Author Q&A: Thomas Jast

Tom Interview Header
Shout out to everyone that’s doing the best job they can with what they were given.
Do more with less. Smash expectations. Prove yourself.
Thomas Jast
(Borrowed from one of his tweets!)

He’s the guy behind Calculated Regrets, Mixed Messages and Empathetic, as well as thousands of hilarious tweets. I’m a huge fan of his work and I’m convinced you will be too. (Assuming you aren’t already.) Recently, Mr. Jast was kind enough to answer some questions so we can get to know the man behind the literature. As always, he does not disappoint.

1.|In other interviews you have done, you’ve told us you were born in Poland and immigrated to Canada, and that you started writing as a way to learn English. What did you find most difficult in your earliest years of writing and learning English? Did you ever want to give up?

IMG_2320 resizeNo, it was easy. Do it wrong, get slapped by my mom. “You have to learn the English! The kids call you stupid if you don’t know the English!!!” [rough translation and I left out the parts where she threatened me with the rolling pin]

I never wanted to give up because the learning and improvement process is addictive and incredibly satisfying. I still learn new things to this day. Just yesterday, I learned how to use a comma. (That’s the dot with the little tail,,, like this,,,)

2.|What was the first thing you remember writing that you were really proud of? Approximately how old were you when you wrote it?

Besides childhood journals, which at best are comprehensible, in my late teens I wrote a thing called “Spring into Summer.” It was a first-person book that switched POVs for the four main characters. How did I do it? COLOR. Yeah, really. NIKKI TALKS IN GREEN. I don’t even know if that’s true. I don’t know if that’s her name. I don’t open the document for fear of reading it and enjoying it. Last thing I want to do is start stealing my own 15+ year old ideas, back when I was clever and innovative.

3.|It is no secret that you write in Women’s Fiction. It’s also no secret that gender bias sometimes plays a role in how authors are perceived in their genres, for instance, JK Rowling using a pseudonym to be taken seriously. Has being a man writing in Women’s Fiction presented any unique challenges for you?

Yes, this times a thousand. A lot of women subscribe to “for women BY women” for their work. Sure, that’s awesome except that there are certain things about my work that stands out because I am a man. It’s a relatively rare thing to have a guy write for women, it’s another for it to be someone like me that gives so little focus on gender norms or roles and writes it the way he wants it. I write and depict most of my female characters with the strength of prescription painkillers and the elegance of black dollar-store napkins.IMG_2285 resize

4.|Almost everyone listens to music while they write; what types of music, or specific bands, do you lean towards while you write, and does it change depending on the feel of the scene you’re writing? If so, can you give us a few examples?

Indie shit you’ve never heard of so I can write real indie shit?  Just kidding! [names 19 bands that you’ve never heard of]

Well, every project I write tends to have a feel I come up with first, oftentimes covered by a single artist or genre, at least. Favourite artists to write to include Metric, Muse, Conjure One, IAMX and Sneaker Pimps. Oh, and Christina Aguilera when I need to stretch my vocal chords in between chapters. My falsetto is starting to get mad range. My rendition of “Army of Me” is shockingly serviceable.

IMG_2309 resize5.|Quite a while passed from the completion of Calculated Regrets, Mixed Messages and Empathetic to the time you published them. When did you first decide you wanted to publish your work, or had you always known? Who was the first person you told, and what was their reaction?

Well, my business partners and best friends were the first to read my work. I always sort of assumed everyone would be floored and throw soft bags of money at me, so I wanted everything published right away (but it actually took 5+ years!). Hate to drudge up the past, but one of my earliest readers was my ex. She told me it all sucked and I should stop writing because it sucked and I suck/sucked/will continue to suck forever.

So… that doesn’t even answer your question. How about this? Hashtag nevergiveup hashtag goals

6.|As a self-published author, what do you find to be the hardest part of the process, and why?

Well, limited resources definitely complicate things. Oh, you found a typo? That’s $50. You want to promote it to people you’ve offended with your anti-American jokes? Oops. Getting started is the hardest. Takes months to get a legit Amazon review. Takes months to get a second one. Soon, though, people start talking and suddenly people are happy to review your work. Being legitimate and having quality work isn’t something people normally assume out of the gate; they need proof and reassurance. TL:DR version: getting started is difficult.IMG_2346 resize

7.|Family and friends aside, can you tell us what it felt like the first time someone bought your work? Did you celebrate in any way?

I took my $2 and bought myself a bus ticket since I sold my car to get the books made. In all seriousness, though, I couldn’t sleep. I tried to envision this stranger that made my day and wish I could get together with them and beg them to buy my other books since I know their Amazon account is functional.

