Ashleigh Rajala [ashleighrajala]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I first read the back of milk cartons. But I mostly just looked at the pictures. It made the story easier to understand. Even at such a young age, I got it. The cows like eating daisies, they smile, while blinking their pop art eyelashes. They are happy to have their teats violated for me. I think from here I moved on to picture books, but those memories are all a little hazy. Must have been all the Children's Tylenol I was jacked up on.
I began to write in kindergarten. I had just learned a new skillset: the proper etiquette for eating paste. I was a sick kid (all the paste, of course) and spent about three weeks in hospital, during which I completed my opus. It was magnificent; something about a dinosaur. It glittered. I made a cover out of cardboard, which my mother had to sew together as the doctors had banned all paste.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I don't have a favourite, but I simply like what is good. Snobby, I know. My own work isn't a genre, but I think it blends a bit too much of pop culture with blogging with anything else that flits through my mind. It's a mutt. An ugly one at that.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I spend days, weeks, months, even years letting something fester in my mind. I have premises, plot point, characters, and cliches in my head that have been there for so long, they are now more a memory of a dream I had once. Some I will likely never actually get around to writing, and these characters will live on in my head like old imaginary friends. I think it borders on psychosis. I call this phase the Dreaming Phase (I just named it that right now).
I usually make random pages of notes, outlines, or even whole passages. Sometimes I draw crappy pictures of the characters. It makes me feel like a fangirl of my own unwritten work. I'm a scatterbrain stereotype. I have tons of stuff half-finished in draft form, random pieces of paper or napkins shoved in folders, scribbles, index cards. One day, I tell myself, I will organize all this. I call this the Literary Vomit Phase (not as idealistic as the Dreamer Phase, I know, but accurate).
After awhile, when there is one project that I am particularly persuaded by, I will take all this Literary Vomit and attempt to organize it into something recognizable to humans. Usually this involves more scribbly notes and diagrams, but I've since developed a fancy system of index cards. I learned this trick when writing term papers in university. I write each plot point or imagined scene so far on a separate index card, put them in a sensible order, then simply fill in the holes until I've fleshed out the story. (I call this the Way-To-Get-My-S**t-Together Phase.)
After that, I write. (The Hallelujah Phase)
After that, I edit. Obsessively. Sometimes for years. (The Purgatory Phase)
When satisfied, I will publish. Either online or in print. (The Rolaids Phase... very relieving)
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Usually something that makes me shoot whatever I happen to be eating/drinking out my nose. Kidding. I have friends who are inspired by plot and subject matter, which I love, but I must admit, it's just a well-wrought sentence that gets me.
For a story of any kind, structure and organization is incredibly important. This, you can teach. A good editor can help you with this. With strict guidance and good self-awareness, any writer can create a well-plotted piece. Yet, when you break writing down to the base elements, like sentences and word choice, you just can't teach that. Some are born great... and the rest haven't a hope in hell. You can try to be Douglas Coupland, but you likely won't succeed. My entire life is living up to this unattainable goal.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Baking Soda and/or Powder (depending on the genre).
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
For fiction, I like reading third person, but I like writing first person. I find that when I write, I have a third-person voice and tone that is distinctly different from my first-person voice and tone. More serious. More godlike, perhaps? My first person is lighter. Self-deprecating.
For non-fiction, I like reading first person, but write (unless blogging) third person. I think this is an academic hangover from university where you got the figurative strap for using the subjective "I". This always bothered me, as all writing, non-fiction or not, is subjective. I like journalists that acknowledge their perspective. It contains a self-reflexivity that is lacking in a lot of media.
What well known writers do you admire most?
My tastes are varied, but polar, from classic to eccentric. I admire: Douglas Coupland, Oscar Wilde, Upton Sinclair, Marjane Satrapi, Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, and I love Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker. I've peed myself a little laughing at some of his lines.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
To have some frame of reference to the the reader's existing knowledge, whether through realism or intertextuality. This is best achieved through solid character development and a strong character arc, but I like to cheat and that means cheap cultural references and/or ripping off famous characters.
