hand holding happy land book with legs and socks visible in background

Today we have a guest blog from author Tes Mekonnen. Here, Tes shares with us his experiences of self-publishing his book, Happyland: A Modern Fairytale in two parts and how his own experiences influenced the story. You can check out my review of the original book here, download a FREE copy of the new Children’s Edition here, and see our recent Q&A post for your chance to win a signed copy (and other fabulous bookish goodies) of your own. Enjoy!

2010

I dropped out of Western Washington University and the face of the earth for a couple years—trying to locate a dream or a vocation that involved the passions. In 2010, I found a passion in writing and decided I want to be a writer. I gave school (WWU) another attempt. Happyland was birthed out of writing prompt for a summer creative writing class. I allowed my creativity to reign freely. I realized I could take chances with my writing. I was from the Bob Dylan school of thought, but I quickly realized what you could get away with in song—you cannot get away in storytelling. Bob Dylan is a bona fide leg jerker, but he was and is still my biggest influence.

Happyland was terribly rough, but I had a decent framework for what Happyland would eventually become. I wish that confidence existed then. I was naïve, aloof and awkward. I was ashamed of my life so much that I would prefer to write make-believe. I was at a peculiar stage. I had this deep insecurity where I would be found out…like I am not a real writer. It took awhile to learn that all my peers are not better than me and I’m no better than them—this is, of course, all in retrospect. Since I’ve come to America, I’ve been regurgitating the same sad story of my upbringing and I was always ashamed. Family flees a war-torn country. Family settles in a refugee camp. Family moves to America. American dream never realized. I doggedly avoided writing about my life because of my insecurity. Minorities are relegated to either writing for minorities or writing about their minority experience—that is what I truly believed. I don’t know why I was ashamed of my past. Non-fiction was too real for me. Ridiculous to sublime is a mere step. I was sublimely ridiculous.

text graphic reading 'I was naïve, aloof and awkward. I was ashamed of my life so much that I would prefer to write make-believe. I was at a peculiar stage. I had this deep insecurity where I would be found out…like I am not a real writer'

Happyland was my way of trying to define the world we live in and talking about profound themes—without exposing myself. The protagonist of my book is just trying to get to a place, Happyland. I wrote something that is relevant to all, happiness, and how one tries to get to that particular place—or feeling. For the most part, I got great feedback. I regret not participating in my own life. I let my awkward nature, my introversion and indecisiveness ruin the whole of my college experience. I didn’t think much of it. Summer ended. Life continued.

2011-2012

“I joined the War on Drugs, but I was on both sides—I was like a triple-agent—deceiving myself whilst deceiving others from a drug that deceived me. Is that a triple agent?

-Tes Mekonnen – The Book of Teezus: Thus Spoke Me”

 Fall came and that is when I started falling into this rabid rabbit hole. I had this addiction to absorb as much knowledge as I could because I felt I was too behind. I wasn’t taught anything. I was the first one to graduate from high school (in my family) and I just dropped the ball every time life passed it to me. I found my mission: to be a Penguin Deluxe Edition writer.

I ate the books with relish. Reading and reading and reading. Tolstoy, Kafka, Carroll, Camus, Dostoevsky, Joyce, and a little bit of Hemmingway. Then I found these magic pills, Adderall, and it allowed me to just read and read and read. I got silly and became addicted to these pills and it rattled my mind. The logic is batshit: a man gets addicted to a drug because he was addicted to acquiring knowledge to become a literary giant—or a literary tall person. I’m from where you throw a book at somebody and they throw it back at you and say: “What the fuck is a book?” Folks say reading is fundamental, but they call you weird when you read too much.