8.|Let’s be honest, writing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Writer’s block: How do you cope? Does subject material ever take a toll on your mood?

Writer’s block, well… just walk away for a bit. Sleep on it. Drink some Jägermeister and listen to Salt-N-Pepa. The subject matter tends to affect me when I’m writing the darker, calmer passages. Sometimes it just crushes me when characters get hurt or want to hurt someone. I’m sad just writing about writing that. Thanks for that. *emoji thing with sad face*

9.|Many of your fans are already anticipating your upcoming thriller/murder mystery, Cassandra’s End. I know you aren’t going to give up any juicy details, but can you tell us where the inspiration for this story came from? Have you approached this particular work any differently?

IMG_2297 resizeI wanted to write something a little more complex and detached from my normal work, something more mainstream. I wanted some blend of a crime/thriller/70s/mystery vibe. I sat down with one of my friends and we hashed out some possibilities. A lot of those ideas were rearranged or scrapped, but the primary ideas remained. This is the first book I’ve written this slowly and with this much planning and outlining. I’ve been very careful and analytical about how someone would read it and what would go through their minds. Every page of the book asks 3 questions and answers 4 of them. It is, though, still very much a Thomas Jast book: strong female character(s), my quirky juxatapositional visuals and narrative (“the wet snow crunched like dried leaves”, “exhaustingly calm”, “hell-bent on forgiveness”, etc) and, of course, my usual focus on psychology. My hope is that all the elements work once it comes out of the oven. I forgot to set the timer so I’m not really sure how it is without poking holes in it to check.

10.|Speaking of your fans, you’re building quite a loyal base on Twitter. Is there anything you would like to say to them now?

Cliché version: I love you all and you give me a reason to sit down and write. I love interacting with everyone and sharing in the dream that is creative writing. Without you, I have no audience. With you, I can donate my earnings to the local orphanage and change young lives.

For-real version: I love you all even more when I’ve been drinking.


Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!

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Honestly, I was so blown away by the response to my cries for help on Twitter recently, that I decided I wanted to host a giveaway. I see it as a win-win-win: I win, one of you win, and the authors you buy from… win!

Here’s how this will work:

I am giving away $25usd in the form of an Amazon gift card. If you live in Ireland, (and you won this very instant) you’d receive €22.37. If you live in Japan, (and you won this very instant) you’d receive 2853.01 Yen. Basically, whatever the exchange rate is for $25usd at the time the contest winner is announced.

Entry will close February 29, 2016 at 12:00pm EST. The winner will be announced the same day at 5:00pm EST. The gift card will be delivered electronically, so I will need the winner’s email address. I will use Random.org to find the winner.

You can enter to win twice. Here’s how:

1.|Subscribe to my blog and comment on this post stating you want in! (If you are already a subscriber and you’d like to be entered, just comment on this post letting me know.) [This earns you one entry.]

2.|Follow me on Twitter and mention me (@AilaStephens) in a post using the hashtag #Ailas25Giveaway. I’d love these posts to include words of encouragement to other writers. (Be sure to spell everything correctly, I cannot find your post if you do not use the correct hashtag.) [This earns you one entry.]

You do not have to do both to win, but doing so doubles your chances!

I hope you’ll participate – and best of luck! 🙂

UPDATE! While this may have had the least participation in the history of giveaways, I was still pretty excited about it. Congratulations Sarah Lentz!

Prize winner



(re)Defining Success

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“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
-Winston Churchill

The definition of success is fairly standard; the simple definition says success is achieving wealth, respect, or fame.

I’m glad they tossed in respect, otherwise, very few of us would be textbook-successful; and I suppose, if we’re being honest, many of us aren’t terribly respectable, either. But, you know what? I like going against the grain, so let’s just put away Merriam-Webster for a few minutes (Don’t worry writers, we aren’t tossing it for good) and rethink this word that feels so elusive at times.

How much wealth must one obtain in order to be successful? Do we all need to be millionaires? Hell, for some people going from eating Ramen noodles six days a week down to three is something to celebrate.

How much fame is required? We can’t all be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Besides aren’t we always hearing from some famous someone that fame isn’t all it is cracked up to be? Who wants to slurp down tomato bisque at a bistro with paparazzi getting close ups of the crouton crumbs on their shirt?

What I think most successful people forget to mention is that perhaps the largest, most important aspect of success is: failure. See one of my recent tweets:

Whenever I start getting aggravated with myself, which is often, and I feel like giving up, which is also often, I think about WD-40.

No, I don’t have some fetish for hardware lubricants. Have you ever wondered what it means? No? Well, it means water displacement perfected on the fortieth try. Someone spent years of their valuable time coming up with a solution for our squeaky doors, despite 39 total flops. That’s kind of spectacular, don’t you think?

