I first met author Christopher Locke through his wonderful wife, Jaya Bhumitra. Jaya and I first met at Natural Foods Expo West, and we chatted for a long time. I could tell she was a compassionate, warm hearted person when I first met her, and her husband was the same exact way. Not a surprise! Christopher wrote and self-published his very first book, Persimmon Takes On Humanity, of The Enlightenment Adventures series (and Jaya edited the book. What a team!). I thought it would be great to feature his work and discuss the process it took to create his dream project. If you have any questions for Christopher, please post them in the comments!
What was your inspiration behind writing Persimmon Takes On Humanity?
In 2004, I read Fast Food Nation, and the sections depicting cruelty to animals on factory farms disturbed me so profoundly that I immediately stopped eating meat. Soon after, I learned about the abuse that all animals endure in dairy farms, the egg industry, circuses, etc., so as a progressive person, I knew that to be in line with my values, I wanted nothing to do with these industries as well.
Since I’m a writer and it was a book that inspired me to lead a more cruelty-free life, I immediately wanted to write something that inspired others to do the same. It took about ten years to come up with the story for Persimmon Takes On Humanity, but when it all came together, I was certain this was the one I had been trying to conjure up night after night. It’s a page-turner with lovable and heroic characters fighting against insurmountable odds—all wrapped up in a thrilling adventure. And on top of that, the characters are on a quest to save all animals from human brutality, so as the characters learn about what other animals go through in places like factory farms, so does the reader. Hopefully, readers will have an epiphany that if they’re rooting for the characters in the book, why not advocate for all the real animals out there who are suffering?
You chose to self-publish your novel. I’m assuming this was your first time acting as the publisher and author of your own work. What were some lessons you learned that you’d share with anyone considering self-publishing?
The most important piece of advice I can give to those who are attempting to self-publish is to go into the process with reasonable expectations. You have to be prepared that it is going to cost thousands of dollars and that it will most likely take around a year to accomplish. If I had known that in advance it would have alleviated a lot of the stress I experienced during that time.
For every aspect of the process (from the copyediting to the interior design to the printing of the finished book) I kept thinking, “Surely this will only take a week or two, and will only cost $200 at the most.” And every time instead of a week it took a month, and instead of a few hundred dollars it cost a few thousand. And that’s not because I got taken for a ride, it’s because I had no understanding of just how long and costly these things are.
With that said, I don’t want to scare people away from self-publishing. I’ve heard many horror stories from author friends who had problems with traditional publishing, and I didn’t have to deal with any of those issues. Plus, at the end of the day, the finished book is exactly the book I wanted. It may have cost more and taken more time to produce than I had anticipated, but I can proudly hand this book to someone and say, “I poured my heart into this novel. This is my best work.” After dreaming about being a published author since I was a kid, that’s an amazing feeling.
You’ve been very active touring with your book. What have been some highlights of attending events and talking about Persimmon Takes On Humanity?
I absolutely adore doing events for the book. For some events, friends and family come, and it’s so heartwarming to see how proud they are of me. I also get to meet new people, and my favorite moment is when I tell them the premise of the novel and their eyes light up. “Oh wow, that sounds really good!” I get to actually see their excited reaction to the story.
The book has been out a few months now, so the new fun thing is that some people are coming to events who have already read the book and are excited to meet me. Writing a book is such a solitary experience, but with these events I get to chat with people about who their favorite characters are or what parts made them cry. I really enjoy that interaction with readers.
You worked with a design team to create your beautiful cover and the inside look of your book. What was that process like for finding the right designer and choosing a cover image?
The front cover illustration was designed by the brilliant artist, L.A. Watson. I met her by chance. My wife and I went to an exhibit at the National Museum of Animals & Society here in Los Angeles, and my wife pointed out that the artwork for the exhibit was wonderful and she suggested I chat with whoever created it to see if they’d be interested in designing the cover. So I asked around at the gallery and eventually met L.A. and she said she’d be happy to work with me.
