For this second to last interview here on the site I sit down with Alayna-Renee Vilmont, author of Ophelia's Wayward Muse.
1. Please tell us about yourself.
Absolutely. I'm Alayna-Renee, and I'm a professional freelance writer currently living in Atlanta. I grew up in the Northeast, lived abroad for a bit, went to school in New York City, traveled around on a cruise ship as an on-board entertainer, and then ended up in Georgia. I'm not exactly a Southern belle, and I'm fairly certain much of the Southeast would like to send me back. ;) I'm the girl who's been the voice behind "Jaded Elegance: The Uninhibited Adventures Of A Chic Web Geek", a successful blog that's provided witty observations, heartfelt advice, and musings of a modern-day urban feminist regarding life, love, self-discovery, and relationships, since 2000.
I've been performing in the world of musical theatre, and later opera, since the age of 6. I've also been writing for nearly as long. I suppose you can say I've always been passionate about self-expression, and pretty insistent upon finding ways to make certain my voice is heard.
2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?
Published in late 2012, "Ophelia's Wayward Muse" is an anthology of poetic intrigue. It explores the different ways that, even in a rapidly changing and often disconnected society, the connections shared between people shape who we are and who we ultimately become. It is about love, hate, sex, romance, infatuation, and the challenges most people go through in their late teens and 20's, when it comes to carving out a place for oneself in society.
3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?
It is a standalone publication. It isn't that I will never write another collection of poems or explore this idea of intrigue and human connections, but the poems are woven together in such a way that they tell a story. The character of Ophelia is important because of all she represents in the mythology of art and literature. She is often depicted as innocence, madness, martyr, victim, and the epitome of femininity. She is at the point in her life where she's expected to become a woman, complete with passions and ambitions, and will forever lose that what is seen as most admirable in womankind. It is a modern-day coming of age story, and now that I am sufficiently "of age", I think Ophelia and I have wrapped up our relationship.
4. How long have you been writing?
It seems I've been writing since I could pick up a pen or pencil. Before that, I made up stories in my head and acted them out. A journal has always been a necessary part of my life. By the time I was 7, I was submitting my stuff to literary magazines and local poetry contests. It never occurred to me to let literary magazines know I wasn't an adult, or at least over 13. When I was in 7th grade, I took the SAT and scored highly enough that I could study at this program called CTY (Center For Talented Youth). It was designed to teach younger kids college-level skills, and I think that's where I really learned how to write. I also learned it wasn't something everyone knew how to do. I minored in creative writing, but it's always been a hobby for me.
I think I started to take writing more seriously when I became a blogger, and one that gained a little bit more notoriety than I really deserved, around 2000. I never imagined anyone would care what I'd written before I learned that strangers were, in fact, interested in my life and my experiences. I was dating someone who was very influential in getting the idea of "blogging" to go mainstream. It never occurred to me that I had too much talent as a writer or that others would care to read my work. It still surprises me when I realise I have loyal readers. Over the past two years, I've started to work full-time as a freelance writer and participate in the local artistic and literary scene in Atlanta.
5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?
I hate to be narcissistic, but I am a bit, so I have to confess that I draw inspiration from myself and my rather colourful life. ;) It isn't myself so much as my own life experience, a rather overly emotional nature, a curious intuitive understanding of others, and a habit of observing the little details about how people act and interact. I was once told "Write what you know", and everything I've ever written that's been successful has been unflinchingly vulnerable. It's a little like applying what actors call "the Method" to writing. I relive emotions, and try to get my reader to go on that journey with me.
6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself, because nobody else is ever going to do that for you. You'll have plenty of well-meaning supporters and admirers, but you''ll probably dismiss their opinions because they'd like anything you did. On the other side of the coin, you'll face rejection and people who'll tear you down because you're doing something other than what most people do, something many people don't understand. If your sense of self isn't stronger than the self-doubt that every artist has, you'll end up abandoning a potentially amazing talent. You have to be willing to dream, to believe, to wear your heart on your sleeve, and to take things as personally as you want---as long as you get back up and do it again the next day.
7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?
