Category Archives: Interviews

Rising Talent: Interview with Denise Tapscott

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author and actress Denise Tapscott. Denise is the writer of Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes, the first book in The Zenobia Tales series.  Her books, Enlightening of the Damned and Lotus Flowers of the South, are both forthcoming.

Recently, Denise and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, the role that her favorite cities play in her work, as well as her artistic plans for the future.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Denise TapscottI became an unofficial writer when I was in high school. During the summer months, I would have insomnia. I thought a smart way to use my time was to write a gangster story. It never saw the light of day, but writing helped get through the sleepless nights. I also had an English teacher who was very impressed with my work in writing exercises she gave us; she used to bring samples of my work to workshops she attended. I officially became a writer in 2009 after Michael Jackson died; it made me realize that if I suddenly died the next day, no one would know the stories that bounced around in my head.

My favorite authors are Stephen King, Eden Royce and Jim Butcher.

Your first novel, Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes, debuted earlier this year, and you have two more novels forthcoming. What is your process when writing a book? Do you spend a lot of time in the planning/researching stages before you start writing, or are you more of a “dive right in” writer who researches and develops organically as you go?

My process when writing a book is a bit between diving right in, and outlining. Usually a character will speak to my heart or an experience in real life will spark a story. From there I make a basic outline (so that I have some focus) and then I do research as things come up organically.

In addition to your writing, you are also an actress. How did you get involved with acting, and have you found that your acting impacts your writing (or vice versa)?

I have always done some kind of acting. My mother used to tell me about how when I was around 5 years old, I played one of the children at the holiday party in The Nutcracker Suite. My sister and I did community theater at a summer camp with an emphasis on the Arts. Our little play was called “The Mindbenders and the Stargazers”. I didn’t pursue acting seriously until I was in college. Acting definitely impacts my writing. As an actor you have the freedom and tools (thanks to a writer) to bring characters to life. Its exciting as a writer to create the characters that perhaps some day an actor will bring to life.

Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo WishesYou say in your bio that you left your heart in San Francisco and left your soul in New Orleans, which is a really beautiful sentiment. How have the places you’ve traveled or where you currently live impacted your writing? Are there any places you’re eager to write about that you haven’t incorporated into your work yet?

Visiting New Orleans has had a huge impact on my writing. I like to think Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes is like a love letter to that city and its culture. Each and every time I visit that city (and I try to visit every year) I learn something new. Sometimes, in the moments when I’m kinda stuck with a character or plot, vivid memories will pop up and break through the hole I got myself stuck in. One example is the food that comes up in my novel; I kept casually mentioning certain dishes, like gumbo. One of my beta readers really wanted to know more about the actual dish, not the fact that the characters had dinner. Remembering how much I loved eating gumbo at one of my favorite places on Bourbon Street, I decided to fly to New Orleans and do some research. I was so inspired to make gumbo sound authentic that I took a cooking class at The New Orleans School of Cooking. My gumbo came out pretty tasty, and I learned how to make a few other dishes. As for other places I’m eager to write about that I haven’t incorporated into my work yet? I’d say France. Without revealing any spoilers for my next book, I could certainly do a great deal of research in Paris.

Which of the following is your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, establishing setting/mood, or crafting dialogue?

My favorite part of the writing process is developing characters. It comes from all the acting classes, workshops and seminars I took in the past.

What are your creative goals for the next five years?

My creative goals for the next five years would be to have two more novels published, possibly a collection of short stories, and shoot a movie based on a short story I’m currently working on.

What projects are you currently working on?

Speaking of current projects I’m working on, I’m polishing up a short story called “The Price of Salvation” and I’m working on the second and third installments of Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes. There are other characters that keep me up at night, so I also have to find their voices and craft their stories. I foresee a lot of travel coming up for research purposes. Research and more gumbo.

Tremendous thanks to Denise Tapscott for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her website as well as on Twitter and Facebook!

Happy reading!

The Skull Queen: Interview with Emily B. Cataneo

Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to spotlight the talented Emily B. Cataneo. Emily is a widely published author, and her fiction has appeared in Black Static, Interzone, and The Dark, among other publications. Her debut collection, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories, came out earlier this spring from Trepidatio Publishing, an imprint of JournalStone.

Recently, Emily and I discussed her evolution and inspiration as a writer as well as her plans for the future (which yes, do include a project with me!).

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Emily CataneoIcebreakers are good! So I first decided to become a writer when I was a little kid obsessed with children’s books written by women about characters who wanted to be writers. I loved those characters, and I also loved reading and making up stories, so I figured, hey, why don’t I do this forever? I think lots of bookish children want to become authors when they grow up, but they forget about it as they grow older. I guess I forgot to forget!

As for my favorites: as a burgeoning young writer, I was deeply influenced by Victorian Gothic authors such as the Brontë sisters and Oscar Wilde, as well as by more modern classics such as Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. The contemporary authors who’ve influenced and inspired me the most are Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Karen Joy Fowler, Margo Lanagan and Catherynne Valente. But I’m always discovering new books that I love; my favorites so far this year were Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night and Clare Beams’ We Show What We Have Learned: And Other Stories.

Congratulations on your debut collection, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories! What inspired you to put together your first collection, and what was the process like as you selected the stories for the table of contents?

Thank you! After returning from my time at the Clarion Writers Workshop last year, I started thinking about the projects I wanted to tackle for the rest of 2016, and one of those projects was putting together a short story collection. I realized I’d published a set of stories in 2014 and 2015 that all fit together and spoke to each other thematically, and that would work well together as a book. Then, lo and behold, Jess Landry over at JournalStone messaged me to ask if I had a collection to submit to her open reading period. Why yes, Jess, I did indeed! I think thematic cohesion is one of the most important elements of a short story collection, and so I selected the aforementioned thematically similar stories, as well as a few others that I’d written around the same time, and sent them off.

Many of your stories deal with fairy tales, turn-of-the-century Europe, and the dance world. What is it about these themes that inspire you over and over again to write beautiful and haunting tales? Also, have you studied dance yourself?

Speaking to Skull KingsI think the origin of aesthetic influence is always such a complicated question, because these preferences are often not logical choices. That is, it’s not as though I make a conscious decision every time I sit down to write that I’m going to draw on fairy tales, early-twentieth-century Europe, and dance, but you’re quite right that I am intrinsically drawn to these as concepts, settings and themes. The best explanation that I can come up with is that these aesthetics remind me of the stories and images that fascinated me as a child, that they appeal to me on a sort of atavistic gut level. And then, of course, my zeal for these aesthetics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein the more I write about, say, early-twentieth-century Europe, the more I read about it and learn about it and visit Europe, and the more inspired I become to continue to write about it.

