Category: Interviews

As I’ve said before, everyone can be a hero. One way to achieve that is by volunteering. After being introduced to an amazing cause, Room to Read, I decided to sit down with one of the Austin Chapter organizers, Sherrie Nguyen to learn more about Room to Read, how we can help this amazing cause, and her experience as a volunteer.

Diaz: How did Room to Read get started?

Nguyen: Room to Read began with a simple phrase: Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books. John Wood, a former executive at Microsoft, was trekking the Himalayas contemplating his current life when he was introduced to a school in Kathmandu with a library that housed no books. When he asked how he could help and heard the headmaster’s response, John was moved to action and has never looked back. He began an email campaign that was heard around the world and returned a year later transporting thousands of books on donkeys and was welcomed with the smiling faces of eager children. Room to Read was born in 2000 and in 10 short years has impacted nearly 5 million children in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Diaz: What is the mission of Room to Read?

Nguyen: Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

Diaz: What is the biggest challenge your organization has faced (can be for just the chapter or as a whole)?

Nguyen: The Austin chapter was founded in 2008 by volunteers who heard John’s story and answered his call for action. We have grown tremendously over the past year in terms of brand recognition and awareness in the Austin community. However, our biggest challenge is this market is saturated with local and global non-profits, and while the community is ranked high in the nation for volunteering and donating time, Austin is also ranked low among other states for financial giving. Since the Room to Read chapter networks drive 1/3 of the operating budget each year for Room to Read through zero-cost events, this poses a challenge for fundraising in Austin.

Diaz: What has been the greatest success (same as above)?

Nguyen: At the same time, we receive a ton of support from the Austin community in helping to promote our cause through in-kind donations. Momo’s donated their venue for our Room to Rock music showcase, Clay Pit and Thanh Nhi host country-themed dinners for us annually, and Lavaca Street Bar and Dolce Vita are participants in our Beers for Books programs ($1 for every beer purchased, buys 1 book for a child in need).

Diaz: What made you get involved with the program?

Nguyen: I got involved with Room to Read after reading John’s book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. Because of John’s experience, Room to Read operates like a business, running lean on overhead and constantly innovating to scale quickly. In fact, after the first few years of operation, Room to Read was building schools and libraries faster than Starbucks were appearing on our street corners. I support Room to Read because I believe in the mission, and I see the impact of our work.

Diaz: What has your personal experience with the organization been thus far?

Nguyen: My times with Room to Read over the past few years can be described in so many words – fun, inspiring, rewarding, and valuable. I’ve met John and Erin, Room to Read’s CEO, several times and am extremely confident in their vision and leadership. I stepped in to the role of Chapter Leader for Austin last year because like other volunteers, I have Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and am a firm believe that we are creating disruptive change in the world. I am driven by the leaders of our 40+ chapters all over the world each year when we reunite in San Francisco for our Chapter Leader Conference, and I am traveling to India this December to see our work first-hand. It’s the wonderful people that make Room to Read so great and keep me working this night job with a smile on my face.

Diaz: How can others help?

Nguyen: A little bit of money goes a long way in the developing world. You can choose to sponsor a project, such as building a school/library, sponsoring a girls’ scholarship, or publishing a local language book through donations at Each community matches monetary donations in the form of their own money, sweat equity, or building materials/land. This makes our projects sustainable by the communities and government. The Austin chapter is also always looking for volunteers to either join our core team or to work our events. You can find more information and contact us here:

Diaz: What would you tell someone who is on the fence about becoming a volunteer?

Nguyen: It’s up to you how much time and effort you want to contribute. All of our chapter leaders work full time jobs and have busy lives outside Room to Read, but we come together with the common belief that we are creating world change. We are happy to receive as little or as much time as you are able to give and always welcome you with smiling faces! Attend one of our upcoming happy hours (last Thursday of every month) and get to know our team. We’d be so thrilled to meet you, and we always promise fun!


Cancer survivor, author, dancer, spokeswoman–all at an age when most girls are thinking about prom and American Idol. Melinda Marchiano shows us that heroes come in many forms and at any age.

Diaz: You are a survivor of childhood cancer. What was the greatest challenge you faced while fighting cancer?

