The Forty Watt Flowers
by C.M. Subasic
All Trisha wants to do is create something meaningful. Since she’s living in Athens, GA, she brings four other women together and the rock band The Forty Watt Flowers is formed. But making good music isn’t as easy as it sounds. From the jock atmosphere of the garage where they rehearse to the beer-soaked bars when they gig, these five young women struggle to find beauty in the mess of notes they try to play and the chaos of their lives.
First Rehearsal, Aline & Trisha
Trisha sat on the curb beside her. “Aline, I’m not an experienced musician or anything. I have no idea what we’re doing. I’m just—”
“You’re going to do very well at this, I can tell,” Aline said.
“I just can, that’s all.”
Their gazes met. Aline’s smile was so open, like a warm bath.
Trisha asked, “When you write a poem, how do you do it?”
Aline bit her lip. “A poem for me …” She shook her head, started again, “The first thing I do is I get all quiet and I listen.”
Aline nodded. “I start with something that resonates with me,” she said. “It’s like I’m looking for the seed. That seed has to shake, like all of inside me is just going B-O-I-N-G-! B-O-I-N-G-!”
Trisha repeated, “Boing.”
Aline sang, drawing it out, “B-O-I-N-G —I-N-G!”
Trisha repeated, “B-O-I-N-G —I-N-G!”
Aline smiled. “You got it.” Then with eyes intent on that interior space of hers, she continued, “Well, that boing gives me a beat. Some days, there’s nothing there. Other days, there’s ten or twelve ideas screaming and it scares me. And then I—”
A thought rang like a chord, high and clear in Trisha’s thoughts. She wasn’t sure if it was because of what Aline had said, or if she’d just needed the space to let it appear. But there it was. She jumped up.
“Aline?” she said.
“We need to get back in there.”
Today I’m pleased to be interviewing C.M. Subasic (Colleen), author of The Forty Watt Flowers. Hi Colleen, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background. What were you like at school?
Awkward, shy, uncertain, vulnerable, desperate to be liked, weird and totally convinced that everyone was having much more fun than me. With a last name like Subasic (which other kids inventively pronounced “Spastic”) there were some tough moments. I refused to fight the bullies, and was happiest when reading as I walked to and from school. What’s funny about the experience of our younger days is it’s only years later you discover that we all experienced the same agony.
From grades 4 to 8 I attended four different schools – one per year. This made it very difficult to foster connections with other kids. Add to that, from kindergarten to grade 3 I attended a French school (while speaking English at home). I was dropped into the English school on the first day of a multiplication and division test, when I’d only learned addition and subtraction. Can you say, “Anxiety attack?”
Were you good at English?
Despite my school background (or perhaps because of it?), my English comprehension was always a strength. I have two women thank for that; friends of my mother who were public school librarians. Regularly, they would bring me, my brother and sister, the best reading material for our age group of the time. We were truly blessed. And thank you for reminding me of that connection, I don’t think I ever realized how important those two women were to my development.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To have fun! To explore ideas I have trouble with and share the results with the world. To connect with other people who love words. To read my work aloud in front of people (I LOVE that).
Which writers inspire you?
Every single one, whether I like them or not. I use every reading experience as an opportunity for learning. If I don’t like it I ask myself, “What is it I don’t like? It is a ‘not my cuppa’ thing or a ‘this isn’t working’ thing?”
For this book I was specifically inspired by The Commitments by Roddy Doyle and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, two of my fave authors because they write literary tales that have levity and real life in them. They’re not high falutin’ dreams or word swirls that make you dizzy. They are true literary craftsmen.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does Trisha do that is so special?
Trisha is a girl who likes to think of herself as practical. She refuses to carry a purse, and wears a men’s suit jacket with all of its wonderful pockets to carry the things she needs. She’s an ardent audiophile, buying at the very least two records per week.
She’s been through some tough times. Her sister died in a car accident while Trisha was driving and her mother has blamed Trisha for it ever since. So, Trisha cut off contact. When the story opens, she’s beginning to seriously question whether she wants to get into contact with her parents and brother again.
Trisha learns how to listen to herself by also learning how to listen to others. She realizes as the story continues, that letting go is one of the hardest things to do, but it is frequently the best thing to do.
What are you working on presently?
