Monthly Archives: May 2015

Strange Musings: Interview with Giovanni Valentino

Last week, I wrote about my short story, “Lemonade Séance.” This week, I would like to introduce the editor of the Hysterical Realms anthology, Giovanni Valentino. Giovanni is the founder of Strange Musings Press, which produces a series that spotlights humorous speculative fiction. Between fielding submissions for his latest anthology, Weirder Science, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it’s like to balance roles as an editor and a writer and how he got into this crazy literary world in the first place.

A few icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer?

I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer but I was held back by my dyslexia. It’s hard to get your vision down on the page when you can’t write a simple note. Now with modern medicine and the wonders of technology, I can express myself in words and get my grand visions into print.

One of the meds I take for depression has the strange side effect of lessening the symptoms of my learning disability. Spell checker helps a little; strangely enough Google is a better spell checker than Microsoft Word. The Microsoft Office function of Speak, which reads your words back to you, helps tremendously. I can’t see the mistakes on the page but I can hear them. Of course, it doesn’t help with homophones, here or hear.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

All the greats in humorous speculative fiction, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Robert Asprin.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy changed my life. It was great to know that I wasn’t the only one that saw the world in an off kilter way like that. So Don’t Panic and Always remember your Towel.

You’ve written a combination of memoir and genre fiction. How is your process different for each (or do you approach all your writing in a similar way)?

The memoir process is easier in some ways and harder in others. I don’t have to craft things like worlds or characters in memoir pieces but I do have to build a believable narrative. With memoir, that sometimes involves adding things that didn’t really happen or that you’re guessing about to connect up scenes. Sometimes, you have to drop things from the story because life doesn’t happen at a well-timed pace. If it isn’t important to the story you’re telling or it’s breaking the story stride, you might need to leave it out to help things along.

The other thing with memoir is sometimes you’re tempted to leave things out. Some things are too painful to revisit or don’t paint you in the best light. It might be better for you to exclude it but not better for the story. When I wrote “Sometimes, It’s OK to be Nice to People,” a story about my relationship with my grandmother, I struggled over whether I should include a domestic violence scene between my grandfather and myself. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of it but it was important to the story. As I edited the piece, my wife told me she could tell every time I hit that scene. I’d choke up.

How does being an editor affect your writing and vice versa?

One thing about being an editor that helps your writing is you get to see other people make the same mistakes you make in your writing. It’s easier to see these bad habits clearly not working in other people’s stories. You’re not invested in their story like you are invested in yours.

One thing that being a writer and an editor can help with is understanding the process. I am very good at writing a query letter or cover letter because I’ve seen so many of them, both good and bad. Also, I have a better handle on talking with editors because I understand what they go through.

Have you ever considered giving up one to pursue the other full-time, or do you enjoy them both equally?

I like both equally but I’d give up editing in a second to be a full-time writer with a successful epic fantasy series or best-selling humorous science fiction series.

What is it about humorous fantasy and science fiction that made you want to launch the Alternate Hilarities series?

Hysterical RealmsIt was my love for the great humorous, speculative fiction authors that led me down this path. I didn’t want to wait for their next book. I wanted more now. Alternate Hilarities was originally a small press fanzine in the 90s. I produced 6 issues. I gave up after that because printing costs were too high back then and I was losing money.

A few years ago, I was researching self-publishing for a friend. She’d just sold a romance novel to an ePublisher. They didn’t do print editions but they let the author retain the print rights. Between ePublishing in general and the amazing invention of print on demand, self-publishing is very affordable now especially if you can do some of the work yourself. I can’t line edit because of the dyslexia but I can typeset the print edition and eBook. After I helped my friend get her print edition out, I brought Alternate Hilarities back to life.

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

Plotting. It’s what I am best at and I can do it while I’m running. I’ve crafted some complex story lines on a treadmill or running around a track.

I also have strange, heavily detailed dreams. Sometimes, I wake in the morning with a full novel outline in my head. Not all of them are publishable but I can always get a few bits and pieces out of them.

Honestly, I have more novel outlines than I’ll ever have time to write.

Out of your published pieces so far, do you have a personal favorite?

“Mystical Redemption,” which ran on Sorcerous Signals web site in the May 2014 issue as well as the May 2014 print issue of Mystic Signals. I also reran it in Alternate Hilarities 3: Hysterical Realms.