I knew the general look I wanted for the cover, so I drew a rough sketch and then emailed it to L.A. Since drawing isn’t my forte, the sketch was meant to just give L.A. an idea of how I wanted the characters positioned (I wanted Persimmon bravely standing up to the menacing shadow of a human, protecting innocent calves behind her who are trapped in tiny stalls), but I needed a talented artist to actually make an illustration that’s a work of art. And boy, did she ever. She is such a gifted artist. I was lucky to work with her.
Then, I had to get someone to design the spine and back cover, so luckily I knew the talented design team at raven + crow studio. They nailed it. They took the mood and theme of the cover and made a seamless back cover and spine, and they created that awesome raccoon mask design you see on the top of the spine, which I adore.
As for the book’s interior design, that’s one of those things that I had no understanding about when I began this process. I had no idea how much work (and how expensive) it was, so when it came time to start figuring it out, it was overwhelming, to say the least. To save money, I tried to design the interior myself using both Microsoft Word and Scrivener, but after a month of pulling my hair out, I realized why it costs so much to get the interior designed: it’s tedious and complicated work.
I finally decided to go with CreateSpace, because I was already going through them to self-publish the book. It took a few months to make all the detailed decisions (What type of fleuron do I want?, What should I write on my Dedication Page?), but again, now that I look at the finished product, I am very proud of how it turned out. I was even able to add a fun detail at the last minute. I put the raccoon mask as the fleuron for every chapter. It’s such a small detail, but it really completes the look of the interior.
You are an animal activist and it’s clear through your first book how you feel about the mistreatment of animals. What’s one thing you’d like anyone—vegan, omnivore and everyone else in between—to take away from your book?
There is so much suffering in this world caused by humans—to other humans and to non-human animals. I’m hoping when people read Persimmon Takes On Humanity, it reawakens their compassion. Deep down I think people are decent. If they were to see a pig lying in the road, whimpering in pain because she had been hit by a car, they’d feel sympathy for her and try to help her. But when millions of pigs are trapped in cages, suffering horrendously day after day as they await slaughter, too many people feel no sympathy for them. In fact, most people prefer not to think about it, so they can just enjoy their bacon. But in order for that fatty hunk of meat to end up on your plate, an innocent and sweet being had to endure atrocious agony.
When people read Persimmon Takes On Humanity, my hope is that they’ll never be able to eat another piece of meat without thinking about Gilby or attend the circus without thinking about Nayana. They’ll connect their actions with the animals who are tormented behind the scenes, and as a decent person they’ll say to themselves, “I can’t be part of this system of abuse any longer.” What a great world that would be, right? A world where everyone is more compassionate. That’s my dream for Persimmon Takes On Humanity.
Two weeks ago I wrote about a time I said yes that changed my life (see The Night I Said Yes To Kissing My Best Friend). My fellow writer friend Melissa Sarno wrote this beautiful blog post about saying yes to herself as a writer, after getting several no’s. If you have a moment, read it. It’s worth that 5 minutes of your time, even if you’re not a writer.
I have my own yes
and it’s the only one I need.
I love this line Melissa wrote because often we’re looking outside of yourselves for that yes. I know I’m looking for it whenever I send out a pitch to a magazine editor, writing a book, or submitting work to a playwriting contest.
I want that yes to justify all my hard work. I want the gold star.
What I love about Melissa’s sentiment is that the approval I need is within myself. Often, there’s a lot of rejection in this creative life. I used to feel crushed when my dream mag turned me down or a book I worked on for two years found no home. In many ways, I still feel the crush of rejection. It’s hard to put your time, blood, sweat, and tears into a project and get a resounding NO back at you.
But, I know I have to keep going, keep believing in myself, and keep hope in my heart. No matter what.
On June 11, 2015, Bill Hurter passed away. Back in 2008, Bill hired me as the editorial assistant at Rangefinder magazine, a trade photography publication. I didn’t have any magazine publishing experience, but I really wanted to break into the industry.
