GUEST POST // The Well-Red Mage Interviews Tony

WELL-RED MAGE: Let’s get this party started! First question: Do you consider yourself to be a gamer and how long have you been one?

TONY: I’ve thought about this a lot. What does it mean to be a gamer? Is it dependent on skill level or the number of hours played? Or something else? I don’t know. I do overthink these things. It’s why I often have trouble with labels. So, to kind of answer your question: I do play video games a lot but I’ll never beat Dark Souls.

As to how long I’ve been playing video games, I came to this rather late in life. I was nudging thirty by the time I got my first console. It was an N64, and I loved it! I’ve been gaming ever since. Probably about fifteen years or so.

WELL-RED MAGE: Ah well overthinking things is what we do ’round these here parts! Let’s break down ‘gamer’ even more and define our terms. Ultimately, of course the label itself is meaningless and one can call themselves a gamer at any level of skill or exposure to games. You consider yourself a gamer, since you play video games a lot, but you say you’re maybe not a gamer-gamer since you’ll never beat Dark Souls. We can make the question harder. What kind of gamer would you consider yourself? For example, I prefer the categorization ‘classics gamer’ since I love that which is retro, vintage, classic.

TONY: That label definitely suits you. And can I just say that I think your reviews are amazing? They’re meticulously put together, and they’re full of many little details about an era of gaming that has somehow managed to pass me by. (And as a long time appreciator of Miyazaki’s oeuvre, I thought your Studio Ghibli pieces were sublime too.)

As for what kind of gamer I might be, I’m still unsure. Truth be told, I tend to prefer games with 3D graphics as this is what I was introduced to. My formative experiences were The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 after all. And what a wonderful place to start! These two games began my love affair with ‘play for play’s sake’ (and it’s an art that sadly many adults have forgotten). So, whatever that kind of gamer’s called is what I am, I guess. I just want to play, and hopefully I’ll be proficient enough to complete the game I’m currently playing.

WELL-RED MAGE: Oh you flatterer! I knew I’d enjoy this conversation but not merely because it’s inflating my already morbidly obese ego, hahaha! You’re bringing up so many great subjects to chew on. What a wonderful place to start indeed with Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64, two of the most rightfully venerated entries in two of the biggest video game franchises in history. We’ll call you a fun-factor gamer? Haha I don’t know.

So going back to those years when you got your gaming start with the N64, I’ve a couple questions for you: Did you specifically wait to start gaming with the 64? I mean were you just not interested in consoles before then? Why did you pick the 64 and not say the PlayStation coming out around the same time?

TONY: Fun factor gamer! Now that is a label I can get behind. Let’s call me that! And I think this is all I’ve ever wanted from gaming really—just something that’s immersive, fun and stirs the emotions.

I remember back when I was covetously eyeing off a friend’s Atari. I asked my parents about it but they wisely chose not to get me one. I think I would have been addicted to the point of dropping out of life and failing school if they had. Still, you can imagine how console hungry I was by the time I hit adulthood! And I didn’t really choose the N64. Not really. It chose me.

My wife had a work colleague who wanted to sell his N64 to buy a Dreamcast, so she snaffled it up for me. I received a bunch of games with it: Mission: ImpossibleGoldenEye 007, and Turok: Dinosaur HunterMission: Impossible was truly awful, and it nearly put me off trying the others, but when I popped in the excellent GoldenEye 007, I soon realised that I could afford to pick and choose my gaming experiences. It’s a weird thing to realise, I suppose, but there you go. It wasn’t long before I began to seek out other titles, and so I moved on to the aforementioned The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64. I became so obsessed with these last two games that I don’t think I really took in the fact that PlayStation was a thing.

WELL-RED MAGE: Your parents were very wise to make you miss out on an Atari, especially since you were able to get your start with Nintendo instead. That’s definitely fun-factor foresight. Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 are officially legends but what struck a chord and resonated with you about those games in particular?

TONY: Super Mario 64 was like pure imagination on acid! From Cool, Cool Mountain to Whomp’s Fortress and Jolly Roger Bay, I was unapologetically hooked. There were so many secrets to unlock, and so many environments and scenarios to check out! And I loved the conceit that all of this could be accessed via a portly little plumber traversing the ‘hub’ of Princess Peach’s castle. I felt like a little kid again, like I could just walk down into my own basement to find something magical and a little bit dangerous that I’d previously overlooked—all I’d need do was cock my head and take a slightly different view. (That sense of wonder is such a precious commodity as an adult. We need more of it!) Also, the controls just work. They’re as smooth as butter. The graphics may have dated somewhat but not the gameplay and sense of fun—those will always remain timeless.

And speaking of timeless… Holy cow, Ocarina of Time or what?! It ended up being my favouritest ever game until Wind Waker came along! I remember playing through the Great Deku Tree at the beginning with an assumption that the game would end soon. It was only as the story started to build on itself, slowly revealing more and more of Hyrule as I went along, that the scope of it began to dawn on me. A light switched on behind my eyes, and so I became quite invested in how this tale would play out. I remember having a lump in my throat when Saria awakened as the Forest Sage, knowing that things would never again be the same between her and Link. That she had been waiting all these years just to part ways with him… well, it broke my heart. I thought of my wife who’d bought this game as a gift to me, and knew then that Zelda would become a permanent fixture in my life.

WELL-RED MAGE: I couldn’t agree more about the impact of those two games. I shared the same experiences with them, virtually. So the Zelda franchise… I was just talking with someone today about how the series hasn’t changed much over the years, how the recent Breath of the Wild didn’t do much to surprise or shock us narratively speaking. I don’t know how much of that assertion I agree with, so let me ask someone who really loves Zelda: What do you think is the consistent and lasting appeal of the Legend of Zelda? Why has it remained popular after all this time?

TONY: I feel this assertion that Zelda’s narrative hasn’t changed much is only partially true. If you look at the individual stories of each game, then certainly, the same tropes crop up again and again. Rescue the princess. Kill Ganon. Save Hyrule. Cut lots and lots of grass. We’ve gone through all of that before. But let’s be real here—this recycling of narrative is present in almost any video game series one cares to name. You don’t have to look very hard.

Isn’t there a maxim that there are only seven stories in fiction? I feel like that’s true. And I think it’s all in how you tell it. It’s all in the little details that get peppered throughout the narrative. It’s all in how you bend that narrative ever so slightly each time. Perhaps it’s this mix of the familiar and something new that’s given the Zelda series such longevity. Wind Waker was set at sea. Spirit Tracks was on rails. Link’s Awakening was just a dream. These are all simply remixes of the same song, and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that.

WELL-RED MAGE: I’d have to agree with you. Certainly archetypes and kinds of stories are limited and have been repeated since the dawn of man. I’d add that I think the Legend of Zelda series is so successful because of the way it retells these stories in its own archetypal and legendary fashion, like real world myth. A lot of them play like Greco-Roman myths where the details are less important than the heroism and magic. You mentioned already that Wind Waker is your favorite of all time, and of course Ocarina is high on your list. Have you played all of the Zelda games? Which are the worst, if such a thing could even be said?