Not only do I think it’s one of my funnier stories but it was the first story I ever wrote for a market. I needed a funny fantasy story for a call to submissions and I racked my brain for an idea. I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time and it was the season where Giles ran the magic shop. The shop sold real magic for practitioners and for the tourists. I started thinking about my own experiences in retail and wondering what could go wrong in that situation. My first thought was coupons.

In “Mystical Redemption,” a down-on-his-luck wizard running a similar type of shop runs a coupon in the paper for a “Free Reading”. The ad salesman tries to punch it up by changing it to “Free Summoning”. The troubles starts when another wizard comes in to redeem that coupon.

Any links you’d like to share?

If there is one real life issue I would like to help eliminate, it would be domestic violence. There are some great causes out there to help victims of domestic violence like Vera House. They need your support.

Thanks so much to Giovanni Valentino for being part of this week’s spotlight. Be sure to check out the Strange Musings Press website which features bios and interviews with many more authors!

Happy reading!

Speculative Superstar: Interview with K.Z. Morano

Welcome to this week’s Author Spotlight! Today, I am thrilled to present the talented K.Z. Morano. Ms. Morano is a speculative fiction writer whose fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories have been widely anthologized. Her book, 100 Nightmares, features–you guessed it–100 microfiction stories based on her own bad dreams. This is one writer who’s driven, prolific, and ready to take on the world. In between writing her super cool fiction, she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about how she became an author and where she plans to go from here.

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

K. Z. MoranoI used to work as a ghost writer. I used to write articles about fashion, beauty, health, and other lifestyle topics. Seeing my work out there with other people’s names and bios attached to them kind of made me sad and then I told myself that someday, I’m going to get my work and my name out there. And then I started a blog, The Eclectic Eccentric. It was meant to be a fashion blog, really. But then it ended up being something else. I posted everything there—photography, poetry, haiku, anything that I felt like publishing. That was when I encountered writing prompts.

The photo prompts got me started. It’s easy for me to find inspiration in photographs. I started writing fiction and shared my stories on my blog. I started getting some positive comments from readers and blog followers. The support that I received urged me to keep writing. They told me to send my stories to a publisher or to a magazine and so I did.

I’m an eclectic reader and my list of favorite authors ranges from Clive Barker to Jane Austen. My favorite horror authors are H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Neil Gaiman. I love authors like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and their readgasm-inducing prose.

What drew you to speculative fiction, and do you often find inspiration in sources beyond literature (e.g. film, television, or art)?

I’ve always been a bibliophile—ever since I was a little girl. My nose was almost always buried in books. When I was younger, I used to read a lot of romance novels and when I say a lot I mean boxes and boxes of them! I also read a lot of whodunits by Agatha Christie. Apart from horror, fantasy is also one of my favorite genres. Speculative fiction not just provided me with an escape from the mundane aspects of life. It also provided me with a way to see the world through a different pair of eyes.

I find inspiration in everything. Most of my writing inspirations come from everyday life. I could be doing something utterly boring or something totally exciting and then the idea will just hit me. One of the stories in my book, 100 Nightmares came to me while I was doing the laundry. That story was aptly titled “Laundry”. LOL

Your book, 100 Nightmares, is a fascinating concept and quite an impressive work in terms of breadth. What was your inspiration behind the book, and what was the most surprising aspect of writing it?

First of all, thank you so much for reading the book. I’m glad you enjoyed it. As for the inspiration, I’ve always loved writing micro-fiction. It’s where and how I started. In fact, my very first published story is a 100-word tale in Popcorn Horror Presents. Popcorn Horror hosted a writing contest, I sent in my very first horror piece, and I ended up being one of the finalists. So my drabble got published in the book.

I used to post a new 100-word story on my blog every single week. I started getting supportive feedback from readers and fellow writers from a group called Friday Fictioneers. The support and even the friendly competition helped a lot. Someone told me to compile a few of my stories and get them out there. So I did. Also, even though my stories have appeared in various anthologies, I wanted to do a solo project.

100 NightmaresI had a blast writing 100 Nightmares but that didn’t really come as a surprise. The most surprising thing about it all was the reception. I really had no idea that it would be so well-received. I just wanted my stories to be read and they are! Another pleasurable surprise was the illustrations. I worked with the artists closely but I really had no way of knowing how they were going to interpret my written words and embody them with their art. In the end, all four artists involved did a fantastic job with the drawings.

