Posted in event, inspiration

RWA 2020 Virtual Conference Day One

It’s day two of RWA’s virtual writer’s conference. I have dreamed of attending a Romance Writer’s of America conference for years but never expected my first one to be online. Thank you, Covid-19. Our world changed this year but as librarian keynote speaker, Virginia Kantra said, the need for stories hasn’t changed. We shouldn’t wait until we’re dead for someone else to tell our story. If you are a writer or a storyteller, tell your story now.

“Use your words. Find your voice. Don’t be afraid to share yourself, to tell your story. Your experience matters.” I felt Virginia was speaking straight to me. For years I’ve ducked my head afraid to speak. I felt no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I wasn’t even sure what it was I wanted to say. Who am I and why does my story matter?

Each time I brave a new crowd whether it is online or in person, I discover many people feel the same way I do. They want to be heard but they are unsure of the message they want to deliver. They want to think about it and speak with care often losing their opportunity to voice their views. As writers we can tell our side through our characters’ perspective. We can show readers our stories without preaching. We don’t have to raise our voices to be heard over the crowd because in the silence of the pages a whisper has much greater impact.

If you are a writer and you don’t have a writers’ group, you need one. Whether it is online or in person, a writer’s group offers support and a sense of community to what is a very lonely profession. I joined the Romance Writer’s of America in 2009 after attending a Romantic Times Convention. I was lucky enough to have been chosen for the first Ann Peach Scholarship for New Writers where I met the late author, Judi McCoy. She encouraged us to believe in ourselves, our craft and to find others who shared our passion. With a love of romance, I joined RWA and later the Heart of Carolina, our local chapter. I also went in search of a writer’s group closer to home and found the Pamlico Writer’s Group.

Well, I should get ready for my next program, I’m hosting a Writer’s Block Meet Up. Do you suffer from writer’s block?  

Posted in Creekside Cafe, interview

Creekside Cafe Chat with M. E. Aster

Welcome to my Creekside Café author and poet, M. E. Aster. Do you go by Elijah? I have a grandson named Elijah we call Eli. Welcome to my virtual café.

M.E.: Hi you can definitely call me Elijah or Eli. I also go by my Mandy in my day to day life but as an author I’m better known as Elijah so either works for me.

Sherri: Do you prefer to be known as a transgender author or do you askew labels? Are labels important?

M.E.: It is not something I scream to the world although I am proud to be a transgender author. I don’t hide it either but I also don’t want people to think “oh he’s trans so I’ll read his books.” I want my books to stand on their own and not have my gender affect them.

My books tell the stories of my characters, not me, so I don’t think what I identify as is important to know if you want to do is read my stories. In my author bios I prefer to use they/them pronouns so my story can exist without my gender or label affecting it.

But as for your second question I do think labels are important to a lot of people. I struggled with them for a long time since I don’t pass as a traditional male and I’ve occasionally been made to feel that I can’t claim I’m trans since I’m not on testosterone and I don’t plan to have any body altering surgeries. As I’ve gotten older and more confident in myself I’ve found the courage to come out as male (at least online) and I love being a voice for non-traditional trans people but I more so share that part of me with those that reach out to me on social media.

I’m also not out to my real life friends and family yet and I’ve started sharing the fact that I write with them recently, hence why I’ve changed my publishing name from Elijah Aster to M.E. Aster. I live in a very conservative town and letting every know I’m trans would affect me at my job which I don’t want. When I started publishing I never thought anyone would find out in my day to day life, but now things have changed and I am adapting to that the best that I can.

Sherri: In the world of Indie publishing we’re learning that there are categories and genres, and sometimes our work doesn’t quiet fit in the traditional labels. I read Three Halves to a Whole, it’s a lovely, tragic story, but I’m not sure if I’d label it romance or coming of age or LBGT. There is no one genre that completely defines it. I often feel that way about my own work too. So how do you categorize your work?

M.E.: That’s a very tough question because I have struggled with the same thing. When I first wrote it and sent it to beta readers they classified it as “new adult” but that in itself seems to be a niche label as well that I didn’t feel fully fit my story. Lately when people ask, I say I write lgbtq+ fiction with romantic themes. Most of my books have romantic undertones and they always feature some sort of lgbtq+ charcter but that isn’t necessary the whole plot. So as lengthy as that description is that is the best I have come up with so far.

Sherri: Have you always been a writer? You write poetry too? I have your poetry book, but I’ve not yet read it.

M.E.: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. The first stories I remember writing were mini stories based on dreams I had that I would scribble down in a journal when I was as young as five. As I grew older, my love of writing never went away. English was always my favorite class and I constantly took creative writing classes to improve my skills. When I was fourteen I started writing a fantasy novel (my favorite genre at the time). I finished it two years later but being young and unsure if it was any good I let it fall into the background as life took me other places.

I stopped writing for a time during my college years. I got discouraged with my passion and thought it was pointless for a while. I tried to focus on my career and writing became a forgotten hobby. Then I got sick for a time and was bedridden on and off for years. I read so much during that period of my life that I found myself missing writing and the escape it would give me.

I found myself experimenting with fanfiction when the urge to write returned to me but I had no inspiration for original characters. My fanfics got a decent amount of attention and seeing people enjoy my works had my desire to publish original fiction stories returning full force. So two years ago I took a risk and published Three Halves of a Whole, which isn’t my best work, but it was finished and I wanted to see if self-publishing was for me after querying numerous publishers came back with a string of constant rejections. Now I plan to continue publishing until the day I die. Writing is my true love and I can’t see a day where I don’t want to keep doing it.