In my defence, one can argue that in our postmodern condition, there is no such things as original characters or "real" characters, only the tangled intertextual references that make up our knowledge of the world and literature, so I'm not really cheating, I'm living up to the standards our society has degraded to.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No. I'm terrible. I applaud the written word because I am much more charming in print.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I think myself... and my imagined public. I've been writing since before I can remember even writing. I think I just assumed that since books existed, everyone wrote them. To be honest, I don't even question why I write, I just do it. To stop now would be worse than quitting smoking or losing a limb. It would be the same as ceasing to eat real food and just getting all your nutrients from Soylent Green. Yes. It would be exactly the same as that.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
I don't write with the goal to solve a personal crisis, but it works out that way anyway. You can't help but pour yourself into each and every character. They are a fragment of your psyche, good or ill. So many things I've written, finished, unleashed unto the world, then read awhile later only to think, "wow, I remember exactly what I was going through then." I can see in the characters. The conflicts they overcome, the story archs they go through, whether literal or allegorical, they are some conflict you see within your own life. It's really escapism for the author, not the reader. This never really clicked with me until I read Aristotle's Poetics, and I completely connected with his notion of Catharsis. It completely bridged the 3000-year gap. I think Ari and I would be good drinking buddies.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Screw the bastards. No one really understands me. Kidding. I do listen. I just don't usually act on the constructive criticism until after I've burned all their photographs.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I hold an annual competition in which I am the only participant. I always win. I always lose.
It involves me digging through my boxes of notes, pouring through my shelves of manuscripts, and going through an entire bottle of wine.
The only rewards are tears. Usually.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
No. I think I should, but I've yet to find someone I really trust to give me an honest answer. Perhaps, also, I'm afraid they WILL give me an honest answer and I don't want to hear it.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
Your voice changes as you do. I'm only twenty-five. I'm still growing into myself. I look back on work I've written when I was an angsty teenager, and I definitely see a different voice there. It is still me, but just like the paste-eating kindergartener was still me. (I am proud to say I am twenty years on the No Paste wagon.)
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
Ha ha, "discipline," that's a good one. I am reminded of a Douglas Adams quote: "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
The only schedules I've had to adhere to are ones imposed on me by others I'm working with. When I do create a schedule or deadline or goal that immediately causes me to work against it. Call me a self-saboteur, but it's the rebellious streak I just can't break. I will even miss appointments I've made for myself, then giggle with a revolution'ry fever as I look at my watch knowing I've skipped it. I then feel a slight thrill as I stub out a cigarette, straighten my black beret and untuck my Che t-shirt.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
The Chicago Manual of Style, so I can spot errors like "help your concentrate".
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
In the past I'd chip away at blocks of stone, slowly, over time. I worked on a lot of monumental architecture, also some translation work. My most famous piece was picked up by the British Museum. Apparently it helped a lot of archaeologists immensely.
Recently, however, I usually make notes on paper-type substances, but actually write on my laptop. I have to correct on paper. I need to see it at its most beautiful before I start my relentless editing tirade. It's the same when I edit other people's work. You need to look at a hard copy. Your mind reads more critically when reading print. It's been proven. In, like, studies and stuff.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
The wonderful world of blogs. My own personal one being ashleighrajala.blogspot.com . I also have an online bucket list, fortytwothings.blogspot.com , as well as a series of short stories I've written online: savannahstories.blogspot.com (but careful, it's an old edition and needs to be updated).
Twitter (twitter.com/ashleighrajala), because life is just like that now.
Facebook, because life was just like that last year.
And various sites that I comment frequently on, like totalfilm.com, guardian.co.uk, and others.
What has been your experience with publishers?
I'm a firm believer in the punk rock philosophy of Do-It-Yourself. Get yourself out there. Spend time in your community, either online or in the real world. There are subcultures of people who will accept you and your work with open arms. Try online distros and bookstores. We sell our zine at a co-op bookstore in downtown Vancouver. We don't make money until it sells, which is fine with us. It's the same with my print-on-demand publisher, www.lulu.com, who sell the book on their website. I can direct anyone who wants a copy to the website, and they will print and ship the single copy to them. Brilliant! I've yet to find a drawback. In an economic world where book publishing has been hit harder than ever, it's a bloody godsend that POD technology exists. Very few writers are millionaires anyway, and those who really want their work out there can do it. Easily. I've not gone the route of traditional publishers before, not to say that I won't in the future. I like controlling my whole project. It feels more like mine. It makes me feel like a true creative artist rather than a hack. (Not to say professional writers are hacks. They're not. Some of them.)