TONY: I have played them all except for the first two ZeldasTri Force HeroesFour Swords Adventures, and the Japan-only Ancient Stone Tablets. And my top three favourites would have to be Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, and Majora’s Mask, but I do rate the others I’ve played quite highly too. I think the only ones in the series that I would not play again are Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. These two aren’t awful by any means—far from it—but I simply did not enjoy them as much as I was hoping to. I have to admire Nintendo for trying out a different control scheme though. That was a small stroke of genius! (Pathetic pun intended.)

WELL-RED MAGE: That Japan-only title is a new one on me! See? It’s true what they say, you learn something new every day. So no CD-i Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon Zeldas for you, my boi? And, my friend, have you not had a chance to play the original Legend of Zelda yet?

TONY: I found out about that Japan-only one literally a day ago, so I’ve learned something new too! As for Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon, all I can say is I’d rather lay eyes on Cthulhu’s horrifying visage than play those games! I’ve read that they are truly, utterly awful, so I’m willing to trust that assessment and play more Breath of the Wild instead. And while I did download the first Zelda to my 3DS a few years back, I found that I just wasn’t into it. Now, I’ve never considered myself a graphics snob, but I think to some extent I must be—I just couldn’t get past those graphics! Perhaps if Nintendo was to release a remake with updated graphics then I might be persuaded to revisit it. I know, I know… what I’m saying is heresy. I have no defence!

WELL-RED MAGE: I’ll quash my inner inquisitor for the moment, sir. Just kidding! I’m trying not to be a snob, period, nor a retro elitist and say, “You can’t call yourself a real fan for [insert standard here].” These are games, after all. I do have something I’ve been ruminating on of late and that is where do you think Nintendo can take the Zelda franchise after the sprawling, gorgeous, highly successful Breath of the Wild? And why do you think it was so good anyway? Never mind the adjectives I just heaped upon it.

TONY: Thanks for putting your pitchfork away, good sir. It looked entirely too pointy and jabby! But seriously, I can fully appreciate if anybody reading this gets quite upset at my rather superficial assessment of the first Zelda. After all, that’s where the whole thing began—without that Zelda we wouldn’t have Breath of the Wild today. Believe me, no one wants to be the heretic in the room! But, as you rightly say, these are games after all. We should each enjoy what we enjoy and enuff said.

And as to where Nintendo could possibly take the series after the superlative Breath of the Wild, I’ve literally no idea. Conventional thinking would have it that they’ll all be open world Zeldas from now on, but I’ve found that Nintendo has a bloody-minded tendency to foil people’s expectations—it’s what I love about them! In all the years I’ve been gaming, they continue to present me with fun, compelling experiences that I never even knew I wanted in the first place. So, I’ve had to learn to trust their judgement a little bit. Who knows? The next Zelda could be set entirely in one room. I was uncertain that they’d make an open world version work as beautifully as they have, and look how wrong I was there. So… perhaps they could pull off a contained Zelda too.

WELL-RED MAGE: Exactly! Down with elitism and snobbery of all forms. We are of course entitled to our opinions but we’re not entitled to everyone agreeing with our opinions, or even buying into them in the slightest.

I’d be excited to play a minimalist Zelda set in a single room! Heck, at this point just give us more new Zelda, Nintendo!

So am I correct in assessing that Nintendo sits at the top of your console and developer favorites list? How do they rank alongside the giants Sony and Microsoft, and what makes them different? Sometimes, I wonder how they even stay in business! Of course, this is coming from someone with an NES themed blog, so rest assured I’m a Nintendo fan.

TONY: Yes, more Zelda please! One can never have too much Zelda! It’s franchises like that which keep me coming back to Nintendo time and time again, so you are correct in assuming that they sit atop my developer favourites list. They also have Mario, Metroid Prime, and Pikmin, so what’s not to love?

Nevertheless, I have branched out in the last few years, and now own a PS3 alongside my Switch and 3DS. For me, it’s all about the games, so I find that Sony is comparable to Nintendo in terms of the variety on offer. I’ve played Journey on Sony’s console, as well as Limbo, the rebooted Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, and Skyrim. Good lord, have I played the ever-loving stuffing out of that last one or what?! Yup, I’m a bit obsessed with Skyrim at the moment, and it’s convinced me to sample Bethesda’s Fallout 3 too. So, I guess that would mean that I rate Sony pretty highly. Microsoft? Not so much. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Microsoft’s family of consoles—I just don’t find their exclusives to be all that enticing. I could happily live without an Xbox, but I’m glad I now have a PS3.

WELL-RED MAGE: Yep, you and I see eye to eye on this, as I suspected. I love Sony for the variety of the PlayStation library and I very much consider them to be on top of the industry. Nintendo, on the other hand, is the underdog in a lot of ways and while I don’t think they want to play catch-up per se and be the kind of giant Sony is, they need to retain their character and characteristics while giving gamers the kind of Nintendo experiences they want. So far, it’s been great with the Switch and I’m looking forward to what they’ll have to show the world at E3. As for Micro$oft… well… So beyond the realm of the Legend of Zelda, what are some of your other favorite games? Do you maybe have a top five?

TONY: I’ve gotta say I’m loving the Switch as well. It’s great having the option to play a full-blown home console experience on the go. How cool is that? And Breath of the Wild has been the perfect game to showcase this. I’ll be sad when I finally finish it, although it’ll be nice to have some other games to look forward to—Skyrim for one. I love the Switch so much that I’m eager to shell out a second time to see how Skyrim translates to the little console that could. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will be an instant buy as I adored the first two instalments, the premise of Super Mario Odyssey intrigues me, and I’m crossing my fingers for Monster Hunter to crash the party as well. E3 this year should be quite interesting!

As for what my top five is, some titles I’ve already mentioned make it to the list. Number one is Wind Waker. I grew up watching lots of cartoons and reading lots of comics, so this style of imagery is very much in my blood. However, it’s far more than just a nostalgia hit to me as it’s also a gorgeous looking game with a distinctive soundtrack, an unbridled sense of optimism, and some genuinely heart tugging moments!

Number two on the list is without a doubt Skyrim, something I thought I’d never ever say. My first experience with it was not so positive as I hadn’t played many open world games by that point. I really didn’t understand what I was supposed to do, that I could make what in essence would become my very own Choose Your Adventure story. I’d spent hours wandering about, wondering why everyone was bleating ‘game of the century’, before trading it towards another game. It would be a couple of years before I worked up the courage to try it again, and it’s only then that I finally managed to click with its shtick (and that’s also thanks in part to another game on this list).

Number three is Monster Hunter, and you can pretty much insert any instalment here as I’ve loved them all (the Nintendo ones anyway). The idea of defeating monsters in order to make gear to defeat bigger, badder monsters is a simple one done very very well. The combat in these games forces you to be strategic, and to be quite methodical too (I hate the mindless button mashing of other titles in this genre).