I don’t how this love of reading came to be. I hated reading when I was younger. I wasn’t precocious. I abhorred reading. My summation of a book would be re-wording the blurbs. I literally would re-write online summaries. I would do everything to avoid reading the book. Here is the deepness of my reading abhorrence—an excerpt from an unfinished manuscript about my life:

“The middle school teacher was Mr. Mighty Quinn and he always wore tight, colorful collared shirts tucked into his tighty-whities. He always folded his hands across his chest. He dug his hands into the pits of his arms—the pits of that damp hell and he would, on the sly, take a sniff (slyness is questionable because I noticed). He required current events to be completed weekly. We would read physical newspapers and pluck a story and detail the who, what, when, where, why and the how. (W.W.W.W.W.H.). I was so serious and a morbid, husky fella with white Tommy Hilfiger shoes and my little boy blues. I always turned to the obituaries and every week I picked a death and wrote the 5 w’s and 1 h. The teacher never noticed because he didn’t grade the current events; he delegated that duty to his T.A. And the T.A. asked: “Tes, why do you always use the obituary for the current events?” And I laughed because death was funny, or how death was being used, “Death is easy, pal.” I never call my peers pal, but I ‘member I utilized the use of the word pal and Death was easy to write about because I didn’t have to read a rather longish article—obituaries are written quick and easy with a stiff formality…The summation of one’s life is wrapped up in less than a ton of words (push the button and wrap it up, eh?).”

I wasn’t a serious boy. I did not want to read. Suddenly, all I had were these authors. I remembering reading The Metamorphosis and crying, realizing I was closer to Kafka because I had a brother-in-arms who just vied for his father’s attention. I felt like I had nobody. Books came to town and they stayed long enough give me a dream worth pursuing. This escapism is not healthy. Then I went back to Happyland. I began bending my mind and started writing feverishly. I took a little, cute story that was initially 3,000 words and blew it up to 55-60,000 words of chaotic madness. It was a man writing—scribbling and scribbling fanatically with no end in sight. I was becoming Joe Gould without the recognition. I took Happyland and absolutely morally bankrupted it. I didn’t sleep. I popped pills. I read and tried to write. A man needs to sleep. All that took a backseat. The addiction was the driving force and it wrecked me. My mind was constantly whirring. Here is the thing: you cannot sleep because of the drug, so you pop another pill to stave off sleep, but your exhausted in a jittery way. Hell. Bipedal zombie with a book glued to his hands. I could no longer balance school and my addiction.

2013-2014

I dropped out of school again. Twice dropped out, I was utterly lost and drugged up. Nobody knew. Maybe they did. My mind was turning to mashed potatoes. A madman scribbling his life away and staying artificially awake by amphetamines. Adderall is just a “clean” a sort of drug. How was I still able to afford my addiction? I was a professional pill-popper like I am a professional human being. I procured an interview with a legitimate therapist and convinced him that I daydream of a different life when reading books and canst afford to pay attention. I fooled an old man into believing I couldn’t focus. Then you get a prescription and now you have access to your addiction every 30 days. You take your prescription, fold it, and tuck it in your pocket. You try to moderate your usage, but moderation doesn’t exist when you’re hungry all the time. 90 pills (20 mg a pill) were to last 30 days and that seems like a bounty. But then you binge and have to wait for a couple of weeks, but you cant wait, so you change the date on the prescription and that little victory leaves you behind and then you call your dealer to grab some to tide you over. This was the hell I created for myself. The sheer amount I was using…I am amazed my heart didn’t explode.

Chapter 6 of Happyland explains the lonely madness that I imprisoned myself in. Here is an excerpt:

         “He lives alone with his books and his thoughts—and thoughts shape the world. Every thought is less—even if it is thoughtful.

         Ascending, he walks candidly to his writing desk in order to retrieve his golden pen—the sword that makes men immortal—or posthumous. Adolfo Dumfries is a lonesome, lonelysum writer. He only sits at his writing desk and writes—and writes. He writes about life as opposed to living life. His name has become his nom de plume or his nom de plume has become his name.

         Adolfo Dumfries stares at himself in the life- size looking glass. He reflects on his reflection,

         “I am a writer and writers are martyrs.”

         Writers sacrifice their life for words—for words can encompass the world. He moves himself nigh the window. His big, disenchanted and jaundiced eyes translate the blackishpurplish- bluishghoulish bruised night. He is lulled by the lyricism of the lyrical evening wind. Adolfo Dumfries has forgotten the outside world and never leaves his darkdankdimlylit Ivory Tower. Life has no meaning when you are all alone. Heaven is other people. *

         Adolfo Dumfries reads and reads and writes and writes. He reads to write and writes to read.

