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Margaret Beaver Books, Men's Mental Health, and Tricks of the Trade

January 6, 2024

This article serves as a transcription for a podcast episode featuring Margaret Beaver. The original episode is available here.


Ashley Elizalde: So, we are here today with Margaret Beaver, who is a poet and an author of a couple books now and a mental health advocate. And she is here with us today to talk about her writing and mainly her new book, Flowers for Papa. So, Margaret, we are excited to have you.  

Margaret Beaver: Thank you so much for having me today.

AE: Yeah, absolutely. So, we're just going to go ahead and go right into it: Your brand focuses on underrepresented people, voices, and mental health issues, both of which are extremely crucial to writing and to the publishing industry and really just to society as a whole. So, could you tell us a little bit more about your organization for those of us who haven't heard your other podcasts yet?

MB: Absolutely. Margaret Beaver Books, or MBB, was founded in 2022—so just last year—just following the initial release of inkwells., which is my debut poetry collection, my very first publication, and that was published last year in June. So, basically, the whole story boils down to the fact that once I had that book out, I figured that I needed an online presence to market and publicize myself and my work. So the whole thing was that I just decided to build a website for myself and it later ended up mutating into a business of its own. “Margaret Beaver Books dot com” was the closest domain name I could get to myself, so I decided, to go with that domain name, to fully just rename the interface as Margaret Beaver Books and make it into a grassroots organization rather than just a retail platform. So, today, MBB operates as both: It features my work, my message, my story—all of that—and from my story, we support and advocate for the causes associated, such as mental health awareness and LGBT advocacy.

MB: In the future, I would really love to take MBB to the next level and collaborate with mental health and literary initiatives in aiding the accessibility of treatment, education, the arts. Also, considering today's recent climate, it is important to note that we actively support a series of equality movements and are strongly advocating for a ceasefire regarding the Gaza conflict. We have always and will always stand for equality and we have the bones to be a driving force where it means most, so we're using our resources however we can right now.

AE: Yes, that is awesome. That is amazing. And I know they definitely need our support over there right now as much as they can get. That's amazing that you're putting that out there for sure.

MB: I try to stay in the loop as much as possible because what is relevant is what needs our help right now.

AE: Yes, exactly. And so does the LGBTQ community and any underrepresented voices right now need all the help as they can get from anybody who's willing to help.

AE: So, continuing with mental health advocacy a little bit, I know a lot of people who struggle with mental health issues so, personally it's very, kind of, hitting home for me. So, what can we, as authors and publishers in general, continue to do to raise awareness? I know what MBB is already doing, but what does everyone, as a whole, need to do as a society to, kind of, help these people and help raise awareness about these issues?

MB: Yeah, being totally whole, being all in this together, is really the optimal outcome because the more people involved, the bigger the impact. So, it’s been established that I'm a writer, but I'm also an activist—and there's no reason why those two things can't or shouldn't intertwine. So this is why I came up with the concept of literary activism, which is basically just a writer channeling activism and advocacy into their work. (If you need a tangible example, I always love to bring up The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas—one of my favorite books ever. You know, that is a narrative that supports antiracism and brings a voice and internal perspective to the heart of inclusivity campaigns and human rights marches. That's basically the entire purpose of that novel. That is the major message. And that is also what literary activism is.) So, when it comes to what authors and publishers can do to continue to raise awareness, authors are enabled the opportunity to participate in literary activism, to craft a story surrounding a social issue or a misrepresented topic and publicize it to wide audiences. That's not only a wonderful way to get traction for yourself, but to extend the outreach of that movement.

MB: Or, if activism is something you admire as a writer but not necessarily something you'd want to write yourself— You know, these are very heavy topics. A lot of people use reading and writing as a way of escapism, so some people don't really want to write about what's actually going on in the world and I understand that completely. So, if you're one of those people, any writer at any time is able to publicly promote and advocate for novels and novelists they enjoy. You know, anyone can give book recommendations on the random and that word-of-mouth or digital campaign is priceless to the outreach of the author and their message. So even if you're not advocating directly, you can still advocate for the person who is advocating.

MB: So, on the publishing front, I've noticed a multitude of publishers and literary agencies are becoming especially devoted to representing writers and narratives exemplifying diversity, and talented people in general who have a message of equality surrounding them. These are concepts and mentalities that are becoming incredibly sought after by readers, to have that inclusivity and to have that representation that is so important. And since it's popular with readers, it's especially popular with publishers and agencies, because they know that, from a business perspective, they can sell those books and those stories because that's what so many people want and are looking for today.

