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An Interview with Marlee Jane Ward

Marlee Jane Ward was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novella, Welcome to Orphancorp. I’ll start things off, as I tend to do, by shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader and weirdo living in Melbourne, Australia. She grew up in a small town on the Central Coast of New South Wales and studied Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong. In 2014 she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, Washington. She has short stories in Interfictions, Hear Me Roar and Mad Scentist Journal. Her debut novella, Welcome to Orphancorp, won Seizure’s Viva La Novella 2015 and was published in August. She likes dreaming of the future, cats, and making an utter spectacle of herself.

OrphancorpWelcome! First off, congratulations on the publication of the novella, and congratulations on winning the Viva La Novella Prize. Without giving too much away, can you give readers a little taste of what to expect with Welcome to Orphancorp?

Welcome to Orphancorp is a novella-length dystopian riff about the indomitable Mirii Mahoney’s last week in an industrial orphanage. If she can just keep outta trouble, she’s going to taste freedom for the first time, but she’s fighting against the system, against the other kids, and against herself. It’s a heartfelt, emotional, funny, and diverse story.

Novellas are a tricky length to write. Authors often shy away from it as there aren’t that many publishers willing to take them on, and some readers might avoid them as too long to read in a single sitting, but too short to sink their teeth into in the same way as a novel. What appeals to you about writing novella-length work? Did you always plan for this to be a novella, or did it simply grow beyond the confines of a short story?

It started as a short story at Clarion West, written during Kij Johnson’s week, pretty much entirely just to impress her because she’s so rad and amazing. During the workshop session, she mentioned that it could be extended to novella-length.

When I got back home I found Seizure’s Viva La Novella competition and wrote the extended version in six weeks (and edited it in two) to meet the deadline. It was the longest thing I’d ever written at that point, but because I had the base short story, it was actually kind of easy. If it didn’t win the competition, I had no idea what I was going to do with it, maybe self-publish? But it did, so I was lucky I didn’t have to think about it.

Novella-length appeals to me for a bunch of reasons. One is that I’ve always focused on short stories, which involves paring a story back to its bare bones. Going the other way is a huge stretch for me, but something I need to do. A novella allowed me to work up to getting longer. I also really like that a person can read a novella in one long, or a few short sittings. It’s an immersive way to read.

The Orphancorp world seems like one that’s ripe for additional stories. Do you plan to revisit the world?

I’m writing the sequel now. I’m not finding it as easy. Because WTO is a story about leaving Orphancorp, I’m able to now jump out into the wider world. But the confines of the corp made it easy to tell the story. Outside of it, anything can happen, so I’m struggling a little, just like Mirii would be with taking the next steps of her life and into adulthood. That is a really fraught time for a lot of people – well, it was for me, and it’s been a scramble to get my thoughts sorted, and try to work out all the things I want to say. Right now it’s half-done and already as long as the original. I have a third book planned too, but that’s still hazy in my brain. I think it will solidify more when the second book is finished.

The first story of yours I encountered was, The Walking Thing, published at Interfictions. As I read it, it struck me as a perfect anti-zombie zombie story, inverting and subverting the idea of the walking dead. Was that at all in your mind as you wrote the story? What inspired the story in general?

I love Zombie movies, as well as movies and books about plagues. I read Stephen King’s The Stand at a very early age and the first part of that book really stuck with me. I’d always wanted to write a plague story and I didn’t think much about inverting the whole epidemic/zombie genre until I’d already written the first draft, which is what happens a lot when I write – yay for my subconscious! I love walking – bushwalks and trails, that sort of thing, and when I’m on a long walk I get this weird sense that I’m doing something my body is designed to do, something very primal, so I wondered what it might be like to have that compulsion turn on you.

I also wanted to capture the feel of small towns, one of which I grew up in. Small-town Australia is a very interesting and rough and amazing and scary place that really challenged me as a child and teenager. I wasn’t sure if it would translate well to a US market, but maybe small towns have a kinship, no matter where they are.

Lastly, I really wanted to explore a lot of the issues I had with relationships at that age, both familial and others. I tried really hard to convey that need to learn to stop caring about the people who don’t care about you, and recognizing the relationships that actually matter, which is something that gets very muddied when you are coming of age. So I just mashed all that together and The Walking Thing happened.

You attended the Clarion Writers Workshop last year. Could you talk a bit about that experience? What would you say to someone who might be considering attending? What was the most unexpected thing about Clarion?

Clarion West was one of the best times of my life. It’s so hard to accurately describe just how wonderful that experience was, and what it did for my writing and my life. It was intense, and I was very afraid that I might crumble. I had this intense fear as it was getting closer that they might find out what a nutcase I was and not let me come! At the time I was in a difficult place, mentally. But it was such a balm, the people were so wonderful and I loved them and they loved me. It made believe in my ability as a writer and my value as a person. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

I would recommend that anyone who is thinking about attending should try, and if they get in, make the most of it. Work as hard as you can and don’t waste the precious time you have there, because you’ll never be as productive again. But also, stay up every night playing games, go to all the parties, eat everything, make out with as many people as you can. Maybe don’t drink as much as I did though – unless you are Australian and can handle it.

As for the most unexpected part? It was all a surprise to me. But I think I was most surprised at how quickly so many people from so many different backgrounds bonded and how much I just adored everyone.

Outside of a workshop where you’re intensively writing on a tight deadline, do you have a preferred working method? Do you outline? Wing it? Is there a particular place you like to get your writing done?

I am the worst writer – I plan nothing, have no idea how I get my ideas, and don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, but somehow I make it work. I think that my subconscious does a great deal of puzzling stuff out while I’m thinking of other things, so I’m often pleasantly surprised and I’m learning to trust that more as time goes on. I think people just need to accept that they write the way they write and not compare themselves to others, even though that’s really hard. I berate myself constantly for not being more efficient or having more forethought, but I get stuff done, so maybe I should go easier on myself.

I do like writing in café’s most of all. I adore café culture and I’m always spending far too much money on coffee and food, but it’s the best place for me to get things done. The best cafes must have good wifi and powerpoints by the tables, and it helps that at my favourites the staff all know me and have my order ready to go when I show up.

I like to ask this question of my fellow Canadians, but I see no reason why I shouldn’t ask you as well… As an Australian, do you think there are certain characteristics – setting, theme, tone – to Australian speculative fiction that set it apart from other speculative fiction? (Or Australian writing in general, it doesn’t have to be speculative fiction.)

I don’t know if I’d say that Aussie spec fic has a distinct tone or theme, but there’s often a really distinct sense of place to it, which I would love to be able to capture in more of my work. The land and environment is pervasive in Australian fiction because it’s a really essential part of living here. When you write about Australia, the landscape is as much a part of the story as any character. There’s a kinship with the land that a lot of Aussie writers capture, and an ominousness too. I’ve lived through floods and bushfires and dust storms and that’s just from someone with a pretty tame experience of this country.

I’m really keen to read more Oz spec stuff. I’m about to jump into Justin Wooley’s A Town Called Dust, which has a very cool concept. Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at The Office of Unmade Lists is an excellent novel about post-climate-change Melbourne. I love seeing places I know rendered in fiction. It just gives me an extra connection to it.

The Australian writing scene is very lit focused. So much so that when I began my creative writing degree we were told that genre fiction would not be accepted. It feels like there’s this great divide between the lit and the genre camps. I’ve always loved genre because I love action and because the real world is always all around us all the time, so I like to escape.

