NTMI: Hello, everyone. I'm here today with Laura Cushing, known on Neopets as Shidi, seventeen time Neopian Times champion. How are you today, Laura?
L: I'm doing very well, and thank you for recognizing that I've been published a few more times than the trophy would indicate. ;-) If you want to be technical, I also do the storyline for a comic called The Real Truth.
NTMI: Yes, I'm using the stats on my own site, not the official Neopets version :-) And thanks for mentioning some of your other work, I promise to get to it later!
NTMI: First, though, I'd like to ask how you found and started on Neopets.
L: Oh, this is a funny story, really...
L: Like everyone else on the Net, I get a good assortment of junk mail which I usually ignore completely and delete from my inbox as swiftly as possible. However, on May 2nd , 2000 I received a piece of junk mail with Virtual Pets on the Net as a title.
L: I've always rather enjoyed playing with virtual type pets (though my tamagatchi died a painful horrible one when one of my kids sat on it), so I decided to open the mail at risk of life, limb, and virus, and click on the enclosed link.
L: I found myself in the world of Neopets, and created a screen name for myself- Shidi. I soon created my first pet, Emorali the cerpul, and was having a great time playing games and shopping for food in the little food store. I enjoyed it so much, I invited my husband and my close friend to play- and they're still playing, too.
L: So basically, it's been two interesting years as the result of one piece of junk mail. :-)
NTMI: And interesting for NT readers as well... how did you come up with the name of Shidi?
L: Shidi has several different meanings in quite a few languages, interestingly enough, and it is pronounced properly as Shy-Dee. Shidi is the name of my favorite roleplaying character- roleplaying being my other hobby, and the principal product of our tiny microcompany, Lab Arc Designs (www.labarc.com ).
NTMI: So "Shidi" is actually a persona with a history and past of her own?
L: Yes, indeed she is. You can see a picture of her if you visit my userlookup on Neopets. That winged blonde lady in the background is pure Shidi. :-)
NTMI: And speaking of Neopets again, what sort of thing(s) do you enjoy most about the site?
L: The thing I enjoy most of all is my guild, ARC Angels! The whole guild experience is great, and being a guild leader has been very rewarding. I'm pretty into the lab ray- there's just something chaotic and exciting about zapping your pet every day and not knowing what the next change will be. I love playing card games (I'm much better at them than the flash games). I'm especially fond of writing for the Neopian Times (obviously!). I rather enjoy when Neopets has an actual storyline, like the whole Defenders of Neopia, and before that, the Lost Desert and Tyrannian Wars.
NTMI: Did your pets fare well in helping fight the bad guys in the Lost Desert and Tyrannian wars?
L: They did pretty good- Emorali is my primary arse-kicker, being the strongest of my pets. We won 86 battles in the Tyrannian War, but only 17 in the Lost Desert as my husband and I were kind of busy moving across the country at the time that storyline came out. ;-)
NTMI: That would tend to disrupt things! But when you aren't busy with real life stuff, what does an "average day in Neopia" consist of?
L: My average day in Neopia used to start by battling my three children for computer time! They've all got Neopets, too, as does my husband. Now that we have two computers, however, it starts a bit more peacefully by logging on. I always go to Pet Central first to check on my babies. I then give them a good grooming, and play with a toy or two before visiting the daily freebies. After that, it's off to the guild to check on the message board and answer some messages (with 1635 members, occasionally this step takes a while). Then I'm heading for some games- and sometimes, a visit to the chatboards. I try to help answer Newbie questions when I can on the Newbie boards, and I frequently report scammers I find on the boards to do my part in helping to keep Neopia safe for everyone. I really feel that everyone should take some time to do that.
NTMI: If nothing more than simply reporting it when you trip over it, it would certainly help, wouldn't it. How did you originally find out about the Neopian Times, and what got you started contributing?
