Today we’re joined by Mal. Mal is a wonderfully talented musician who specializes in song covers. She also plays the guitar and is starting to learn the violin as well. Aside from music, Mal is also a dedicated writer who enjoys crafting novels and occasionally dabbles in poetry. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I’m a musician and a writer. In terms of music, I sing and play guitar, and I’ve recently started learning the violin but I haven’t incorporated it into my recordings yet. I don’t generally write my own stuff; I mostly do covers, particularly a lot of Indigo Girls as they’re my all-time favourite band (seriously, I think half of my Soundcloud is Indigo Girls covers). My style is pretty stripped down, mostly just me on acoustic guitar and vocals, although sometimes I record harmonies to accompany my own singing.
As for my writing, I generally tend towards longer forms – I’ve written two novels, and I’ve got a third in the works. My first novel was about a suburban street and it was divided into four parts and each part was from the perspective of a different person who lived on the street, and it was about grief and family and appearances. My second one was a coming of age story about this girl named Julie and the band she’s in and the family she forms and the family she leaves behind and the first girl she falls in love with. And the one I’m starting to write now is about a band of female soldiers, kind of like knights, and they’re sworn to protect the royal family but there’s corruption creeping into the nobility, and it’s going to be a story about loyalty and betrayal and proving yourself. There’s also going to be a cool metaphor/storyline for asexuality and I’ll be primarily featuring gay relationships, and I want to explore the relationships that women have with each other and how they can be incredible avenues for change as well as sources of deep love and commitment. Oh, and I also dabble in poetry.
What inspires you?
My biggest inspiration for my writing is definitely music. If I listen to the right song, it can give me really great inspiration for a scene or a character’s backstory. For instance, in my second novel, at least three of the scenes are directly inspired by specific songs. I also draw a lot from my own experiences and the situations I’ve found myself in. My characters aren’t all like me, but I’d say they all draw from an aspect of my personality or my life; they all come from a place of truth within me, and I think that’s really important. People will tell you to write what you know, and I don’t think that means you can never write about things you haven’t experienced. I see it more as always writing from a place of truth, of authenticity; the scenes I write that have the most raw emotional honesty, that I really draw from my own experiences to write, always ring the most true and pack the most punch.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’ve been singing since I was really little – my first performance was when I was six years old. My dad’s a musician, and he really kindled that interest and that passion and dedication in me since I was really young, and taught me so much. I’ve also been writing for a really long time. I think I started writing (mostly the beginnings of what I conceptualized as novels, though I never finished any) when I was about eleven; I remember my favourite thing to do at the time was sit down at the computer and pull up a Word document and create something. I wrote in all genres back then: I remember writing a realistic fiction story about girls at a music summer camp, a fantasy story featuring dragons who lived underground, a historical fiction piece about a family in 1865, and some truly terrible Harry Potter fanfiction in which I wrote myself in, full name and everything, as the “star Ravenclaw seeker.” (I know, cringe.) Because of this love I had for writing, I wanted to be an author for a large part of my childhood, till partway through high school when I decided to keep it more as a hobby than pursue it as a career.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
I don’t know if this counts, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. Like I said, I did a lot of writing when I was eleven or twelve, and of course created a lot of characters at that time. They were all in middle school of course, like I was at the time, and they were generally pretty one-dimensional – at eleven I had no concept of how to create a complex character. But I still remember all of them, and what their names were, and what I pictured them looking like. So whenever I can, I insert these characters that I invented when I was younger into the things I write now. Same thing goes for setting. When I first wrote these characters, they almost always lived in the fictional town of Chandler Valley, and the city of Merinda Heights was right next door. In my second novel, I mentioned both of these cities as settings the characters visit. I like to call back to these old characters and settings because it’s almost like paying homage to my younger self – like, yeah, I’ve improved a lot in the ten years since I started writing, but I wouldn’t want to forget those beginnings.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
For the writers out there, I would say to just write your story – tell the story that you believe in, that you think is important, that you connect with the most. As soon as you try to cater to what you think people will want, your writing will fall flat and become hollow. Writing coming from a place of authenticity will always be your best writing, and there will always be people that connect with it and it’ll become important to them too. So never underestimate your story – you never know who you could reach with it.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I identify as an ace lesbian. I used to think this identity was unique and kind of weird, but it turns out there’s a really cool little community on Tumblr of women who identify as gay and also identify along the asexual spectrum. I think it’s a cool place to be.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
I wouldn’t say I’ve directly encountered any prejudice or ignorance myself, mostly because I haven’t really entered into the professional realm with any of my art, but the feeling of exclusion is definitely there. As someone who identifies as ace, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t understood, and when the overwhelming majority of literature is geared towards people who aren’t like you, that can make you feel lonely. As well, as a musician I am continually frustrated with the amount of music that’s about sex and sexual attraction and that equates love with sex. Not only do I identify as ace, but I’m also sex-repulsed, so I can’t relate to songs about sex and they also often tend to make me uncomfortable. So it can be challenging to find music that I can relate to enough to do it justice when I perform it. Sometimes that requires me to put on a bit of an act, as if I actually know what I’m talking about when I sing about wanting someone in that way.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
A misconception that bugs me is that asexual people just haven’t found the right person yet, or assuming that they’ll feel attraction eventually, and that bothers me because you essentially aren’t trusting that person to know their own self and their own feelings. When someone tells you that they know who they are, you don’t get to decide that they don’t know yet – you have to trust that they’ve likely spent weeks or months or maybe even years figuring out their identity, and know themselves inside and out. It’s also missing the point. Will I ever feel sexual attraction? Probably not. But if I ever do, that doesn’t suddenly invalidate or negate my identity right now, which is as someone that doesn’t experience that attraction.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
First of all, let yourself struggle. I had a really hard time at first accepting the asexual part of my identity, but I just let myself feel those feelings and rode it out and now I couldn’t be happier or more comfortable in myself. I just had to get through the gross hard part first. Second, seek out people who get it. I cannot stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with other aces, because it can be so isolating when you feel like you’re the only one that feels this way. You’re not the only one, so follow as many ace blogs as you can find, and see if you can meet other aces through local queer groups or community centres near to where you live. That’s made a huge difference for me.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
The best place to find both my writing and music is on my blog, isobelfree.tumblr.com. My writing is at isobelfree.tumblr.com/tagged/isobelwrites, and my music can be found at isobelfree.tumblr.com/tagged/isobelsings.
Thank you, Mal, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.