A Conversation with Anthony St. Clair

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It was Marcel Proust who once said, “The Real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” It’s a fact of life that nonwriters could travel to the most exotic corners of the world and still be puzzled about where inspiration comes from. On the flip side, real writers can walk to the neighborhood market on any given day and come home eager to jot down a conversation overheard in the cookie aisle or an amusing exchange witnessed in the parking lot. Author Anthony St. Clair not only has a lot of globetrotting in his background but also possesses the wordsmith-worthy trait of always keeping his eyes open and forever pondering creative possibilities.

Interview: Christy Campbell

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From 1998-­2000 you lived and traveled abroad in Scotland and Ireland, and since then you’ve traveled extensively. How have your world travels influenced your life and writing?

Indie world travel changed my life. When I was 20 I lived abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, as part of a student exchange during my senior year of college. It was my first time staying in hostels, the dorm-style cheap accommodation favored by backpackers; I’d never even heard of hostels before. It was also my first time seeing people who traveled the world, sometimes after high school or college, sometimes for vacation, sometimes as a lifestyle.

It completely changed the course of my life. I spent the next year between Scotland and Ireland before moving from Edinburgh to Eugene, Oregon. Since then I have also gone to places like India, Thailand, Tibet, and Australia. My wife and I went to Canada for our honeymoon, and in 2013 we took our son, then 15 months old, to Japan. We gave him a passport for his first birthday.

When it came time to figure out the stories I needed to tell, things began taking shape when I knew the stories would revolve around travel. But when I understood that travel was just a means to an end, that’s when my fiction really started coming together.

At heart, my writing is about inspiring people to live the world. If in some small way my stories help anyone find the courage and grit to do what excites them, but that they haven’t done yet, then every word I write is worthwhile.

You’ve released two novellas so far in your Rucksack Universe series. What’s next?

Forever the Road, the first novel-length work in the Rucksack Universe series, comes out later this year. Right now the manuscript is with my copy editor, and my designer is working on the cover.

This book is a tale of travel, destiny, and beer. Three travelers in India battle their hearts and their destinies as an awakened evil prepares to destroy all life. Set in the fictional city of Agamuskara—which means “smiling fire” in Hindi—the book tells us more of the story of Jay the traveler, Faddah Rucksack (the world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage), and the mysterious more-than-a-bartender Jade Agamuskara Bluegold.

Forever the Road takes our world to a pivotal moment of destruction or renewal. Yet at its heart, the story is about connection: our longing to connect with others, and what happens when we don’t.

In one form or another, I’ve been working on this story since 2003. One day on my way to the office, I had an idea that made me pull over and write it down (I couldn’t care less that it made me late to work). I am so excited to share Forever the Road with readers. It sets the tone for many tales to come.

What makes Rucksack Universe different from other fantasy series?

I call the Rucksack Universe “travel fantasy.” Travel fantasy revolves around indie travel—not the book-a-cruise kind, but the kind where you backpack Asia for a year, live in another country, ride the same buses the locals do, or have been so many places you have to get more pages added to your passport. There’s often a large backpack involved, and dorm-style rooms in hostels where you can meet people from all over the world. There’s street food, friends you haven’t met yet, and a world where you treasure everything you experience, if only because you know there is so much more in the world than you can ever, ever know.

These stories are all about people who don’t have roots, gave up their roots, or had to go somewhere else to put down roots. These folks aren’t tethered to where they came from but seek fuller lives elsewhere. They’re vagabonds, globetrotters. The world is home and home is the road.

While the Rucksack Universe has fantastical elements, it is also very much a similar version of our world, changed by a catastrophic event known as The Blast. The world has gods, powerful forces, not-exactly-human figures, and, of course, destiny-slinging bartenders. The fantastical is interwoven with the ordinary, yet the extranormal elements also happen on an unseen level, unknown and unobserved by most people. The characters and the reader get to scratch back the skin shrouding these things, and go on an adventure with the hidden world happening unnoticed all around.

You also write a lot about craft beer and homebrew, and the beers in your stories almost seem like characters in their own right. Why is beer important in your stories?

As the old saying goes, “write what you know”! As a homebrewer and craft beer writer, beer is a passion—all the easier in a state like Oregon, where Eugene alone has 11 breweries. But what really makes beer so important in my stories is that if beer didn’t exist, travelers would have to invent it.