L: Well, I found out about it just by looking around the site. I was stunned by the low quality of some of the pieces that were published, particularly in the early days, truthfully. I wish I could say that it was some other reason, but an attempt to improve the quality of the works found there by including my own was really what caused me to first contribute. I feel that as time has gone on, the Neopian Times has improved greatly in quality (though there's still the occasional piece that makes me wonder why on earth it managed to get published). I don't remember offhand what my first contribution was... I think it may have been a series called Snow Uni, which was a reworking of a faerie tale with a Neopian Theme.
NTMI: Yes, that's the first one I find, too. It's in the old issue version, number 46.
L: Also in those early days, I had a story that appeared in the Scary Cave, and a real-life article that I published for Themestream that you can still see linked to from their Press Kit page.
L: They sent me a bunch of free Neopets merchandise, incidentally, for that Themestream article. My mousepad is still one that they sent to me, with all the old-style neopets on it- and my kids all have a Neopets t-shirt with the old,old pets on it as well.
NTMI: A bit of Neopets history! So did you find other writing challenges in Neopets?
L: Well, the odd thing is, I've tried the poetry contest, the caption contest, and the storytelling competition several times before giving up in disgust. One of these days, I'm sure I'll find the need to try again, but I'd swear that those competitions are randomly determined and talent has nothing to do with it.
L: I do the occasional bit of roleplaying on the Neopets chatboards when the mood strikes me, which is a form of writing, I'd suppose. And one of these days, I will get around to doing pet pages for my pets, so thus, more writing. I wrote a little story for pet spotlight, and my pets did win that. It was around Halloween of this past year.
NTMI: I can sympathise with the storytelling contest, I've done some of that myself! So what has your favorite writing for the Times been?
L: My favorite overall has to be the Harry the Grarrl tales. They spawned a whole collection of interesting commentary, characters, a dsaf_labs account for those evil scientists, a website, and pictures. I'm going to be writing another series involving Harry very shortly. A lot of my writing work both on Neopets and in other aspects of my life had to be put on hold during my father's illness and subsequent death. The past four or five months have been very difficult for me, which is why you haven't seen many stories or articles appear in the Times from me until just recently.
NTMI: My sympathies. I did notice the "drought", but didn't know why. I'm glad to hear that Harry is coming back, he is an all-time classic! How long does it take you to write a story?
L: Not as long as you might think- usually, when it comes down to it, about ten to fifteen minutes for an article, half an hour for a short story, one to two hours for a series. With the near constant interruptions of a busy household, however, finding that magical quiet time in which to write is the more frequent problem. Then there's a bit of editing and spell-checking by my husband and the Word program, and off it goes. I'm very confident in my writing ability, so the only people who generally see a piece before it comes out in the Times are myself and my husband. I'm not a 'look at this and tell me what you think' kind of person. The best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to know the extent of your abilties and be confident in them.
L: As far as the actual idea for a story goes- I have those all the time.Sometimes, I'll dream the plot of a story, even. They come to me while I'm eating breakfast, or washing dishes, or just sitting and working on other things. The newest Harry story, for example, I got the idea for while taking a shower. :-)
NTMI: I'm not sure I should ask.... let's just wait until it comes out! :-) What is the most important piece of advice you could give to someone thinking about submitting to the Times?
L: For an inexperienced writer, I would recomend reading some of the great guides to writing for the Times that are out there. Your guide, for example, is very indepth- and I did a three part series (Article Writing Workshop, Story Writing Workshop, and Series Writing Workshop). Start with a clear objective for your work in mind, and follow through with that topic throughout the piece. I've seen far too many articles or stories that ramble far and wide. Choose a good title that will catch your reader's eye. If you are an experienced writer elsewhere, remember that the Neopets writing experience may be different than what you are used to. This is a family site, so keep your material appropriate and entertaining for all ages. Above all, be original! Don't rehash the same tired plots and debates unless you can offer them a fresh perspective. And above all, please remember to spell check and use proper grammar and speech. No chat-speak. I've been very disturbed by the Editorials lately- they don't bother to edit the question, and they contain quite a few 'u ' and 'ur's . And I was pretty unamused the few times the News page has contained improper grammar and chat-speak, though they've cut down on that lately. The destruction of language as we know it isn't cute or funny or convenient.