While I was growing up in the 90’s there was a lot of great Aussie YA spec fic coming out, from writers like Gillian Rubenstein, Isobelle Carmody, Victor Kelleher, Paul Jennings and John Marsden that I adored, and I’ve kept those books close to my heart. I scour second-hand bookstores for my old YA favourites and am getting a good collection of them again.

What else are you working on, or do you have coming up you’d like people to know about?

I’m still plugging away at the sequel to Welcome To Orphancorp and I hope to be done before the end of the year. In between I work on whatever short story comes to mind, which is like a quick and illicit encounter away from my main squeeze, you know? I’ve got a bunch of shorts second-rounded and accepted so I’m excited to find out if any of them might be available soon.

Thanks for stopping by!

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An Interview with Carlie St. George

Carlie St. George was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about writing, odd jobs, and her upcoming novelette series, soon to be published by The Book Smugglers. I’ll start things off, as usual, with an introduction that involves me shamelessly stealing an author bio…

Carlie St. George is a Clarion West graduate whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Shock Totem, and Shimmer. Her overly long and snarky movie reviews can be found at mygeekblasphemy.com.

Welcome, Carlie! First off, let’s talk a bit about the novelette series forthcoming from The Book Smugglers. If I understand correctly, they’re a mash-up of noir and fairy tales? How did these stories come about, and how did they ultimately find a home with The Book Smugglers? Are they an inter-connected series, or do they stand alone but share a sensibility and a world?

I had the idea for the first story, “The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper,” several months before I actually wrote it. I have a special fondness for Cinderella (apparently, Toddler Carlie learned how to use the VCR so she could watch it over and over again), and I loved the idea of retelling the fairy tale as a detective story from the Prince’s perspective. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to get past the first page, so when I went to Clarion West, I decided to use their one week deadline to force myself to write the story, or else suffer public humiliation and shame.

I submitted “The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper” to The Book Smugglers last year for their “Subversive Fairy Tales” call. Ana and Thea decided not to publish it then, but asked if I’d be interested in writing two sequels and publishing them all as a trilogy. Not being a crazy person, I said yes.

The stories are very much interconnected. Each mystery is a standalone, and I tried to make it so you could read the stories out of order without ever being confused . . . but I do think they’re probably best enjoyed in the order they’re being released. For clues, and whatnot. There are definitely things set up in the first story that don’t pay off until the second or third.

It sounds like a fabulous series. I can’t wait to read it! I’m also looking forward to seeing the art, given that The Book Smugglers is notorious for pairing their fiction with absolutely gorgeous pieces. Have you gotten a sneak peek at the work that will go with your stories yet? Did you get the chance to have any input on the piece, or is it all a lovely surprise when the art and the story go live?

I’ve seen the artwork for the first story, and it’s AWESOME. I’m so excited and so grateful to the artist—I’d like to credit them, except I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do that before the cover reveal. I was given the chance to have input, but there just really wasn’t any need.

After these three stories, do you foresee any additional stories using this setting? The idea of combining noir and fairy tales is a delicious one; I’d think it would be hard to stop writing in that world once you’d started.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen. I do think I’ll need a bit of a break – I had to set aside a few stories when the chance to do this series came up, and I’d like to get back to them – but I definitely have ideas for what else I’d like to do in this world. Like, a LOT of ideas. (Heh, now I feel like a losing contestant on Project Runway. “It’s not over. You haven’t seen the last of me!”)

Excellent! Now, let’s switch gears for a bit. There’s a question I promised I’d ask you, which I’m rather fond of including in the Unlikely Story author interviews. Since your Unlikely Story interview was entirely focused on clowns to go along with the Unlikely Coulrophobia mini-issue, and you missed out on the questions, I’ll make up for it now… Authors are notorious for working strange jobs, for example J.D. Salinger’s stint as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

The weirdest job I’ve ever had is actually my current one: I’m a unit assistant at a hospital, primarily working in ICU, Labor & Delivery, and Post-Partum/Pediatrics. It’s basically a desk job (answering phones, making up charts, transferring people in the computer), except that I work the graveyard shift, so there’s a lot less staff. I end up working several units at a time instead of just one, which means my function is primarily to be an errand girl . . . but errands in a hospital range from running a specimen down to the lab, to picking up yogurt for a patient, to picking up blood for a patient, to helping a nurse take a body down to the morgue.

My job directly influenced the first writing-related-thing I ever sold, a 100-word story called “Expiration Date,” which was made into a Weird Tales video. Otherwise, I don’t think my day job (of sorts) has made it into my writing too much yet, but I expect it will. It’s taught me a few things NOT to do. (Like have a character use a defibrillator on a patient without a heartbeat, or have a character have a couple of contractions and go running for the hospital, screaming, “Baby imminent! Baby imminent!”)

I’ve also always wanted to write a zombie outbreak story set at a hospital featuring employees that specifically aren’t doctors or nurses. Hollywood has a tendency to forget that jobs like unit assistants, nutrition aides, respiratory therapists, phlebotomists, x-ray techs, OB techs, admitting representatives, and PCTs (or CNAs) all exist.

Back to writing of another sort…You’ve been known to write the occasional movie and television reviews on your website. Many of said reviews are self-described as snarky. Personally, I love a good hate-watch. Are you ever disappointed when you end up liking a movie or episode more than you thought you would and there’s nothing to snark about? What is your favorite so-bad-it’s-good movie of all time? Is there a snarky review that stands out in your mind as the most fun to write?

Honestly, no, I’m not usually disappointed by that, partially because I find it kind of delightful to come across a good movie when I was expecting a bad one, and partially because I’m pretty adept at finding something to laugh at, no matter what the caliber of the movie. I love to poke fun, but I’m also ridiculously analytical, and my reviews are really more like long and seriously informal essays. A review that’s 3000 words of crushing, mean-spirited negativity just doesn’t interest me to write. I like trying to examine the bad and the good sides of everything.

That being said, I didn’t exactly have many (or any) positive things to say about Daredevil, Red Riding Hood, or Color of Night. I had a pretty fun time writing those reviews, and I’ll admit, they’re not always kind.

As far as a favorite so-bad-it’s-good movie of all time . . . man. The one that usually springs to mind first is this little known thriller called Mindhunters. It’s got Christian Slater, LL Cool J, Jonny Lee Miller, and Val Kilmer, and it’s one of the more ludicrously awful movies I’ve ever seen. I kind of adore it.

Fedoras: great hats, or the greatest hats? Discuss.

Oh, so hard. I do really like me a fedora (I’ve probably got about five of them), but I don’t know if I could call them the greatest hat. After all, I also like an occasional bowler or newsboy cap. Also, some of my favorites hats are also my most random hats, like my Maleficent hat. Or my Kermit hat. Or my weird yeti hat.

A hat for every occasion! To wrap things up, let’s turn back to fiction writing. What else are you working on, or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

On deck: “The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell” coming up in Mothership Zeta, possibly in January of 2016. And then I’m working on those two stories I mentioned before, the ones I had to temporarily set aside for the Spindle City series. One of the stories is a fantasy-western novelette centering around food magic; the other is a feminist meta-slasher story.

I look forward to reading all of them! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me!