Everywhere I’ve traveled so far, there’s nothing like a cold one (or warm one, depending on the country) to bring people together. Beer is important in my stories because it’s a common beverage in many societies, and especially among backpackers. Pretty much every country has some sort of beer culture. From my own past, many of my favorite times involve a malty beverage or two or, well, it gets a bit blurry after that. I’m a cheap date.

The main beer in the Rucksack Universe is Galway Pradesh Stout, or GPS. It has nothing whatsoever in common with Guinness. (No, really. Ahem.) GPS is the most popular, most widely drunk beer in the world, even in hot countries like India. It’s a common element throughout the stories too. One of my plans—and I recently did a test batch—is to develop a homebrew recipe for GPS that I can make available to fellow homebrewers.

There’s clearly a lot of “long game” in the series. Is there an ultimate goal or conclusion?

Yes. No. Head bob. There’s a common saying that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, but my stories hold them as equally important. Every story supports far-ranging plot lines, in part because I want people to come back to the early tales and shout, “That son of a ————, he was already working this!”

I see some similarities with the story and character development in Doctor Who, where there’s short-term stuff and lots of big things that get built up to, sometimes over multiple seasons. It’ll be the same with all the Rucksack Universe stories. At the same time, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, each book stands on its own enough to where a reader can come to the series from any book and be right at home.

Home Sweet Road in particular sniffs at some of the long game afoot. Forever the Road will tell us more, especially when it comes to Faddah Rucksack, who we first met in The Martini of Destiny. He’s the world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage. Ultimately—for now, at least—his ongoing story is at the heart of everything happening in the Rucksack Universe.

Your stories embrace a sense of both interplay and conflict between decision and destiny. Do you think we make our own choices in life or are we governed by fate?

I believe that decision and destiny are intertwined. There as aspects of us that we have no control over, such as where we are born, who our parents are, etc. There are aspects of our personalities and bodies that are hard-wired. Sometimes things happen to us that we have no control over.

However, we always have the option to do what we can with what we’ve got, and that’s where decision comes in. We can choose what we do and see where that takes us. As we progress on a path, we can make new decisions. Eventually, you can look back and be amazed at the path you’ve taken, and how you never could have foreseen what you’ve done and where you’ve gone. But all that happens only if you take the first step.

Your latest novella, Home Sweet Road, is set in Clifden, Ireland. What about the plot and setting are based on your own travels in Ireland?

I lived in Ireland for a few months back in 2000, and I spent some fine days in Clifden. The hostel where I stayed was located a wee bit away from the city center. My first full day in the city, the proprietor drew me a map about “the eighth wonder of the world, Clifden.”

Years later, when I realized I had a story that needed to be set in Ireland, I drew hard on my time there, from the hostel to the Irish breakfasts to the pubs. I love the speech there too, from the bright patterns and flowing rhythms, to wonderful words like “feck” and “eejit.” Particularly in Aisling, the Awen of Ireland, I hope that love of language comes through.

There are other parts of Ireland that work in too. The Salt & Crane pub name is both a nod to Clifden being close to the sea, and to The Crane Bar in Galway, where I spent many an evening enjoying Guinness, good company, and the Irish music sessions.

Rucksack Universe stories so far have been set in Hong Kong and Ireland, and the first novel in the series is set in India. How do you write convincingly about these different locales?

Some of it is experiential. I’ve been to Hong Kong, Ireland, and India. Walking those streets with the folks who live and work there gives me a lot to draw on. I can write about India in part because I know how the cities smell, how the food tastes, and how you wouldn’t think it possible to pack so many different vibrant colors in one place. Same with Ireland; I know the feel of mist on my face, how a peat fire feels and smells, and what natural companions a pint of stout and a music session make.

Another part is research. I’ll read about places to answer questions or round out holes in my knowledge. I’ll look through Google Earth and study images. Each of my stories has its own board on Pinterest, where I’ll pin images that evoke or expand an aspect of the story.

My cover designer might also add that my writing style is visually rich and evocative. She says it actually makes her job easier—there’s so much imagery and sensory detail in the story, it helps her do different, more original things with the covers.

