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?
There 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?
The 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?
I’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.