Number four has to be Xenoblade Chronicles as this is what really opened my eyes to the whole point of open world games: the freedom to explore and create your own narratives. Sure, it has last gen graphics but it’s still a visual and aural triumph with its vast landscapes and compelling soundtrack. I was really heartbroken when I finally completed this one!

And number five is Journey which is by far the shortest on my list. You can play it through in a couple of hours, but oh my stars, what an amazing couple of hours! It has one of the most moving video game endings I’ve ever played. Seriously, I don’t want to say too much about it. Journey is one of those experiences that you need to enter into with as little prior knowledge as possible. Before Skyrim came along, this title alone was worth owning a PS3 for. That’s how highly I think of it.

Some honourable mentions would be Metroid Prime, The Last of Us, and Pikmin 3. I would have included Dark Souls somewhere but that’s way beyond my abilities as a gamer, and so I eventually had to trade it in. It’s frustrating to me because the gameplay itself was sublime.  I’m sure I’ve left something out.

WELL-RED MAGE: The Switch is awesome, just like that list of favorites! Who wouldn’t love Wind Waker, Monster Hunter (I played Tri on the Wii), and of course Journey, which is also in my top five where it is likely to stay. I am glad you gave such thorough reasoning for why these select few rank so high on your favoritometer.

As for the other games you mentioned, I haven’t played all of them. Yet! I will need to go back for Xenoblade Chronicles before the new one comes out! As for leaving some out, that’s the way it is. I didn’t have the heart to ask you for a top 100 list.

So besides for being a verbose human being and a gamer with taste, I know from our conversations earlier that you’re also like me in terms of loving Ghibli. A bit of self-appreciating humor, there. Excuse me. Some questions along these lines: You like Ghibli for what reason? What makes them special? Do you like anime in general or only a few movies and series? And who is your waifu?

TONY: I like me a bit of self-appreciating humour. Ha ha! And I love your last question! I do have an odd answer to this though. My waifu is whatever female character I’m currently playing as, especially one I’ve made for, say, Skyrim or Monster Hunter or something like that. Don’t ask me why but I simply prefer playing as a woman, not a man. Is it a particularly disturbing fetish that I need to seek out professional counselling for? I hope not! All I do know is that I would’ve loved to have had the option to play as Zelda in Breath of the Wild. She’s hot! Oh well, maybe next time, Nintendo.

As for Studio Ghibli, I was introduced to their oeuvre via a screening of Laputa: Castle in the Sky back in my art college days. This film completely blew my mind, and it made me excited about the kinds of stories that could be told in animation. I especially came to appreciate Hayao Miyazaki’s even handed approach to the portrayal of characters in all of his stories. There were no simplistic delineations of good and evil to be found—just people being… well, people. Sometimes they did a bad thing, sometimes they didn’t, but they were always deeply human no matter what. I found this take to be very true to life, and so it became easier to emotionally invest myself in Miyazaki-san’s wondrous works.

My favourite film of all time is actually Howl’s Moving Castle; every single character is pitch perfect in that, and hugely relatable as a result. I like anime a lot. It’s probably my favourite style of animation if I’m honest, although I can and do enjoy animation no matter what part of the world it’s from. I love the classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Grave of the Fireflies, Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis, Cowboy BebopKum-Kum, Astro Boy and Spirited Away, of course, but I also love more recent fare such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Wind RisesAldnoah.ZeroKill la KillBirdy the Mighty: Decode and the Evangelion rebuilds.

Outside of anime, I’ve enjoyed such fare as Adventure Time, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Futurama, The Legend of Korra, Brave, The Lego Movie and Zootopia. I’m still sure I’ve left something out.

WELL-RED MAGE: Interesting answer and no I don’t think you’re a psychotic. At least not by that admission. The best explanation I’ve heard on that is when some dude said, and I quote: If I’m going to be playing a game for hundreds of hours then I’d rather look at a chick’s body than another man’s. So there you go. Playing as Zelda in a future game seems like an inevitable move at this point from Nintendo.

So as anyone can tell, you’re an artist. More on that later. Does or did your love for anime fuel or inspire your craft?

TONY: I love that question because few people would know to ask me it these days, and with good reason. I used to be very heavily influenced by the Japanese animation that I watched as a child. How could I not be when my favourite shows were the aforementioned Kum Kum and Astro Boy, as well as others such as Robotech, Ulysses 31, Mysterious Cities of Gold and Sherlock Hound? I would try to mimic that general style and then wonder why I was never able to get any good at it. It was only after I started art college that I began to move away from this and find my own visual language instead. And it’s continued to evolve since that point, but even now I can look back and recognise how anime still subtly informs what I draw.

For instance, anime taught me that eyes are critical in conveying a character’s emotional state. It’s so important to see that spark there in order to be invested in what’s happening to the protagonist—whether it be funny or serious. I also learned the value of a carefully planned colour design. The best anime often has beautiful, lush looking images because of a deliberate and judicious use of colour. This helps to pull all the disparate elements within a composition together so that it all feels ‘of a piece’. In essence, I learned this and more by osmosis, so… yeah, anime has been (and continues to be) a huge inspiration for my craft.

WELL-RED MAGE: I wouldn’t have known to ask unless we’d talked about anime first but in retrospect, your art has a distinctive personality to it, especially in your characters’ faces, which evokes the expressiveness of Japanese animation. You’ve clearly moved beyond imitation, though, and found your own style, with a distinct color palette that sets it apart from other online art I’ve seen. What led you to pursue art in the first place and why do you continue to pursue it? What are your goals?

TONY: Thank you for your kind words, sir! I do love what I do, so it’s most gratifying when others love it as well. I’ve never not been an artist really as I’ve drawn all kinds of stuff since I could hold my first crayon. With this and growing up on a steady diet of cartoons and comics, there was just no way I was going to avoid the artist’s life; being something else makes absolutely no sense to me.

As for my goals, I hope to continue what I’m doing until the day I die, and to make a living from it. This is the one and only thing I kind of do well, so I’d like to stick with it. I’m also looking forward to writing and drawing my first graphic novel within the next couple of years. That’d be an achievement worth striving for!

WELL-RED MAGE: Wow! Having your own graphic novel under your belt would be quite the achievement! You should get it published by DC. DC fan here… What are some other inspirations and influences we should be aware of? And then maybe you can segue into the content and direction of your art? I’m familiar with your work on your blog Crumble Cult, which is where I primarily know you from.

TONY: Alas, I don’t think DC or even Marvel would be interested in the kinds of comics I produce. Mine are far too navel-gazing and existential and waffley and… well, not very ‘superheroey’. I guess they could be categorised as slice-of-life, semi-autobiographical comics with a magical realist bent. Mind you, I have nothing against superhero comics. They just weren’t the kind of thing I gravitated to when I was growing up. I was more interested in different genres, artists and titles—oh, and giant, transforming robots (I’ve always had a weak spot for those). I can, however, appreciate why superheroes resonate with so many people. They’re the mythology of modern times really, and so in that sense they’re as relevant as any tale from antiquity.

