L. G. Cullens (LeeC)

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    L. G. Cullens (LeeC)

    This month we focus on eco-author L. G. Cullens, or better known to WF members as LeeC.

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    Lee was born and raised in 1940's Wyoming with Shoshone friends (his naturalist grounding), served in the military, and pursued careers first in civil engineering, then computer sciences, and finally, in his fifties, woodworking decorative arts. Since, with diminished dexterity, he's turned to writing. A natural sciences passion throughout his lifetime is evinced in his art and writing.

    Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?

    In the northern Rockies, in an earlier time and setting, amongst Shoshone friends ― times I cherish. The different cultural exposure and the wilderness region certainly influenced my naturalist perspective, and that, to varying degrees, shows up in my artwork and writing.

    How long have you been writing?

    I've only been writing fiction since 2010. Like many I pursued the American dream, climbing the ladder, until at fifty I walked away to pursue my woodworking decorative art — a hobby all along. Since, with diminished dexterity, I only write. Developing writing skills, especially creative writing, is an ongoing process. I worked on my book Calan's Eden over three years and it wasn't that lengthy or great. After publishing it, the feedback I received showed me how I could improve the writing, so for another six months I worked on a revised edition. Life is a learning path where in progressing, one discovers how little they know. On the plus side, a lengthy life has given me a lot of experience to draw on in writing.

    What inspired you to write Calan's Eden?

    I've had bits and pieces of this story floating around in my head for some time, even telling some in various forms to my grandson. Watching my grandson grow, and seeing his interest in the natural world, my concern for the world he will have to get by in prodded me to try to do more than reestablish biodiversity in a small way in my natural garden.

    What's the story behind your book?

    With a biocentric thread in mind, and a long span of familiar experiences and settings, I tried to craft a humanistic collection of connected sketches others would be interested in. Sorry if that seems simplistic, but few want to hear natural sciences speak, and it takes ongoing time, skill development, and effort to weave such in an engrossing way.

    What is it that you want to accomplish with your book, if you don't mind the question?

    That's a question every author should have a forthright answer for. First, I hope it's an engrossing collection to a fair number of readers, that's remembered long after being read. Second, I wholly intend what Edwin Schlossberg said, "The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think." If I've accomplished both, then maybe the biocentric thoughts may linger on the periphery of the reader's mind. Not everyone is interested in broadening their understanding of the natural world, but it's those with a bit of curiosity I'm aiming for. Writing only for the choir doesn't accomplish much.

    What reader reactions have you had so far?

    Mixed to the point of polarization. While some that understand what I am trying to do are supportive, others that don't like my approach aren't. There are two general complaints I get most often. One is that they don't like me starting at the end, leaving them confused about where the story is headed. The other centers around the book not flowing like a novel.

    For better or worse, I intended to leave the reader a little confused up front, in the hope they would read on. As to the second general complaint, I guess they missed the point on the title page, that the book is a collection of connected sketches, not a novel. Different strokes ... and all that. No doubt I'm at fault in not paying enough heed, but then I've always had a problem with dogma, seeing where it's gotten our civilization.

    Lee, please would you share a short excerpt from Calan's Eden?

    As he concludes, quiet ensues. For an unmeasured time I'm relaxed, thinking not about why I'm here, but the course my life has taken, and the many other lives whose paths I've crossed. What a rollercoaster, if my father hadn't been an abusive drunk in my first few years, I might never have experienced wilderness on a grand scale. Nor with other twists in the road might I have experienced Shoshone culture. I might have been just another bored child of a well-meaning workaday family, growing into the same kind of life. I'm happy life took the course it did, because now I can truly appreciate the real beauty in this world.

    I become anxious again in sensing that without physically touching every psyche present is forming a circle with me included. Even more unsettling is the strangeness of the flickering shadows on the lodge walls, beginning to slowly rotate despite everyone remaining still.

    When the lodge covering dissolves into a starry vista, and the ancient one melds into the vastness I panic, but can't break the circle. And when my departed friend Derek appears in the circle, with a smoldering sage branch in hand, my consciousness spirals into a vortex.

    Why did you choose to pursue literary eco-fiction?

    Could it have something to do with my naturalist perspective? Seriously though, I write believing I have something objectively worthwhile to say, not for fame and fortune. My approach is to weave that into humanistic tales with strong emphasis on the characters, which I'm told is literary fiction, and together with a biocentric undercurrent you have literary eco-fiction.

    Have to be careful about calling it eco-fiction though — some not in the choir tend to recoil like it's a venomous snake.

    How do you believe writing skills in general are developed?