As for dance: the funny thing is that I’m absolutely, completely, truly horrible at dance. I am a graceless and clunky wretch who can run in a straight line for ten miles, but cannot bend my feet into anything remotely resembling an arch without my muscles seizing up in excruciating pain. Seriously. That being said, I love performance, opera, ballet: I’m intrigued by the strength of secret muscles and the precision of movement required to dance classically, and of course, the aesthetic can’t be beat. Maybe in another life, I’ll be a Russian ballet dancer myself. But not this one.

Is there a particular time period or theme that you haven’t yet incorporated in your work that you’re looking forward to exploring in the future?

My Clarion classmate Jenn Grunigen challenged me last summer to write some stories with the Emily aesthetic but set in space, or drawing on other soft science fictional concepts. I’ve dabbled with some ideas that meet that challenge, and haven’t finished anything yet, but I’d certainly like to!

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, crafting dialogue, or establishing setting?

The answer varies between short and long fiction. For short fiction, I love establishing a mood and atmosphere via setting more than anything. I’m a very visual person, and drawing on all the images and tableau kicking around in my head, then connecting them with theme and plot and all those other story elements, is one of my greatest joys in short story writing.

But when it comes to novellas and novels, I’m all about developing characters. The great fun of writing a novel is that you get to snuggle in (and by “snuggle in” I mean “go on a harrowing and disturbing journey”) and really get to know your characters, to watch them change and grow in your writerly hands. You feel as though you’ve gone through something with them, by the end of it.

Out of your published work, do you have a favorite piece?

My favorite published piece of mine is “Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse,” which appeared in Interzone this month. This story includes a. ocean magic, b. questions of free will versus fate, c. class tensions on the coast of Maine, and d. female friendship. What’s not to love?

What projects are you currently working on?

I usually have one or two short stories cooking up, and right now is no exception, but my current big projects are a revision of my first novel, which is a fairytale-inspired story about four girls and a death omen that takes place in Germany in 1914, and a novelette that I’m collaborating on with Gwendolyn, which involves coercion and magic and ballet.

Big thanks to Emily B. Cataneo for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author website as well as Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading!

Horror in the Garden: Interview with Jessica McHugh

Welcome back! Today, I’m excited to feature author Jessica McHugh. Jessica is a prolific speculative fiction writer of novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Her work includes Rabbits in the Garden, The Darla Decker Diaries, and The Train Derails in Boston, among many others.

Recently, Jessica and I discussed her evolution as a storyteller as well as what she has planned for the future.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Jessica McHugh I’ve always loved telling stories and entertaining people. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I wrote short stories, poetry, and songs—I even wrote a terrible screenplay—but I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was almost twenty. I read a lot while working eleven hours a day in a mall perfume kiosk, but it was collections by HP Lovecraft and my favorite author, Roald Dahl, that kicked my writing into high gear. Once I picked up that pen to write a Dahl-esque story, I was pleasantly doomed. After that, I was writing a new short story every day, and after reading “The Silmarillion,” I was inspired to write a fantasy novel called “Maladrid.” I spent entire shifts at this perfume kiosk building the world of Dominhydor, where I would set four novels. Over the next few years I wrote obsessively, anything I could, trying to find my style, and without any thought of publication. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four and met my husband that I decided to start submitting my work. His love and support made me feel invincible. Still does.

As for my other favorite authors, I adore Bret Easton Ellis, Anne Rice, Damien Angelica Walters, Danger Slater, Michael Arnzen, and still love reading Beverly Clearly.

You’re a prolific writer with numerous short stories, poetry, plays, novellas and novels to your name. Do you have a preferred medium that is your favorite, or do you find that it depends more on the story itself to help you determine which medium to use (or possibly a bit of both)?

I try to let the story determine the medium, but I’ve gotten it wrong a few times. A few years ago, I wrote an entire mixed-media stage play before realizing it worked better as a novel, and I’m still in the process of converting it. For the most part I’m sticking to short stories and novels these days because of deadlines, but I would love to write a full length play again. Publication is fantastic, but it’s difficult to top the joy of watching people bring your characters to life. The Colne Egname Performing Theatre in the UK had their opening night of my play “Fools Call it Fate” last week, and I wish I could’ve been there.

Still, I think novels are my toast and jam. I love getting into the nitty gritty in a way that other mediums don’t always allow.

Do you have a specific routine as a writer? For example, do you write for a certain number of hours per day or have a daily word count that you like to reach? Are you a work in silence kind of writer, or do you prefer music while you write (and if so, what kind)?

Deadlines and inspirado influence my routine. I work on multiple projects at once, so I jump around a lot during the day, but unless I’m doing NaNoWriMo, I don’t aim for a word count; I aim to make my words count. Writing is hard enough that it seems overkill to punish myself if I have an off day and don’t hit a goal. I also consider inactive things like plotting, yoga, daydreaming, and recharging after work/emotion-heavy days to be part of the writing process, so having a word count goal wouldn’t serve me much.

I spend most of the morning and afternoon in my Writing Hut, editing, typing up handwritten work, and grooving to Spotify. I have several playlists tailored for certain stages of writing. My TypeyTypey list is a mix of all my favorite songs and genres for listening (and dancing!) while typing. INKstrumental is for first-drafting, and it’s the playlist I use for creative writing workshops. I also have lists built for an extra nudge of novel inspirado, like pop hits and new releases for the Darla Decker Diaries and 70’s bands for “Hares in the Hedgerow.”

If you follow me online, you also know that bars are a big part of my process. After hours of being in the Hut, I sometimes need to escape, and I love writing during Happy Hour. Well, except for when people bug me, which happens more than I’d like. Still, I love catching sparks of inspirado from strangers’ emotions and conversations, and I’ve written “The End” on several novels while sitting at a downtown bar.

I’d like to say that my workday ends there, but after I greet my husband after work and we have dinner, I often return to a project until bedtime.

You’ve been working in the publishing industry for an enviable number of years now. What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out? In particular, any tips on time management or how best to deal with rejection?

