Interview with Alan:
Hi Alan! It's always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you for inviting me!
You and I have been chatting a while. For those new to your work, would you please be kind enough to give us a short resume' of any new books please?
Since my first book, "Barking Spiders (and Other Such Stuff)", was traditionally published in 2000, I've spent a lot of time promoting it through my website, author school visits, and by teaching poetry workshops in schools. During that time, I also worked on a sequel book, "Barking Spiders 2", which I illustrated and self-published in September of 2011. I'm proud to say, it was nominated for the 2011 Cybils Children's Book Award in the poetry category. It didn't win, but it was wonderful just to have the nomination and the recognition.
I also self-published a book of poetry for preschool children, "Me Too!", in October of last year. Young children love rhyme and rhythm! I'm a firm believer that little ones who are introduced to poetry at a very young age develop a lifelong love for poetry. Like the "Barking Spiders Poetry" books, this, too is written from a child's point of view and helps them find answers to the puzzling world around them.
The third book I self-published last year, "Bits and Pieces", is a collection of both flash fiction and short stories, twenty in all. It's my first venture into any books for grownups, but it won't be my last. I really enjoyed the challenge.
I also published an ebook of poetry for grownups, "A Reflection of Feelings". It's only available through Kindle and Bookrix at the moment, but I plan to also self-publish it in print within the next few weeks.
Your biography said you are from Du Bois, are you a Pennsylvania born lady?
Heaven's no. I've moved around a lot since I left my home state of Ohio, where I was born and raised.
As you are a noted children's author, do you find children hard to write for?
No, quite the contrary, Alan. I love writing for children and I find that it comes easily -- what I find difficult is writing for grownups! (Hahaha) I seem to be able to get inside children's minds and see what concerns them -- or my inner child does, and she's the one who actually does the writing.
Have their tastes changed much over the years since you have been writing? I was thinking more in general terms than the new trends like Harry Potter books.
I find that children love being challenged, both then and now, and I can't see where that will ever change. They love poetry that makes them think, laugh, feel, and even cry. They write amazing poetry themselves, which I allow them to share with me during my school visits.
I see from your profile pictures, you do a lot of school work. Do you find children more inquisitive?
Absolutely -- they question almost everything! That's what makes school visits so much fun for me. When I read a poem, they want to know where the inspiration came from, how long it took to write it, etc. Children ask very intelligent questions, too, about the writing and publishing business, itself, some even hoping to become authors.
As a published author, what part of the trade did you find most frustrating?
That's easy, Alan. Rejection letters from publishers! It's frustrating when the rejection letter is positive about your manuscript, but has the caveat added, "… but it's not what we're looking for at the present time …" I want to scream at them, "Then tell me what you ARE looking for at the present time -- maybe I have the EXACT manuscript you're looking for right here!
I love your title "Barking Spiders," what gave you the idea?
(laughing) Ahhh, a question many people ask me.
When my three daughters were small, we drove from New Hampshire to Ohio to visit family. While we were there, we went to see my youngest brother, Chip, and his wife at their home in Columbus.
Chip, the girls and I were all sitting on the floor playing Chutes and Ladders, a children's board game. About midway through the game, my oldest daughter, who was about seven, passed gas. She was embarrassed and immediately put her hands over her face and apologized. I was about to tell her it was all right, when my brother jumped up and yelled, "Sue! Grab the can of Raid! It's under the sink! Hurry! We've got a barking spider in here!"
The girls and I started to laugh, a huge gut-wrenching laughter that goes on and on and on! The kind where you're almost done and just thinking about it makes you start all over again! The kind where your eyes water, your nose runs, and you have to hold your sides because they hurt!
Okay, I told you that, so I could tell you this. Years later, when Chip turned forty, Sue had a surprise over-the-hill party for him. I wasn't able to go to the party from New Hampshire, so I wrote the poem, "Barking Spiders", as a gag gift for Chip. I asked Sue to make Chip read the poem out loud to all of the attendees ... I know, I can be a real booger, but I'm his oldest sister and he loves me (giggle).
NOW you know what a barking spider is.
The barking spiders all march in
just past dinnertime.
Some big, some small, they come to call
floating on the wind behind.
Each is clearly noticed,
although they can't be seen.
