Thursday, July 23, 2009

Popping Over to Paranormality

Phoenix Rising, from Lynda's blog.

Thanks to Lynda Hilburn for including my story in "Rising From the Ashes" (starting over in publishing) at her blog Paranormality.

And thanks again to Cyrus A. Webb, for having me as his guest on Conversations LIVE! back on July 6. You can still catch the podcast here. The transcript of that interview follows, along with the full text of the poem Cyrus asked me about, and whose ending I use as my profile quote.


Transcript of Conversations LIVE! interview, July 6, 2009

Webb: Good Monday afternoon, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Conversations LIVE!, where we connect you with the artists and authors you love, who bring you the music and books you can't get enough of. I'm your host, Cyrus Webb, and first we'd like to welcome our regular listeners in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, and of course our good friends in Louisville, Kentucky. Hello to all of you who listen to us live online as well as through the switchboard and the podcast, and thank you for joining us for another great show. Well, it is Monday here on Conversations LIVE! with our first full week of the month of July. We're very excited to be sharing this week of events with you. We have some great interviews that are going to be coming your way, from some very interesting individuals. We're going to be kicking the week off right with two first-timers here on our broadcast. During our 12 p.m. Central Time, 1 p.m. Eastern, we're going to be speaking with Elissa Malcohn about her new book Deviations: Covenant, and then during our evening broadcast we're going to have a very special celebration that I'll tell you about a little bit later. But as I mention, we do have a first-timer here joining us during our afternoon broadcast. She is the author of the book Deviations: Covenant, and she has found a very interesting way to be able to get her work out to others. And we're going to talk to her about that. But she is an incredible writer. I read the book. I was telling her before we went on the air I read the book, I really enjoyed it. I think there are some great issues that our listeners will appreciate. So without any further ado, we do welcome Elissa Malcohn to the program. Hello, Elissa.

Malcohn: Hi, Cyrus. Thanks for having me on the show.

Webb: We're very glad to have you with us, and welcome to Conversations LIVE!. Now, I mentioned that you found some interesting ways to get your work out to readers, and we're going to talk about that a little bit later. Some tips I think you'll be able to share, that other aspiring writers and those in the field can learn from. But before we get into that, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Malcohn: Well, I started writing at a very young age. And the fact that I'm starting right off with writing, I guess, is an indicator. Because that passion came to me early on. It's not the only passion I have, but it's really my creative home. In addition to writing, I also do photography, mixed-media art. I grew up in a musical family. I grew up in a family very much involved with the arts and with creativity. So I kind of have those genes that have rubbed off. And teacher genes as well. I've taught creative writing. My parents were both teachers, as were other members of my family. So I come from that general background.

Webb: Well, that's incredible, and I think we already are kindred spirits. I'm also a visual artist, myself, so I really can appreciate that. So with all that creativity, and we're going to actually give our listeners a quote that you wrote at the age of 11, we're going to share that a little bit later -- but with all that creativity, was it hard for you to decide when you were going to take out time for a particular talent that you had, Elissa?

Malcohn: Yes and no. You hear about people saying, "I'm going to be a writer when I grow up." That thought never occurred to me. It was what I did. I was already engaged in that. And part of the challenge that I face as an adult is that -- the good part is that part of me is still that kind of little kid who doesn't know any better. And that also is a challenge, because when I'm looking at the industry as an industry, that's when I have to become a grownup about it. Because it is a business. And there are certain rules that one follows and sometimes there are rules that people break or stretch. But you have to know those rules first. So making time to write and dividing time between writing and everything else, in a way that's been a challenge but in a way it hasn't. And even during those years when I really was not writing fiction, I engaged in those other creative pursuits to save my creative sanity. And there's an interplay among the different arts that also is very healing and very inspiring.

Webb: And I think that says a lot. And then for you to be a teacher, to teach writing, a lot of people would love the opportunity to be able to do fulltime what they enjoy. And you seem to have been able to do that. But I want you to take us back into your world before you got into publishing. Because I'm curious -- one of the genres that you're said to be writing in, of course, is science fiction. If we had met you at the age of ten, eleven, twelve, what were your interests then, and what were you reading when it came to books?