Rabbits in the GardenAuthenticity is key—unless you’re an authentic asshole, I guess. 😉 In all seriousness, you need to be genuine, hardworking, humble, and grateful in this business. I’ve been fortunate to befriend writers and publishers who’ve supported and helped me on this journey, and I believe it’s partly because of my personality. I want to learn and grow as a writer, and I’m thankful for every opportunity I’m given in that regard. I’m awed each and every day that this is my life. I’m poor as hell, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t finish college, and I still make and teach art for a living.

However, I don’t want new writers to emulate my life. It took me a lot of years to work up to tackling multiple projects, and I’ll be the first to admit that my artistic obsessions border on unhealthy. So many writers have so many different methods, that you really need to sample everything to see what works for you. And that takes time. Don’t be in a rush to publish. Experiment and explore and discover what kind of writer you are and what’s going to give you the most joy. In a business that’s fraught with rejection, you’re gonna need that joy as much as possible.

In your vast bibliography, what was the hardest piece to write? Conversely, was there one that was the easiest?

My very first novel “Maladrid” was the hardest to write because I could never edit out 19-year-old Jess. No matter how many times I rewrote it, the writing always came off immature and stilted. I found my footing in the following novels of the Dominhydor series, but “Maladrid” remained a mess.

“The Green Kangaroos” was the easiest, which is funny because it was my first attempt at writing a novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. I gave myself plenty of opportunity to crash and burn. But because it’s the most personal of my novels and I plotted every single detail before starting, I flew through it with way too much excitement for a book about shooting drugs into your nethers.

Out of your published work, do you have a personal favorite?

Again, “The Green Kangaroos.” First drafting was so much fun, and I really got into the character. Every part of the process was a delight, and though I chickened out sending it to the intended publisher, I was so excited it was the one that allowed me to be part of the Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing family. The special edition of “Rabbits in the Garden” from Post Mortem Press with illustrations from Philip R. Rogers is a close second.

What projects are you currently working on?

Oh dear, so much. I’m still editing “Hares in the Hedgerow,” the sequel to “Rabbits in the Garden,” and I’m about to start a YA horror novella called “Who Died in the House Next Door.” I’m also doing the A Story A Week challenge again (previously defeated in 2014), but this time I’m writing flash stories that comprise a sort-of composite novel called “Webworm.” It’s been really interesting because I didn’t do any outlining, there are no character names, and with every new story I’m discovering new Lynchian subplots. It’s been a wild ride, and I’m only twenty-two stories into it.

Where can we find you online?

I’m on FB at www.facebook.com/author.JessicaMcHugh, and on Twitter and IG as theJessMcHugh. I have a Patreon at www.patreon.com/thejessmchugh where I’m posting unedited “Webworm” stories, and I have plenty of lovely things on Amazon at www.amazon.com/author/jessicamchugh. I love discussing fiction and sharing inspirado, so don’t be afraid to drop me a line. Unless you’re afraid of the word “cunt.” I use it quite a bit, ya beautiful cunts.

Big thanks to Jessica McHugh for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Superlative Prose: Interview with Damien Angelica Walters

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to welcome writer Damien Angelica Walters. Damien is the supremely accomplished author of both short fiction and novels. Her stories have appeared in Nightmare, Shimmer, Black Static, and Apex among others, and she has been nominated twice for the Bram Stoker Award. Her novel, Paper Tigers, was released last year through Dark House Press, and her second short fiction collection, Cry Your Way Home, is due out from Apex Publications later this year.

Recently, Damien and I discussed her evolution as a writer as well as what we can expect next from her illustrious career.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Damien Angelica WaltersThere really wasn’t a conscious decision to be a writer, but there was a decision to try and become a published writer. Before that, I wrote mostly for myself. Though I don’t write much poetry these days, the first pieces I had published were poems.

Some of my favorite classic authors are Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, and Peter Straub. With respect to newer authors, I’d go with Gillian Flynn, Alex Marwood, Megan Abbott, Colson Whitehead, and Paul Tremblay.

You are a supremely accomplished writer of both short stories and novels. Do you find that your process differs between the two? Is there one medium you prefer overall as a storyteller?

Thank you. What I prefer is usually whatever I’m working on at any given moment. I try to give my all to the current project whether it’s an 80k novel or a 5k story as I don’t feel one form is of lesser value than the other.

I often write a short story based off a single sentence or two without thinking too much about what happens next, just letting the story emerge as I write and then patching up all the holes afterward. That’s how I wrote novels for quite a while, but last year, I decided to keep a running outline of a novel as I wrote it and was then able to better see the story arc which made editing so much easier. Now I’m attempting to write a full outline first before starting the first draft.

In truth, I find short stories often harder to write because there’s no room for too much backstory, for side plots, for the sort of character development you can tackle with a novel. But you also need to have enough to make a satisfying story. It’s a balance and sometimes it’s hard to find.

Your second collection, Cry Your Way Home, is due out later this year from Apex. How was your approach to this collection similar to your approach when you were putting together Sing Me Your Scars? How was the process different?

Sing Me Your ScarsThe approach was very much the same, although I had a larger pool of stories to select from this time around. Both times, I listed the stories I was thinking of including in a master spreadsheet and then broke down each story by setting, tense, format, ending, etc. A process of elimination followed until I had a list of definites and maybes. With Cry Your Way Home, I enlisted the help of a few people to help narrow the list of maybes. Once I had the final story list, I made the final determination as to the opening, middle, and closing stories and played mix and match until I had a table of contents I was happy with. Then I re-edited every story, and it’s always fun to revisit a story after a long period of time.

The biggest difference between the two collections is that Cry Your Way Home is comprised of all reprints, whereas Sing Me Your Scars was a mix of reprints and original fiction.

Since your first published stories in 2011, you’ve accomplished so much as an author with two published novels, dozens of short stories, and multiple award wins and nominations. What are your goals over the coming years? More novels and collections? Perhaps a novella? Total world domination?

My goals are much the same as they’ve always been: to keep writing and hopefully crafting work that people will want to read. There’s more that I want, of course, but a great deal of it isn’t under my control, so I try not to expend too much emotional energy on such things. I’m not always successful, but I do try.

Now that you’ve been part of the publishing industry for several years, do you find that your day-to-day perspective has changed (i.e. approaching writing more as a marathon rather than a sprint)? Also, how do you keep yourself inspired through the rejection and other setbacks that tend to go hand-in-hand with a writing career?