MB: I've actually come across a lot of agencies who solely recruit clients that identify with certain minority populations and that's pretty amazing for these traditionally dismissed people to have a place dedicated solely to them so that they have the ability to be integrated into the publishing industry like they should have been in the first place.

AE: Yeah, definitely. It's fascinating that it's taken the publishing industry this long to, kind of, be doing what they should have already been doing a long time ago.

MB: Exactly. We, as a species, as humanity, we move incredibly slowly and that is one of our biggest drawbacks is that we just do not move faster.

MB: So, across the field, authors and publishers and everyone alike, what you can do is you can simply advocate for diverse people and messages. Do better in cultivating safe spaces within your community and the industry entire. And, in general, be a welcoming person at heart. It really only takes one supportive person on the sidelines to give a writer the motivation and the courage to put forth their story into the world, and we're always at the liberty to be that one person—for others and for ourselves. So, it's a simple undertaking but it means so much… and that's really all you need to do, I think.

AE: I love that, just really caring about everybody's stories and making sure that everybody is represented and then participating in that literary activism—and not just participating in it, but cultivating it, allowing it to grow because it's such a huge part of getting the word out there and getting the message out there.

MB: Absolutely, yes. Thank you.

AE: Yeah, and so, I'm just curious, as a writer, to know what you mean by “exemplifying atypical story structures”—because that's one of the things that's noted on your website, and I'm sure if it's interesting to me, then it's interesting to other writers as well. So I just wanted to throw that out there.

MB: I appreciate that. As a writer, it is so important to pique someone's interest; this whole industry is so subjective, you have to intrigue someone at some point. So, “exemplifying atypical story structures,” that really explains me as a whole, to be honest with you. I'm not a very conventional person in general and that aspect is very much reflected in my work, whether I like it or not. I'm a very diverse reader and a very diverse thinker, so my atypicality is either influenced by learning something or reading something unlike anything I'd ever read, or by simply coming up with that idea myself.

MB: So, relating to my own work, I tend to incorporate different structural elements for an additional level of visual or linguistic interest. Reading an unchanged narrative the whole way through—that's fine; there's nothing wrong with that—but things can always be made a little more interesting, in my opinion. You know, dual or triple or quadruple point of views across all or most characters; formatting chapters as if they're diary entries or mailed letters; adopting language and using the exact terms of a specific time period… Like, if you're writing historical novels set in the 1800s: research the lingo, research the language. Give me the definitions and footnotes. Do your due diligence; give me a hundred percent. I love that, things like that.

MB: I've read a few books where the authors purposely forwent proper punctuation—and as a member of the grammar police, I don't necessarily condone it, but it was different. You know, going that extra mile to make your work your own, to do something different you've never seen before or would like to see more of—it's exhilarating both as a writer and as a reader. Before you're a writer, you are a reader and you have to think about things that you enjoyed and things that you hated as a reader, or things that occurred to you by reading a chapter and thinking, It would be cool or it would’ve been better if the author formatted it like this or I wish this would have happened instead, even if it's not exactly the happily-ever-after people are looking for. What's conventional is only deemed conventional because it was done several million times over; establish something new now and you can make it the new conventional for all the writers after you.

MB: It's a very wondrous world of writing out there, and I encourage anyone to explore it to its depths and to discover it just how far you can push those boundaries. And that's not even in this industry or in this profession; that's just across the board in general, in life. See how far you can push things and then you really find out what the world is about.

AE: Yeah, I love that quote so much. It's amazing.

MB: I came up with that on the fly, so thank you very much.

AE: It's fantastic. I need to pen it somewhere so that I have it for future use.

MB: Good thing this is recorded.

AE: Yes, oh, absolutely. And, yeah, I mean, E. E. Cummings doesn't use any punctuation or capitalization in any of his poetry, and he kind of, you know, started—

MB: He just throws it out there however he wants to.

AE: Exactly, and, you know, he's still, his poetry is still relevant, and so it's definitely changing things and pushing those limits. I feel like it adds almost another layer of inclusivity in itself because you're including—

MB: Something different.

AE: Like, you're thinking about the style of what your readers want, and maybe you have people that read differently or like different things in their reading other than just the conventional.