Malcohn: I was entirely in the Star Trek realm at age ten, eleven, and twelve. The show came on the air when I was seven. It went off the air when I was ten. There are certain events in my life that are bound up in that series beyond just the entertainment value. When I was seven years old I almost died from a car accident, and one month after I got out of the hospital the show came on the air, and so it saved me that way. Two months after the show went off the air, my mother almost died of a major heart attack at the young age of 44. And so, I just latched onto that show as a way -- it probably saved my life in many ways. But starting with Star Trek as a jumping off point, I had started writing my own version of episodes, basically using the Enterprise crew as a surrogate family in many respects. But then I jumped off into general science fiction. Probably 1970 was a pivotal year for me. They say the golden age of science fiction is twelve, and in my case that's literal, because I turned twelve in 1970. And I started reading anthologies and started getting familiar with what was called New Wave science fiction. That's a subgenre that's involved with social relevance, inner versus outer space, and taboos. And starting out with anthologies meant that I could just read one short story after another and just be blown away by what I was reading.

Webb: That's incredible. And so, and I think again this is great info for the aspiring writers out there who want to know, how can they start? They know they have a story they want to tell, or they have an interest, want to know how to start. For you it became taking something that was already out there, which was Star Trek, and then basically making your own world with them, is that correct?

Malcohn: Yes. And in fact I had a couple of close friends and we had a kind of shared fantasy going on. And on one level, it was writing our own Trek fanfic, really, before the term "fanfic" was invented. It was still being written way back in the early 70s. But on another level, we were each placing ourselves in that shared fantasy, and it was very therapeutic in that sense. It was a way to use something that had been invented for entertainment value and yet that touched all of us in this shared fantasy on a deeper level.

Webb: So what is it, would you say, was it -- because there were other shows that were out -- what was it about Star Trek, do you think you related to, that drew you to it?

Malcohn: Again, the social relevance aspect. My mother taught English in an inner-city high school. She would come home both with horror stories and with stories of her students really fighting against and overcoming tremendous odds. And so I grew up with that kind of sensibility. And Star Trek was well known for taking those social issues and addressing them in a science fictional way, so in a way that made those issues easier to digest and to take. Because they were being addressed through metaphor. And the way that I was growing up, that aspect of Trek really affected me. And that along with the special effects which were -- I think at the time that it was made, Trek was the most expensive series produced to date, and you could see it in the special effects of that day. And so here I was, my family had just gotten a color TV, we'd had black and white for years. And I sat maybe two inches away from the screen, so when the Enterprise whooshed by in space I was right out there in space with them. And so, between the effects and the social relevance and the metaphor, being able to face a story without it really being in my face allowed me to really grow attached to that show.

Webb: I tell you, and I think that's a great way for us to start talking about what would then become your own legacy as far as your writings are concerned. For those that are just joining us, you're listening to Conversations LIVE!. We're speaking with author Elissa Malcohn. We're talking about her beginnings as a writer; also, what her interests were as a child. Elissa, I mentioned that there was a quote that I found on one of your sites that you wrote at the age of 11. We're going to talk a little bit about it now, and then after the break I want to tie it into your writings today. But you wrote, "To dream the impossible dream is to live it out." And I think there's so much in that statement. However, I don't think at the age of 11 I would have realized that. Where did that come from, and what did it mean for you at that point, when you wrote that? And now that you look back at your life, what does it mean for you now?

Malcohn: That is the last line of a poem called, "Believe and it WILL Come," "WILL" being in all caps. And I haven't memorized the poem -- I used to have it memorized -- but the gist of the poem is that -- the first two [sic] lines, "When you face, it, the final moment of your truth, sensed, dreamed, or realized" -- and it deals with belief systems. It deals with faith in oneself. And as the poem progresses it talks about other people may look down on you, may make fun of you, may say this is impossible -- not in those exact words, but I'm paraphrasing -- and the message of the poem is basically to be true to yourself. To keep to your beliefs and your faith, because those will not leave you. That is something no one can take away from you. The only way that that can disappear is if you push it away, yourself. And I went through a period of changing spirituality, and in a way came full circle from a childhood belief system to a more general spirituality that is not really tied to any particular religion, but it's a spiritual life. And so the poem deals with that aspect from a child's point of view. But it has also followed me in different layers into adulthood.