Marchiano: The greatest challenge I faced while fighting cancer was being patient.  Being sick and feeling horrible day after day was exhausting both physically and emotionally.  I had to remain patient and remind myself that I would have to wait a long time before I felt anything like myself again.

Diaz: What gave you the passion to fight your disease?

Marchiano: Dance, family, and God all inspired to keep fighting.  I began lessons at age three, so dance has been a lifelong passion and has always been there to give my spirit a boost.  My family was so supportive of me during my illness, and I am so grateful to have so many who love me.  To give up during my fight against cancer would have meant letting them down; leaving my family would have made them suffer which I just couldn’t let happen.  I have had a very strong faith all of my life, but during my journey I became even closer to God.  He was with me at every step along the way and provided comfort to me when nothing or no one else could.

Diaz: Do you think your experience has given you a different perspective from other girls your age?

Marchiano: My experience has given me a completely, utterly, entirely, exponentially different perspective than other girls my age.  Not to generalize, but most girls my age are very absorbed in the tiny events and concerns of their “life bubble.”  After going through cancer, I see a wider view of the world and don’t share the same worries as others.  My eyes have really been opened up to exactly what matters in life, and many girls my age simply have not been introduced to this take on the world and existence.

Diaz: You’re the debut author of Grace: A Child’s Intimate Journey Through Cancer and Recovery. What motivated you to write a book?

Marchiano: What motivated me to write a book was my intense desire to help others through my story.  I reached a point in my “cancer maturity” when it all stopped mattering about me and I realized that I could really give hope to other people by sharing my journey.

Diaz: You speak and advocate on behalf of several organizations including the Children’s Miracle Network. What is your motivation for doing this?

Marchiano: Being a speaker and an advocate for many different organizations is my way of expressing gratitude for my life, so appreciation is my motivation.  I discovered that my unique story can be a gift to many organizations and help them receive the financial support they need to do the wonderful things that they do!

Diaz: How can people help your cause?

Marchiano: People can help my cause in many ways!  They can purchase a book by going to and contacting us!  Happy Quail regularly makes donations from book proceeds to organizations such as the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, Children’s Miracle Network, and many more!

Diaz: How do you balance promoting your book, speaking on behalf of these organizations, participating in dance, and maintaining a full and successful academic schedule?

Marchiano: To maintain my busy schedule I prioritize, organize, make lists, avoid spreading myself too thin, stay on top of things, and take lots of nice, deep breaths!

Diaz: What would you tell someone else who is facing their own personal challenge?

Marchiano: To anyone facing their own personal challenge, I would tell them to always hold on to what makes you happy in life.  Rough times are exactly when you need that “something” that consistently boosts your spirit and is always there for you, even when you feel as though your life is completely out of control.  For me, that “something” was dance, for you, it could be anything…reading, playing piano, drawing, soccer…anything you love!

Diaz: What’s next for you?

Marchiano: Next is junior year of high school!  Also this fall, I will be busy promoting my book, which will be released October 1st nationwide!  As far as long-term, I plan on becoming a doctor and continuing to write and dance!

Diaz: What motivated you to start Tiny Buddha?

Deschene: I was looking for a way to work on the web meaningfully. As a freelance writer, I spent a lot of time writing and editing for websites that didn’t really matter to me. There had to be some way to connect technology and mindfulness instead of letting technology pull me further away from myself.

Also, I wanted to help people become happier, more self aware and more peaceful. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to understand how to be happy, and yet most of my searching has made it more elusive. I have come to realize that joy exists only in this moment, exactly as it is, because life never takes place anywhere else. There is nowhere to get to; there’s only the challenge of being.

Diaz: What is the purpose of Tiny Buddha?

Deschene: My main goal with Tiny Buddha is to help people act on what they’ve learned. Oftentimes we read or learn something, and as poignant or insightful as it may seem, it doesn’t motivate change if we haven’t experienced it directly. Even when we have experience it directly, sometimes we either don’t know how or simply don’t make the effort to put it into practice.

I hope Tiny Buddha reminds people of the endless possibilities available to us in this moment; and empowers them to observe and quiet the thoughts, fears, and beliefs that stand in the way.

Diaz: What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your project off the ground?

