Today we’re joined by L.J. Engelmeier. L.J. is a jack-of-all-trades kind of artist. She writes (novels and short stories, epic fantasy/horror/supernatural romance). She’s also an amateur photographer, who has a very good eye as you’ll soon see. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
My motto has always been “jack of all trades; master of none,” so I’ve dabbled in a little of everything: photography, writing, theatre, photomanipulation, writing music, poetry, drawing, etc. But I suppose I’d rather talk about my photography and writing. I was a photojournalist in high school, so I’ve taken pictures of nature, people, my nephew, animals, and more. I’m an amateur, but I love it—and I have gotten four of my photographs published in my university’s literary magazine.
My writing, however, is nearest and dearest to my heart. I’m currently working toward my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing (soon to be followed by my Master of Fine Arts), so almost all of my focus is on that field of art. I write short stories and novels. My short stories are typically deep, dark, disturbing horror—which I write under a different pen name. I’m hoping to send some off for publication to larger lit magazines soon—while my novels focus on a bit of everything. I’ve got fantasy, political romance, supernatural, zombies, you name it. I have several in the works.
About 90% of my writing includes LGBTQ+ main characters without it being the focus of the novel. I like to portray them as people like everyone else. I’ve written quite a few gays and lesbians, one homoromantic asexual, and even a transgender character. I’m trying to branch out into characters of colour, especially in my fantasy novels because you don’t often see them there. Most of my short stories are women-centric Midwestern horrors, and the giant fantasy novel I’m writing right now is definitely led by strong females (though I love to keep a balance of men/women). I love for my works to have bigger implications, however. One fantasy novel deals with racism and discrimination amidst a fight with the gods, the political romance has to do with real life soulmates and draws allusions to the fight for gay marriage, and the big fantasy novel I’m working on deals with learning to grow as a person, accepting loss, and building family while trying to save the universe.
Enough about that, though. I’m rambling.
What inspires you?
Two things inspire me, really, and the first is going to sound horrible, I know. Popular bad writing actually inspires me to write. Rather than being intimidated by good writing, in bad writing I see all the things that can be fixed and realize that it’s completely within my skill range to be able to rearrange those things into a proper story. It’s kind of a confidence booster for me because I’m so easily overwhelmed.
The other thing is general randomness. I’ve been inspired by a photo I’ve seen, a tattoo, lyrics to a song, a split second commercial, overheard dialogue, dreams, words/phrases that get stuck in my head out of the blue, anything.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I grew up drawing. That was my passion. But I also grew up telling stories. It was my favourite pastime as a kid to sit around and make believe—to create lives. I didn’t actually start writing until I was a freshman in high school, when I saw my best friends writing. Something just clicked for me, and I realized the vast stories in my head could be shared with others. Since then, I’ve been a goner.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in our work that you’d be willing to reveal?
Other than what I’ve mentioned before with the LGBTQ+, women, and people of colour, not particularly. There was a time when I first started writing that all of my female main characters’ first names started with A. Perhaps the biggest signature that I’ve got is something I use in my fantasy and supernatural works. I’ve created a language, and I know it appears in at least two of my novels and one of my short stories.
Kostet odai ankh leifhs, fimau’a.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
My advice is never to compare yourself. Ever. I’ve fallen into the bad habit of doing it, and it either intimidates me or it makes me feel better at the expense of others. No matter who you are, what you create, the world is full of individuals, and someone out there is going to like what you’ve made—someone is going to like you. It isn’t about being good or bad. It’s about being yourself and letting the world accept you for that.
And don’t ever settle for “good enough.” Always push yourself to try something new. Always push yourself to discover new parts of yourself. Don’t worry about failure. There’s always going to be a little bit of failure on the way to success. You fall a lot before you learn to walk. You just have to keep getting up. Own who you are.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I identify as a biromantic asexual with grey-akoiromantic tendencies.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
In my field, not particularly. I’m openly asexual, but it’s not as if I scream it to the world before I hand over a manuscript. If there comes a day I do experience it, I plan to let it go in one ear and out the other. I’m a person. My asexuality does not affect my right to be treated as such.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
I’ve faced two misconceptions, and both hurt equally. I’ve gotten really positive feedback. I’ve been told, “So you’re like, in love with love? That’s great. Everyone should be like you.” But I’ve also been asked, “Have you been to a doctor?” Or even at the doctor’s office, “You’ve…never been sexually active?” said with a very worried tone. Asexuality is a valid orientation, and it worries be a bit that people think it’s medical, or something “wrong.”
The other misconception, about as common as the first, is the assumption as asexual = not interested in people. I’ve been swept under the rug like that. “Are you bisexual? Wait, you’re asexual. You aren’t interested in people.” I have a romantic orientation. Asexual doesn’t mean alone. And on that note, I’ve been asked, “If you don’t have sex with someone you love, aren’t they just like a friend or a family member?” To which, I invite people to assess, taking sex off the table, if you really feel the same way about your significant other and your father. Attraction is multifaceted.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
The biggest things are not to push yourself, not to confine yourself, and not to punish yourself. Don’t rush it. It took me years to figure myself out, and my label still changes the more I learn about identities and myself. Don’t think a label has to stick. They can change as you grow. And don’t ever beat yourself up about who you are. For the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me and that I was going to be alone forever because something in me was broken. I’m just different.
And don’t ever let anyone tell you who are you. Only you get to decide that.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
Unfortunately, I’m not published anywhere online. I’m sure if you stalk me you can find two- to three-year-old drafts of the stories I’m working on, but if you’re interested in anything I write or just generally have any questions, shoot me an email at email@example.com. (I’d also like to hear a bit about people’s experiences—with their sexualities, genders, or races—so that I can branch out with new types of characters that are truer to form.)
Thank you, L.J., for participating in this interview and project. It’s very much appreciated.