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An Interview with Fran Wilde

Author PhotoFran Wilde was kind enough to stop by today to talk about her debut novel, Updraft. If her answers to my questions leave you hungering for more, well you’re in luck! It just so happens Fran is doing a Reddit AMA today, and you can ask her questions of your very own. Also, if you happen to be local to the Philadelphia area, Fran will be taking part in The Future of Philly Sci Fi and Fantasy at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Wednesday, September 9, along with Michael Swanwick, Jon McGoran, Gregory Frost, Siobhan Carroll, and Stephanie Feldman. Six wonderful authors talking about the local Philadelphia speculative fiction scene – this is event not to miss! But for now, back to the interview. To start things off, I will introduce Fran by shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Fran Wilde is an author and technology consultant. Her first novel, UPDRAFT, debuts from Tor on September 1, 2015. Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Tor.com, while her nonfiction interviews with writers appear under the banner “Cooking the Books” at Tor.com, Strange Horizons, the SFWA blog, and at franwilde.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

ACW: Welcome, Fran! First off, congratulations on the publication of Updraft! I feel incredibly lucky to have read an early copy of this novel. It’s been tough waiting for the book to be out in so I could squee about it without spoiling it for anyone, so I can only imagine how you’ve felt! To start things off, care to give us a taste of what Updraft is about?

FW: I feel incredibly lucky to have you as a beta reader.

Updraft is about a city built on towers of living bone; it’s about secrets and laws, monsters, songs, wind and silence. It’s the story of Kirit and her friend Nat, and how breaking a law leads to consequences unimaginable and deadly.

ACW: I love everything about the world you’ve built for this book, and the characters are amazing. You’re currently working on the third book in the series. Were there any challenges you faced writing the second and third books as opposed to the first? Was it easy to slip back into the characters’ voices, or did you have reintroduce yourself to everyone before they would start telling you their stories again? If you can say without giving too much away… Did anything about the characters or the direction the story took surprise you while writing the second or third book, or did you have everything more or less mapped out in your head from the beginning?

Updraft was written, initially, in six weeks. Then I revised the second two thirds completely, over another few months. At times, it felt like the story was spilling out of me. Cloudbound is similar in some ways, but there were new directions I wanted to go, and new themes I wanted to explore (and upend). The hardest part is getting all the details right – the tower names, secondary characters’ eye color. Thank goodness for notes, and copy editors.

And yes! A lot surprised me about the second book! I didn’t want to write in the comfort zone of the first book, so I’m glad for that. I loved writing it for that reason.

UpdraftACW: Because I’m a bit of a process nerd, I’d like to talk a bit about Updraft’s origin story. The first novel started life as a short story, correct? When did you realize it was actually a novel, and how did you go about expanding it? Are there bits of the story that remain intact more or less the way you originally wrote them, or did everything change as the world expanded?

Correct. The first book began as a short story – the second short story I’d written in this world. The first short story is actually part of the second book (take that, process). I realized with the help of beta readers that there was much more to it. Lots of things changed. The singing and wind, the wings and the towers? Those stayed the same. So did the characters in the stories.

ACW: On another process-related note, you did some rather unique research while writing the first book – indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel. Could you tell us a bit about that and how it impacted the flying scenes in your books? What other types of research have you done for the series, and what’s your favorite bit of odd, or new knowledge you gained?

I wrote a whole post about the wind tunnel for iO9! It was a great thing to do – I learned so much about how a body moves in that space, and how small changes impact things like roll and lift.
As far as other research, I did a lot of background reading on monsters. I grilled my resident scientist for details about chemistry. I looked at a lot of high-altitude foods. And sinew – how it was used for sewing and light construction. And cephalopods. Lots of research about them.

ACW: Let’s talk about Cooking the Books for a moment. You started the series in 2011, and you have interviewed some amazing authors about the intersection between food and fiction. The series has since morphed into a podcast, and gained a sibling series, Book Bites. Do you have a favorite recipe from the series? What’s your personal go-to comfort food when you’re writing? Does cooking help you work out plot problems, or are there other things you turn to when you need to distract your brain so it can do its work?

When I’m writing, anything crunchy is my go-to. That’s dangerous because potato chips are crunchy, and so is popcorn. But snow peas and carrots are where I’m at these days. Sigh: less fun, but better for me.

Cooking is hard for me when I’m on a deadline. I get very distracted. And I’m a *terrible* baker except for cookies. Too much measuring. I like to see what I have in the fridge and improvise.
But when I have time, cooking with family and friends is one of my favorite things to do.
Favorite recipes from the blog? There are too many. I’d rather hear what other folks’ favorite recipes are from the blog. What are yours?

ACW: One of my personal favorites is blowtorch-cooked marmot, courtesy of Elizabeth Bear. It’s not something I would cook personally, but it’s…certainly memorable as far as recipes go. But back to fiction writing – how different is your writing process for your short fiction and poetry versus your novel process? Are you able to work on short fiction while you’re deep in a novel, or do you have to completely separate the two? Songs play a key role in Updraft, so I also want to ask – what is your songwriting process like? What made you want to include actual lyrics, versus simply alluding to the fact that characters are singing?

Often I’ll work on short stories in between novels. The process is the same – sketch and brainstorm, figure out themes, write a whole bunch of words, throw it all out. Start again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I’m chased by the feeling that I want to push harder, do more with each story. Novels too, but stories run faster. [That is SUCH a good pun. Will anyone get that I wonder.]

ACW: Other than the third novel, what else are you working on currently, or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

I’ve got a couple more novels in the works – one is in editing, several are nascent. There’s a gem universe novella coming from Tor.com next spring — “The Jewel and Her Lapidary,” as well as more gem universe stories, and several bone universe stories. And I have a project I can’t talk about yet, but I should be able to do so soon.

ACW: Ooh! I can’t wait to hear more… Thanks for stopping by!


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An Interview with Margrét Helgadóttir

Margrét Helgadóttir was kind enough to drop by my blog today to discuss her debut novel, The Stars Seem So Far Away. Let me start, as always, by shamelessly cribbing from her author bio…

Margrét Helgadóttir is Icelandic-Norwegian, born and raised in East- and West-Africa and Norway. She lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Margrét started submitting stories for publication autumn 2012 and has had success so far. She writes at http://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com and tweets as @MaHelgad.

Stars Cover

ACW: First off, congratulations on the publication of your debut novel! Could you give us a taste of what it’s about?

Thank you so much! The Stars Seem So Far Away is actually not the classic novel, but it’s not a collection of stories either. I’d say it’s more a hybrid, a fusion of linked stories that through the book tells a larger story. It’s set in a distant future, where plagues, famine and wars rage across the dying Earth, and the last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. The story is told through the tales of five survivors: One girl who sails the Northern Sea, robbing other ships to survive; one girl who hunts humans and lives with bears; one guerrilla soldier; and finally, two siblings who become separated when the plague hits Svalbard. It’s a pessimistic world, filled with death, misery, tears and despair, but I wanted to tell a story where there’s also hope, love, laughter and friendship. Hopefully I have managed this.

ACW: You were born in Ethiopia to Norwegian and Icelandic parents, and you’ve written a lot about growing up crosscultural. Are there any particular experiences from the many you’ve written about on your blog that you’d like to highlight? Or, are there any experiences from your upbringing that you feel particularly influence your writing?

Yes, I have reflected a little bit about my background and both the scars and blessings it has given me to be a child who moved lots between cultures whilst trying to develop my own identity. People who are born and have lived abroad in their development years, or are forced to move lots as a child, and/or have parents from different countries/cultures, might feel that they lack roots, that they always are outsiders and don’t really belong. I suspect my background has influenced my fiction writing to some degree. Many of my characters struggle with grief and a feeling of being lost, like in The Stars Seem So Far Away.

