Mikaya Heart Interview

Widely travelled author, Mikaya Heart, talks to fellow author, Elaine Beale.

As an author and educator herself, Elaine Beale knows only too well how hard it is to balance her commitments to both her writing and teaching, and therefor probably has the perfect insight when it comes to interviewing fellow author, Mikaya Heart.

Elaine Beale: Your most recent book, My Sweet Wild Dance, recently won an award from the Golden Crown Literary Society. How does it feel to get that kind of recognition for your work.

Mikaya Heart: It means a lot to me, I’m very excited and pleased about it. Writing is easy for me, and I enjoy it, but I don’t write for myself, I write because I have something to say to other people. So it’s important to me to have my writing recognized by others, and in this day and age, when so many people are producing books, it’s not easy to make that happen. The judges who chose my book had never heard of me – I was a complete unknown to them. So the fact that they picked me out for an award really says that my book spoke to them. I want my writing to speak to people, and I’m delighted when it does. Hopefully, my writing will get noticed more now that I can say I am an award-winning author.

EB: Your previous books were published by independent presses but you decided to self-publish My Sweet Wild Dance. How has that experience been for you and what kinds of advice would you offer to other authors who are considering this route?

MH: I don’t recommend self-publishing unless you already have an established audience. It’s a hard route to go, because you’re on your own. Conventional publishers, even though they may not do everything you want, are partners in the process, and they already have a handle on the publicity and the distribution. If you self-publish, you have to do all the publicity yourself, and there is really no earthly reason why anyone should notice you, even if you are really good. Many self-published books are very badly done, so bookstores are leery of carrying them, and don’t want to put on readings. I chose to self-publish because I had no option – I wasn’t getting picked up by a conventional publisher and I had seven finished books on my computer. They were like millstones around my neck. I decided to self-publish three of them, and see what happened. The first one was a book on shamanism, With the Sun in My Eyes. My Sweet Wild Dance is the second. If I get picked up by a publisher, I’ll continue to write. If I don’t, perhaps I’ll have to find some other outlet for my creativity.

EB: My Sweet Wild Dance reveals a lot of personal information—about your family, your childhood, your love life, and your spiritual development. How does it feel to reveal so much of yourself on the page?

MH: Ah well…I’ve been obsessed with telling the truth all my life, and I have always hated having secrets, so there is nothing in the book that I would want to hide. There is nothing in my life I want to hide. However, there are things I don’t discuss very readily with people, perhaps mostly because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. I realize there are things in the book that would make people uncomfortable, and sometimes when I meet someone who has read it, I’m suddenly alarmed at how much that person knows about me. Or perhaps, more truthfully, how much they think they know about me—because, like most people, I’m a multi-faceted individual, and there are aspects of myself not revealed in that book. On the other hand, it’s my experience that people will jump to their own conclusions no matter what I write—and they forget so fast that it really doesn’t matter anyway.

In the end, what I produce when I write is just what feels right. Sometimes I think I am not the one making the decision about that. I might even be very nervous about what is being published. When the Earth Moves, the book I published about women and orgasm that was published in 1998, is very personal. It needed to be that way, because sex is a very personal thing, and writing about it in an academic fashion only gives half the picture. It probably puts some people off. I generally figure that if someone judges me negatively for what I have revealed, then it’s better they stay away from me anyway.

EB: When I read My Sweet Wild Dance I was struck by the vividness of your writing about your childhood, and particularly about several of the traumatic incidents at that time in our life. In writing memoir, it seems to me that the writer has to revisit experiences in order to render them so vividly on the page. Was it challenging for you to write about your childhood? And did writing about it change who you are now?

MH: Initially it was a relief to write it all down, because I had been holding it in for too many years. It was profoundly cathartic to bring it all into the open. But then, in the process of editing, I had to go over and over it, and yes, that was very painful. I deleted some of the most painful parts because I didn’t want the book to be too dark, and I worked at injecting a sense of humor. (I think British people get the humor much more—American humor is so different). It took me about fifteen years to produce a readable book out of those first ramblings about my life—and if you think that this version is revealing, you should have read the first version!

Putting it into an order that would make sense and flow easily was very tricky, because life isn’t naturally like that. Reading and re-reading it became agonizing. I think that was what changed me very deeply in the end—because I really knew I was finished with it all. I had no interest in hearing or thinking about my painful childhood ever again.

EB: In My Sweet Wild Dance, you talk about your own spiritual journey, and you also teach workshops on spiritual development. Is writing an important aspect of your own spiritual life?

MH: That word ‘spiritual’ is tricky. I don’t differentiate between what’s spiritual and what isn’t. I think being human is a very spiritual thing to be doing. We are beings of spirit playing around with the experience of being human, not human beings trying to become spirit. I don’t know that I would consider my writing to be a spiritual practice any more than I consider anything in my life to be a spiritual practice. I write because words form in my head and demand to be put on paper. They keep me awake at night if I try to ignore them. The writing wants to be expressed through me. It has a life of its own, and I am simply a vehicle for it. I consider any mode of expression or creativity to be a form of energy (also known as life-force) moving, and my writing is energy moving through me. I believe all healthy human beings allow energy to move through them as freely as possible. We all need to find ways of allowing that, and different people choose different outlets. Writing just happens to be one form that I find easy. The forms in which the energy manifests may be alarming—I’ve sometimes been amazed at what I’ve found myself writing, and I’ve sometimes found myself behaving in ways that are far too unrestrained to be acceptably adult. I’ve given up trying to be adult. Too much hard work and not enough play!

EB: In addition to being a writer, I also understand that you’re also an avid kite-surfer. Are these two things connected for you?

