Welcome back! For this week’s author interview, I’m pleased to spotlight the talented Tonya Liburd. Tonya is the author of numerous short stories, essays, and poems. Her work has appeared in Postscripts to Darkness 6, Expanded Horizons, and Grievous Angel, among other publications, and she also serves as the Associate Editor at Abyss & Apex.
Recently, Tonya and I discussed her inspiration as a writer 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?
I don’t recall a moment when I decided I was going to be a writer, because I’ve always been good at English. I had a saying I could do English class blindfolded upside down with my hands tied behind my back, and if I ever failed English, something was WRONG. Music was my first love, and still is, but writing has come to the forefront. In Trinidad, where I grew up (I’m Canadian by birth though), there was a main focus on postcolonial literature, so I grew up on a diet of books like The Year in San Fernando, A House for Mr Biswas, Crick Crack Monkey and so on.
Around my 20th birthday, and I was in Canada by this time, someone handed me something to read. It was book two of the Twins’ trilogy from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I fell in love with it, and sought out the other two in the trilogy, and sought out Weis’ other work. From then on, I gorged myself on a diet of Dragonlance books. Raistlin is still my favourite character.
As I have settled into being a serious writer, I have made sure to try and do my homework. I haven’t gotten around to reading everything the black writers and the people of colour have written, but I have read quite a few short stories. I LOVE Malon Edwards’ work; I’ve read Tade Thompson’s stories on Expanded Horizons magazine; Eden Royce’s First book of short stories, Spook Lights, is well worth the read. I have recently finished Lucy Snyder’s While The Black Stars Burn and Mike Russell’s Strange Medicine, both excellent reads. I’m working my way through M. Lopes da Silva’s The Dog Next Door And Other Disturbances. The title story made me stop and percolate for quite a while after I finished it! [Also,] Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and I love Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.
Your horror story, “The Ace of Knives,” which appeared in Postscripts to Darkness 6, has been met with widespread acclaim. What was the inspiration behind this work?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. I had a kernel of an idea of a story where someone would manipulate metal, etc. but writing prompts can come from anywhere. I have like 50 plus possibly short story ideas. The writing prompt for this came from two main things: a creative name someone was using playing Team Fortress 2 (I’m an avid video gamer; I told you, it comes from anywhere!) naming themselves The Ace of knaves and me at first seeing it as The Ace of Knives. That sounded like something worth writing. So that was bouncing around in my head. And then… I read Amal El-Mohtar’s wonderful “Wing” over at Strange Horizons. I went, I want to do that when I grow up! The thing that unpopped the cork though, was when someone at a crisis centre (I have cPTSD and a couple of other diagnoses, and I needed a break and some support) told me “Don’t apologize for what you have to write. Ever. Because if you don’t do that you won’t get to what you have to write.” I wrote “The Ace of Knives” in a weekend; it was the fastest thing I had ever written, and the shortest. I’m really happy Nisi Shawl uses it in her workshops as an example of code switching; there’s so much to this story.
“Shoe Man,” your wonderful fantasy story, recently appeared in Expanded Horizons. In addition to the superb language and fantastic character development, I in particular loved the ending, which was filled with profound hope. Do you usually know in advance how you will end a story, or do you allow a piece to develop organically? Or is it a bit of both—some planning as well as organic growth?
Sometimes; I’m a pantser, or in other words I let things grow organically. I have a general idea of what is going to happen, but not how I’ll get there, with the novels I’ve started. The ending I tend to know in shorter fiction and how I’ll get there.
You serve as the associate editor at Abyss & Apex. How, if at all, has your work as an editor shaped your writing? Also, do you have any recommendations for authors submitting to the magazine?
Seeing the same subtle errors in the slush that I tend to do was instructive, and I learned a lot being coached on how to help an author rewrite a story to make it stronger. Also, when Wendy and I check what we think of a story in 2nds with each other I learn from the comments of the other editors on staff.
In terms of recommendations? Read our editorials – many of them are ‘teaching’ editorials.
You’ve written short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and novels. Does your process differ from one form to another? Also, do you have a personal favorite of these writing forms?
I used to consider myself a person who writes long, as my stuff would be in the 7-9k range. This year I’ve managed to not only get poetry published, but I’ve written flash… even microfiction! I would have thought that impossible for me a couple of years ago. I’ve been told the key was that since I came from writing novels first, I had way too many threads going for something to be short fiction, when I tried in vain to cut longer pieces back then. I’ve found this to be true.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
Right now I’m wrapping up a novel, and shopping around some short fiction.
Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?
Fame, fortune, millions in the bank account… seriously though, the novel I’d have finished by then would have found a good home, and I’d have broken into some pro genre short fiction sales.