ACW: On a (possibly) related note – what drew you to writing/publishing in English, which is your second language? As someone who had a somewhat bi-lingual education, (but who, in the interest of full disclosure, should clarify that they are currently only minimally bi-lingual in any functional sense), I’m fascinated by translation and the way ideas move between languages. For you, as a bi-lingual (multi-lingual?) person, what it your writing process like? Are there certain concepts you feel are better suited to one language or another? Do you ever mentally translate between languages as you’re writing or brainstorming?

As a child and a teenager, I wrote many poems and stories, but as a grown up I stopped writing. I´ve wanted to start again for many years, because I felt there was something important missing in my life. And I do wonder if choice of language was the key all the time, because it was only when I started to write in English, my writing voice started to flow again and I found time to write on a daily basis. I don’t think in Norwegian, then translate it—I think in English when I write – it’s my writer voice. I might sketch up the plot in Norwegian, but it is a very rare thing. To be honest, it’s not like it’s a bed of roses. My English may be good, but my Norwegian is light years better. I struggle with all the things a person combats when dealing with foreign languages: the search for words, synonyms, grammar.

But I know my writing would be totally different in Norwegian or any of the other languages I know. When I write in Norwegian, I can be much more dramatic in my choice of words and how I express feelings, almost as if the harsh Nordic landscape and climate lurk between the lines. English flows differently. Its lexicon is so vast compared to Norwegian. I feel my writing becomes a smooth river, rather than a bumpy road. But I wonder if something gets lost in that river. Maybe I write in English because I can be distant. I still prefer to write poems in Norwegian.

ACW: Moving on to a different kind of translation skills, in addition to your book, you’re also a short story writer. How does your approach vary when working on a short piece versus a longer work? Are you the kind of person who can work on both simultaneously, or do you need to completely reset your brain to work on one form instead of the other?

Actually I have yet to combat the really long story. I have only written for two years and short stories have been my door into writing. It has been both a useful way to learn to write a story with a full plot and it’s been easier to find time and the writerly attention needed next to a busy day job. The Stars Seem So Far Away was my test – could I hold the concentration on a large project for several months? I have now started to write on two larger works, but I struggle with the time available to writing and that I am a slow writer, so I often find myself taking breaks to write smaller works. I guess I am the kind who can’t do both and that I will need to reset my brain if I ever is going to finish my larger plot ideas.

ACW: You’re also an editor for Fox Spirit Books. What types of stories appeal to you as an editor; what tips you over the edge from something you enjoyed to something you want to acquire for one of your anthologies?

I am not an experienced fiction editor yet, so I can’t fully answer your question. But so far, in my view, the stories that stand out usually have a strong writing voice and a natural narrative flow. They don’t have to be long. I’ve read flash stories that impressed me more than novellas. Language is to me part of the reader experience, and I will enjoy a story even more if the language is polished. Other than this, it’s difficult to say what makes me read a story twice. It can be a feeling in the story, a convincing character development, or an original setting. Since I edit anthologies it is also important not only to find good stories, but also stories that fit together and create a mood or a certain atmosphere in the book.

ACW: On a related note, how does your editorial brain play with your writing brain? Does one get in the way of the other, or do they lend each other strength?

The more stories I read as an editor, but also reading fiction in general, the more conscious I become of my own writing. I think I also can become inspired to try out new techniques, genres or point of views. I guess it was my editor mind that dominated when I plotted the project frames for The Stars Seem So Far Away and decided how I wanted the book to flow and the ingredients I wanted to include and when I should finish the project. But then again, I’m not sure I can put these two brains in two boxes.

ACW: Now that you’ve thoroughly conquered the worlds of short fiction, long fiction, and the editorial realm, what’s next for you? What else are you working on or do you have coming up that you’d like people to know about?

Oh, I don’t feel I have conquered these worlds at all. I feel I have much to learn about short story writing, and I have yet the really long fiction to combat. I also have much to learn about English and I still struggle with it. I’m also a slow writer and it can be a little bit frustrating, because I am bubbling over with story ideas. At the moment I am editing two anthologies, and this will require much of my time. I am also working on two larger projects and I must soon decide which I will concentrate on finishing first.

ACW: Thank you for stopping by!

Thank you so much for having me!

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An Interview with Alex Shvarstman

Alex Shvartsman was kind enough to drop by today to talk about his debut collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories. First off, introductions, which I will accomplish by shamelessly stealing from Alex’s author bio…

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer. His adventures so far have included traveling to over 30 countries, playing a card game for a living, and building a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son. Since 2010, Alex  sold over 70 short stories to a variety of magazines and anthologies. His fiction has appeared in such venues as Nature, Daily Science Fiction, InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and many others. Find him online at www.alexshvartsman.com

ACW: Congratulations on the publication of Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma! Can you give readers a sense of the kind of stories they’ll find in this fine collection?

explaining cthulu cover

AS: I started writing in 2010 and hadn’t gone in for doing what the popular kids do and writing a novel. Instead, I hunkered down and wrote lots and lots of short stories. Gathered within this book is my best work, but it is not unified by genre or style.

In this collection you will find Vatican investigators charged with verifying miracles in outer space, fraudster magician taking on Donald Trump, a cybernetic assassin who can’t feel pain, and a kabbalist who teams up with a hacker to break into the metaphysical Book of Fate.

There are humorous stories and really dark ones, urban fantasy and space opera, serious examination of issues like free will, immigration, and ones’ humanity alongside terrible cat puns.

Most of these stories have previously appeared in professional publications (though there is a pair of brand-new tales), a number of them made Tangent Online Recommended Reading lists, and the title story won the WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction last year. It is my hope that every reader will find something to like in this book.

ACW: I frequently find titles to be the hardest part of a story. However, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma strikes me as the kind of title just begging for a story. Which came first, the title or the tale?

AS: In this case, the title definitely came first. Fellow writer and friend Sylvia Spruck Wrigley tweeted that she was having a difficult time explaining Cthulhu to grandma, and I immediately responded that it would make for a great story title. She graciously allowed me to use it, and the story unfolded from there.

 ACW: What do you find appealing about playing with Lovecraftian themes? On a related note, what do you find appealing about combining horror and humor?

AS: I’m actually not a fan of Lovecraftian fiction. Sorry! In fact, the title story was, in many ways, my examination of what the heck all these other folks find appealing about the sub-genre. I put poor Cthulhu through many indignities. He’s stuck in a pocket dimension shaped like a snow globe, and at one point grandma wants to sell him off by the pound to the sushi chains.

And while I’m being cantankerous here, let me also say that I don’t believe humor and horror can be combined well in fiction. The idea of a horror story is to evoke dread, and the idea of a humor story is to elicit the exact opposite response. So I cringe inwardly when people refer to ‘humorous horror’ as a thing. Which is not to say that you can’t tell a funny story featuring vampires and zombies and other horror tropes — or tell a wonderful tale utilizing dark humor. In fact, dark humor is the focus of my next anthology. However, I wouldn’t consider too many of my own stories to fall within this category.

 ACW: In addition to your writing, you’re also an accomplished editor, with titles including the Unidentified Funny Objects series, and Coffee. Do your writer brain and your editor brain play well with each other? Are there ways in which knowing both sides of the process help you, or hinder you when you’re wearing either the writer or editor hat?