As for other influences, I’d have to mention music here. That’s a huge deal for me. I don’t play an instrument or even sing, but I do listen to a lot of music covering a number of different genres. I’m especially drawn to lyrics that have a strong storytelling component, as well as more abstract ones that allow me to create a narrative of my own.

WELL-RED MAGE: So where can we expect to see you in the coming years? Where do you want to take your art, including the graphic novel? What would be the equivalent of achieving your dream?

TONY: Honestly, I’ve no idea where I’ll be tomorrow. All I do know is that writing and drawing are the only things that make sense to me. In fact, they’re the only things I’m even halfway good at. I’m really pretty hopeless at anything else. I think I’d like to do graphic novels and somehow make a crust from that. And write a novel. I have some dreams swirling about in my head; I just need to continue doing what I’m doing and never give up. Can I ask you about your dreams, my friend? What would be your definition of ‘success’? It seems to me that you pour everything you have into your blog, and I find that inspiring.

WELL-RED MAGE: Hopeless at anything else? I’ve never met you but I’m sure you’re being much too modest. Never giving up is brilliant wisdom. Thanks for being so conversational and turning my question back at me. And thank you for the kind words. I went through several ‘dreams’ when I was a child: palaeontologist thanks to Jurassic Park, a game designer, a conceptual artist or animator, which was something a lot of friends and family pushed for me since I could draw little cartoony things now and then. I ended up not pursuing the visual route. Sorry this is turning into a cheaply-made biopic.

I eventually fell in love with reading in my preteens and when I was 16 I was already writing a novel I never finished. I furnished its realm with made up languages I kept journals for. I drew up maps of its lands. I sketched all of the main characters. It took me so long working on it that the project kept changing. It was a novel called Lies of the Machine that has now been a dormant epic for years. Maybe someday I can finish it. Currently, my only fiction projects I’ve ever finished are two short stories called I laid a stone to reason and the Bamboo Man, and a novella called the Last Stitch Goes Through the Nose. The last fiction project I was working on was based on ancient folklore from around the world and would’ve followed a female knight being impregnated with what was believed to be a descendant of Christ and subsequently pursued by the church and by the barbarians.

Anyhow, all that to say my dream job would be to write for a living, mostly I’ve dreamed about being a novelist. I think I’d personally define success as being able to support my family doing what I love to do, in this case writing, and still having a little extra disposable income on the side. I’m actually not that driven of a person in most other areas of life, but writing is one thing that I’ve really been able to enjoy. It’s helped influence other opportunities in my life such as teaching and preaching. When I found that I couldn’t finish large fiction projects, I decided I’d try blogging to lend myself manageable bits that I could definitely finish, as well as more experience in writing as a craft. Since we’re both aspiring novelists, what are some of the ideas you’d put forth into a novel?

TONY: I have to say that I’d definitely read something called Lies of the Machine, and your other titles pique my interest! I hope you’ll keep up with the writing because I think your site is a terrific testament to your love of the craft.

I also appreciate your definition of success as that’s something that should really only be defined by the individual and what they choose their priorities in life to be. Having your first novel become a number one bestseller might be considered success, but success could also be something that’s usually seen as more ordinary. I’m someone who has suffered depression in adolescence and adulthood, so sometimes even getting out of bed in the morning has been a kind of success.

I guess when all’s said and done, ‘success’ is maybe little more than a glorified social construct. When you put it to one side, perhaps what you’re left with is the mundane, day-to-day business of making choices. It’s not as glamorous and sexy as success, I suppose, but perhaps it’s more concrete and real. And I think this is exactly the kind of thing I would want to write about in a novel because I don’t think it gets talked about enough. Of course, anything I write would have to have a magical realist bent and feature unicorns. Oh, hang on, that’s Crumble Cult.

Okay. I’ve always wanted to write a novel that features some kind of giant mythology. And by that, I don’t mean a mythology that’s larger than life, I mean a mythology about giants. Ha ha! Hm. Yeah. I think I got a bit carried away there…

WELL-RED MAGE: Success can be measured in so many different ways, and there are big and small goals one can set for oneself. You’ve already shared quite a sizable portion of wisdom but in conclusion: What would you like to say to an entire universe of writers and bloggers by way of wise encouragement and inspiration? No pressure, haha!

TONY: I struggle with giving advice. I’m just not the right guy to come to for that. What works for me wouldn’t necessarily work for others, and vice versa. And, who knows, perhaps I’m doing everything the wrong way? Me giving advice would be like the blind giving directions to the sighted.

And, at the end of the day, others would do well to listen less to me and do more of what they, in their heart of hearts, know they really want to do. Oh, there you go. A bit of inadvertent advice there, I suppose? Follow your heart. It may sometimes lead you astray but at least it’s more honest than cold, unfeeling, bloody-minded intellect. And on that flat note, thanks for chatting with me, sir. It’s been an honour and a privilege!

WELL-RED MAGE: Squeezed out that inadvertent advice anyways! In talking with you I can assure you that one of the things I really like about you is your humility. Thank you so much for taking the time to craft such thoughtful answers. I really appreciated our discussion! An honor and a privilege indeed! End transmission.

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GUEST POST // Tati & Tony are Interviewed by Rain

Dear Readers, we were recently interviewed by the amazing Rain. No, not the weather phenomenon. By a person with that name who runs an awesome blog that you can check out over here. Rain is one of the most enthusiastic people weve ever met, and it sure shows in the following exchange! So, please feel free to just sit back, relax, and enjoy!

RAIN: My first question is the most basic one — how long have you been writing — together or individually? I mean, when did… how… how did it all start? Who came up with the idea of this awesomeness that is You have GOT TO TELL ME THE DETAILS! You see, this is the ONE QUESTION I dont intend on carrying unanswered to my grave.

TONY: Hi, Rain, I must say your enthusiasm is quite infectious! I can tell already that were going to have a lot of fun with this interview. Thanks for inviting us along for the ride!

TATI: Should I open my umbrella? It looks like theres rain in the room.

TONY: Naw, more like a sun shower! Anyway, lets answer your question, Rain…

TATI: Okay, confession relieves guilt. I should admit that there I was, little old me, and that I founded Unbolt Me (just Unbolt initially) somewhere in the middle of July 2014. Not so long after, I started to write. This also happened after I started to learn English. Tony, how long have you been learning English?

TONY: For my whole life actually. Even though I live in a country where English is the official language, I tend to revert to Gibberish on an alarmingly regular basis.

TATI: By the way, I recently saw a saying: “You can learn a foreign language in a short period, but your native tongue is something youll learn for your entire life.”

TONY: I dont even know a foreign language, so youre one step ahead of me, Tati. Anyway, I should probably answer this question a bit too.

TATI: Yes, my rattle-brained friend.

TONY: What can I say? Hm. Well, Ive been writing since I was a child — writing and drawing to be precise. So, yeah, Id been making comics for quite some time before I began my webcomic Crumble Cult in January 2012. And then I stumbled onto Tatis site in… Hm. When was that, Tati?

TATI: It was in the middle of October 2014. But its me who found you.

