I've just realised that I've been reading your LJ on and off since I was 15. I am now 21. Bearing in mind that this is an awesome thing, what do you think keeps people coming back to it?
Hm. Maybe it's a paradoxical sense of unchanging variety--I'd like to think that I talk about different things over time, but I have a consistent voice that you know you'll enjoy (I hope).
I think it's also, in great part, the people who read the journal themselves. Half the fun happens in the comments, and people are not only friendly and civil, but have become really protective of that atmosphere. John Scalzi just gave an interview to this effect the other day (NO I AM NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO JOHN SCALZI): "There are so many places on the web [where] you can't have a conversation that when you find one where you can, you want to hug it to your chest and defend it." So I hope that's one of the reasons people keep coming back--that we are, in fact, able to have nice things.
I get the impression that you're slightly bemused by your internet fame. Is it your Southerness kicking in or are you genuinely bemused?
Now that you mention it, I think being Southern might actually have a lot to do with the way I feel about that. (For example, the way I feel compelled to be all NO NO I AM NOT INTERNET FAMOUS, INTERNET FAMOUS IS NOT FAMOUS, OMG DON'T SAY THAT NO every time someone brings it up.) There's a certain brand of Southern femininity that is very much about being a good girl, polite and modest, never getting in the way, never making a fuss or a splash, and if you get any kind of attention at all, good or bad, you feel a sick, sharp need to apologize for it *immediately.* But it's a natural human impulse to want to create or perform and then hope that people like what you did and feel good about that. But if you're a certain kind of Southern girl, receiving that attention also makes you really uncomfortable, even though it's exactly what anyone would naturally want. [A friend of mine phrases it as, "Look at me! (DON'T LOOK AT ME!!!)"] It makes you feel like other people will now think you are a bad person, that you must be conceited and egotistic, and it is now your urgent job to apologize and atone for that. And I actually HAVE seen people say things like, "Who does she think she is?" and "After her book came out, her head got SOOOO BIG," or even a few questions down, "Did you honestly just compare yourself to Jon Stewart?" If you are a certain type of Southern girl, things like that are really, really, irrationally upsetting.
And what makes that mindset so hard to fight is that there's a grain of truth in it. If you get positive feedback of any kind, you really do have to temper it with a certain amount of perspective--not believe your own hype, as the expression goes. It's just that the overly-modest people-pleaser Southern girl mindset takes that one step too far, and you actually feel panic when someone says that you've done well.
Do you have a day job? I don't want to stalk you or anything, I just want to know if you can make ends meet with your writing or if you have something on the side.
Suffice it to say that someone who gets into writing for the money is in the wrong line of work.
How tall are you?
How are the Shelfarians these days?
Well, where we left off in the story is way behind where we are these days. Let's just say... dramatic. And hateful of squirrels.
I have to ask about Alabama, of course. Birmingham kind of lacks the organized creative community you might find in Austin, TX, or San Francisco. Do you feel this is a disadvantage or an advantage to you as a writer?
It lacks a bit of organization, but as Neil Gaiman pointed out on his blog after he read at the University of Alabama last month, there was an overwhelming response and hunger for writers to come down here.
We do have schools with some good writing programs, a great writers' conference at BSC, a fairly good music scene (as I understand it), and a great film festival. So I think it's all there, and that people want a creative/artistic community. The real problem may be that we don't have enough funding or outreach--which may be another way of saying "organization," yes.
What I've said before is that I feel like there's far more opportunity in a place like Birmingham than there is in, say, New York. New York is lousy with writers and artists; you're one more minnow in the lake there. An area with a lot of undeveloped potential--that's a place where you can actually make some kind of difference.
Where's your favorite place to go out to eat?
You know, when I think about it... most of my favorite places are Mexican. The Iguana Grill has a great smoked jalapeno salsa and all these great star-shaped lanterns crammed in, beautiful decor; Cocina Superior has a really great cheese dip and you can sit out on their glassed-in balcony; Sabor Latino is really cheap but still pretty good, and one of our favorite places to eat when we were in college. (Also, dollar margaritas on Wednesdays.) I also really like New York Pizza (the Fire Island Fajita pizza is great, it comes with salsa... wait) and Surin West, a Thai/Chinese place downtown (one of the few places that makes chicken-fried rice the way I like it. Also, good creme brulee, oddly enough).
What is your favorite piece or story from your own writing?
I wrote a poem called "Verdandi" that I think turned out really well; I don't know that I've ever posted it. I did post a short story called "Strength" that I liked.