MH: I would say that kitesurfing is the single most spiritual activity I do. When I’m out there on the water, dancing with the wind, I feel completely at peace, totally connected. Yes, it is certainly an outlet for energy. If I can’t kitesurf, I am more likely to have to write. Sometimes when I am being hounded by words that want out, I can go kitesurfing and get rid of the need to write. Some people might see that as a bad thing—shouldn’t I be doing something useful with my creative energy instead of squandering it on the wind and the water? But they are speaking from a perspective where producing a tangible thing is what matters. I’ve been very good at producing tangible things in my life, and I know they are not important. What is important is being in a place of peace and joy, and kitesurfing really takes me there. That is much more likely to spread peace and joy in the world than anything anyone could produce. Besides, I could put all my energy into writing without any guarantee that anyone will ever read it. What good would that be?

EB: You’re originally from Britain, but you’ve lived in the United States for more than 20 years. How do you think living in the States has affected you and your work?

MH: I doubt that I would have done much writing or tried to get published if I had contined to live in Britain. People in northern California have been much more supportive of me being creative in various ways than people in Britain ever were. Initially, a key reason why I moved here was the need to get away from the class influence. In the seventies and eighties, in the circles I frequented, being from an upper class background was hard. I censored myself a lot. US-ers mostly don’t recognize me as upper class, and that is a great relief. Escaping that stigma was huge, and it meant that I could be myself much more freely. In California, I was also encouraged to do a lot of healing work on myself, and I think I couldn’t have become the person I am now without doing that work. I like who I am now a lot better than the person I used to be. So it’s been wonderfully validating for me living here.

It’s also been easier from the point of view of being a woman in manual trades. When I first learned mechanics, in England, most of the men made it very clear they resented my presence. In contrast, when I moved to a piece of land in northern California, the local men were happy to teach me how to use a chainsaw, and they were very respectful of me.

EB: You spend a lot of time traveling. Does this make it difficult to keep a writing routine? Or does it help inspire your work?

MH: I can always find somewhere to write when I need to. Life is inspiring—and that is sometimes difficult since, until I find a publisher to pick me up, I am trying to limit any inspiration that motivates me to write! One of the good things about traveling is that when I find myself too inspired (that is, can’t sleep for the words in my head), I can usually find a place to kitesurf, which alleviates the problem.

When I first started traveling, eight years ago, I kept journals, and they are the basis of my books about my travels, but after a while I wanted to simply be in the experience without searching for words to describe what was going on around me. Words felt very inadequate, and in some ways they took me out of the immediacy of the moment. I started singing and making up songs because music took me out of my head. It felt like a more effective way to impart a message of beauty. But of course the written word has its own value.

A lot of my traveling is fairly non-traditional. I love to camp in the middle of nowhere by myself. One of the most amazing trips I ever did was an eight day solo kayak trip in Prince William Sound. It was incredibly peaceful. Very little happened on that trip. I didn’t write or speak to anyone, yet I felt changed in some deep way.

EB: What, if any, new writing projects do you have planned? Any other news you’d like to share?

MH: I have a finished manuscript on my travels in Thailand and Indonesia. It’s a book that will appeal to lots of people, and I will self-publish it if I have to. In the meantime, it’s been submitted to a publisher. I also have a manuscript about my travels in Australia, and a whole collection of short stories about Brazil, Hawaii, Alaska, and other places. I’ve talked to a couple of lesbian publishers about putting out a new Lesbian Adventures Stories and an updated version of The Straight Woman’s Guide to Lesbianism, which were both originally published in 1994, so I’m hoping that will happen soon. I have a short manuscript called The Art of Being Human, which is relevant to the workshops and coaching that I do, and I will probably self-publish that. And I have begun a story that is lesbian romance with a difference. (It’s really about the meaning of the word love.) I think it will be book length. But I may try to stop myself carrying on with it unless I can find a publisher. I have taken back the rights of When the Earth Moves, the book on orgasm that was first published by Celestial Arts, so I am looking for a publisher who will pick that up. And I have started on a book about a commune where I lived in the seventies. I’ll be putting together a collection of stories in collaboration with others who lived there. We were on the cutting edge of something very different in those days, and I think a lot of people are interested in learning about alternative ways of living together.

For someone who is thinking about giving up writing,I seem to have an inordinate number of writing projects going on!

EB: What books have you read and loved recently?

MH: I don’t read very much for a number of reasons. Firstly, it inspires me to write, and I’m trying to avoid sources of inspiration. Secondly, I have an inner editor that will not shut up, so unless a book is very well written, I am not likely to enjoy it. Thirdly, I have gone to great lengths to develop a positive and expansive attitude to life on a daily basis, so I only want to read books that I’m going to find uplifting. Since I already lead an adventurous and fun-filled life, I don’t need to read in order to be entertained. That said, there are lots of good writers out there. On long plane flights, when I need distraction, I’ll usually choose Barbara Kingsolver—but I may also take one of the Harry Potter books.

Originally from England, Elaine Beale emigrated to the USA in 1989. She was the winner of the Poets & Writers 2007 Writers Exchange Award. She studied creative writing at the University of British Columbia and currently lives in Oakland, CA, with her partner and their goddaughter. Her first novel, Murder in the Castro, was published by New Victoria Publishers (1997), with Another Life Altogether released April, 2010, from Random House. Elaine can be found at: www.elainebeale.com

For more about Mikaya Heart, visit her web site: www.mikayaheart.org

Elaine Beale

Elaine grew up in East Yorkshire, England and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

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  • Marguerite Quantaine

    I’m always enthralled by the motives of other writers, and how they view what they’ve written compared to how I’ve interpreted it.

    We don’t all need to agree with the message, Egad, no.

    But it helps to understand more clearly by listening to the author speak about her craft,

    Thank you for that.

    28, September 2010
  • [...] an interview with Mikaya Heart [...]

    8, October 2010

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