A new monthly feature is born! This is the first Coffee Conversations on Diverse Reader. I posted and asked anyone if they wanted to participate in the new monthly feature. The response was overwhelming. Enough that I have the next 5 months books lol.
What is Coffee Conversations you ask? Well, I'm glad you did. I pick 5 people. They can be authors, readers, PA's, reviewers, blog owners, painters, poets, anything. I ask them each the same questions. They can't see each others answers. They answer and then I post them together for you all to see.
This month I have author Atom Yang, C.S. Poe, Andi Van, Shell Taylor, and Promotion and PA magician Michelle Slagan.
The question will be posted and each person's response below. They each got their own color so you won't have a hard time following. This was a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.
First question will be a bit of an ice breaker. Not too harsh I hope. Before we were adults with opinions we were kids without a care in the world. So, what were you like as a kid? How did you spend your summers, weekends?
ATOM: During summers, I spent it mostly trying to stay inside, where I could remain cool and read. My mom was always shooing me outside to play, but I didn’t like the heat of Southern California.
My most impressionable summer, however, was when I was sent to Taiwan to go to school and take care of my maternal grandfather, who wasn’t feeling well. Talk about hot! It was humid, too. The trip ended up being a disaster that affected me and my creativity deeply (I’m over it now).
Weekends, my family would go visit relatives in Los Angeles—another hot place, but add the smog and crowds and the injunction that I should be “social” instead of being a “bookworm,” and you can imagine that being pretty miserable, too.
Sundays were usually reserved for Chinese School, where my brother and I had to go and learn how to write Chinese (we already spoke it). The teachers were old school strict.
Anyway, other than those traumas, I spent it generally reading comics, novels, and magazines like Dynamite; watching cartoons, Star Trek, and Doctor Who; and playing with my friends where in between whatever trouble we were getting into, I’d ask questions like, “Don’t you wish you were a girl so you could be with Superman (Christopher Reeves)?”
SHELL: As a young kid, I was very shy (still am!) I was the annoying one who would rather sit by the adults because I was too scared to interact with the other kids unless I knew them well. My high school was relatively small, so I grew out of it and became a bit of a social butterfly those last few years but then reverted right back to being shy once I was out of my comfort zone. Both of my parents worked, so summers were spent at the babysitter’s house. We always took a week to go visit my grandmother though.
MICHELLE: Depending on what age you are referring to the answer is a little different but some things were the same. I loved to be the center of attention as a child (and even now as an adult around family). I was always the one who try to make people laugh and smile. I didn’t take anything seriously. I was never part of the popular crowd but I had some great close friends. I was an athlete all through out grade school and high school. I played volleyball, ran track, t-ball in the summer, but my true passion was dancing. I danced from age 3 until 20. It was a passion I had early on and was really good at it. Always in the advanced classes than moved onto competition team and student teaching. By age 16 I thought I was bada$$ and could do as I wanted. I attended every party around (even though I wasn’t a drinker), snuck into the dance clubs and was completely boy crazy. I evaded the cops on more than one occasion and can honestly say I was never arrested for the stupidity of my decisions. I was untouchable after all….lol. My father attributes all his gray hair from my teenage years. My mother always said that if I was the first I would have been the last.
ANDI: I was a weird kid. Well, I'm still a weird kid, but I was worse when I was younger. I was a bookworm (no surprise there) and spent a lot of time reading and writing. Or I'd be on my bike riding with my friends through the long series of parks that I lived next to in Sacramento. If it was a period of time where my brother and I weren't trying to kill each other, I might be in his room watching him play video games. During the summer, it was bike riding and reading and swimming at the local pool. My dad had vacation days for work that stretched out nearly a month every year, and we'd go on long road trips. I HATED them when I was younger, and I could kick myself now. I wasn't old enough to appreciate everything I was seeing - we drove cross country to DC to visit the Smithsonian, or to New Mexico to go to Carlsbad Caverns, or Montana to visit family and Glacier Park. I'm dying to go back to all those places so I can actually appreciate them. Sometimes we'd drive to Idaho to visit family, or we'd go to Anaheim to visit my grandmother (who, conveniently enough, lived across the street from Disneyland on a part of Katella that no longer exists).
