Category Archives: Interviews

A Fairy Tale Ending: Interview with Carina Bissett

Welcome back! Today’s featured author is the talented Carina Bissett. Carina is an accomplished writer, editor, and scholar whose focus is often in the realm of dark fantasy and fairy tales. She has a new story slated for release in the Hath No Fury anthology from Ragnarok, and she is also currently instructing a course on monstrous women in literature (and what could be cooler than that?).

Recently, Carina and I discussed her work as a writer and editor, as well as her 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?

Carina BissettI wish I had a definitive moment when I actually made this decision. Books have always been at the center of my life, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I actually started writing stories of my own. The stories have always been there; getting them on paper was the hard part. It wasn’t until I first read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter that things started to click for me. Other writers that influenced my early work are Terri Windling, Margaret Atwood, and Liz Hand. Some of my favorite working writers today include Angela Slatter, Genevieve Valentine, Kate Forsyth, Damien Angelica Walters, and Kristi DeMeester. The talent out there is tremendous and I absolutely love reading stories that inspire me to work harder on my own body of work.

Your work is often influenced by fairy tales. What initially drew you as a storyteller in this direction? Do you remember the first fairy tale you ever read, and do you have a personal favorite?

Fairy tales are the foundation on which I’ve built my life. In fact, I still have my first childhood book of fairy tales; the cover is tattered, the binding is broken, and it’s held together with rotting rubber bands. Even though it should be thrown away, I can’t bear to be parted from it. This version is not the clean version so many people equate with childhood. I knew early on about the bloody, dark side of these stories. During the course of my lifetime, I have survived trauma after trauma after trauma, and it was fairy tales that helped me to survive. The first fairy tale I read was “Snow-White and Red-Rose.” (I still have the Golden Book, which was illustrated by Marjorie Cooper and sold with the cover price of 49 cents.) But as an adult and a domestic violence survivor, “Bluebeard” is at the top of my list. Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” is one of my all-time favorite re-tellings, but I also love “The Maiden Thief” by Melissa Mead and “The Glass Bottle Trick” by Nalo Hopkinson. They are both gorgeous renditions of a truly horrific tale.

Congratulations on your recent acceptance into the Hath No Fury anthology! What can you tell us about your story that will be included in the table of contents?

Thank you! “A Seed Planted,” the story selected for inclusion in this amazing anthology, is a feminist “Jack and the Beanstalk”–“Rappaccini’s Daughter” mash-up with a science fiction slant. I started this piece in October 2015 after a floating city was spotted hovering in the clouds above Yueyang, China. It was a mirage, albeit a superior one falling in the category of a fata morgana, but I liked the wilder claims of a portal opening to another dimension. This and my research at the time on poison girls, the vishakanya from Hindu mythology, resulted in the first draft of this particular story.

You recently served as an editor for a special issue at NonBinary Review. How, if at all, has your work as an editor shaped your writing, and vice versa?

In the past, I’ve critiqued any number of stories, something I feel has been beneficial as I continue to work on my own craft. I thought editing the NonBinary Review issue based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen would be a similar experience. I was wrong. There were more than 200 submissions to be read and sorted and read and sorted over and over again, an experience that has given me new appreciation for all of the first readers and editors working out there. Not only was the process about selecting the best pieces submitted, but it was also about striking the right balance to create a certain flow in the issue. As much as I hated it, there were some brilliant submissions that I just couldn’t accept because they just didn’t fit into the whole picture. Although there wasn’t any particular story that I feel has influenced my own stylistic tendencies, I think that by reading quality writing, I continue to grow in my own work. I also believe there is much to be learned from stories that don’t quite work. When I found myself rolling my eyes over adjective heavy prose or nodding off while trying to read a piece that seemed to drag on forever, it served as a reminder to keep an eye out for similar problems that might occur in my own stories.

You are the instructor for an upcoming workshop on monstrous women in literature. How did you go about developing this class, and what are some of the required readings for the course?