Deschene: Tiny Buddha started on Twitter as a daily quote, and there really weren’t any challenges there. People enjoyed the quotes and shared them, which allowed the follower base to grow organically over time.

Starting the website was a different story. It’s not the usual order of things to start a Twitter account and leverage that into a website. It usually goes the other way around. For a year and a half, people who followed @tinybuddha received just a daily quote. Many people weren’t happy to see links popping up on their stream.

I received a lot of criticism through email in the first month, partly because it was new, and partly because I was learning as I went. A close friend even suggested I might want to stick to Twitter. I didn’t want that to be an option because all my heart was wrapped up in the project, so I just kept going.

Over time, a lot of people who didn’t love the site have un-followed on Twitter, but many more who do enjoy it took their place. I have learned I don’t have to please everyone. I just need to do what feels right and allow people to think and do what they will. I don’t need to change the world. I just need to my best within my sphere of influence.

Diaz: What was the greatest success?

Deschene: The greatest success is making a meaningful difference for people. I don’t get many critical emails anymore. Instead I get a lot of personal emails from people who, like me, have struggled with feelings of inadequacy, sadness, and helplessness—and, like me, still do at times.

When someone opens up to me about positive changes they’re making, both in thoughts and actions, I feel like I have reached the pinnacle of success.

Diaz: On your blog, you talk about Tiny Buddha being a community to share wisdom. What does wisdom mean to you?

Deschene: Wisdom, to me, is more about unlearning than learning. It’s about letting go, staying open, and living mindfully in the present without regretting the past or fearing the future.

It’s about being—and accepting that sometimes you will get in your own way. We’re human. We’re meant to make mistakes. Wisdom isn’t about perfection; it’s about accepting life and ourselves, imperfections and all, and finding the courage to let ourselves be.

Diaz: We live in the information age. Do you think we as a society are wiser?

Deschene: I don’t feel the need to make that judgment. If I did, it would be a sweeping generalization pointing fingers in every direction outside myself. That’s not how I choose to operate. I’m not really looking to change the world; I’m looking to tune into myself next to other people who want to do the same.

I can tell you this much: we’re doing better than we think. Progress always presents new challenges, but it also provides new opportunities. I see people seizing them every day, in front of my eyes and on my computer screen. If we keep focusing on ways to stay present in a tech-driven world, we will continue to leverage technology for good.

Diaz: How should people use the information provided on Tiny Buddha?

Deschene: It’s different for everyone, and I welcome that. People should use the information however it makes sense to them. We’re all at different places, with different experiences, different challenges, different internal blocks, and different sensibilities.

All I hope is that people keep stay open to new ideas, take time to simply be with themselves and learn to trust their own intuition. We’re always looking for authorities in life—people to tell us what to do so we can trust we’re doing the right thing.

I am not that person. No one who writes for Tiny Buddha is. We need to learn to tune into ourselves, even if it feels like a heap of responsibility. The future is uncertain no matter how well we follow someone else’s plan. We may as well chart our own.

Diaz: What do you see for the future of Tiny Buddha?

Deschene: I am now working on my first book, which explores life’s hardest questions and how we can live happily and powerfully in the uncertainty. It will be published by Red Wheel/Weiser and available in stores next fall.

Since Tiny Buddha started on Twitter, I’m using the site to get readers involved in the process. Anyone who wants to answer one the questions for inclusion in the book (by tweeting with a hashtag) can read more about that here.

Beyond that, I am working a site redesign with Joshua Denney, a talented web strategist who has worked with me since the site launched. Next year, I expect to see a lot of developments on the site, potentially including eBooks and eCourses.

Diaz: How can people help Tiny Buddha?

Deschene: One thing people can do is help spread the word about the book. I have received hundreds of responses so far, and I hope to receive more insights before September 15th. There are many other ways to support the site—sharing it with friends or donating, for example. You can read more about that here.

Diaz: What would you tell someone else staring over the cliff, contemplating making the leap into a new life?

Deschene: You don’t need to stare over a cliff to make a new life. Usually all you need to do is take one step forward right where you are. That can sometimes feel even scarier because it means sinking into the moment and working within it instead of trying to escape it. Your new life isn’t a huge plummet away; it unfolds from this very moment and place.