C.S.: Not surprisingly, I spent my free time writing. I was very diligent and focused on bettering myself. I made sure to write every single day, and when I had free time like weekends and vacation? I was a beast!
As we do grow, we see things. The world changes us. We hit many brick walls before we choose our way. Was there a pivotal moment in your life where you knew you had to stop and change direction and fight the good fight? Tell us about it.
ATOM: I grew up with domestic violence, so from an early age, I was aware that the world wasn’t always a safe place. In high school, under the influence of Alan Moore’s The Saga of the Swamp Thing and a teacher who took me under his wing, I learned I could channel my feelings into my writing, and that this was how I was going to survive and fight the good fight against violence, bigotry, shame, etc. Ever since, and it’s a work in progress, I’ve striven to be someone who encourages and accepts. It’s tough sometimes; I don’t always hit the mark.
SHELL: I’m not sure I had to change direction really, but there’s a general time during college where I realized I could interpret life and my belief’s how I wanted rather than going along with the people around me. One of my college housemates was actually a guy I went to high school with and we even attended the same church, and I’ll probably never forget an argument we had once about SSM and abortion. I’d been reading the Bible all the way through for about 3 years and consulting with people I respected about some of those hot button issues. When I told him I was pro-choice and didn’t think being gay was a sin, he flat out told me I was going to Hell. That was a very difficult thing for me to hear, especially from a friend, even though I didn’t actually believe his words held any authority over my life. I knew at that moment I didn’t want to be ‘that’ Christian, and I’ve tried my best to be an example of God’s love since.
MICHELLE: I was never a drinker but my best friend was. She started hanging with the wrong crowd – partying and drinking every night. There were a few nights I would have to go (walking because I wasn’t allowed to have my license) and pick her up and walk her home. Well….it was more like drag because she was so drunk she couldn’t walk. One night I receive a phone call from a friend of hers that someone needed to come pick her up because she was passed out and the parents were on their way home so everyone had to leave the “party” house. Me and another friend went to get her and we dragged her back to her home (we lived next door to each other). We got her in the house but she was barely moving. My mom and her mom were out to dinner and on their way back so of course we tried to cover up the fact that she was dead to the world. Right as our moms pulled into the driveway – she started to seize. I was already on the phone with 911 before our moms came through the front door. She was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. She coded twice in the ambulance and once they got her to the hospital they had to pump her stomach. We were 16 and I will never ever forget that feeling of being in the ambulance and watching her code.
ANDI: My most recent was probably thanks to my ex. They were extremely emotionally abusive, and I’d put my writing career on hiatus the entire time I was married to them because they didn’t like me not giving them every second of my attention. After just over decade, I finally had enough and got up the guts to say “I’m miserable, you’re the cause, you need to go.” And then I started writing again.
C.S: There was, actually! I will spare personal details, but I woke up and decided: I'm moving to Japan. So I did. Less than six months later I had a job waiting for me just outside of Tokyo. I got my visa, tossed a lot of junk (literally) out of my life, and learned and grew while living overseas. That was definitely the moment where it hit me that we only have so much time, so take the bull by the horns and just do it!
How do you see the direction of the United States going with these fabulous upcoming elections? We have polar opposite sides here. What does it mean for the US?
ATOM: I see this nation struggling to find its way into the 21st century, with the people scared of progress fighting what they believe is the good fight to keep things the same (for themselves).
The United States is in its adolescence as a country, and history has shown again and again that what’s happening now has happened before, and leads to the demise of an empire, if not a concept (like government by the people for the people). This is no longer the land of opportunity it once was, and you can see that in the change in immigration patterns, and I don’t know if it’ll get back to its glory days.
