Spotlight On Writers - Gabriella Balcom, interview at

Spotlight On Writers – Gabriella Balcom

Spotlight On Writers

Gabriella Balcom


  1. Where do you originate from?

I live in Texas and was born and raised here, although neither of my parents were. In order to better know and understand me, I think you need to know a bit about my father and mother, and my upbringing.

My parents were extremely different from one another in age, background, belief, and everything. My father was born in 1911 in Slovenia, my mother in 1933 in Utah. She was LDS and he Catholic, but they didn’t go to either church or practice their religions. He taught foreign languages at a college; she was an elementary school teacher. They had just one child — me — and Atu (meaning “father” in Slovenian) was well into his fifties when I was born.

Military service ran in his family, and he and his parents were patriotic down to their very bones. He lived through World War I, fought in World War II, and his brother was captured and tortured during the latter. Atu’s life experiences molded him into the man he was. He spoke often of Slovenia’s history as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the invaders who’d attacked through the centuries. “Slav” meant “slave,” and the Slavic people cherished their freedom. Many died fighting for it.

Mom grew up in Los Angeles, talked of the gang violence there, and was happy her family moved to the South when she was thirteen. Her father was born in Utah in 1885, her mother in Nova Scotia in 1901. His line descended from pioneers who migrated from the east; earlier lines came from England, Scotland, and Germany. Her line came from Canada, and before that, Scotland and England. She was one of fourteen children and he was from a large family, too. He died way before I was born, but we visited her every summer, and she often reminisced about her past. I was fascinated by her history, along with everyone else’s, and still feel that way.

I was born in West Texas, but when I was two years old, Atu moved us further East. He collected beetles and butterflies, and chose an area with lush forests, lakes, and plant life. I grew up in a rural town and I’ve always loved that kind of locale. Right now, I live in the woods and adore both them and the wildlife here.

Atu spoke fourteen languages and taught me three from the time I could talk. My mother quit working and began teaching me to read and write when I was one. We “played school” and my stuffed animals were my classmates. I lined them up for “class” daily.

From my earliest memories, books were my constant companions. Atu’s explosive rage was, too. He was a genius, and of the smartest people I’ve ever been around, but he had untreated bipolar manic depression and PTSD. His moods changed rapidly and sometimes he thought Germans were chasing him.

In my short story, “I, Gabriella,” I wrote about my upbringing, how deeply it affected me, and the power of words in my life. Author Steve Carr, who is now deceased, published my story in his I, the Writer anthology. I want to share part of it here:



Unimaginable — that’s how I’d describe the power and impact of words, and they’ve been as important to me as breathing throughout the majority of my life. This may sound exaggerated, but it isn’t.

My father was a teacher and linguist; my mother taught before I was born, working in a library after. Books surrounded me from my earliest memory. My mother began teaching me to read and write when I was a year old, and my father introduced me to other languages at the same time. However, these things alone didn’t make words important to me.

I was an only child, and other than my mother “playing school” with me, I spent my time alone. Once I’d mastered reading and writing, she turned her focus elsewhere. My father spent his spare time on his hobbies. My parents never bought a TV, but loved movies, so we went to theaters a lot. They routinely took me to libraries, where I checked out dozens of books each time (I read fast). Although my parents participated in events at work, they isolated themselves in their personal lives. We visited very few people and my father didn’t allow anyone in our home. In a similar vein, I wasn’t permitted to visit classmates, and none could come see me.

A tabby cat took up residence under an old car my father had when I was small, and gave birth shortly after. She was my first friend. I remember crawling underneath the car to pet, talk, and read to her. Sometimes I fell asleep there.

But my connection to words was truly solidified by something else, the thing that had the greatest impact on me. Abuse.

My father came from another country, was much older than my mother, and had a dominant personality; my mother was passive. He emotionally abused both of us, but I alone was battered physically. Once, when I was two, he raged in the front room, smashing and demolishing things, while my mother sat nearby eating a snack and tuning him out. I ran to my room at the far end of our home, and heard him stomping down the hall in my direction. My room was tiny, the closet full, and the one hiding spot was under my bed, positioned in a corner. I crawled underneath, scooting as far back as I could, up against the wall. If I could’ve escaped into the wall, I would have. My father didn’t find me, and I stayed hidden for hours while his rampage continued. The next morning he acted as if nothing had happened.

However, his “explosions” usually led to different endings. My belongings were destroyed. I was beaten with pieces of wood, his hands, his long metal key chain, or whatever he found at hand. Occasionally, I was knocked flying. I could’ve died several times. When I said my mother was passive, I meant passive-passive. She never intervened, usually reading and eating throughout everything. Despite my father’s behavior, I know he loved me, but he believed violence was acceptable and his right.

His physical abuse stopped when I was ten. One evening, he walked over to hit me, and I went to meet him. I’d had enough. He saw that in my eyes and never struck me again. In a twisted way, my actions won his respect.

I didn’t share the above to horrify, provoke, or garner sympathy. I did to show why I desperately needed an escape. Something to give me hope for the future. Something to hold onto and provide warmth. Stories did just that, lifting me straight out of hell, transporting me to magical kingdoms, places where people laughed, were happy, triumphant over evil, and heroic. I experienced kindness, friendship, wonder, and learned of individuals enduring misery, how they survived, and countless other things. Need I say more?

Everybody’s values and life experiences are unique, and each person has a different opinion about words. As for me, I view them as much more than shapes on a page. They brought me company when I was alone, warmth in the midst of coldness and cruelty, hope when I was in despair, and I can truly say they saved me.

