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Author Interviews

Professional freelance writing is like any other profession in some ways. The more exposure you have, the more likely new clients are to find you. An author interview not only gives your name exposure, but it gives your audience some insight into who you really are.

A well done interview does a couple of things for you. It puts your name in front of people who may never have heard it before. It allows a glimpse into the personality behind the screen and it lends you some form of credit, depending on who is doing the interview. If a well known or well liked writer does the interview, then there is an underlying statement from that writer that your position as a professional freelance writer holds some respect with the one doing the interview.

There are also a variety of ways to do author interviews. If you're interviewing an author, make sure that your own personality shines through as you develop the interview. For instance, I did an interview with Peter Straub that shared a bit of insight into who I am while letting his personality flourish. On the other hand, Suzanne Alicie did an interview with me that gave me the front stage while demonstrating her prolific writing and interviewing skills.

While you might be tempted to really put yourself out there, there are some topics you should stay away from during the interview. Some of those topics include religion, politics and sexual themes. You might want to wait until you have reached some level of popularity before broaching those themes. For instance, Anne Rice decided to quit being called a Christian, though she still believes in Christ. For a new author to do that could mean professional death if such a statement were played out poorly. For Anne Rice in particular, she has a history of religious ups and downs that her viewing audience is aware of and has followed along with.

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Interview with Bikki Johnson

In the fall of 2009, I was fortunate enough to make the aquaintance of Bikki Johnson, a very pleasant and eloquently spoken musical figure. We talked throughout the past year and exchanged creative ideas. In the summer of 2010, Bikki was elated to have her newly released single "Underneath Your Faith" picked up by ABC Family to be aired on the new hit show "Huge". I could not resist requesting an interview and being the gracious artist that she is, she accepted. Below are the results of the interview.

Kathy Foust (KF): Good morning Ms. Johnson! Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. I can’t imagine how excited you must be by your latest accomplishment of having a musical piece air on ABC Family’s hit show “Huge” on August 23rd. I’d like to give our readers some insight into you as a person as well as a successful writer, composer, musician and singer. Shall we being with some basic facts and background? For instance, at what age did you start writing music or playing musical instruments?

Bikki Johnson (BJ): Growing up, I was always surrounded by music and musical instruments of some sort, belonging to my siblings. So, I would say as early as 5 years old I remember trying to play my brother's drums. Once in a while he would "lower" his entire kit so that I could play comfortably.

As far as my writing goes, when I was in the 5th grade...we had a family pet that had been hit by a car in front of my house. It was devastating...my first experience with loss...ya know? After the accident, I wouldn't talk I was so grief stricken. But, I wrote a poem.

I had a math teacher who was not as linear as one would expect a math teacher to be. Her name was Beverly Spottswood. She must have noticed that my behavior had shifted because one day she pulled me aside after class and asked if everything was okay at home. I reached into my backpack and pulled out this folded piece of paper.

On that paper was a poem I had written about my dog. She just looked at me and her eyes welled up. A week later (unbeknownst to me) she told me that I had won an award from the city of Baltimore State Comptroller, Hyman Pressman to whom she had submitted my poem. She escorted me down to the Mayor's office. I met with Mr. Pressman and received my award. So, I attribute that experience as my "coming out" of sorts as a writer.

KF: That’s a fantastic accomplishment. There is nothing so representative of natural talent as unsolicited praise. I imagine that a natural writing talent coupled with musical skills almost left you no choice but to choose the career path you have. Can you tell us what kind of musical instruments you play?

BJ: Well, that's subjective. [laughing] My main instrument is Bass Guitar. I can also play a little drums, guitar, piano and percussion. My brother Jack bought me my very first instrument... a pair of bongos.

KF: How many siblings do you have?

BJ: There were 9 of us total...6 girls and 3 boys, now there are 5 including me. I‘m the youngest.

KF: What kind of music do you write?

