In a conversation with Goodreads award winning poet Amanda Lovelace who wrote “The Princess Saves Herself In This One”, I asked of any upcoming writers I should keep an eye on. Alicia Cook was to no surprise one of them. She is a busy lady, writing bestselling poetry books and also working for the Huffington post. I was able to interview her and frankly, she’s an amazing person.
1. I am honestly so impressed by your success as a writer. Tell us about it.
Thank you! Well, I’ve always loved writing. I find it to be the easiest way to express myself clearly.
Once in high school, I focused more on English and Journalism classes where I could, even opting out of lunch my senior year in order to take this English and Humanities course I wanted to take.
In college, I majored in English Literature and Communications, concentrating on Journalism. Those four years really facilitated in my growth as a writer. I had honest and difficult professors who never failed to run out of red ink and their influence fueled my desire to be the best I could possibly be at my craft.
I’ve always been inherently lazy, a procrastinator, still am to a fault. So, having a professor tell me to my face, “This was good and you received an “A,” but it wasn’t great, so I didn’t choose your thesis as one I would present at the national conference” really lit a fire under my ass. Good was no longer good enough, I had to be great. And to be great, I had to put in the time, not just pull an all-nighter for the “A” I was after.
Also while in college I acted as an editor on the College’s poetry magazine as well as had a piece published in it and was a staff writer on the College newspaper.
Once out of college, I was hired at a university in my home state. They mentioned in the interview it was because they saw I had writing experience and an English degree. A full-time job was great, and I earned my Master’s in Business Administration while employed there. But, I still had that itch – that itch to write not just for higher education, but for myself, and for others who need to know they aren’t alone in whatever they are feeling.
A few years later, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated my state. That very next day, following seeing the rollercoaster I road on as a child and teen sitting in the Atlantic Ocean, I went on Tumblr and wrote a blog about it. I called it “An Open Letter to the Shore Kids” and within a few hours it had gone “viral.” USA Today, CNN, and the LA Times, picked it up, and so did many friends and strangers on social media. I had naively included my email address at the bottom of the blog, and my inbox was flooded with people sharing their own pain of what had transpired, but also sharing their memories and their hope. Some, particularly a woman who I now consider a dear friend from Oregon, wanted to read more of my writing. She encouraged me to start posting bits of it on Instagram, as a movement was just starting to percolate: #writersofinstagram.
I started posting writing daily and gained a following there. Once I had a solid platform to stand on, I started using it to share what I am passionate about, which is helping families where addiction is present, as I lost my own cousin, Jessica, in 2006 from a drug overdose. I never stopped posting poetry that encompassed all the ups and downs of humanhood though, because the last thing I want to do is isolate the readers who blessed me with this platform.
The rest is just a mix of good timing, hard work and a natural talent that I literally thank God for blessing me with every day.
Flash forward, nearly five years later, and I am the Director of Institutional Communications and Campaign Marketing at Bloomfield College in New Jersey; a contributing writer to the Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Elite Daily, Gannett, Addiction Unscripted, and Thirty on Tap; Teen Vogue listed me as one of the “10 Instagram Poets to Follow”; my best-selling book of poetry, Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately, was a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards and will be released again, with an additional 94 brand-new poems, doubling the size of the book, by a traditional publisher (Andrews McMeel) in April 2017; and my own essay series, the Other Side of Addiction, has a worldwide readership, with pieces of the series hitting over one million views.
My writing career is in three different corners that happen to intersect. I write professionally for Bloomfield College, where I cover the news and happenings of the College, I write poetry about life (break ups, love, loss, family, travel…), and I write about how drug addiction directly effects not just the user, but the entire family. All three avenues have led to opportunities I never take for granted, because I never honestly thought I would achieve them in this way, to this extent. “Humbled” doesn’t even begin to cover what I’m feeling.
2. What inspired you to write? What would you say your mission statement is as a writer?
I’ve known I wanted to write professionally since I was in the third grade, the first time a poem of mine was published in a student anthology.
But in all honesty,nothing really inspired me to pick up a pen and begin writing, that was innate, just something I’ve always done. I think when I was younger I was under the impression that writing was how everyone expressed themselves.
Certain life experiences push me to write, though. Losing my cousin was a big one. I could honestly say I would not be writing about the heroin epidemic if I had not lost her.
Mission statement as a writer is just to write honestly. This could be a scary notion at first, but nothing is worse than a cliché-riddled piece that does not connect to anyone because it was never really connected to the writer.
3. Who are your favorite writers?
My favorite book has always been The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. An author who consistently writes amazing books though is Jodi Piccoult. Nineteen Minutes and The Pact are my two favorites by Piccoult, but everything she writes, I read. My mother introduced me to most of the traditional authors I know and love today. My mother could out read anyone.
Poetry wise, I love Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath. Talk about a woman who literally wrote from her life, regardless of how dark it portrayed her. Leonard Cohen is an amazing writer and artist, I’ve been reading more of his poetry since his passing.