Short moral of the story: Giving up will get you nowhere, and sticktoitiveness is paramount to honing your craft. Overnight successes are the exception, not the norm.

Obviously, we would all like for agents to compete for our favor, our first editions to be highly sought collector’s items and our own dream houses in which to write our never-ending list of best sellers. But, if that is the only measurement of success, most of us are going to be gravely dissatisfied, which is unacceptable. While pondering the various, and endless, variants of success, it dawned on me that my wee brain couldn’t possibly fathom what being successful in writing might mean to others.

Enter: Twitter.

Knowing if I were left to my own devices, this would – at best – be lackluster, I turned to Twitter and asked you guys for help. I was beyond blown away and humbled at the amazing response.

Seriously, the response was wonderful and incredibly sincere. I loved every single reply (which, as I write this, they are still coming in!) and can honestly say several of them made me a little emotional. Without further ado, I will share the awesomeness with you.



First, THANK YOU to all who participated in that little experiment, you’re all fabulous people.

Second, suck it Merriam-Webster.

Below is a video of a man you may not have heard of, but you really should have. Elon Musk is a fantastic human being and if there were only one successful person to take tips from, I’d venture to say he’s the guy.

In my eyes, if you keep putting words on the page even without the promise of publication or big bucks, you’re still successfully doing something you love – which is awesome! Let’s keep going! Tell me about your successes – great or small  – in the comments below!


For love’s sake!

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“The mouth is made for communication,
and nothing is more articulate than a kiss.”
Jarod Kintz

Ah, romance. Romance, romance, romance. For some, it’s the softness of a rose petal on the cheek, the tenderness of true love’s kiss, and the tickle of sweet-nothings whispered in one’s ear.

For others, however, romance is the oily feeling in the pit of their stomach just before throwing up. I really, really hope, if you’re reading this, love has been much kinder to you and the thought of cupid doesn’t strike you in a murderous mood.

It seems to me, every year a lot of people say: “Why celebrate your love only one day a year, it should be celebrated every single day.” Pardon me while I snort. I’m wondering if those people have jobs that leave them exhausted at the end of the day, if they have ever wondered how they were going to pay the bills, do they have children, do they occasionally have opinions that differ from their significant others that cause an argument… Do they do laundry? (Ugh, I hate laundry.)

Because sometimes life’s bullshit just sort of prevents us from always expressing our love and devotion the way we should – in steps Valentine’s Day. Yes, a completely made up holiday that makes millions for the greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and whatever company it is that makes those stuffed animals that are adored for a week and then donated to the closest thrift store.

Most holidays are only once a year. Veteran’s Day is once a year, but shouldn’t we thank our veterans more than that? The Fourth of July is once a year… as are Christmas, Easter, Superbowl Sunday… you see where I’m going with this? (And yes, I know that Superbowl Sunday is not technically a holiday, but I live in Southern America where practically every time the stadium lights go on, it’s a damned holiday.)

So what is the big deal about there being one day to stop and dedicate yourself to making sure your SO knows, despite all the drudgery the rest of the year may bring, you are as smitten with them as you can possibly be? Does that give you the green light to be a jerk the rest of the year? Of course not, silly.

If you’re that opposed to giving those greedy greeting card people a few bucks for a three line poem, here’s a thought: WRITE A LOVE LETTER. What a lost art that has become with the rise of texting and emoticons. Revive it. Make it mushy, gushy, and chock-full of the purplest purple-y purple prose your mind can concoct.

And above all else: Love. Imagine a world where we all truly celebrated love more than we allowed ourselves to hate.

If you’re alone on Valentine’s Day – show a friend, a sibling, parent, cousin, neighbor – anyone – how much they are appreciated. Go out and buy a box of those silly cards we gave out as kids, fill one out for each of your coworkers and brighten up everyone’s day at the office. (Just keep it clean in the office, k? I don’t want you to blame me if you wind up in the unemployment line.)

Maybe, if we all could see past the whole greedy greeting card thing, we would all celebrate love a little more and more often.

Tell me! What is the sweetest thing ever done for you on Valentine’s Day, or do you have any Valentine’s horror stories?