TONY: Oh, thats right! You were leaving comments on various posts, yes? And then I began to correspond with you via your own comments section, then via email, and then through Messenger. Thats when I asked if I could work with you on a shared site, and its at this point that you invited me on board Unbolt Me. Needless to say, I accepted, and we havent looked back since!

TATI: Nope, I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award.

TONY: And then the commenting and corresponding and joining of forces happened?

TATI: Men. You never remember things. What is my name, Tony?

TONY: Your name is like a song on my lips.

TATI: Enough flattery. My name?

TONY: Oh, look at the pretty clouds!

TATI: See? The proof is in the pudding. Shall we move to your next question, Rain?

RAIN: Uhhh… okay, so now Id like to know exactly what techniques you apply in the elaborate process of rat-cleaning? Cause I gotta say, I have LOTS of em here and I can do with a few tips.

TONY: Actually, I dont do much rat cleaning at all — none, in fact. I play the avoidance game. Its worked pretty well so far!

TATI: I prefer one stick and nine holes.

TONY: One stick and nine holes? I take it that isnt a golfing reference?

TATI: Nope.

TONY: So, what does it mean?

TATI: Have you read Selma Lagerlöf, Tony?

TONY: I dont believe I have.

TATI: I believe you love Swedish literature.

TONY: I do?

TATI: Pippi Longstocking? Karlsson-on-the-Roof?

TONY: Ive heard of the first. Not the second.

TATI: Tony, Tony… What did you read when you were a child?

TONY: Comics of course!

TATI: I hope you know Tove Jansson at least.

TONY: I LOVE Tove Jansson! Moomintrolls anyone? Theyre the freaking coolest!

TATI: It is a part of Swedish literature, isnt it?

TONY: I thought she was Finnish…

TATI: Yes, and she was a Swedish-speaking (and writing) author.

TONY: Oh! I see! So, what does this have to do with the art of rat cleaning in cellars?

TATI: In no way. Next question.

RAIN: I was soo fucking giddy by the time I finished reading your essay on Immortality. You write stupendously, Tati, I gotta say. And Id be honored to hear your thoughts on Stars. You know, I have always been fascinated by things gloriously out of my reach and your writings vibrate with the same depth. So I was wondering if you could tell me your thoughts — be they a few lines — on those bright twinkly heavenly eyes?

TATI: Oh, thank you, Rain. Im still not used to praise regarding my writings. I still wanted to turn round to find whomever you were appealing to! Im pretty curious about stars too. (I hope you meant not celebrities?)

TONY: No, she definitely meant the sparkly, burning kind.

TATI: Good. So, Im pretty sure stars are just freckles on the skys nose.

TONY: God, I love your mind.

TATI: Everything looks cuter with freckles. Thats why the sky needs stars.

TONY: Well, at least this answer makes more sense than the last one…

TATI: Oh my god, Tony! It was about a magic pipe!

TONY: What the hell are you talking about?!

TATI: The Piped Pier! Yuck! Pied Pipper! Damn. Tony, dont piss me off!

TONY: Good grief.

TATI: Im talking about beautiful stars here! The Sun shines, the exposure to UV-B radiation activates melanocytes to increase melanin production, which can cause star freckles on the skys nose. Easy peasy!

TONY: Clearly. Im still unsure of how the Pied Piper of Hamelin ties in with the previous answer, but… well, whatever. Next question.

RAIN: When I first read Lose to Night, I felt like the words on the screen were an echo of something deep inside of me that rakes me to disentangle myself. I felt… ugh… I cant think of the exact word here but lets just say that it felt there was an envelope of darkness surrounding me and the voice inside and the words in front of my eyes was the only light. So, tell me Tony, how YOU cope with these coiling and writhing snakes made of words and feelings too loud to drown under ANY METAL?  Just… just describe it in a few words — how YOU feel?

TONY: This is a great question, Rain. The simple truth is that while Im deep in it, Im not coping — Im kinda crumbling inside. Thats why its critical when in the grip of this that I not make any major, potentially life changing decisions. Much better to just let things be, to sit and know that this always passes. It might be minutes, it might be days, but it always does! ALWAYS.

TATI: This too shall pass.

TONY: Amen.

TATI: Did you try to chop up infants?

TONY: What th—?!

TATI: Sorry, Tony. I was trying to lighten the mood.

TONY: By joking about chopping up babies?!

TATI: I said I was sorry…

TONY: Im not King Solomon for heavens sake. Next question!

RAIN: WUTHERING HEIGHTS — yes or no? (I am asking the both of you.)

If yes, then what are your thoughts on Heathcliff? I mean, ‘PASSIONATE is one word to describe his whole existence, yes, but what about his other… uhh… admirable traits?

If no, then WHY? WHY DONT YOU LIKE IT? You better have a DAMN GOOD reason.

TONY: Admirable traits? Ooh la la! Do tell! Does he have an especially large and formidable hairpiece?

TATI: Nope, Tony. I guess Rain is going crazy about his long tail.

TONY: What?! Since when does he turn into a werewolf? Is this a werewolf book? I assume its a book…

TATI: Of course! It isnt a sofa or plant.

TONY: Maybe we should read it sometime…

TATI: I think it features an orange cat.

TONY: What… like Garfield?

TATI: Yup.

TONY: Its a comic book then? Id read that!

TATI: So, what are our thoughts on Heathcliff?

TONY: Well, if hes a cat then I can understand Rains passionate like of him. Everybody likes cats!

TATI: Except mice.

TONY: Have we answered the question yet?

TATI: Im not sure. There was also something about withering bites, I suppose…

RAIN: What is THE MOST delightfully crazy thing you have done in all your years on this earth? (Tati and Tony — BOTH.)

TATI: I started to write in a foreign language after six months of self-studying. But jumping with a parachute was not bad either.

TONY: Damn, Im boring.

TATI: Tony, I think you can tell how you tried a certain something in Malaysia. Do you remember that tasty cockroach?

TONY: Cockroach? What are you talking about? I ate pizza!

TATI: Wow. Then you really are boring, Tony! We went to the other side of the world and you ate pizza.

TONY: I hope you didnt put cockroaches in it!

TATI: Blessed are those who believe without seeing me (put cockroaches in your pizza).

TONY: Quoting bible verses at me doesnt make it okay, you know!

TATI: Oh, relax your buns, Tony. I didnt put cockroaches in your pizza.

TONY: Whew! I was beginning to think those olives looked rather like bugs…

TATI: It was in your dessert.

RAIN: Tati if you were made the Queen of Saturn, what changes would you bring to the planet to benefit the people (of SATURN, obviously)? Who would you invite to be your Hand (as in The Hand of The Queen GOT).

SAME QUESTION, Tony. How would you handle being the King of Saturn.

Important : The people living there are called… uhhh… That is JUST TOO MUCH PRESSURE FOR MY MIND. You guys name the people, okay? What would you call them?

TONY: Well, theyre from Saturn, so theyd surely be called Satanists, yes?

TATI: Tony, you made a mistake. The word is Saturnists.