MB: Right, like, I’ve been thinking a lot about accessibility lately; I'm really big on accessibility and I've just recently renovated my website to include as many accessibility features as I can, and, you know, when it comes to punctuation or when it comes to traditional writing formatting like in printed books, I was thinking if you forwent punctuation, if you forwent the typical formatting, that might actually help, let's say, neurodiverse people read and understand text better. That could actually be more accessible in itself. Just considering doing things differently not only for fun but for a purpose of helping other people. There are just so many things you can do and so many things that aren't done that you… just do them. That's really all I can say. I mean, there's so many things laid out before you. All you have to do is step forward and take them. So take them.

AE: Thank you. I love it. Yes, take them.

AE: So, you were fifteen when you received your first publishing contract, which is amazing. A lot of people don't even know what they're doing with their lives at fifteen, much less getting a publishing contract. So, how did that make you feel? What were your emotions in that moment? And even now, how have you changed as a writer, grown as a writer even since then?

MB: I have to say, because I started out or, quote-unquote, “succeeded” so early, a lot of people got this perception that I knew what I was doing. And the thing is that I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew I wanted to be an author. But I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was just submitting to all the links on all the Google sites. I was going through all the Google results. I was finding every single publisher I could. And I was just pinging them over and over and over. And mainly because, I mean, I was a high school student; I was bored. You do your schoolwork and then you're kind of done for the day. I needed something to fill my time, so I just started submitting, and there was really no rhyme or reason to it; I was just randomly submitting things for hours on end.

MB: But, when it comes to the publishing contract that I got, this is a very, I have to admit, it's a very anti -climactic story. And my mother and I really recounted it now purely out of amusement. So, when I had finished writing inkwells. and was scouting for publishers, I was still very sick. You know, I wasn't mentally okay yet, and I wouldn't be for a long time afterward. So, in the state I was in, I was still voluntarily isolated and secluded and kept things private. I spoke about almost nothing and felt about as much in return. So, as a result, I hadn't actually told anyone I had finished a collection, let alone some started submitting to publishing houses. No one knew, literally no one. I basically just did this, like I said, as a pastime, because I have a strange love for filling out forms and doing paperwork—I love that for some reason. And also, you know, it was just something to do when I wasn't doing schoolwork, so I wasn't left alone with my thoughts.

MB: So, I told no one—and there was a reason for that: I didn't want people to be excited for me and get their hopes up for me if nothing came from it. I knew the chances of rejection—and I have quite a few of them to my name. I didn't want anyone to get any premature excitement about something that I knew, realistically, was likely never going to happen.

AE: That makes a lot of sense.

MB: Yeah, you know, I didn't want to explain it to anyone, to talk about it to anyone. I didn't want any questions and I didn't want any praise and I didn't want any feedback whatsoever. I just… I was impulsive; I did what I wanted in that moment, and I just wanted to left alone with the consequences. I made a commitment to myself that I wasn't going to mention anything unless I got an offer, or someone was interested somehow. So, as expected, I got a vast handful of rejections—and told no one, of course, because I didn't really care about being rejected; I knew those rejections were coming, because that's only natural.

MB: But then there came an early morning in May. This was 2021, I believe. It was May 18th, I remember. I still have the email. I had just woken up for school. It was early in the morning. I had gone to my room, checked my phone. There was an email. It had been sent at , like, two in the morning since my publishers are based in the UK and the time difference is massive, so, there, 2 A.M. was probably mid-morning. And it was titled, “Contract Offer – ‘inkwells.’”

AE: Oh, wow.

MB: Yeah, they just spit it right out in the title, in the subject line. There was no beating around the bush. So, my feelings in that moment? Honestly, I have to admit, it was dread. Because I knew I was going to have to explain what I had been doing for months. I knew I was going to have to face the consequences of my actions. I was going to have to publish my work—the work that I didn't actually plan on sharing with anyone, yet I still submitted things to people; I don't know. It would have been my name on it for the world to see. So, anxiety and dread. It wasn't the happy occasion it should have been, but I knew I would own up to it.

