Interview with Almaz A., Poet of Letters to You

Some people spend a lifetime looking for someone to call home. I found you.

Welcome to another author interview installment where I had the opportunity to personally interview Almaz A., poet of Letters to You! We met through Instagram where she sent me a copy of her debut poetry book for review and I instantly fell in love with it! You can read more of my review here where I rated the book 5 stars. I truly enjoyed interviewing Almaz because of her candid responses and her honest aptitude towards her writing.

Read on for my interview with Almaz!

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Hi there! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your most recent publication?

Hi! Thanks for offering to do the interview and for writing such a great review about my book, truly humbled by your kind words. Well I am a local writer from Malaysia, although many people do not know this, and I’ve been writing since I was in high school. Maybe even earlier, I can’t remember. My first book, Letters to You, is a collection of poetry I’ve recently published through Amazon and a few other international online platforms.

When did you start writing poetry and what were your biggest inspirations?

 Funnily enough, poetry was not my first passion it was actually just writing out how I feel in many random notebooks. Somehow I learned to shorten it into sounding like poetry, but I still do write longer ramblings that are more essay-like. I’ve always had too many thoughts in my head, sometimes I’d overthink or sometimes I would just imagine scenarios happening in my mind and I’ve made it a habit to write it down. So when I feel something very intensely, I write it down. Even if it was just a sentence.

The one major inspiration that pushed me into exploring poetry was when I followed Tyler Knott Gregson on Instagram. Trust me, his writings are swoon-worthy. When he published his book, I bought that almost immediately and then I began to read pieces from other writers and never looked back!

I simply love your writing! They’re so raw and honest, and very eloquent. How do you translate your emotions to words so well and does writing poetry get easier over time?

Thank you so much! I still get all blush-y and weird when someone tells me how much they enjoy my writing because it really feels surreal. I honestly don’t have an answer to that. Sometimes I could be having random thoughts in my head and I’d like the sound of a sentence and then I build my poem around that whole sentence. Does that make sense?

Also, I feel a lot. Emotion is something very loud and glaring to me, so the littlest things could set of big feelings and those usually translate out into words on paper, or in my case, Instagram.

I’m sorry to kill anyone’s hopes and dreams but writing does not get easier over time. There are some days when I just want to quit it and hate everything I put in a sentence and there are some days that I feel like I can write a whole book.

Who are your favourite poets/writers that have influenced your writing?

My absolute favourite writers right now are Nurul AK  and Maysa. I have so many screenshots of their posts, it’s ridiculous. But their words are absolutely flawless and I aspire to be able to write like they do.

Nurul writes a lot about heartbreak in an almost romantic way. She makes pain sound beautiful and I think that is just amazing.Maysa writes longer posts describing about the hardships of growing up as a woman and as a girl who is trying to find her own way.

I’m such a fan of the both of them I’ll probably pass out if I ever get to meet them.

How did the idea of publishing your poetries in a book came about?

This is going to be really embarrassing and cliché but, I fell in love. It’s amazing what love can make you do, right? It has always been a dream of mine to publish a book but I’ve never actually even attempted to do it. I mean, I’d compile them and then it stops there. I don’t know what exactly is it that keeps stopping me from going forward, but I’ve never had the drive to really go for it. So when I fell hard for this person, the support I got from him and the passion I felt for him and for writing in general just amplified. I was having trouble with explaining how I feel; the fear, the insecurities, the risk I felt like I was taking by letting myself be in this relationship, I suddenly did not know how to explain it to him with my own voice. So I wrote it all down and made it into a book. It sounds very dramatic and corny, but yeah, I wrote it about a guy and I managed to make my publishing dream come true.

OMG that sounds really awesome to have love make your dreams come true 🙂 So, what was the process of getting your debut poetry book published?

Well, it started with me writing up to two or three pieces every day because, like I said, I was in love and love makes your brain hyper in a way. Then I started compiling it and looked into publishing options. At first I was signed to this US publishing company called 451press. After that went downhill, I made friends with a few more established writers who have a lot more knowledge on self-publishing and they were so kind to have helped me out with it.

I see that your book is sold at Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble, that is impressive! Was it easy to get into international markets?

Thank you, it wasn’t easy honestly. I actually published my book without expecting it to be big on the international market, in fact I didn’t expect it to be big at all. I only just wanted to achieve this dream of seeing my name on a book. But once it got published, I decided, why not just go all out and push for a wider audience.

