Book Reviews, books, Poetry, Special Guests

Author Q+A with Alma Gray

Alma Gray is the pseudonym of Serenity Brame and the author behind Lucid Lies, a self-described collection of dark and passionate poetry. Released in 2020, Lucid Lies was a work years in the making and explores the rawest parts of ourselves.

Poetry can be used to both escape and explore reality. I like to think of poetry as the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potty series – it’s what you need it to be when you need it. One day you could read a poem and you think it means one thing, but a few years later – when you’re at a different place in life – you see it with an entirely fresh perspective.

Alma Gray’s collection Lucid Lies explores emotions that come from a deep place. Read on to learn what inspires Alma Gray, why she prefers free-verse poetry, and what we can look forward to next.

Congratulations on publishing your first poetry collection Lucid Lies! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you! My name is Serenity, I love anything and everything related to art (the darker and weirder the better). 

How did you get started as a writer?
In the first grade I had a wonderful teacher, Ms. Singley, and she was so encouraging when it came to creating art and writing stories. She had this rare ability to cultivate a sense of adventure during her lessons, and it inspired me to start painting and writing. I began writing stories, then journal entries, and eventually took a stab at poetry.

What inspired you to work on Lucid Lies and ultimately publish it?
I wrote the majority of these poems during high school. Reading and writing morbid content was my escape from reality at the time. Eventually, my feelings took shape in the form of free-verse. When I gained independence, I started to separate myself from escapism as I learned healthier alternatives. This publication was a very therapeutic experience. It sort of felt like I could finally put the past aside, move on, and step into a life I desired.

These poems are so raw and cover topics that can be very personal. Why are these topics important to you?
They’re important to me because they sort of defined my identity as a kid. I couldn’t open up to anyone in my life which is why loneliness and despair are recurrent motifs throughout this collection. I felt like an outsider because of the weight I carried in my heart, and I assumed it was an inescapable burden that I would simply have to live with. Though I’m in a much healthier place in my life, angsty poetry will have a special place in my heart forever.

One element that stands out in Lucid Lies is the imagery; the use of color specifically spoke to me in the way that it helped set the tone and evoke feeling. You also apply free-verse. Why did you choose these styles?
Descriptive imagery has always been my favorite literary device. I have a bunch of weird ideas bouncing around in my head, and both imagery and free-verse help me to express them best. 

What was your writing practice like and did it change while working on this collection?
When it comes to poetry, I typically write when I feel very strong emotions. Since I didn’t write them with the intention to publish, my writing style remained the same. 

What was the most challenging aspect of creating Lucid Lies?
The editing process was very difficult. I’m a big believer in breaking grammatical rules for the sake of poetic nuance, but I reigned it in a lot to appease the kindle publishing guidelines.

How did you choose the title Lucid Lies?
I just made a list of titles that sounded pretty to me. Some runner ups were ‘Sunkissed and Sappy’, ‘Daisies Picked to Death’, and ‘Tempered Passions’.

Is there anything specific in your life that inspires you to write?
The messy yet tender aspects of love inspires me. Movies, books, and music inspires me. Anything sad inspires me. My dreams and nightmares definitely spur a lot of creative energy. I pretty much write about anything, no matter how silly. I once wrote about a raccoon that was caught in a trap set up on the roof. I even wrote a poem about the “that’s what she said” jokes from The Office.

Do you share your works in progress or wait until they are complete?
I typically wait unless I really need a second opinion on something that will affect the entire work. 

What is one thing you want to share with readers about this collection?
I hesitated to include anything that appears to romanticize substance abuse/mental illness, and I’m hoping it doesn’t come off that way. Majority of the situations I wrote about are fictional.

Why did you decide to publish under a pseudonym? What is significant about the name Alma Gray?
I intend to publish any future novels under my real name. Since this is very different from the type of work I want to publish in the future, I felt it was better to publish it under a pseudonym. 

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes, I’m currently writing a YA novel about a teen who discovers she has very special abilities when she goes searching for a lost family member. I’m still writing poetry, but it’s mostly about mental wellness and self love.

What advice would you give to other writers who are new to writing poetry?
I’d say if it’s written with passion, it’s something to be proud of. I recommend trying out every form, but I love that free-verse poetry allows for unmitigated passion, redundancy, and pure mess. I hope people new to poetry abuse this style to aid in creative expression.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell myself to start reading at a higher level. I was very interested in reading about vampires and werewolves, so I didn’t focus on advanced texts until later in high school.

Who are your favorite poets?
Kris Kidd and Sylvia Plath.

And finally, what are you currently reading?
I’m scatterbrained so I’m circling between House of Leaves, Dogs of Detroit, and Good Bones and Simple Murders. 