MB: So, my mother especially loves to tell people how she found out. It was that same morning. So, I just got up from school. She was walking to my room down the hallway to get me for something or tell me something, whatever. And I'm sitting on my bed, just glaring at my phone, at this email that I refused to open—because, you see that subject line , you know what's coming. It’s like, “I’m not opening this thing. This is like Pandora's Box over here.” So, we were talking about whatever she came in for. We finish the conversation, and she starts to leave. Before she turns down the hall to leave, I call her by saying, "Oh, by the way," and then I confess. So, to this day, I cannot say the words "By the way," or “Since you're going to find out eventually, I guess I better tell you…” without seeing the pure color of terror in her eyes.

AE: Oh no. Those words "By the way" can get you in trouble.

MB: Yeah, like, I just announced my major career break by saying, “Since you're going to find out anyway, I guess I should tell you.” And I was still a minor too—I was fifteen—so she was the one who had to sign my publishing contract because I couldn't. It was her. So, yeah, it's kind of hilarious. It's been a running joke in the family for years now, and I cannot, I am absolutely forbidden from saying that the phrase “By the way” because she just goes into shock. It could be something like, “I forgot to put toothpaste on the grocery list,” and she just flips out.

AE: What a fantastic story. I'm sure that's something that's super memorable.

MB: Will always be at the top of the list it, yeah. Especially for her; she was terrified. She’s like, "You did what? You did what?" Yeah, she had no idea.

AE: Yeah, and just taken aback, I’m sure, because she didn't even know what was going on, so it was just kind of a surprise.

MB: Yeah, and on top of that, she barely knew that I was writing poetry. She knew that I'd written a couple poems—I'd shown her some—but she didn't know I had a collection prepared to submit to houses. The whole thing was a shock, and I was just kind of sitting there staring at her like, “Yeah. I'm going to let you absorb this and I'm going to go eat breakfast.”

AE: What a story. So, what made you, at the time, want to put yourself out there and want to apply? Because I know you have all this poetry, but poetry—I know from being a poet myself—poetry can be very vulnerable. So, what made you think about applying to publishers and putting this work out there?

MB: Well, the whole reason inkwells. was even written was because I used poetry as a form of diary. As I said, I used writing as a sort of escapism. So, I had really, really terrible generalized anxiety—and I mean, I would have panic attacks about virtually everything. Eating was a struggle, sleeping was a struggle, working was a struggle, talking was a struggle, everything was a struggle. So, writing that poetry was my five minutes of release, you know, where I could just spitball all my thoughts down and they would sometimes rhyme and they sometimes wouldn't, but they were a poem regardless. I’d make sure they were a freakin’ poem.

AE: There is no rule that says that poetry has to rhyme.

MB: No, not at all. So, inkwells., some of it's rhyme and some of it’s free verse—it's just kind of all over the place. But that kind of adds to its authenticity. So, when I started feeling a little better—I wasn’t, as I said, I wasn’t completely okay yet; I wasn’t to the point of wellness that I’m at now; but I was doing a little bit better, I started getting better on medication and therapy and all of that—and when I got better, that was when—conveniently—I stopped writing poetry. Like, “I don't need this anymore.” So, when I stopped writing—I hadn't written for about a month or so—I guess I was like, well, “I figure this is done now since I haven't written in a while,” so that's when I started ordering the poems and I started, you know, doing a “Message From the Author” and “Acknowledgements”—all of those extra pages that you see in books So, I’m like, “I'm going to wrap this up. This is done.” Basically, what happened was I vaguely remember being on Google and just seeing all of these links. You type in "publishing" or "publish book" or anything like that, immediately the first things that are going to pop up are all of these independent presses that want you, right? And so, I was like, “Hey, I got something, and it's done. And it's just sitting on my computer, you know? Why not?”

AE: Yeah, of course. Why not?

MB: These people want poetry; it's on their thing. They accept it; they want some. I got some; here you go. And that really was it.

MB: I mean, I go to a virtual online school. I've been there since the sixth grade. Uploading assignments was just clicking “Upload Link. Upload File,” and clicking the file and then submitting it. That was it for years. So, you think I'm going feel any sort of anxiety when I get this online form that says the exact same thing? I'm like, “No, this is like submitting an assignment.”

AE: Yeah, like second nature, really.

MB: Really, it was the same thing. Click the dropbox, upload file, okay. And then you hit “Submit,” the page refreshes, and you move on with your day. That was it. That really was it. There was no stress to it, absolutely none. I didn't think about it for a second. And that was probably the best decision I ever made was, for someone who chronically overthinks to the point where they make themselves sick, it was the one time in my life where I didn't think at all, and it was probably the most impactful decision I've ever made: to just not think about it.

