Writer Wednesday – Tiffini Johnson

Who are you?
My name is Tiffini Johnson

What type of stuff do you write?
Writing anything is my passion! I’ve been known to use paper napkins, Kroger sacks and even my own hand to write on. But at my core, I am a relational activist: my heart hurts for abused and neglected children. Almost all of my books are categorized as YA and deal with societal issues like domestic abuse, neglect and child abuse.

What do you want to pimp right now?
The work I am most proud of right now is “Dance For Me.” “Dance For Me” is 11 year old Maelea’s story. Maelea lives a poor life in Cambodia with her parents and her little sister. When her sister becomes ill with dengue fever, Maelea is sold to a brothel. The next two years, Maelea is tortured and sold to men on a nightly basis. Escape is impossible until one horrific act of torture becomes an unlikely saving grace.

This book is special to me because of the research that went into it. Child sex trafficking is an atrocity that breaks my heart, the torture, an evil I can’t fathom. I hope this story awakens my readers to what these kids go through and helps us realize that we are the only heroes these girls have.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
My favorite books are “The Book Thief,” “To Kill A Mockingbird” and anything by Faulkner.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
In addition to being a writer, I teach, speak as an advocate for RAINN, volunteer and, most importantly, I am a mother to two beautiful girls.

What link can we find you at?
You can find me at storiesthatmatterblog.com and Facebook at Stories That Matter and @tiffinisstories at Twitter

 

*****

Ashes

There are ashes all around. There are ashes in the air, ashes on the ground, ashes on the hands. They are spread everywhere, all over the earth. When eyes are open, I smoke comes from the chimneys; the dreams, breaths, hopes, fears, families inside are disappearing, melting to the ground, until all that is left is a mound of ashes. I smell it; that bitter, foul smell of flesh burning, day in and day out. The smoke gets in the nostrils, blows up into the brain, until it marks an impression no amount of time will erase. The men in their shiny black boots, ironed uniforms with red armbands, have ashes on them too. They shake it off their hands but it clings to their hair. Those standing stock still for hours and hours in the snow, ignoring the burning in near frostbit fingers, they have the ashes on them too. Whether you have a number on your arm or not, whether you are paid a few coins to ferry papers back and forth or your last name is Mengele, ashes fall upon your head here. There is no escaping. There is nothing but hunger and a constant, subconscious, need for fresh air, to breathe without inhaling the ashes floating around, to know what it is to live away from that smell.

Is there life without ashes?

Is there, really? There are ashes around you, too. The tears you cry are coals from the fire surrounding you. When the tears stop coming, where do they go? When you dry your eyes and rise, you move on, but if I am deep enough, I create a scab you carry around with you for the rest of time. Divorce, loss of a job, death of a dream… no matter how much time goes by, you don’t forget me. If you poke at the scab I form, if you talk about it or something makes you remember it’s there, it’s as though you’ve moved a mound of ashes and found a live ember, one that’s still burning. The ashes cover our lives with a black cloud.

I breathe and move the ashes from town to town, from house to house. Before long, I find my way into Hitler’s home, into the President’s, into the soldier’s, into the widow’s, into the peasant’s, even into the child’s. I’m selfish like that, I want everyone to know who I am. My goal is to teach everyone that fairy tales aren’t real and that hope is nothing but a cleverly disguised fairy tale. Until her brother, five-year-old, mischievous Kaplan, was ripped from her arms moments after stepping onto the train’s platform near the barking dogs and screaming men, Adele hadn’t really believed in me. It wasn’t until she watched her brother walk in one direction, while she was ordered to walk in the other, that she saw me for the first time. When she lay on the wooden planks, crammed between other girls, praying for sleep, I hung around. She cried, wanted to know where Kaplan was.

“He’s nothing but ash now,” one of the women said. “He’s in the chimney.”

There’s an exact moment when a child’s heart breaks for the first time, when her eyes are opened to all the lessons I teach, when she stops wanting to climb trees and instead finds herself scared she will fall. I am always there when this happens. If I could capture every spark as it fell from a child’s eye, I would be brighter than the Sun. And yet, it fascinates me. I still watch as it happens instead of turning my eye away. This moment, this moment in which they learn who I am, should keep them from ever smiling again. I should scare them so much they never play or laugh or love ever again. But it almost never happens. Every once in awhile, someone will decide they can’t handle me. Several people a day run into the electric fence surrounding this place, on purpose, because of me. More jump from windows or slit their wrists in an effort to finally be free of me. The vast majority, though, never give serious credence to the idea death might be better than finding me again. The vast majority continue to work, go to school, talk, eat and drink, thereby deliberately prolonging life. It should bother me, make me jealous, how resilient Hope is. It should make me angry. But I’m not. Instead, it amazes me.