    Formal training is a good starting point, and for technical and scientific writing may be enough of a platform. For fiction and creative/narrative nonfiction writing, though, I believe the more broadly one reads, noticing the wordsmith skills that make some stories more interesting than others, the more one develops their skills. I emphasize reading broadly because to me it's when one is out of their comfort zone that they can more easily recognize writing aspects. Granted, few are so attuned they can go it alone, and in my case belonging to a writers' group helped that being WritingForums.com where some accomplished "old hats" critiqued extracts. It took persistence and forthright critiques on their part to get me beyond the worst writing habits, for which I'm much obliged.

    The latter brings up another aspect of development. If one's intent is to improve their writing, then forthright input from unsympathetic others is imperative. Those that learn the most from such are able to separate their personal reactions from others' takes on their writing. There are nuggets in most every criticism.

    A good writer is an observer and evocative conveyor, not someone bent on celebrity.

    What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

    That would be playing out scenarios in my head of what life might have been had I and others had different experiences and/or made different choices. Lately though, I've had an idea bouncing around my head of a post-apocalyptic story about a small band of surviving Shoshone.

    What motivated you to become an indie author?

    I started out wanting to be traditionally published. My experience was a few gate keepers with a passing interest wanting me to change the writing to something other than intended. Understandable when one realizes that a book is a product to them, and the more immediate mass appeal the better their business bottom line. There were also some grammar nazis, as I think of them, that seemed more interested in following some current dogma guide than in how to realistically depict the story and characters. Part of what I'm trying to do is look at our culture from outside the bubble. To be fair, I know there are quality editors that could improve the presentation of my story as intended, but unfortunately, at my point in life, I haven't the means to afford them.

    Anyway, after reading numerous self-publishing and branding books, I came to believe that I could do more than traditional publishing in the long run. That is if I was willing to put in the extensive effort. Besides the networking, such involves learning to produce better looking ebook formats (or paying to have such done) than the distributors' crunch conversions may yield, and on the print side, formatting and paying for print on demand. Whether on a limited retirement income like myself or not, indie publishing also entails steering clear of those that take undue advantage of your dreams.

    As to ebooks versus print books, I believe there's already too much deforestation. I could live with POD, but don't plan on getting into it unless there's sufficient demand. Ebooks and POD, to varying degrees, do make tweaking a book and revised editions a more viable process, and being your own publisher means having more control over what's done, for better or worse.

    Which social media platforms do you use to promote Calan's Eden and why?

    The general why first because that bears on platform choices. As noted by myself and others, writing a reasonably good story is only the first step in a long journey. Getting one's writing into the hands of enough others to validate the first step, and give a book some traction, is an onerous task, especially if one is a first time author and self-published.

    Social media is of course where the most people congregate nowadays, so it comes down to which platforms might be the most useful. So far I maintain a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and to a lesser extent Pinterest. I chose them, for better or worse, mostly on the number of users, and secondly on a sampling of content. Twitter has been the most productive (relative to clickthroughs and shares), but also has the most minefields. On Facebook, by design, one has smaller audiences, and in my case the frustration of some dense in-laws friending me. Google+ is less of a networking platform. It's nice in that I found a very supportive eco-fiction group there, but beyond such hasn't been very helpful. Pinterest is more of an image sharing platform with networking more difficult to accomplish. When I say networking I mean extending branding effort, not plastering blatant ads.

    Do you think cover design plays an important part in the buying process? If so why?

    Beyond word of mouth which usually takes years to develop, if at all, the cover of a book is the doorway to interest in a book. It has to make a book stand out from the crowd, and entice a potential reader to glance at the contents. It also serves to zero in on readers that might have an interest in a book. The reader looks into a jungle, at first seeing a wall of green (all the book covers), then notices a heron in the water, a frog on the ground, and a banded snake in a tree. Our eyes translate images into thoughts that register as intriguing, ignorable, or something to avoid.

    I thought my first book cover clever, but only a couple people bothered to look inside. Then I focused on readers that I believed would be interested in my book, keeping the cover simple, yet with depth that the readers I was looking for might recognize. It's made a world of difference.

    Who are your favorite authors?

    Beyond naturalist authors like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, I've enjoyed reading V. S. Naipaul, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Sue Monk Kidd, Margaret Atwood, Garrison Keillor, Kathryn Stockett, Willem Lange, John le Carré, J. R. R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, and many lesser knowns. That being only a sampling, as I couldn't begin to name them all having been reading since the '40s.

    I should note, there are some very good published authors here on WF. First hand, I know that Olly, Jen, and Terry are. No doubt there are others I haven't read yet.

    What do your fans mean to you?

    I'm not keen on the word "fans." I think more in terms of connecting with others and exchanging thoughts. If they saw something in my book they were interested in, we must have a little in common.

    When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?