Bill taught me how to edit and work with writers. He taught me the photography basics and what made a good image or a great cover photo. We spent a lot of time talking about his cat, my cat, and the outdoor cat that hung outside of his office window.
In 2013, I won a WPA Maggie award for best feature article for VegNews. I was the senior editor—a long way from being a newbie in the magazine world. When I accepted my award, I thanked Bill, who wasn’t there, but I wanted the industry to know that if he hadn’t taken a chance on me back in 2008, I wouldn’t be standing there with this award in my hand.
We joked a lot. There was once a fierce mini-basketball tournament that I organized with the crew, with no joke, a little tiny basketball and this small hoop. I made it March Madness-style brackets and the competition was fierce. Bill was pitted against George, who jumped up and down and got in Bill’s face to distract him when it was Bill’s turn. If I remember correctly, Bill calmly shot his tiny basketball and beat George.
He even took it in stride when I dressed like him on Halloween, down to his trademark LA Dodgers hat and jean shorts.
Bill was a true friend. He saw potential in me and always encouraged me to believe in myself. In his memory, I’ll keep his spirit alive by believing in my work, and always remember to laugh at myself once in awhile.
RIP Bill. We miss you.
In honor of my friend Lauren Gibaldi’s debut YA book — THE NIGHT WE SAID YES (COMING OUT JUNE 16, 2015) — I’m writing about the night I said yes to kissing to my best friend.
It was April 14, 2004. Brendan and I were in New Orleans for the first time. After a day of going on a boat tour of New Orleans and eating gumbo, we spent the night drinking hurricanes and dancing. He’s the best dance partner. At one point, he put his hand on my hip. I was totally frightened by this beyond-just-friends gesture, but at the same time, I had a huge crush on him and went with it. Later that night, after we left the club, we were alone. He leaned in and I looked up, and we kissed. Before this moment, I thought kissing my best friend would be awkward or weird, but instead it was the best kiss of my life. That night, I said yes to falling in love with the one guy I couldn’t imagine my life without.
What’s a night you said yes to something fun, sweet, crazy, or memorable? Share your stories with me in the comments!
I’m not a monogamist when it comes to reading. Right now, I have about 5 books that I’m reading through and I like them all for different reasons. If you’re struggling with a new writing project, managing your time, saving money while cooking, and dealing with LIFE — I recommend these books because these writers are smart and have figured out things that will help you improve your life.
If You’re Struggling With Time Management at Work:
Work Simply by Carson Tate
I recently interviewed Carson for an upcoming article in a national magazine and she is a wealth of information. Her official title is workplace productivity expert, but I prefer to think of her as a time ninja! Her book is all about capitalizing on your natural skill set, which she divides into 4 productivity personalities. Turns out I’m a Planner (As my husband points out, anyone who knows me well can surmise this)! Her book has helped me already in my freelance life streamline processes like CHECKING MY EMAIL FIFTEEN TIMES A DAY. Under her guidance, I’ve blocked out times during the day I’ll check and respond to email. Time saved already.
If You’re Struggling With Writing:
The Plot Whisperer Workbook by Martha Alderson
I’m outlining a new YA book and this book has been super duper helpful with outlining it and answering important questions so that I can figure out my book before writing the first draft. I really like the practicality of her exercises and the way she gives examples of other popular movies and literature, so you can see structure in action. If you struggle with plotting out any writing project, I highly recommend this workbook.
If You Want to Save Money While Cooking:
Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking by Annie and Dan Shannon
People often think that being vegan means spending $1,000 at Whole Foods. Nope. The Shannons are this cute vegan couple in Brooklyn raising an equally cute vegan baby, and guess what, they don’t spend a million dollars at Whole Foods. Their latest tome is a great guide for saving moolah, learning how to keep things fresh, and cooking kickass meals. Plus, there’s a whole leftovers section, which takes one recipe and turns it into several meals.