Paper TigersI’m far more realistic about the business now than I was in the beginning. I think, no matter how much you read and research, you really don’t know what it’s like until you’re in the midst of it. The business can be wonderful, it can be disheartening, and the only thing you can control is the act of writing.

I’ve a thick skin when it comes to rejections, but every now and again one will arrive that takes the wind out of my sails for a few days. Then I get back on the boat and keep going because there’s really no other alternative.

Out of your published work, do you have a favorite piece?

With respect to my short stories, I have a few favorites for a few different reasons. “Like Origami in Water” will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first pro-rate sale, “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” because it was my first award nomination, and “The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter” because it started as nothing more than a silly title and a comment about Barbie dolls. But I have a few new favorites, too, that will appear in various publications later this year.

What projects are you currently working on?

As I mentioned above, I’m working on an outline for a new novel and I’m also writing several solicited short stories. Of late, I’ve been contemplating a shift to a heavier focus on novels with the occasional short story but we’ll see what happens.

Big thanks to Damien Angelica Walters for being this week’s featured author! Find her online at her author site and on Twitter!

Happy reading!

An Oath of Writers: Interview with Wendy N. Wagner

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author and editor Wendy N. Wagner. Wendy is an accomplished writer of both short fiction and novels. When she’s not penning her own stories, she also works as the managing/associate editor of Nightmare and Lightspeed. Earlier this year, Wendy was featured in my Women in Horror Month series, but I’ve never featured her in a solo interview before today, so I thought it was about time to remedy that!

Recently, Wendy and I discussed her forthcoming book, An Oath of Dogs, as well as the types of stories she seeks as an editor.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Wendy WagnerI was about seven, and I was reading the book Alanna, by Tamora Pierce. It was the first book I had ever read that shifted PoV characters, and it blew my mind. I suddenly realized that someone had decided to tell the story that way, and that books didn’t just sort of … happen. Before that point, I hadn’t really connected learning how to write at school with writing a book. I realized that what I was doing, making up little stories about unicorns and writing them down, wasn’t that much different from creating a book. It was incredibly empowering. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and more importantly, that I could.

I love Pamela Dean. I re-read her novel Tam-Lin almost every year, because it somehow conveys everything I love about autumn and learning, and it’s just a beautiful book. I also really love Shirley Jackson. She’s my literary hero. Other people I really enjoy are David James Duncan, Sheri S. Tepper, Frank Herbert, and Octavia Butler. I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King.

You are an accomplished writer of both short stories and novels. Do you find that your process differs between the two? Is there one medium you find easier, and is there one you prefer overall as a storyteller?

There’s one big difference between my process on novels and short stories: With a short story, I usually just jump right in and try to write something, but with a novel, I drag my feet outlining and making sure I really want to write the story. Sometimes I think I have commitment issues!

I feel like once I get started on a novel that writing one is less stressful than writing a short story. All the hard work of building a world and sorting out the characters gets done at the beginning, so then I can just put my butt in my chair and produce words every day. Creating a short story means re-inventing the wheel every time. It’s exhausting. Also, I like having the space to play around inside a novel. It’s really fun to plant little seeds of events and reveals and have them blossom at the end of a novel. So yes, I think I prefer writing novels!

Congratulations on your new novel, An Oath of Dogs, that is due out this summer. What can you reveal about this book and the inspiration behind it?

An Oath of DogsThanks, Gwendolyn! I’m really, really excited about this book.

The novel is the story of a woman, Kate Standish, who, along with her therapy dog, moves to the first planet humans have colonized outside of our own solar system. Standish suffers from an anxiety disorder worsened by the view of the sky, and the new planet, Huginn, rains nearly year-round. The world seems like a great fit, but once she gets there, she learns her new company is involved with a massive corporate cover-up that includes the murder of her boss. The cover-up is also connected to the strange pack of wild dogs that is tormenting the town. To save herself—and her dog—she’s got to solve the mystery before the company gets her thrown off-planet … or worse.

One of the things I wanted to do with Oath was explore the complex relationship between humans and dogs. Today, most dogs are pets or working dogs, but in the past, wild dogs and humans could be enemies. Just look at our language, and you’ll see how we have mixed feelings about dogs—if you call someone a dog, it’s never a compliment. I find that sort of thing fascinating.

In addition to your writing, you’re also an editor at both Lightspeed and Nightmare. How do you balance the commitments of your editing with your workload as a writer? Also, what tips have you picked up from your editing work that have helped you develop your skills as a writer?

Luckily for me, editing and writing are pretty much my full-time gig, so I can really control my schedule. I don’t know if I could have done all of this when I had a day job! I like to spend my mornings working on my own projects—writing and promotional stuff—and then use my afternoons to handle editorial and administrative tasks.

When I started editing, I realized that as an editor, I was trying to approach the work with complete respect and trying to see what the writer most wanted from the work. I see my job as an editor as to bring that out in the work. I try to encourage writers to take their work and make it even more like the dream they had about it. Sometimes when I’m editing my own work, it’s easy to get frustrated with myself and be hard on my work, and when I catch myself doing that, I try to tap into my editor brain.

It’s funny, because when I first really got into writing, all the advice talked about writing drafts quickly to avoid “editor brain.” I know the people writing that advice really meant to avoid thinking too critically of your work so you didn’t discourage yourself. But the more I learn about editors and editing, the more I see that the job of an editor is to be an advocate for story, not a soul-crushing gatekeeper.

Since most readers of this blog are also writers—and since both Nightmare and Lightspeed are two of the most beloved markets in speculative fiction—I have to ask the question most of them have for you: what is it you look for in a story as an editor? Is it a certain feeling or a specific theme that hooks you? Or is it more the voice or the characters that draw you in?

It’s all about the characters.

A story, at its heart, is about a character having experiences. Those experiences are meaningless unless they’re filtered through the responses of a character. The character becomes my eyes, my ears, my heart in that world; I need complete, full access to sensation and emotion to enter the universe of the story. If I can’t access that, then the story is very rarely going to move me, engage me, or even interest me.

Out of your own published work, do you have a favorite piece?

Oh, it’s definitely An Oath of Dogs. I love the characters and the world, and I find all the jokes funny, and there are some spooky, suspenseful scenes that still get me on-edge. And there’s one scene that I cry every time I read it, even though I’ve now read it six or seven times.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a gothic novella about a haunted seaside mansion, and I’m outlining a dark fantasy novel that’s sort of an American Gods meets It kind of thing.