         He always wanted to become a writer. He told his family and friends that he is a writer—before he even wrote anything. He told everyone that he will only write one book and that book was only an idea at the time. “I deal only in the ideal. My book shall be a master’s peace. All I have to offer to the world is one book.” He said to a vanity mirror. Every mirror is a vanity mirror to a vain person. He has been writing that book since he began writing—all his life is in that first and last book. He left everyone to finish that said book bethecause he wanted to show everybody that he is a writer.

         He felt ashamed that he told everyone he is a writer and his idea of a book was a masterpiece. He was ashamed bethecause they kept asking him if he was done with his book and he was never done. He regretted telling anyone that he was even writing a book. Adolfo Dumfries abandoned his family and friends—he even abandoned the love of his life. He promised he would come back to her once his masterpiece was complete. He has forgotten how long he has been gone. He has no sense of time—he is timeless. He must write a book that is a masterpiece to validate abandoning everything he loved. He even abandoned the idea that was his original book. Adolfo Dumfries never finished that book bethecause he never started The Book of Life.

         He no longer enjoys writing. He sits and thinks—his head impregnated with thoughts—his head has become pregnant (a gravid grave).

         He blames the world for not completing a masterpiece (his magnum hopus). Adolfo Dumfries scratches his throat like a misanthrope. He has become immoral and disillusioned bethecause he no longer owns his owned thoughts. He passionately hates life and hates everything with a passion.

         Adolfo Dumfries no longer wants to write and wants to leave the Ivory Tower.”

It is never enough when you’re always hungry. Addiction is always being hungry. You can’t sleep, so you swallow another pill and you don’t even need to gild the pill—you don’t need water because you’re salivating and you just keep popping them. You’re taking 300 mg in one day and you haven’t slept for 4, 5 days and your jaundiced eyes protrude. It is all very, verily disgusting. Your mind is flaming and your brain is absolute pandemonium. I finally tried committing suicide to end this little hell I created for myself. Luckily, that was a failure. Subsequently, I had a terrible and colossal breakdown.

text graphic reading 'I shook the drug because it wasn’t the drug—it was this crazy ideal of a writer I had. When I let go of the idea of becoming this extraordinary writer, I went cold turkey'

I quit the drugging. And things came back slowly. I shook the drug because it wasn’t the drug—it was this crazy ideal of a writer I had. When I let go of the idea of becoming this extraordinary writer, I went cold turkey. Crisis line. Family. Therapist. My therapist…my savior. I wanted everything to happen swift-like before. I had this crazy idea I was going to be the best writer and I quit that. I couldn’t even handle life. Writing was the least of my concern. Life was becoming a drag and the emptiness was daunting. I thought I broke my mind, but I was finally able to get back. I am so lucky that I got the proper help.

With some semblance of clarity and drug-free mind, I picked up the manuscript of Happyland and I was absolutely disgusted. I couldn’t even understand what was written. It was incomprehensible and can only be described as gobbledygook. I tossed the whole manuscript and just shook my head. I deleted everything that I wrote. I couldn’t even extract anything from this heap of nonsensical junk. I almost lost the entirety of my mind. Ugh! What a sad, lame joke. Flushed of that temporary hell, I still went back to writing.  Gluttony for agony. That is why I have an ambivalent attachment to Happyland. My terrible addiction made a straight-up mess of the story. I really took a decent story and destroyed it. I had finally gained some objectivity. With clarity, emptiness was I. I had nothing, but my writing. The irony is what destroyed me is what saved me. I had to justify my life somehow and I started slowly writing in a cheap journal. I finally completed Happyland.

~

If you enjoyed Tes’ piece, be sure to check out his website and our Q&A post for further reading. And how could you resist entering our bookish giveaway? Find out more and enter here!

Collaborative post with Tesfahiwet Mekonnen- if you liked this, be sure to check out my other bookish posts too. Thanks for reading!

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hand holding up black cover of happyland with rainbow bookshelf in background

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to read and review Happyland: A Modern Fairytale. In doing so, I not only discovered a new favourite read but also got to know the human responsible for it, Tes Mekonnen. Tes is here again today to answer some of my questions, and to launch a rather fabulous new giveaway: your chance to win a signed copy of Happyland, and an original illustration from the book by Anthony Resto.

