Our debut author, Norb Aikin, is an award-winning writer who has won The Quill Awards three consecutive years. He’s won in the category of best poetry collection two years in a row, which is the first time a writer has achieved this goal. Norb is the author of 100 – a collection of poetry that documents his life from heartbreak, insanity, a trip to the psych ward, grief and finally recovery. He’s here to tell us more about his passion for poetry and the genesis for 100. Welcome Norb!
1. How did 100 go from an idea in your mind to a published work of poetry?
The idea originally was to just write. I’d been in such a rut, writing dreary and dreadful poems as a means of trying to understand my depression and anxiety before I felt fully comfortable trying to combat it. Writing is what I know best, even if the results aren’t always perfect or a resemblance of the intent.
A few of my Writing.com friends had been getting on me to attempt writing one hundred poems in one hundred days…I didn’t hit the deadline, but the project gave me the confidence and momentum to keep pushing on. It showed me that I had more within myself than just trying to deal with myself (if that makes sense). Once it was complete, it sat in my online portfolio and I moved on…I finally did complete a Give It 100! challenge on the strength of what became 100. Up to that point, I had a new lease on life, both mentally and as far as writing was concerned.
Then came the fateful encounter with the one and only Sarah Fader. Mutually following each other on Twitter with a random interaction here and there, one day she posted that she was accepting submissions for her new indie publishing company. Knowing I was a successful blogger with stacks of physical notebooks full of poetry as well as a resurgence on Writing.com, I bit and messaged her to see if she’d accept poetry. After a few back-and-forths with links to WDC and a query letter, it happened. Quickly. My brain went into work mode…fixing up and editing a manuscript, working on a cover and layout, and distribution/promotion, etc. It still feels like a blur, and I don’t mean that hyperbolically. It was maybe a month and a half at the most between my initial reaching out to Sarah and having a legit book in my hand. Thinking about it now, I’m still a bit stunned at how fast it came together.
Funny story…like a lot of people, I never answer my phone if it’s a strange number I’ve never seen. But a few days after sending my query letter and basically not getting my hopes up for anything, the phone rang and I answered it. I have no idea why I didn’t just let it go to voicemail. But hearing “Hi, it’s Sarah Fader!” on the other end was a mind-blowing experience, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a life-changing phone call.
2. What mental health issues do your poems illustrate?
I hit a true variety of topics, but the poems I identify the most with- the more personal ones- are where I deal with my ongoing Severe Depressive Disorder diagnosis, my fears and anxieties both internal and external and also grief and more specifically, losing a loved one to suicide. I address the last topic more in collections I’ve completed since 100, but at the time it was still raw and confusing (as anyone in a similar situation can attest to). Here I am, sorting out and calming down my own ideations of death, and all the sudden we’re burying my brother…the happiest, most giving and caring guy on the planet and everyone loves him. I had the typical “failure to understand what was happening” syndrome. Processing it took months, and I still don’t know if I’m completely through it or will ever be. It just becomes a part of who you are, and as a writer, that’s how it comes out (most, and best).
I don’t deal with most things in a typical fashion; I don’t get too up or too down about anything, and my physical emotional appearance is practically non-existent, so I internalize a lot and writing allows me to face what looks like I don’t or can’t feel.
3. What does the cover of 100 mean to you?
Michelle Hammer did an amazing job with the cover, didn’t she? It wasn’t my original concept, but from talking through it with her it’s so much better in such a way that I barely remember what I was thinking of in the first place. Plus, enough time has passed and now it’s a real, living book with its own identity. It hits me in personally in such a way that it feels now like Michelle has known me for the last six years and crafted a cover based on my reality at the time, which is crazy because I’ve only spoken to her through emails about the cover and layout, and she knew me enough from that to nail it.
But it really does take me back to where I was living at the time I wrote probably 95% of the poems within. I was on public assistance and renting a room above a bar in Cortland. There were days I had to struggle to get myself motivated enough to leave, even if it was to pick up meds or go to a therapist session or just for something different to eat. Laying in or sitting on my bed with a view out the window, wondering if it’s really worth it to get myself ready for the general population. Are those trees on a day so sunny they’re almost flared out? Or is it smoke from a major calamity below? That’s how my mind feels so very often; too washed out by brightness, or living in the smoke from whatever’s on my mind from the past that I’ve burned down. Michelle painted a picture of how I felt then, in the environment I was living in, and how I still operate on most days…no clear-cut direction, but it’s not a necessity usually.
4. Tell us about the Writing.com community. What have you gained from working with your peers?
I could talk about this all day! I’ve been a Writing.com member since 2001, roughly nine months after they became a thing on the internet…so it’s safe to say they birthed me, even though I’d been writing for year prior. The community itself is fascinating and a diverse mix of people from all over the world. Perspectives alone are incredible. But the help, encouragement, and respect/love I’ve received and given to the community has meant the world to me, even in my darkest and lowest times. While it’s possible I’d still be a published author because of Sarah Fader, 100 wouldn’t have existed at all without the prodding and badgering of my crew. They knew what I was capable of. The people I looked up to were wanting more. I went from a teenager writing crap poems and lyrics to a well-respected legend (and I hate talking about myself like that; I’m just repeating the kind words others have used to describe me).