Big thanks to Wendy Wagner for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author site!

Happy reading!

Master Class: Interview with James Dorr

Welcome back! Today’s author interview is with the prolific James Dorr. James is an accomplished author of over a hundred short stories published in such outlets as Daily Science Fiction, Abyss and Apex, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, among others.

Recently, James and I discussed his inspiration as a writer, his work as a Renaissance musician, as well as his tips for time management as an author.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

James DorrHi Gwendolyn.  I came to writing somewhat late, being more involved in visual arts up through college, but doing a little bit of writing on the side (for example, I became art editor on the college humor magazine, but then occasionally did fill-in writing, when an article didn’t come in or something).  But then as a graduate I became editor of an arts newspaper, that had me writing (but doing occasional fill-in illustrating) which led to a job as a technical writer for an academic computing center and several other writing jobs including some non-fiction freelance.  However, aside for occasional amateur work, my actual entry into serious fiction and poetry didn’t come until the lateish 1980s, with my first paid fiction, an S&S story called “The Fourth Attempt,” published in the long-defunct magazine Fright Depot in Spring 1988, for which I received a one dollar bill.  I immediately made a little frame, and it’s still hanging on my wall somewhere, although buried under many, many more recent notices.

For authors, there are four that I would consider mentors:  Ray Bradbury who injected beauty into even his darkest work; Edgar Allan Poe as the master of the combination of love and death, eros and thanatos, that informs much of my own fiction — and, indeed, is a driving force in my upcoming Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, due out this June from Elder Signs Press; Allen Ginsberg for poetry, in combining the ugliness of everyday life with the beatific along with his use of what he considered natural rhythms; and Bertolt Brecht for his theories of “epic theatre,” of artistic distance but at the same time an emotional intimacy as in a play like Mother Courage.

You are a widely published and prolific author with stories appearing in hundreds of publications around the world. What does a typical day as a writer look like for you? For instance, do you write every day, and do you have any specific writing habits (e.g. listening to music while writing, etc.)?

I’m really a very undisciplined person, especially now that I’m retired from my day job.  I also prefer to work in fairly long stretches (some, to be sure, taken up by warm up time because I’m a procrastinator too) so what I do now is still a reflection of habits of a few years ago when most of my new writing was done on weekends, where I could plan for at least four-hour stretches, and weekdays after work were used for editing, marketing, researching, etc. in more bite-sized chunks.  Nowadays walks downtown to the library (my one good health habit, plus faster internet) substitute for days in the office, and “honorary weekends” (that is, days planned for being at the computer all day long, or a good part thereof) can come any time of the week.  As for habits, I don’t listen to music when I write.  I will have the TV on in a different room, though, with perhaps the news on or, in season, football, which I can’t really hear while I’m working (think “white noise”), but if I break to refresh my coffee, I’ll check on the score (or headlines) then.

Since you’ve been so widely published, you’re clearly skilled at being able to consistently produce as a writer. What tips do you have for new writers about time management? How, if at all, have your habits changed as you’ve progressed as a writer?

TombsWell, if on deadline, that’s when honorary weekends come more frequently.  Prior to that, to some extent I could force myself to work occasional longer weeknights — not to be lazy, but too many can lead to exhaustion however, which in the long run is counter productive — or on some occasions write out an informal sort of outline and just make myself slog through, say, a scene a night, an hour at a time.  To new writers out there, though, I’m not the one to ask about time management.

To add to that, though, my “bad” habits may come from my newspaper and magazine college experience, where deadlines had to be planned around academic requirements.  But deadlines came every month anyhow (every week on the arts newspaper, though ideally you might have two teams working on alternate weeks, only stopping in briefly to check on things on the “off” week), and emergencies happened, so one became used to all out spurts of work sometimes when something simply had to be done NOW.

In addition to your writing, you are also a semiprofessional Renaissance musician. Do you find that music often influences your writing, or even vice versa?

I think music does, but in what might be considered an odd way.  Remember that poetry is music too — they both have rhythms, beats — but in my opinion the best poets are also very aware of the sounds of individual words.  Poetry is meant to be read aloud (well, maybe not all of it, concrete poetry for instance, but a lot of poetry).  But prose is made up of words as well, with harmonies, rhythms, and sounds and, even if fiction may not be read out loud, I think music can inform styles of writing.  Think of Hemingway compared to Faulkner.  So in a sense I really believe my interest in music, including in my case hands-on experience performing it, has helped me become a better writer.  (A quick example:  My 2013 collection, The Tears of Isis, has received at least two reviews making a point that there is a difference in styles between various stories, matching styles to the type of story, which they thought was good.  This is something I try to do consciously, and I think a feel for music helps me to do it.)

From your website, I see that something we have in common is that we both share writing space with beloved cats (congrats on the recent addition of your rescue kitty, Triana!). Do you have any favorite anecdotes about writing while trying to share your space and time with a curious feline?

Playing with the cat, petting the cat, what a wonderful way to wind down from a long writing session!  Hi there, Triana.  On a practical level, she’s learned that there’s a space to the left of the keyboard of one computer I use that it’s okay for her to be in (but beware, if a paw gets on the keyboard she may get yelled at) so sometimes she’ll lie there, getting an occasional petting or scratch on the head during brief pauses while I’m working.  (On the other hand, at my writer’s group meeting just last week I pointed out, in a critique of one member’s work, a string of five or six incoherent letters as “the cat’s comment.”  A paw apparently had gotten on the keyboard when I’d gotten up for something, and I hadn’t noticed until after I’d printed it out.)  As a matter of fact, though, I’m at a different computer now, an off-line one I do most of my original composition on, and Triana is fast asleep on a work table just behind me.

Out of your published work, do you have a favorite piece?

The Tears of IsisI have two fiction collections prior to The Tears Of Isis, which I’ve mentioned above, Strange Mistresses:  Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves:  Tales of Mystery and Regret, both a little hard to find nowadays but some copies usually are on Amazon (my upcoming Tombs is a novel, however, though also on Amazon for pre-order).  Of the three I’d put The Tears of Isis as my favorite and not just because it’s newest, but because the publisher had given me an almost completely free hand in its creation — selection of stories, the order of presentation, etc. — essentially the editing as well as writing as long as it came in at more than sixty thousand words.  So if a whole book is okay, of what’s published now — which would include a poetry collection, Vamps (A Retrospective), as well — that would be the one.  Of the stories in it, I’ve also mentioned the styles are varied and which I’d like best at a given time might be a reflection of my mood, but certainly these would be among my favorites.