NTMI: Yes, I referred to "slang" as bringing prejudices about your characters (or you) into your readers' mind- and it's a point well heeded. So what sort of feedback do you normally get when you have a piece published?
L: I receive lots of wonderful mail- I really enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed my articles and stories. I get a lot of questions regarding my pets, the Neopets site in general, and writing- all of which I'm more than happy to answer. I just love being able to share my experiences with aspiring writers, or people new to the site who need a bit of help. I do ask, however, that anyone who contacts me please try to use good language skills, and make sure you are able to receive neomail if you expect a reply. There's been a few message I've received that I had a hard time figuring out what the person actually was asking (ne1 c y?) and a few that I was unable to answer due to the person's settings or parental permissions. Now, as far as negative feedback goes, I've received the occasional hate mail- I'd be happy to talk about that if you want to hear about it.
NTMI: How frequent is it, and what sort of things seem to trigger it?
L: I usually receive at least one negative or hateful mail with every article/story. What seems to trigger it falls into three general categories: 1) Stupidity. 2) Jealousy 3) Misunderstanding of the actual point, or a semi-legitimate complaint. Most fall into the areas of one or two. My absolute favorite hate mail was the girl who complained about my writing workshop, saying that 'u r as boring as my engizh techr. ' Perhaps if she had listened to her English teacher more, she'd be able to speak the language better. I replied that I wasn't aware that I had tied her to a chair and forced her to actually read the article. It was her right as a reader to decide what she would and would not read, or learn from. She replied with more semi-literate ramblings about how old people shouldn't play the site because it was for 'kewl gurls and guyz ', and how much 'skewl sux.' My pets also get a lot of Battledome challenges when they are featured or mentioned in a story or article, and date/mate requests. They're all quite not looking. I've always thought of them as being too young to date, really. :-)
NTMI: lol well considering that you're old enough to be their mother.... So is the hate mail the worst part of writing for the Times or are there other thing(s) that you detest more?
L: Oh, don't get me wrong- I actually like the hate mail. It's very amusing how seriously some people take things, and how silly they can be when offended. Naturally, I'd rather people have some sort of positive reaction to my article- but I'm really not offended or upset by negative feedback in the least. If it's a legitimate complaint (like someone saying that I should have included a certain point of view in my article), I thank the person for bringing it to my attention and keep it in mind for further pieces. Now.. as to what I actually dislike about writing for the Times- just a few personal pet peeves:
L: One is that they will not give two people credit for the same piece when they work on it together- my friend Ry (ThePhoenixofEio) draws the comics we do, and I do the 'funny', so to speak (storyline, concept, etc.) yet they will only credit the artist. Go figure. Other complaints: There needs to be a higher admission standard, I think. Some pieces that have appeared in issues that I've been in made me want to curl up and cry for the future of writing as we know it. What makes it worse is that I wonder if these are just the best pieces Josh had to choose from that week, or what. I also think that the Editorial could be handled in a better fashion, and that people should be able to write in letters to the editor about legitimate complaints/issues/etc.
NTMI: I don't know what sort of submission rate they have, but they will publish anywhere from 60 to 85 pieces per week. Maybe we can find out some time! So, what sort of writing have you done _outside_ of Neopets?
L: Well, I'm glad you asked that! Starting with way back and moving to more recently.... I've been writing since I was a little girl, and I don't intend to ever stop writing. The first award I won for writing was a contest in highschool that resulted in the publication of one of my poems. In college, I was a journalist for our school's paper, and a frequent contributor to our literary magazine. During college, I also published several short stories and became a featured poet at a coffeehouse. When I developed an interest in roleplaying, I wrote several series of articles on roleplaying techniques that were/are featured on quite a few roleplaying sites across the net in help and how to sections. I've won several poetry awards, and my poems are featured in a few collections, including an audio CD. Before Themestream went bankrupt, I wrote for them and had a weekly column. You can see the article I wrote for them regarding Neopets from the Press Kit page (in the Ooh, we're famous area).