And let me tell you…when people make fun of others for having “online friends”, they can go kick rocks. I feel a whole hell of a lot closer to my WDC people than a lot of my real-life family and friends (and that’s not meant as a slight on them, but it’s true). When your IRL people are too busy or just plain sick of you, your online crew is there to listen, support, and encourage. When you are just needing anything, that means a lot. I am forever grateful to WDC, not only as a place to digitally archive my work over the last 25 years or so, but for the friendships I’ve made. It truly is the best online community there is for writers, and compared to every other online destination it’s by far the most helpful, encouraging, and caring place.
5. You’re an award-winning author. Tell us about winning the Quill Awards. 100 won best poetry collection! We want to know more.
Winning a WDC Quill Award is a big deal in the WDC community. The Quills are the Oscars/Tonys/Emmys/Grammys of the WDC world. There are forums open to members dedicated to the event, there’s a red carpet pre-show the week prior, and within the last couple years we’ve incorporated Google Hangouts into the ceremony, which features the host and a panel of a few WDC favorites. I’ve been fortunate enough to be included in the live broadcasts, and it’s been an amazing experience each time. Not only are you witnessing people in an online forum being recognized for their work and their writing, but you’re also chatting with people from around the world. Our current Quillmaster is in New Zealand, and we’ve done Hangouts with people from all over the US, the UK, and places in-between the long way. It’s exciting and a tremendous learning experience…how you perceive one country’s culture versus that country’s natives telling you how it really is, and then comparing differences. For example, cars are super cheap overseas, but electronics are expensive as all get-out. Amazing what you learn when you talk to people from all over the world.
Winning a Quill though…that’s a huge honor. That’s your peers more or less telling you what you’ve done in that year has stood out and is the best among one million-plus members and what they’ve done. Having been nominated before a few times for blogging and participating in the ceremony itself through various manifestations over the years, the atmosphere is always electric even in an online setting. But to win, and my first win was recorded live during a Google Hangout that was broadcasted live on WDC…was beyond amazing. When you bust your ass and you’re focused on entertaining the people who clicked on your link, and it finally gets the one award it has earned and deserved, there are very few words that can describe that feeling. Prior to getting published, that was my pinnacle and peak. The top of my game in the sport of blogging, if you will. I balled out, won the championship, and was named MVP.
I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but to use a baseball analogy maybe WDC is the single-A or Double-A of writers, with a few of us having AAA or Major League potential. We’re honing our craft to perhaps one day become published by Penguin or Button Poetry or the other major(and/or major/indie) publishers. I’m recognized, I have a book that wasn’t self-published, and I’ve got some cache on the site with many members. That means a lot to me…they’re my people before I got involved with Eliezer Tristan Publishing. And they’ll always be my people. You may not have heard of any of us yet, but the Writing.com community is full of talented people needing just the same break I got from ETP (if they want it). They’re rippling with talent, and by no means am I a proper evaluator of what’s good and what isn’t, but there’s a boatload of authors there who are good at what they do and need a much bigger platform than the already huge WDC stage. If I can get in and get recognized, with all of my cognitive misunderstandings, it can’t be too hard to find warmth, success, community, and lasting friendships.
6. What advice would you give to writers who want to publish a book but are scared to get their work out there?
It’s so cliché and so easy to overlook, but just fucking do it. Take that leap. You only live once. You’re eventually gonna die anyway. Telling people- everyone you know, and then some- you’re a published author, far outweighs the few people who may come out and deride your efforts or talk smack about you for it. You’ve got that feeling in your pocket and that book in your hand…cross that bridge and get there. It really isn’t as bad and terrible and daunting as you might be worried that it is. It’s so not. Get your shit together and do it!! I dove in headfirst with all the ambition and curiosity and nervousness in the world, so make sure your team is set and behind you 100%. I’m East Coast and my publisher is West Coast (with Easty vibes from past experiences)…so communicate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and most importantly, no matter how much you think you’ve lived through and know your work, scrutinize the daylights outta your submission, manuscript, and edits. Your name is on this. Don’t get excited and think your golden once you get the go-ahead. Fine-tooth it, even if it means rereading it for the umpteenth time. Don’t make my mistakes, thinking one batch of edits cures everything in the layout. You just don’t know what one edit can do, and how it throws off other items. TL; DR: Check over everything always, even after fixes have been made.
7. Where can get a copy of 100?
Currently, not only can you pick my joint up at Amazon by simply searching my name and 100, but I added a shop onto my WordPress blog where you can PayPal your sweet selves into a signed copy that ships both domestically and internationally (https://www.norbaikin.com/blog/shop/). I’ve also got people in Seattle and Buffalo working on getting it into Indie bookstores, and I’ve got the number for Barnes & Noble’s distributing outlet that I’ll be calling soon after trolling a poor old lady by looking for a book they don’t have. And hopefully, it’ll be up on the ETP website soon.
As a Buffalonian who transplanted himself to Cortland, NY, Norb Aikin has been able to up his free-verse game in ways he couldn’t have imagined without a change of scenery. He has since won multiple Writing.com Quill awards for poetry and blogging and is now hoping to win over the people who hold actual books. Read more at norbaikin.com, and by following him at Writing.com and Twitter under the username Fivesixer. Get a copy of 100 on Amazon here!