’m excited to present a terrific interview with the very talented J. Cafesin. When it comes to writing she has done it all, from novels to copywriting. On with the interview!
What led you towards writing and inspired you to complete your two novels and other projects?
The real world seemed/seems so chaotic, entropic, and since I was a little kid I’ve been searching for ground. Most people find it in family and/or religion, but I didn’t, couldn’t. I always felt on the outside, looking in, not only separate from the norm, but outside of myself, watching but not connecting, to most anyway, except nature, and writing.
I love the process of fine writing, moving into another world, and if I’m fully immersed in that space, the environment and people in it become beyond my creation and get me to tell their story.
REVERB comes from a guy I used to cloak when I felt afraid. Started when I was little, pretending to be a guy because men were supposed to be stronger than women and when I felt scared I sought strength. I found it in James. As I grew he became someone with a life of his own, separate from me, with a complex family and history. He was brilliant, what I always wished to be, and insular, like most men seemed to me. Felt compelled to write about him to shed him from me completely, and in giving him ground perhaps I too could find some, learn to handle fear on my own. But that didn’t exactly happen. James was in my head for 35 years, and he basically wrote his own story. I took dictation.
But oddly enough, our separation is now complete. Fear still takes me by the throat and is choking, often, but now I deal with it instead of James.
DISCONNECTED is my first novel, written the first time over 15 years ago, right after I moved from L.A. to S.F. soon after the Rodney King riots. The first iteration told of a city and a relationship crumbling simultaneously but didn’t fully explore why. I shelved the failed effort for ten years, having little time to fine write with two babies and needing an income. The second iteration of DISCONNECTED defined why but only from one POV. The third iteration, and the one currently being published for the first time online chapter for chapter, gives an intimate view of L.A. and a complex relationship on the path of implosion.
My short stories, like my essays, are generally written to make a sharp point, usually in my favorite genre–Spec-fiction. Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, two of my most favorite authors, turned me on to SciFi and the bizarre fractured fairytale, which I find are excellent mediums for limitless imagination, unbounded by physicality, time and reality, and ideal for quick, vivid, visceral expression.
In your path to publication and getting your work to your audience, what have you learned that could help other aspiring writers?
DON’T make your career fine writing, unless you’re independently wealthy or have another income source. There is no money in writing, except for the privileged few. And while we all dream that we will be one of those few, the odds are on par or worse than the lottery. Let’s get down to ugly truth– most writers don’t make enough to support themselves even in the most meager lifestyle on writing alone. We all have ‘real’ jobs to pay bills and meet expenses. Even author friends of mine with multiple bestsellers (and one even writes a weekly column for NY Times) don’t make enough to support a family, or even close.
If you feel you MUST write as a career, I’m sorry, (unless you’re rich, then I’m kind of jealous). Next, you’re going to have to write commercially, do advertising or marketing copy or editing, tech or business writing. Fine writing is best left to a hobby, take the pressure off of selling fiction or essays.
I write to be read, and understand the same need in other writers, so if you want to be read—publish. It’s easy, and you don’t need Random House. You can publish your writing on Amazon for money, or on document sites like Scribd, or on your own site, and then direct traffic to these sites through social networking on FB and Twitter and the like. Tons of literature on this and free advice all over the net on effective SN.
As with anything, to get good takes practice, and a lot of it. Building a network takes time, a lot of it, and effort. Writing in a very specific genre helps your work attract followers, especially with sequels (unlike my stand-alone lit novels). Immersing yourself in marketing your work as well as writing it is mandatory these days to reach a large audience.
While I love the process of writing, selling sucks. A sales clerk recently told me she’d met two kinds of writers in her 35 years at the local bookstore—authors, that liked to go on book tours and do the speaking engagements and after parties; and writers, who wanted to check out of the world, which is why they created alternate realities. She said the writers were generally obsessed about writing, worked at it constantly editing and refining their work and therefore more skilled at the craft. But the authors made more money. You can probably guess which one I am.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Tell us about your approach in taking an idea and turning it into a finished story.
Pantser? Never heard the term. Very funny. Looked it up. Means:
1. One who writes a novel by the seat of their pants, without an outline, character sheets, or any semblance of pre-planning.
2. Crazy person.
I’ll go with #2.
I don’t pre-plan my fiction, but I do my essays.
Essays must come to the point straight away, and it’s best to stick to just one, especially if it’s an esoteric or abstract concept.
In writing fiction, usually I’ve been thinking about a character or characters and some scene between them, dialog and all. It starts with a memory or perhaps a conflict I’m having with someone. I imagine a scene where we’re talking, perhaps arguing, and I write the script, how I’d like the scene to play– where I’m heard, and there’s a great realization and loving resolution. Then I play a reality-based narrative, where neither hears the other, sticks to their position vehemently and they separately self-righteously seething. The story generally unwraps from such scenes, like pedals opening on a budding rose, each a complex and unique character yet fundamentally connected.
Tell us about your books, where are they sold?
Everywhere! Zumaya Press, the indie-press I’m published with publishes through Ingram, the worlds largest publisher, which means they can be purchased at any local bookseller on request or online just about anywhere that sells books, or so my publisher says. Direct links to buy REVERB, or any of my short works are on my site under Purchase. DISCONNECTED is not yet for sale but being posted chapter for chapter on Scribd right now. A loyal following keeps me uploading, though I’ve been told to stop if I ever want to publish the novel with retailers.
You also have a terrific blog filled with essays and fiction, how has blogging influenced your writing (and life)?
With so many ‘experts’ out there, I try and avoid being one. I write about how things feel, stand out moments that caught my attention and the reason they did. It is said that a writer is always writing about at least a part of themselves, regardless of the characters they create. Though I don’t necessarily prescribe to this notion, I do believe my voice–who I am, what I think, how I feel can be found in the essays on my blog.
While I’ve fictionalized in first person experiences that were not mine, the essays are actual events– short, fast reads meant to explore, enlighten, and entertain quickly and succinctly. And blogging is great medium, another method to practice staying on point and focused on subject.
Like social networking, for me, writing clear, concise articles with reputable resource links, or essays that touch many with shared emotions takes time and practice. A lot of it. Since I’m unlikely to secure a contract from Kellogg’s or other paying advertisers due to my varied content and ‘unique’ perspectives, I use blogspot as my forum to explore ideas, to generate thinking, feeling, which also helps me keep myself out of my fiction.
Novelist. Essayist. Realist. Idealist.
Taut, edgy, modern fiction with complex characters that bring story live and linger long after the reads.
A Possible Future (2005, Screenplay)
The Activation (2010)
Tales of Finnegus Boggs–Billy and Tyron (2009)
Living with Choice (2008)
Essays and articles are featured regularly in local and national print publications. Many of the essays from her ongoing blogspot have been translated into multiple languages and distributed globally: http://jcafesin.blogspot.com
J. Cafesin lives on the eastern slope of the redwood laden Oakland Hills with her husband/best friend, two gorgeous, talented, spectacular kids, and a bratty but cute Shepherd-mix.
A big thanks for J. for coming by and sharing with us, as always feel free to leave her questions and comments below!