AS: The editor and writer brains play wonderfully together: which is to say, editing is a great excuse not to write. Whenever there’s a writing deadline I’m inclined to edit and read slush and do a million other things involved with putting an anthology together, and when the anthology deadline looms I find myself wanting to pour a story out onto the page. My (overall) brain is a total bastard that way.

Seriously though, reading submissions and working with authors to improve their stories and shepherd them toward publication definitely improves my own writing. I find flaws in others’ work that I later recognize and strive to avoid in my own. It also takes a bit of the sting out of rejections: having been on the other side of that experience really makes one appreciate the process, and drives the point home that editors are rooting for you and are super-excited to find the next great story. And sometimes, they have to reject submissions because of fit and word count and a dozen other factors that aren’t indicative of the quality of the story itself.

 ACW: As if writing and editing weren’t enough, you also translate fiction. How do you approach the translation process? Do authors come to you with translation requests, or do you seek out stories you love that you want English language audiences to read and suggest translations? How closely do you work with authors during the translation process? Are there certain things you feel just don’t translate from one language to another?

AS: I was born in the former USSR and Russian is my native language. As such, I frequently read fiction in Russian and love being able to share stories that I really enjoy with the English-speaking world. So far, I’ve been the one to approach authors about translating their stories (I haven’t been turned down yet!). Typically I read the Russian equivalent of the “Best Of” anthologies and contact authors whose work has impressed me.

I generally complete a translation and then sent it to the author for approval, rather than involving them more deeply in the process, but this is because English and other foreign languages aren’t taught as well in Russian schools as math and sciences, and most of the authors I’ve worked with to date, while able to communicate in English, would have a difficult time with some of the nuances of translation.

The trick to translation is to try and maintain the voice and tone of the author instead of recasting the story into something Alex Shvartsman would write. It’s a fun process and while I only do translations occasionally, it’s something I would love to find more time for in my schedule.

 ACW: Switching topics a bit, I’m intrigued by the line in your bio about playing a card game for a living. Care to elaborate?

AS: I made a living as a professional Magic: The Gathering player in the late 1990s. I traveled to every continent and over 30 countries to complete in tournaments, and won over $100,000 over the course of my career. I also set the record for most Grand Prix top 8 finishes (21!) It took another player nearly a decade after I retired from professional play to overcome that record and, as far as I know, I still remain second on that list.

ACW: Going back to books, you’ve run successful Kickstarters for several of your projects now. What’s your secret?

AS: As part of my day job, I consult on Kickstarter campaigns for gaming companies, so I had a lot of knowledge about the platform and marketing going in, but I had to adjust and re-learn many things because book kickstarters are actually quite different from game ones.

The best piece of advice I can offer someone considering a crowd funding campaign is: make sure there is something unique about your project and give potential backers an excellent reason to be passionate about it. It could be a worthy cause (think Women Destroy Science Fiction) or just a cool item that backers would really want to own and that no one else has thought to create yet (like my Coffee anthology.) It’s much more difficult to fund a project that doesn’t stand out (yawn: another space opera anthology, or another zombie tome), even if the book is perfectly good otherwise. Want more advice? You can always hire me to consult on your next project!

ACW: Now that you’re well on your way to conquering the world of short fiction as author, editor, and translator, what’s next for you? Any plans for longer form fiction? What other projects do you have in the works?

AS: I’ve been working (very, very slowly!) on my first novel. It’s called Eridani’s Crown and my 10-second elevator pitch for it is: the setting of Game of Thrones meets the character arc of Breaking Bad. At my current pace, you can look forward to reading it by 2020. With any luck, I will find a way to write faster. Or slower, if interesting short story ideas, anthology projects, or translations get in the way!

ACW: Thanks for dropping by!

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An Interview with Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein

KaleidoscopeJulia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein are the editors of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, which was released from Twelfth Planet Press in early August 2014. They were kind enough to drop by to talk about the anthology, but before they do, allow me to introduce them by stealing from their bios.

Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. She is one of the three fiction editors for Strange Horizons, and host of the Outer Alliance Podcast (celebrating QUILTBAG speculative fiction). To find out more about her work, including her fiction, non-fiction, podcasts, narration and anything else she might be working on, visit her website www.juliarios.com. You can also find her on Twitter as @omgjulia.

Alisa Krasnostein is World Fantasy Award winning editor and publisher at Twelfth Planet Press and part of the Galactic Suburbia Podcast Team. She was Executive Editor of the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus!. Currently working on a PhD in Publishing, in her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, runner, environmentalist, knitter, quilter, and puppy lover. For more information, visit her website www.twelfthplanetpress.com. Or find her on Twitter as @krasnostein.

Thank you, Alisa and Julia for being here! First, could you start off by talking a bit about how Kaleidoscope came to be? Where did the idea for the anthology start? How did you go about making your vision into a reality?

We’ve both been passionate about new stories that challenge some of the dominant voices for a long time, so it’s natural that we’d team up for something like this. We got to know each other originally because we are part of the speculative fiction podcasting community (Alisa is part of the three times Hugo nominated Galactic Suburbia, and Julia hosts the Outer Alliance Podcast and is part of the Hugo nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show). In May of 2012, Alisa listened to an Outer Alliance Podcast recording of a WisCon panel on heteronormativity in YA novels, and was interested in developing a project in response to the discussion. The rest snowballed from there. A vigorous email volley turned into regular Skype chats, and by the time we met in person in Toronto at the World Fantasy Convention later that year, the planning for Kaleidoscope was well underway.

What was your editorial process like? I assume there were certain authors you knew you wanted to work with from the start. Did you have an open reading period as well? For the authors whose work you solicited, did you ask for a particular type of story, or let them run wild? Did anything surprise you about the stories you received?

We sent a lot of invitations to writers, and those invited submitters had the chance to send their stories in early. We bought a few stories before our crowdfunding campaign opened in October of 2013, but one of our goals was to have an open reading period so that we could find new voices. We asked everyone for the same thing: contemporary stories with diverse protagonists. We wanted the feeling of the settings to be relatable and recognizable to teens even while they were full of wonder. Within those guidelines, though, anything was fair game. We were surprised by the depth and variety of the stories we received. We started out thinking this would be a fantasy anthology, but very quickly decided to change the guidelines to allow for science fiction because the science fiction submissions were so good.

What made you decide to do a YA anthology in particular?

Alisa had been wanting to branch out into YA with Twelfth Planet Press, and Julia has always enjoyed reading YA, so it seemed like a great opportunity all around.

You’re working together again on Twelfth Planet’s Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction series. Aside from that, are there any plans for a second volume of Kaleidoscope? Or any other anthology projects you’re working on together?

We’d love to do a second volume of Kaleidoscope, but right now we haven’t made any firm plans beyond the Year’s Best YA Science Fiction and Fantasy. We’re in the process of putting together the 2013 volume right now, and we’re also reading for the 2014 volume.

Aside from your editorial projects with Twelfth Planet, is there anything else either of you are working on or having coming up that you’d like people to know about?

We’re both still podcasting, and Julia’s still editing for Strange Horizons. Alisa’s working on a PhD in publishing, managing Twelfth Planet Press, and wrangling her nearly one-year-old daughter. It’s safe to say we’re both keeping busy!

Thank you again for stopping by. Congratulations on Kaleidoscope. It’s a wonderful anthology.

Thank you for interviewing us. We’re thrilled that you asked.