Hey Tes! Thanks for chatting with me today.

I recently read Happyland for myself and found it to be brilliantly eccentric. What was it that initially drove you to write the book?

Thank you again for the review. It really means everything. The bizarre birth of this story was a sentimental conversation with a girl on the phone. I improvised this simple idea of a boy meeting a sad girl and taking her to Happyland. The girl didn’t last, but the story did. I brushed it aside, but it kept reoccurring—fermenting in my head. I jotted notes here and there. I still did not write the story. It was just an unrelenting idea. Mind you, I was such a pretentious tool and thought a little fairy tale was beneath me. Later on…I found Hans Christian Anderson. Sadness and profundity all bundled up in one. I learned you could always raise work to literary fiction. The genre doesn’t matter. Lewis Carroll did it with his masterpiece. I was so corny then. Write anything, but just make it good.

In 2010, I took a creative writing class. The final assignment was a short story. I procrastinated and thoughtlessly wrote the story the night before. Happyland was born via a lazy midwife. I allowed my creativity to reign freely without a care. I was from the Bob Dylan school of thought, but I quickly realized what you could get away with in song—you cannot get away in storytelling. Bob Dylan is a bona fide leg jerker, but he is still my biggest influence. Happyland was terribly rough, but I had a decent framework for what Happyland would eventually become.

illustratedpage from book featuring tall man with walking stick with a book instead of a head

 The story follows the journey of Lily Marshmallow as she encounters some rather…unusual companions. Do you have a process for coming up with such quirky characters?

 No. Happyland, I think, is the journey of Prince Gobbledygook. Lily Marshmallow is more of a silent witness. She is Life. Life goes on, right? Initially the book was meant for children and children’s literature is a breeding ground for quirkiness. I just tried to be loose and screwball.

Some of these characters were manifestations of me. Brutus Beaujolais was the pretentious me—ashamed of who I was and trying to overcome myself. Cornelius Wordbook represents me at the height of my bibliophilia. My head was turning into a book. Adolfo Dumfries represented a cautionary tale. I was becoming that type of writer—livin’ in the ivory tower and not participating in life. Some things sprout at random. Let’s take the protagonist. I was, painstakingly, reading Ulysses and had to look up the word gobbledygook. Thus Prince Gobbledygook was born. I don’t really have a process and if I did have a process it would be deemed: all-over-the-fucking-place. Bob Dylan is my favourite artist, so that is kind of the influence of Prince Gobbledygook illustrations.

No process, but I trust the process.

The thing I loved the most about Happyland was the creative use of language, with the repetitive application of linguistic devices making the book, to me, completely stand out as a unique read. Was your use of language in this way a conscious decision on your part, or something that happened naturally over the course of writing?

Thank you so much!!! This is the highest praise that I could receive. Yes, it was conscious decision and a natural occurrence. It is just how I write. I am not a poet. I write prose that tries to mimic poetry. You read with your ears is something I applied. Joycean thought. With age, came coherency and cohesiveness—realizing the story must make sense. I had to scale back and not overwhelm the reader with unnecessary wordplay. I think writers would appreciate Happyland. Some folks my think all of this wordplay is tedious. That is why I decided to make another edition [Happyland: A Fairy Tale in Two Parts – Children’s Edition]. I tried to be as straightforward as possible. Sometimes you need to tell things straight up.

Deciding to include an illustrator posed an insecurity problem. I had to compete with these beautiful illustrations. The removal of the illustrations would not chop off the legs of Happyland. I created this competition for myself. I’ve always envied the ability of artists to draw these beautiful creations. I write because I cannot draw. It was a nice exercise. The goal is for the illustrations and the story to be inseparable. I couldn’t imagine the story without the illustrations and vice versa.

illustration from happyland featuring a giant sunflower and girl with a red stop sign where her head should be

Something we’ve discussed before is how writing Happyland was your way of exploring complex aspects of the world. How has your own background and experience of the world influenced the themes you chose to feature in the story?

