Monthly Archives: March 2017

Spells and Stories: Interview with S.J. Budd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What upcoming projects are you working on?

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

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

Happy reading!

Fierce Destroyer: Interview with Nadia Bulkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What upcoming projects are you working on?

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

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

Happy reading!

Monstrous Nature: The Story Behind “Green with Scales, Gray with Tar”

Welcome back, and happy Ides of March! Today, I’m thrilled to announce the debut of “Green with Scales, Gray with Tar,” my new dark fantasy story that appears in the Gaia: Shadow & Breath, Volume III anthology. *cue fireworks & stabbing Caesar in the back!*

Gaia: Shadow and BreathSeriously, though, this is quite an exciting release all the way around. First off, this anthology is from Pantheon Magazine, and I adore working with editors Matt Garcia and Sarah Read. They are such fantastic people, and I’m so incredibly honored to have another story in a Pantheon publication after last year’s gorgeous “Hestia” issue. As if that wasn’t enough, the table of contents for this anthology is wonderful; it’s always such a treat to be published alongside the supremely talented Rose Blackthorn and other great authors like H.L. Fullerton, David Tallerman, Tim Major, and Sandi Leibowitz. As usual, the anthology’s interior illustrations from Luke Spooner at Carrion House are simply divine. And just take a gander to your left at that gorgeous cover from Verboten Valley Art! *swoons*

Since the Gaia: Shadow & Breath series focuses on nature-themed horror and dark fantasy tales, this call was exactly up my alley. Here in southwestern Pennsylvania, living amidst the ravages of nature on our former horse farm provides endless amounts of strange inspiration. How could it not when you hear coyote howls at midnight and routinely discover inexplicable animal bones spread about the earth, all beneath a canopy of green? And that’s what my Gaia tale is all about: a foreboding forest and the things who dwell in its shadows.

Against this ominously gorgeous background, “Green with Scales, Gray with Tar” focuses on Dani, a young girl who is navigating life in her dying village while coping with the unwanted attentions of a monster. The story follows her from the age of six up through adulthood. Somewhere along the line in my short fiction, I realized how much I enjoy tracking characters over many years as they grow up in tenuous worlds. This is true of “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray,” which follows the nameless protagonist over fifteen years at her family’s bewitched orchard. Likewise, in “Ten Things to Know About Ten Questions,” the two main “deviants” start out the story in middle school and end up in their senior year of high school before it’s over. It’s always a challenge to condense such a long period of time into the compact form of short fiction, but when it comes to writing, I love nothing more than pushing myself to—and sometimes past—the breaking point with ideas. So with “Green with Scales, Gray with Tar,” I once again focused on the protagonist’s coming-of-age, all while exploring what consorting with a monster would mean to her as a child and how that meaning would change as she grew older.

Green with Scales, Gray with Tar As I mentioned above, I’ve been looking quite forward to this release. I am so proud of this story, and as we bid farewell to 2016 last December, I knew this was one of only a few tales on tap for the New Year that would be forthcoming in magazines and anthologies. When it comes to writing, 2017 is already shaping up to be an entirely different kind of year for me. “Green with Scales, Gray with Tar” is only my third story released so far in 2017. Not too shabby certainly, but not the whiplash speeds I’ve released work in the past. Now of course, my short fiction will be getting its biggest boost yet next month when my debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, hits shelves. With five brand-new stories featured in the table of contents, original short fiction won’t be in short supply (consider yourself warned!). But again, “Green with Scales, Gray with Tar” is particularly special in my little writer heart, and I’m so happy to finally see it released to the wilds of the publishing world.

So if all this talk of monsters has piqued your interest, then please head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy of Gaia: Shadow & Breath, Volume III. All proceeds benefit The Nature Conservancy. Because who’s going to protect the glorious monsters of the forest if we don’t?

Happy reading!

Devoured by the Light: Interview with Michael Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Heart of the Story: Interview with Juliana Spink Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

Happy reading!

Writing Under the Spring Equinox: Submission Roundup for March 2017

Welcome back to this month’s Submission Roundup! March has ushered in some wonderful writing opportunities, so if you have a story looking for a home, be sure to check out these magazines and anthologies!

As always, please note that I am not a representative for any of these publications, so please direct any questions you have to the respective editors.

So let’s get to these fabulous submission calls, shall we?

Submission Roundup

Nightmare Magazine
Payment: .06/word
Length: 1,500-7,500 words (5,000 or less preferred)
Deadline: March 14th, 2017
What They Want: Open to original horror and dark fantasy stories.
Find the details here.

Payment: .01/word
Length: up to 1,000 words
Deadline: March 15th, 2017
What They Want: Open to original speculative flash fiction and poetry.
Find the details here.

Payment: up to .10/word
Length: up to 9,000 words
Deadline: March 27th, 2017
What They Want: Cicada is a YA magazine that seeks both realistic and speculative fiction. The current theme is Hauntings.
Find the details here.

Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,000-7,500 words
Deadline: March 31st, 2017
What They Want: Adult science fiction stories featuring diverse settings and diverse characters. Specifically, at least one character should be of indigenous African descent. This submission call has been extended, so be sure to get those stories in before the end of the month!
Find the details here.

Killing It Softly 2
Payment: .01/word
Length: 3,000-7,500 words
Deadline: March 31st, 2017
What They Want: Open to reprinted horror stories from female authors. The editors will only consider reprints that appeared originally in a pro or semipro market.
Find the details here.

Would But Time Await: An Anthology of New England Folk Horror
Payment: $75/flat
Length: 2,000-10,000 words
Deadline: March 31st, 2017
What They Want: Original stories based in New England that focus on folk horror. This includes a broad umbrella, from Shirley Jackson to Stephen King and plenty of tales in between.
Find the details here.

Payment: $10/flat
Length: No specific lengths mentioned in the guidelines
Deadline: April 1st, 2017
What They Want: Monstering is a new magazine that specifically seeks stories from disabled women and nonbinary people. The first issue will focus on monsterhood and what that means to the individual writer.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!