Advice, Genre, & Original Stories: Part Four in Our October Author Interview Series

Welcome back for part four in our October author interview series! Today, I’m still talking one-on-one with my eight featured authors, as we cover some very cool topics, including short fiction, genres, and advice for new writers.

So let’s go!

Lori, as the title hints, your new book, Soul Bonded, deals with souls and deals with demons. The synopsis of the book is so wonderful, at once familiar yet filled with new possibilities. As a writer, how do you work with familiar concepts while making them entirely your own?

LORI TITUS: I think as writers we fight against the familiar. In some ways that can be a mistake. There are universal themes that just work, that we’re attracted to. I always look for how an idea can be made a bit different, from a new angle. Little bits of my experience or the lives of people I know work their way in too.

Sycorax's DaughtersTaking a detour into short fiction for a moment, I absolutely love your story, “Asunder,” that appeared last year in Sycorax’s Daughters. Can you tell us a little about that particular piece? Also, do you have any new short fiction coming out soon?

LORI TITUS: Thank you! I really enjoyed writing Asunder. I was working on a romance series for another author at the time and was itching to write something paranormal. Asunder is about a college student who recognizes the strength of her own abilities a little too late. The main character is so sure that she can use magic as a solution for what’s wrong between her and her boyfriend. It’s one of those cautionary tales; be careful what you wish for.

Speaking of short fiction, I have a couple new pieces coming out, one on September 4th. The story is a romance (nothing weird in this one) called Hierarchy. It’s part of Without Limits: A BWWM Collection of Passion and Desire.

I currently have a new novella called The Culling out; it’s another story in The Marradith Ryder Series.

A new story called Primal Thoughts which will appear in a collection called Alpha’s Call. That one will also go up for preorder in early September. It’s a paranormal romance between a woman and a shifter.

Lee, in the past, most of your work has stayed primarily within the horror genre. Zero Perspective, however, veers into science fiction and shades of the weird. Did that happen naturally as the story developed, or was blending genres something that you set out to do very deliberately?  

Lee FormanLEE FORMAN: Zero Perspective having elements of science fiction was intentional. I wanted to write something that explored sci-fi but retained that horror edge I love to write. The weird fiction aspect of the book came naturally as the story developed. That wasn’t expected. As it went on I kept thinking up stranger and more unusual circumstances for the characters to face. When I got to the end, the bizarre influence had already taken hold and forced its way heavily into the story.

Michael, the novelette, “The Only Way Out is Down,” is original to your collection. What made you want to include this piece as the only unpublished work in the book, and what was the inspiration behind this particular story? 

MICHAEL GRIFFIN: Originally I had something else in mind as the original for the collection, a story called “Armageddon House” about four people living in a deep, many-leveled bunker full of decades-old supplies and rooms for hundreds of people, with the four disagreeing about whether they’d always been there, or had just arrived recently, and what the reasons for it all were. The problem was that the story expanded to the point where it was pretty clearly going to be a novella, and much too long to put in the book. I had to set it aside.

Then I decided I really needed something new and short and simple, so I designed a very straightforward and streamlined idea, the kind of thing that couldn’t become complicated and complex-ified, and grow too long. I wrote it just after selling a house I’d been living in for about twelve years, and although the house was in good shape and sold pretty quickly, there are always a few anxiety-causing issues that come up in the process of getting a house ready to sell. It brought to mind a particularly modern, suburban kind of terror in which your life, which from the outside appears regular and organized and comfortable, might have various different levels of disintegration or rot going on, hidden from view. It’s a story about that kind of bourgeois paranoia, not only homeowner insecurity or fear of financial disaster, but more interestingly, the way our internal fears and subliminal insecurities can manifest in the physical world around us.

I suppose also some readers have suggested I rely too much on nature settings, or troubled creative types as characters, and I liked the idea of writing a story set in an entirely mundane suburban development, with the only characters a fairly generic married couple, and seeing if I could make the narrative feel rich and extraordinary rather than mundane or generic.

doungjai gamDoungjai, many of the stories in your collection could be described as prose poetry. What is it that inspires you to blend fiction and poetical language, and do you feel that horror and dark fantasy are particularly suited for prose poetry? Also, do you have a favorite poet? 