I’ve written something that is relevant to all, happiness, and how one tries to get to that feeling or place. My background and experience shaped crucial parts of the story. Adolfo Dumfries is I at the height of my Adderall addiction. I took a little story that was initially 3,000 words and blew it up to 55-60,000 words of chaotic madness. It was a man writing—scribbling and scribbling fanatically with no end in sight. I was becoming Joe Gould without the recognition. I took Happyland and absolutely morally bankrupted it. I didn’t sleep. I popped pills. I read and tried to write. I was living on the margins and holding this ideal that didn’t exist.

My relationship with my father is explained in that book. Every character in that book has a connection to me or represents some part of me. I talk about big themes. It began as a humdrum, almost clichéd love story. On the surface it is a happy ending. Happiness is the one you’re with. But if you remove Happyland and replace it with Heaven, it turns to a dark story. Perhaps, I was overthinking it.

Another personal experience you’ve mentioned in the past is discovering ‘magic pills’ and your subsequent battle with drug addiction. How did this play into the writing process? Do you feel that your writing helped or hindered your recovery?

Adderall. I come from a family wherein everything is not talked about till it explodes in your face. When it explodes, you can only hope the explosion isn’t that bad. Imagine tying up a drug to the thing you loved. Adderall just made me a speed-reader. I felt too behind and I had a lot of ground to make up in books. What killed me was my unquenchable craving for book-knowledge. I always had this fear of dying young.

I found these magic pills, Adderall, and it allowed me to just read and read and read. I got silly and became addicted to these pills and it rattled my mind. The logic is batshit: a man gets addicted to a drug because he was addicted to acquiring knowledge to become a literary giant—or a literary tall person. I thought I would die young and I need to expedite everything. Then it turns it into a run of the mill drug story. The drug riddles you useless and destroys you. Writing in circles and not sleeping, I lost my mind. I was lucky to find it. After leaving the hospital or whilst in the hospital I went back to writing. It gave me a purpose. Man needs a purpose. I was empty and needed to justify my life.

Producing a book is no easy feat, and the writing process can often lead to people feeling insecure about their own abilities, particularly those from minority groups. If you could give one piece of advice to emerging writers feeling this way, what would it be?

This is a great question and I’ve been deliberating on this for a long time. I don’t think I can give any advice. My vantage is a disadvantage point. I did everything incorrectly. You must be conscientious of every decision you make. When you’re a minority everything is within the context of you being a minority. I wish somebody told me that before. You have to make concessions and compromises. When I began writing, I was particularly naïve. I didn’t think of race/color when I created Happyland. I wanted to be critiqued on my writing. I wholeheartedly believe you must separate the artist from the work. I outright decided not to color my characters because I wanted to give it universal appeal. An artist should just create and hope that should suffice. I don’t want to come of as a cranky person. I wrote a story and I just want people to like it or not like it.

white book cover of happyland resting against aqua coloured pillow

 One question that I always like to ask is how people deal with criticism. I know you’ve faced a fair amount of rejections during your writing process: how did you learn not to take these to heart, and did they have an impact on your sense of validation as a writer?

The rejections initially hurt because I took it as an attack on me, but that isn’t the case—you will turn into a basket case if that were true. My first reactions were outright nutty. My translation of the initial rejections: they don’t like my work, so they don’t like me. It was highly unprofessional. Frustration started to mount because of the rejections. I was vulnerable, so any rejection was that much upsetting. I found validation through my editor and the passing of time.

You have to take that Winston Churchill quote and replace failure with rejection. You must jump from rejection to rejection without a drop-off in enthusiasm. The rejections helped bring Happyland to this stage. My whole writing career has been a rejection. Who am I kidding? Rejection will only stop hurting when you succeed and since I’m unsuccessful—the rejections continue to irk me. You can only look back at your losses, without grief, if you win. If you keep losing…another loss is just another hurtful loss. Loss, loss, loss, loss, and win.  You can accept those losses because you eventually won.

And finally, you’ve successfully published Happyland independently. How have you found the experience of self-publishing, and do you have any tips for those thinking about or going through this process?

Self-publishing has been a regrettable and a rewarding experience. I can physically pick up my book and say I did it by myself. There is a sense of accomplishment. I don’t come from a literary background. I come from a long line of non-readers and I’m self-taught. It took me almost dying for this book to get here.