Debut Urban Fantasy author Jess Haines was gracious enough to share insight into her new series, her experience with publishing, and some tips and resources for new writers. Check it out!

Diaz: You are the author of the new H & W Investigations Series. Tell us about the current release, Hunted by the Others.

Haines: Sure thing!  Here’s the back cover copy from Hunted:

They are the Others—the vampires, mages, and werewolves once thought to exist only in our imaginations. Now they’re stepping out of the shadows, and nothing in our world will ever be the same again…

In a Town Like This, Being A P.I. Can Be Murder

Shiarra Waynest’s detective work was dangerous enough when her client base was strictly mortal. But ailing finances have forced her to accept a lucrative case that could save her firm—if it doesn’t kill her first. Shiarra has signed on to work for a high-level mage to recover an ancient artifact owned by one of New York’s most powerful vampires.

As soon as Shiarra meets sexy, mesmerizing vamp Alec Royce, she knows her assignment is even more complicated than she thought. With a clandestine anti-Other group trying to recruit her, and magi being eliminated, Shiarra needs back-up and enlists her ex-boyfriend—a werewolf whose non-furry form is disarmingly appealing—and a nerdy mage with surprising talents. But it may not be enough. In a city where the undead roam, magic rules, and even the Others aren’t always what they seem, Shiarra has just become the secret weapon in a battle between good and evil—whether she likes it or not…

You can get a sneak peek at the first chapter here.

Diaz: The second book, Taken by Others comes out January 2011. Did you intend on it being a series when you started?

Haines: I wrote Hunted by the Others to be standalone, but started working on the second book while I was in the midst of my hunt for an agent.  I made a brief mention in my query letter that I could see expanding into a series, but didn’t make a big thing of it.  My fabulous agent, Ellen Pepus, took me at my word and negotiated a three book deal with Kensington!  I’m hard at work on DECEIVED BY THE OTHERS (book #3 in the H&W Investigations series) and am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll see more of Shiarra and her friends after that.

Diaz: What other projects do you have in the works?

Haines: I’ve got a few things up my sleeves!  As I mentioned above, I’m working on book #3, Deceived by the Others.  Don’t hold me to this, but I believe that one is expected to hit stores in July, 2011.

I’ve also got a couple of novellas—one called Spark of Temptation that can be found in the anthology Nocturnal.  It tells the story of how Sara and Arnold got together in the span between Hunted and Taken by the OthersNocturnal is releasing in September, 2010.  I’ve got another novella coming out next year in an anthology called The Real Werewives of Vampire County.  Sorry, no release date on that one—yet!

There’s more brewing in the background, but unfortunately it’s too early for me to make any announcements.  You can stay on top of the latest news on my blog or by signing up for my newsletter.

Diaz: What attracted you to the Urban Fantasy genre?

Haines: There’s no one thing I can put my finger on.  I’ve always been a gamer geek with an interest in the fantastical, so it was no great leap of logic for me to take the next step and write some of it myself.  Add my love of vampires, werewolves, and cheesy 80’s horror movies to the mix, and you’ll see how it was only a matter of time before I’d give in and write an urban fantasy.

Originally, when I set out to write a novel for publication, I started out thinking I would jump into the deep end of the high fantasy pool by writing some huge epic in the style of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, or George R.R. Martin.

It took me a while to figure out that I was taking myself way too seriously.  In late 2007, I set aside the high fantasy and took my cue from Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Patricia Briggs by setting a new story in an alternate now and spicing it up with a touch of humor.  Voila!  HUNTED BY THE OTHERS was born!  Err, written…!

Diaz: You spent several years as a technical writer. Was that just a cover as you pursued a career as a fiction author, or did the decision to write fiction come later?

Haines: Actually, I’m still a technical writer.  That’s my day job—it pays the bills, while the money I make from writing fiction is used to pay for all those little things I always wanted, but never quite managed to save up for.

I’ve been writing fiction far longer than I’ve been writing the technical stuff, but didn’t decide to pursue a potential career as a novelist until a couple of years ago.  My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner.

Diaz: What about the publishing process surprised you most?