Interviewer’s Note: I seriously cannot recommend Kaleidoscope enough. It is a wonderful anthology, and you all need to go out and buy a copy right now.


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An Interview with Frances Grote

Frances Grote’s first short story collection, Death, Madness and a Mess of Dogs, was released today. She was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut collection and her work in general. Allow me to start by introducing her…

Frances is a psychologist with an MBA, a mother of four, and an award-winning author of memoir and short fiction. She supports her writing habit with a day job in the biotech industry, where she is a leading authority on the creation of supplier partnerships. When she finally figured out she was never going to achieve her goal of having an organized house – or, for that matter, an organized life — she traded in housework for writing some of those stories she was always talking about. Publishers Weekly called her first book, Fire In The Henhouse, “a novel brewing with tension, lightened by warm humor.” Her new short story collection expands on some of those same themes.

Thank you for being here today. You just published your first short story collection. Could you tell us a bit about Death, Madness and a Mess of Dogs?

I suspect many writers have an experience similar to mine, where they start out thinking they’re writing about a particular subject or character or topic, only to find that their work ends up somewhere very different than what they were expecting. This is certainly true of the stories in this collection. Some of them are humorous, some fall into the category often labeled “contemporary fiction”, some are genre, and a few simply defy categorization. As I was working on them I didn’t have a specific unifying theme in mind. But once the collection was done it became clear to me they’re all about variations on love and how the realities (or in some cases fantasies) of experience skew love without changing its fundamental nature.


Family seems to be a common theme across your stories – the relationship between husbands and wives, mothers and children, brothers and sisters. Did you consciously set out to explore family relationships through the lens of various genres, or was it a happy accident as you played with the tropes of SF, historical fiction, fantasy, slipstream, and contemporary fiction (to name a few)?

Though I didn’t intentionally focus on family as a theme, I am intensely fascinated by human beings and the inevitable wackiness of our behavior. I observe other people as they go about their everyday lives with the same kind of gawking, magnetized curiosity that other people experience at the scene of an accident. I became a psychologist because, when I was young and naïve enough to believe such things were possible, I was convinced I would be able to someday figure out “Why” – what makes us act and react the way we do? And then one day, I did, at least to my own satisfaction. And the answer is, we do what we do because that’s the way human beings are. We can learn, we can change, but at the end of the day our best intentions evaporate when we bounce into or off of the unexpected. Portraying the variations on that theme is what enchants me about writing and family is one of the most rich, treacherous environments for getting bounced around, a natural place to set some characters up and see what happens.

You’ve also published a novel, Fire in the Henhouse. Could you talk about that a bit? It’s set in the fictional town of Dooleysburg, PA, but loosely based on Doylestown, PA. If you don’t mind saying, how much truth is mixed in with your fiction? Are there real people who inspired the characters in your book?

No question that the charming quirkiness of Doylestown inspired me to finally get off my duff and start writing fiction. There are all kinds of things about the town, where I’m lucky enough to be based part of the time, that inspire flights of fancy. I did a signing at a book club an hour or so west of there, and the members had rented a van and taken a field trip to Doylestown to see how many of the settings in the book they could find. And there were certain events, some of them very disturbing, inspired by tragic events that were narrowly averted while I was writing the book. But when it comes to creating characters, I’m not so much inspired by real people as I am by isolated observations – the way a couple sits in a tavern, physically at the same table but mentally in different universes; the unabashed pride of someone nearly too old to walk parading down Main Street on Memorial Day in a uniform that clearly lives in the attic the rest of the year – my imagination grabs those details and just takes off with them.

In 2010, you and your husband launched Rule Bender Press. Could you talk a bit about your experience running a micropress? What are some of the challenges? The rewards? Did anything surprise you about the publishing business? Do you have any advice for those thinking of getting into the publishing business?

The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone considering getting into the publishing business is don’t do it unless you feel passionate about it. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so dogmatic – I do believe not only that everyone has a story (at least one) to tell, but that we have no business judging each other’s stories. Every living person is entitled to her or his voice, and if letting everyone have access to the means to publish their own stories is a mechanism for ensuring we can all get heard, I am enthusiastically in favor of that.

But my husband and I see our micropress as a serious business endeavor. And for anyone who wants to treat publishing that way, be prepared to invest the time and money needed to get it right. There were two things that surprised me quite a bit when we decided to get serious about publishing. The first was that while it’s difficult to break into the infrastructure, there are lots of generous people out there who willingly share expertise, tips, and advice, and much of what the “big guys” know can be scaled down to be very useful for small start-up presses. The second thing, which was kind of disappointing, is that there’s an assumption that publishing “outsiders” deliver substandard quality. Because Rule Bender Press is small, we outsource many of the services larger houses might have on staff. But we only work with established professionals. From my perspective, “small” is often an enabler of quality, not its opponent.

Anyone thinking about starting a publishing business – as opposed to self-publishing, which really does have a different focus and different requirements – should be prepared to invest time, brainpower and money. You can self-publish pretty successfully using many of the free or low-cost tools that are available now, but if your publishing endeavor is going to be a real business you’ll need to treat it like one. That doesn’t mean you’ll need to spend a fortune, but if you’re going to be successfully representing the work you produce, you’ll need to “buy a ticket onto the industry bus”. This means having a budget for professional editors, designers and promotion; attending industry conferences, and putting time into networking. (Not social networking, which has gotten so competitive in terms of grabbing people’s attention, but real networking, where you walk around and shake people’s hands and pretend you’re always that charming.)

And the rewards? I can honestly say that nothing I’ve done professionally has come close to the satisfaction I feel when somebody reaches out to me because they want to tell me what they felt about something Rule Bender Press published. It still feels like a gut punch every time somebody posts a negative comment, and I suppose it always will, but that is nothing compared to the sheer pleasure when a reader talks to me about something we produced as if the characters are someone they know, or tells me something wonderful the book made them feel. I have so many favorite stories readers have shared with me — one told me when she finished Fire In The Henhouse, she went to sleep hugging the book, and another told me he almost got in trouble with his wife until he showed her his dog-eared copy because she didn’t believe him when he said he was in his office reading – it turns out he’d never finished an entire book before. You can’t beat stories like that for giving you a reason to keep going.

What other projects do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

Thanks for asking! I’m currently working on a novel that’s the most challenging thing I’ve written yet because the story itself is so emotionally difficult for me – it’s about a woman who has to find her voice and stand up a controlling, manipulative husband in order to, essentially, stay alive. Like many writers, I begin to live my characters’ lives internally, and I have to find ways to keep my mental distance enough to be fair to all the parties in this story. To me, there’s no point in writing a character, any character, if s/he isn’t sympathetic to some degree. I have to love my villains as well as my heroines. But of course, if you’ve read Death, Madness and a Mess of Dogs, you already know that.

Thank you for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

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An Interview with Sunny Moraine

Sunny Moraine was kind enough to drop by today to talk about their book, Line and Orbit, co-authored with Lisa Soem, which was just released in paperback from Samhaim Publishing. For those unfamiliar with Sunny, clearly you have been living under a rock, because their work has been everywhere lately, but nonetheless, allow me to introduce you…

Sunny Moraine is a resident of the Washington D.C. area, a Ph.D. candidate, and the author of the novels Line and Orbit (with Lisa Soem) and Crowflight. They are also the author of several dozen pieces of short fiction, earning them the honor of being named 2013 New Author of Promise by reviewer Lois Tilton of Locus Magazine Online. They maintain a blog at sunnymoraine.com and can be found on twitter as @dynamicsymmetry.