My family (grandparents, aunts, and uncles) escaped war—they escaped invasions, colonization, and revolutions. They were from the oldest civilization existing in one geographical location; this tempers my view of what’s possible and what’s happening in the US and globally.
SHELL: It’s a bit scary, isn’t it? I’d gotten wrapped up in the elections a while back, fearing what would happen if he-who-shall-not-be-named won the Republican bid or worse… POTUS. But I’ve really tried to step back from it, and let go and let God as they say. I’m a hugely enormongous fan of President Obama. I think he’s done so much good for our country and I think he genuinely cares about people. I will sorely miss him next year no matter who is in office. That said, I think Hillary Clinton can pick up where he leaves off and keep our country moving in the right direction. I wish we had less divisive candidates running/winning as I really feel the best thing for America right now would be for the two sides to work together a little more.
As for the other guy… I’m just not thinking about what’ll happen if he’s elected into office.
MICHELLE: I try not to let other people’s views sway my decision – BUT – I think we as a country are pretty much screwed regardless who wins the Presidency. Now – the decision that I need to make is how bad do I want to be screwed so I can decide on which candidate will give it to me. Trump & Clinton both scare me for different reasons. If Trump wins - I think I might need to move the family to Canada. If Clinton wins – I think we will end up in WWIII.
ANDI: Personally, I think we’re doomed. I am probably the least political person I know, and even I can tell the system is screwed. That said, my opinion is basically “anyone but Trump”. (And by “anyone”, I mean any Democrat.) Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada.
C.S: I'm not one to publicly discuss politics. I will only say that even if a party isn't a person's "default," that they honestly and wisely consider the words being spoken. Hate and fear only push us backward, and US policies affect the world. The world does not need more hate.
Gay romance… This is a topic all of you are very familiar with. You either, read it, write, promote it, or do all three. Five years ago it wasn’t as big as it is now. What do you think it will be in five years from now?
ATOM: In terms of the readership, it’ll grow—that’s a given. However, in terms of where the genre will be? I think it will be more diverse as the next generation of storytellers comes into its own, and are composed of people of various identities and backgrounds who believe, because they read our stories and we encouraged them, that their stories matter, too—and should be told by them.
SHELL: Gosh… it’ll be amazing, right? I feel like gay romance’s Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey is right around the corner… and I mean that as – someone’s going to blow up big and it’ll be the new ‘it’ thing to read. It’s been a pleasure and an honor for me to write in this genre, and I can only see it going up from here.
MICHELLE: In 5 years I would love to see more Gay Romance reaching the top of the Best Sellers List. I want to see the authors, readers and promoters not being targeted because they like to read about LGTB stories. It can only get better each year and I cannot wait to see what happens.
ANDI: As with marriage, I’m hoping by then it’ll just be “romance”.
C.S: One can hope gay romance will be mainstream in five years. I hope that if I go into a chain bookstore, I can find a good gay romance in the romance section, not on the LGBT shelf that's in a corner, where they cram romance, fiction, genre, and non-fiction all together.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about this genre?
ATOM: The biggest one is that it’s mainly written by gay men for gay men. The second biggest misconception is that it’s all about sex. That’s like saying the action genre is all about killing.
SHELL: Hahaha… I try to stay away from the drama, Mere! And you’re pulling me right in!
I think romance books in general are kind of looked down on, which is sad because everyone needs love. But the general consensus seems to be that romance can’t equal quality writing. While I’m not going to try to perform open-heart surgery after reading a love story where the MC is a surgeon, I think romance books can be so well-researched and well-written that they allow me to visit places I’ll never get to see and experience things I wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve learned so much and opened my eyes to different walks of life simply by reading love stories. It’s amazing! I’m not sure how that can possibly be considered “less” on any level. Of course, adding in gay romance adds another level of “less” to some people, but once again, I whole-heartedly disagree.
MICHELLE: That the stories are just porn on pages and not an actual plot with fantastic characters. That there is no way a Romance story can be about 2 (or more) of the same sex.