MB: And, yeah, that's kind of it. I just didn't think about it, and that's how we're here.

AE: Wow. What an amazing lesson, though. Yeah, just don't think about it. Just do it—which is so much easier said than done, but it's so important.

MB: Absolutely. It took me to the brink of suicide to learn that lesson, so, yeah, it's very much easier said than done.

AE: Wow, that's amazing. It's so amazing. And, yeah, it's definitely been so impactful for you and for other people. So that's fascinating.

AE: So, do you have any advice for other young people who are trying to get published on that note of just, you know, how to submit their work or if they want to get published or thinking about “Should I get published or not?” What would you have to tell them?

MB: I've been down the road of this industry for a very long while now and I'm always really happy to give advice whenever I'm asked because, admittedly, there were a lot of things I did wrong, a lot of things I wish I had or hadn't done, and I want to make sure other aspiring professionals are much more equipped than I was. That's my goal for you and I'm sure that's your goal for yourself. I need to make sure all y 'all are prepared more than I was.

MB: So, I started out my professional career with poetry, right, with inkwells.—aside from writing two really terrible novels between the ages of eight and twelve, which we're not going to talk about. But, I'm going to be honest: poetry is a tough, tough break. As a genre, it generally has less of a readership than novels or full-length non-fiction, so when it comes to, say, gaining a presence or wanting to live wholly off of your work without any other source of income, those successes in this area of the industry are very few and far between. But that is not to say you shouldn't try; this is just a fact I wish I would have known in the beginning. I was expecting a lot of things that I didn't know weren't feasible, so when they didn't come to fruition, I was devastated. But there was a realism to it that I didn't know about beforehand, so I'm passing on that wisdom.

MB: My strongest advice would be to try to build a platform before even attempting to go to publishers or agents, because that publicity you created for yourself already makes a press or an agency more inclined to work with you. You know, you're gaining an audience; they know that you're likely to become someone big. They want to have their names on you, obviously. That's big business for them. So, before going to publishers, a lot of writers started gaining a following from posting poems or excerpts of unfinished books on social media. Some of the best and most recognized poets were solely discovered on Instagram. I would, just as a tip, I would set up social media accounts devoted entirely to posting your work and then do some research about popular hashtags to attach in your caption. And also collaborating with medium-sized poets online who you see have a good-sized following. Several years ago, before inkwells. came to fruition, before all of this, I made a friend on a forum called PoetrySoup and he currently has a major following—I'm talking 500 to 5,000 in just a few years.

AE: Wow.

MB: Yeah, so to help boost his presence outside of posting his poems on Instagram, he also created an entire poetry community for other poets to work with. Point of the story is, when gaining a presence, you can't just support yourself and your own work; you also have to make a platform for other like artists to engage in, so you are involved in this constant circulation of content. It's basically the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth or a small town in a Hallmark movie. In my case, instead of advocating for just myself, I made my "brand" mental health awareness and general activism so that I'm supporting more and thus gaining more. It's a strategy, but it's also a passion. You don't want to become so wrapped up in the business aspect of it that you start losing any compassion for your talents and your community—so the best thing you can do is straddle both of those things and use your passion to make a strategy.

MB: In hindsight, there are also a lot of things I wish I had done differently. On the publishing front, independent presses are amazing since you can garner attention without the need for literary agents—which is a whole other ball of wax.

AE: It is, absolutely.

MB: But you have to be very choosy about who you sign with. You Google “publishers,” you know, and every desperate press seeking your time and money comes up in the search results. Most of the time, that's a red flag in itself. You want people who aren't as easy to find; those are the good ones. So, for one, make sure your publisher demonstrates the fact that they have a thriving publicity department. I say "demonstrates" because I don't want them to just tell you they have a publicity department. Every publishing house has a publicity department; it doesn't mean it's good.

AE: They can tell you anything, but it doesn't mean anything if they don't have the proof.

MB: Right. You can give me all these things, list me all these things in the contract and then follow through on maybe one or two. That's nothing for me. If your publishing house doesn't have a publicity department—a good one—then you don't have a book, and that's just the bottom line of it. So, what I would do is I would stalk your favorite writers and learn about their origin stories. You know, they have their personal websites. You always want to see how they started out, how they were brought up. Everyone starts so small, it's almost unfathomable.