What drove your decision to be an indie author?

Until 2011, I held a “Real Job” as a web editor with a sales company. It was decent, honest work, but I had nowhere to go, and after 7 years there felt my career had stagnated. My wife and I spent a long time discussing my options, and more and more it was clear I needed to make a go of being a full-time writer. The year 2011 was still a time where the industry was pivoting. I spent about 6 months researching the publishing industry, what was going on, what was changing, how things might look once the future became the present.

Ultimately, I decided to go the indie route. It would let me move to market more quickly. I retained control over my work. Being indie gave me the opportunity—not the guarantee, but the opportunity—to make more money, and I didn’t have to hand over my rights for a pittance. Yet if the right publisher and the right deal came along later, I still had options. Starting out, I much preferred getting work to market than trying to get work to an agent and publisher, and then spend another couple of years getting to market.

Not every author wants to be indie, and that’s okay. I love being an author today, because we have more viable options that ever. For my skills and goals, being an indie author is a good match. I’m running my own business, and it’s in my blood—there are entrepreneurs and businesspeople throughout my family, right down to my wife, so if anything, indie is a natural fit.

How has parenthood impacted your writing and traveling?

This is where cultural cliches would have me talk about how it’s so hard to get anything done because I’m a parent, and how we never go anywhere anymore. But writing is an integral part of my life, and it is the center of my career. Travel is a passion for both me and my wife.

I’m going to defer to my grandma on this one. She was widowed and raised two daughters mostly on her own. I once asked her if that kept her from doing things she wanted to do. “No,” she told me. “My children were a reason to do things I wanted to do.”

That sealed it for me. Grandma never saw the girls as an impediment to life. She saw them as a reason to live all the fuller, and to share her interests with her kids. Both as a person and a parent, she figured out how to do the things she cared about, so her girls could see how important it was to make time for what matters to their lives. And that’s what my wife and I do with our child and our careers.

We talked hard about the impact starting a family would have on our careers, especially since 2011 not only is when we became parents, it’s also when I left my job, after years of planning. We figured out how to balance career and parenting, though in many ways that’s easier for us because we are both self-employed.

Over 2 years in to our parenting journey, we’ve made it work. As I said earlier, in 2013, when our son was 15 months old, we went to Japan for 3 weeks. My wife was going to a convention, and I was taking notes for future Rucksack Universe stories. It was an amazing trip, and it taught us much about how we work together as a family. Our son loved it, and I can’t wait until he’s older to tell him stories of when he was eating octopus in Osaka.

As for writing, Virginia Woolf nailed this years ago when she talked about having a room of one’s own with a lock. It’s true. There is lots of work I can do with my son around, such as some client work, or administrative tasks and such, and I want him to see his mom and dad engaged in work they care about. Heck, half the time I was red-pen editing the Forever the Road manuscript, my son was laughing and hanging on my arm.

With writing my stories, I have a home office that locks. My wife and I take turns with who’s watching our son. I watch him while she’s at her studio teaching violin, and she watches him while I work. Since he was born in 2011, I’ve published two books, have a third on the way, and am planning more.

If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

If it’s meant to be, make it be.

Where an we learn more about you and the Rucksack Universe?

My website is http://www.anthonystclair.com. I’ve blogged since 2004, and write regularly there about the Rucksack Universe [http://www.anthonystclair.com/rucksack-universe].

I also write about craft beer [http://www.anthonystclair.com/craft-beer-writing] and provide online copywriting and marketing help for various organizations [http://www.anthonystclair.com/copywriting].

Readers can discover more about my books at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20643039-home-sweet-road

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19107543-the-martini-of-destiny

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7104178.Anthony_St_Clair

I’ll be announcing the release date of Forever the Road soon, and folks can keep tabs on that and other things through my free email list [http://www.anthonystclair.com/blog/subscribe].

 

Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style

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Whether you’re on a cusp of your career or are in transition to something completely different, an invitation to improve your overall image is one that should not be ignored. And who better to dispense that advice about developing every aspect of your public presence than Lori Bumgarner, owner of paNASHstyle and author of the popular self-help guide, Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, published by O’More College of Design. Coincidentally, Lori was one of the two dozen experts who recently contributed to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve, and I’m pleased to put the spotlight this month on her incredible arsenal of image-building talents.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to the business of fashion and image consulting, and when/where did the door first open to launch your career in this field?

