Thursday, June 16, 2016

Monthly Feature~ Coffee Conversations

It’s time for June’s Coffee Conversations! 
I have some amazing LGBTQ Authors on the panel this fine day. They’re talking about all sorts of topics.
Now, I want to say something before we start. These questions were all given to these authors at the beginning of the month. After The Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando FL the LGBTQ community has been suffering so many emotions. That affects your outlook. I say this because we address topics in Coffee Conversations every month and although none really touch on what happened a few days ago I just felt I needed to say something. Of course opinions might have changed for these authors but at the time they wrote them this is how they felt. 
With that, I give you June’s Coffee Conversations with authors: Edmond Manning, M. A. Church, Saxon Hawke, Helena Stone, and Isobel Starling. Please understand that the authors are allowed to skip questions for whatever reason they want. So, if you don’t see them in one of the questions it simply means they didn’t answer it. I didn’t forget them lol

Through my time on this planet my goals have changed. I wanted to be a door when I was three. I practiced and was the best toddler door anyone had ever seen. Now, at 36, days of being a door are long gone. My goals have changed. What I want to know from you is how have your goals changed from when you were a fresh faced kid, to now?

EDMOND: When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with life. I never had goals. I didn’t understand the kids who said, “I want to be a doctor.” I never had a clue about what to dream for myself. When I found writing—when I found THE JUICE—that makes writing my jam, my everything, I finally understood those kids. Is this what they felt at the age of ten? This “I WANT THIS” and this love? Fascinating.

ISOBEL: When I was a little kid, initially I wanted to be a boy.  I was around five when my family was living in southern England for a short while.  I hung around with a gang of boys aged from five to seven on our Army housing estate, and nothing stopped me joining in with their rough games-running, jumping, climbing tree’s… in my head I was a boy.  The only game I couldn’t join in with was ‘Pee against the wall”.  It was then that the fact I had the wrong equipment sank in and I ran home crying.  My buddies realized that no matter how ‘tomboyish’ I behaved, I was still a girl.  They used to say they were going to play ‘Pee against the wall’ whenever they wanted to ditch me.  I’m not bitter, honest.
When I got to around ten, my goals had changed and I decided wanted to be an artist.  At fourteen I still wanted to be an artist.  Later, my careers advisor suggested I get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket, because artists never make any money.  This was partly true!  However, I kept going and I achieved my goal, eventually having a 20 year art career… some years I made money, some I didn’t.
Ironically, I never had a goal to become an author, but strangely I love writing more than I loved my art.

SAXON: Words. Most of my early “I want to grow up to be…” dreams involved words. I remember trying to write a very complex mystery about the disappearance of the Egyptian pyramids in the fourth grade? I think I got to about chapter two and my Gemini tendencies took over when I saw something shiny. The fact that I wanted to write is really quite hilarious considering what my spelling marks were like in school. I for one have greatly benefitted from the invention of Spellcheck.
In my teens I had my life mapped out – I was going to be living in Boston (Beacon Hill to be precise) with my bulldog and writing for Rolling Stone. That dream stuck with me until I actually went to college for journalism. I discovered I did not have the tenancy to be a reporter.
My backup plan in high school was teaching. That dream was based on my love of kids. Do to familial circumstances I didn’t go back to school to become a teacher, but instead became a nanny. I nannied for three families until I met my hubby, then we got married and I became a mom.
I’ve definitely come full circle as my first novella was published last Christmas. The mystery of the disappearing pyramids has never been solved.

M.A.: I remember the exact moment my goals changed. For the longest time, I taught. It’s a hard profession, and the burnout rate is high, but I loved it. Then our principal retired, and a new one came in… and she was a woman on a mission.
She threw her weight around, upset a lot of people, and made things dreadfully unpleasant. Many teachers were transferred to different schools, myself included. The problem was I had a terminally ill parent in the last months of her life. I needed to be close, not in another school district nearly an hour away since I was the primary caregiver.
In the end, I resigned. Then my mother died a few months later, and the stress finally took its toll. Between depression, a child acting out, and a substantial cut to our income… I was lost. Unanchored. Then I ran across a website with free stories and found a section called Gay Male. Before I knew it, I was trying my hand at writing a M/M romance.
So, one door closed but another opened. (And I’ve been eternally grateful ever since.)