TONY: Or is it Satinists? Perhaps they believe Saturns rings to be made of the finest fabric. And by the way, Tati… youre an insufferable smartarse! What would you have them be called?

TATI: Hobbits, of course!

TONY: For the love of kittens… why hobbits?

TATI: Oh, Tony, turn on your tiny mind! Its because they fuss over their rings like Gollum over his precious.

TONY: What a bunch of weirdos.

TATI: And its obvious that Saturns rings are vinyl, so Id order them to always play some good, old-fashioned rock-n-roll. And everything around the rings should wiggle and shake too. Nine, ten, eleven oclock, twelve oclock rock! Were gonna rock around the clock tonight! What else could keep the hobbits happy?

TONY: A breezy saxaphone lick or two perhaps? I know that often lifts my spirits! Imagine it… Hobbits all over the planet, bumping and grinding badonkadonks while blowing horns! Nice!

TATI: Of course, my Hand will be the coolest DJ in the Universe.

TONY: Ooh! Ooh! Can I be your Hand?

TATI: Can you do cool remixes?

TONY: Erm… I can try…

TATI: What else can you do?

TONY: I can… erm, let my hair wave in the wind. Yknow… look all manly and sexy. Maybe.

TATI: Okey dokey. You can be my Hand.

RAIN: oOOOooOoo… That reminds me, are you a Game of Thrones fan? *squeals* And you, Tony? If you guys had a dragon, all at your disposal, who would you burn to ashes? (YOU GOTTA NAME SOMEONE.) And what would you name your personal majestic flying creatures?

TATI: Honestly? Im not a fan of Game of Thrones.

TONY: I remember you telling me this once. Was it far too nihilistic and bloodthirsty for your taste, Tati?

TATI: Im not a moral goody-goody. I just dont care if someone feeds the guts of their friends to dogs, or when a sister fucks a brother.

TONY: And the time that dude got his todger cut off… I almost vomited for a week!

TATI: I take my hat off before Mr. Martin, but its not my cup of tea. I dont think that playing on the lowest, base instincts enriches culture and humanity. Its rather mainstream. But dragons are a different matter!

TONY: Oh my, yes. Dragons! I hope they dont decide to use me as a human toothpick!

TATI: Should I mention their real name?

TONY: The dragons?

TATI: Nope. Who I want to burn to ashes. And please, dont be so dense, Tony. I can change my decision.

TONY: Sweet blubby Jesus. Is that a threat?! I need to change my underwear…

TATI: Do you want to put on fire-resistant pants?

TONY: Do such things exist in the world?

TATI: If you believe in dragons then you should believe in fire-resistant pants. Otherwise… well, you get the point.

TONY: Yeah yeah… I get it. You cant believe in god without believing in the devil, am I right?

TATI: Of course. Everything is balanced. Well, to be serious about the question… no one. Of course, I could mention Pol Pot, Voldemort or Dr. Evil…

TONY: What about Donald Trump?

TATI: Do you want to name your dragon Donald Trump?

TONY: Hells no! I wanna introduce him to my dragon!

TATI: Are you sure your dragon isnt the Republican?

TONY: Yup, Im pretty sure she isnt. Rather, my dragons a pacifist — but shes willing to make an exception for narcissists with bad wigs, delusions of political grandeur and tiny hands.

TATI: Oh, so its ‘she. Actually, I tried to hint at you to leave politics alone.

TONY: Didnt I tell you? My dragons a hermaphrodite, and I cant leave politics alone because his/her favourite snack is politicians.

TATI: And what would you name this poor creature?

TONY: How about some nice unisex name like Bailey McDragonface? That would work.

TATI: Yes, I like it. She will be a nice friend to my Sparky.

RAIN: And what about Lord of The Rings? (BOTH.)

TATI: That sounds better.

TONY: I like the books. Not the movies so much. Theyre too long. My arse was so numb that it slid off my body then down the cinema aisle. I think an usher slipped on it.

TATI: Thump!

TONY: Thump?

TATI: Yes, Tony. Gather up your ass and stomp to the next question. Im there already.

RAIN: I just found out that you guys have authored Mooreeffoc. (DOPE NAME, BY THE WAY!) Whats it about? Tell me in a ‘story way. I mean, give me a plot for your plot. You get?

TONY: Well, its about a thing, and it takes place at a thing, and the thing is a real compelling thing that out-things all other things, living or dead.

TATI: Tony, are you on dope? Rain asks some serious questions here. So, start again!

TONY: What am I? A performing seal? Why should I do what you say?

TATI: Perhaps it wouldnt be modest if I say that Mooreeffoc was initially my idea.

TONY: Well, I cant dispute that. It really was your idea in the beginning. Unfortunately.

TATI: Awww… but youre the perfect partner, Tony! I know that I can shoot any crazy idea at you, and it will always find fertile ground.

TONY: Im like a beanstalk of brilliance!

TATI: And thats why Im such a reckless adventurist, Tony. Its because youre around.

TONY: Good lord! What am I hearing?! Are you really actually praising me?

TATI: What? Have you been hearing voices again? You must really be on dope, Tony! Youre still stone deaf, or had you forgotten this?

TONY: Oh, sure, make fun of the deaf guy! One day, well rule the earth… you mark my words! Erm… sign language!

TATI: And what will be your first decree?

TONY: For a certain Tati to eat a certain culinary dish called ‘humble pie. And then to release all dragons from captivity!

TATI: Okay, so what was the question again?

TONY: I dunno. Something about drinking coffee backwards?

TATI: I wonder if humble pie is a nice dessert for coffee…

TONY: No. Its best served cold and on its own… like revenge.

TATI: Well, to answer the question, lets say that part one of Mooreeffoc was our first prose collaboration. We had already written some poems together, which is why we wanted to try and mix our prose skills as well.

TONY: And once we began, we just couldnt stop. Writing all three parts felt like the most natural thing in the world.

TATI: I constructed the bare bones of this story. Im a bit of a control freak sometimes, you know.

TONY: No. You just care about what were doing. Youre… exacting.

TATI: Good lord! What am I hearing?! Are you really actually praising me?

TONY: Maybe I am… but only slightly!

TATI: Speaking praise, we should give thanks to Rain for this entertaining interview.

TONY: Yeah, Rain! You ask the best questions!

TATI: Okay, lets go, Tony! I have another brilliant idea!

TONY: Will I need sunglasses?

Interview by RAIN
© All rights reserved 2017

GUEST POST // Okoto Enigma Interviews Tetiana Aleksina & Tony Single

OKOTO: What is your blog about?

TONY: Firstly, we want to thank you for interviewing us, Okoto. What a cool opportunity! To answer your question: Unbolt Me is a literary blog. In a literal sense. It’s a repository of poems, prose, and any other odds and ends that we might dream up.

TATI: Yes, we have also made art, audio clips, and even a video! But we will never deviate from our main axis. We will always be about the writings.

OKOTO: When and why did you decide to start a blog?

TATI: It was July 2014. Why? Because I had decided that six months of studying English was enough, and that I was ready to knock the spots off Shakespeare and Hemingway. I decided to think big and enter the international arena straightaway. That is how me and my ‘blameless’ writings found ourselves on WordPress.

