Local Eugene author interview with James Aaron

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was 4 or 5 years old, in my first year of school. I remember sitting on the floor of my English classroom, deep into a book about a magician and a dragon, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.

I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, or even specifically what the story was about. But I remember the feeling of being transported into another world. No matter what was going on in my young life (and there was a lot that was hard), I could pick up a book and be somewhere else. That may sound like escapism, but books, along with music, kept me alive and kicking through some difficult and trying years.

I still go to books when life feels overwhelming (and even when it doesn’t). Nothing helps me cope like a good story.

And in an effort to support other writers (and justify my love of reading), here’s the first in hopefully many blog posts about fellow Eugene authors.

James Aaron

Eugene author James AaronLast March, I was in what seemed like a minor car accident — just a rear-end collision at fairly low speed. But it gave me a concussion and a whole lot of nerve pain in my left shoulder and arm (which is still healing). The concussion bowled me over, as far as its impact on my life. For more than a week, I sat on my couch in a daze, unable to drive or work or do much of anything.

I wrote about the experience a few days later in this blog post. That short post took me a couple of days to write and edit and post, because I could stand to look at a screen only for a few minutes before my brain was exhausted and I needed to rest.

Fortunately, I discovered that I was able to still read. So I sat on my red couch and read a whole lot of books, took some naps and let my brain rest enough to get better.

Emerald EmergentOne of the books I read during that time was Emerald Emergent by local Eugene author James Aaron, whose book I had recently stumbled upon in a lovely series of small events.

I met James at last Spring’s Wordcrafters writing conference the weekend before the accident. He sat next to me, tapping away on a clackity smart typewriter thing with a tiny screen. He introduced me to the tall guy (Justin Tindel) in the EWA (Eugene Writers Anonymous) shirt and got me hooked up to their Facebook group.

Which is where James posted a link to Emerald Emergent, on sale that week on Amazon.com. I bought it, downloaded it, and got on with life, until I got whacked over the head by the universe.

So, there I was, sitting on the couch, wondering how to occupy myself, and opened my Kindle and found James’ book. Away I went, on an adventure outside of the confines of my healing body and brain.

I loved the book. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s a fast-paced young adult sci-fi adventure with characters I connected to and a world that I totally got into. My only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And that there are terrifying dog-sized spiders (not really a complaint, but they were terrifying).

The Voices in the WoodsHere’s the thing that I also loved. I found a couple of typos in the book and contacted James about them through Facebook. (“Hi, I just read your book and it was great, but here are some typos I found…hope you don’t mind.”) He was gracious and grateful to know about them, and sent me an advance copy of the next book in the Emerald of Elegaia series, The Voices in the Woods, which I happily proofread for him.

Sadly for me, James has been taking a break from the Emerald of Elegaia series to work on some other books — he published two more novels last year (making a total of four in 2016): Ground Private Parvel and The Dead Miner’s Mother. And I’m sure he has more in the works.

An interview with James Aaron

Fortunately for all of us, James was happy for me to pepper him with questions about his books and how he goes about writing and publishing them. As an independent author, he gets to do the whole thing himself, figuring it all out along the way.

How long have you been writing books?

I tried to write my first novel in high school and got my first taste of professional rejection when Del Rey sent me a very nice form letter. I wrote another novel in my twenties.

It’s only in the last two years that I’ve been focused on writing in a dedicated way: writing every day, taking part in writing groups, and submitting to magazines. I guess I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, but the conditions to actually be able to write have only presented themselves recently. There were other times when I thought I wanted to take a class or join a group, went once, and just never went back. I don’t know why the thought of it made me so anxious back then, but something clicked two years ago and it’s been a lot of fun since then.

Why did you start writing?

I started reading seriously when I was thirteen or fourteen, and something about the experience of reading made me want to try it myself. I wrote mostly imitation back then. I guess if fanfiction had existed, that’s what I was writing. But it was fun and it gave me something to do after school. I had a computer and I wasn’t allowed to play games on it, so the only thing I could really do with it was write.