  1. What do you cherish most about the place you call home?

I cherish many things about it. It’s surrounded by woods and relatively quiet as compared to the hustle, bustle, and noise of bigger, more heavily populated places. I can go outside, sit on my porch, or walk around without being surrounded by dozens and dozens of strangers, or being eyeball-to-eyeball, per se, with them. This setting soothes and calms me. Each day I drive to work in a larger town, but when I get off and head home, I can feel myself unwinding, my stress and worry melting away. Once I’ve arrived, I can go outside and smell fresh scents everywhere — trees, plants, clean air, even the very soil itself. I hear the wind moving through the trees. I see squirrels, rabbits, deer, raccoons, possums, and other animals, and I hear birds, including the whipporwills which return to the nearby forest every year. My father bought this land when I was in junior high. That’s when I first heard them, and I’ve listened to them ever since. That brings me a strong sense of history. I could share more, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I love where I live.

  1. What ignites your creativity?

Everything. Ideas have poured into my mind throughout my life, although I tried to stuff them away and ignore then for several years. That was back when I was super-busy in college, rushing to and from class, working multiple jobs, and struggling to stay afloat. Once I married and began having my children, I grew busier. But things got even more hectic when I divorced my husband and was a single mother. Eventually, I couldn’t hold back the words anymore, and they flooded into my mind as if floodgates had been opened.

Many things inspire me: trees, a beautiful sky or scent, walking in the woods, songs, people I glimpse, pictures I see, past memories, movies, stories, and literally anything and everything. I could be driving along listening to music, and a conversation or character’s story might pop into my mind. Sometimes it’s hard to jot down the ideas, but I try to so they don’t fade away.

  1. Do you have a favorite word and could you incorporate it into a poetic phrase?

I thought about that and I believe Never is probably my favorite word. I’ll explain.

Atu often came home from work highly stressed, agitated, and angry, saying some student disrespected him by saying stuff like ‘Hey, Doc’ instead of ‘Doctor…’ or ‘Professor Doctor.” Atu had multiple degrees and doctorates in varied subjects, and wanted to be honored, not talked to in an overly familiar way. He’d paced back and forth, ranting and raving about that sort of thing, or about other teachers disrespecting him by saying they had trouble understanding his European accent. No doubt his fury and stress led to him becoming forgetful or increased it, at least. He’d set down his keys, wallet, or other things, then forget where he’d put them. He often accused my mother or I of taking them. If she grew tired of his non-stop yelling, she’d hint that I took them and he’d come storming after me. I remember him cursing us, calling us all sorts of foul names, and yelling at me, “Never disrespect your father, even if he only works washing toilets…” (Years before my birth, he once worked full-time as an engineer, and part-time on the side as a custodian.) When I was about five years old, something deep inside told me I shouldn’t go along with all the things he said and did which were wrong. So I talked back, saying stuff like “I’ll respect you if you deserve it.” He didn’t like that, and would hit me more and say, “Children are to be seen and not heard. Never talk back..!”

Needless to say, the word “never” embodies some strong emotions for me, including the feeling that each of us has rights. No one has the right to abuse us or shred our self-esteem. We have the right to be safe and feel good about ourselves. No one has the right to crush our dreams under his or her feet. We have the right to hope and dream of things important to us. No one has the right to tell us how to live our lives. We have the right to choose.

Something I often say to new writers is: Never give up on your dreams. If you want something badly enough, aim for it, work on it, and never let anything stand in your way. Never let anyone make you feel less than what you are, which is a special, unique individual.

You asked for a poetic phrase and I wrote this poem, “Never:”

When stark misery fills your very soul
and tears fill your eyes, cling to a goal
and never let go. Yes, pain takes its toll

But you are so much stronger than you
know. Bid misery and hopelessness adieu.
Focus on what you are, know, and can do.

When it’s dark and bleak, no hope in sight,
believe and hold on with all of your might.
Never give up. Soon there will be light.

  1. What is your pet peeve?

I work full-time in the mental health field, mainly helping people who are in crisis (having suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, or psychosis). Not every is mistreated in life, of course, but many are. Quite honestly, I loathe individuals who prey upon others and deliberately hurt them, especially ones who abuse those who are weaker or defenseless.

In addition, I don’t care much for gossips and trouble-makers who go around lying and stirring up things behind other people’s backs, instead of focusing on making themselves worthwhile individuals. I can truthfully say they disgust me.

  1. How would you describe the essence of Gabriella Balcom?

This question stumped me at first. I wasn’t sure how to answer.

I believe what I wrote for #1 partially answers this. I’m someone who’s endured unspeakable pain and sadness, and I believe that has given me a deep understanding of others who’ve been hurt or struggled to go on. This benefits me in my work, and I do my very best to help people, give them hope, save them if need be, and encourage them to believe in and save themselves, too.

Writing means a great deal to me, and mine encompasses several genres, including fantasy, horror, romance, sci-fi, literary fiction, and more. My stories often revolve around certain topics, including never giving up and surviving, no matter what. Karma features in some of my works, because I know it exists; I’ve both watched it in action and been glad at times to see bad people reap the consequences of their actions. Sometimes I write about what lies hidden in the dark and evil being real. But I also focus on clinging to hope, having dreams, magic, and miracles, because I strongly believe in them. Happiness is possible. Dreams do come true. Miracles do occur. And each of us is so much more than we realize. Believe in yourself. Never, ever give up.

Spillwords, thank you very much for interviewing me. I truly appreciate it.

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This publication is part 402 of 404 in the series Spotlight On Writers