What projects are you currently working on?

This would have to be Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, pretty much in the homestretch for a June release.  Indeed, much of this afternoon will be taken up by continued proofreading of an advance PDF.  Tombs is a mosaic novel, or novel-in-stories, in the style of books like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or, more directly, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.  It’s the story of a far-future exhausted Earth where, at the outset, a ghoul — an eater of corpses — has been exploring the ruins of one of its greatest cities in hopes of discovering the one thing that made its inhabitants truly human. This is the premise, the quest that introduces us to the book’s sixteen stand-alone chapters, arranged in five sections much like a classic five-act play (about half in fact already published in various venues as separate short stories), and loosely inspired by a pair of quotations from Edgar Allan Poe, of the most poetic subject being the death of a beautiful woman (which also informs, in its way, The Tears of Isis) and of the boundaries between life and death being “at best shadowy and vague.”  So the question implied is, if these statements be true, and in an already dying world, can love be a power to even transcend death?

Where can we find you online?

Probably the best place would be my blog, at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.  I also can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/james.dorr.9 and, for those interested, my Amazon Author Page is at http://www.amazon.com/James-Dorr/e/B004XWCVUS.

Big thanks to James Dorr for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

Spells and Stories: Interview with S.J. Budd

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author and reviewer S.J. Budd. Her work has appeared in numerous short fiction venues around the world. When she’s not writing her own stories, she blogs about writing, highlighting reviews of her favorite speculative fiction on her site, with a special focus on independent and up-and-coming writers.

Recently, S.J. and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as her favorite part of the writing process.

Spells and PersuasionsA couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

I don’t think there’s ever really been a point where I decided to be a writer as it’s something I’ve always done. About a couple of years ago I decided to give it a real go and see how far I can take it and it’s been such an adventure. I’ve had quite a few stories published and hopefully more to come.

I’m an avid reader in lots of genres and have lots of favourite authors such as Patrick Rothfuss, Daphne Du Maurier, and Stephen King.

While you are now based in London, you grew up in Cornwall and have said that the Celtic legends of the area have inspired you. Is there a particular story you’ve written that you feel is most inspired by your upbringing, or do you feel the influence is pervasive through your entire body of work? Or perhaps a bit of both?

Growing up in Cornwall definitely sowed the seeds of a deep interest in the supernatural and fairy tales and that has inspired me greatly as a writer. I think the influence runs through all my work. Quite a few of my stories such as “The Mound” published in The Wild Hunt have been set in Cornwall as it provides such a great setting with its rich history and landscape.

On your website, you often feature a number of reviews of speculative short fiction. What inspired you to become a reviewer, and what has been the most interesting or surprising part about the process?  

I began to write reviews as a way of helping other authors, there’s so many great writers out there waiting to be discovered! When someone has contacted me to say they loved a story of mine it really means so much so it’s nice to spread the love by writing reviews of magazines I enjoy reading. I like promoting magazines and stories I really like as there are some really great publications out there such as Sanitarium and Deadman’s Tome who work tirelessly to give a voice to authors.

SanitariumYour stories have appeared in numerous venues, including Aphelion, Shadows at the Door, and The Siren’s Call, among others. Do you have a personal favorite of your published works?

I think it has to be “The Little Orphan Girl” which was published in issue 28 of Sanitarium Magazine. It was my first story ever published, I had been having my stories rejected for about two years up ‘til that point and it meant so much finally breaking through! It really gave me the determination to keep at it and three years later I’ve had 16 stories published.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of writing: crafting dialogue, developing characters, or working on setting?

I would say developing characters. I love thinking up new characters, getting inside their heads and living in their world. I guess writing is very similar to acting in that sense.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

I’ve finished a novella and am aiming to see it published with a full novel in the same series. That would be amazing!

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I’ve got a collection of short stories that will be out soon, Spells and Persuasions.  In the meantime I’m focusing on writing as much as I can and improving my craft!

Big thanks to S.J. Budd for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her author website as well as on Twitter!

Happy reading!

Fierce Destroyer: Interview with Nadia Bulkin

Welcome back! This week, I’m thrilled to feature author Nadia Bulkin. Nadia’s fiction has appeared in Nightmare, The Dark, Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, and is forthcoming in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Nine. Her debut fiction collection, She Said Destroy, is due out later this year from Word Horde.

Recently, Nadia and I discussed her development as a writer, her process of putting together her first collection, as well as her plans for the future.

Nadia BulkinA couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

It’s kind of a cliche, but I truly just love telling stories. Before I could easily write, I would re-tell the abridged version of classics like The Prince and the Pauper to my mom, who would write it down for me. By the time I was nine I knew I wanted to be a novelist, though I only started publishing short stories to earn money when I was 21. By now it’s like muscle memory. Even when I don’t have time to write, I write – sometimes useless trash, but arcs and characters nonetheless. Nothing beats the vicarious adrenaline of a well-crafted, heartfelt, gut-wrenching story. My favorite writers who have knocked me down and dragged me through the mud are Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, Paul Bowles, Joseph Heller, and most recently, Francine Prose.

Congratulations on your upcoming short fiction collection, She Said Destroy, due out in August from Word Horde! What was the process like as you put together this collection? Were there any stories you planned to include but decided to leave out? Any other surprises in the process of compiling a book?

Thanks very much! Mostly, it gave me the chance to define myself as a writer. When I first started selling stories, I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go in, and I wrote some stuff that was well-received that I, personally, thought was really dire and not-me. It wasn’t until a little later that I embraced being a politically-themed horror writer, and only in the past couple years am I selling the sort of stories I actually want to write – so this was about boiling down everything I’d done to the core: who am I really? And what emerged were dark stories about people pushed down a supernatural road of no return; some motivated by fear, or anger (disguised fear), many motivated by love.

As you write your short fiction, do you have a certain method to crafting your first drafts? Is there an average length of time it takes you to write a story, or does each one vary wildly from the others?

I mull a lot and outline a lot. I binge on research and movies and music to help the mulling process (like mulling wine, you know?). I’m obsessed with structure and symmetry (my stories are always divisible by five). By the time I’m done with all that (which can take about a month), the story-writing itself takes a week if I’m really lucky, or a month if I’m unlucky. I edit as I go and abide by the Joe Lansdale / Nick Mamatas school of single drafts only.

