Tag Archives: The Sirens Call

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!

Fantasy Maven: An Interview with Jill Marcotte

For this week’s author spotlight, it is my pleasure to introduce the fabulous Jill Marcotte. I recently discovered Jill’s work through the Women in Horror Issue of The Sirens Call. I was impressed with her command of language as well as her ability to establish a haunting mood in very few words. Naturally, I was eager to feature her on my blog. Earlier this month, Jill was kind enough to answer my questions about her fiction writing process. Her responses are as revealing as they are enthusiastic.

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

Jill MarcotteI was one of those creepy stair goblin kids who always wanted to be a writer.  Of course, I also wanted to be an astronaut, an exotic dancer, a firefighter, an assassin, an Animorph, and a nun, but the writing stuck.  Now I get to bypass all the training and working out and trespassing in construction sites looking for downed alien spacecraft, and just write about all those people instead.  It’s really the best of all possible worlds.

That said, I’ve still got a loooong way to go, and what is an aspirant without her idols?  I’ve always admired Terry Brooks for his prolificness, and Brandon Sanderson for his ability to blow my mind.  Shakespeare, for his sass and dirty jokes.  I love the crazy creepy worlds of Neil Gaiman and China Miéville.  And I will always hold a special place in my heart for the writers of the classics: Bram Stoker, Henry James, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and lots of others.  This is hard to narrow down!  There’s so much to love out there.

You write in a variety of genres, including horror, science fiction, fantasy, and even children’s books. Do you have a favorite genre, or do you enjoy the flexibility of writing so many different styles?

I love having a genre for every mood, and when I get my hot little hands on some delicious new concept, there’s no denying that siren song.  And I dearly love to twist and tweak tropes from one genre into another.  There are very few genres that I haven’t dabbled in at least once, although I definitely have a better feel for some than others.

Epic fantasy, however, is the ex-husband I keep remarrying.  I just can’t keep away from it for long.  I might get distracted by a shiny new idea, and I might work on other stuff for weeks, even months, but I always come back.  Love me some epic fantasy.

Since Alaska is your current home, does the often harsh climate there ever impact your story ideas, or have you become so accustomed to the weather that you don’t even think about it anymore?

Most definitely it impacts me.  In fact, I was just thinking this morning about how I usually write in season—that is, the things I write are very often set in the season I am currently living in.  For me, in real life and in my writing, nature is practically a living creature.  It moves and breathes and loves and kills.  It’s wild and shifting and everywhere.  I cannot fathom living in a place wherein it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter.  Where I live, that can be a temperature swing of a hundred degrees F or more.

I love Alaska.  It is indescribably glorious year round, from the stark, brutal beauty of an endless night to the bright, bursting exuberance of summer, where every growing thing is desperate to get twelve months of life and activity into three months beneath an unsetting sun.  The funny thing about Alaska is that it’s too extreme to ever get used to.  Summer Alaska and Winter Alaska are two different places, with spring and fall just a hiccup in between.

As a member of your local NaNoWriMo, what advice do you have for other writers interested in getting involved? Also, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the NaNoWriMo experience so far?

Sirens Call Issue 19My best advice for getting involved, in just about anything, is to dive in and do it!  The great thing about NaNo is that there’s something for everyone.  Are you a social butterfly delighted to meet other writers?  Go to write-ins, show up at planning meetings, check in with your accountability buddies.  You’d rather hide in your closet and spend that time writing?  That’s fine, too.  Just sign up, make your goal, and hit the road running.  And if you’re like me and fall somewhere in between, there’s plenty of online engagement available so you can egg on your writing buddies from the safety of your Batman print snuggie.

NaNoWriMo is, admittedly, kind of stupid.  I mean, who blocks off one month to write an entire novel?  FOR FUN?  Well, I do, and I love stupidity!  You know what else I love?  Accountability.  And creativity.  And neat little graphics that show my progress.  But I think the most important thing I’ve gleaned from NaNoWriMo so far is that drafting is just that- drafting.  It’s not a finished product and it doesn’t matter if it’s utter poop.  Keep.  Moving.  Before NaNo, I spent years editing the same one book.  Over and over and over.  NaNoWriMo jolted me out of the editing rut, and that has been of incredible value.  Now I know how to draft and how to edit, and how to hold the two apart.  And even more important, how to move on.

Out of the stories you’ve written, do you have a personal favorite piece?