Webb: All right. And we're going to talk a little bit more about how that ties now into the Deviations series, with the book that I read, Covenant, and others. Again, I'm speaking with Elissa Malcohn and we're talking about her career. Elissa, what we're going to do is take a break. When we come back from the break, I want to get into the book and let our listeners know not only what I got from the book. I want you to share what you hope others get from it. And then we're going to tell people how they can get their own copies, okay?

Malcohn: Okay-doke.

Webb: All right. To take us into the break, we're going to have a very special surprise for our listeners. It's the first time we've been able to share this with you, because we actually just got the confirmation last week. One of our programs that we have is The Write Stuff Literacy Campaign and one avenue is that is a program I call Celeb-reality, where we have those in the public eye who are voicing their support of literacy. One of the new people who have actually added to our roster of those in the public eye who are supporting our cause is none other than megastar Celine Dion. She's lent us one of her songs for our program here at Conversations LIVE!, and also The Write Stuff Literacy Campaign. Here she is with "Taking Chances." We'll be right back with Conversations LIVE! and Elissa Malcohn.

[Celine Dion sings "Taking Chances"]

Webb: There you have it, an exclusive here on Conversations LIVE! -- our new partner in our literacy campaign, Ms. Celine Dion with the song "Taking Chances." We're back with Conversations LIVE! and our special guest, who is joining us for the afternoon edition of our broadcast, Elissa Malcohn. We're talking about her career and also about her new book, Deviations: Covenant. So, Elissa, I think we've given a good segue, in learning what your earlier interests were, where it comes to Star Trek. Now you've created your own cast of characters. Tell us about the book Covenant and how it came about.

Malcohn: Okay. First, I want to say that's a wonderful thing Celine Dion did, in lending her support and her music and art to the show and to the Literacy Campaign. That is just wonderful. I was enjoying listening to the song, sitting here at home. Covenant came about because of a 15-line poem. The book began as a short story. It's turned into a six-book series. And it all started from a 15-line poem about deification and extinction. The poem, by Joseph Payne Brennan, was called "When Tigers Pass." And I was literally sitting on the Express Bus, traveling home from work. I was living in Massachusetts at the time, and I was reading a book of his collected poems. He was mainly known as a horror writer, but I believe he had published seven books of poetry. And I had this collected version. I was reading "When Tigers Pass," and the idea of that juxtaposition of extinction and deification just clicked with me. The point of his poem was that tigers were becoming extinct, but great temples would be erected to them, and they would not be seen as killers any more because they were the ones going extinct. And so, there was this kind of flip going on, where perceptions about something quote-unquote "dangerous" was changing. And that idea, before I had even gotten home, I started writing in my journal and just coming up with ideas and notes about what first became a short story and what then became Covenant and the entire Deviations series. For those people listening who are writers, who want to get into writing, one of the things that I tell my students, and that was told to me by a wonderful high school English teacher, Mrs. Gorayeb at John Dewey High School -- she told all her students, "Carry a journal with you. Keep a journal. Whatever you write in it, it doesn't matter. Just keep a journal." And that's what I tell my students. And so, when I was sitting on that Express Bus, I had my journal notebook with me, was able to whip it out and write down notes for what eventually became the series.

Webb: I guess when I was reading the book, and I thought about, because I had read that it was going to be a series, I just -- I instantly went to how much adults can learn from this book. And I know in visiting some of your other sites, you're very careful to say it really is written for adults. Is that correct?

Malcohn: Yes. It has mature material in it.

Webb: Right. But I think the lessons are such, you give it to us in such a simplistic way, and whether you mean to or not -- I know there are some writers who, for lack of a better way of saying it, Elissa, I'll say they do have an agenda when they write something. They are trying to get a point across or bring an issue to light. I'm just curious, at the end of the day, what do you hope people take from not only the book Covenant, but also the series, in learning about the characters and in turn about themselves?