Line and Orbit

ACW: Welcome! Let’s start off with Line and Orbit. It was released as an ebook first, and just came out in paperback. Care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?

It started out as me and my co-author basically writing the book we’d want to read, an epic-y space opera/science fantasy with a diverse cast and queer characters. The plot itself concerns a man from a future human civilization that’s come to regard genetic perfection as the absolute ideal—which of course creates problems when he shows symptoms of a congenital illness. Exiled and struggling to survive, he falls in with the Bideshi, nomadic human users of space!magic who have been at odds with his society for a long time. They appear to be able to heal him for a time, but before long complications ensue regarding a horrific secret, a brewing war, and a cocky and irritatingly attractive Bideshi fighter pilot.

ACW: You had another novel come out in 2013 as well, Crowflight, published by Masque Books. Would you like to say a few words about that one?

Crowflight concerns a young woman from a society of Psychopomps (guides of the souls of the dead) who—seemingly by accident—uncovers a conspiracy that threatens not only her people but her entire world. Framed and betrayed, she’s cast into the wastelands outside her city, where she makes some unlikely friends and begins to learn that you can only run from your past for so long before you have to turn and face it.

ACW: The two books came fairly close together, and on the surface, they’re very different– Space Opera and Dark Fantasy (to apply simple categories). Were they written around the same time? If so, was it a challenge to work in such different worlds, or was it kind of like getting to eat a delicious pie and a delicious cake simultaneously?

The two books were actually written about three years apart, and both came at very different points in my graduate education; Line and Orbit was written in the first year and was a refuge, while Crowflight was written in the fall of my fourth year and was really more therapy, a repository for a lot of the emotional difficulties I was going through at the time. That said, I think there are a lot of similar aspects to both—both feature secrets, both contain “wastelands” and other spaces that fall far outside of what the protagonists are comfortable with, that they nevertheless find themselves thrust into. Both are also focused around night and darkness, which I think is interesting but haven’t entirely untangled the meaning of, if there is any. I do seem to have specific story elements that I keep coming back to.


ACW: On a semi-related note, you worked with Lisa Soem on Line and Orbit. What was the collaborative writing process like versus working solo on Crowflight?

The collaborative process took longer and was logistically more difficult, but also rewarding in a way that nothing I’ve done since in terms of solo work really has been. Writing can be so lonely at times, and it can really be a motivator to work with someone who is as excited about your world and your characters as you are. It can also be hugely beneficial to have another perspective to go to, especially when you hit a block of some kind. So in some ways writing alone was more difficult. That said, by the time I wrote Crowflight I had already written two other solo novels (which will almost certainly never be published, for excellent reasons) so I was familiar with what kinds of self-motivation it required. In some ways, it’s also easier: You’re not on anyone’s schedule but your own, and no creative decisions require mutual agreement. There are trade-offs either way.

ACW: Both Line and Orbit and Crowflight have sequels in the works, correct? You’ve hinted on twitter and elsewhere that the Line and Orbit sequel is a very different book from the first one, and that it also involved a major re-write. Do you attribute that to being in a different place as a writer than when you wrote the first novel, or was it just what this particular story needed in order to work? Did that process impact your work on the Crowflight sequel at all?

The Crowflight sequel, Ravenfall, is done and will hopefully see a release sometime this year. The Line and Orbit sequel, Fall and Rising, is also done with the major part of its rewrite, and I hope to find a home for it soon. In terms of what prompted the rewrite, a lot of it was practical (the book as it stood was having problems finding a home), but I also do attribute the decision to having gained a better understanding of what a good novel—especially a good sequel—requires. Fall and Rising as it first existed was much, much darker than it is now, and while I think that’s a story I’ll tell someday, it wasn’t a good match for the mood of Line and Orbit, which was fun and ultimately uplifting (though it definitely has its dark points) and very slightly goofy. The spiritual thread running between the two books had to match. So it really did have to be a different book in the end, and now it’s much more similar to Line and Orbit itself.

The Fall and Rising rewrite was completed a couple of months after I completed Ravenfall, so I actually think the writing of that book influenced the rewrite, rather than the other way around. Ravenfall is, in almost every respect, a match for the mood and themes of Crowflight, and I think the process of creating that match helped me to understand what you’re really doing when you write a sequel. It’s not just a different book with a bunch of the same general characters and place names. That seems like it should be self-evident, but sometimes it takes a while to internalize self-evident things, I think.

ACW: Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about short stories. As if releasing two novels in one year wasn’t enough, you’ve also had an incredible year short fiction-wise in 2013, including being named the most promising author of 2013 by Locus Online (congrats, by the way!). Is your writing process different for short fiction? Did you sneak in short stories while working on novels, or do you focus on one at a time? Do you have a favorite among your recently published short stories?

Thanks! 2013 was awesome enough that I can’t believe that 2014 could possibly match it, though of course I’m hoping. Gonna keep working, regardless.

I didn’t really appreciate how different my process for short fiction was until I tried to approach it recently after months working almost exclusively on novels and found it incredibly difficult. I’m not sure exactly why, I just know that it was like I was trying to switch gears in my brain and couldn’t quite make it happen, at least not quickly. My process tends to be very instinctive—I feel my way through the general shape of the story and then as I write it emerges. With long things I outline at least a bit, but the overall process is still very organic. That process is essentially the same for short stuff as for long stuff, but I think that the shape and the way of feeling it out is different. And I think using one and not using the other made it harder to switch back. Though I think I’m finding my feet again—I’d like to give novels a break for a bit and focus on short things.

Among my recent stuff, I think one of my stories that’s gotten the most attention, “A Heap of Broken Images” (published in the anthology We See a Different Frontier), is probably my favorite. It’s a story I wrote during one of the most mentally and emotionally difficult months of my life, and I think it was a bit cathartic; it came very quickly and of a piece, though it took some rewriting to get it exactly the way I wanted. Aside from that, I’m very proud of “I Tell Thee All, I Can No More” which came out this past July in Clarkesworld. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever written, I think, and it feels to me like one of those rare stories where you actually accomplish almost everything you set out to do.

ACW: Given the amount of fiction you regularly produce, it’s hard to imagine you have much spare time, but on the theory that you do find a moment here and there, what occupies your time when you’re not slogging through the word mines?

I’m a PhD candidate in sociology, so I’m currently working on a dissertation that I aim (hope) to have completed in the next couple of years. I also teach intro-level college courses, which I enjoy a whole bunch – it’s probably the most rewarding academic thing that I do. Otherwise, I bake and knit and get generally domestic. I also enjoy really terrible TV and questionable horror films. And video games. I play a ton of video games – recent favorites include The Last of Us, Gone Home, and Outlast.

ACW: Now that you’re well on your way to conquering the world through fiction, what’s next for you? What else are you working on that you want people to know about? (If it’s a top secret death ray, you don’t have to tell me.)

I have a story coming out in May in the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which I am so excited about – the whole project looks incredible and I’m honored to be part of it. I have another novel, Labyrinthian, that’s currently sitting on an editor’s desk and I hope it’ll see a release in 2014, though nothing is set in stone. Soon I plan to embark on an extensive rewrite of yet another novel I wrote last year – I love it but it’s not ready to go out into the great big world just yet. And of course, Fall and Rising is heading out to a publisher soon, so I’m hopeful that before long there will be news there as well.