It is weird, the cards we deal ourselves. I did everything the wrong way. I’m like that family member that says, “Just don’t do what I did and you’ll be successful.” I thought writing would fit my disposition, but self-publishing put a wrench in that. You have to be your own PR person. There is a very fine line between being confident about your work and being annoyingly arrogant. Take it serious! Self-publishing gets a bad rap and that is why it is not taken so seriously. In this age, saying you’re self-published means nothing because the bar is set low. Investing in your book is investing in yourself. How much are you willing to invest in yourself? I invested too much because I felt like writing is all I had. At some point the dream must die and I am hoping to god this dream was not all for naught. If I had it to do over, I would’ve not dropped out the 1st time and stuck with accounting. My life would’ve been better. Don’t bankrupt your life for a dream.

And there we have it! Thanks again for chatting with me, Tes!

Thank you for everything. You have been a godsend.

Find out more about Tes Mekonnen and his work on his website and be sure to check out his Instagram page too. Oh, and keep scrolling for a rather special giveaway!

happyland and blue ivy book covers next to a size a3 original illustration of the book cover

GIVEAWAY TIME!

 For your chance to win your own copy of of the new edition of Happyland, signed by Tesfahiwet Mekonnen, along with an original illustration by Anthony Resto, AND a copy of Blue Ivy Carter, here’s what you need to do…

  1. Follow @lifeofpippa_ and @TesMekonnen on Twitter and retweet the competition tweet.
  2. Follow @lifeofpippa and @TesMekonnen on Instagram and follow the instructions on the competition post.
  3. Leave a comment down below and let us know what you’re reading at the moment.

Each one of the above counts for an entry, so you have three opportunities to win! There will also be a runner-up prize of one signed copy of Happyland, along with a copy of Blue Ivy Carter. This giveaway is open internationally, and closes on Wednesday 1st August 2018. Best of luck, and look out for Tes’ guest post, coming very soon!

Collaborative post with Tesfahiwet Mekonnen- purchase Happyland here [afl link] or download the Children’s Edition for free here. If you liked this, be sure to check out my other bookish posts too. Thanks for reading!

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pippa in powerchair looking to right and laughing

If you’re new to my blog, hello and a warm welcome! I’m Pippa, I’m 23, and I have a rather inconvenient chronic illness: you can find out more about me here.

I’ve used a transit wheelchair for the last three years as my mobility has decreased, and I recently made the transition to becoming a powerchair user. I have to say, I’m loving the powerchair life so far (and I’ve shared a little about my own experiences over on my Instagram page), but today I wanted to talk about one of the biggest barriers that held me back from making this decision for so long: self-confidence. View Post

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flatlay of four YA books on a white background, along with sunglasses and wooden coaster

It’s that time again! Put down your book, grab yourself a cuppa, and get cosy: I’ve read some absolute crackers this quarter, and I’ve been looking forward to telling you alllll about them. As always, everything is linked by the title (affiliate links- see bottom of post for more information), so have a browse, let me know if anything takes your fancy, and a suggestion or two for what I should be reading next wouldn’t go amiss either. Past experiences have shown that you guys have the BEST taste in YA reads!

Paris By The Book by Liam Callanan (HarperCollins)

“… I didn’t miss him. And part of me, I confess, did not. But the reader in me, the makeshift muse, word-drunk and bereaved, she suffered. And yes, the rest of me, my fingers and mouth and hair and stomach, I missed him like air, like water, like a second skin, like a book you love, you need, but is no longer on the shelf when you go to look because it turns out it was never written”.

I’ll be honest, I completely misjudged this book. Before reading, my first impression was that this was going to be yet another chick-lit romance where a woman having a midlife crisis moves to Paris, has life-affirming realisations about her childhood, and just so happens to meet a handsome stranger who conveniently turns out to be the love of her life. I began reading this book expecting nothing other than for it to follow this set pattern I’m bored to the back-teeth of seeing in romance novels over and over again. However, these first impressions couldn’t have been more misguided, and I rapidly found myself completely taken-in in this beautiful, beautiful book. View Post

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