BJ: You know, I guess all of my songs so far are singer songwriter based. They tend to err on the side of indy pop and folk. I have also written stuff for television. I have a writing partner and write a slew of things for cable network tv; Nickelodeon , Style Network, DIY etc. So, it can vary

KF: When you say "a slew of things", do you mean songs, jingles..?

BJ: I'm sorry yes, there is a songwriter side and then there is the TV film side as well and that side enjoys themes for TV and film, not excluding sound beds and background music.

KF: Which one do you enjoy more?

BJ: You know, that's like asking a mom which kid she likes better. I actually enjoy them both very much. Any excuse to twist words and play with melodies is considered a treat and a joy for me.

KF: You are a writer who uses music to give her writing color and depth. Have you ever written professionally without music?

BJ: Wow, great question! I am actually working on a book. Hopefully I will get published so it would benefit me professionally as in printed, published and paid. Perhaps soon.

KF: Can you tell us what the book is about?

BJ: It's still evolving, but I guess it is a memoir of sorts. I’m calling in “City Hall on Broomsticks”, which is a nickname given to my grandmother in honor of her fierce intelligence and slight frame. The book is written in conversation form...me talking with her and filling her in on my life since she’s transitioned on.

KF: You have recently released a single. I understand that the song is available for download via an application available through iTunes called “FANTAPPER”? Can you tell us a bit about FANTAPPER, the song and the inspiration for it?

BJ: I am so excited about my new single! It’s called “Underneath Your Faith” and it will be featured in an episode of ABC Family's hit show HUGE starring Nikki Blonsky and Hayley Hasselhoff. It is available via my personal new FREE “App” for iPhone and iPad... called “FANTAPPER”. It is a digital trading card, created and developed by Bill Denke. It’s a lotta fun [FANTAPPER] and basically provides my fans, if I were to have any [laughs] with latest content like Bio...events... songs...stories...video...all sorts of goodies.

Like any song that I write, this one was inspired by something going on in my life at that time of its inception. Specifically, it's a song of encouragement and hope. I wrote it for someone who was going through a rough time of sorts. Watching someone you care about deal with their pain is not always easy. The only constructive thing I could offer at the time was my observation in song form. I wrote it in 15 minutes. I was just trying to express my empathy

KF: As a writer, I sometimes feel that I do some of my best work when I am emotional. Do you find this to be true in your work as well?

BJ: Yes of course and not just "emotional" in the out of control sense, but rather in a concentrated focus of interpreting life’s basic dynamics like joy, pain, love and frustration. Sometimes as writers, we are super in touch with the serrated edges that life can sometimes bring and in some sort of meditative state or zone we are able to translate or interpret those feelings with melody and prose to make it softer to the skin...or sometimes not, when necessary. Do you understand?

KF: Yes I do and I'm sure other writers will as well.

BJ: I just want to convey that it isn't just about being "emotional' that is the wonderful and beautiful intensity that exists when I begin to write a song. Somewhere during the process that emotionality hits a filter of sorts that all writers have (I guess) and we start to shape it into a reflective understanding of sorts.

KF: That's an excellent way to put it.
Would you like to talk about your career goals?

BJ: I love performing, so going on tour soon would be great! I would like to continue to grow and work as a composer, writing for both film and television. I had a dream once that I scored a production of Cirque Du Soleil (the Canadian entertainment circus arts ensemble). I would like to do a little acting, like a bit part in an action film. You know, like a bad ass Trinity (Matrix) meets bad ass Jacki Brown (Pam Grier) and I'm not kidding! I'm laughing but I'm not kidding![laughs]
I would also like to produce other musical artists...

KF: So, you want to write, sing, act and produce?

BJ: Ummm...Yeah...is that asking too much? No, I can do it...I believe in myself

KF: I’m just amazed by your aspirations!

BJ: [laughs] ... So am I!

KF: Where do you get all of your motivation?