What are you working on now?
I'm always working on a millions things. A writing project is like smoking. You've never really quit it, you've only just stopped FOR NOW.
Of the most recent are (by what Phase they are at):
The Dreamer Phase: A poetry chapbook documenting my four-month trip to Europe last fall. I've currently written TWO poems. Hardly a whole book.
The Literary Vomit Phase: A feature-length screenplay (working title: The Art of Atrocity) about a neototalitarian regime and the coup that overthrows it. I think of this when listening to the Clash. Might just be a musical. Will never, ever, ever get made.
Way-To-Get-My-S**t-Together Phase: A feature-length screenplay (working title: Unrequited), a film-within-a-film about a filmmaker who decides to make a film about all those unrequited loves in her past and finds things getting a little icky/embarrassing.
The Hallelujah Phase: Nothing. Sadly.
The Purgatory Phase: Designing and editing the latest issue of Hacksaw Literary Arts Magazine (hacksawzine.blogspot.com), a magazine I edit and co-founded with Taryn Hubbard (tarynhubbard.blogspot.com).
The Rolaids Phase: A book of short stories that I've published through Lulu.com, The Savannah Stories, Series One: The Frampton Menace. Just made available to order last night. (http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/the-savannah-stories-series-one-the-frampton-menace/6618247)
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Make a commonplace book or create a blog, even if you don't share it with anyone. Just create whatever you want, and look at it like a creative chronology of your own life. Maybe even put a commentary to it, or an analysis from your perspective today. What have you learned from reviewing this old work? How much have you changed since then? You've have a fun, creative time, gain a little perspective, and grow a little self-aware. It's beautiful. I revisit old stuff all the time.
Name three contemporary directors or producers that you admire.
If you were sent to a deserted island, which book, CD and film would you take with you?
CD - London Calling - The Clash
Book - Oil! - Upton Sinclair
Film - Amelie
In your lifetime, what is the best news you have ever seen printed?
"Black Man Given Worst Job in America." - the Onion headline when Obama was elected.
To which other place in the world would you move without hesitation?
A word or expression that you love.
courtesy of Douglas Coupland, in Eleanor Rigby
If you were to return reincarnated, which real-life person would you like to be?
What do you think of the squatter "movement"?
It's an absolute shame that in so-called enlightened society there can be such a huge disparity between rich and poor that some people are homeless on the streets and others can leave houses empty.
Does brand name influence your buying habits?
I almost wrote "Never." But that's not reading the question properly. It does influence my buying habits, but in the sense that I will often avoid buying something because of its brand name.
What books are you currently reading?
I'm always usually about half-way through a dozen or so books. The ones I can think of right now are:
Louis Riel - Chester Brown
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
The Prison Letters of Antonio Gramsci
Illuminations - Walter Benjamin
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson
The new Clash book, you know the bright pink coffee table one.
And I just bought The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, so I will likely start that tonight.
Places in the world that you have visited recently.
I just returned from a quarter-life grand European tour (backpacking, of course). They countries I am surprised I am not banned from are:
The countries I am banned from:
Estonia (screw you, Estonia, screw you)
(Just kidding, Estonia was awesome. Two carbon footprint-friendly thumbs up.)
What do you use: Mac or PC and why?
My laptop is a Mac. I got it four years ago and no problems. I picked a Mac because my first computer (back in the 80s, foo') was a Mac Classic. You know, those old, adorable boxes that Steve Wozniak uses as a bedside table? About mid-nineties, we got our first PC. First of a million. They would last just over a year and eff up so bad I knew that Mac compatible aliens hovering around Earth were laughing their asses off at us. Yet, the Mac Classic was (IS!) still going strong. This made me pick an iBook. The only downside: I've played Carmen Sandiego so many times on that Classic, that I know all the answers ten seconds into the first round. Drats.