I have an epic fantasy series that I am absurdly in love with.  I daydream about these places and make up grammar rules for their dead languages.  I make physical copies of the games they play and have been known to call my children by characters’ names.  If I were to suddenly be transported to this world, I would have about twenty minutes to be absolutely elated before something horrible killed me.

As far as published works go, I believe I am currently proudest of my most recent one, The League of Draven, about a girl who learns the hard way to believe in fairies.  Check it out in Issue 19 of The Sirens Call eZine.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

Last year, I drafted several new novels, so this year I’m focusing on cleaning them up.  I especially look forward to polishing The Sad, Sad Tale of Dead Timmy, a supernatural tragicomedy about a prince who dies, and then the real trouble begins.

Any links you’d like to share?
Don’t mind if I do!  I’m big into literary camaraderie and can attribute a lot of my successes to digital high fives (and butt kicks) from other writers.  If you’re just starting out, having writing buds can make a world of difference–as sounding boards, as beta readers, as cheerleaders/drill sergeants, etc.  Here are just a few of the fertile fields of friends:

NaNoWriMo–If you’re still on the fence, consider this a loving shove.
Camp NaNoWriMo— For those of you who can’t get enough of a good thing.

Twitter — This is hands down the best place I’ve found for surrounding myself with fantastic writers from all walks of life.

Local writing groups- I’m involved in a couple writing groups, as well as just people I like to informally write with.  (Okay, person. HI, MARY!)  Join a group in your neighborhood, or start your own!

And of course, everyone is always welcome to pop over to my blog to say hello and read the doofy things I say.  I’d love to meet you!

Major thanks to Jill Marcotte for this fun interview!

Happy reading!

A Master Class with Gerri Leen

This week’s interview is with an author whose work I’ve admired from afar for months. Gerri Leen is an accomplished genre writer who’s been widely published in anthologies, magazines, and literary journals. I first came across her work last summer, and her talent and prolific output astounded me. Gerri has a lot to teach all of us up-and-coming fiction writers. At the very least, the advice she offers throughout this interview helped me feel a little less alone when it comes to the sometimes lonely world of writing, editing, acceptances, and the dreaded rejections.

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

Gerri LeenI had opportunities to pursue writing when I was younger, and writing seemed to come easily (at least as far as school projects were concerned—I never tried to get published back then other than one poetry submission to Omni that I never heard back on), but it never seemed a viable way to make a living—and I was all about supporting myself back then.

So the ability was there but not much experience and definitely not a lot of drive. For years I wrote poetry to quench the thirst to write. But after my mother died in 1998, I quit writing poetry for a while, and I found that there were stories that needed to come out. I started writing fanfiction in 1999 to scratch that itch, and sent in my first professional submission to the Star Trek Strange New Worlds contest in 2004—and got in on my first try. And then didn’t make it into the next volume or make a sale for original fiction for quite a while after that, so I had to really examine why I was doing it. Once I decided I was writing for myself, I could keep going. And things have progressed since. I started writing poetry again, and now I have some poems published. When I was in my teens and twenties, I would say that I would write when I was old. Well, I’m sure the me of back then would think that I’m old now, so prophecy fulfilled.

Favorite authors really run the gamut. I tend to read mainstream fiction, young adult (both speculative and non) and speculative fic. I am sort of weird in that I don’t tend to like series—I much prefer a stand-alone book with an actual ending—so that sort of leaves out a lot of fantasy and YA.   In mainstream fiction, I adore Stewart O’Nan, Gillian Flynn (way before Gone Girl), Armistead Maupin, Doug Coupland, Max Barry, Ron Rash, the thrillers of Louisa May Alcott, and Matt Ruff (although some of his are borderline speculative). In speculative, I love Connie Willis, Joan Vinge, Jane Yolen, Daryl Gregory, Scott Westerfeld, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Richard Matheson, and Ray Bradbury.

You craft a variety of stories, including horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Do you prefer writing in one genre above and beyond the others, or do you love them all equally?

Sirens Call Issue 19I tend toward mythology-related things. That would probably be my favorite: any time I can rework a myth (or a fairy tale or a legend).   I often don’t get dark enough to nudge my stories out of dark fantasy and into horror, so it’s fun to see the ones I have managed to push over the cliff get accepted. Just when I think I’m not really a sci-fi writer, the muse will pull something new out of her bag of tricks and I realize that I still am. I’m sort of a commitment phobe, so I love being able to go back and forth among all these genres (and even mainstream) and try new things. I recently started writing romances under the pen name Kim Strattford. I also do fiction with romance under my own name, but the stories tend to be dark or bittersweet. For the real romance stories, it seemed wise to create a pseudonym that readers could count on for the happy endings they crave (and that the genre demands).