HELENA: If we go all the way back to fresh faced kid I have to say that I’m living her dream now. She wanted to be a librarian and had gone so far as to turn all her own books into library books, complete with tickets to take out when a friend borrowed them. About ten years later I decided that I wanted to be a diplomat and studied international law only to discover that I detest moving house. So while I have the degree I have never used it. It took me until I was 44 to work my way back to the dream that fresh faced kid had, and I have to admit; she was one smart cookie. I was always meant to be a librarian.

Do you feel that we’ve progressed as a species? Yes equality has made massive strides, women can vote, African Americans are not segregated. But many feel though we’ve regressed, we’ve taken giant leaps back. I want your thoughts on this.

EDMOND: Totally progressed. We’re headed in a very positive direction. Of course, we’re also headed in a fairly negative direction, you could argue. But look at the progress we’ve made as a people, toward diseases, art, civilization, and most importantly, learning that OTHER people and OTHER tribes matter as much as our own…we’re moving somewhere holy. We are learning to give equal rights beyond the law—to truly honor each other. But. We struggle. Each generation is surprised that they’re not the generation to “arrive” but only to contribute a few true steps and a whole lot of missteps as we fumble our way toward our best selves. Let’s stop talking about Trump, and focus on planning for thirteen generations from now, people we won’t even recognize, trying to help them become the glorious end game of the path we’re on. We’re running out of time. But the last few miles are completed with giant leaps. We will get there. I believe in us.

ISOBEL: I think that while progress can be wonderful, it can also be a double edged sword.  The leaps forward in medical science are mind blowing and benefit us as a species.  We are very lucky to live in a time where a common cold rarely kills, and there are inoculations to prevent the worst of diseases, however there are many things deemed to be ‘progress’ that do us no favors.  History has taught us that violence is rarely an answer.  It’s great progress that more governments are choosing dialogue rather than shooting first, and asking questions later.  But where there is a leap of progress, there will be those who wish to profit from it.  For every war or disaster, someone will be rubbing their hands and seeing the dollar sign. 
The biggest societal change that I have experienced has been the rise of the internet.  As a child I recall chatting with my friends at the back of the school bus, saying “Wouldn’t it be great if you could ask a computer any question and it would give you the answer”.  We now have Google, and in turn it has made life so much easier for me- especially in terms of researching for my stories. 
However, I believe the internet has not only brought us together, but separated us too.  It has made us lazy when it comes to friendships.  Friendship has become disposable- as online, if someone annoys you, they can be deleted.  If you don’t need to work through an issue because the person is on another continent and you’ve never met, why bother, right? 
The internet has also made us drop the ball when it comes to personal privacy.  I don’t believe many of us will understand just how important our privacy is until we completely lose it.  Once our private information is online, not only is it not ours anymore, it is a crop to be harvested by those who wish to compile data for, who knows what purpose.  This is not sci-fi or paranoia, this is reality.
Progress in all areas of society can and should be aimed towards helping us survive as a species.  I know it’s  a bleak outlook, but as long as there is money in it, I believe ‘progress’ will also be used to destroy us.

SAXON: Yes, we’ve made strides in so many areas over the past few decades, but I think the thing that we have lost sight of is how to be human. We’ve become a society so focused on the self – I want this, I don’t want that, and I don’t care if what I want hurts others in the process. The idea of “love thy neighbor” has been replaced with “knowing what is best for thy neighbor based on thy own beliefs”.
The world is becoming smaller each day, and I think people are scared of the world. Many like to live in their little bubbles ignorant of the larger picture because they feel it doesn’t affect them. Those bubbles are being threatened and people are lashing out in fear, in ignorance. Trump is the perfect example of this, as well as the rise of far right-wing parties in Europe.
I’ve lived through many periods of global unrest in my forty-six years, but it’s the local hatred, the street level assault on women’s, minorities’, and homosexual rights, the distrust of anything that is not white and male, that is far more terrifying than when we lived in fear of nuclear war or even terrorism. 
I think we need to start striving to become more than human…we don’t need to fight each other for resources or land. No longer is it a dog eat dog world. We need to become the new kind of human that embraces change and uses that change to make a better world. The old humans needed to use fear and anger to survive. We don’t need that anymore.