DOUNGJAI GAM: you know, it’s funny…I didn’t set out to write prose poetry, and yet here we are. when I was much younger I wrote a lot of poetry, stuff that will hopefully never see the light of day, haha. a lot of the pieces in the collection, especially the really short ones, got their inspiration from song lyrics. to me, well-written song lyrics can stand toe to toe with poetry written by a college professor—look at Bob Dylan’s work. I don’t get every piece of poetry I’ve ever read, and I don’t know that I have to; if a particular poem speaks to someone, like really reaches out and grabs their soul, it’s done its job. but if someone else doesn’t understand it but can appreciate it and maybe find a snippet of beauty in there, that’s fine too. I read all my WIPs out loud—I look for rhythms and cadence. I like a little bit of alliteration. it does feel like horror and dark fantasy would be natural bedmates for prose poetry…there’s a special kind of magic in the language that you might not necessarily see in other genres. my favorite poet is Linda Addison. her collection consumed, reduced to beautiful grey ashes really spoke to me. if you haven’t read Linda yet, you need to fix that!

Christa and Calvin: your books both serve as your debut collections, and they were each released through Unnerving. With editor Eddie Generous at the helm, Unnerving has become a fast-rising small press over the last year—and one of my own personal favorites. What made you choose Unnerving as your publisher, and what was the process like working with Eddie (knowing, of course, that he might very well read these answers!)? 

Calvin DemmerCALVIN DEMMER: I had a good experience working with Unnerving. My story “What is Love?” was published in their first anthology, Hardened Hearts, so I kind of knew what to expect when working with the editor. Every editor at a publication has a unique personality and different approach, or certain things they tend to focus on. I had read quite a few of Unnerving’s previous releases and could see the standards aimed for. I also felt like the publisher might be open to something a little different, which a flash fiction collection is, and I am glad I made the decision.

CHRISTA CARMEN: At the end of 2017, I placed my short story, “Red Room,” with Unnerving after stumbling across the magazine on Duotrope. The experience of being a part of that issue, which included stories by Stephen S. Power, John C. Foster, David Busboom, Gary Buller, Jake Marley, K.P. Kulski, Sara Codair, and Aaron J. Housholder, as well as your feature, Gwendolyn, “No Happily Ever After Here: Death and Dismay in Fairy Tales,” was a fantastic one, so when I saw the call for novel, novella, and collection submissions a few months later, I knew I wanted to put something together. Eddie Generous is such a beast of an avid reader, consuming mainstream and indie horror fiction with inhuman consistency. He listened to the Tales to Terrify podcast episode that featured the short story version of the “Liquid Handcuffs” novella in my collection, and according to the Jiffy-pop and Horror blogcast he recorded with you for episode #001, this was a driving factor in him wanting to publish Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked. This, of course, tickles me pink as the pig on the haunting, hypnotizing cover he designed. Eddie’s work ethic is contagious, and it is an honor to be among his 2018 catalogue of authors.

I also worked with frequent Unnerving editor Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, via Hook of a Book Media, and thanks to Erin, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked got into the hands of a great many reviewers I otherwise wouldn’t have reached. Erin also facilitated interview and guest post opportunities, and is generally awesome, supportive, and hardworking. She has become a dear friend of mine over the last six months, and I’d highly recommend Erin and Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK! to anyone looking to get the word out about a new release.

Anya, “Jehessimin” is a previously unpublished piece in your collection. Can you share a little about the process and inspiration behind it?

ANYA MARTIN: I originally planned to do an original story and a different original novella, because so many people recommended doing a novella for a collection. However when I thought more about what I wanted to write, it seemed like those really were “next generation” works and not thematically consistent. Then last fall I was in an accident that totaled my rental car. Miraculously I walked away with only a slight air bag burn on my left thumb. There were a lot of weird things about the accident, including the fact that I was sure I hit a welding truck that stopped suddenly but there was literally nothing in front of me—an open stretch of dark highway. I’ll spare the details but I didn’t find out for two months that I really did hit a truck that left the scene. I also lost a special jewelry bag—folks, always get everything out of a rental car after an accident because the tow company may not let you back into the car since it’s not yours! I didn’t put all of the actual weirdness into the intro of “Jehessimin,” but it provided the seed.