Many thanks to Serenity for participating in today’s Q+A! Lucid Lies is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Be sure to keep an eye out for future works by author Serenity Brame.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. Domestic violence resources can be found at the Hotline. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.

Book Reviews, Special Guests

Where Light Enters & Q+A with Author Noel Silvia

Where Light Enters is a powerful and moving debut by emerging author Noel Silvia. Read on for my review and a mini Q+A with the author where he shares his inspiration for the novel and his favorite authors!

After a lifeless body is discovered by the river, readers are led back in time to meet multiple characters and the struggles they face in childhood and as adults, culminating in the final events that bring us back to the discovery of the body.

Throughout the book, we are reminded of the hope and light inside of us that keeps us alive and that we can share with others.

This book is unique for multiple reasons. Those interested in linguistics will enjoy seeing the lesser-known but widely spoken Esperanto language interspersed in the dialogue – lending to the international feel of the book. (Learn more about Esperanto here.)

The Esperanto language is accompanied by the novel’s open-to-interpretation setting. The book has no specific setting, allowing the reader to picture the story taking place where they feel fits best. Where you picture the story taking place may be entirely different from where I picture it. There not being a specific setting does not mean the story lacks one; there is plenty of detail for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Most of the characters remain unnamed and are referred to by a nickname or their distinguishing features (“The Matron” or “the man in the purple suit”). I did not think this detracted from the story. The sections of the book each center around one character while maintaining the theme of interconnection, which helps readers avoid getting the characters confused with each other.

There is also an emphasis on color and music throughout, with the idea that music is magic. Lovers of the violin, rejoice!

Caution: The text deals with some very weighty topics – war, suicide, human trafficking, drug abuse, and addiction. I would not recommend this novel to young readers.

10% of the profits from this book will go to charities that work to combat human trafficking and work to help individuals suffering from trauma, two of the big themes in the story.

Lastly, readers will notice various Christian elements but I would not classify this as a Christian novel. It is what the subtitle claims: a novel of hope. We all have a choice to follow the light and to help others in what can be a cruel, unfair world. When we cannot find the light ourselves, it can still find us.

***

Q+A

Congratulations on completing and publishing your first novel! What inspired you to begin working on Where Light Enters?
Music has always inspired me. Even an instrumental piece can tell a visual story. A good song makes me want to explore that world. I keep a log of all of my story ideas, and enough threads started emerging where I saw how I could weave them together in a cohesive narrative tapestry. The COVID lockdown was when I finally decided, “it’s now or never”, and I had to do something to feel functional. That need to be productive inspired me to write. I may not have lost weight during this time, but I gained a book that I’m proud of.

What was the most challenging part of the writing process for you?
As da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Knowing when to stop tinkering with the text was primarily the most challenging thing for me. I felt like a parent sending their child off on the first day of school; I had to trust that it was ready, and would be fine on its own.

Was there anything that surprised you about the writing process?
I was surprised how short/long it took to write certain things. There were some chapters that I wrote the entire first draft in less than an hour, and then there were some singular sentences that I spent several hours on, trying to find the perfect words to use in the right arrangement.

Why did you decide to self-publish?
For this book, I wrote to write. My goal was to write a book that I was proud of and would be something that I would want to read. I wanted to try and find my voice as an author, and I did not want to have that altered by someone trying to sell books that were more marketable. My greatest fear would be waiting a year to get signed, only to have the publisher want me to add sparkling vampires and change the setting to a dystopian future. Not that there’s anything wrong with those stories, but they’re not the kind of stories I felt comfortable telling.

What can you share about your upcoming novel Ricochet Day?
I love the theme of interconnection and the ways people are brought together. It was something that I explored in Where Light Enters, but in Ricochet Day, I really want to push those ideas. It’s (hopefully) going to be a lot lighter tone, but still explore these concepts as we follow a group of seemingly non-connected characters over the course of one day. I’m having fun right now arranging the plot, as the narrative will be very “Rube Goldberg”-esque.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Do you have a favorite author?
I love books that make me have an emotional reaction. Authors like Christopher Moore or Tim Dorsey have a great comedic flow that always make me laugh. Then there are authors like Amy Tan or Khaled Hosseini who always make me cry, even in the triumphant moments. There’s nothing worse than art that doesn’t move you.

***

Many thanks to special guest Noel Silvia!

Purchase a paperback or e-book of Where Light Enters on Amazon.

To learn more about Noel Silvia’s insights and future projects, visit his author page on Goodreads.

Happy reading, friends, and “may the light find you.”

*I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am not an affiliate marketer therefore do not receive compensation for purchases made through links on this website.