She Walks in ShadowsYour settings are very rich and well-crafted, with plenty of vivid details to immerse the reader. Do you have a certain setting that’s your favorite? How much research do you do in advance when working on a setting that perhaps you’ve never or not often used before?  

Well, thank you! The easiest setting for me is contemporary semi-rural Nebraska, though my favorite is Java in the 1990s. I try hard only to write settings I have personally experienced, because I hate it when people write about places I know (especially Indonesia) in a manner that doesn’t feel genuine. If forced to use an unfamiliar setting, I try to go for overtly weird and dream-like and faintly but not specifically recognizable. I try to be really careful with how I use linguistic indicators. And if I can’t avoid it, yeah, I do as much from-a-distance research as possible and beg forgiveness from the gods afterwards.

If forced to choose, do you have a personal favorite story you’ve written?

This is tough because I have a soft spot for several, but probably “Absolute Zero,” which is included in She Said Destroy. I’m not sure I could tell you why, except that it was so tough to wrangle the themes I wanted to convey while keeping them all under control, and I was proud that I pulled it off.

In addition to your fiction, you also write nonfiction essays on your blog and other sites. How is your process similar (or different) when working on nonfiction versus fiction?

Similar in that I mull and outline obsessively. Dissimilar in that I have way less discipline with non-fiction because I’m usually really emotional about the subject matter, so it takes me far more attempts to create something vaguely appropriate for external consumption!

What upcoming projects are you working on?

In addition to making sure She Said Destroy successfully launches, I’ve got to get half-a-dozen short stories packed up for various destinations. I’m also in the longest wrestling match of my life with a novel that’s a fever-dream fictionalization of the 1965 anti-Communist coup in Indonesia. Basically House of Cards except with a post-colonial slant, chaos demons, and psychics on government retainer.

Tremendous thanks to Nadia Bulkin for being part of this week’s interview series! Find her online at her author website as well as Facebook and Twitter!

Happy reading!

Devoured by the Light: Interview with Michael Griffin

Welcome back! This week, I’m pleased to spotlight author Michael Griffin. Michael’s short fiction has appeared in Apex, Black Static, and Strange Aeons, among other outlets, and his short stories were collected in The Lure of Devouring Light, released in 2016 from Word Horde. His debut novel, Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone, debuted earlier this year from JournalStone.

Recently, Michael and I discussed his inspiration and process as an author as well as his advice to new writers.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Michael GriffinMy journey toward becoming a writer was gradual, and unfolded in phases throughout my teens and twenties. I’ve always been a lover of books, and my desire to write grew out of my enjoyment of stories, that pleasure of visiting a world created by someone else. I experimented with writing in various genres and styles, and took a long time to find a mode that really fit. The stories I want to create take place in a world that seems exactly like our own, but transformed or shifted in some way to create a tension or confusion between aspects expected and unexpected.

Though I read lots of work that is more straightforward or less “weird,” many of my favorite writers do something more or less like what I describe. They present a world most of us would recognize, where the concerns of the characters resemble our own concerns — job, money, love, family — and add to that a level of confusion or unreality, or a distortion of time, or a confusion of cause and effect.

Some of my favorites include Laird Barron, S.P. Miskowski, Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, Richard Gavin and most recently, Michael Wehunt, whose debut collection made a big impression last year. I have so many other favorites — for example, I’m reading Brian Evenson’s latest and it reminds me “Oh yeah, another one of my very favorites,” I almost forgot — that it’s impossible to do justice to them all, either by listing them in situations like this, or reading everything they put out.

Congratulations on your novel, Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone, from JournalStone. Tell us a little bit about your process in writing your debut novel.

Hieroglyphs of Blood and BoneThank you! A first novel is an exciting milestone for any writer, and I’m excited to have JournalStone involved. Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone is a story I’ve been trying to tell for a while. I always struggled to convey what I imagined that it ought to feel like, until I realized it needed to be much longer. Basically, I had an idea for a novel and I’d been trying to find a way to tell it as a short story. What it needed was the time and space to intimately reveal Guy’s gradual slippage from frustrated loneliness into an obsession so deep, he begins to detach from all other aspects of his life. That change needed to be shown not from the outside, but from inside Guy’s emotional state, which required a close-focus exploration of all his fears and desires, as he looks for something to grab hold of. Now I feel like it tells the story, and reveals the character Guy, I always had in mind.

Congratulations are also in order for your fiction collection, The Lure of Devouring Light, which was a huge critical success last year. What was the process for selecting the stories for the table of contents, and what was the biggest thing you learned from putting together and promoting a collection?

The Lure of Devouring LightAgain, thanks. It’s been a great experience in too many ways to list. I was so fortunate to find a publisher as great as Word Horde to release my first book. That helped give it a nice boost, sort of an instant credibility based on all the other great stuff Ross Lockhart has released through Word Horde before and since.

As to how it came together, I had some early guidance from writer and editor Joe Pulver, who really pushed me to begin preparing for the future possibility of that first collection, even before all the stories were ready. His idea was that I should start thinking in terms of a cohesive collection and build toward it, rather than just handing over whatever stories I had available whenever some publisher came calling. Often writers assume a first collection should come out as soon as they’ve written enough stories to fill a book, but it’s important to exclude anything, especially earlier work, that fails to match the quality or the “feel” or what the book ought to be.

That was the most important lesson that was reinforced through this process. You’ll only ever have one first collection, so it’s important at that stage to respect the notion of the book as a somewhat lasting artifact, rather than just flinging together random stories in a kind of giddy exuberance.

You’ve now written both short fiction and novels. Do you find your approach is different depending on the length of the story?

My approach is definitely different, and I’m still learning how best to write an effective short story, even though I’ve written many. The reason I struggle with this is that I tend to want to cram in too much story, too many scenes and details, and end up with an agonizing process of cutting words, shaving down every scene, struggling to reduce and pare away. Often I’ve work months on a story, with most of that time spent just going over and over it, evaluating every word and sentence, really obsessing way too much about every last detail.

With a novel, and really the same is true for novellas, I can spend more time and effort developing the world and the characters, and seeking interesting ways of making everything more complex or resonant. I’m able to write sentences that unfold more naturally, and seem to have an easier rhythm. I compare writing longer works to jogging or hiking at a comfortable, consistent pace, whereas writing shorter pieces feels to me like trying to do a very precise and complicated dance within the confines of a tiny room.