Haines: That my editor did not turn ten feet tall and breathe fire when I had the temerity to offer my own opinions.  *g*

Seriously, this whole process continues to amaze me.  Everyone has been remarkably cool to work with—from my agent, to my editor, to my publicist, to my fans.  Even the bloggers—like yourself!—who offer me a spot to talk or simply share your views on my work floor me with your thoughtfulness and generosity.  You guys are all incredible.  Thank you!

Diaz: What was the greatest challenge you faced trying to get your work onto the shelves?

Haines: Getting past my own insecurity.  It took a lot for me to put aside my personal demons and submit my work to anyone.  If not for one of my closest friends pushing and prodding me to do it, I may never have persevered in my hunt for an agent or gotten as far as I have today.

Diaz: What advice to you have for aspiring writers?

Haines: Don’t despair—there’s always hope!  As long as you don’t give up, and are open to looking at ways to improve your craft, you can find success.

Whenever you feel disheartened by rejections or critiques, remember that it doesn’t mean you can’t make it.  All it means is that you’ve got more work to do to find a home for your baby—whether it be a few edits, a lot of edits, or a whole rewrite.  Remember, success in this business doesn’t come overnight, and it isn’t easy, or everyone would be doing it.

While I’m beating that drum, I’ll list a few good resources for writers:

That’s far from a complete list.  I’ve got more links to handy resources on my blogroll, too.  I’m also open to questions—though I can’t always promise a speedy reply.  Contact me anytime!

I typically stick with interviewing speculative fiction authors and the like, but as you know from my mission statement, its important to me that people live a full life. That’s why I was so impressed with today’s interviewee. I met Lynn Reardon at the Writer’s League of Texas Agents Conference in June. Not only did she have great advice for writers, but she was also a warm and funny individual working for a good cause. Lynn, with her Texas based organization LOPE, helps to find good homes for retired racehorses. She started this organization after leaving a cushy job in Washington D.C. She wanted something more than money out of life. When you meet someone like that, you just have to share.

Diaz: What did you do prior to founding LOPE?

Reardon: I did accounting and office administrative work for nonprofit organizations in Washington, DC. It was a well-paid, respectable career path, but not very interesting or adventurous.

Diaz: You’re finally living your dream, enjoying the life of a cowgirl. What attracted you to that lifestyle and how did you make the transition?

Reardon: I grew up in the suburbs and never really fit in there. My favorite childhood activity was to wander in the local woods, following creeks – and hoping I’d run into a horse grazing somewhere nearby. The first time I saw a western film (The Magnificent Seven), I was hooked – I wanted to ride horses out in the open range, squint at people and look tremendously tough.

My transition to the cowgirl lifestyle was not particularly smooth or Disney pretty. I didn’t learn to ride until I was an adult. And, as several instructors pointed out, I was not exactly a natural at it either (I was a tense, overly cautious rider). Even though horseback riding lessons were hard on my ego, I kept at it – trading barn work for lessons, exercising polo ponies for free, whatever I could do to improve my skills on a budget. One day, I was given a tour of the stables at a racetrack. I fell in love with the racehorses, with their big hearts and competitive spirits.

Eventually, my husband and I decided to move to Texas to pursue our particular dreams (I wanted to be a cowgirl, he wanted a creative career). Within two years, we had managed to acquire a small ranch, open a nonprofit racehorse adoption program and launch into our current lifestyle of horses, farm management and perpetual dishevelment.

Diaz: What about the lifestyle surprised you most?

Reardon: First, running a ranch requires much more skills and physical strength than I realized. I had to become competent in a hurry – on a ranch, you don’t get any points for simply trying or for saying, “I’m sorry” when you drop a ball (or giant tool or hay equipment). Ranch tasks must be completed and done properly – otherwise, the horses (and wildlife) will have to take the consequences of your carelessness. It gave me a whole new perspective on what frontier life must have been like in history and greatly increased respect for farmers and ranchers today.

Second, I was stunned by how much wildlife our 26-acre ranch contained. It doesn’t seem wild or untamed here – there is a gas station across the street! But we have encountered rattlesnakes, deer, wild pigs, a mountain lion, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, possums, road runners, vultures, hawks, owls, herons, lizards of all types, enormous spiders, scorpions and (most memorably) a giant, prehistoric-looking tortoise creature that crawled from the creek to our deck, sunbathed for ten minutes and then slunk back into the water. Very Stephen King.