Where did the idea for Emerald Emergent come from?

I’m fascinated by the idea of the eternal return, that civilizations have risen and fallen across the millennia and their bones are always waiting to be discovered. I wanted to create a world where people live with the effects of those previous worlds, where your backyard might turn out be filled with ancient tech that might hurt or help you. . . so that was the seed of what became Emerald’s story. Now I’m on the process of building out some of the events that come long before her time.

What was the reception to it?

Readers have really enjoyed it, but there haven’t been as many readers as I would have liked. In publishing Emerald and Voices, I learned a lot about how Amazon works, what the readers there are looking for, and it lead me to change directions with the latest novels. I’ll still go back to the other stories to finish them. I wrote more to reader expectations with Ground Private Parvel, and it’s already beat the sales of the other two books in just two weeks.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wanted to learn about publishing as it currently stands. I was part of a small press from 2000 – 2009, and spent a lot of time editing books, designing them, getting them printed and then selling through bookstores and online. We quit just before the ebook revolution really took off, so we missed that boat. I went to a few talks with authors whose books were so professionally produced that I didn’t realize they were self-published. That was a huge wake-up call for me that the market had changed, and it was possible to produce a book yourself that could compete and succeed in the market.

I also like the level of control self-publishing allows, and that I can quickly experiment and then shift to something new if what I tried doesn’t work, without spending a huge amount of money. I like that I can see nearly instantaneous sales data. I’ve also found a really supportive community of authors who share information from an abundance mentality, making it possible to be more successful with what I try.

What have you learned from the process so far?

Community is one of the most important parts of writing these days. Find yourself a writing group. Whether you’re focused on the traditional publishing route, self-publishing or something in-between, there are other people in your area or online doing the same thing. It’s so much more fun when you can share your wins and commiserate over your losses, and hopefully help someone else avoid the same mistakes. Writing is work, but it’s so much more fun when you like your co-workers. The idea of the author struggling alone is a myth that no longer holds true.

I never got to meet Jay Lake, but I remind myself of his advice almost every day as I think about my writing journey:

  • Write a story every week (for me this is write every day)
  • Finish everything you start
  • Don’t self-critique while writing
  • Work on one thing at a time (I am mostly good at doing this)

I remind myself that writing is a journey, and I won’t get anywhere if I don’t get the words out, share them, and keep moving forward. We live in a time where feedback is everywhere, in reviews and writing groups and places you least expect. . . don’t let negative feedback stop you from telling your story. Think about the feedback from all directions but don’t let it stop you from creating. The worst thing you could do in response to negative feedback is to stop creating.

I still work full-time and don’t plan on leaving my day job anytime soon, so my writing process is based on getting up everyday at 5am and doing the work. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m doing my best. I finish everything I start, and I write at least a thousand words a day. They might not always be the best words, but I feel better once I’m done.

Anything else you want to share?

I love to hear from readers. You can email me at james@jamesaaron.net or join my newsletter list at jamesaaron.net/list.

Being part of a community of writers and readers is the best part of all of this for me. I love to read/hear a great story, and if I’m able to share my own and have it connect with someone, that’s the best feeling.

Knitting love into Christmas stockings

For the past 3 Christmases, I’ve found myself knitting Christmas stockings for folks who don’t have one.

Honoka's christmas stockingThe first one was for our exchange student, Honoka. Christmas in Japan isn’t anything like it is in the U.S. and, even if she had a Christmas stocking, it’s not like she would have thought to pack it and bring it with her.

I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I’d knitted enough socks that I decided I could figure it out. I poked around on a few websites and came up with some designs and just went for it. It turned out pretty well, for a week-before-Christmas project, knitted on the sly to surprise her Christmas morning.

Cecilia's personalized Christmas stockingIt went over so well that, when we hosted, Cecilia, a French student intern, the following year (last year) I decided to knit another one. I didn’t want to keep the same pattern, though, so I got out some graph paper and experimented a bit. The snowflakes didn’t quite turn out the way I’d envisioned, but Cecilia was polite enough to smile and say thanks anyway.