M.A.: *Snort* I live in the deep South were racism is alive and well in all its many forms. I swear, it’s like every step we take forward as a country, we take five back. It’s disgusting… and disheartening. I see it every day, and sometimes it’s very up close and personal.
And I don’t understand it. I simply cannot wrap my head around how a person can be hated because of their gender, color, age, their sexual orientation, or religion (and those few things are just scraping the surface).
I taught kindergarten—children who were five years old when they came to me—and I can tell you now hate is taught. I’ve seen it with these babies, and it absolutely breaks my heart.

HELENA: Argh, what a question! Yes I think we have progressed and no I don’t think we have progressed at all. Let me explain. Of course it is progress that women can vote, segregation is (officially at least) a thing from the past and gay couples are now being allowed to marry in ever more countries. All of that is good. But, all of it only scratches at the surface of the problems and traditions. Being allowed to vote doesn’t mean being seen as equal. No longer being segregated doesn’t translate into being fully accepted as an equal member of society and being allowed to marry doesn’t mean people stop stereotyping or discriminating against you. A lot of what is offered to us as progress looks to me more like lip service, a compromise to keep us quiet without actually having to deal with the issue at hand. And for the most part ‘we’ appear to be not only happy but also eager to fall for it. Because we want to think we’re making progress and are creating a better world for our children to live in. I’ve reached the stage where, as far as the subjects you mention are concerned, I firmly believe progress won’t have been made until the term equal actually means ‘the same rights, duties and opportunities as everybody else’. And, as far as I can see, humans—as a species—are far too fond of creating and maintaining an ‘us versus them’ mentality for equality to become the norm anytime soon.

GoFundMe! This is such a debate. I saw a post on Facebook where they ranted about how awful it was. Claimed PEOPLE NEED TO GET A JOB AND NOT MOOCH OFF PEOPLE. Others have found GoFundMe to save them in times of need. Paid for medical bills even though they work. Where do you stand on the GoFundMe debate?

EDMOND: I have a personal story about this. I was accepted to the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for this coming July, which takes place every year in Los Angeles. I think they told me 150 usually apply for 21 spots. I’m pretty excited to be accepted! And it’s expensive. Like…very expensive. Many of the authors do GoFundMe or Kickstarter campaigns to fund their trip. I debated going that route…I’m not eager to shell out 3K plus airfare for a week-long adventure. I thought making this a kickstarter campaign might be a good way to build community and remind people I also write books—I don’t just post pictures of my cat. But…I couldn’t do it. In the end, I couldn’t justify a kickstarter campaign, even though it’s gonna suck up my entire IRS refund, because hey, other people need that money more. I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like to see people use it who really need it. And those who could figure out another way…well, do that first. But that’s kind of a self-regulatory behavior, nothing you can impose on others.

ISOBEL: I’m all for helping people out when it comes to unforeseen medical expenses, disasters, etc, but asking for money to help with a holiday, a wedding, or a divorce?  That’s just obscene.
We are bombarded on a daily basis, with images of people with no discernable talent- reality show contestants, the Kardashians, football players and their WAG’s etc.  They are living the ‘superstar’ lifestyle, and they get tonnes of cash for doing very little.  I get that some who see that would aspire to that lifestyle, and some would work towards that lifestyle as their goal.  Whereas others would set up a GoFundMe page on the off chance someone is feeling generous. 
In the modern world there is such a sense of entitlement, yet not everyone is willing to work to fund their dreams.  I see that there are legitimate projects that are seeking funding for- films, plays, art.  I’m all for that, funding in the arts is sorely needed.  But some GoFundMe pages are just as blatant as begging on the street, set up by those who wish to improve their lifestyle through asking others to fund their holidays or weddings.
We are meant to work hard and strive to achieve our dreams, not live with the expectation that some anonymous benefactor will give us the resources without breaking a sweat… that isn’t what life is about.
I know people have a right to spend on whatever they want, but I also wonder who they hell thinks its okay to spend their cash funding people asking for stupid shit?  I guess, for every chancer there’s a mug with a full wallet!