Diaz: How does your organization help animals?

Reardon: Our organization is LOPE (“LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers”) and we help ex-racehorses find new careers and homes after their track careers are over. LOPE helps the horses through our adoption ranch facility and online services. Racehorses are like NFL athletes – they have tons of talent and heart. When they can no longer race, they excel at all kinds of other careers (trail riding, jumping, ranch work, roping or just being a great pet).

They just need a transition between their racing career and their second life in another endeavor. LOPE provides that transition – we rehab their sports injuries, give them an outdoorsy, natural herd environment, assess their personalities and restart them back into riding (a less speedy version this time).

There are many negative myths about ex-racehorses. In the horse adoption world, they have similar reputations as pit bulls in dog adoption. So, LOPE also does a great deal of public education, to let people know that ex-racehorses make great riding horses and are fun to retrain.

Diaz: What has been your greatest triumph during this new chapter in your life?

Reardon: It’s hard to think of one great triumph – but there have been many small victories. I am finally learning to be a calmer, less nervous rider. I still have a long way to go, but the ex-racehorses are excellent teachers. I can now drive a big truck and pull a horse trailer without frightening me, the horses or other drivers on the road. When I started this work, I was hugely squeamish about any vet tasks. While I’m still not super excited about blood, I have learned to give shots, assist at equine tracheotomies, treat lacerations, clean out abscesses and stick a gloved finger into a puncture wound to determine its depth and severity.

When you add all of those up, I guess my biggest triumph is that I’ve become a much gamer, hardier person – and a more worthy steward for the ex-racehorses.

Diaz: What has been the greatest defeat?

Reardon: I can’t think of any true defeats. You’re not defeated until you say so – and I’m a very stubborn (if non-traditional) competitor.

Diaz: You wrote a book, Beyond the Homestretch: What I’ve learned from Saving Horses. What made you decide to write?

Reardon: During the first two years of the adoption ranch, I felt like an imposter all of the time. I had no credentials or skills to be running the ranch and working with these horses. So, I tried to hide that from everyone (horses, race trainers, adopters) and secretly searched for horse training mentors to help me become more of an expert.

The horses kept coming and coming – a total of nearly 40 horses were donated the first year alone. My adventures were not always funny – I made many (literally) painful mistakes. Several times I considered backing out of the whole enterprise – but the idea of working with spreadsheets again was too horrific.

I had a very moving experience at an equine expo – and realized for the first time why I was indeed qualified to do this work. After that event, as I walked out of the arena, I knew that a significant arc and lesson had just ended in my life. And I wanted to write a book about it.

I studied writing in school, but never wrote anything after graduation (other than entertaining emails to friends). Working with the ex-racehorses has taught me so much about stoicism, courage and passion. They gave me something big enough to write about – for the first time ever.

The subtitle of my book is “What I’ve Learned from Saving Racehorses.” But the reality is that the horses saved me – from a dull, ordinary life lacking  purpose, adventure and growth.

The book is my way of thanking them.

Diaz: How has the book affected your organization’s efforts?

Reardon: The book has really helped get the word out about not only LOPE’s work, but also about ex-racehorses in general. Our adoption and placement rates are up. Plus I get emails every week from people all over the US – they tell me how much they loved the horses in the book and that they are now considering adopting an ex-racehorse or volunteering for a horse group.

The book was finalist for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, a very prestigious equine literature award given in the Thoroughbred racing industry. Because of that, I was invited to contribute to the New York Times racing column – and that boosted LOPE’s efforts with national funding groups.

Diaz: What advice do you have for someone thinking about a life change?

Reardon: As a former accounting professional, I understand being afraid or uncertain about major life changes (especially if you are feeling economically insecure). There are no guarantees that a big change will pay off in traditional ways or be a gently self-actualizing experience.

But this was the best advice I ever received:

“Let me respectfully remind you –

Life and death are of supreme importance.

Time passes swiftly by and opportunity is lost,

Each of us should strive to awaken, awaken!

Take heed. Do not squander your life.”