MB: So, across the board, I would leave aspiring authors with this philosophy: this isn't something that you can spend all day or all month doing, and then achieve. This is years in the making. This is time and commitment. If you're not committed enough to yourself and trust in your talent enough, there's really no reason to even start—and I say that with so much kindness; I don't mean to be harsh. The support of others is simply not enough; it's your drive for yourself and your work that makes you want to jump on every opportunity, and that eagerness is required to succeed. There is just no way around it. I can be your cheerleader all day long; that doesn't mean you're going to really do what needs to be done because you don't believe in yourself at the end of the day. And that's the problem.

AE: No, for sure. And I've seen so many aspiring authors go down that path of just being so disillusioned because they don't believe in themselves and right, you know, they say that they want to get published but, in the end, they don't have that commitment; they don't do what it takes to really get there. I'm so glad that you mentioned that because it is extremely important, and the “community” piece, that writing is a community and we should be advocating for each other and supporting each other, and not just in it to support ourselves. I like that also.

MB: Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, what I like to say is that when I first began in the industry, I was very envious of all of the writers who were doing very well, who were the bestsellers, the ones who were above everyone else—because here you are, down with all of the indie authors (not that that’s bad; there’s just a noticeably big gap in success). The thing is that this industry, or any industry at all, it’s not a competition. This isn’t a competition; it’s just community. That's it. You're just a community. This is cooperation. This is togetherness. This is not a first-prize sort of thing. This isn't about who's better or who's worse. This also comes out to who has the better publicity as well, and who has the better chances. But that's not corresponding to your level of talent. So this isn't a competition; this is community.

MB: And that's what I like to say whenever I start getting a little fidgety that I'm not doing enough; I'm not good enough; I don't have enough attention; I could be doing better. That's not what this is about. That isn't what this has been about since the very beginning. That's just what you're making it out to be because you're getting that imposter syndrome of "Oh, I'm not good enough. I’m not doing enough. Should I even keep doing this?” Things like that.

AE: Yeah, for sure, and that's an important lesson, not just in writing but also in life in general, of avoiding that imposter syndrome and building that community and having that sense of passion and drive. Life lessons every day.

MB: Well, I am a poet. What did you expect exactly?

AE: That's what we poets do, right?

AE: So, for the big event, not that we haven't already talked about so many amazing topics and so much information…

MB: I'm a talker; I should have warned you.

AE: I am a talker too. I am too. It's okay. That’s why I do these podcasts—because I love to talk about interesting things with interesting people. So here we are.

AE: Your book, Flowers for Papa. Can you tell us some more about that? Because it's about to be released soon and that's very exciting.

MB: It is. Yes, yes, yes. I started writing FFP in January of 2021. This was also at the same time when I was submitting inkwells. to publishers. So, I was like, “Oh, I finished inkwells. Now I can work on something new,” so I was doing that simultaneously. At this point in time, I was fifteen and in the tenth grade. I finished the book in early December of that same year, when I was sixteen and in eleventh. But in the beginning, I'm willing to admit, this wasn't supposed to be a book; the prologue of FFP was supposed to be a standalone short story, as ominous and vague as I purposely made it. (So, if you read it and you're confused, that's the point. You're supposed to be confused. The questions will be answered; you just got to wait a minute.)

AE: Those are the best kinds of books anyway, making you wait for the big moment, for the big answers.

MB: Yeah, so I'd even read the prologue or the short story aloud to my mother, and I don't read anything aloud. I don't share anything ever; it is a very rare instance when I do that. But once I wrote short story, in the coming days, I kept coming up with my own questions: What was Papa's favorite flower? How did he die? What becomes of August? There were all of these questions, as if I were the reader and I wanted to keep reading. I couldn't resist satisfying my own curiosity and answering those questions for myself—and that is genuinely the only reason this ended up becoming what it was. Because I knew there was more to the story, and I wanted to satisfy myself and write it.

