I officially met Scott Simon a year or two ago when he interviewed me for his site, iHeartnola (IHN). He liked a piece I wrote about tattoo artists and when he reached out to me, I was excited to meet him since I’d been following IHN for quite some time. Started in 2009 and run completely by Scott, IHN covers local fashion, art, culture, entertainment, shops, food, and more. You can also find his photography book, NOLA / FADE, and prints at the IHN gift shop online.
Scott is a freelance photographer, in addition to working a full-time job in the tech sector and running IHN. I thought it would be interesting to meet up with him and pick his brain about staying inspired, since his Instagram feed is consistently full of fresh content and he keeps his site updated weekly as well. Here’s what we talked about: from transplants, to crime, to frustrations with freelancing.
Okay, so you work a full-time job with benefits, in addition to all of these other creative endeavors. I’m curious about that because about a year or so ago, I decided I was going to try to grow my freelance business into a full-time gig for myself. It hasn’t really panned out that way and I’ve realized that I do like the security and stability of a full-time job.
I’m definitely comfortable in my position at my full-time job and I don’t see a future that doesn’t include that.
I’ve heard people kind of express this sentiment that working a traditional job with benefits and not finding work in your creative wheelhouse, or maybe not struggling, is a form of selling out or giving in. Did you ever struggle with any thoughts of whether this was true?
No! Doing what we’re doing is just smart.
I’ve come to believe that’s actually very true. Okay, so you’re from New Orleans, lived here your whole life.
Yep. I grew up in Old Metairie, went to Catholic school, graduated from UNO. Moved to Hot Springs, AR very briefly after Katrina but came back after and started IHN.
Can we just talk about transplants for a second? I moved here in 2009 and I was talking to my partner about this the other day, because he’s born and raised here, from Algiers. He doesn’t really see it but I definitely sense more and more of a resistance to people who are moving here and a wariness about them displacing locals and disrupting communities. I definitely see that this is an issue; I also think I’m pretty sensitive to this in general since I grew up as an Army kid, always moving around. I always feel sort of emotionally displaced and not sure where my home is. How do you feel about all of this?
Well, I embrace people moving here, but it can definitely be frustrating. I’m dumbfounded at people who just look at a map of New Orleans online, point to a historic neighborhood like Treme, and place themselves right in the middle of it. There’s a wide range of people who come to this city and many people just take advantage of it.
I don’t necessarily think people are carpetbaggers, but I think they sometimes come to appreciate a place where they can feel free and live the life they’ve always wanted to, or sow their wild oats – without investing back into the community.
I also wish people would talk about how life really is here – that it’s not all secondlines and Mardi Gras beads. It can be so frustrating when people aren’t interested in anything below the surface.
Actually, as you know, that’s why I left my writing gig at GoNOLA, because I felt like I was really sugar coating and sort of glamorizing life in New Orleans. What I was writing didn’t feel genuine to me anymore.
The tough part of all of it is that I want to believe people are coming here to make a difference – to bring new services, new ideas – and not just come to this cool place where they can do drugs, smoke weed, live this cheap, non-committal life. Basically: people should have a reason to come here. Contribute. A lot of what I’m seeing, especially with the tech sector and movie and film industries, is that they really just come down here, see what we have to offer, how much money they can get, whatever they can pull from the city – and then move along.
Sometimes it’s like everyone loves New Orleans, but only on the surface.
Yeah. You’re right.
*sarcastically* Yeah, you right!
That’s so depressing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been walking with a purpose somewhere and people are just hanging around looking at their phones, completely oblivious to any security issues that are looming in every possible way. And to be honest – that’s another frustration, right? Let’s just come down and embed yourselves in a neighborhood that people maybe don’t want you in.
Yeah. I don’t know the solution.
I hear people complain about their favorite brunch spots being overtaken by transplants and tourists, but to be fair, that does happen in every major city.
I guess the overarching idea you can take from me here is that I want everyone to come and appreciate the city – the landscape, the places that I love – but respect it. I started IHN because I spent so much time as an adult living the same limited life and when I was displaced after Katrina, I was overrun with emotions. I sat there drinking sweet tea and eating puffy Cheetos for a month straight, and I realized I’d never even done a lot of the things that were taken by the storm –I’d never gone to places that were now lost, places that were never going to come back. Pre-Katrina, my range of experiences was very narrow. I started the site as a way for myself to experience the city more fully – not only to try new outposts but really, just to learn what the city was really like.
Why do you think you didn’t venture out before?