With hundreds of published stories over the last few years, you have an enviable output as a writer. How do you keep yourself focused and avoid burnout?

Thank you! I’ve been doing this for ten years now, so I guess I’m in it for the long haul. But if I feel burnt out or unfocused, I don’t write. Sometimes I just don’t feel like writing. Sometimes I’ve got things going on in life that sort of take over the brain so I don’t have the energy to write—and I often feel like the muse is diverted to handle the crisis, guess she’s an all-purpose inspirer. I have frequent severe migraines and sometimes they take me off the playing field (other times, writing through them is the only thing that makes them tolerable—although the stories don’t always make a whole lot of sense when I read them the next day). I’m pretty chill when it comes to any kind of schedule. If I’m meant to be writing, I’ll write. If not, I’ll do something else.Bottom line, this should be fun. If it’s not fun, take a break till it is. At least for me, when the story is there, it’s going to flow. But if it’s not there, no amount of me hitting keys is going to get it there. I’ve learned not to force it.

It’s also fun to have projects that are really close to your heart to keep your interest level up. I have a collection coming out from Inkstained Succubus Press that will feature genetically enhanced racehorses that manage their own careers. I have written in this world before and they offered me the chance to do a novel-sized collection of interconnected shorts, and since I’m an avid follower of horse racing, I jumped at the chance. I also am editing a collection of speculative companion/service animal stories for Hadley Rille Books that will benefit an animal rescue group I support in Northern Virginia. Health issues on several fronts have delayed this book, but we are ready to get going on it again. I think it’s a really fun group of stories and poems, and it was oh so enlightening getting to go through the slush pile. I have a much greater appreciation for why things get rejected and how it may not be any reflection on quality, just a case of a story not fitting the theme, or being too much like another story that fits better for whatever reason (although an astounding number of people don’t read the guidelines—I was a little shocked). I think having done a stint as editor on a slush pile, I am much more copacetic when I get rejected.

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

Anthology 1 Gerri LeenDialogue, for sure. There are times when I’m writing, if a scene is in my head and I just want to get it captured, I’ll just do the dialogue and work out the connective tissue later. I think I would be very happy as a screenwriter, because dialogue is the part that’s always come naturally to me (this kind of makes sense since a friend and I used to do plays of fairy tales in elementary school for the younger classes—sometimes making up the thing as we went along). I’ve had to work on the texture part, of setting the scene and bringing it alive as the character sees it. Writing poetry before I did much prose can at times be a problem. In poetry, every word counts, so I am often fighting my own tendency to be spare or choppy. But I’m learning.

For character development, I think a lot of that often comes through in the dialogue as much as the inner monologue and action moments, so I see that as part and parcel of the dialogue process. I always go back to shows like Joss Whedon’s. If you hear the dialogue, you can pretty much tell who would have said the line. So much of what made his characters who they were was how they said things. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but it’s what I’d strive for: to be able to achieve such distinct voices for characters. Probably easier to do, though, in a novel than in shorts, and so far I’ve mostly concentrated on shorts and novelettes.

All writers hear the word ‘no’ a lot during their careers. How do you cope with rejection and keep submitting?

Ares Magazine Gerri LeenRejections never stop sucking. That’s the reality. But I think the trick is to have a lot of stories circulating (and be working on other things) and don’t obsess over things that are rejected—and get them right back out to a new market. And take crit with a grain of salt. If you hear the same thing more than once from different editors, then yes, it may be something that needs fixing. But to edit every time before you send out again: that way lies madness.

That said, it’s not always easy to just brush off the constant rejections. When it gets really bad—one month this year I got six rejections in one day—I often take a break from original stuff and write fanfiction (which is where I really learned to write). I just disappear into worlds I adore, get some immediate love back for the stories, and feel…energized. Sometimes I focus on poetry for a while. Not that it doesn’t get rejected, too, but the process for writing it is a lot easier for me and seems to use a slightly different part of my brain. Or sometimes I just take a break completely from writing. Binge-watch a show (you can always take something away whether it’s how they worked in a plot twist or a clever way of introducing something), watch movies, play games on my iPad, or just read. I’m not a “write every day no matter what” type of writer. I write when the muse either gives me scenes ahead or I get the feeling a story is imminent. I was once told I lack discipline since I won’t do the “butt in chair everyday” method, but I think I’ve done all right doing it my way.