MB: So, today, the entire overall purpose, the comprehensive purpose of FFP, is for it to be a testament to the importance of men's mental health, to men's expression and affection, and to dismantle the constructs and the stigmas surrounding their wellness. There are so many men in my family—and in the world—who forewent treatment and neglected obvious symptoms because they didn't want to admit there was a problem; they didn't want to deal with therapy and medication; they didn't want to get better. Much of that thinking is rooted in the stigma of mental disorders being inherently shameful. And also the fact that, conceptually, men are stronger and more withstanding and so they should be able to handle anything. The world does not have to end because you don't know how to handle your feelings and I learned that from my own experience, and this is my expression of that. My reasons for writing this book stem from a more universal means: we, as a society, we so frequently just barely scrape the surface of the critical conversations about our quality of life or completely disregard these topics in general. You know, entire generations have been founded on completely neglecting one's needs because they weren't being socially acceptable for the time. So, not only do I want to validate aspects that may still be viewed as atypical, I want to bring an honesty and a detail I don't often recognize in literature. And I also want to represent characters who are so much more intelligent and so much more powerful than how society reflects on quote-unquote, “dumb teenagers.” The protagonists in this book, they're young, they're high school students. And so, they fit that qualification, that stereotype. This is not to say that teenagers don't do stupid things—people of every age do stupid things—but to have an entire period of our lives and our entire beings be temporarily characterized as if we cannot and do not understand, as if we're inferior in our own world… it's incredibly disheartening. It doesn't exactly make the youth want to grow up, knowing what world they're going to grow into. You're not making a very inclusive space right off the bat. Just by being young, you're already being thrown against the wall. So, it's very important to me that we actively create safe spaces within our near and far communities, especially considering the world in itself will never be truly safe. And I'd like to think my work could be someone's safe haven, which is something I needed but never truly had.

MB: And, hopefully, in that, the reactions are becoming. I hope I did a good job. I hope this is a good illustration. I really hope I did well and validated other people and am able to exert my outreach onto other communities because that really is the whole point, that's the whole aspiration. So, I hope that's what I've achieved here.

AE: Yeah, definitely. I think so.

MB: I hope so. We will see.

AE: But that's such a great aspiration to have. And I'm sure that you did a great job. Because our, like you said, our world is not always really safe. And there are a lot of people that have all these stigmas surrounding them all the time. And, you know, it's interesting that you mentioned teenagers, because I have been a middle school and high school teacher for a long time.

MB: Really?

AE: Yes, and teenagers have a lot of wisdom, in a lot of ways, that I think when we become adults, we sometimes lose sight of. And then I think we turn that around and, you know, as a society, say, “Oh, teenagers don't know anything,” although teenagers have a lot of intelligences that are so valuable to society that we just overlook.

MB: It’s that superiority complex of people who are older trying to assert that dominance over teenagers, their children, whatever it may be. It's the whole “You're young you don't really know anything; you don't know anything about the world.” It’s that mentality and it's just sad because anyone of any age can help you through anything but you just neglect people based on their demographic and that's very disheartening. So, I'm trying to, as you can see, break through to several things at once in this book. That's just who I am as a writer; I'm always trying, I told you, to push those boundaries. I'm shoving as many themes as I can into one book and then you can interpret it however you want. I've done my job.

AE: Exactly. You have done your job. When you have pushed those boundaries and people learn from it, that's what great writers do. So, you have done your job for sure. And I also think, like you said, that men and the stigma that men have, having to be able to handle everything is another important stigma that needs to be broken. Because everybody needs to be emotionally intelligent and everybody struggles with emotions, but I feel like men especially are kind of put in this box of like, "Oh, you can't feel emotions because you're a man; you're supposed to be able to handle everything; you're supposed to be tough." And then, you know, if you don't know how to handle your emotions, then something's wrong with you. There's just this whole stigma around that that I think is important to address.

MB: It's that macho stereotype. It's the archetype of “If you are a man, you have about three emotions to choose from. You have three feelings. Select up to; no more than. You are encouraged to have one—if you must.” It’s like a test, where you get birthed into this life and there's already expectations. That is so difficult.

MB: And I really, as a man in this society, if I were one, I don't really know if I would have made it, because that's just an extra layer of pressures, and I was already on the brink of so many things that I never thought I'd have to deal with. There's really no wondering why the male suicide rate is so high, because you leave people no room to deal with things. You leave people no room to be human and have those human necessities, like support, appreciation, community. So, as women, we're kind of, we're almost, fortunate to be able to have a little bit of wiggle room in the emotional area. But then we leech into the overemotional area, which is another stereotype. So, you see, on either side of the board, everyone is just screwed.

AE: Yeah, pretty much. Pretty much. But yeah, we’re all human and the point is that we all have to have healthy ways to feel and to deal with our emotions; whatever spectrum we're on, we have to have healthy ways to deal with those emotions because those emotions are real, and they need to be validated.