I have spent a lifetime studying myth and fairy tales, which are populated with monstrous women and women monsters. The concept for this workshop began more than a year and a half ago when I realized that my protagonists were invariably women in distress, women who overcame trauma by monstrous means. Once I started collating my knowledge, a pattern emerged and I winnowed it down from there. The amount of material is tremendous, so I had to break the course into two parts. This semester I’m focusing on the following categories: Great Goddesses of Death and Destruction, Matriarchal Monsters and First Females, Wicked Queens and Bloody Crowns, Witchy Women and Enchanted Attacks, The Seductive Allure of the Femme Fatale, and Lesbian Vampires and Lost Souls. Each module includes source material, re-tellings, academic papers, symbolism, writing prompts, discussion questions, an image gallery, and other resources. For instance, in the first session, which was set aside for introductions and instructions, we read and discussed academic discourse on transgressive literature and a few select pieces of fiction including “Given the Advantage of the Blade” by Genevieve Valentine, “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine, and “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters. I also offered access to several journal articles for writers looking to dig a little deeper. The actual modules are a much more in-depth exploration on the topics presented and include both required reading and optional reading assignments. At the end of the workshop, participants will have written six stories, two to three of which will receive an additional critique as portfolio pieces.

What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to running the online workshops at The Storied Imaginarium (Monstrous Women: A Feminist Approach to Myth and Magic and Intersections: Nature and Myth), I am working on the third semester of my MFA in creative writing at Stonecoast. I’m thrilled to be working with the award-winning poet Cate Marvin. In addition to the drafting of five new short stories and 20 new poems, I will be working on an academic paper focusing on assembled and disassembled women in literature and film. It’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to dig into the research.

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

I was involved in a nasty bicycle accident last June and I’m only now recovering from the traumatic brain injury I suffered in addition to the physical injuries (six surgeries and counting), which is why I haven’t written much over the last year. However, I did manage to write “Serpents and Toads,” a Faustian re-telling of “Diamonds and Toads,” which was published this spring in Enchanted Conversations. As a woman who’s struggled with weight for the most part of my life (swinging back and forth from anorexia to obesity), I found it a cathartic experience.

Where can we find you online?

I have published online with NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, The Horror ‘Zine, and a smattering of other publications, but most of these represent my older work. My newer pieces, written since my accident, have a decidedly different style that leans heavily into the realm of fabulism, Links to my stories that were published online can be found at my website at https://carinabissett.com/stories/.

Big thanks to Carina Bissett for being part of this week’s author interview!

Happy reading!

Never and Always: Interview with Desirina Boskovich

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Desirina Boskovich. Desirina’s work has appeared in numerous outlets including Clarkesworld, Nightmare, and Lightspeed, among others. Earlier this summer, her new novella, Never Now Always, debuted from Broken Eye Books.

Recently, Desirina and I discussed her evolution as an author as well as her inspiration for Never Now Always.

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

DesirinaI first decided to become a writer at age 5. I think I had just discovered chapter books. I don’t quite remember how I learned the term “writer” – maybe I asked my mom where books came from – but somehow I found out about the job title and instantly decided I would become that.

Favorite authors… there are the classics such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ursula LeGuin, Shirley Jackson, William Gibson, Jeanette Winterson, David Mitchell. In the past few months I’ve been reading the crap out of some page-turners, which seem to be just what I need in these trying times. I am loving Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, Ruth Rendell and others in the thriller/mystery genre.

What draws you to speculative fiction? Do you remember the first speculative story you ever read?

The first speculative story I read was definitely The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, followed by the rest of the Narnia books. My parents read a few of these to me and my sister before I was old enough to read them myself and I read the rest as soon as I could (probably just after I decided to become a writer). I did not have a good childhood and these books were my comfort and escape. I’ve written elsewhere about my love for those books and the influence they’ve had on me. They definitely imparted a love for the weird, fantastical and uncanny.

I always gravitated toward science fiction and fantasy as a young reader. One book that I still remember is This Star Shall Abide by Sylvia Engdahl. That story blew my mind.

I think now I’m drawn to speculative fiction for the same reasons I’ve always been – my underlying conviction that the world we see is a very small sliver of what is, that we’re sleepwalking, mostly, and the universe is vast and terrifying and beautiful and much stranger than we could possibly imagine. I want a piece of that, as much as I can find it. And often it feels to me that the language of magic, of fantasy, of horror, of the weird, is truer and more familiar to me as a depiction of my life than anything that pretends to be “realistic.”

Never Now AlwaysWhat was the inspiration behind Never Now Always? As you were writing the early drafts, did that initial vision evolve, or did the finished story match how you first imagined the novella?

I started with this idea that I wanted to write about something I personally find unsettling, even horrifying. What I thought about then was the horror of trying to hold onto an important part of my mental landscape, a memory or a story or a knowledge about myself, and not being able to. Knowing I would lose it, or knowing I’ve lost it, and the powerlessness of that, the invasion, the loss. So I ran through a few scenarios and ended up with this one. I had the basic outline of the novella before I started drafting. I think the finished story turned out pretty close to that, except it took me a long time to find a language that felt natural to my characters and their world.