Micro-fiction is a growing field in genre literature. Why do you think both writers and readers are drawn to these pithy tales?

Because it goes straight for the jugular. It’s not because the readers have short attention spans or because their lifestyles are too busy. It’s more because micro-fiction has this amazing capacity to capture and hold the readers’ attention from beginning to end. With micro-fiction every single word counts. There’s no space for anything unnecessary, no room to bore the reader out of his/her wits. Some people think that micro-fiction has no depth but that isn’t true. When done correctly, it can have everything that a story in a traditional length can possess, even the occasional surprise ending. You think there isn’t going to be a twist. It’s impossible. There are only 10 words left. But at the final sentence, the conclusion is revealed, the entire story changes right in front of your eyes, the blow is delivered, and then you are left utterly horrified.

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

I’d say establishing the mood. The most challenging part in writing micro-fiction is setting the mood and then getting to the point in just a few words. But that’s also the most exciting thing about writing it.

Out of your published pieces so far, do you have a personal favorite?

My personal favorite would be my most recently published piece, “The Ghost in the Freak Machine” in the Undead Legacy anthology. It’s my very first zombie story and it delivers a fresh take on the living dead. It’s violent, it’s hardcore, it’s transgressive, and it’s real. I love it when editors don’t have too many crazy rules on what’s “appropriate” and what’s not.

Big thanks to K.Z. Morano for being part of this week’s author spotlight. Check out her Facebook site as well as her Amazon Author Page.

Happy reading!

Abrielle the Fearsome: Crafting Characters for the Long Haul

Last month, my comedic fantasy story, “Lemonade Séance,” was released in Hysterical Realms, a new anthology from Strange Musings Press. Here’s the quick promotional blurb, which will explain the tale in pithier terms than I otherwise would:

Invoking the powers of hell is never easy, especially for an eight-year-old girl looking for revenge. Fortunately, for Abrielle, she has the perfect secret weapon to court demons from beyond: a fresh pitcher of homemade lemonade. Now if only she can keep her parents from discovering she’s messing with the dark forces again…

Lemonade Seance Abrielle

The release of “Lemonade Séance” is a bit of a hallmark for my writing career, seeing that it is the first of the Abrielle stories to make its way in the literary world. Who’s Abrielle, you might ask? She’s a pint-sized, hell-raising character I created last fall–almost by accident–and she’s since appeared in three of my stories (technically four, but I’ll explain that in a moment). Although it’s the first to be released, “Lemonade Séance” is chronologically the second Abrielle tale with the first being “Miniature Home,” a darkly funny coming-of-age, complete with thunderbirds, that will make its debut later this month on the newly revamped site and podcast for The Breakroom Stories. The third story is still out in circulation, diligently seeking a home, so I am hoping to have some announcement on that front in the coming months.

Hysterical RealmsStill, as excited as I am about Abrielle now, I never had any intention of creating a character who would make repeated appearances in my fiction. It seemed like a lot of work that could cause potential confusion among readers who were unfamiliar with previous installments. Thus, as a writer, you’re tasked with making something succeed as a standalone piece while simultaneously incorporating elements from previous stories (as well as establishing the groundwork for future tales). If that’s not daunting, especially for a writer who’s only been in the professional short story business for about a year, then nothing is.

But as characters are wont to do, Abrielle forced her way into my life, first appearing in a story I wrote last November. In that yarn, which never quite earned a title, Abrielle was only a supporting character, the niece of the protagonist. Ultimately, the untitled tale simply fell apart, lacking any sense of cohesion and miring itself in too many scenes and too many characters. As a writer, it can be a great disappointment to admit defeat, but when you know a story isn’t working, sometimes the best thing to do is retreat for the moment. Maybe some day I’ll get back to it. Or maybe I won’t. That’s part of the business, albeit one of the more disappointing parts.

However, out of that defeat came Abrielle. She’s a sprightly little thing, undaunted by supernatural forces or her alternatively neglectful and overprotective parents, which means she’s certainly not scared of being born from a story that never went anywhere. I don’t write comedy nearly as often as I’d like to, but Abrielle gives me the inspiration to do it a little more often. I can’t say that I know quite where she’ll take me, but I do know that I’m eager to go along wherever she and her atlatl-toting goblin pet take me.