If you had to be a piece of pasta, what type of pasta would you be and why? :)
Farfalle. They seem festive.
When did you know you wanted to write for a living and how did you go about making that happen? Do you regret that decision? Help us aspiring writers out :)
I was about three years old; I told my mother, who read to me a lot, that I wanted to make books. When you decide something at that early an age, you don't really ever consider anything else, only how to get better at it.
Is the main protagonist of "Black Ribbon" male or female?
It's really about both Rose Hannah and West, although it might be weighted more towards Rose now.
Have you ever done/would you ever do "Newsies" in Fifteen Minutes? It's a cult musical with a scantily-dressed barely-of-age Christian Bale- what could go wrong?
So many, many things.
I there a word you constantly misspell or grammar rule that always trips you up?
"Vacuum" drives me crazy, because I keep wanting to put two Cs in it. And for some reason--I never had trouble with it before--I've apparently gone stupid in my thirties, because I have trouble remembering that "embarrassment" has two Rs but "harassment" only has one. (Doesn't it? OH GOD I DON'T KNOW!)
Do you ever worry that a critical position you've taken in semi-obcurity (despite Pen-Named internet stardom) will come back to bite you when your book(s) come out and you become a public figure under your own name?
It could happen, but I have generally tried to be careful from the beginning, knowing that nothing is ever really lost--or private--on the internet, and that anything you say might as well be shouted in public.
That said, if, one of these future days, someone decided to surprise-introduce me to Stephenie Meyer at some kind of publishing thing, it would be AAAAWKWAAAAARD.
Did people always think clowns were scary/creepy or is this a post 1970 development?
I never got around to finishing my degree in clownology, so I can't really say with any degree of confidence.
Do you think differently as "Cleolinda" than as yourself? (i.e. is there a time when you are chatting in real life and you think, "that's a real Cleolinda thing to say"?)
See, the thing is, Cleolinda is me. "Cleolinda" and "Lauren" are the same person; I just use one name online and one name offline as a way of setting boundaries. I write my journal entries exactly the way I talk. If you listen to me talk on the Made of Fail podcast, you'll hear it--I use exactly the same pet phrases, the same sentence structures, the same intonations. My mother read a Q&A-style interview I did a few months back and even said, "Was she recording you and then transcribing it... no? Oh, wow, you wrote this exactly the way you talk." So "Cleolinda" really isn't a separate persona; it's just a second name.
That said, sometimes I nearly slip up IRL and give Cleo as my real name, like when waiting on a table at a restaurant. Because, you see--contrary to the way a lot of people write dialogue in books--people don't actually address you by name very often, unless they're actually trying to get your attention. So it's not like, "Hey, Lauren, what were you thinking about having for dinner, Lauren? Because I was thinking about ordering pizza, Lauren." By contrast, all day long, I'm seeing my email inbox, my user comments, my Twitter feed, my website logins, and all of them say "cleolinda." That's the name that gets visually reinforced all day long, and so sometimes, if I'm tired or not thinking about it, "Cleo" will creep into real life.
Is sweet tea a more typically "southern" beverage than lemonade?
Definitely; "sweet tea is the house wine of the South," as they say (where is that from--"Steel Magnolias"?). I mean, don't get me wrong, we have plenty of lemonade. But there is definitely something intrinsically Southern about sweet tea. To wit:
I read "The Gift of Fear" based on your evangelical praise for it - totally worth it. Which is the most valuable piece of info you gained from reading DeBecker's work?
That it's better to be rude than to be dead. More generally, that you have the right to say that something makes you feel uncomfortable or that you're not okay with something, rather than just nod and nervously smile along because That's What Nice Girls Do. There's a question I answered below about a certain kind of Southern girl who feels the need to always make people happy and never be any trouble, and "it's better to be rude than dead" is a very difficult lesson to internalize for us. Which is what makes it so important. And in addition to that, I loved that it wasn't so much "Don't be afraid to be a bitch" as "you have the *right* and the *power* to tell someone to leave you alone if you want, because your feelings are valid and you're not crazy or oversensitive or just making it up." The one message that comes through over and over is to trust yourself and respect your own feelings--don't let people tell you how you "should" feel in a situation--and it's incredibly useful for life in general.
Were you ever in a sorority?
Nope. Didn't even rush.
Dollar, quarter, dime, nickel, penny - what's your favorite US coin?
Quarter. I'm a big spender.