You’ve written both short and long fiction. What factors help you to determine what length a project should be?

I think when I write short fiction I’m writing toward a single powerful image or emotion or scene – sometimes the ending, not always. The rest of the story is designed to support that, to bring it about. I want it to be short because I don’t want to waste any words getting to that moment of power.

With a novel, I start with a set-up that intrigues me and I see where it goes. I usually don’t know what the end will be. So I have to write a while to find my way there.

In your work, you’ve explored themes that focus on identity, loss, and childhood. What draws you to these ideas in particular, and are these the themes that you see guiding your work in the future?

I grew up in an abusive home and my childhood was traumatic. I think from my earliest I’ve been trying to navigate this great loss at the center of it all – a life lived without the anchor of safety in childhood, of parental love. It is a great loss because it’s something that I think every human demands instinctually, from the moment we’re born or perhaps before, we want our parents to love us and make us safe. You can grow up without it but you know always that you missed out on something irreplaceable. And that, I guess, feeds into identity. I am who I am because of that past, in ways good and bad. I try to lean into the good and I do my best to leave behind the bad.

I think my work will always center on these themes, but hopefully I’ll find new ways to explore them. Lately I’ve become obsessed with psychological thrillers about women, that explore family dysfunction and buried traumas through the framework of suspense, danger and bloodshed. I really want to write one soon and I think that’s a very interesting way to delve into the same ideas.

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

One is “The Island,” published in Nightmare Magazine, which explores the themes mentioned above. Another is the more recent “The Voice in the Cornfield, the Word Made Flesh” from F&SF, which is something I really pushed and stretched myself to write.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am halfway through the second draft of a novel, which I hope will be finished soon. It’s weird science fiction that’s a little bit cyberpunk and a little bit eco-apocalypse.

I am also collaborating with Jason Heller on a nonfiction book titled Starships & Sorcerers: The Secret History of Science Fiction, which will be published by Abrams Books. The book will be illustrated and contain tons of gorgeous imagery, and contributions from a bunch of very smart people, too.

Tremendous thanks to Desirina Boskovich for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author site as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading!

Beyond the Shores: Interview with Sam Cowan

Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to spotlight Sam Cowan. Sam is the founder of Dim Shores, a specialty press for chapbooks and other publications that focus on weird fiction. Previous titles have included Anya Martin’s Grass, Kristi DeMeester’s Split Tongues, and Michael Griffin’s An Ideal Retreat, among other releases.

Earlier this month, Sam and I discussed the genesis of Dim Shores as well as the hotly anticipated anthology, Looming Low.

Sam CowanA couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become an editor, and who are some of your favorite authors?

I don’t really consider myself an editor. I select manuscripts, and I proofread and copyedit them, but that’s about it. As for favorite authors, today it’s Thomas Ligotti, William Gibson, S.P. Miskowski, and Cody Goodfellow. It changes day to day, depending on what I’m reading and thinking about.

What inspired you to start Dim Shores? Additionally, what first drew you to weird fiction, and where do you see the genre heading in the future?

I read “The Call of Cthulhu” in an anthology when I was 11 or 12 and it really stood out to me. That got me interested in Lovecraft, and from there it just progressed. I had not heard the term “cosmic horror” but that is what grabbed me so hard, that feeling of insignificance. 30-something years later I attended NecronomiCon Providence 2013 and for the first time met other people, in person, who were interested in the same kinds of things I was. The experience really charged me up.

In 2014, I went to the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland (much closer to home for me) and saw many of the same people, and met more new folks. I was friends with Michael Griffin and wanted to do something fun, so I bootlegged all of his stories I could find online and put them in a chapbook, with an introduction by Justin Steele (another convention friend). I enjoyed the process of making the chapbook and started thinking about doing it for real. It took a little while to get going, but Dim Shores debuted in March 2015.

Weird fiction is a broad term and I think it will only get broader. The voices and perspectives will continue to get more diverse, a very exciting prospect for writers and readers alike.

Looming LowLooming Low, the anthology that you’ve co-edited with Justin Steele, is due out later this year. The authors in the table of contents are magnificent, and the cover art is truly stunning. What can readers expect from the stories within?

Thank you! Marcela Bolívar and Yves Tourigny both nailed it. Their styles are very different but both pieces evoke a feeling that something strange and probably dark is about to happen.