Most of what I write is probably something that people are able to relate to if they're between the ages of 16-35, and are going through that time of transition and soul-searching that comes along with that growing-up process. What I've learned, and what nobody tells you when you're ready to head out into the world, is that you're not just suddenly an adult. You become one, and it takes a long time to get to the point where you've accumulated enough wisdom and life experience to no longer feel like you're trying to figure out who you are. Although my poems, my blog, and my short stories are all told from a fairly strong female voice, I have many male readers who have told me they relate to what I'm putting out there.
I'm sure that once I reach 35, my work will start to tell a different story and perhaps reflect a different perspective. I write for the generation that's too old and a little too experienced to be "young adult", but doesn't yet feel "all grown up".
8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?
No. I am not a planner or an outliner. In fact, I can't even claim to have a process. I just have a lot of journals, and a lot of pens, and I write. I've been known to sit up and write entire drafts of things in hours. I may edit them for weeks, or even months, separating what is useful from what's simply extraneous. The creative part, however, is completely organic. Needless to say, not every day is an inspired day. The reason I write different types of work in different genres is because the depth of feeling required to create poetry would exhaust me if I wanted to access it each day. On my "logical days", I'll write an essay. On my "observant days", I'll work on short stories. Some days, I'll simply write in my journal or send a letter to a friend. I think the secret is to express yourself every day, and to engage with the world every day. If you do that, you can't remain uninspired for too long.
9. Are you a "write every day of the week" sort of writer or do you take days off?
I try to write something every day of the week. In between pursuing various projects, communication with friends, blogging, and working as a freelance copywriter, I typically accomplish that. For instance, I am starting off my day by writing this interview at 2 AM, so I've already gotten a head start before visiting Dreamland for the night! In my free time, I run a social group and am an active event planner in the Atlanta area, so there are weekends where I just feel too zapped to create anything. I try to keep them to a minimum, though.
10. What are your thoughts on writers paying for reviews as John Locke is reported to have done?
If I have to pay someone to express an opinion of me or of something I've created, I haven't done my job as an artist. An artist should provoke an opinion, a thought, a feeling. These days, with the accessibility of social media, everyone has an opinion on everything and isn't afraid to present it. If I have to pay someone to write a dishonest or inflated review of my work, not only am I lying to others, I'm lying to myself. I want to know if what I write isn't good, because it may help me get better. It may also help me feel inspired to do something else with my time. I suppose you can say my thoughts are, "That's crap. Don't do it.".
11. Do you think retailer rating/review systems are broken? If so, any suggestions on how to fix them?
Yes, and yet, I'm going to admit to not knowing enough to intelligently comment on this. I don't have a solution. I know that people everywhere are willing to pay someone to write positive reviews of something they've never read, or to simply give one-star ratings to popular publications in order to move up in the rankings. In the end, does it really matter? Some of the most popular books these days are 2.5 star books at best (yes, I've read them), and they land movie deals. Ratings and reviews are on every product on the free market these days, and they don't mean that much. I care what critics with an educated opinion have to say about something they've read without bias. That's getting harder and harder to come by.
12. Some book reviewers won't accept independently authored books for review. What are your thoughts on that? Are they missing out?
Of course, because they won't have the opportunity to read my stuff. *laughs* In all seriousness, though, yes. That's a big mistake. Indie artists are kind of the wave of the future, whether it's bands not signed with a label, people producing television shows on YouTube, or publishing their own books. These days, if someone tells you they're not interested in what you've created or you simply don't like the terms being offered, you have options. It's harder to be an independent artist, but what's being created is often more innovative and less commercial. Certainly, many don't like the phrase "less commercial" because they equate it with "less profitable". Yet, I think all forms of media are going through a largely transitory phase.
13. Some people feel indie authored books are of lesser quality than those that go through the traditional publishers. Do you agree with them? If so, how can independent authors raise the bar and remove this stigmatism?
Oh, that's a complicated one. I've read some books put out by traditional publishers that anyone could write following a cookie-cutter romance/mystery/sci-fi template, and they're considered good enough for publication. From an innovation standpoint, they shouldn't be. On the other hand, I've read innovative indie works that, from an execution standpoint, never should have been published.