Malcohn: It's interesting that you use the word "agenda," because as I was writing the series, the writing itself was a voyage of discovery for me. And I would say that if there is one message that I want to get across in the series, it's a single word, and that word is "respect." Because I have characters in different societies who have come up with different upbringings, different backgrounds, different environmental conditions that lead to them having to do what they do. And as the members of these societies come in contact with each other and have their conflicts, because conflict is central to the drama, to the story line, there are also those people who find a kind of common ground. There are people whose minds are either changed or they keep to their own mission, but see it in a new perspective. And as I was writing the book -- I don't do outlines but I take scads of notes, and these notes come in the form of arguments with myself. They come in the form of idea bubbles. And so I sometimes have something in mind to do with the story, and then the characters take it in a new direction. And part of that is thrilling, because for me it's a relinquishment of creative control to something potentially on a deeper level. And so my own mind has been turned around. There were certain problems that I didn't quite know how I was going to quote-unquote "solve" them, until late in the game. And then as I was progressing in the writing, one of the things I noticed was that everything has a double-edged sword. Each solution has both good and bad associated with it. And part of the trick is, how can people come together, find that common ground, and deal with each other in an attitude of respect regardless of the outcome? So I think that the main message that I'm trying to get across, in a very general way, is one of respect and common ground among people who come from potentially entirely different starting points.

Webb: And I can definitely appreciate that. And I think when I was getting ready, Elissa, yesterday, going over, just reviewing the book again for the interview today, I was thinking about how some of the things that take place literally in the book, how symbolically we can apply them to our own lives. The issue of cannibalism. There is something to be said -- I know there was one instant where there was a thought, it wasn't something actually spoken, was that one of the characters said, "I'm reduced to cannibalism. My life becomes that of a beast." And I thought about, in our society, how, figuratively, that is something that we deal with every day. There are people who are very animalistic in their nature. And they tear away at individuals, regardless of what the intention might be. You also talk a great deal and deal with the subject of forgiveness and acceptance, I think. And that's something that I think people can learn, too. And those are just some of the issues that I, just myself, in reading it. Because I typically don't read a lot of fantasy or science fiction. But when I do, I always try to find something that I can relate to my own life. And that's one thing that I think, sometimes it takes extraordinary characters or supernatural characters to make you think in the natural about your own situation. For someone who may not be a fan, necessarily, of science fiction, will you hope that they will read the book anyway, to see how they can find those common grounds?

Malcohn: Yeah. Well, of course, from my point of view, the more readers, the better. In connection with what you're saying, I have two people to thank here. One is a workshop-mate of mine. Her name is Lakisha Spletzer. She's in the Acknowledgements page in Covenant. And this is also the value of having a workshop group, because you do get different perspectives. Kisha's the one who came up with the analogy of social cannibalism. She had written it in a note on the back of the last page of the manuscript installment that I had given out at the workshop. And I took one look at that, and it's something that, if it occurred to me on one level, it did not occur to me on the obvious level. And she just, in that one analogy, made it very clear. And I said, this is the way I want to market this. That it's not just literal cannibalism, it's also social cannibalism. She gave me that wonderful analogy that not only helped me, but also helped the other person that I'd like to thank. Recently, Rachel Baker at Old Musty Books, she does reviews on that site, and she reviews in many different genres. Recently she published a review of both Covenant and the sequel, Appetite. And she admitted in her review that in the beginning, the reading was very difficult. There's an "ick" factor when you're dealing with cannibalism. But then she said, after wondering, should she read this at all -- she said, "But then things changed," and she said then she began to understand what the story was really about. And she got right back to that analogy of literal and social cannibalism, and wrote a lovely review of both books. She was also aiming that review to people who do not necessarily read science fiction and fantasy, pointing out that here is an issue that goes across genres. So I really have to thank those two people, because they have helped not only publicize the book but get an understanding of the book and the series out there.

Webb: And just hearing that makes me feel like at least I'm not a total dud for feeling that way. [Laughs]

Malcohn: [Laughs] I'm thankful to you, too, for helping to get that word out as well. I'm very gratified that people are enjoying the book and understanding that message and that analogy.

Webb: I can't let you get out of here, Elissa, without talking about -- I kind of teased this in the beginning of the interview, that you give away a lot of the books via e-book. And I've noticed a lot of authors are doing this now. It seems to be a very big trend. Why particularly are you choosing to do this? And in the long run, are you finding it's been beneficial for you as an author?