It could’ve been fear. Maybe lack of experience. Maybe too much alcohol. I mean, I was in the service industry life for a long time, just living that life where everyone goes out together after a shift – you go to a dive bar, everything’s just a blur.
Were you scared when you first started the site? I was nervous when I started mine because it was just me, putting myself out there.
The site was pretty anonymous, and still kind of is. I’ve always lived in a pretty gray area. For a long time, the tone of the site and social media was considered pretty feminine. A lot of times, people would meet me and say, “Oh wow, you’re a dude!” which maybe is a testament to my desire to remain fairly anonymous – which is harder now.
You recently turned 40. Happy birthday! Any major moments of clarity that came from this birthday? You know, when I turned 30, people kept saying it was going to be the best thing ever, and they were pretty right. Does it just keep getting better and better?
To be honest with you – actually I don’t know why I keep saying that, because I am being honest with you!
So, Katrina happened when I turned 30. In these last 10 years since then, I’ve gained something – whether it’s a true affinity for the city, a true style I’ve developed along the way, confidence – whatever you want to say about it, those 10 years could be considered either lost or gained. Some days I feel like I’ve lost, but mostly I feel like I’ve benefited.
Certainly the most important thing is my ability to feel confidence in and do whatever I want and not be concerned about that. There’s been very few times when I’ve been dumb and posted something political or put my foot in my mouth under IHN. Another good thing is that my reliance on other people has waned. In life, I just want to do what I want, feature what I want, feel comfortable with who I am and what I want to do. I’m only interested in genuine and authentic people and experiences.
Do you think all of that is just a natural byproduct of aging or brought on by your work with the site? I guess there’s no way to tell, really.
I would say it’s a natural progression. I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m being true to myself and not concerning myself with what other people think.
That’s really nice because I struggle with that, even though I actively work on it. I have literally found myself Googling how to deal with people not liking me! It’s crazy to let yourself be controlled by that.
I’m accepting a lot of things with this recent birthday – that I have gray in my beard, that I’ll always have to shave my head, that I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and have a full head of hair like George Costanza. And circling back to us talking about full-time work and freelancing – I’ve realized it makes no sense to try to leave my job at this point in my life. Why should I stress myself out and have to sell myself to the highest bidder?
My plan this year is to do more freelance projects and apply my style to other brands. So far I’ve done a little bit of that and I’m starting to branch out to work with fashion bloggers and music artists. That in itself could be lucrative perhaps, but my schedule is also limited by my other job. In the end, the reason why I haven’t gone out fully on my own is that I’m way too old and wise for that now.
I’ve seen all these articles recently about types of introversion. For example, you can be an introvert but still be social. Do you think you’re introverted or extroverted?
I’m actually categorized as an introvert because I like to be quiet, have my own space, and unwind. It’s ironic because I’m very gregarious and aware of who’s around me. My needing time to myself is a result of the time that I spend with other people and talking to them.
That’s how I am too. Where do you get most of your work done?
I have a home office. I’m a night owl, so that’s usually the best time for me. I try to stick to a routine for the most part. I generate most of my ideas in public, though – coffee shops, restaurants, where I’m most at ease with the noise.
Do you travel a lot?
Here and there, I do. I’m going to do a lot more traveling in the coming years. The ultimate goal is for me to take the experiences I have with IHN and wrap them into something less location-specific. I want to focus on the things I’m really good at, like street style and street photography. STREET / FADE is the new project I’m working on.
I also want to touch on something else. There are times when I question my decision to live here. When Will Smith was shot, I was really rattled, as I’d been out that same night and not far away. I wondered why I’m here, what am I doing? Why should I be acting as a source of inspiration for people to come to this city? Am I painting a picture that’s not totally true?
This is probably the most unsafe I’ve felt in a long time, and I’ve heard friends express similar feelings. I’ve been walking around and had people ride up and size me up – things I never used to worry about.
I think that’s very real, and it’s something I think about all the time. I have a moment maybe once or twice a year where I question if we should move, but I always feel so pulled to stay here, to believe in this place.
I’m going to stay, but like I said, I’ll be doing more traveling.
I just thought of this: I love vintage cars. I love muscle cars – I used to restore them, actually. They’re beautiful, original, authentic, and they can reflect a person’s personality. However, they can be very cantankerous. It’s kind of a good analogy for this city.
Like we love something that’s maybe not that practical from the outside looking in?
All photos courtesy of Scott Simon.
In my recent post about writing, I mentioned my friend Colleen’s self-published trilogy series (Book 3 is coming next month). She’s already had over 600 downloads to date and gotten a really great response from readers, so I wanted to pick her brain about the world of self-publishing and her adventures in writing.