In regards to my poetry, it’s something I used to do as a personal release. I struggle with anxiety and depression and sometimes getting my words onto paper helps me more than any medication could. That is how I started writing poetry, it was cathartic. My published poetry book fairytales features the loss of a relationship that was very important to me. It was a tough time in my life and I wrote so much poetry about that person that I decided to publish it. The act of putting my pain out in the world actually helped me heal and I’m so glad I did it. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish another poetry book again but I am so proud of the one I have out and baring that part of myself to the world was very freeing.

Sherri: What is the one thing you feel you’ve learned on this publishing journey? What do you wish you’d known before you started?

M.E. Wow just one thing – I feel like I’ve learned so much. The main thing I think I didn’t think was as important as I do now is formatting. I don’t have a lot of extra funds and I did all the formatting and editing myself. It took me ages and tons of research, but I found that it made a big difference when I actually published it.

I was lucky to have friends that had self-published with KDP before I had and warned me to do my homework and learn how it worked before jumping in and publishing. That is one of the reasons I chose to publish THOAH first. I do love that story but it wasn’t my best work and in my mind I felt that if I messed it up at least it wouldn’t be one of my best works and I could learn from my mistakes.

Also editing is such a huge deal. I know everyone harps on that but it’s true. I wonderful story can come across as subpar if it isn’t properly edited. I can’t afford a professional editor so I send it to as many people as I can and read and listen to it aloud numerous times before I publish it in the hopes of catching as many mistakes as possible.

Sherri: Has your writing changed since you became published?

M.E.: This is another difficult question to answer because I only have two books published and my first book wasn’t truly indicative of my current writing style as I’ve mentioned before. I don’t think my writing has changed too much but little things have shifted. I’ve learned how to show better, and I try to stay away from adverbs more than I used to. I think the biggest change is that I’ve taken to writing in present tense instead of past tense. I find it helps me get into the story better in most cases and it is a lot of fun to write.

Sherri: What do you hope a reader gets from your stories and poems?

M.E.: All I’ve ever wanted is for one person to enjoy my stories, to have them mean something to them, and I have more than achieved that goal. I try to write relatable characters that struggle through things either I went through or someone I know has been through. I want to show my readers that they aren’t alone – even if it’s only a fictional character in a book that they can relate to, someone out there is with them.

I can’t even begin to explain how much reading and books in general have improved my life, and I’m so happy to have my books exist out there in the world and to maybe be that safe space for others that so many stories were for me.

Sherri: What are you working on now?

M.E.: My current novel I’m working on is called Take His Place. It’s a story featuring a journalist named James who is stuck in a dead end relationship that is going nowhere. He finds himself falling for a stripper named Logan that he meets at his best friend’s bachelor party. James tries to forget about him but he keeps turning up where he least expects him. James isn’t a cheater, but he can’t deny that Logan makes him happier than his boyfriend ever has.

It’s basically a fluffy romance filled with some sensitive topics like poverty and an emotionally abusive relationship. I think a lot of people can find something to enjoy and relate to in it and I’m excited to share this book with the world since I think it’s much better written than anything I’ve ever published before.

Sherri: What are your writing and publishing goals for future?

M.E.: Now that I have found self-publishing I have tons of plans to release most of the stories I’ve written, which is too many to count. After Take His Place is published, I plan to release a collection of short stories that I’ve written over the past few years. I also have an angel/demon love story I want to touch up and try to publish as well but that one needs a lot of work before it will be ready to see the light of day.

Sherri: What would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time?

M.E.: Don’t give up on your writing.

There were so many times I stopped writing because people told me “you’ll never make it as an author” and I believed them even though that has always been my dream. I even changed my major from English to computer programming because my friends and even my mentors managed to convince me that I would never do anything but teach with that degree. I am so glad I eventually found my way back to writing but sometimes I wonder if I had never given up on myself in the first place if I would have ten published books right now instead of just two. I try not to dwell on the past but that is one thing I wish I could impart to my younger self.

Sherri: What do you feel is your greatest achievement so far?

M.E.: I know this sounds sort of silly but I think having Halo Scot read and review my book has been the best part of publishing so far. I love Halo so much as both an author and a person and to have them not only read but enjoy my book meant the world to me!

Sherri: What is the hardest part of being an author, especially an indie author?

M.E. For me personally it is marketing. I am a writer, not a salesperson, and I find pushing my book and getting it out there to the public is the hardest thing for me to do. I have tried tons of people’s advice regarding ads and review programs with little luck. At the end of the day, my best tactic has been making connections on twitter. Even so my book sales have been low but even one sale makes me happy when I realize my story is out there in the world.

Sherri: If you were giving a Keynote address to a group of young writers, what would you tell them?

M.E.: I think at the end of the day my main message would be write what you want to write. Tell your story. So many authors have these rules for writing or worry so much about what is popular or what will sell, but I believe if you truly love your book and you are willing to put the time and effort into it to polish it then you should do it.

Fear and doubt deter so many of us, myself included, but I wish I had taken the plunge and started publishing earlier. Maybe someone will read this and decide to publish their story instead of wait. I wish even one person had told me that when I was struggling with my desire to write.

Sherri: Thank you for stopping by my Creekside Café. If y’all liked my talk with M.E. Aster, check out his links below and follow him on social media. Come see us again real soon.

Three Halves of a Whole https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L397SPF/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_pGK6EbV358K1X

fairytales: a poetry collection https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0863T198P/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_fJK6EbHBTTJSM

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/M-E-Aster/e/B07KVKQPJX/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ME_Aster