MB: Absolutely, absolutely. That is exactly what I'm trying to do here.

AE: Yes, definitely. And I think it's great and I'm very excited to read it because it's just addressing so many things that are so important, that need to be addressed.

MB: Yes, that is my aspiration overall.

AE: That is such an admirable aspiration for sure. As writers, I mean, that's what we do, right? You aspire for the highest that you can aspire for, because that's what we want to do and—you can tell me if I'm wrong—but, as writers, that's what we want to do is support people and reach people in different ways.

AE: So, do you have anything else that you feel is important to mention?

MB: You know, I would want to touch a little bit on Seasons. I don't want to forget about that baby. It's kind of overshadowed by its big brother, Flowers. That one's such a powerhouse, you know, I don't want to forget about the baby.

MB: One of the biggest questions I'm asked is, “Why did I choose to continue the portrayal of August Johnson in this book?” Because Seasons is told from his perspective, it is told as if he wrote the book. My intentions, they center around allowing readers originating from FFP a more immersive extension into the wholeness of August's character. You know, for instance, he's always been very intricately described. His voice is very distinct, very studious, very rhythmical—such as in the way of poetry—and I, for one, felt that merely mentioning his future in an epilogue, rather than elaborating on it, was truly insufficient. You know, he deserved more than that, I think. And he was such an enjoyable and homely character for me to write and embrace my own self. He was my first protagonist ever; he deserved so much more than that, as do my readers. So, his becoming a poet was truly the only logical next step. It was something I didn't even really have to think about. Poetry, as a genre, has so much unrealized potential, but it was so silently powerful—just as August is. Writing FFP was very inspiring for my poetic verse, and I was already writing poetry on the sidelines while working on the book—I can never just do one thing at a time. So, it's just that I came up with the idea to fuse those two uniformly separate ambitions together, but in a way that made sense. I took the same care August would have if he were real: I was methodical; I was attentive; it was a very unpressured decision. The idea to not only make August a poet, but to express it just happened to be wonderfully convenient considering I'm a poet myself. So I was able to redeem August's ability as well as put forth some of my new poems into the world at the same time. So it was pretty much a win-win.

MB: Ultimately, the truth of the matter is that I am horribly sentimental, and I really didn't want my first major project to end—but, as all things must end, I decided to make the end a new beginning. In August's words, it was the “change of a season.” So that's how I would describe it.

AE: That's awesome, and I love how intuitive you are with your characters and that attentiveness I feel like all writers have. We just have this attentiveness. Like you said, with Flowers, it just kind of developed into something that you didn't even intend for it to develop to, but you felt more to that story. And same thing with August, like there was more to that character that needed to come out, that needed to be developed. And that's what you did. And it was an amazing connection.

MB: Thank you so much. Yeah, I really appreciate that. And inkwells. as well. That wasn't anything that I intended to have happen with either, but it did. So everything across my career has seemed to be an accident, now that I think about it.

AE: I honestly feel like some of the best writing comes accidentally. Because, again, you're being vulnerable and you're just letting everything come out naturally. And then, of course, you make edits and, you know, dig deeper and things like that. But when you let it just come out and then you sit back down and deal with it again, I feel like it just makes such authentic and such powerful writing.

MB: Thank you. I very much appreciate that.

AE: Yes, definitely. And I'm very excited for FFP.

MB: Yeah, so am I. I'm ready to see, once I get my copy in my hands, I'm ready to see all the typos I missed. That's really exciting.

AE: Oh, that's exciting for me too. I am a stickler for grammar and for all things writing.

MB: I was literally a grammar tutor all throughout high school, so I'm ready to see all the typos that still remain even after six months of reading this book.

AE: Well, there's so much going on and writing at one time that typos are bound to happen. I mean, you're thinking about so many things and changing so many things and, you know, new things coming to life all the time, so it's such an immersive experience. Typos are bound to happen.

MB: I'm preparing my red pen as we speak.

AE: Well, I think you definitely have permission to red ink your writing as much as you want to.

MB: As do you. All writers do.

AE: Well, thank you—and thank you so much for doing this interview with me. I appreciate it. It's been awesome.

MB: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. And remember: I can always be found at or you can email us directly at So we're always here if you need us.


Piece of ripped paper against wood desk reading, "It is both my pleasure and my hell to be your girlfriend, August Johnson."


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