This year, I had no one to knit a Christmas stocking for and I was a little sad.

Then, an online friend of mine posted that she was having a hard time this Christmas. We met 12 years ago on an online forum while we were both newly pregnant with our first kiddos and have kept in touch over the years, along with many of the other women also on the forum at the time. I was one of the first of this group of friends to get divorced and have my family change form. She’s one of the more recent friends to go through the experience, and this Christmas is particularly tough for her in terms of who has kids when.

Not only would she not get her kids until the afternoon of Christmas day, she said. But their dad, her ex-husband, wanted the stockings that his mom had knit for the kids. Fair enough. But it really bummed her out. She’d been the Santa of their family since the kids were born, the one staying up to fill the stockings and place presents under the tree. I’ve been through that first Christmas without the kids. I know how it feels.

Hand knitted personalized Christmas sstockingsSo I asked if I could knit them new stockings. It seemed like a small enough gesture. It wasn’t going to fix not having her kids Christmas Eve or morning, but maybe it’d bring a little Christmas joy back to her life — to know she’s loved and that, while traditions may change, it can still be OK. I couldn’t change any of the family stuff, the grief of loss after divorce, the heaviness that the holidays can sometimes bring. But I could make sure her kids had another set of Christmas stockings, hand knitted with love.

She gladly accepted, gave me the kids’ favorite colors and I got to work. Red for Charlie, yellow for Jack and purple and blue for Eva. Ten days later, the 3 stockings were done, and (with some financial help from the rest of our online group of mom friends) I got them in the mail (global expedited) to fly across the country to her in time for Christmas. Phew!Personalized Christmas stockings

I’ve decided to incorporate spontaneous and deliberate acts of kindness into my life. I want to live in a world where people do good things for others. Where people leave love notes from the universe on car windows and toilet stall doors. Where people buy coffee for the people behind them in line. Where friends reach out to each other and offer unexpected ways to help and offer love and support. Where schools are funded, neighbors offer hot showers when your power is out, and people come together in times of need. And a whole lot of other things, too, but you get the point.

I’ve always liked the (mis)quote attributed to Ghandi – Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Here’s the actual quote, which works even better for me. For me to live in a world with those qualities, I must embody them, in my actions, my thoughts, my words.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Back to the Christmas stockings. If you’d like to have a go at making them, here’s my version of a pattern to guide you. You can also download the PDF here.

Hand Knit Personalized Christmas Stocking Pattern

Here are the basic knitting instructions. I knit these toe up on 2 circular needles. I use Lion’s Brand Vanna’s Choice yarn, as it’s nice and thick and has a good loft, on 5.5 mm needles.

Choose several Christmas-y colors (red, green, white, blue, purple, gold) and choose one color as the main color for the toe, heel and cuff.

Then pick the designs you like most for the foot and leg. If you’re new at intarsia knitting, go with simpler designs with two colors. Knitting intarsia in the round is also different from knitting it regular style (whatever that’s called – flat knitting, I think), as you’ll need to keep the yarn moving around the piece, rather than having several separate balls of yarn. You’ll also have a lot of yarn in the back of your work. Apparently this method breaks the rules of intarsia knitting — and yet it works just fine for me. Remember to not pull the strand(s) of color you’re not actively knitting too tight. Don’t leave them all loose and loopy, either, but allow them to have a bit of give. (It turns out I probably don’t do intarsia “correctly” in flat knitting either, but I manage to live with myself.) If you’d like to make some designs yourself, I used stitchfiddle.com to make the ones below.

Clearly, I’m not much of a rule follower and usually follow knitting patterns about as well as I follow recipes or anything else I’m told to do. I use them for the structure and foundation of the piece. And then I change things… So use this pattern as a guideline and feel free to make changes as you see fit. You hereby have my permission. 🙂

Toe:

With main color, cast on 16 stitches using Judy’s magic cast on.

Round 1: Knit all stitches

Round 2: Increase 1 stitch on each end.