Looming Low is unthemed. Our guidelines called for unsettling, literary speculative fiction and that is exactly what we got. The 26 stories vary greatly in length but there is a certain tone that carries through. Some stories could probably be considered dark fantasy, and a couple blur the line between science fiction and horror, but they all exist in the same general emotional space.

Justin and I agreed at the start that we would only include stories that we both felt strongly about. There were a few we disagreed on so they didn’t make it in, but for the most part we were in sync. We planned to whittle the TOC down to 20 entries but couldn’t get lower than 26, there was so many great stories.

The first issue of Resist and Refuse recently debuted through Dim Shores. How has putting together a magazine been the same or different from your usual workload at Dim Shores?

The process and experience of making Resist and Refuse was very different. I usually work on one or two chapbooks at a time, so I’m dealing with two or four people. Resist and Refuse involves about 25 people and was a more difficult project logistically. It was an impulsive reaction to the last election cycle, not just to Trump but to the proudly ignorant movement that gave him the win. I was horrified and wanted to do something and this is what I ended up doing.

It was also quite different in that the page size is considerably larger (8.5×11, chapbooks are 6×9) and there are many more graphics. The chapbooks include three interior illustrations that generally take up a whole page. To make R&R feel more like a periodical I added a bunch of photos, art, and pull quotes to fill up pages. There are still some holes but I’m happy with it.

Split TonguesAs an editor, what advice do you have for writers out there? Anything that you see frequently as an editor that writers shouldn’t do, or perhaps things you see writers doing well that they should keep doing?

As a copyeditor my only suggestions are about technical issues. There is no need to double-space sentences, and for the love of all that’s good in this rotten world, don’t use a tab or even worse a bunch of spaces to indent a paragraph. Word has an auto-indent feature, it’s great. Run spell check before you submit a document. And If you are purposefully using incorrect grammar somewhere, mention that to the editor.

I love your posts on Facebook when you’re editing work for Dim Shores while having a beer at the local pub. That seems very much like you’re doing publishing the right way. So keeping with that theme, have you found that certain writers’ works pair particularly well with certain styles of beer?

I read different types of work but my beer palate is pretty limited. I usually drink IPAs, sometimes red or pale ales, and occasionally I enjoy a good stout. I find that pretty much everything pairs better with everything else when beer is involved. I do sometimes drink scotch when I read Laird Barron though, it just seems right. Reading and editing while eating and drinking at the pub was one of my favorite things. Despite my dutiful patronage, the pub recently closed. I’m waiting to see if someone else opens it back up, fingers crossed.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the process of gearing up for NecronomiCon Providence 2017. Looming Low is at the printer now and will debut at the convention. There will be a launch event on Saturday, August 20, at 6:00 with readings by Michael Griffin, Livia Llewellyn, Anya Martin, and Michael Wehunt. I’m still putting together the details for that but should be fun.

After I fulfill all of the Looming Low orders I’ll focus on the next three chapbooks: Coffle (Gemma Files, art by Stephen Wilson), Curses (Anna Tambour, art by Nick Gucker), and Pwdre Ser (Kurt Fawver, art TBD). Coffle is already in progress, most of the layout and the cover art is already done.

Where can we find you online?

Awkwardly, Dim Shores doesn’t have a real website at the moment. I had a WordPress site but destroyed it while trying to add features via code. I’m still not sure what i did. That said, dimshores.com will take you to the web store, and will eventually lead to a new website. For now most news and information is relayed through the Dim Shores Facebook page, as well as an email list. Dim Shores is on Twitter, but I don’t like Twitter and don’t do a whole lot there. I am very new to Instagram and haven’t posted much yet but it seems better than Twitter, we’ll see.

Tremendous thanks to Sam Cowan for being this week’s featured interview!

Happy reading!

Fiction, Film, and the Future: Interview with Salik Shah

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature the talented Salik Shah. Salik is the editor and founder of Mithila Review as well as an accomplished fiction author, poet, filmmaker and reviewer. His work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and New Myths, among other outlets.

Recently, Salik and I discussed the genesis of Mithila Review as well as his future plans for writing, reviewing, and filmmaking.

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

Salik ShahAs a child, I fell in love with watercolors, and then came a flood of words at age eight. But I wouldn’t submit my poetry or fiction to literary publications until I was in my mid-twenties.

Thomas Hardy, V.S. Naipaul, Gabriel García Márquez and Haruki Murakami were critical to my understanding of literature, and the vocation of writing. And I absolutely adore Cordwainer Smith, Ted Chiang and Kij Johnson. There are so many brilliant writers writing today, it’s impossible to list all their names.