So after a rocky start, it’s a real honor that Abrielle and her foray, “Lemonade Séance,” found a home in Hysterical Realms. Editor Giovanni Valentino gathered stories from some of the best genre writers out there, including Deborah Walker, Ken MacGregor and Gerri Leen who was featured on my Author Spotlight series last month. Sharing such a storied table of contents is quite an achievement for a pigtailed character who almost never existed in the first place.

Happy reading!


Writer of the Weird: Interview with Nathan Hystad

Nathan Hystad is an author of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and other weird fiction. He and I have been crossing paths, albeit virtually, since last fall when Whispers from the Past: Fright and Fear was released through North 2 South Press. His story, “The Attic,” appears in the horror anthology as does my tale, “Black Door.” But that’s not the only time we’ve shared fiction space. We corresponded after he read one of my stories on Saturday Night Reader, an online magazine where he’s been published multiple times. For anyone who’s had the privilege of reading his work, it’s clear Nathan Hystad is a serious up-and-coming writer, and I was quite excited to talk with him about his craft early last month.

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

Nathan HystadI think I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little kid. I have a box full of stories I wrote when I was 6 or 7 years old. Maybe one day I will share with the world these hilariously awful adventures. My mom was a reader, so I picked up on it at a young age. When I was around 15 or 16 I was introduced to Raymond Feist, and my love for the genre never looked back. These days I would say Robin Hobb and Brandon Sanderson are the two authors I am the most excited to see new books by, if that is an indication of my favorite authors.

Many of your stories have dark elements. What made you want to delve into the world of horror, and how has your perception of the genre evolved as you’ve continued to write?

It’s actually kind of funny. When I was a teenager I had started a few projects and they are long buried, and for the next fifteen years, life got in the way of that dream. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I decided I wanted to give it a go again. I started a fantasy novel…it was horrible. Okay no problem, I thought I would try some short stories to improve and practice. Most of the calls I saw were for horror or science fiction. I tried a couple horror pieces and found myself really enjoying them. I have a tendency to go to that place first when working on a story. I want to be writing and giving myself the creeps as I do it.

My perception has changed a lot. Horror is hard to write because there are only so many themes out there, and you really want to tell a story that hasn’t been told before. So if you are writing a ghost story, you have to ask, what can I do differently? I have had three ‘ghost stories’ published, with two more due out this year and they are all so different than each other. Whether that is from setting, characters, motivation, you just have to have a new take on it each time.

Whispers from the PastAs a horror, paranormal, and science fiction writer, do you ever find yourself looking to films or television for inspiration? If so, what movies or series in particular have stayed with you over the years?

I am sure films and TV do influence most authors whether we want them to or not. I will create a character and have a vision of an actor/actress who would play the role. It helps visualize your story and characters as your write them (or they write themselves)

Sometimes I see a great character on a TV show and grab a couple traits that I like for one my stories.

For my short stories, I think, would this make a good Outer Limits episode?

Out of your published works so far, do you have a personal favorite piece?

That’s a tough one. I have a soft spot for most of my stories and I am so happy when any of them find a home out there. My first published piece was “Central Park in the Dark,” and I wrote this after a trip to New York. I loved Central Park and had an idea to write a series of stories set there. Kraxon Magazine picked it up and for a new writer, it was amazing to see something I wrote out there.

Then I got a yes for “A Haunting Past” for an anthology and it has some amazing stories from many great published authors. So to be part of that was so great.

But my favorite piece is coming out this year in The Ghost Papers. (See below)

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I’ve been busy working on year one of a three-year designation program for work. My writing time has been almost nothing, so when I have a chance to spend time on it, I’m working on my novel Sleepy Grove. It started as a short story and I loved the idea and character so much that I wanted to keep it going. Writing a book is so much different than doing shorts, but it’s a very fun challenge. I hope to make enough time to complete the first draft by the end of the year, and with the help of the awesome beta’s I know, I think this book can be something I’ll be proud of for a long time. The short story, which has basically become Chapter One is in the Upcoming Emby Press anthology, The Ghost Papers Vol 1.

Other than that, I’ve started a short story from an idea that my neighbor sparked last summer. She collects storage unit’s contents, kind of like Storage Wars, and she told us she had just found an urn with ashes in it. So that is a story that needs to be written!

Big thanks to Nathan Hystad for being part of this week’s author spotlight! Be sure to check out his blog where he spotlights his writing process as well as cool interviews with other writers. You can also follow him on Twitter at @NathanHystad.

Happy reading!