A: I have always had an interest in fashion ever since I was little. I always loved dressing my Barbie Dolls in different outfits and coming up with outfit designs with the Fashion Plates my grandmother got me for Christmas one year. That interest combined with my experience in career advising is what inspired me to start doing image consulting. This occurred when, for the first time in my career, my creativity was starting to be stifled. I couldn’t work like that. My friends encouraged me to do wardrobe styling which allowed me to use my creativity, but I wanted to do more than just that. As a result, I decided to offer image consulting services that incorporated both wardrobe styling and presentation skills (i.e. interview skills, etc.), which are also part of one’s image. I started my company part-time while still working full-time as a career adviser and did that for 9 months. Then, I took a leap of faith and quit the full-time job to take my business full-time.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I have learned so much about running a business that I never knew before. I also am using my undergraduate psychology degree in this career field more than ever before which was an unexpected surprise.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write this title and how you went about determining what topics would best benefit your target demographic.

A: Actually, it happened the other way around. I came up with the title after writing on each topic. That’s usually how my own personal writing process works, especially with my blog. I write my blogs first and then come up with the title for each after. The initial inspiration of the book came from a lot of the work I do with individual clients and also the work I did in the past as a career adviser. In my opinion, a person’s image is more than just how they dress. It’s also about how they present themselves on paper, online, and in person, whether that includes networking events, job interviews or media interviews. That’s why the book takes time to cover each of those topics separately.

Q: What do you feel is the best takeaway lesson for your readers in Advance Your Image?

A: That anyone can improve their image in simple ways and see results. They will have a greater confidence and will see how that confidence will open new doors of opportunity for them. The great thing about the book also is the Appendix because it gives readers hands-on activities and steps they can take immediately to improve their image. It serves as a resource that readers will refer to again and again over time.

Q: For someone who wants to update their image – whether they’re staying in their current job or transitioning to a new one – what do you recommend as the easiest and/or most economical starting point and why?

A: The easiest and most economical way to update one’s image is to “shop” in one’s own closet to come up with new outfits with what they already have on-hand, and then to incorporate new accessories (jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, hats, etc.) in with their current outfits. When “shopping” in one’s own closet, it’s always good to get an image consultant or a stylish friend to help you because you are so used to seeing garments and outfits put together only one way. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to show you how to create new combinations that you may have never thought of on your own.

Q: When most people go to have their professional headshots taken for a website, corporate brochure or lobby display at their place of business, they tend to dress according to the current season. Considering that their picture will be likely be seen year-round, however – and possibly even in different countries – what thoughts should govern their choice of wardrobe?

A: They should mix classics with current trends, but never with fads. Fads are things that last for only one season. A trend is something that may last for 3-5 years or even up to a decade. An example of a fad would be those ridiculous chicken feather hair extensions we saw a few seasons ago. An example of a trend would be a pointed-toe shoe or a dark wash dress jean in a modern cut. Also, it’s best to stick with classic colors and avoid trendy colors in photos that won’t be updated often. But, I would say that professional photos should be updated as often as a pair of glasses frames should be updated which is once every 3 years, and more often if your hair or glasses frames have changed dramatically since your last photo was taken. For instance, I went from a blond to a red-head, so I had no choice but to update my promo pictures, especially since I have my photo on my business card.

Q: While we’re on the subject of clothes, should a prospective job candidate (1) emulate what s/he knows to be the company’s workaday dress code and subliminally project “I fit in here!” or (2) wear his/her best business attire for the interview and potentially risk dressing better than the interviewer?

A: Definitely the 1st option! Always know your audience and make yourself relevant to that audience. Once a candidate has made it through the resume screening process to the job interview, this is the point where the company is determining fit. All the interview candidates meet the minimum qualifications. The interview is where the company decides which of those candidates will best adapt to the corporate culture.

Q: During the dot-com era of the late 1990’s, the concept of “Casual Friday” made its debut, inviting workers to take a break from having to wear coats, ties, pantyhose, and dress shoes. But has “Casual Friday” now gone too far by spilling into the rest of the week?