…and sadly, we’re still going to Bourbon St
I met Colleen my freshman year of college and we’ve basically been best friends ever since. This girl was there for many “firsts” of mine, with some of my favorites being our off-campus apartment that cost us each like $200 a month and which I immediately decorated with framed covers of Sex & the City seasons, our trip to New York City, when all we knew was that we wanted to “see SoHo” but had no idea what that even meant, and of course our first Mardi Gras, when we pounded a couple of hand grenades on Bourbon and vowed to be best friends forever.
Colleen is good spirited, loves to laugh, and is probably one of the only people I could go on a cross-country road trip with and remain friends with afterward. She’s always been a good storyteller, so it makes sense that she’d write an engaging story about three kids in flight school, especially since she was an Aviation major.
So I probably know too much about you – ha! – but tell me a little about yourself.
As you know, I’m not good with this question. Where to start? I’ve moved around my entire life. I can easily call at least five different states “home.” My entire family is crude and hilarious, and I love them with all my heart. I met my husband in the marching band our freshman year of college and made him chase me for a year before I agreed to be his girlfriend.
Twelve years later, here’s some stats on us:
Moved 5 times
+ Had 3 kids
+ Gone through 4 cars
+ Bought 2 houses
= at least 2 “mid-life crises” for me!
All jokes aside, my husband is a great man and I’m grateful for him every day.
You went to school for Aviation and I remember you doing all of your checkrides and flight hours when we lived together. It made me kind of nostalgic reading the book and seeing the characters do all that stuff! Did you always know you wanted to be a pilot?
I decided in high school I wanted to be a pilot. I thought it was cool and I wanted to be a bad ass career woman and fly all around the world. I was only 17 but had never imagined myself as a wife or mother. At the time, I’d barely even kissed a boy, so focusing on my career seemed like a more realistic goal.
After college, I wasn’t sure if I actually did want to fly airplanes. At some point in school, I’d lost my passion for it. I noticed my peers and how they seemed to absolutely love it, and I realized that I didn’t feel the same. So I looked for work in Alexandria, LA, where I’d followed my husband and his accounting career, and I got on with a quickly-growing construction company.
I worked for this company for a few years and then I had my first son. My tender heart had trouble sliding him into the arms of a daycare worker every morning. I only lasted a year after he was born, anyway – the company was hemorrhaging money and my position was eliminated. It was a good thing that decision was made for me because at that time, I fantasized about being that stereotypical 1950s housewife, taking care of my husband and home. I felt like I had no real passion, so it was an easy transition for me to go from working to being a stay-at-home mom.
How did you start writing in general? How did the Taking Flight trilogy start to shape up in your mind?
I’ve dabbled in writing since college. I still have a MySpace and Xanga still out there somewhere! I started a blog after I had kids because I was sure that my self-deprecating humor would catch on and people would just love to read about my kids slamming their shit-filled diapers against my bedroom wall. Turns out no one really cares about those things, myself included. I did the blog for two years. Then I turned 27 and that’s when I had this inkling that maybe I wanted to write a book.
I made a list of “Things to Accomplish Before I Turn 40” and writing a book was on that list. I had no idea what it would be about, though. I just knew that I wanted to creatively write.
When you’re a mother and, more to the point, when you pop out three kids in a five-year span, you simply don’t have enough time to think about anything other than food, cleaning, and oh, who smells like shit right now? At some point I got the rare opportunity to leave my kids and go visit a friend who was four hours away. That meant FOUR uninterrupted hours to myself. I mean, I might as well have been laid out on a beach in Cancun! While I was out of town, I started to reminisce about some of my college experiences, and then my mind got stuck on an idea: what if I wrote about some of the fun I had in college? I studied Aviation and pledged a fraternity with a bunch of dudes. How many chicks have lived a story like that? I pulled the car over on my way home and began to jot down ideas, characters, all of that. By the time I arrived home, I had several parts of the book mapped out.
Originally, this was not a trilogy. I had two books in mind, but I had such a visceral reaction to the characters’ stories and the love triangle I’d built that I felt like it all warranted further exploration. So now there are three books.
What was the scariest or most surprising thing you learned along the way?
The scariest thing for me has been exposing myself. I am not a trained writer and I know there are a lot of people out there that may read my material and call me a no-good hack. No one actually has – yet. Well, that’s actually not entirely true – someone did tell me something along those lines after reading one of my first drafts, and my reaction to that was to quit.