SAXON: GoFundMe. It is a wonderful idea, and it has undoubtedly helped so many worthy people. But with any system set up to help those who are in need, it is open to misuse and abuse. Ultimately it up to the person clicking the donate button to do their due diligence and use basic common sense.
I have personally contributed to a few campaigns for people that I know. I felt comfortable doing something for these people and without the site, I probably would not have been able to help.  They were Facebook friends who I knew enough about their lives to feel that I was not being taken for a ride.
I think that GoFundMe campaigns fall under three categories – legitimate, fraudulent, and plain ol’ stupid. To me, the legitimate ones are no different than when a community would come together to help one of their own. Crowdsharing sites just make that community global. The fraudulent campaigns are going to be there no matter what you do. I’ve read stories where people have fleeced their own physical communities thousands of dollars with false cancer pleas. There will always be someone, somewhere who is there to milk the system whether it’s physical or virtual. As for the plain stupid – you know the ones, the people who wants you to fund their vacation and they promise lots of pictures, or hey, they’ve always wanted a pony, can you buy them a pony? – that’s between the people who feel quite comfortable asking for money and the people who apparently are willing to give it to them. That’s all on them.

M.A.: I’ll be honest. I almost skipped this question because I know for a fact the concept can be abused and have seen it done firsthand. But… on the other side of that coin are people who have such astronomical medical bills they need any and all help they can get. And medical bills/situations are just one example.
*Shrug* I can see both sides of the debate. There are always people out there who’ll take advantage of peoples’ goodwill. Always. Then there are people who really do need help. I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve donated to GoFundMe to help with people’s medical expenses.

HELENA: I have no issue with GoFundMe. As you say, some people in real need have found great and necessary support there and it’s impossible to find fault with that. Of course there are those who use the same system for, what may seem to others, selfish purposes. There will always be people who try to use and abuse any system or opportunity. But the thing is, nobody is forcing me to give people money. In fact, nobody is forcing me to even look at those GoFundMe pages and get upset about what people are trying to raise funds for. As far as I’m concerned it’s a non-issue in my life unless I decide to make it an issue and life’s just too short for that

Name 3 books you’ve read that have changed your life.

EDMOND: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (uplifting)
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (invigorating)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (soul-sapping)

ISOBEL: ‘Fools Fate’ (Tawny Man Trilogy book 3)- Robin Hobb – Ripped out my heart and blew my mind.
‘Wolfs Own- ‘Ghost’ By Carole Cummings -- My first ever M/M, she got me hooked!
‘In The Company of Shadows’ by Ais Lin and Santino Hassell --Yes I know, it’s actually 4 books, but, the series was a game changer for me.

SAXON: I’d say why don’t you just ask me to choose between my children, but I have only one child…although somedays it’s still a hard choice. Anyhoo, I digress. Three books…
Guardian of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes – I received this as a birthday present on my tenth birthday. It was the first in a YA science fiction trilogy that was the first novel I ever read. It had a female protagonist, and it spoke to me. I was odd and weird like Olwen, so her isolation spoke to me. It also cemented my love of science fiction. God I can still remember the feel and smell of those books. No idea where they went.
The Stand by Stephen King – This is the first book that I read and reread…multiple times. First read it when I was visiting the UK with my family. I did a lot of reading on that trip as I could not sleep. Well I had been sleeping until I woke up with the largest bloody spider on my chest. See, in the UK, they do not put screens on their windows. They also do not have air-conditioning, so you need the windows to be open. Open windows and no screens means all sorts of multi-legged critters can enter your room while you are asleep. The Stand was purchased the next morning and I read it the following night, as I kept an eye out for creepy crawlies.
50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James – Ok no judging! This book has a very special place in my heart, but probably not for the reasons most would think. I have always been a voracious reader. Any and all science fiction was my reading preference.  In 2010, my mom had a very brief but ultimately unsuccessful battle with lung cancer. It was a terrible period of my life, and I found that after she passed, I couldn’t read. I found it difficult to focus, and reading about imaginary worlds no longer interested me. Then I read about this hugely popular Twilight fanfic that had been published. I thought sure why not (this was also my first foray into the world of ebooks). I read it, thought it was kinda hot, but wondered where the vampires were. Thanks to Amazon, they had another recommendation for me, which was set in Toronto (my home town) so I read that one. And one romance lead to another. I liked the love. Loved the HEA’s. After losing my mom, I needed happy endings. So romance lead me from m/f to m/m/f with no swords touching to a m/m/f where the swords totally touched, and ultimately m/m. I found this incredibly supportive community of readers and writers, which lead me to writing my first book. So without 50 Shades, I doubt I’d be fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming an author.