On first needle, K1, M1, K each stitch to within one stitch of the end of the row, M1, K1.

Turn to second needle and repeat.

You’ll increase 4 stitches total.

Repeat these 2 rounds until there are 32 stitches on each needle (64 stitches total)

Foot:

Knit 30-32 rounds in pattern and colors of your choice.

Now you get to decide on the pattern you want to use. You can do plain stripes or fancy them up a bit with squares different colors. It’s your choice.

Heel:

Switch to main color and knit 2 rounds.

Turn heel using your favorite method. I use a short row method, wrapping stitches, that I learned from a book about knitting toe up socks. If you’ve got some other method that works for you, go for it. If you do it the short row, wrapped stitches way, knit short rows until there are 16 live stitches (that aren’t wrapped) and 8 wrapped stitches on either side.

Once you’ve turned the heel, knit 2 more rounds in the main color.

Leg:

Time for more pattern creativity.

You’ll knit about 50-52 rounds of pattern before you knit the name. So choose an intarsia pattern or two. Most of the main patterns are about 21 rounds (snowmen, santas, large trees, poinsettia). I usually do 1 main pattern plus 1 smaller pattern (small trees, zig zags or holly), then 3 more rounds of fancy stripes.

Name:

Create a chart for the name you want to knit onto the stocking. I use a chart I once found online at crochetdoilies.com, which I can no longer find on their website (but here it is on Pinterest). This chart is a little problematic for longer names as the letters are quite fat, but you can find lots of charts online and I like to adapt them with some graph paper and my imagination.

Knit 2 rounds in the color that will be the background for the name. Then knit the name chart, and knit 2 more rounds.

Cuff:

Switch to the main color (if it’s not the background for the name.) Knit 2 rounds.

Next round: knit 2, purl two in ribbing.

Knit 7 rows of ribbing.

Bind off loosely.

Hanger:

Cut 3 strands of yarn in the main colors used for the stocking and braid. Knot together at the cut end in a loop knot. Thread one end of the loop through the top of the stocking about 3 rows down and pass it back through itself to create the loop of the hanger.

The patterns:

Fancy stripes

fancy stripes for Christmas stocking

Holly

Holly knitting pattern for Christmas stocking

Simple tree

Simple tree pattern for Christmas stocking

Zig zags

Zigzag pattern for Christmas stocking

 Poinsettia

Poinsettia pattern for personalized Christmas stocking

Santa

Santa pattern for Christmas stocking

Snowman

Snowman pattern for Christmas stocking

Christmas tree

Christmas tree pattern for Christmas stocking

Doing kindness in my own way

Growing up, I was one of those kids who did things her own way. My mum called it either creativeness or stubbornness, depending on her mood and how far I’d pushed my boundaries that day. (I come by it naturally, she’s the woman who taught me that there’s an exception to every rule, and that she was usually the exception.)

And so I continue to be exceptional, in my own way.

This time it’s going into relative publicity seclusion after publishing three books this summer. That’s generally not the accepted plan. You’re supposed to publish your books, then show them off–and sell them–to everyone.

We did have a launch party for The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry in October (somehow timed to coincide with a wind storm). And I’ve had a few events where I’ve sold books. But no major splash. No huge push. Just write the books and get them out and hunker back down in the relative sanity of daily life. Which is why there’s been no update here.

Another new book

Communicate with SpiritOnce school started, I got swept up in the routine of my life. Fortunately, kids in school = writing time for me. Which produced another book, Led by Light: how to develop your intuitive mediumship abilities, that published at the end of October.

I’ve also been continuing to build my intuitive mediumship practice: seeing clients, mentoring students and teaching classes. In early November, we had our first public intuitive mediumship event, in which I and some of my students gave short readings to everyone in attendance. It went really well and we plan to do them regularly, every two or three months. I also taught a class on developing your intuition (and am working on a book on that subject) and am currently teaching a mediumship development introductory class. It turns out that I love teaching people things I know that can help them live better lives.