If You’re Having a Crappy Day/Month/Year
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
I’m not gonna lie, friends, the past few months have been a doozy. I’ve lost Bentley, two pregnancies, and my long-time pup Buddy was recently diagnosed with heart disease. When Things Fall Apart felt very much like my life. Two friends recommended this book, and it’s been so helpful for dealing with grief and loss. I’m sorry if you’re having a terrible time as of late. I hope this book helps you as much as it has helped me.
If You Want Some Smart Pop Culture Commentary
Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
I’m a feminist and when I was flipping through this copy, I noticed that Gay had written about Sweet Valley High and her genuine love for the series (me too!). Her hilarious, on-point remarks about the Sweet Valley Confidential series was so dead on that I burst out laughing while reading. Her essays tackle all sorts of topics, and I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to be entertained and educated at the same time.
What books are you reading that you think have made your life better? Tell me in the comments!
To all my readers who love my vegan Costco updates: Here’s a new one for you. I’ve been snapping pictures left and right and buying these new products and testing them for you. Whenever I’m photographing in Costco, I turn to my husband and say, oh this is for my blog. His response: Yeah, I know. He’s used to me snapping pics of my food!
Caveat: I don’t know if your local Costco sells the same exact items, so if you don’t see these in your store, request them.
1. Organic Millet & Brown Rice Ramen
Brendan and I have made veggie Thai green curry and added these noodles. They’re delish, and packed with 8 grams of protein per serving. Like the packaging says, the noodles are done in 4 minutes. Definitely a must grab!
2. Health Warrior Chia Bars
3. Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips
I’m a kale chip fan, but usually they are so pricey compared to what you actually get in the bag. This giant bag was about $8 and I love the Kool Ranch flavor. As a kid, I used to love cool ranch Doritos, but this is like a way healthier Dorito.
4. Gardein Beefless Szechuan Strips
Brendan and I have what we call “lazy Chinese night.” When we’re both beat from work, all we do is toss some brown rice in our rice cooker, bust out the Gardein Chinese frozen goods, toss in some veggies, and call it dinner. It’s better than takeout! These beefless Szechuan strips are absolutely delicious and the giant bag lasts at least three meals for us.
5. Late July Sea Salt Multigrain Tortilla Chips
I’m seriously obsessed with these chips. I love that they are non-GMO and organic, but also have a satisfying crunch and loaded with chia and flax seeds. I haven’t seen them when I last went to Costco, so let’s hope that they bring this guy back.
6. Tolerant Red Lentil Rotini
I rarely eat white pasta any more in favor of quinoa or brown rice-based pastas for extra protein and fiber. When I spotted this red lentil pasta, I quickly snagged it. One serving has a whopping 21 grams of protein and the only ingredient listed is red lentils. And it tastes great! There’s no beany flavor. This is a must get if you see it!
As I mentioned, I love having snacks that I can stash in my purse so I don’t turn into a hangry monster when I’m stuck in traffic. I love that these bars have simple ingredients like dates, cashews, cinnamon, and apples. Flavorful and simple—just the way I like it!
Have you spotted any great new vegan items at Costco that I haven’t seen? Tell me in the comments. I’d love to know what to look out for in the future!
When I first started learning how to meditate, I thought I had to be perfect at it. Achieve a zen mood immediately. Banish all thoughts and listen to my breath. But the more I meditate, the more I realize that the beauty of it is that there’s no perfect way to go about it. No one is judging me. It’s a practice for me.
Why sit on a cushion and do “nothing” for 15 minutes? For me, it’s all about stress relief and managing my anxiety. I was in a high-stress work situation that led me to seek out meditation. I’m not cured of stress, but having a daily calming exercise helps me reduce those levels of heightened emotions.
If you’ve been wanting to learn how to meditate, but like me, you think it’s too hard, I’ve found that guided meditations are a great way to get started.