TONY: I discovered Tati’s writings on Unbolt, and was immediately drawn in by the uniqueness of her imagination. It was completely idiosyncratic and out there. She and I struck up a friendship via email which eventually led to her inviting me to work with her on the blog together.

TATI: Tony’s first official post was A Sea Change Involving a Cow’. Unbolt became Unbolt Me after that point. But before this he was featured as a guest many times, and we wrote some cool collaborations.

OKOTO: Where do you see your blog 2 years from now?

TATI: It will be a noisy, busy place. A cheerful community of writers and readers who enjoy communication on our blog. And we aren’t going to turn it into an advertising platform to monetize our traffic, etc.

TONY: Yes, we write books and we want to sell them, like every writer does. But we never want to harass our readers with ads and links to buy.

TATI: Fun, freedom, communication. Those are the three pillars we lean on.

OKOTO: How far have you gone since you started blogging? And what do you hope to gain?

TONY: We’ve gone from being a blog with a dozen regular visitors to one that’s widely read and appreciated by many more from all walks of life.

TATI: Yes, Unbolt Me is a pretty popular blog, but I wouldn’t want to show off with our tinkling, statistical regalia here.

TONY: True. We’re very fortunate to have garnered any level of attention at all.

TATI: As for me… yes, I still can’t believe that my name is on the covers of real books. And this wouldn’t have happened without me starting this blog in the first place.

TONY: And we’re going to write many more. We want to make a living off our books. That’s the end game.

OKOTO: What/who inspires you to blog?

TONY: Tati. My wife. The fact that I’m poor.

TATI: Our amazing community and its warm feedback. We get many comments, many encouraging words. Our dear readers make us believe in what we do and that gives us the fuel to go ahead. Also, Tony, his wife and the fact that he’s poor. Okay, I joke. But Tony inspires me, of course. Especially his bizarre dreams.

OKOTO: What is the easiest thing about blogging? And what do you find most difficult?

TATI: The easiest thing is creating a new post. The most hard is pressing ‘Publish’.

TONY: And we get to work and agonise together. How cool is that? Honestly, we achieve so much more as a team than we ever could on our own.

OKOTO: Who has impacted you the most in blogging and why?

TATI: I read many cool blogs, and I do enjoy them and the people who stand behind them. I was honored to collaborate with many talented bloggers at the beginning of Unbolt Me’s life, and it’s been the most precious experience. But my answer will be… no one.

TONY: My answer would be… everyone. But, as I don’t like sharing the glory, I’ll amend that answer and say ‘no one’ too! Okay, but seriously, I fear that by listing some bloggers I’ll forget to list others. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out.

OKOTO: What do you think is the best strategy that worked well for you to get more traffic to your blog?

TONY: First and foremost it’s the writing. You’ve got to really work at the writing, to make it the best you think it can be every single time. Without that there’s no compelling reason for readers to keep coming back.

TATI: Yes, our strategy is the same for any activity: malls, pubs or blogs… it doesn’t matter. Be cool, be different. Be passionate about what you do.

TONY: Write it and they will come.

TATI: Amen.

OKOTO: What was/has been the most challenging moment in your blogging journey so far?

TONY: Declining collaborations hasn’t been easy. People get understandably offended when we do this. It’s not that we’re snobs or that no one is as good as we are. On the contrary, there are many writers whose abilities eclipse our own that we would gladly work with. However, we’re so focused on what we’re trying to achieve with our own projects that it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

TATI: As for me, it was the moment when I realized that it was pretty hard to handle the growing attention that we were getting. I was happy… and a bit scared. That’s why I’m really grateful to Tony who takes care of the comments on Unbolt Me. I remember how I was struggling with this, feeling unable to catch every interaction, worried that readers might think I didn’t care or something.

TONY: Tati is my favourite person to work with, so any difficulties that arise are mitigated by the fact that we are in this together. That gives me a lot of strength and encouragement.

OKOTO: What is your advice to bloggers and everyone out there?

TATI: Follow your dreams. Go ahead and never stop.

TONY: Wear socks at all times. Except in summer. It’s too hot and sweaty in summer.

© All rights reserved 2017

GUEST POST // A Game of Look and Find for Poetry and the Blog that Hosts it [Q&A]

Dear Readers, we are lucky enough to have become acquainted with Franki Hanke, a student administrative assistant with the Hamline University English Department. She also writes for its in-house blog Hamline Lit Link, and we’re thrilled that she decided to conduct an interview with us recently. My, oh my! Isn’t that exciting? We’re going to be on the front page of the University wall newspaper! So lean in, Dear Students, and squint your eyes to catch all the fine print. Oh, and please, do be polite and don’t spoil our beautiful faces with scribbled moustaches and shiners, okay?

FRANKI: Describe your site unbolt in its entirety? What is it? What does it hope to accomplish or what do you hope to accomplish through it?

TONY: Hi, Franki. Thanks for interviewing us. This should be fun!

TATI: Yes, let’s play!

TONY: Unbolt Me is a literary blog. It’s an online repository of poems, prose, and anything else we decide to try.

TATI: We have made art and audio recordings too. And a video! But Unbolt Me will always be about the writings.

TONY: As for what we hope to achieve with it, we just want fame and fortune, man. Like Scrooge McDuck, we wanna dive into huge piles of money and see how far we’ll sink!

FRANKI: Your web design leaves links all over the place to new creative work. What is the reasoning behind this feature?

TATI: Unbolt Me is a live organism. Beating. Throbbing. Breathing. Links are its circulatory system. They bring the oxygen of readers to every nook and cranny so there’s no necrosis.

FRANKI: What feedback have you gotten from readers about this feature?

TONY: They seem to like it. It can be fun to follow the links around… like a trail of breadcrumbs really. Just don’t gobble ‘em up as you go. Don’t want all our other readers getting lost!

TATI: Well… I remember one person said it’s rather annoying. But hey, don’t like, don’t click!

FRANKI: Throughout the site, do the links lead only to poems by the two of you or also reader submitted work?

TONY: It’s mostly only to our own poems, isn’t it Tati?

TATI: Yep, but not always. We’re not greedy.

TONY: Folks will just have to click around and find out for themselves. Ha ha!

FRANKI: Tell me about your writing challenges. When did they start? What’s the reasoning? How do you design them?

TATI: Actually, my writings were started like challenges, but maybe that’s off topic…

When I joined WordPress, I started to receive many awards and writing challenges. At first, I diligently tried to fulfill every challenge I received, but I later realized that I no longer had the time to get them done. They were growing in my to do list like a snowball. When I started to pay more attention to my writings and books, and when I started to work with Tony, these writing challenges became secondary.

One beautiful day, I decided to release them, and gave our dear readers the opportunity to raise this fallen banner of challenges themselves. We created a special page. It was my idea, but Tony’s brilliant execution. I’m very grateful to Tony. His mastery helps me to fulfil many bold ideas, and to create a modern design for the blog.