BJ: Motivation...hmmm...well I have a profound need to deliver a message. I am a born communicator. I like a good story and I like being part of interpreting this human condition. Of course, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine could also be a factor! [laughing] Just kidding.

KF: If you were to meet someone who was considering getting started in the field of song writing, what advice would you give them?

BJ: Hmmm...I would have to say...be true to your interpretation. You know, although we all share the same living in the skin experience, none of us have the same thumb print and therefore our interpretation of the world around us is unique and special. Sometimes it's through our individuality that we find that we are not so different after all.

KF: You’ve obviously achieved a certain degree of success in your musical career thus far. However, If you were to become SUPER famous through your writing or any facet of your talent, how would you feel about the "living in a fishbowl"?

BJ: I am a rather private person but I am grateful to share certain parts of my being as it relates to others. I'm fairly easy going so I don't foresee that [fishbowl] as a problem. But as I think about this, where I would find issue is in someone misrepresenting my person.

KF: That's understandable and not something that is uncommon.

BJ: And that paparazzi thing...well...they don't wanna mess with me! [laughter]

KF: Is your family supportive of your career?

BJ: Yes, very much so. They are all on the east coast so we keep in touch through Face book and phone calls. This isn't new for them...they were accustom to me pursuing this as early as high school when I attended the Baltimore School for the Arts...they knew where I was headed early on.

KF: Is anyone else in your family in an artistic profession?

BJ: I have a nephew David who sings opera professionally. He's quite good and pursuing that as a career. I have other family members who show great promise in music and dance but they are still young and developing. It will be interesting to see if they take it on. Two of my three brothers play drums but they also have "normal" jobs.[laughs]

KF: I’m sure that all your fans out there are going to want to know if you are married or otherwise attached.

BJ: I am single.

KF: Have you ever been married or have any children?

BJ: Never been married...hmmm, and no biological children of my own...but I have songs. You know ...let’s just skip the whole parenting puberty, “but you never let me have any fun...” thing. [laughs]

KF: Can you tell me about some of the people you have worked with?

BJ: Sure. I played bass for Terence Trent D'Arby who was (and still is) this amazing singer and performer, Dana Glover an amazingly talented singer songwriter, Bird York an amazing composer and singer songwriter, McRai a wonderful Rai singer from Tunisia, Steve Ferrone (drummer for Tom Petty), Fourplay, the critically acclaimed contemporary jazz super group which consists of keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East, drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Larry Carlton and Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction.

KF: Are there any musicians or songwriters that influence your style of music?

BJ: Of course, all of them! No, really I get a lot from a lot of different places. I listen to a lot of different genres of music so I'm certain that subconscious seeds of inspiration and influence are waiting to sprout...as we speak. [laughs] On a conscious level I would say old school funk bands, particularly James Brown, Parliament Funkedelic, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

KF: Who are your favorite singers/bands/songwriters?

BJ: James Brown, Parliament Funkedelic, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Radio head, Coldplay, Alice Smith, Led Zeppelin, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Nora Jones…this could go on forever!

KF: If you had the chance to get tips from anyone that would help you with your career, who would you want to talk to

BJ: Tina Turner... because she's a very strong woman who knows a lot about being different and staying true. Oprah , for the same reasons. Steve Jobs because he's an innovator. Michelle Obama because she seems to understand the need for reaching further than what is expected of you in society and she maintains a certain grace and elegance, and theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, because he has more courage than a Shogun warrior, more intelligence and capacity than a Intel Xeon and I find his brilliance...ummm... sexy! I sometimes imagine him mackin’ on a girl [like me for instance] with that computer voice ... “Hey, girl ...let me ... get ..at you...” [laughs] I think that would be dope as hell! Don't underestimate Mr. Hawking!

KF: Do you find that you are held back at all in your profession because you are a woman?

BJ: In some ways yes...not held back initially but overlooked, which inadvertently holds one back.

KF: What are some of the biggest hurdles you've faced in your profession?