[Quickly, my sweetest: My husband, then boyfriend, for our first Valentine’s Day, spent all day learning how to make Chicken Marsala to absolute perfection. | My horror story? An ex-boyfriend gave me a “life map.” He told me when we were getting married (never asked), how many kids we would have, what I was going to college for, and lastly – that I had to change the kind of music I listen to because it isn’t ladylike enough. This was accompanied with a Backstreet Boys CD and very quickly thereafter a breakup. :-)]

Happy Valentine’s Day, my lovelies. Xo

Getting To Know Aila, Tips, Uncategorized

Dream a Good Dream, My Darling

An excerpt from -What Do You Think-- (3)“Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and
safely insane every night of our lives.”
William C. Dement

Where do you get ideas for your stories or poems? Does it come from a snippet of conversation you overheard on the subway between quarreling lovers? The honest expressions of children on the playground? The heart-wrenching recounting of a friend who just found out they have mere months to live?

The truth is, if you look hard enough, you can find inspiration anywhere.

Dreams are but one, but possibly my favorite. I am one of the lucky dreamers who has incredibly vivid dreams. Not lucid. I don’t necessarily feel I have control over them, even when I am aware that I’m in the middle of a dream.

My dreams are also extensively detailed. Sometimes to the point I feel I’m more tired when I wake up than I was when I went to bed because it seems I’ve spent the whole night exploring entire worlds that don’t exist.

I also do not usually have a problem remembering my dreams days, weeks, sometimes even years after I’ve had them. I have recurring dreams and nightmares that have plagued me for decades – luckily I don’t spend many of my waking hours obsessing over them like I did when I was a child.

The basis for No More Champagne came from one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had. I was out of town, alone, and sleeping in the single most awful, terribly uncomfortable bed that any human being has had the extreme displeasure of paying to sleep on. It was my third or fourth night on that “bed,” and I think my subconscious took pity on me and decided if I was going to be physically miserable, I would be thoroughly entertained.

Around four o’clock in the morning, I woke with an idea. The idea grabbed hold of my throat and dug in its claws in the best way possible. I couldn’t shake it. All I really had available to me at the time was my iPhone, and I filled the virtual notepad up with ideas, plot points, characterization notes, potential lines of dialogue – it was crude, but it worked.

As soon as I had access to my laptop, my passion for the project was at a fever pitch and the long-stream-of-consciousness draft was out of my system in twelve days.

On average, it works out to roughly 7,090 words per day, though I know one day my fingers and my brain choreographed flawlessly together and I got just shy of 11,000 words down in a single day.

Dreams work for me.

Here are my tips for getting the most of your dreamy muse:

1.| If you aren’t blessed – or cursed – depending on how you look at it, with the ability to remember dreams in great detail for long periods of time, the tried and true advice of keeping a notebook and pen by your bed is excellent… at the very least make the notepad app on your phone the last app opened so it is automatically on the screen once you unlock your phone. Make sure your thumbs are nimble.

2.| This tip won’t apply to everyone, but, if you need an alarm in the mornings, and you can get away with it, don’t use a jarring beeping sound that sends a surge of adrenaline coursing through your body. If a gentler melody or song is enough to wake you, then it will be much easier for you to wake up and feel the remnants of whatever emotion(s) your dream caused you.

3.| Don’t get bogged down in the details. Jot down only the bare essentials, lest you forget it all. Prominent colors, specific guest appearances, did a smell leave an impression? Write single words down quickly, you can make sense of them later. Something like this:

– Summer
– Fireworks
– Cinnamon
– Fear

That short list could’ve belonged to the dream that inspired No More Champagne, easily. Those keywords can help you remember the minutia later.

4.| Talk about your dream. I am a morning person. I usually wake up in a great mood, ready for the day, excited… I’m that annoying person you hate. My husband is the opposite. The less he has to function in the mornings, the better for him. So, I imagine he isn’t exactly thrilled when I start out the morning with, “Holy crap, I have to tell you about my dream.” (In fact, I know he isn’t. It’s usually met with a grunt or groan signifying that he will not retain anything I say, but won’t tell me to shut up.)

Seriously, though, talk. Talk to your significant other, to your dog (who will listen intently), to your cat (who thinks you should listen to it), or to your own beautiful reflection in the mirror. You’ll go off on tangents, which is fine! Just talk.

5.| Lastly, do not go to bed obsessing over remembering your dream. Go to sleep with as open a mind as possible.

Neat things I’ve heard about dreams:

  • Anyone you see in a dream is someone you’ve met or seen before, no matter how fleeting. This theorizes that our brains cannot actually make up faces.
  • Vitamin B12 taken before bed (dosages vary) can cause crazy intense dreams. (Thanks to Thomas Jast, I wasted spent a couple of hours researching this phenomena.)
  • People who were born blind still dream, only their dreams are auditory.


Have you ever been deeply inspired by a dream? Nightmare? If so, care to share? Have you ever heard of certain foods, beverages, supplements enhancing the dream experience?

At any rate, sleep well my lovelies. And sweet dreams.