FRANKI: You currently have eight challenges, correct? Do you typically add more or is this typical to expect to see these same ones?

TATI: It’s actually a good idea! We should create some new challenges, Tony. Shouldn’t we?

TONY: Oh my god! A resounding yes!

TATI: By the way, I have an idea. What about a special bonus for readers of this interview? The ‘Create Your Challenge’ challenge and the ‘I would never write about…’ Challenge? How does that sound?

TONY: Yeah, totally! And our readers can make up their own rules for those challenges too!

FRANKI: For the Ears Wide Open challenge, are readers invited to offer their own readings too? Where should those be submitted and in what format?

TONY: We encourage it. If there are any poems we’ve written that tickle the fancy of our readers then we’d certainly love to receive their audio renditions of them. We accept mp3s and mp4s. Failing that, delivery via carrier pigeon in ten foot high braille is also acceptable.

TATI: Usually we use SoundCloud, and combine the reading with a fitting picture.

FRANKI: Which challenge is your favorite?

TATI: If I needed to pick a challenge for myself now, I would grab the ‘In Ten Sentences’ one. I think it’s because of my tendency to be laconic. Tony can confirm this. I’m not a chatterbox. Not in life. Nor in my writings.

TONY: Which is a boon since I’m deaf and half blind. As for me, the ‘Read Our Poems Aloud’ challenge would be my pick. Why? Because I’m an insufferable narcissist.

TATI: Deaf and half blind? Are you sure you’re human, Tony? You sound like a mole. A mole-narcissist. Really cool! Yep!

TONY: Careful! You don’t want me digging a hole beneath you…

FRANKI: How do you hope readers will interact with the challenges posted? What do you hope they gain from it?

TONY: Sexual prowess? Untold levels of virility? I’ve no idea. I guess all I want is for them to have fun with it. Writing is a chance to be creative, and we should all be given that opportunity at least once in our lives.

TATI: Finally, Tony said something valid. Amen to that!

FRANKI: What have you thought yourself doing these challenges (as they come from other nominations)? Has good work come out of the inspiration they stir up?

TATI: Every challenge forced me to think outside the box. To extricate myself from it. And challenges with a strict time frame also helped me to realize one interesting thing… Once, I wrote a piece in Russian in 10 minutes because rummaging in a dictionary would have devoured time if I had started to write in English. But the translation back into English took much longer than I had anticipated. Actually, I then wrote this piece again from scratch. It was a valuable lesson for me. Now, I never use Russian or Ukrainian drafts. I always write in English. Every language has its own logic and structure, and if you want to get a nice result then you need to think on this language, not just translate your own thoughts.

TONY: I believe challenges come from everywhere. Life itself goads one into writing something, anything, just to make sense of it all, don’t you think? I’ve never needed to look very far for my inspiration. By the way, Tat, good essay there!

TATI: Exciting.

TONY: Hey you, stop yawning already!

FRANKI: If someone was only willing to check out one challenge, which would you recommend as best for spurring some writing?

TONY: They should pick the challenge they’d hate the most. Methinks that’d really stretch out the old writing muscles!

TATI: Tony, what happened? The second reasonable thought during one evening!

FRANKI: Running a blog is a lot of work, what makes it worthwhile for you?

TONY: Writing and spending time with Tati is reward enough, but I do also have ambitions for our words to reach a wider audience. I feel we both have a lot to offer the literary world, so I’m definitely interested to see how far we can push this.

TATI: Yes, blogging is a great springboard. The more you shake it, the higher you jump.

FRANKI: What do you think are the benefits of writing for your own blog space versus other “goals” for writing: like writing in attempt to publish to other spaces or writing only privately, etc?

TONY: If I only ever wrote privately, then nothing would get done. I wouldn’t achieve a damn thing. That’s why I like to blog it all. This forces me to keep to a schedule, and it keeps me accountable to our readers. I feel this is the key to successful and productive writing for me.

TATI: I think it depends on goals, actually. There is nothing bad in private writings. But, yes, blogging disciplines you. It helps you to assess your efforts adequately. And the fact that I’m sitting here, struggling with my answers, means that I have made some steps toward my dream to be a famous writer. God bless you, blogging.

Interview by FRANKI HANKE

© All rights reserved 2017

Tati Unbolted (An Interview)

TONY SINGLE: Tell us a little bit about yourself?

TETIANA ALEKSINA: Next question please. Can you ask something more important?

TONY: Of course. Have you ever been tipped by a cow?

TETIANA: No. But I have been licked by a ram.

TONY: Really?

TETIANA: Yep. I was very little. An infant. My parents carried me in a pram past a farm. And I… hmmm… well, I pooed. My mum laid me on the grass and started to fiddle with dirty diapers. And a ram walked to me and sniffed me. And then started to lick me. When my mother saw this, she was shocked and frightened. But I laughed. It’s pretty ticklish when a ram licks your bare ass, you know.

TONY: Exciting! What do you want to be when you grow up?

TETIANA: A child.

TONY: Are you a group person or a loner?

TETIANA: A loner, without doubts. Life often pushes me ahead and forces me to be a leader. I have to do this, but reluctantly.

TONY: How would your friends describe you?

TETIANA: “You’re on the way to becoming an alien being.”

TONY: What made you decide to learn English?

TETIANA: What made you ask such a silly question? About 55% sites on the internet in English. About 30% of the world population speak English. It’s a chance to reach and to be reached. To hear and to be heard. It’s a chance to connect with the world. Well… the main reason, honestly? English is much more easy than Chinese.

TONY: You get to travel anywhere. Where and why?

TETIANA: There’s nothing more marvelous, frightening and tantalising than your inner Universe. Are you brave enough to meet the real you?

TONY: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

TETIANA: Many of our traditional recipes can look weird or even shocking for foreigners. Kangaroo balls.

TONY: Tish pshaw! Not a big deal. I eat those every day.

TETIANA: Russian Blood Candy. I eat those often.

TONY: What the fuck?!

TETIANA: So, what do you call ‘strange’?

TONY: Something that looks totally weird and not at all edible.

TETIANA: I think every child ate such things. I loved to chew paper.

TONY: Tell us the last joke you heard?

TETIANA: “I know an ideal solution.” I laughed so hard. Though, I suppose, I was the only one who found this statement funny… One of my colleagues said this.

TONY: You’re God for a day. What do you do?

TETIANA: I abolish the job description, ‘God’.

TONY: Is it better to die or to live for eternity?

TETIANA: Well.. death looks like an egotistical choice, an alibi for doing nothing. You can change nothing when you are dead. “Well, guys, I’m dead, what do you want from me, bastards? I’m busy. I feed worms…”

Honestly? I would prefer to live. I would prefer to live and do my fucking best. I would prefer to change this old rotten world instead of rot on my own.

TONY: Why do you write?

TETIANA: It’s my way to keep my sanity and not roll into the deep. Kinda my safety valve, yeah?

TONY: Do you have a favourite book?

TETIANA: Yes, I have. It’s the book you and I are writing now.

© All rights reserved 2016