Malcohn: I decided to do that -- it was really a soul-searching decision on my part. The impetus came out of something unfortunate, namely that Aisling Press, which published Covenant, had been slated to publish Appetite last year. And that publisher fell on hard times, and everything just ground to a halt. So here I was left with the first book of a series out there, the second book of the series first delayed and then, obviously, it was not going to be published by Aisling. And I had a number of alternatives at my disposal. One of the things that made my decision, or that helped me make my decision, was a wonderful how-to article in the Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, by an author named Jeffrey A. Carver. And he, through that article, made me aware of places like the MobileReads Forums, whose members have been wonderfully supportive, and they're excited that I've put this material up for free downloads. And through them I got in touch with Matthew McClintock over at, and he is now carrying Covenant and Appetite on his site, in even more formats than the eight that I offer on my website for free download. I've gotten some wonderful responses and support through offering those free downloads. So I think it has helped get my name and my work out there. I'm kind of doing a two-pronged approach, because shorter works I am publishing in the more traditional manner. A poem called "Frightening the Horses" just came out in a small-press magazine called Aoife's Kiss. Earlier, I spoke of the interplay among the different arts. Well, that poem is based on an art piece by Lubov, called "Daybreak." And so, that piece is also reproduced in Aoife's Kiss. I've got a poem and a novelette forthcoming in Asimov's later this year. So I'm kind of trying to hit all the bases in getting my material out there and just familiarizing people with the type of work that I do.

Webb: Well, Elissa, if there are individuals out there who want to find out how they can get your book online and find out more information about you, where can they go online? Where would you suggest they go to find out more information?

Malcohn: Probably the best place to start is my website. I don't have a dot com, per se. I have a basic Earthlink account. So it probably doesn't pay for me to give the actual website address because that's quite long. It's got a tilde in it. But what people can do is they can Google my name, and I will spell it out for you. It's E-l-i-s-s-a. And the last name is M-a-l-c-o-h-n. If people also do a Web search on "Malcohn's World" and put that in quotes, that should also make my website address pop up right at the top of the search list. And so that will give the link for people to click on. If people want to order paperback copies, those are still available through places like Amazon. I would ask that people go through my website. There's a general Amazon link, but on my website I have a special Amazon link that I've gotten through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. If people can click on that link, what that will do, what that should do, is get a few pennies from that sale to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund. So that's another way to help try to make a little difference in the world and help people out.

Webb: Exactly. Well, you are definitely making a difference through your work, Elissa. Thank you so much for coming on the program. I really do appreciate it.

Malcohn: Well, thank you very, very much. I appreciate you having me on the show.

Webb: No problem. Again, the author is Elissa Malcohn. The book that I read is Deviations: Covenant. And she is the author, of course, of other books that will be in the series. Please make sure you do Google her name, as you mentioned. Again, that's E-l-i-s-s-a M-a-l-c-o-h-n. You'll be able to find out more information about her. Elissa, I'm definitely going to be looking for you to come back, to keep us posted with what you have going on. Okay?

Malcohn: Wonderful. Thank you very much.

Webb: No problem. Have a great week.

Malcohn: You, too.

Webb: And for all of our listeners, thank you for joining us for another edition of Conversations LIVE! Now keep in mind, if you missed any part of this interview with Elissa, just don't worry. About five minutes after we go off the air, you'll be able to download the entire interview totally for free, by going to That's "Conversations" with an "s" You'll be able to download the entire interview, save it to your computer or to a disc, and share with a friend. We will invite you back for our evening show at 7 p.m. Central, 8 p.m. Eastern. Until then, my name is Cyrus Webb, saying as always, enjoy your day. Enjoy your life. Enjoy your world. Make sure you take out time to enjoy some good music, and also a great book. Thanks for listening to Conversations LIVE! Take care.

Below is the poem I wrote when I was 11, referenced in the interview:

Believe, and It WILL Come

When you face it,
The final moment of your truth
Sensed, dreamed or realized,
Be sure
That it was meant to be.
You would have no choice.
Accept it, its time has come.
But before it comes,
Study it.
If you have a dream, a goal
Pursue it.
No matter how strange,
How unbelievable,
How impossible it may seem,
Believe in it,
Have faith in it.
It may be rejected,
Scorned and looked down upon by others.
Even you yourself may doubt it.
But it is true, you have proof
In your mind or somewhere else.
Don't lose it, it is valuable.
It is part of you
And you a part of it.
To dream the impossible dream
Is to live it out.

Cover for Deviations: Covenant, Second EditionCover for Deviations: Appetite

Vol. 1, Deviations: Covenant (2nd Ed.)
Vol. 2, Deviations: Appetite
Free downloads of both volumes here.

Go to to access Covenant and Appetite in even more formats!

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