L: If you're interested in reading some of my fiction works (poetry and short stories) you can find them at http://www.labarc.com/Gallery/lauragallery.html. I'm currently working on my first full length novel, Shades of Grey-- a vampire fiction.
NTMI: Will it be published online or in paperback?
L: I intend to publish it as a trade paperback, with any luck. ;-)
NTMI: Well you've certainly got a good start on it! Are there any other future writing goals or plans that you'd like to tell us about?
L: You can see a bit about the work in progress at http://www.labarc.com/Shades/ . I'd also like to invite anyone who wants to learn more about me to read my online journal at http://www.livejournal.com/users/charisma . I'm a very open person. As far as future goals or plans, I intend to be concentrating a lot of my writing efforts towards Shades of Grey , which is meant to be the first novel of a series. More stories and poems and hopefully, my articles, will be added to the gallery for collection purposes, in the hopefully near future. I am always writing things for the roleplaying system my husband and I have developed (which we also hope to publish someday).
L: Neopets writing plans: The next Harry series will be coming up shortly- involving Harry's debut in a school play. I'm going to try and do more stories and series along with the articles, but article writing is much easier for me, time-wise. I've submitted an article involving a proposal for Neomentorship (asking experienced players of Neopia to help the new players when they can),which I'm not sure they'll actually publish. If not, it's back to the drawing board.
L: The reason I'm not sure they'll publish it is that it refers to the fact that a lot of people will try to cheat Newbies, and post scams on the Newbie chatboards... and Neopets seems to hate to admit there's actually a problem with that.
NTMI: I'm not sure what their inner workings will decide, but I'm sure we will see. I know Josh has a lot of the final say in it :-) So, that covers about everything I wanted to ask. Was there anything else you'd like to mention?
L: I'd love to receive feedback on what kind of articles and stories people want to see next. I'm willing to write on a variety of topics, provided it's something I know about or can research, and it's something that people want to read.
NTMI: So if you want to see it in the Times then neomail Shidi!
L: Other things I'd like to mention: I'm reachable by Neomail to anyone who would like to give me a story suggestion, article idea, or to anyone who has a question about Neopets. I always give my honest advice and opinions to those who ask. As far as the numerous requests for me to read a story or article for someone goes though, I'm afraid I don't have the time to edit/review pieces. I will, however, be happy to give my opinion of a story's summary as presented in a Neomail. I'd also like to take this time to remind people to play Neopets honestly and to help others where they can with advice and guidance. My pet peeves about Neopets, incidentally:
L: The money tree really needs to be removed and replaced with a better system. Give the objects donated out as a random events, or something. Noticeboards are a waste of time, and don't even load on most computers. Less catering to the rich with Hidden Tower Items and 250,000 NP paintbrushes and more actual creation of features we all use and enjoy needs to happen. Double standards need to be eliminated (We're only supposed to have up to 4 accounts each, yet Hrobi proudly displays all 15 or so of her account names in her shop along with their hoards of items, yet remains gleefully unfrozen).
L: And above all, they have to stop saying that they'll have a feature coming soon in a week or two, and have it take six months to arrive, if it does at all, while they putter around working on more stuff that we don't need. At least be honest about whether or not something will arrive shortly, or say that 'sometime within the next few months' it will be here, or something like that.
L: And I'd like to thank you for interviewing me! It was very nice of you, and I've enjoyed the questions and the opportunity to tell others my story.
NTMI: And I'm sure we've all enjoyed hearing your answers! Thank you for your time, and we look forward to seeing more from you in the Neopian Times soon :-)
Would you like to read all of Shidi's stories? Just click here to check her out in our database!