You are the editor and founder of Mithila Review. How did the idea for the publication originate, and what has been the most rewarding part so far of running Mithila Review?

There was a persistent status quo of an arrogant majority, which I wanted to break with Mithila Review. The silence before MR was deafening!

The most rewarding aspect of running a publication like Mithila Review is to be able to discover, nurture and support emerging, hidden and marginalized writers, poets and artists from around the world. I am grateful that we are able to host these alternative voices and forms of storytelling from different cultures.

As an editor, what do you look for in the slush pile? Likewise, what tips do you have for writers who are eager to be published in Mithila Review?

Please send us your best stories. As a new market in a part of the world where none exists, where nobody expects us to publish, we cannot afford to compromise on quality.

The personal is always political. We seek to publish fiction, poetry and art that reveal, resist or address various forms of tyrannies.

You are also a filmmaker. How did you first become involved with the world of cinema, and how, if at all, has your work as a filmmaker impacted your work as an author and fiction editor?

I never saw film as a serious art form until I discovered Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa about ten years ago or so when hi-speed Internet was a big deal (it still is in many part of the Indian subcontinent). I was 20-something when I first went to Bombay, full of crazy ideas and expectations. I’m still recovering from the massive culture shock—the Indian film crowd is very different (cynical and insecure) from what I encountered in old European books and documentaries!

Once again, I took refuge in books of my favorite auteurs to learn about their life and struggles; I read Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog to survive feverish months—years—in a lonely city. Satyajit Ray stopped being just a filmmaker for me—he also became a chronicler of fantastic tales. (One of his short stories later germinated into Steven Spielberg’s E.T.) But it wasn’t until I read one of Ingmar Bergman’s screenplays that I finally understood what I needed to do apart from studying film: read fiction and work on my fiction-writing chops. I mean, Bergman didn’t write standard screenplays—he wrote screenplays as stories or novellas.

Reading, writing and editing took more time than I expected. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that I somehow survived all these years without making a proper feature or a short film. Every time I read a great story, I cannot stop wanting to adapt it onto film. These days I’m beginning to feel confident about my writing—fiction and poetry acceptances by editors you admire tend to have that effect. As I often cannibalize my film ideas for my short stories, and the other way round, I strongly feel the time has come for me to combine these two art forms.

Mithila Review 7In addition to your work at Mithila and your filmmaking, you also review fiction at Strange Horizons. How did you first become involved with reviewing, and has it changed your own approach to writing in any way?

I used to review films and books for my blog, plus a couple of film sites. Then I stopped because I was supposed to be working on my writing chops! Never mind that I listened to people who told me to do something rather than commenting, critiquing.

When I read Indrapramit Das’s novel, I had to write about it. I love Indra’s short stories, but the book was a different monster altogether. I wrote a simple blog-like post and sent it to Strange Horizons, not really expecting it to get published. When it got accepted, I rewrote the whole thing to do justice to both the book and the review as a mode of in-depth criticism. And I didn’t mind the long hours and the thinking that went into it—it actually helped me to see the book in a new light. Honestly, I am grateful to Strange Horizons editors Dan Hartland and Maureen Kincaid Speller for every book review opportunity that has come my way.

What are your goals as a writer, editor, and filmmaker over the next few years?

As an editor, I want to help young and diverse voices to enter speculative fiction and fantasy from around the world. We’re planning a couple of SF anthologies and translation projects apart from the regular quarterly issues of Mithila Review. It’s been a challenge to turn Mithila Review into a paying market, but we’re slowly getting there: http://patreon.com/mithilareview.

As a writer and filmmaker, there is a lot of ground for me to cover. Money is always a problem, but I’m determined not to let it stop me. Hopefully, you can expect a novel or a feature film from me in another two-three years.

We’re also trying to set up Mithila Awards to discover, nurture and reward excellent contributors to speculative fiction and film from Asian writers, artists and filmmakers.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m considering turning more poetry and short stories into films—live action and animation—as part of Mithila Review.

Apart from short films, I’m developing a couple of feature film projects and web series. There are always short stories to be written, revised or completed, and a book-length poetry project that has been pending for ages.

All these small and big projects seem impossible, chaotic and difficult to manage at times, but I’m learning to prioritize and execute and execute well.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook. For occasional news and updates, there is my website.

Many thanks for having me here! Cheers!

Tremendous thanks to Salik Shah for being the featured author this week!

Happy reading!

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!