Making a living

Eugene Spirit Medium (the business’ current name, although I think I’ll change it at some point to be less location-specific) is becoming my “day job” for my writing career. In addition to that, I’m still doing freelance writing for the Register-Guard as well as commercial/business writing and editing for clients. Plus I’m the music coordinator for the Center for Spiritual Living Eugene. And the parental unit who does the grocery shopping, cooking, and operates the kid taxi service.

At some point, I’d like to consolidate my assorted businesses/ways of earning money to one or two things so I can focus more energy on them. That’s never been my strong point, though, even when I’ve had full-time jobs. Even if my primary role has been a writer of some kind (journalism, public relations, fundraising, web content), I’ve always incorporated various other skills to keep things interesting–like photography, videography, graphic design and web development. I can’t seem to help it. Fortunately, writing and marketing my books means I get to keep on doing a bunch of different things, not just writing.

On the writing side of things, my calculations show that I’ve earned just over $1,000 in book sales so far this year. Not a fortune by any means, but the four figures are strangely satisfying. As a new author, most of my income (which honestly isn’t that large at the moment due to my part-time paid work hours) comes from other forms of writing as well as my intuitive mediumship practice.

Practicing kindness

The other thing that’s been occupying a large amount of space in my brain and emotions is the U.S. elections. Without getting too far into politics and opinions (I’m probably about as socialist as you can get, which is unlikely to be a surprise to anyone who knows me), the results and the reactions to the results among the people I usually talk to has been emotionally overwhelming.

It’s taken me awhile to regroup.

To do that, I’ve heavily filtered political posts from my Facebook feed, removed my Facebook icon from my phone’s home screen (I have to go digging through my apps to find it now), turned off my Facebook notifications and largely stopped scrolling through Twitter. After taking a breather, I think I’m ready to stick my head back up and figure out what I can do while maintaining my sanity (and not triggering severe anxiety).

I realize I can’t fix the world (should the world want me to even try). But I can teach my children to be kind, open and unprejudiced. I can recognize my own privilege and understand that where I come from isn’t necessarily where other people come from. I can speak up when I see something happening that’s not right. And I can donate to organizations who can do the work that I, in my safe little world, can’t do directly.

I will also be kind and practice deliberate acts of kindness as often as possible. Give socks to people who are homeless. Help my friends learn how to independently publish or get their blogs set up. Buy coffee for the person behind me in line. Give up my parking space with a smile. Tell people I love them.

When I think about the root causes of our issues, the conclusion I come to is that we’re afraid. And that fear is rooted in lack: that we won’t have enough, that we have to take from others in order for us to have enough. I don’t believe that’s the real truth of the world. I believe there is enough. There’s enough money, enough parking spaces, enough jobs, enough time, enough people to buy all our books.

Since I’m a woo-woo woman who does things her own way, I can say that, ultimately, it comes down to love. It comes down to whether we’re able and willing to access the infinite love that is available to each one of us.

Being kind to each other brings out that love. Kindness is a concrete way of showing we believe in abundance.

I’m going to continue to believe that there’s enough love and abundance in this world and that we can experience it. I invite you to do the same.

Welcome baby #3: The Spiritual Symbols Workbook

I am clearly insane. At least slightly. And yet, I’ve done it. So perhaps a small dose of insanity is necessary to move forward in life.

Three books in three months. That what I said I’d publish this summer, and I have. One by one, I birthed them all into the world.

intuitive psychic symbols dictionary workbookThe Spiritual Symbols Workbook: Create your personal dictionary of intuitive, psychic and metaphysical symbols is here. I hit the great big PUBLISH button last week and a (very heavy) box arrived on my doorstep today.

Well, then.

I’ve been learning a lot this summer as I flail about through the process of independently publishing. I’ve made lots of mistakes (including forgetting to actually sign the books or take any photos at my first official book signing). But I’ve continued on, listening to my inner guidance and letting my inherent stubbornness (channeled into tenacity and determination) spur me forward through seeming obstacles and frustrations.