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

Oh, man, that’s a hard one. My favorite is probably “Disruption of Destiny,” which appeared in the launch issue of Ares Magazine. It was actually prompted by a movie called The Safety of Objects. But I have a story that’s looking for a home called “One Way” that will give “Disruption of Destiny” a run for its money as my favorite once it gets published. It is a sci-fi story written in a bit of a reverse timeline. And the muse gave me the story backwards so I discovered the character the same way the reader will, with each new bit revealing that you really don’t understand what’s going on at all.

Huge thanks to Gerri for taking the time to answer my questions. Check out both of her author websites here and here as well as her Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Happy reading!

Lovely Dirges: An Interview with Jess Landry

For this week’s author spotlight, I am thrilled to introduce Jess Landry. Jess is a genre writer who pens both fiction and nonfiction. I came across her story in the Women in Horror Issue of The Sirens Call, and after reading the beautifully terrifying, “A Change of Season,” I knew I had to feature her on my site. Turns out she’s a Shirley Jackson fan and a major cat lover who currently wrangles two felines of her own. Serendipity or what?

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

I wrote a lot as a kid and into my early teens, but then life happened and writing, unfortunately, took a backseat. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the time felt right to get back into the swing of things. Even when I wasn’t writing, I knew it was something I should be doing. I’ve always had that feeling; I’m sure a lot of writers can relate.

Clive Barker is my #1. I can’t get enough of everything he does, be it his writing or his paintings, I love it all! In the horror genre, I also really like Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Ray Russell and Algernon Blackwood. In other genres, I like Chuck Palahniuk, Gillian Flynn, Kazuo Ishiguro and Colin McAdam.

Jess LandryI love your short story, “A Change of Season,” in the latest issue of The Sirens Call. Is the topic of childhood fears one that often inspires you, or was it unique to this story? Any crazy childhood fears of your own?

Thank you! Kids are so imaginative and innocent, I love using those characteristics in stories. And the more I write, the more it seems to be about kids and how they view the world around them. A lot of what I have on the go right now is about children in uncanny situations.

I wouldn’t necessarily call them “fears,” but I do have a lot of quirks from my childhood that are still around today. I can’t let my arms or legs hang over the bed when I sleep. I don’t like to keep mirrors in the bedroom. I actually suffer from hypnagogic hallucinations, which makes me sound like all sorts of crazy…but I’m not. I swear. Basically, I see things as I’m falling asleep. When I was little, I remember seeing a giant spider in the corner of my room. These days, it’s mostly my cat hanging off the ceiling fan! I don’t mind seeing things, probably because I’m used to it (and sometimes the hallucinations inspire story ideas), so really the only person who suffers is my poor husband. Minimum two times a week he has to wake up and tell me that the cat isn’t on the fan.

You write a regular column at Dirge Magazine. How did you get involved with the site, and what has been the most rewarding part of the experience?

I forget the specifics of how I found Dirge, but it was a great match right from the start. Jinx Strange, Dirge editor extraordinaire, really helped me find my voice when I first came on and told me to just give’r. He was completely open to my column idea, Cinema Obscura, where I write about horror movies from around the world. The best part about it all is that I have a lot of creative freedom to babble on about horror movies. It’s amazing.

In addition to your writing talents, you’re also a graphic designer. Does the horror genre ever collide with your day job, or do you fight to keep them separate?

Unfortunately, the two never collide. My day job consists of doing design work for trade magazines for the heavy construction and human resources industries. I would love to do more horror design work, but I also want to focus more time on writing and getting more pieces out there. If only there were more than 24 hours in a day, then I’d be set!

Sirens Call Issue 19Your bio says you have two cats. I myself also have two cats, and together, we quietly plot world domination. In your professional opinion as a cat owner, in which apocalyptic scenario do you feel cats would fare better: an invasion of giant mice or an attack from a million red laser dots?

Giant mice, for sure. Cats don’t give two shits about the size of the beast. If they see something moving, and if it looks like something they can eat, they’d be all over that in no time. I can picture the crimson skies, the crumbling buildings, the stench of smoke and rot in the air, and 50 house cats pouncing onto a giant mouse. Laser dots? No way. The cats would be in a frenzy, then they’d pass out from exhaustion.

On a side note, my fat, lazy house cats would not survive either apocalyptic scenario.

What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on my column at Dirge Magazine, coordinating posts and writing book reviews for Hellnotes.com, wrapping up a few short stories and writing my first novel. Sleep? Who needs sleep?

A huge thanks to Jess for being part of this week’s author spotlight. Check out her column at Dirge Magazine and follow her on Twitter.

Happy reading!