What’s taking most of my time right now is recording the audiobook! Wow, it’s a lot of work. But it certainly is fun.
In addition to that I’m working on a story that explores power in relationships, the importance of communication and how we all tend to turn the people we love most into unapproachable monsters.
Here’s the story synopsis so far: Janet starts to think her husband is “looking around.” To investigate she creates an online tempting morsel for him to flirt with. Not only does he take the bait, the two of them begin an e-affair. At first she’s angry with him. But she also discovers the benefits of having an inside scoop on his thoughts and feelings. Their home and sex life improve and the netsex is hot. But what does she do when he asks to meet the e-other-woman at a hotel?
Which actors would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
I loved the actors who were in the trailer, as unknown as they are. They’d have to learn how to play their instruments though. 😉
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
My first piece of writing was a sequel to the movie Star Wars. I was 16 and I have no idea why I thought I could write such a beast, why I worked so hard and so long on it. Did I really think possible to get it produced?
My book, The Forty Watt Flowers, is actually all about this question: Why do we want to create something? What is it about the act of making something that attracts us, that makes us work so hard? It’s not just for money or fame or any of that, or to see our name on the cover. There is something in the doing, the process that makes us feel whole somehow.
Now, I’m not saying I have the answers to this question right for everyone (or even for myself). I’m just asking them. Hopefully they are the right questions ;-).
And why does this question matter? Because life is about doing, not watching. If we, as individuals, can’t figure out what’s keeping us from doing, then we’ll always be observers sitting on the couch watching the world go by, dreaming of what might have been.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
The best time for writing for me is between 10:00 am and noon. But that’s not always possible. I try to write as early in the morning as possible, when I’m fresh. I find one trick is to put writing at the top of my to-do list for the day, not at the bottom. Because it is something you do by yourself, it’s easy to not treat it as a priority. But if you don’t, then it can never become the center of your life, right?
Where do your ideas come from?
Ideas live all around us. A personal experience, a person I meet who is unique and presents interesting ideas, a philosophical struggle I’m having. If I roll these around in my mind for long enough, a situation suggests itself.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I’m a bit of a plot structure geek so I bet some out there might find it surprising that my outlines look like this:
ii – inciting incident > the thing that gets the story started.
I – First climax > when the main character makes a decision that ties them to the story until the end.
Mid-point > A point in the story that looks like a climax, but usually isn’t.
II – Second climax > when what the main character is struggling with comes to fight them. They can’t win.
III – Third climax > when the main character is faced with the struggle again. If they win, the story is a comedy. If they lose, it’s a tragedy.
I will list my chapters by name and puzzle out where each structural component goes in that list. I try to make the list a single page, so I can see the “landscape” of my story in one shot. Then I try to maximize how each of those structural components meets its technical requirements.
Sounds like engineering, right? It is. But all things that are built need structure and that takes engineering. The craft is also applied to the whole and the individual words skittering across the pages. I alternate between this “landscape” or structural view and the close-up of the words on the page.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
#1: First drafts.
#2: Recognizing when you’re full of yourself and writing badly. Sometimes the bad writing can feel like brilliance. But if you put it in a drawer for a while, it becomes clear.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
There are spurts where I’m reading books intensely and others where I read only news. Here are my fav authors: Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Laurence, William Gibson.
For your own reading, do you prefer eBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
eBooks are great for page-turners or books I use as references so I can search.
I find paper books better when reading a book I want to flip back and forth in. I will underline beautiful passages and writing index entries in the back page about parts that I will want to look at again.
eBooks are great for convenience, but I really don’t like how making notes or underlining work.
What books are you reading at present?
I have about 5 books on the go. Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl on audiobook. Heather Haley’s punk novel, The Town Slut’s Daughter on my kindle. An ARC I just received called Harmless is also on my to-read list. I just finished reading Jacob Slichter’s So You Wanna Be a Rock’nRoll Star?
Which book I read depends on where I am. My kindle is in the living room, there’s books by my bed, another in my purse, an audiobook on my iPhone….
Tell us about the cover and how it came about.
When creating the trailer video, the actress playing the singer looked and acted so much like the singer character in my mind that I was blown away. I got the idea of a photo of her holding a guitar and looking up at the camera, hopeful. The photo taken was perfect. But we wanted something more than a straight photo. In the past indie bands used to make their own t-shirts by silk screening. So, a silk screen cover was developed. But that cover looked too flat. So we combined the photo with the silk screen, which was neat because it also implied the fine line between reality and fiction, which is a theme I explore quite a bit in the book.