Social media introduced me to so many talented, indie-poets like J.R.Rogue, Christina Hart, Kat Savage, Brittin Oakman…
4. Tell us about “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” and some of your other works.
The idea to self-publish a book came to me because I wanted to donate funds to The Willow Tree Center, a rehabilitation center my family had been using since my cousin’s death. Working for a college, I have a pretty decent winter break and I had time to put about 50 poems together. Those poems, plus those poems in the form of “Blackout Poetry” comprise the pages of Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately. It was maybe three weeks between my deciding to put this book together, writing the material, blacking out the material, and adding songs to each piece and actually releasing it. So, it was fast, to say the least. I drew the cover myself, and my friend, Jhonny, acted as editor.
What makes it unique is that it is designed like a classic cassette mixtape. Instead of a table of contents, there are two “sides,” and in place of chapters, there are “tracks.” Music and writing and poetry are all so closely related.
It has sold beyond my wildest dreams – I think right now it is #3 in Women Authors on Amazon. It never dropped out of the top 10 of that category since its release in January of 2016. Its success caught the eye of a literary agent, who now represents me, and with his help, I got on Andrews McMeel’s radar.
It’s been a whirlwind, but in reality, it hasn’t been a whirlwind. It’s really been nearly three DECADES of non-stop hard work and dedication to my craft that got me here. But once something like this happens, it can feel like it happened overnight; all the blood, sweat, and tears become even more validated.
5. You are a drug addiction awareness advocate, why do you see this as a major issue and what can we do to change it?
While my book’s success caught the attention of the literary world, my book as well as my addiction series began catching the attention of those in the addiction/recovery/advocacy world. Steve Rogers, an Executive Producer with PBS, contacted me and created an episode of his documentary series, “Here’s the Story” around my efforts to combat the heroin epidemic. That was my first time ever on television and it was unnerving but also exhilarating because I know families battling addiction need as many resources and outlets they can find. There just aren’t enough resources for those addicted to substances, let alone resources for the families of addiction who have to learn to cope and heal regardless of the outcome.
I’ve spoken at high schools, on live radio and podcasts, and at political events about why the heroin epidemic is more of a plague at this point than an epidemic. The connections between prescription medications and heroin are well documented at this point. But it is so hard to answer “WHY” any of this has to happen in our communities, it’s truly heartbreaking.
First, to make any sort of change, we need to start on the local level; with communities and local politicians. We need to break the stigma because public opinions sway public policies. We need to get into schools early to really educate kids on the direct, and nearly immediate, effects of these powerful drugs. I’ve begun speaking to 7th and 8th graders, it’s crazy, but necessary.
Anyone can become addicted to a substance, not just a certain “type” of person, and though the veil of shame has been lifted to an extent, ignorance is still running around fairly rampant.
6. How much has your education had an effect on your career?
A lot. More than a lot. I do not think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t studied my craft as diligently as I did in college. I know myself and I know I needed that structured education before embarking on this journey.
For example, I work full time then go home and work more. There are always deadlines, some put on me, some self-inflicted, and the time management skills I sharpened in college has helped me all the way through to today.
7. What advice would you give young creatives?
Do not get weary. Do not get disheartened when success doesn’t happen overnight. Looking at my path, there is still so much I have not yet accomplished that I hope to check off my bucket list one day. If you are being true to your voice, keep writing for yourself first and foremost, and the people who need your voice the most, will find you and connect to you and support you.
It is SO IMPORTANT to support other writers that are rising the same time you are. I’ve met some of the best people through shared support. There is a reader for every writer, no need to compete.
REALITY CHECK THOUGH: If you are writing, especially poetry, to become “famous” I hate to break it to you, but that most likely won’t happen. To me, “success” and “fame” are not mutually exclusive in the writing world, and that’s a good thing. Try to remember that.
8. What’s next?!
1. Andrews McMeel is releasing the second edition of “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” in April, double the original size and with all the blackout poetry totally redone. I think it looks great so far! I am excited. This is the next step, to be placed in bookstores and what not. I look forward to my little book being reborn.
2. I’ve written a song with singer/musician/songwriter Ada Pasternak (she appears in the documentary with me) and she will record it this week before she moves to L.A. The song features on finding hope – I can say more, but I’ll let the song speak for itself.
3. I have been invited to read a poem of mine about addiction on January 18 in Trenton (my state capital), at the “Everyday Heroes” event. The event is focused on recognizing the “Everyday Heroes” of addiction, successful initiatives and recovery programs implemented by coalitions, activists, advocates, alliances and law-enforcements, as well as common citizens.
4. In a matter of weeks, I will be releasing a collection of essays on the heroin/drug epidemic. It will be titled, Heroin is the Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Me. (The title of one of my articles that was read over 1.5 million times in two months). A true passion project of mine, I am excited and honored to announce that Steve Rogers, PBS producer of Driving Jersey/Here’s the Story will be writing the Foreword and NJ State Congressman Thomas MacArthur will be writing the Afterword.
The book will focus on those who have battled addiction and who are now in Recovery, fellow advocates, as well as families directly affected by the disease of addiction. The book will contain new and previously published interviews/pieces, and will provide “January 2017” updates on interviewees.
It is my hope the book will serve as a cathartic work for families where addiction is/was present with a resource component. I will be self-publishing this effort.
Where can we follow you?
Thank you Alicia for all that you do, to anyone reading this I hope this reading this article impacted you as much as it did for me writing it. It is important that we celebrate rising writers who are fighting to change the world, we must be listening and we must be great readers. Keep an eye out for the April edition of “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” and read on!