Some of my favorites include:
- Terri Cole’s 21-Day Meditation Integration. What I love about this program is that Terri leads you through each day and gradually increases the amount of time you’re meditating. So the first meditation is about five minutes long, and the last one is 20 minutes long. Terri makes it simple to follow along. I download the mediations on my phone so I can have them anywhere I go.
- Stop Think Breathe app. This is a great free app to get you started with guided 10-minute meditations.
- Gabrielle Bernstein. The spirit junkie author has a great guide to mediation on her website, free meditations, and mediation albums. I really like how she explains the process and makes it totally doable when you’re busy, busy, busy.
- Headspace. Another great app. This is a subscription-based service, but you can try it out for free to see if you like it. I really like the science they feature explaining why a mediation practice is beneficial.
- Meditation podcast. This is a meditation series I like to use when I’m having trouble sleeping. The hosts, Jesse and Jeane Stern, make the experience very pleasant. The podcast hasn’t been updated in awhile, but there is a nice library to choose from and download.
My friend (and talented graphic designer) Sutton Long gave me this beautiful Writual Blessings cards created by Cynthia Morris. Every day, I pull out a new card and let it inspire me for the day. I love it! Writing can be a place of self-doubt, but these wonderful little reminders help make the process a bit easier.
I hope that these ideas are helpful to you if you want to start a meditation practice!
Last November, I had to say goodbye to my friend, Bentley, after he had a terrible second bout of cancer. When I couldn’t sleep the night we made the decision to put him to sleep, Bentley rested on my chest, just like he always did when I was restless. The next day, he took one last swat at our brand new couch, so he was throughly Bentley to the end.
When he passed, my friends sent kind condolence emails and notes. One of my best friends made a donation to North Shore Animal League, where we first adopted Bentley. All of the gestures were touching, but I loved the thought that another cat could be saved in honor of Bentley.
This year, on my birthday, instead of more “stuff,” I’m asking friends and family to donate to one of these amazing charities or North Shore Animal League. I have plenty of things, so I’d rather that money go to someone who could use it whether that be a person or animal in need.
There are days that I miss my handsome best friend. He was a damn fine cat. But I’m sure he’s tearing the crap out of some nice couch in cat heaven, sleeping in a patch of sun and rolling in catnip. We miss you, Bentley!
As a freelance writer, occasionally I get approached to write for free for “XYZ” site. Said site offers to include my Twitter handle and website link so, instead of payment, I get free “promotion.”
In the very beginning when I was building a portfolio of clips, I wrote a few articles for free. I get why some writers will offer their work for free when they are starting out. No judgements!
But for me, if a prominent website can afford a nice fancy site, they can afford to pay me for my work.
Writing, researching, interviewing sources, and rewriting is all work. It takes time and brain power. Just because writing is creative and fun doesn’t mean that I should just hand you my work for free. It’s not fair to me and the other writers who toil away at trying to make a living at this.
So in response to any publication who requests I write for zero dollars, I politely decline.
Liz Lemon says it best:
It was a sad day when The Bold Italic announced that it would no longer be publishing. The online site, based in San Francisco, was beloved by many in the city.
I started writing for The Bold Italic in October 2014. I loved every minute. I got to write about the best arcade bars in LA, LA-versions of SF restaurants, and putting Bentley to sleep, among many things. One of the last pieces I wrote was a personal essay about being a “fat” Asian. My first draft needed some work, and editor-in-chief Jennifer Maerz helped guide me to the actual published version, which was way better than the first with her feedback.
As a freelance writer, I’ve worked for different publications. The Bold Italic was one of my favorites. Jennifer got back to me quickly. They paid on time. And most importantly, I got to write some really fun, interesting articles.
I’m writing this from the Bay Area. While driving around, I noticed that most of the billboards here about tech companies (can anyone explain what New Relic is?!) and HempCon (can anyone explain who Baby Bash is?!). In LA, every billboard is movies, movies, TV, movies. I thought to myself, this would be a great Bold Italic story.
Then, I remembered it was gone.
Goodbye, Bold Italic. A little bit of San Francisco’s quirky sparkle is gone.