–Buddhist prayer

(taped to my accounting office desk back in DC)

While not battling Evil Attic Clowns and commanding an ever growing army of garden gnomes, Jeremy Shipp finds the time to write amazing stories of bizarro fantasies and all around tomfoolery. He took time out of a food fight to answer a few of my ever so probing questions.

Diaz: Your most recent novel, Cursed, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award. What did you do when you found out?

Shipp: Upon hearing the good news, I threw on my pointy red cap and dashed into my garden to dance a gnomic jig. Afterward, I devoured a celebratory bowl of chunky peanut butter.

Diaz: Did you do any special marketing in the hopes of being nominated for the Bram Stoker?

Shipp: I sent copies of Cursed to those HWA members who wished to read the novel. I also wished on three shooting stars, and I threw a magic penny into a magic well. Well, a semi-magic well, as I couldn’t find a well that was 100% magic.

Diaz: You published Cursed through an independent press, Raw Dog Press. What was your motivation for choosing an indie press over a big house?

Shipp: I’ve been working with Raw Dog for quite a few years now, and they’ve always been good to me. John Lawson and Jennifer Barnes are passionate about the books they publish, and they are always respectful toward their authors. Perhaps someday I will work with a big house, but no matter what happens, I will always be proud of my indie roots.

Diaz: Your screenplay “Egg” has now been transformed into a short film. Why make the leap from written word to film?

Shipp: Films have always held a special place in my heart, and in my spleen. As a writer, I’m significantly inspired by creative geniuses such as Terry Gilliam, Takashi Miike, Hayao Miyazaki, Park Chan-Wook. And so, I jumped at the opportunity to write a short film.

Diaz: What was the process for creating the “Egg” film?

Shipp: Director/producer Jayson Densmen read one of my novels, and contacted me about doing a project together. Eventually, we decided to collaborate on a short film. I wrote the screenplay and acted as a creative consultant. Egg can be viewed in its entirety here.

Diaz: You recently created an alter ego on twitter, TheAtticClown. What was your reason for doing this and how do you handle managing two personas?

Shipp: I created an account for the Attic Clown, because the more time he spends tweeting, the less he spends throwing moldy pies at me and slapping me with rubber chickens. The attic clown character has existed in my skull for a couple years now, and so giving him a voice comes easily for me. Handling two personas is simple enough. I just give my light side a break every once in a while and let my dark silly side take over.

Diaz: Cursed came out Halloween 2009. Do you have anything new in the pipeline?

Shipp: My newest book, Fungus of the Heart, is coming out Halloween 2010. This is a book about relationships—the good, the bad, and the weird. Mostly the weird. I’m also working on an attic clown story collection, a new novel, a comic book series, a short film, and a few other projects.

Diaz: You write a large number of short stories. What is your reason for doing this (purely artistic, to build your career, etc.)?

Shipp: Basically, I have so many worlds and characters in my head that I don’t have enough time on this planet to write about each of them in novel form. Short stories allow me to explore all my worlds. In addition to this, I love short stories. I love the challenge of writing about so much in so few words. I also love the fact that I can write an entire story in a few days or weeks. Finishing a project is a nice feeling.

Diaz: Is your process for writing short stories different than it is when you write a novel?

Shipp: When writing a novel, I tend to brainstorm and research more. I might spend a few months thinking about a novel before starting the first page. On the other claw, when I’m writing a short story, I tend to dive right in.

Diaz: You recently began teaching creative writing classes. Why take the time to do this?

Shipp: My parents are teachers. My grandmother was a teacher. Teaching is in my blood. Also, teaching these classes gives me the opportunity to help aspiring writers learn the craft and business of writing. And that’s a wonderful, satisfying thing.

Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker nominated author of Cursed, Vacation, and Sheep and Wolves. His shorter tales have appeared or are forthcoming in over 50 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, ChiZine, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction and Withersin. Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with his amazing wife, Lisa, and an eccentric cat named Lattis who may or may not be a space alien. Jeremy’s yard gnomes like him. The clowns in his attic–not so much.

Kelly Meding entered the realm of Urban Fantasy with her fist book Three Days to Dead. With the sequel, As Lie the Dead, coming out this July and several more stories in the works, I decided to ask Kelly what’s it’s like creating and managing a series.