A: It’s hard for me to answer that question since I work mostly with recording artists and music industry professionals, a field where casual is the norm no matter what day of the week (and even here “casual” means “trendy/hip/funky,” not sloppy). I think perhaps it has, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing if people are “dressing up” their casual look instead of just using it as an excuse to be a slob. You can easily dress up a pair of jeans and look well put together, and yet be more productive than you would be in a suit and tie. Maybe “casual” isn’t the right term to be using (because it can sometimes be interpreted as “sloppy”). Maybe we need to call it “not-so-boring Friday” instead!

Also, I think it’s time for the classic job interview attire to make a shift to something a little more exciting than a boring cookie-cutter black suit. If I was a recruiter, I think I would get tired of seeing the same outfit on every single person I interviewed. I would instead prefer to see a little bit of the candidate’s personality and personal style shining through in their look. That way, I would have some idea of how the person would dress on a daily basis if they were to get the job. Anyone can dress up in a suit on interview day, but do they have the style and fashion sense to represent the company well on a daily basis? That’s why I started my Pinterest board entitled “Alternative Job Interview Attire.” It’s my hope that recruiters will open their minds to allow for some personal yet tasteful style in the job interview, and that candidates will be encouraged to take a risk by showing a piece of themselves to the interviewer. After all, if interviewers are trying to determine a good fit for their company, what better way to do so?

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that artists and entrepreneurs make in creating their “online presence” without the insights and expertise of professionals?

A: Not keeping the reader’s perspective in mind when creating the content of their web pages and online profiles; not utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest extent; begging for “Likes” of their Facebook fan pages without offering relevant content in return.

Q: “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two words popularly associated with today’s social networking. What’s your personal definition of these two concepts, and what are some ways that individuals and small businesses can apply them to their networking activities?

A: To me it means still being yourself, but a more polished version of yourself. The best thing people can do is to not fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others (i.e. their competition, the people with whom they are networking, etc.). Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and easiest way to feel defeated, to lose your self-confidence, and to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Q: Is successful networking an art or a science?

A: It’s a little bit of both with some divinity mixed in. I totally believe in divine connections and how we are brought together with other people. After that, it’s what you do with it, applying the science of networking rules and etiquette along with the art of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships.

Q: What are the most common elements of a boring profile and what can be done to rev up the appeal and excitement?

A: It is extremely difficult to write your own professional bio and make it sound interesting. This is because we as humans feel a little weird bragging about ourselves in writing. It’s much better to get someone like myself who can paint a picture with words describing what makes you unique. My artists who have hired me to write their artist bios have all said when they tried to write it themselves, it never came across the way they wanted it to. After hiring me, they always come back and say, “Wow! This is exactly what I was trying to say but just didn’t know how.” Anyone interested in having me write their bio are welcome to check out some of the bios I’ve written for other clients at http://panashstyle.com/documents/SampleBios.zip.

Q: The good news is that you have just been invited to do a media interview. The bad news is that you have never done one before and you are absolutely terrified because you have no idea what to expect. If a client just told you this, what would your top three tips be to prep them for the experience?

A: 1) Do your research. Know the stats about the magazine, radio station, or TV show and know the demographics of their audience such as its median age. 2) Read, listen to, and watch others’ media interviews with a critical eye. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses. 3) Read both Advance Your Image and Media Magnetism for even more tips to be best prepared!

 Q: In addition to being an author, you are also the owner of paNASH Style and editor of a pretty spiffy newsletter, too. What would you like readers to know about the services you provide that enable them to put their best foot forward whether it’s onstage, in a recording studio, or stepping into a boardroom?

A: Our goal is never to turn someone into something they’re not. Instead we focus on keeping the client’s image (their look and presentation of themselves) true to their own personal style, personality, and work/art. Also, we work with many clients virtually via online chat and email, especially for services such as media coaching and development of professional bios. We have clients all over the US, in Canada, and in Australia.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to more speaking gigs at various music industry events and working with more clients one-on-one, my plans for the near future are to bring on additional stylists, offer more workshops, and possibly start my second book.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It would be the tagline of the Advance Your Image book: “Putting your best foot forward never goes out of style!”

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: Yes. Readers can get exclusive tips and advice not featured in the book when they subscribe to my monthly newsletter on my web site at www.paNASHstyle.com.