You're positive they're there though,
'cause your nose is very keen.
You know you can't outrun 'em
and a net won't get 'em caught.
Your friends laugh 'cause they're funny ...
Your mom yells 'cause they're not.
So open all the windows!
Crack the vents real fast!
'Cause these aren't normal spiders ...
barking spiders are … just gas.
Did you have to ask many publishers, before you got accepted?
Uh huh. I had a two-foot pile of rejection letters, Alan, but you know what? It only takes one
"yes". Just one "yes", and you're a published author. I always tell everyone to be persistent!
Are there any genres you would like to try to write but feel you cannot?
Not really. I've written short stories in horror, romance, science fiction, memoirs, and fantasy. I've also written erotic poetry, but I don't really have an interest in writing erotic fiction. I'm satisfied. Presently, I'm writing my first novel-length book, but it's slow moving.
I tend to write cross-genre, have you any thoughts on moving genre, or will you keep to what you are known for?
As they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." (laughing) I tend to stay with what has worked well for me.
I ask this of all my friends who write, was there a time when you thought. 'This is not going to work!' And thought about giving up?
There were times when I felt terribly frustrated, but I never had thoughts of giving up. I love writing -- it's as much a part of me as my heart is. There are things down inside that are uncomfortable where they are. They want me to let them out into the light, so I do.
Who would you say was your biggest influence?
I would have to say my mother was my biggest influence for my love of poetry and she always encouraged me to write. I was the oldest of six children. When we were small, I can remember my mother entertaining us on a rainy day when we had to stay inside. She was ironing and she recited tongue twisters that we were encouraged to learn. I still love tongue twisters! Anyway, I think that's where my love of rhyme and rhythm, vis a vis poetry, came from.
Would you say you had been influenced by the work of authors, if so who? Or was it the genre that drew you?
Besides my mother's influence, I've always loved reading poetry by poetry greats like Shel Silverstein, Ogden Nash, and several others; however, I would have to say, my inner child is the driving force behind my writing for children and I hope she never grows up!
Have you suffered writers block? If so how did you get past it?
I think everyone suffers writers block at times. I tend to just wait it out -- the writing and inspiration always come back when it's time. With writing, it is what it is. Only a rare few are as prolific as Steven King.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of writing a book?
Do it. Just do it! Be persistent and never give up -- you have to want it so bad you can taste it.
Before we leave. Is there anything you think I have left out?
No, Alan, you have been very thorough, and more than fair, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts here for your readers.
I would like to thank you CJ, for your time in answering the questions.
It's been a pleasure!
One more thing: Would you please give us a couple of examples of your work?
Anatomy of a PoetGo in through the eyes of a poet
deep into her alphabet mind.
Ideas like flotsam and jetsam
dodge poetry fragments and lines.
Beware the dark shadows of memory,
knife-sharp and bloodied by time,
or gentle, orgasmic and sensual,
swirling eddies, some without rhyme.
Softly notice the spirit in hiding.
Tiptoe past the bruised heart mending there,
knitting poems, pearls strung on a necklace,
unfinished jewels everywhere.
Take note on your tour of this poet
the outside no different you see,
but inside, my God, a passion abyss,
the poet, the woman, the me.
Full CircleA little girl clops in mommy's heels,
her dress, a floppy hat.
The borrowed pearls she's chosen
dangle halfway down her back.
Her face a shining rainbow,
ruby lips, cheeks tinted pink,
blue splashes on both eyelids,
powder snowflakes in the sink.
She'll go twirling in a ballroom,
a princess with her knight.
Or better still, be mommy
out with daddy Friday night.
In a child's imagination
everything is crystal clear,
yet the truth beneath the surface
is revealed in mommy's mirror.
That little girl is all grown up,
clothes and shoes are now my size...
but the mirror of maturation
… is my own daughters’ eyes.
CJ Heck is a published author, writer and poet who lives with her partner, Robert Cosmar, also an author, in Pennsylvania. She is also a Vietnam War widow. CJ has three daughters and nine grandchildren. For more information, to invite CJ to your school or organization, or to read excerpts from her books, please visit her website, Barking Spiders Poetry, or call 814-249-1777.
Where to find CJ:
Please visit the Indie Author Network and Alan Ghostman Place!