Meanwhile I wanted to do a story that confronted head-on that feeling of not belonging that many young women have—i.e. maybe you’re a changeling. With the exception of actual adoptees, these fantasies of other parents are of course utterly fictional, vis-à-vis the following story “Black Stone Roses and Granite Gazanias” where the female protagonist has a similar thought and the gargoyle bluntly just tells her “no.” In a sense that story and “Jehessimin” are two sides of an old, old idea I had in my early twenties. The “Tiger Girl” segment comes from an edited fragment I wrote back then. I don’t want to spoiler too much, but as I worked with it more, seemingly endlessly, “Jehessimin” took some unexpected turns. The original concept might have been a bit more romantic though still in a dark way, but by the time I finished it, I hope I pushed myself enough that it morphed into a story where the young woman makes “interesting” non-male-centric decisions. Some readers may label it as more dark fantasy than Weird, but I strived to layer in Weirdness and discomfort, as well as re-reading a lot of C.L. Moore and Angela Carter as its literary “mothers.” I’m interested in finding out what readers think as this is also one of my few stories where the end leaves it open for a sequel, or rather a three-novella cycle.

Gemma, your writing career is an incredible one. You’ve been widely published and award winning, your fiction has been produced for television, and your novel, Experimental Film, has just been included on NPR’s list of 100 Favorite Horror Stories. I, of course, want to ask what your secret is (while naturally hoping that it involves copious amounts of dark magic and blood sacrifice), but I’ll ask this instead: what advice do you have for those of us who are new or still relatively new to the industry? How do you recommend navigating the usual publishing industry pitfalls, and what has made this career one that you love and have wanted to stay with, even through the inevitable challenges?

GEMMA FILES: Okay, so: first off, to hear my career summed up that way still amazes me, because from my perspective, I’m still just hammering away at a computer in my underwear and scribbling down strange stuff that happens to come into my head when I’m listening to music or watching movies. I mean, the computer used to be an iMac and now it’s MacBook, and I used to listen to a SONY Walkman/Discman, then an iPod, while now it’s an iPhone…basically, though, same old same old. I’m being rewarded for having kept going, more than anything else. Maybe that’s Canadian of me to say, but I really do feel like it’s true.

So that would be my first piece of advice: keep going. Don’t stop for anything or anybody. Don’t believe people if they try to dissuade you from practicing “that little hobby of yours.” Write for yourself, and trust that there is someone else out there—possibly many other someone elses—who are waiting to read your stories, most probably because A) they want stories in which they recognize some element of themselves and B) they are looking for a voice which echoes the one they hear deep inside themselves. Find the way in which you differ, and write from that, trusting that other people differ in the same way. This is another thing I’ve learnt from my own “autism journey”; my son and I may be at supposedly opposite ends of the spectrum (hyper-verbal versus hypo-verbal, etc.), but we’re still more alike than we are different, and that spectrum itself is part of a far larger spectrum which embraces all human behaviour, both neurotypical and neuroatypical. Nothing human is completely alien to any human being, no matter how much we want to pretend otherwise.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice, which is to always (at least initially) treat other writers, editors and publishers as potential kin or comrades rather than as competition—treat them the way you’d like to be treated, in other words. Act professionally on the general assumption that they will as well, then wait to see if that turns out to be true before making further judgements. That said, if somebody shows you who they are, believe them.

My third piece of advice is to not worry about things being perfect, especially in the first draft, or you’ll strangle your own stuff unborn. Douglas Clegg calls his initial draft the “puke draft,” which fits, but while you can fix bad writing, you can’t fix no writing. That’s what I tell my students. Get one good paragraph and stick it in a frame, then watch it develop a skeleton, muscles, flesh. Then go over it as many times as you want, but at some point, you have to let it go—throw it out into the world to garner sales or feedback. Other people can tell you the things you’re too close to see, so don’t be shy and don’t take it personally: write, rewrite, resend, repeat. See what happens. Stamina counts for so much more than blazing talent in the long run, and I should know.

And that’s pretty much all the advice I have, I guess, except to say that all writing begins in pastiche, so don’t be embarrassed: embrace the things that make you you, just make sure you also have a wide spectrum of influences and use at least a bit of your own reality to ground it, turning the subjective into the universal. Then keep writing until you can recognize your own voice, and cut away everything that doesn’t sound like that.

And that’s our post for today! Head on back next week for our final installment in the interview series, as these eight fine authors discuss their current reading lists and what projects they’re working on next!

Happy reading!