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

Book Review: The Space Between Worlds

Cara is a traverser – jumping between worlds by both the mercy of Goddess Nyame and the intentional hands of science. She spends every day with a woman she loves from afar while trying to reconcile the present with the past… That is, until a powerful announcement is made and Cara begins to believe that while she can’t alter destiny, she can still exercise her free will to choose between what’s right right now and what’s right for all.

When I hear “sci-fi” my brain automatically goes to things like The Twilight Zone or intergalactic travel (I grew up in a Star Trek household). The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson is sci-fi that feels…. accessible. While not caught up in the technical aspects I usually lose interest in, there’s just enough for it to set the scene without rubbing it in your face. The emotions of the characters also create the drama that keeps me (and hopefully you!) coming. back. for. more.

The Space Between Worlds is also visually enticing. The juxtaposition of the technologically-advanced Wiley City and the left-behind-in-the-dust (literally) Rurals and Ashtown are something I would love to see on the big screen.

The Wiley City skyscrapers complete with gardens and courtyards are probably not far off from what our future holds. A quick Google image search of skyscraper vertical gardening gives you an idea.

It has the futuristic, post-apocalyptic thing going on which I think will never go out of style as long as we are pre-apocalyptic. Think The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, etc. Why are we so drawn to these books? A post-apocalyptic world seems so – forgive me – out of this world but is so full of heroes it’s hard not to be drawn to it.

Other than having a good plot and excellent character development, The Space Between Worlds is DIVERSE. The plot does not center around a cisgender, white protagonist with a few diverse characters sprinkled in to the edges for good measure. The story is about humanity, all of it, pulling back its layers and exposing its deep truths.

With appropriately-timed revelations and the continuous theme of the relationship between science and religion, there is plenty in The Space Between Worlds to spark conversation. It would be a great book club selection.

Have you read The Space Between Worlds? Would you want to world-travel? I would honestly much rather be the world-traveler than the person who is visited by a traveler because I would be INSANELY jealous!

Happy reading, friends!

Beliefs and opinions reflected in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the beliefs and opinions of the author and/or publisher.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Death of Vivek Oji

How would you live if you carried a secret that someone would hurt you for? More, how would you die?

What would you do if you lost your only child? How would you weep? Resigned and silent… Loud and unforgiving…

In The Death of Vivek Oji, author Akwaeke Emezi shares sections of Vivek’s life and the lives of those close to him leading up to Vivek’s death and beyond.

Vivek Oji’s death is not a secret. Its occurrence is not the climax of the story.

The title is purposefully vague. While the injuries are presented, we do not know the details. Vivek’s mother, Kavita, goes in search of the truth.

She learns more than she bargained for.

We think, “Not in my town.” “Not where I live.” “That doesn’t happen here.”

And we are wrong.

The unwarranted hatred projected onto gendervariant and LQBTQ+ people throughout the world is real. And it does become violent.

When you read The Death of Vivek Oji, if you take nothing else away, think of what actions you can take to make the world a safer place for all.

What can you do to ensure the richness and fullness of life deserved by every one of us?

Other than that it makes you think, I liked that while the chapters flit between characters, it’s not confusing. Exploration of relationships – platonic, romantic, sexual, and familial – is a vital component of this story.

The character development is good and the plot is enticing. Sometimes the timeline may throw you off but take your time and connect with the characters.

And take time to think about the things in this story that give you pause or make you uncomfortable. Work through and past it.

Let me know what you think of this one, friends! Learn more abut Akwaeke Emezi and their other works and accomplishments here.