The problem is that most indie authors aren't working with publishers and proofreaders. I felt so frustrated with myself when, after 17 revisions, I caught 7 typos in the first printing of my book. It's likely most people won't notice, but I did. It bothered me. I think indie authors need to hold themselves to the same standards they would if they happened to be writing for a publisher or a client. Many do, but not all. Likewise, traditional publishers need to get in touch with what's going on in the literary world. People are losing interest in reading, because there's not always a popular novel worth reading. Everyone owns an e-reader these days, but it costs more to purchase an e-book than to go to the one remaining bookstore in your town and buy it. I think everyone is working out the kinks and adjusting. Indie authors need to take what they do seriously, and realise they're still artists, first and foremost.
14. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.
I have a 12 year-old Labrador/Beagle mix named Trixie. She sits on the computer cord and unplugs it when I am trying to write. I take this as a sign that maybe what I'm writing isn't that good, after all. She's asleep and letting me finish this, so that's a good sign.
One day, she may write a book. I'm sure it will be an indie publication. If she gets a book deal before I do, we will no longer be on speaking terms. ;)
15. Assuming you have an active blog, point readers to a post of which you're especially proud or think will be of particular interest to them.
Peeking at the logs on my site, I see that this article I composed about Beauty Vs. Charisma is still one of my most popular. While I won't claim it's the best thing I've ever written, I'm proud that thousands of people have bothered to read it. Perhaps they've even bothered to think about it, and that's awesome in itself.
16. I made some predictions for the ePublishing industry for 2013 (http://www.scottmarlowe.com/post/ePub...). Do you think any of them will come true?
No, I suppose I don't. Things aren't going to change as quickly as you might like. Amazon isn't going to let go of its terrible royalty sharing program while there are still users willing to enroll under those terms, and major publishing houses competing with indie publishers to put out $2.99 e-books would put many of them on the verge of bankruptcy. I think strides might be made to moderate the pricing structure of e-books, but I don't expect to see huge changes in 2013.
17. R.S. Guthrie wrote a hard-hitting post (http://robonwriting.com/2013/02/05/i-...) on reviewers and the veil of anonymity some of them hide behind. Your thoughts on this subject?
I think this was a brilliant post. R.S. Guthrie is my kind of guy (or gal). There have always been people who are jerks for no other reason than they can behave that way and get away with it. The internet has little to no accountability, and "haters" and "trolls" can tear anything and anyone down. I disabled comments on my blog long ago for that reason.
There is a difference between "criticism" and "constructive criticism". There is a difference between "criticism" and "being a misanthropic jerk who wants to ruin another person's day". Too many people do not understand the differences between these categories, which is why it's so hard for any type of artist to get legitimate and helpful feedback.
One day, I will perhaps publish something new, and you'll invite me back to your website. At that point, I'll tell you the story about how I acquired a "hater" who became a "misanthropic jerk", and then became a "stalker". I'm willing to bet R.S. Guthrie probably had a stalker, too.
18. Which retailers or others sites can readers find your work at?
Oooooooo. You ended your sentence with a preposition in a literary interview. I like rule-breakers. :P
"Ophelia's Wayward Muse" is available in paperback form via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Ophelias-Wayward-Muse-Alayna-Renee-Vilmont/dp/1478218886. I've chosen not to do a Kindle version, but I also have the .pdf available for a nominal fee at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/princessalayna .
As mentioned, I run a website called Jaded Elegance (Uninhibited Adventures Of A Chic Web Geek). It lives at http://www.jadedelegance.net. As of April 2013, I'm going to be launching a feature where I have a guest post, author interview, or book review each Sunday.
19. Where can readers find out more about you?
If, after all of that, anyone still wants to know more about me, I have a very active Facebook community of friends, acquaintances, readers, and maybe one or two admirers tucked away. I'd recommend joining, as I post often and am not a naturally inhibited person, so you may find yourself in a spirited debate. You can find me at my Facebook home.
I'm also a member of the Goodreads community, and have an author profile there.
Alayna-Renee Vilmont is a professional writer, blogger, and poet with an eclectic voice that is insightful, unique, and combines an old-fashioned style of writing with a witty and modern outlook. With an extensive background in the performing arts beginning in early childhood, she is comfortable in front of large groups of people as well as on paper, leading to years as a successful event coordinator and organizer of a popular social group in the Atlanta area.