Diaz: Why do a series instead of a single book?

Meding: As a reader, I love series, because when I find a group of characters I enjoy spending time with I want to keep reading about them. It isn’t dissimilar to a long-running television show—same people, new story every week. Urban fantasy really works well for writing a series, because often the world the characters inhabit is just as much of a character as the actual characters. It’s a world that I want to keep exploring.

When I wrote THREE DAYS TO DEAD, I knew it was going to be part of a series. The world of Dreg City has so many layers, so much backstory, that I knew I couldn’t explore it in just one book. A series lets me play in this awesome sandbox, expand the lives of minor characters, and build an over-arcing story that I hope readers enjoy following.

Diaz: How did you sell your publisher on the idea of a series?

Meding: Fortunately, urban fantasy is kind of tailor-made for a series. There are very few UF debuts that aren’t part of a series or trilogy—which I know is frustrating for readers who prefer standalone novels, but it’s great for me. And because it’s a series, it’s easier to sell multiple books at once.

Diaz: How are you managing keeping track of subplots and details as each storyline progresses?

Meding: Several years ago, I read an awesome post over at the Fangs, Fur & Fey livejournal community, written by Yasmine Galenorn. She described her Series Bible, which is how she keeps track of her series, and the idea of it really stuck with me. For Dreg City, I have a 3-ring binder, and in it are divided sections, loose leaf paper, folders, and plastic sleeves. I have sections for Hunters & Handlers, Other Humans, Weres, Vampires, Other Critters, etc….

I try to keep notes as I go. If I add a minor character, I put their name into the notebook so it’s there if I need to reference them again later. If I make a backstory observation on someone, I write it down. Sometimes I forget to do this and I have to go back through a document to find something, which is a pain in the butt. Now that I’m writing Book 4, having this Series Bible around is especially important because the world is expanding all over the place.

Diaz: Is the personality or tone of the world you’ve created changing in ways you didn’t expect?

Meding: It continues to get darker with each book, which I didn’t expect (this might sound funny to people who know me and know I tend to write dark). But I suppose there’s truth to the saying “it’s always darkest before dawn,” and it applies here. Evangeline Stone and Company are heading for…something. And it’s just going to get worse before it gets better. If it gets better (ha!). But I’m glad that things still surprise me, because it keeps the world exciting and fun to play in.

Diaz: How far ahead are you plotting–two, three, twenty books down the line?

Meding: I have a general idea of where the series is going to go, but I’m not really a plotter. I know where two of the larger plots are heading and how they’ll change the landscape of the series as a whole, but I don’t have the book-specific events laid out yet. Once I finish writing Book 4 and have a better idea of how this one ends, I’ll have a better grasp of the next book.

Diaz: What are your plans in the future (e.g another series, a stand alone, life as a carny)?

Meding: Life as a carny sounds like fun, if this writing thing doesn’t pan out. *grin* I’d like to see the Dreg City series continue for a few more books, which is completely in the hands of other people (like my loyal readers). I also have a new series coming out next year with Pocket Books, which I will be talking more about in the near future. And there are half a dozen other projects crowding my brain, so we’ll see what develops.

Diaz: What are your favorite series by other authors?

Meding: The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost; Lords of the Underworld and Alien Huntress by Gena Showalter; the Shifters series by Rachel Vincent; the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs; Hell on Earth series by Jackie Kessler; ACRO by Sydney Croft; the Kate Daniels/Magic books by Ilona Andrews…I could go on and on, but these always stick out.

Diaz: What do you like about those series?

Meding: The characters. Some of them are urban fantasy, and some are paranormal romance. In some the same character narrates all the books, and in some the lead characters change with each volume. But it’s the characters, nonetheless, who draw me back each and every time. I want to experience their adventures, and I want to be by their sides as they live and love.

After the characters is the world building. All of those series I listed above are unique, creative, and just fantastic examples of world building. Each book tells me something new, and each book expands what’s already known.

Diaz:  Anything I missed, but you think may be important to a writer contemplating writing a series?

Meding: Know your world. There’s nothing worse than wanting to do something in the third book, only to realize you’ve established in book one that you can’t do this/something else is true. So be careful about the rules you create—make sure they’re rules you can stick to for the duration.