    Oh ... life. I'm either trying to improve my health for when I go, or in my natural garden with my canine companions, or spending time with family and friends. There's more than enough bad in this world to go around, so I try to focus on the silver linings as much as possible.

    What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?

    If you think writing is an easy way to accumulate fame and fortune, or even increase the change in your pocket, then you'd be better off sticking to the day job. If you really want to excel at writing, then check the oil in your drive, and buckle down to reading most anything you can get your hands on, especially well-written books outside your normal interest. And, in between reading, practice, practice, practice. Somewhere along the line when you honestly (not subjectively) think you can craft a decent story, join in a writers' group, like WF, and interact with unsympathetic members that offer the most constructive critiques. Even if you believe a critique is wrong, or not intended to be helpful, keep it in mind. There are gems in most all that will help once you recognize them. Oh, and if I can be disrespectful, don't argue with a critique like an immature child, something I learned early on here. Accomplished writers who can help the most, grow weary of helping those that refuse to listen and argue back.

    What are you working on next?

    Struggling there. I've got a basic idea and am cycling through ways to present it. Maybe I'll merge it with the idea mentioned earlier. I'm also at that point in life where I believe in doing one thing as best I can before moving on. Thus I've put a lot of effort into a revised edition of my book. I've also been busy reading and reviewing other eco-fiction books that I believe deserve more awareness.

    If you could leave others with one thought, what would it be?

    If I might paraphrase from Duncan Morrison's book Hope or High Water, "The pendulum of thought swings between primal and fanciful, whisking through centered thinking in its arc. Writers and other media too often focus on the extremes, perpetuating inculcation of audiences with their efforts. We need new stories to help center cultural thinking, and expand awareness of how all life is dependent on the community of life as a whole. What a great thing it would be if more of our stories focused on the connectedness of life, and for the sake of our children helped shape the future in a more sustainable way."

    Stay connected with Lee via

    Twitter: @LGCullens
    Facebook: Leighton Cullens & L. G. Cullens
    Google+: Lee Cullens
    Pinterest: Leighton Cullens
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  2. #2
    enjoyed..WF's own eco-warrior and eco writer..cool man
    The only one who can heal you is you.

  3. #3
    Great interview, Lee.

    "Self-righteousness never straddles the political fence."


    "The bible says to love your neighbor. It's obvious that over the centuries it has been interpreted as the opposite."
    (sarcasm alert)


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  4. #4
    WF Veteran Gyarachu's Avatar
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    Aug 2012
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    Been waiting on this one for a while now. Cool stuff, Lee.
    "Fantasy is the literature of hope. In fantasy there is a belief that you can make a difference. Today may be bleak, but you can live through today. And tomorrow will be better. And maybe there'll be a different darkness tomorrow, but you can live through that, too, and you can make the light come, and the darkness go away. It doesn't matter how many times the darkness comes. There is always hope for something better." ~Robert Jordan

    "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." ~C.S. Lewis

  5. #5
    Well, we waited a long time but now here you are and it's very good to see you. A thoughtful interview with an eye towards helping others, an oft-seen characteristic of your generous nature, Lee. I enjoyed reading about your path through the writing process and I absolutely love that idea you have about a band of Shoshone starting again post-apocalypse. You need to get to work on that right away.

    Thanks, PiP, for finally dragging him to the interview room.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by escorial View Post
    enjoyed..WF's own eco-warrior and eco writer..cool man
    A point to me Esc, is that life is a lot more exciting and meaningful when we dare to stick our noses out of our self-imposed human bubble. That journey can even be in an armchair, reading eco-fiction. There're many different such books, as per example, if my book is too boring for someone, then they might enjoy Donnam's Wild Roots.

    As you've likely surmised, I've aged from "better not say that" to "what the heck."

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  7. #7
    ...most people change throughout there life which can be good or sad but the people i admire are people like you who don't change they transform at different stages in their life...
    The only one who can heal you is you.

  8. #8
    WF Veteran H.Brown's Avatar
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    Fantastic interview, nice to get to know more about you.
    Fancy joining a photgraphy group? The check out the Hidden Content group.

    Visit My Blog to get to know me better.Hidden Content Hidden Content A fun group of like minded new writers.
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    Why not check out the Hidden Content and join in the latest challenge discussions.

  9. #9
    Great interview! It's good to see something of an author I hear from a lot.

  10. #10
    Member The Defenestrator's Avatar
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    This just goes to convince me that there's something special about Wyoming.

    I grew up (am still growing up) in southern Wyoming. I'm focusing my undergraduate research on ecocritical theory (in medieval texts but still). I think in a place with so few people and such a rich natural environment, you really begin to have a relationship with your surroundings, and an awareness of how people talk and interact with concepts of place, landscape, and wildlife.

    It's cool to see more from and about you, Leec.

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