M.A.: Almost hate to say this, lol, but I’ve only read one book that made any sort of impact and that was the Left Behind series.

HELENA: Let’s start with what will be the most controversial title JFifty Shades of Grey. There, I’ve said it. As for how and why it changed my life; I’ll try to keep it short. Through FSoG I (re)discovered a genre that was missing from my reading universe. Through the journey of discovery I embarked on after FSoG I discovered Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners books. Through those books I made friends on Twitter, the same friends who sometime later challenged me to write a book. If it hadn’t been for FSoG I might have never been a writer. So while I’m fully aware of the trilogy’s multiple shortcomings, I will forever be grateful for what it brought to my life.

Jeroen en de ZilverenSleutel (Jeroen and the Silver Key) by DaanZonderland. This book was with me all through my childhood. First it was read to me (and my brother) and when I could I read it, and read it again..and again…and again. It’s all about a young boy (Jeroen) who’s suffering terribly as a result of his stepmother’s treatment of him. One day he’s given a key which gives him special powers. There’s very little he can’t do with the key, but the one thing he’s not allowed to do is ask for things for himself. Together with friends, he has an endless amount of adventures. The reason this book changed my life is because this was the first book to inspire me to write a story. In fact, the story would probably be called fanfic these days, except that I don’t think that term had been invented yet when I was eight J.

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy. I can’t really claim that this story changed my life, but it did start a wonderful period in my reading life. My mother and I discovered this author and this book at the same time, and from that moment forward we’d read Binchy’s books together and chat about them. It wasn’t the first time we enjoyed the same book, but it was the first (and only) time we got hooked on the same author. Our mutual addiction lasted for over a decade and ended when my mother died. Eleven months after that horrible day I was in a bookstore. It was a week before Christmas and a new title by Maeve Binchy had just been released. Without thinking about it I picked up two copies and joined the long line of people waiting to pay. It wasn’t until I was the next person to be served that I realized I didn’t need two copies anymore. Rather than leave one copy at the till I left the queue, put one of my copies back where I had found it and joined the still very long line again to pay for my copy. Maeve Binchy has since passed away too, but I still can’t read one of her books without memories assaulting me in the best and most painful way.

If you were going to live in a room for 365 days and could only take ONE person in your life with you. Who would you take and why?
EDMOND:  A monk. Someone who doesn’t talk much. I can’t stand someone talking at me non-stop, and the idea of being with only one person for 365 days means they’re going to eventually freak out and start babbling. The worst part is they’re constantly going to ask, “So, what are you doing?” Uh…living on my side of the room. You can see me. You know exactly what I’m doing.
You know who isn’t going to do that? A monk. They will look upon this year as the best meditation of their lives. And I will meditate with him or her and we will dance

SAXON: Hmm. That’s a good one, especially since it has to be someone who is already in my life. I’d have to pick my hubby. Not only is he my best friend and can still make me snort diet coke out of my nose after eighteen years of marriage, but we’ve always been good at just being quiet together. We’ll go to dinner, or out for a drive, and we don’t feel the need to fill every moment with conversation. I can’t imagine trying to fill 365 days with conversation. I love my girlfriends, and they would be fun without a doubt. But the hubby wins.