BJ: Well, honestly... having lost four siblings has been [and still is] a tremendous battle. I had to endure that devastation while trying to hang onto my career. I had to take a break to help my family and that pulled me quite a few rungs down my ladder of success. This industry is a tough one. Out of sight out of mind...ya know? But I did what I had to do as a young woman, as a sister and as a protector of life...(at one point becoming legal guardian of my nephew) and I'd do it all again because that's what family does.

KF: What do you think has been the biggest help to your career?

BJ: Timing and perseverance. I have the patience of Job!

KF: As you look through history, which women do you think made the biggest impact on the world of music today?

BJ: My grandmother, Mrs B. Tillman-Gwynn first and foremost. And from there...Memphis Minnie, the “first lady” of blues guitar, to Blanche Calloway (Cab's sister, first African American female conductor and actually a distant relative by marriage), Billy Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald and Tina Turner. These women all share an undeniable perseverance to break stereo types of women who were supposed to be demur, agreeable and color within in the lines....NOT! [laughs] I admire them and many others.

KF: What impact would you personally like to have as a woman in music?

BJ: Much of the same if I'm lucky. I would like to blow the hinges off of the misconception that women are ONLY to be seen in a limited soft and mild attributes kind of way. Don't get me wrong. I love being soft and sexy but I can kick a lot of ass when I want to and that quality or trait should not be mislabeled as masculine. In the animal kingdom the lioness is the primary hunter within each pride. She is ferocious, tenacious, ruthless and strategic, and she is considered no less female for being all of those.

KF: How many albums or songs have you released and do you have anything in the works now?

BJ: Solo...? Well just one, my new single “Underneath Your Faith”, which is my debut.

KF: Can your single be purchased in stores?

BJ: No, not in stores...yet. Digital distribution for now; iTunes and through FANTAPPER which is an iTunes app.

KF: Do you see that as a future trend?

BJ: What, FANTAPPER? Well I hope so...! I think you’re referring to digital distributions...and yes, absolutely! Unfortunately, packaging costs and employee overhead...are just a couple of variables which have lead to the disappearance of the record store. There are some still operating but not as many as there used to be. It's quite sad actually. But digital distribution is cool too. It just takes the personality out of the CD buying experience.

KF: I think you’re right about that. That just about wraps it up. I want to thank you again for giving me the chance to have this exclusive interview with you. I wish you all the success that you strive for and I look forward to any creative endeavors we may work on together in the future.

BJ: As do I!

(photography credit goes to Danna Kinsky)

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Book Review: The Queen's Confession

I love to read, so I thought I would start doing some book reviews to put here. I plan to do book reviews every week. If you would like to submit a book review for posting, feel free to contact me using the contact information here and in my profile.

Review of The Queen’s Confession

By Kathy Foust

This fictional biography by Victoria Holt offers a glimpse into the personal thoughts and life of Marie Antoinette. This tale of personal correspondence, fears, faults and relationships begins in the early teen years of Marie Antoinette, whose name was changed from Maria Antonio, signifying the transition from an Austrian child to the Queen Marie Antoinette of France.

This journey is not only about the life of the Queen of France, known for her spending habits and haughty attitude, but about France itself as the country changes from one of hope to the beginning and end of the French Revolution. From the crowning of the King who could not perform husbandly duties to the death of 2 out of 4 of the royal couple’s children as well as the beheading of the King himself, this account of the life of Marie Antoinette is written in such a way that the reader is carried along through family relationships, forbidden love and a misunderstood Queen of France.

The story begins with a young child and ends with Marie Antoinette seemingly writing her own history as she waits for judgment from the people, a judgment that will place her neck under the axe even as she maintains her dignity and duty to her people. This is not just a tale of a Queen, but of a woman whose downfall was sparked off by her innocence in an affair involving an extravagant necklace. A life of royalty and extravagance built a reputation that could only end in tragedy.

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