ANDI: I think it shares the same misconception that hetero romance has - that it’s a guilty pleasure, a ridiculous thing that people should only read in the dark under the covers so no one else knows. Hell with that. I’d probably get into a fist fight the first time someone tried to tell me I should be embarrassed to be reading the Whyborne & Griffin books.
C.S: I think gay romance still suffers from the misconception that romance as a whole is hurt by: Romance has no substance. You can write a romance in your sleep. There's no serious skill needed. Etc, etc, etc. Instead of trying to fight the misunderstandings of gay romance, of lesbian, of straight, we should fight the misconception of romance as a whole. Everyone benefits. Writing isn't easy, no matter what the genre.
In your opinion; what do you think is our world’s biggest threat? What should we be most worried about and do you feel we are addressing it?
ATOM: I think the world’s biggest threat is selfishness—a sense of entitlement that disconnects people from each other and the rest of the world.
We should be worried about how we shame people and ourselves, because it’s a poor solution that creates more problems.
I feel like we’re addressing it more these days, when we look at how people form a shame mob on social media to punish someone, or how women are slut shamed, or how readers are book shamed, etc. We need to address it more in how we parent and educate our children so we don’t create people who run for the highest office in the land on a platform of fear and hatred; we need to address it in ourselves, so we don’t run away from it and hide under the apron of perfectionism, intolerance, self-loathing, and self-importance.
SHELL: This one is tough for me. I can’t pick a thing… like global warming or ISIS or unemployment or (lack of) clean water. I think each of those things links back to a bigger societal issue of something… but what? Lack of compassion? Lack of education? Too much greed? Lack of awareness of what’s really going on around us? It feels as if so many of us are concerned about the wrong things in life. We put too much focus on appearing perfect rather than being real, and we worry more about the latest celebrity gossip than helping our neighbors. Obviously, there are a ton of good people out there, fighting to make a positive change in the world, but at the heart of every threat I perceive is one common factor, and that’s us.
I don’t think I answered that how you intended… SORRY!
MICHELLE: Ourselves!!! Our biggest threat is the people around us. Everyone feels they are privileged and should receive the world without putting anything into it. We fight amongst ourselves too much. Our suicide rate is too high, our murder rate is too high, and our missing children rate is too high. Someone needs to step up and FIX our children & society before fixing other Countries.
ANDI: Honestly, I think ignorance is our biggest threat. There’s been an alarming trend of dumbing down worldwide that becomes the backbone of racism, sexism, and other bigotry (see: North Carolina). Remember how in the 80s, the government made a big deal about the “War on Drugs” and drug usage/trafficking actually got worse once that “war” was declared? They need to declare a “War on Science and Rational Thinking”. You know, so we can have more of it.
C.S: Good lord.... There are a lot of problems. Energy, I believe is a major point of worry. And the US is not addressing it. The pollutants in the air will hurt us all, and we need to embrace solar and wind power to heal the damage that has been done
Describe yourself using just one word. You can’t elaborate.
And finally. This isn’t meant to be depressing but I think it’s something we’ve all thought about when we’re alone. When you gone; what do you want to be most remembered for?
ATOM: That’s not depressing, it’s motivating! I want to be most remembered for how I made people feel—accepted and encouraged, with a good dose of wonder.
SHELL: I hope people remember that I loved as best as I could with my whole heart.
MICHELLE: I would like to be remembered for being the best mom I could be to my minions.
ANDI: I’d like to say “making a difference in my friends’ and family members’ lives”, but knowing my luck I’ll end up being most remembered for the time I crashed the car into the freezer when I was five.
C.S: When I'm gone, I can only hope that I will be remembered as someone who could make people smile. Smiles are wonderful!
Thank you my victims. I hope you aren’t in tears. You’re stars!!!
ATOM: Great questions once again, Mere. Thank you!
I really hope you enjoyed these beautiful souls. I appreciate them taking the mask off for a bit and sharing their answers with me, and with you.
How would you answer some of these questions?