M.A.:  Oh, that’s easy. It would be the hubby. Yes, yes, that’s not an exotic answer, LOL, but after twenty-two years of marriage we haven’t killed each other. If I’m to be confined to a room with one person for a year at least I know he’ll walk out of there alive. ;)

HELENA: My husband, because he is probably the only person in the world I wouldn’t end up killing after the first week. J

Of course it helps that I already know it wouldn’t be an issue. He moved in with me within about ten days of our first kiss. My room at the time was about 3 by 4 meters (9 by 12 feet). We lived there for two years and not only survived to tell the tale but ended up marrying as well. So if I had to live in such close quarters again, it would be with him.

We live in a stressful time. How do you detach yourself from it?

EDMOND: I daydream. I go for long evening strolls and make up music fantasies to my tunes. I invent stories and riddles within stories and puzzles and then return to my computer and dreamalize it into real life.

ISOBEL: I write to detach, and when I’m not writing I adore comedy.  Laughter is the best therapy for most of life’s ills.  I like to go and see live comedy, and if there is no one good coming to play in my area, I like to watch comedy shows on TV, or listen to shows on the radio.  BBC Radio 4 is always a good source of contemporary stand-ups and satire, and they also have a huge back catalog of shows online.
But, the biggest secret to de stressing is to deactivate social media accounts for a few weeks.

SAXON: I read. Or listen to audiobooks. When things get crazy and I need to unwind, I dive into someone else’s world. There I know, even if there is angst along the way, there will be a happy ending. I used to watch TV or a movie to detach, but books have completely taken over my downtimes. Thank god for ebooks or we’d have to build an addition to the house to hold all the books!

M.A.: We live in a small rural town and have a huge pond in the backyard. When I get overloaded that’s my escape. We have several bird feeders, so there are always birds around. I enjoy taking pictures of them with my phone and then trying to figure out what species they are. The hummingbirds cracked me up too. Then there’s the ducks, who can be very demanding. At night I’ve seen deer out there. Plus, the hubby and I like to fish, so it’s nice having a stocked pond practically on the back doorstep.

HELENA: Turn everything off and enjoy the quiet. No television, no radio and on my laptop only those things I want to see. Or a long walk in the countryside with the dog. And when it isn’t possible to completely ignore whatever the issue of the day happens to be, I try to live by the ‘not my monkeys, not my circus’ motto. Stress makes us ill. For me that reaction happens to be almost instantaneous, so I try to avoid it almost at all cost. It isn’t always easy and it took me some time to acquire that particular skill but I think I’m getting better at picking my battles.

If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?

EDMOND:  Teleportation. Here’s why:
·        I’d never be late again.
·        A coward like me could teleport into fires and disasters, grab people, and teleport out right away. No muss.
·        I’d never get nervous about flying again. Plane’s going down? I’ll just teleport myself into baggage claim to await my flaming luggage.
·        In Marvel comics, my favorite character, Illanya Rasputin, teleports. Where she goes between destinations is fascinating. Also, I want she and I to be friends, so, if I had this power, we could totally talk about teleporting.

ISOBEL: Well, I have already mastered invisibility! 
So, if I had to choose another superpower, I guess it would be the magic fingers, giving me the power to write error free best sellers in any genre I choose.

SAXON: I used to think the power of flight would be the best superpower because you could go anywhere! Then I started thinking of the logistics, and it’d be worse than flying commercially – carrying everything you need while you flew would be just too hard.
I’ve now decided that I’d like the ability to heal. I’m not looking to heal from bullet wounds or anything, but with all the aches and pains this body is racking up, I wouldn’t mind healing some of them away. Oh, and maybe throw in a super-fast metabolism with the healing part. I could totally work with that.

M.A.: Superspeed! OMG, how awesome would it be if I could type thee hundred words a minute or something equally insane?
*grin* Notice I didn’t point out how cool it would be to get all the housework done superfast or blaze through the grocery store in under ten minutes flat. Yup, my mind went straight to my job—writing.

HELENA: My superpower would be the ability to heal others, both physically and emotionally. I hate having to watch others suffer and while I hope that I’m supportive when people need me, I always feel inadequate because I’m not able to take their pain away. The power to do so would be the most amazing gift imaginable.

Last question. We all have regrets. We aren’t human if we haven’t made a mistake or two. But we also have achievements. Some that get swept away in the cloud of guilt. I want you to tell me one or two achievements in your life.