Writer Wednesday – Tammy-Jo Eckhart

Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
TammyJo Eckhart

What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
Science fiction, fantasy, horror, contemporary, and historical fiction, often classified as erotica since I don’t “pull my punches” and believe that sexuality is a natural part of life.

What do you want to pimp right now?
Book 3 of the “Beyond the Softness of His Fur Trilogy” has just been released by my publisher, Circlet Press.
Also my non-fiction and award nominated book, “At Her Feet” has continues to be widely read and apparently empowering as we hoped it would be.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
I always go back to “The Silver Metal Lover” by Tanith Lee because it really touched what was happening in my own life when I was finishing high school and starting college.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a wife, a partner, I storyteller/game master for RPGs, I’m an educator and arts community volunteer, but most of all I’m a survivor of several things.

What link can we find you at?
My main website (find it here!) is the best since it links to my books and gives some other information about me.

*****

The Danger of Fans and Lack of Privacy for Writers

We often think of writers as being little celebrities but I’ve learned over the two decades I’ve been published that this comes and goes in cycles and that all attention is not good or desirable attention. Let me explain a bit more.

After my first book, “Punishment for the Crime,” a collection of short stories, came out with Rhinoceros, an imprint from Masquerade Books, back in 1996 I started to get emails and letters from readers, even the occasional flowers when they ran into me at events. This wasn’t an everyday experience but living in NYC at the time where I was doing readings to crowds or meeting folks through my publisher who was right in the same city it happened far more frequently than after I moved back toward the Midwest. It always felt good to be recognized but sometimes it also felt a bit creepy.

Most readers were sweet. They’d want to shake my hand or simply tell me that they liked my book. If I were selling books or at a bookstore for a reading they’d want an autograph. Meeting people face-to-face at scheduled events was expected and cool. Not all encounters with my readers were at these sorts of events.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and it took work for someone to find me or find out about me. Yet within a year of the first book with Masquerade coming out I started to get emails from strangers. I didn’t broadcast myself around at that time — the concept of networking on social media wasn’t a thing writers were supposed to do. And yet because I happened to various community bulletin boards or email lists, my email was out there. Once my email was found by one person, it was found by several and for the second and third year my first and second books were out, I got an email a week.

I’d like to say that most of the emails were cool and sweet like most of the face-to-face meetings but I can’t say that and be honest. Honesty is a big deal to me. No, instead the majority of the emails I got were a bit creepy. They hoped I was as mean as a character in the title story or that I was as hot and sexy as another one. They wanted me to crush them with my boots or they’d ask about my sex life. I just deleted the creepy ones. Problem solved right?

For the most part, yes.

My third book came out with a different publisher as Masquerade struggled with some internal issues and I moved back toward the Midwest. Every now and again I’d get another email and a few times some gift might arrive in the mail… a bit creepy how they found out where I lived but most often it was through this new Amazon.com thing which wasn’t supposed to tell anyone I didn’t allow what my address was.

Then the creepiest fan contact happened. Someone called me. It sounded like either a very butch woman or a transguy by voice but I frankly didn’t ask because I didn’t care. What started off as “I really liked X” story turned quickly into questions about kink looking for advice which deteriorated into sex talk and attempts to ask me about my sex life. I told the caller time and again to stop calling and finally had to threaten to call the police. These calls lasted over three years.

Now I’m sure that more popular authors out there have even creepier experiences but I’ve never forgotten my own experiences. This hasn’t stopped me from joining social media, my agent and all of my author friends claim it is a must, but I had to learn that even just being published puts you out there, it takes away some of your privacy. You have to learn how to deal with it or decide to never publish at all. After all you can’t control who is reading you any more than you can control how many people are reading you.

My lesson learned then is that if you want to be read you must give up some of your privacy. Not all of it but once that book is out there in public view you’ll have to fight to protect yourself and your family because you can never tell who is reading and how they might react. Never be afraid to put out your work but be realistic about what you are also risking.

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