I quit for a couple of weeks but then I came back and started up again. I was determined to do better and take the few constructive things that person had said to heart. I wanted to utilize the feedback in a positive way. Ultimately, I know I’ve created something that I’m proud of and I had to come to peace with that before I decided to publish. That’s something any aspiring writer has to do – develop a thicker skin and know that people’s comments can help more than they hurt, if you let them. People’s feedback can make your piece that much stronger. And if their response is, “I hated it,” or, “It sucks,” you can ask, “Why?” But it could be that your genre and style of writing is just not that person’s cup of tea.
The most surprising thing I have learned is just how much work this is! I have no idea how traditional publishing goes, but as far as self-publishing, actually writing the book was just 25% of the total work I’ve done. The rest of my time has been spent rewriting, editing, marketing, and learning how to use things like .mobi and Twitter. I know that makes me sound totally ancient, but I had no idea how to do these things! Twitter baffles me.
One pleasant surprise is how supportive my community has been, from my closest friends to the church friends that I have. I was absolutely terrified of offending some of my more conservative friends, but everyone has been really great to me.
What advice would you give writers who want to self-publish? Why did you choose this over the traditional route?
Honestly, being someone without a traditional writing background, I figured my chances of finding a publisher were slim to none. I tried, but not too hard. I sent out maybe 30 submissions and received a lot of generic declination messages. When I started to research what I should do next, most resources seemed to indicate I’d do better on my own than trying the traditional route. I will say that if a traditional press ever did want to take me on, I’d probably be interested just for the ability to actually write and not have to mess with Twitter anymore!
Would you do anything differently if you had to start this process over again, knowing what you do now?
I would have waited to submit my first manuscript to book agents until it was edited and perfect. Sending in a rough draft was a huge mistake on my part, but I figured they’d love my idea and pick me up. I might have also paid a company to put my books on all the sites like Amazon, CreateSpace, and iTunes because I spent a lot of time doing that when I could have been creating.
I mentioned earlier you’ve had more than 600 downloads, which is amazing! Are you happy with your sales?
My initial goal was to sell 50 books, which I quickly surpassed, and that number continues to grow. Shameless plug: go buy my books!
How do I feel about my sales? Well, have I made back the money I spent paying you to edit my pieces? No. Have I made back the money I spent on my website? No. However, in this house, we call writing my hobby, and in the hobby budget realm, I am doing very well.
We’ve talked about how we’re both kind of these perfectionists who always want to do better. Like maybe we’re never going to be able to please ourselves.
Yes! So naturally, I have high expectations of myself. Even though I met my initial goal, I wanted to know why I wasn’t selling more, more, more. I’ve come to learn that I will probably never be satisfied with myself until my books are on the big screen, winning Academy Awards. So there’s your answer: I’m proud of my sales and that people have responded positively, but I doubt I’ll ever be completely satisfied. It’s just how I am.
I feel like this process has been such an emotional one for you as far as making yourself vulnerable and learning to believe in yourself. You’ve gotten really involved in the local writers community where you live and, I feel, have really tried to make yourself feel comfortable being labeled as a “writer.”
I touched on this a little earlier, but I’m not a classically trained writer. I took one writing class in college in order to graduate, and that’s it. I have no idea what I’m doing and if I didn’t have you looking over my words before they go out to the public, people would be throwing tomatoes at me. That does frustrate me. But on the other hand, I have the talent to create an entire world – my characters have histories and lives in my mind that may never even reach the page, but I know them so well that I can effectively tell their story.
Sometimes I wish I had a degree in creative writing so I would feel more confident and perhaps have more skills, but I also wouldn’t have the experiences I’ve had in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to write this trilogy. Also, I am learning. I am leaps and bounds away from where I was two years ago when I started. Every day I learn something new about this art of writing. Surrounding myself with friends that understand that, like my writers group, has helped me immeasurably.
I put my daughter down for a nap every day at 1:00. From then until 3:00, I write. I edit. I shut out the world and call it my “Office Hours.” This is my time to be alone with my passion. I do consider myself a writer because I love to do it. It’s a part of me. My mind can take the old man sitting in the corner of the coffee shop and map out his entire life – lost loves, lost wars, lost socks. One thing I know for sure is that I have strong visions and stories left to tell.
Any last words of wisdom?
I feel like it’s important for people to have a passion or a hobby. Do something outside of your normal routine. Think of your life and how you want to spend it. Time is fleeting, and each year feels like a gust of wind – it’s here and then it’s gone. Don’t look back on a year of your life and know that all you’ve done with your precious time is binge-watch Netflix. Turn off the TV and experience the world. Travel, read, write, paint, ride a bike, jump out of an airplane! Just make it matter.