EDMOND: One of my greatest achievements in life is so small and so powerful. I was a resident assistant in college. During my first week on the job, first weekend at the University, we had powerful storms. Tornado watches and then warnings, complete with sirens and every alarm. All students had to evacuate to the basement. Many weren’t taking it seriously, including a bunch of new friends on my floor. They were chatting and laughing, really mocking the situation. One of the guys among them, a guy who I could tell did NOT have friends in high school, was not okay with this weather. He was starting to freak out. But these were his new friends—his chance to start over and do things right! Nobody had noticed how panicked he was. He was trying not to freak.
We made eye contact and I knew—he was going to blow his chance with these awesome “new start” friends.
I announced to my floor we were going to play a game. I didn’t even know what game. I just started organizing everyone in a circle facing inward. I invented a game. I sat next to him, leaned against him, and he knew that I knew how terrified he was. I was going to get him through this. We had a lot of fun playing that stupid game, everyone laughing and other people joining in.
After an hour, the warning ended and everyone went back to their rooms. As he and his new friends were leaving the common basement area, he turned to me and his face flashed absolute gratitude. This was a huge deal to him and his face betrayed it. He mouthed the words, ‘thank you,’ and I nodded. We interacted a lot over the following year. He was a good guy. But we never discussed that day in the basement.
This is one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life. So small and insignificant. But not to him.

ISOBEL: When you choose a career in the creative industries, what you ‘do’ is bound tightly to your self esteem and how the world see’s you.  I’ve mentioned before in blog posts that had really bad artists block a few years ago, and that, in turn led to major self doubt and depression.  I had nothing left for my art, but didn’t know who I was without my art.  Art was something that had been intrinsically me for over 20 years.  Eventually, I found my way out of the deep dark hole through writing.  As I said before, I had never intended to become an author, it just kind of happened.  The first book I wrote was an m/m m/f fantasy book.  That book means so much to me that I just couldn’t bear to complete it, so I decided to write a contemporary story to take my mind off the fantasy book.  Nearly 2 years later and I’ve published six books… that is an achievement I never expected in my wildest dreams.  And, yes that unfinished fantasy novel still taunts me.

SAXON: My ultimate achievement is my son, the minion. Somehow, with help from the hubby, I created this life, this creature, that has turned into the most amazing person. I mean, this kid has the oldest damn soul and he astounds me daily. He’s fifteen, so there are days I’d set the Ebay price to “best offer”, but 99% of the time I can’t believe that we made him. That we raised him. He’s also the longest I’ve ever kept anything alive, so that’s something on its own. But yeah, he’s my proudest accomplishment.
My second best achievement is publishing my novella. I created people. I created a world. Without me those people would never have existed. That always amazes me. And it does make me damn proud!

M.A.: I’m almost fifty years of age, so I’ve divided my life into pre-writing and post-writing years, lol. If you asked me to note an accomplishment of before 2010, I’d have said one of the awards I won during teaching my career. Or maybe even graduating with not one, but two, degrees. 
After 2010 I’d say being reviewed by USA Today.

HELENA: The one achievement I’m most proud of is that I eventually learned how to stand up for myself. I hate conflict and am inclined to just let things go rather than face the argument necessary to get my point across. That attitude has (and most of the time still does) serve (d) me well. When, seventeen years ago, my doctors suggested an operation I knew I didn’t need and wouldn’t survive, I learned to say no and stick with it. Not only has that stance resulted in my still being here to tell the tale, it also means that my specialists now take me seriously when I tell them something is right or wrong with me and, ultimately it means that I now know for sure that standing up for what I know is best is not only my right, but also something I can do without shame or fear. I still don’t like it, but it no longer scares me to make that stance.

It’s not easy putting yourself out there like this so I want to thank Edmond, Isobel, Saxon, M.A, and Helena for participating. In the comments feel free to answer these questions or just one if you’d like and join the conversation. These are answered with honesty and deserve respect so I’ll ask for everyone to be kind. Don’t respond negatively to any of these authors. Your comments will be removed if you do.
Thank you all!

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