USK: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
CX: I’ve written since age 4. (In Haiti, school starts when you can talk, so at age 3 I was taught to read and write). At 4 I was writing love letters, at 8 I wrote my first song, around 13 I was writing erotica (Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden” was very inspiring!). Around 16 I was writing music reviews for my high school paper, took a journalism class, and wanted to write for Rolling Stone. At around 22 I started writing for publication in periodicals and anthologies. Then around 26 I officially started wanting to write my own books and be a full-time multi-media artist.
USK: When did you first identify as a writer?
CX: Intellectually I called myself a writer in my early 20s when I was in writers’ groups and submitting my work, but it was really brought home to me when I got paid to do a reading and then when I saw my work in print, I mean, actually holding a paper product in my hands that had my name and writing on it made me feel like a writer. Every time I’m paid for my writing I feel like a writer. The rest of the time, I just feel crazy to have all this creative energy and so urgently need to write it down all the time! But that’s my own story, style, or supposed hang-up – to only feel my work is valid when I’m properly compensated or given praise for it. The good news is that I’m not trying to fix that. I’ve embraced it. Show me the money!
USK: How do you balance your working life and your writing life?
CX: I don’t, because I don’t separate the two. I consider myself a working artist, therefore the work I do is make art. That’s what I came to do this time around – make stuff that talks about my story, make stuff that entertains, hopefully enlightens a little bit, but mostly to inspire people to live juicier – more passionately. Some time ago, I realized that using the term “day job” for anything other than my art/work was doing a disservice to me as an artist – it was seriously blocking my progress in obtaining regular gainful employment in my chosen fields of music, writing, acting, and visual art. I no longer use the term “gig.” When I’ve been commissioned to do art for money – I now call it a “job." That’s my work.
So, how I grow as a working writer – to answer what I think you’re asking – how I become more efficient, is to create assignments for myself, and to always have projects going. I also now have a mentor who encourages and works with me several times a week – a writer I’ve admired for years and whose work I’ve carried with me in the same folder as my own work, inspiring me to someday be just like her in many ways. In that time, I’ve watched myself make progress – to the point where my collection of work looks more like hers, and to the point where I finally mustered up the gumption to ask her to mentor me. She was thrilled and honored. Not only is she encouraging me as a writer, but as a recording artist, and as a visual artist as well. (She’s a writer, recording artist, and potential visual artist.) Another thrill is seeing how I’m helping her to grow, just by being her mentee. Those are some ways I improve as a working writer – always working on a project, having and reaching goals, and I think a mentor is very, very important – someone who has what you want and is willing to show you how they did it and help you get it, too. It should be a pairing and mentorship that ends up making you both look great and be proud of each other.
USK: What is your advice to fledgling writers?
CX: Find out what you like and why. I prefer mediocre writing by people leading interesting lives (I’m not a fiction person, and I’m barely a poetry person). I really like what Anais Nin, Maya Angelou, and Cookie Mueller did – they lived amazing lives and wrote about it. I’ve learned that what’s important to me is living an interesting life, then writing about and sharing my experiences. That along with building community among co-creators and making things that hopefully inspire and make people feel good is what I like. Find out what you like and do it. 2) If you’re a natural writer, you probably read and write a lot anyway. As a kid I was such a writerly nerd. I read everything. I even loved the no-frills cornflakes box because it had 21 ways you could use the stuff in a recipe – as breading for fried chicken, you name it. That was fun to me. I wrote a diary, I made up interviews with George Michael - I was unstoppable. If you’re a writer, you’re probably that way, too, so start telling yourself that you’re a writer. 3) Send your stuff out for publication a lot if getting published is important to you. It will prepare you for rejection, which is a big part of the game. 4) Seriously consider self-publishing. Not only is it an excellent way to get your work out there, but if it sells well or creates a buzz, it could be a fast track to finding a publisher. It worked for lots of people, including one of my Philly faves, Lord Whimsy – another person living an interesting life and writing about it. 5) Don’t listen to a word I’ve said. Be your own guru. Follow your heart and what makes you happy, trying anything you would regret having missed if you died tomorrow. Do it all, do it imperfectly, and die happy.
USK: How can we access your art and/or writing?
CX: Send a blank email to http://firstname.lastname@example.org with “Subscribe” in the subject. I’ll send you my free e-newsletter “the renaissance negresse museletter: art inspiration community,” which, in addition to being a great place to post your event, announcement or classified in the “Community Bulletin Board,” will include all my currently available recordings and publications. Of course you could also Google me, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun! So as not to be a complete tease, in the meantime, you can read my blogs at http://cassendre.livejournal.com/