That may sound as if I don’t love short stories, which isn’t really true, but given the kind of narrative voice which seems most naturally to flow out of me, as well as my preference for telling stories with a lot of inward psychological intimacy, I have an easier time working within wider boundaries. More and more, I will probably shift toward working more on book-length stories, which will mean writing only a handful of short stories per year, rather than a dozen or so.

What advice do you have for writers who are just getting started in publishing and are finding all the rejection a bit daunting?

My advice would be the same bit of insight that helped me get through it myself, which is to recognize that it’s something everyone must go through, and an essential part of the growth and maturation process for every writer. Finally I stopped worrying about whether it was taking longer than it should, or whether the rejections were “fair” or not, and focused on what I could control. I decided to focus on writing the very best stories I could, and to aim higher than merely to write well enough to be published. I wanted to write stories so compelling, editors would want to find a way, even with limited slots available, to publish my work.

Soon after I shifted my focus to aspects under my own control, such as writing more often, working harder and acting like a professional even before I actually was one, I began to break through in terms of quality. Then publications began to rack up quickly. When I see writers saying “My goal is to have five acceptances this year,” I think they’re doing it wrong, because they’re setting a goal over which they have zero control. It’s a recipe for frustration and self-blame, which is how those nagging thoughts of “I’m not good enough” and “I’m never going to make it” come about.

The sooner the writer moves beyond that stage and focuses on themselves in a mature way, the sooner they’ll make progress, if they have it in them as a writer.

What projects are you currently working on?

I spent February trying to work my way out of a weird lack of rhythm, a kind of halting productivity, since we sold our house and moved across town at the latter part of 2016. I’ve always been good at working steadily, and have rarely taken breaks longer than a day or two. Luckily, I had several finished works in the pipeline, so I have stories coming out throughout the next year or so, not least of which is this new novel.

The projects I’m shuffling and trying to start moving forward soon include a longer spec novel, five or six short stories for anthology invites which I’ll spread throughout the year, and several planned novellas which I see as a series exploring the backstory of one of the characters from my story “Firedancing,” a man called Old Mallard who is “One part Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, one part Kwai Chang Caine.”

Big thanks to Michael Griffin for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find him online at his author website as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy reading!

Heart of the Story: Interview with Juliana Spink Mills

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Juliana Spink Mills. Juliana is a speculative fiction author based in Connecticut. Her debut novel, Heart Blade, the first in a multi-book series, debuted last month from Woodbridge Press.

Recently, Juliana and I discussed her evolution as a writer as well as what’s she’s learned so far from writing her Blade Hunt Chronicles series.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Juliana Spink MillsThank you for inviting me. I love your interviews, and I had so much fun answering your questions. As for writing, when I was a teen I always told myself I was going to be a writer someday. But somehow it got sidelined for way too long. Finally, when I turned forty, I picked up my dream, dusted it off, and told myself to stop messing around. I finished my first novel, a middle grade adventure story, two months later. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad; it was a ‘real’ novel, with a beginning, middle, and end. I was hooked! I haven’t stopped writing since.

My first love will always be kid lit. I grew up on a lot of classic English authors such as C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, and Arthur Ransome. Tolkien was my gateway into ‘adult’ fantasy. Currently, some of my favorite authors (I have too many to list them all!) include Brandon Sanderson, Cinda Williams Chima, Rick Riordan, and Victoria Schwab. I read a lot of YA and middle grade fiction in between huge tomes of epic fantasy, and I love snappy urban fantasy by authors such as Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, and Elliott James.

Congratulations on your debut novel, Heart Blade, from Woodbridge Press! What was the inspiration behind this book?

Thank you! I’m so excited. I can’t wait to share Heart Blade with everyone. As for inspiration, I needed a break from a novel I’d been querying with no success, so to take my mind off things I blasted out a ten-thousand-word short story in two days. Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character, Diana, a half-demon. I imagined she had a younger sister, a runaway named Del, and I wrote a short scene about her. Heart Blade evolved from that one scene in my head.

You have a sequel to Heart Blade, also forthcoming from Woodbridge Press. What challenges did you face in expanding the universe of your characters, and was there anything easier about the second book when compared with the first?

I’m working hard on Night Blade, the second book in the Blade Hunt Chronicles series. I think one of the main challenges in writing a sequel is making sure not to lose track of all the plot threads I set up in the first book, while at the same time expanding the story to show new sides of it and to embrace new plot and character arcs. It’s so much fun getting to broaden the Blade Hunt world, but at the same time I’m constantly worried I’ll forget to include something important from the first novel. Also, with two more books planned in the series, I need to remember to leave space for the story to grow.

The easy bit is not having to create a whole new world; I already have the set up to play in, and I already knew most of my book two characters.

Heart BladeYou’ve written both short fiction and novels. Do you find your approach is different depending on the length of the story?

Definitely! A short story is like a streamlined version of a novel, pared down to absolute basics. You need to be able to give readers a feel for a much wider world, while at the same time focusing on a tight storyline and remaining within the constraints of word-count and format. I find short stories a lot harder to write, to be honest. I always want to add either too much detail, or not enough. I used to be a regular in the SFFChronicles.com flash fiction competitions, and when I first started trying my hand at short stories they were either way too short, flash fiction style, or too elaborate, with novel-length pretensions.

In addition to your fiction, you are also an interviewer on your blog! What inspired you to start your interview series, and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned through talking with other writers?

I love interviewing other authors. When I first started writing, I obsessively read writer blogs for clues on how to figure out my own approach to it all. I think the interviews came from that curiosity, the desire to understand a little about someone else’s process and inspiration. I think one of the most interesting things I’ve learned is just how vast and varied the writing world is. Everyone is unique; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things, only what works or doesn’t work for you.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: crafting characters, developing dialogue, or establishing setting/mood?

Setting and mood come first, I think. Because that usually inspires the rest. But my favorite bit is figuring out the plot. My first drafts are all plot-focused. It isn’t until I start revising and editing that I start adding layers to my characters and fine-tuning the dialogue.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m finishing Night Blade, the sequel to Heart Blade, and on the side I’ve been outlining book three, Star Blade. I also have a half-finished science fantasy YA that I’m itching to get back to at some point, inspired by the 1980s gold rush in the Brazilian Amazon.

Big thanks to Juliana Spink Mills for being part of this week’s interview series! Find her at her website as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Happy reading!