How do you kill time?
With silver bullets. Oh wait, that's werewolves.
What matters more in deciding your vote: the party, the candidate, or the ideas?
Idealistically, they are one and the same. Here in the Can-uh of Duh, the candidate is just the leader of the party. He holds no real power outside his party. The ideas are *really* what it's all about, and certain parties should be aligned with the platforms they are based on. Not always reality, but a nice thought. (I'm glad I'm not a Brit who voted Labour in 1997.)
Two-party systems are on the rise: is this good for politics?
God no. Democracy thrives on choice... preferably NOT the choice between the lesser of two evils. I even applaud minority governments.
Should any territory have the right of self-determination if a majority of the population votes in favour of doing so?
Without getting into the specific details... Yes. Power to the people. But maybe make the votes unanimous. Like you need a two-thirds majority to pass it.
Are there peoples more civilized than others? Or is it merely a question of cultural differences?
It is definitely a question of cultural differences. Cultural relativism is sadly ignored. We need to remember that even little things we take for granted as 'truths' or 'facts' have a cultural bias. For instance, seeing the world in dichotomy (good/evil, black/white, male/female, true/false, etc) is a preconception of western culture, as is the notion of time being a linear phenomenon, as is reason and logic and other tenants of western philosophy. Like everything else in life, it's complicated and messy, which is why I think people find it easier to hide behind ignorance.
Does globalisation help in the development of the world's poorest countries, or does it perpetuate conditions of exploitation?
That depends under what system globalisation operates. Globalisation under the current form of capitalism simply casts a further net of exploitation. Dickensian labourers trapped in factories of the Industrial Revolution (Marx's proletariat) still exist today. Those exploited workers are just in a different country. If anything, things are worse under globalisation, because we don't see this exploitation first hand. It's not happening under our noses. Out of sight, out of mind. The people in the world's poorest countries that ARE helped by globalisation are those that already control the means of production in those countries.
Should a maximum limit of permissible personal fortune exist; and thereby, place limits on individual wealth?
Like the salary cap in the NHL? Hm, interesting question. I want to say yes, but there are so many repercussions to consider. This would have to happen under much more socialist conditions that currently exist in western countries.
Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
Pro-Choice, because it's not Pro-Abortion, it's Pro-CHOICE. Every human being should have the right to choose what happens with their body. At the embryonic stage, I firmly believe that this mass of cells is no more a human being than an extra finger is. It is not sentient yet, so I would not call it a person. With that said, I believe that we need far better sex education in schools to prevent young women from being in that position in the first place. I have a friend who, as a maternity nurse, has come across teenagers who have had almost two dozen abortions. I also have a friend, who, due to an disability, would likely die if she tried to carry a baby to term. When we can't make a black and white yes or no decision, we need CHOICE to help with the grey area.
Are you in favor of or against the death penalty?
Against. 'An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.' Didn't someone intelligent say something to that effect?
Should homosexual couples have the same right to adopt as heterosexual couples?
Of course. There is no good reason why not.
Do you believe that the world crisis can bring positive changes to social values?
Definitely. I am an optimist regarding the big picture outcomes of this financial crisis. I think (hope) it means that it will bring an end to the current conditions of: rampant consumerism, unchecked capitalism, industrial globalization, media conglomerates, and so many other horrible things. I believe (hope) this can bring about a world with: further government support in health, education, social housing, and more; a vibrant artistic underground, with talented, socially-conscious artists not concerned with making money; a re-emergence of the social community, with independent shops and local food and products; a new sustainability that will heal our environment; and hopefully, an end to the alienated individual.
Where does science end and ideology begin?
They are not separate. Science itself is an ideology. You have to believe in science. To believe in the scientific method is to believe that a universal truth exists and that logic, reason, and testable hypotheses are the way to reach it.
It just happens to be what I believe in, but at least I know that it is a belief.
If the ticket price for a football match is twice the regular price for those 12 years of age or older, and your child turned twelve yesterday, what age would you say your child is?
Eleven. Of course. By age twelve, I'd like to think that my child wouldn't even have to think about this one either.
Please list three important words for the world today.
Future is Unwritten