Most of my readers are international, this is solely due to the fact that any writing I’ve posted have been on Instagram and I’ve never disclosed my country of origin. I learned very quickly that a lot of writers and readers, shallow as it sounds, are picky about where a writer is from, their gender, religious beliefs and other factors. So I never actually post pictures of myself or make official announcements about where I am from, just so there won’t be any form of biasedness.

Thankfully, that has somehow worked and I’ve gained a bit of a following after my book got out. Getting recognized internationally was hard, in fact getting recognized locally is even harder I feel. I still don’t have as wide of an audience in Malaysia as compared to other countries. So marketing it was a little intimidating. I mostly just approached book bloggers like yourself and a few others to review my book and hope that it picks up from there. Unfortunately, I have encountered a few dishonest book bloggers who never got back to me and that really killed a lot of my trust and confidence.

I love the beautiful illustrations done inside the book, they are simply gorgeous! How did that collaboration with your illustrator came about?

The illustrator is actually my cousin. Shout out to Zahira! I’ve always absolutely loved her drawings and paintings. She’s mad talented, and just too humble and shy to even admit it. So when I first had the idea of this book, I never second guessed who I wanted as my illustrator. I knew it had to be her.

After the publication of your debut book, what were the feedback gained from your readers?

Well, I’ve gotten one review from you, and another from a local book blogger as well. Both have been way way better than I expected and I couldn’t be more humbled and happier about it. I do have a couple of reviews on Amazon and they’ve been great as well. Besides that, it’s mostly verbal feedback from friends and family.

Do you think it is difficult to find a voice among the arts in the local writing scene?

I don’t think it is difficult simply because I haven’t tried. I never went out of my way to present myself to a crowd or promote myself in writing groups before I published my book. Once my book got out, I did post several posts on some prominent book groups and that’s about it. So it would be really unfair of me to decide if finding a voice is difficult or not.

Do you think there is an opportunity to improve the poetry scene in Malaysia (especially for English language) and what do you hope for the future?

There’s always an opportunity to improve! But I guess it depends on how the general public receives it. There’s no point writing loads and loads of English or Malays books but no one buys them. So at the end of the day it depends on what appeals to people and what doesn’t. Of course I would hope that more people become interested in reading (especially poetry, Hint! Hint!), but that is a culture that needs to be improved first before having more books on the shelf.

Now that you’ve published your own book, do you think poetry has become more common in the local writing scene?

Yeah, I definitely think it’s been on the rise, both Malay and English poetry. I went to a local bookstore in SS15 Subang Jaya and saw so many poetry books, I genuinely got excited. But I don’t personally know any local poets or writers, I have reached out to a few but no luck with building bridges so far.

I am glad more and more people are starting to write and read as well! I would definitely love to collaborate with local writers in the future.

I’m really curious to know what challenges have you faced as a writer that were unexpected but yet you overcame them?

What’s unexpected at first was how other writers are really selective about who they befriend or in my case, follow. I’ve had instances where I’d send a writer a message simply to ask them where they get their inspiration from and would get curt replies or simply one worded replies, but when I had gained a bigger following, they’d turn back around and pretend like we were friends. The worst was when I had a writer friend who was genuinely nice to me until he found out where I was from, after that it was complete radio silence from him. It sucks, but that’s the reality.

What I learned from this was to never take anything to heart. At the end of the day, I am behind a screen and people are often harsher towards things that they don’t know or cannot see.

I never knew that side of the writing world! That said, do you have any advice for people who want to try their hand at writing poetry?

The one useful advice I can give is, keep writing. Every single day. Even if it’s just a sentence, even if you hate it. Because you might love it a week or a month or even a year from when you wrote it and someone else might love it even if you feel like it is bad writing. I still have bad days when I don’t want to post anything, but I know that if I give in to those bad days, I will stop posting altogether and that just kills the passion.

Ok, last question! What are your future plans for your writing career? Any future publications/events planned? Where can we see more of your amazing writing?

Maybe, I say maybe because it all depends on time and motivation, I might want to have another book out early next year. I have a whole theme going on after I published Letters to You, and it’s all nicely imagined in my mind but materializing it is another round of effort I am not sure I can invest in yet. I guess readers will just have to tune in for any surprise publications!

All my writing is posted on my Instagram page @almazspilledink. That is also linked to my writer’s Facebook page so it’s essentially the same post. I do not have Tumblr or Pinterest but I have seen some of my writing on there too.

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Almaz for answering my questions! It has been a pleasure to know her through her book and as a genuinely nice person on Instagram. I am very much looking forward to her next book!

You can purchase Letters to You from Amazon/B&N/Book Depository or contact the poet herself at her Instagram page. I highly recommend it 😉

Thank you for reading!

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