The color choices were to indicate that the band is a bit on the punky side.
Who designed your book cover?
It was a team effort, with me, the graphic designer, the photographer the production designer all making suggestions and trying things out.
Do you have a trailer for your book?
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
It really depends on who ends up getting those books. The desired outcome is a rating or review. Both good and bad ones. If your books go to someone who isn’t into your genre, they probably won’t finish the book, so it’s a wasted activity. But if one person you give the book to becomes a fan, it can have wide-ranging ripple effects. What always hurts most is the silent treatment.
How do you relax?
I jump on my bike, go to a movie or art gallery, hold dinner parties, and I’m a news junkie.
What is your favorite quote?
The critic dissects, the artist unifies.
This quote is from a book called How Not to Write a Play by a New York City theater critic, Walter Kerr. This book came out in 1955 (the picture of him on the back has him smoking in front of a typewriter!). One would think that a book about writing from a critic would be prescriptive. First do this, then do that, etc. But he’s not like that at all! He reveres the artistic process in all its messy glory. He believes that we are born either critics or artists, and if you’re one you can’t be the other.
I disagree with that last part. I believe our culture teaches us to be critics, so it becomes the easiest thing for us to do. But those who foster and develop their inner artist, will look at something and say to themselves, “Hrm…. I wonder where we can take that?” rather than, “Well, that doesn’t work! It’s a disaster!”
I believe we have a choice every day in everything we do and think. We can be critics, complaining about the world, or we can be artists who try to look for ways to make the world a better place.
The best place to start is those negative voices in your head. Next time you find yourself looking in the mirror and thinking, “I look awful” stop yourself and instead say, “Not this, not this.” Within a few days you’ll really feel a lot better!
What is your favorite movie?
Right now it’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. A confection! Every facet of it assembled beautifully.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
They can take a look at my blog about writing, Writers Assembly, or at the fictional band’s website and tour.
Any final words?
I’d like to ask your audience a question, if that’s alright. Have any of you out there read a book with a music theme that you really enjoyed? Use the comments section to share what it was about the book you liked the most.
And if that question doesn’t tickle your boat, how about this one: How do you think you could become more of an artist in your everyday life, rather than a critic? What difference do you think it could make?
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
Thank YOU for the opportunity to meet you and your readers.
Colleen is award-winning editor who started her writing life as a playwright. She has had 7 plays produced across Canada and worked with the likes of Samantha Bee (yes, from The Daily Show) and Leah Cherniak.
Her plays include Back Alley Boys about the hardcore punk scene in Toronto, Eye am Hear which tells the tale of a luddite teenage squatters at some undetermined punkish time in the future, A Brief Case of Crack Addicted Cockroaches about the relationship between the media and politics featuring a city councillor who smokes crack (which was never produced because it was too off the wall) and Interbastation about the beauty in ugliness and the ugliness in beauty. Her novel Public Image tied for second in the Anvil Press International 3-day Novel competition.
In addition to her work as a playwright, Colleen puts on the dramaturgy, editor and script doctor hats for a range of publishers, producers and writer clients. She has a Master in Creative Writing from the prestigious UBC Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing and has taught play writing at the university level. She’s also done the Board of Directors thing with the Playwrights Guild of Canada, The Playwrights Theatre Centre in Vancouver and other arts organizations.
She was managing editor of Taking the Stage: Selections from plays by Canadian Women which was selected as the “most saleable dramatic publication of the year” by the Canadian Booksellers’ Association. She has also been awarded Arts Council grants by the province of Ontario and Nova Scotia. She has served on the judging panel of several internationl novel awards. Her one-person play Interbastation was selected as one of the top-10 best shows by CBC Winnipeg in 1998.
She lived in Athens from 1999 to 2001 and, while there, reviewed and edited manuscripts for Hill Street Press.
Colleen currently resides in her birthplace, Toronto, with three grey cats and a drawer full of lint brushes.
Smashwords Author Page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/colleesu
Colleen will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B&N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.
Room With Books encourages our readers to follow the tour and comment.