I realize now I have to sell all of these books, which is another matter. But they exist. (And I sold a coloring book out of the trunk of my minivan today, so they are moving.)

If you’re wondering what these books actually are, you can get a rundown of the Spiritual Symbols Coloring Book here, and something of an explanation of The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry here.

The Spiritual Symbols Workbook is a massive tome of more than 1,500 common psychic, spiritual and metaphysical symbols (in word form). You get to fill in the definitions.

We often receive information from Spirit in the form of symbols, whether that’s through our intuition, dreams or mediumship work. But what do those symbols mean — and what do they mean to you, specifically? We’re different people, so while symbols may have typical, archetypal meanings, that may not be what you connect with, or what I connect with.

If Spirit brings you a rose — in your dreams, as a flash of a symbol or through the scent of roses in the air (when you’re not next to a rose bush) — what does that mean to you? For me, roses = my mother. Especially if it’s the scent of a rose. But you may hate roses. Perhaps roses are connected with death for you (which means they could also mean the ending of a situation or relationship, not literal death). Or roses may come across to you as feeling thorny and prickly, something you need to watch out for.

Hence a fill-in-the-blank dictionary where you get to fill it all in.

Plus, it’s all organized into categories and subcategories, which are all alphabetized and indexed (that part wasn’t fun, but I learned something new).

My goal with the Intuitive Symbols Coloring Book and Spiritual Symbols Workbook is to help you access your innate intuition, first by waking it up through coloring meditation, then by giving you specific, low-stakes things to ask your intuition about: “What does this symbol mean?”

What you do with it from there is up to you.

My first novel, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies, is here

I’m not one for making yearly resolutions. Not the formal sort, anyway. And not at New Year’s.

I made a great list when I was 12 and realized those pretty much set me up for life. I review them every so often. Basically they are: Don’t be a jerk, to yourself or others, reiterated in a variety of ways (believe in yourself, be kind, be true to yourself, follow the Golden Rule, love yourself, etc.).

But this past January (when I also celebrate my birthday), I realized that, while I wasn’t likely to be nominated for one of those Under 40 awards in the next year, I could make another long-time dream reality. I could be a published author by 40.

And now I am.

children's book on grief divorce and stepfamiliesThe Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is my first published novel.

I started writing it in March 2015, during Camp NaNoWriMo (same as regular NaNoWriMo in November, essentially). I’d had the idea of writing a children’s book based around my family life, told from the point-of-view of my youngest daughter. She can illustrate the book, I thought. I can tell a heartwarming story about an nine-year-old girl dealing with the challenges of friendship, divorce, remarriage and step-siblings and the loss of loved ones.

And so I did, blatantly using my family as inspiration for and the form upon which the story hangs.

I quickly ran into troubles.

While we have the usual sibling squabbles, all my kids are far too nice, caring and kind to each other to create the tension and conflict a story needs. So my apologies to “Lynn,” who’s truly a great sister in real life, as you’ll see in an accompanying series, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Elliot, told from the perspective of Cherry’s brother.

The illustrator at work.

Berry, fortunately as she’s the main character, loved the idea. She read my first drafts and nodded her head in approval. When she claimed stomach aches prevented her from going to school, I handed her sheets of paper and said, “OK, you have to stay in bed and illustrate the book, then.” She did.She also let me tell the harder parts of her story – how she feels about losing my mum and our cat, Hobbes, as well as the changes that have happened to her family due to my divorce and remarriage. I’m grateful for her bravery and honesty.

The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.
The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.

There’s a lot in the story that’s drawn from our lives. And a lot that’s fiction. The splendid part of writing fiction is that you can change reality to make it work better for your story. That’s much harder in real life (though perhaps not impossible).

I won’t give the story away to tell you what’s true and what’s invented. Some of it you can figure out for yourself. Some you may never know.

But I do want to make sure you know about one thing. When you get to the part about the pancakes, mystery pancakes were really my idea. 🙂

The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is an early middle grade novel for readers age 6-9 (grades 1-3).