And there’s also the death ray. Though its development is stalled because it’s warm so the cats keep sleeping on it.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for having me!

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An Interview with E.M. Kaplan

E.M. Kaplan was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut novel, The Bride Wore Dead. For starters, allow me to introduce you by shamelessly stealing from Ms. Kaplan’s author bio:

E.M. Kaplan grew up in Tucson, Arizona where there were no sidewalks but plenty of tumbleweeds. She attended Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts where she majored in English Lit with a minor in Philosophy. She later earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. She’s also been a Girl Scout, trombonist, toilet-cleaner, beginner ninja, and subversive marketeer. You can visit her at www.JustTheEmWords.com.

ACW: Congratulations on the publication of The Bride Wore Dead! Care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?

EM: Thanks! It’s been a long time in the works—more than 10 years because of, you know, kids and dogs and jobs—so it’s great to have it out there finally.

The Bride Wore Dead is a mystery about a bride who dies under suspicious circumstances on her honeymoon—anaphylaxis, actually, from a bee sting. Josie Tucker, who was a fill-in bridesmaid at the wedding, goes to Arizona to find out what, exactly, happened.

Josie is a unique protagonist: she’s a loner at heart, but she’s a people-magnet. I wanted to make her walled-off, kind of standoffish, but then, it turns out people like to talk to her. They spill their guts to her because she’s a good listener. She’s a person of many contrasts. She’s a food critic who can’t eat. She’s a tiny little thing who gets into physical scrapes. Ethnically, she’s mixed, but her family is not. She’s able to cross social and economic boundaries fairly easily.

ACW: Based on the book’s subtitle, A Josie Tucker Mystery, is it safe to assume you have more books in the series planned? Is it too early to ask for a sneak peek at what’s next for Josie?

EM: I have started another one. It has to do with her friend Susan’s Silicon Valley sweetheart, who got a one-line mention in first book. The working title so far is Dim Sum Dead.

People who like to eat dim sum think of it as a Chinese brunch greasy, pig-out kind of thing. But some people say it was actually created by a Chinese emperor for his lover. It was supposed to be eaten very slowly, morsel by morsel. It means “heart’s delight.”

ACW: On a somewhat related note, did you set out wanting to write a series of books featuring the same
character, or did Josie just turn out to be one of those characters who wouldn’t let you go after the first book was done?

EM: She’s definitely one of those characters who stays in my mind and keeps me thinking about what might happen next. Plus, I’m a people pleaser, so if the first book has entertained people, I absolutely want to create another.

When you write a mystery, you don’t have to worry too much about world building, as you would with fantasy. But still, there is a small amount of it, determined by level of humor, violence, and subtle things about the setting, and even my writing style. There are some givens already established about Josie’s world. It’s nice to pick that back up in a second book.

ACW: Mystery novels, even more so than other genres of novel, frequently rely on striking a very delicate balance between giving the reader enough information that they feel like they might be able to figure out whodunit, but not giving away too much too quickly, so they remain intrigued and keep turning the pages to see if they’re right. That being the case, it seems like it would be hard to be a pantser, but I have to ask – did you outline and plot everything in advance, or are you secretly a criminal mastermind/world famous detective, allowing you to naturally write a mystery plot on the fly?

EM: Ha! I don’t know if I’m capable of being a mastermind.

I’m a character-driven writer. I love creating characters and dialog probably more than any other aspect. That said, I always have an outline—like a wire frame, as software people would say—of where I want to end up. But often, surprising things happen on the way there. I have to be able to break from the itinerary if I want my trip to seem spontaneous, so to speak.

ACW: By day, you’re a mild-mannered technical writer. Does your day job have any impact on the way you write fiction? Do you draw on those skills, or do you find yourself having to switch gears completely and shut off that side of your brain when working on fiction?

EM: Tech writing has 100% changed how I write fiction. I used to write fiction so my words would sound pretty, erudite, and mysterious—more poetic, like my husband’s (JD Kaplan). Tech writing is about making people understand you, using as few words as possible. The kind of writing I do for Motorola and Google is casual and friendly, and just the teeniest bit sly. And of course, succinct—you have to be economical when your page size is two by four inches. When I write fiction now, I sometimes have to go back and layer in the more descriptive elements and to slow down the pace. Plump it up a little.

ACW: What’s next for you? Other than more Josie Tucker mysteries, is there anything else you’re working on you want folks to know about?

EM: I have a reader friend taking a look at the first draft of a fantasy novel I finished. I started it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and finished it about a year later, so it was kind of a NaNaWriYear for me that year. With any luck, I can get it out this spring. I think you’ll like it. It has ogres. Everyone loves ogres.

ACW: Thanks for dropping by!

EM: Thanks!

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An Interview with J.D. Kaplan

J.D. Kaplan was kind enough to stop by today to talk about his debut novel, Waking Dreams: The Torment of Colin Pierce, which is currently available in e-book and paperback.

ACW: Welcome! Care to give readers a taste of what Waking Dreams is about?

JDK: Thanks, Alison. On the surface Waking Dreams is about a man whose dreams, for better or worse, sometimes come true. He discovers he has an important role in the world of our dreams and has to come to understand that role so he can preserve the separation between dreams and the waking world. Beneath that it explores the relationship between our dreams and our realities, a journey through the worlds we live in and the ones we dream.

ACW: As I read your novel, I got a strong Charles DeLint vibe, and lo and behold, you cite DeLint as one of your major influences in writing this novel. Are there any other authors who either inspired you early on or who are currently shaping your thinking about writing?

JDK: Yeah, DeLint is one of my heroes. If I ever get to meet him I’ll be unable to think of anything intelligent to say, I’m sure.

My other big influence is Neil Gaiman. I first found him when he wrote comic books in the late 80s and early 90s. His work on the Sandman title was earthshaking for me. He creates worlds within our world that are utterly captivating. The idea that there is a world where we go to dream wasn’t a new one but the way he built that world and the characters that lived within it was magical.

I’ve always loved the idea of worlds below the surface of worlds. The worlds of magic and possibility hiding just around the corner in our world of reality. World creation is a fundamental aspect of writing fantasy and both DeLint and Gaiman go to extraordinary lengths to create these new worlds while anchoring them firmly in a contemporary world with which we can all relate. That familiar territory allows the reader to really pay attention to the bigger things going on in their work.

Add Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, China Mieville and Joe Hill to the list of writers that currently inspire me. I also have to admit quite guiltily–please don’t tell anyone–that I find satisfaction reading urban fantasy. I love strong female protagonists and if you can thin out the barely concealed romance novels, there is a great amount of interesting things being done there.

ACW: On a related note, other than the authors who inspired you, is there anything in particular that sparked you to write this book?

JDK: Music. My grandmother always said that music was her religion and I think I inherited that love of music. The emotion and ideas that come from music always influence where I’m going.

ACW: I’m a bit of a process nerd when it comes to writing. What was your writing process like with this novel? Are you the type to make outlines, or did you just let the story unfold? Either way, did anything surprise you during the writing process – an unexpected plot twist, a new character demanding a bigger role?

JDK: My process can be defined as a pattern of starting out organized and fading into a complete loss of control where I’m chronicling a story as much as authoring it.

I always start out with a scene. That scene provides the kernel for the characters and for the story. I role play it in my head over and over, while driving or running or just sitting around I inundate myself in that scene and will have dreams about it. That kernel may not survive the growth of the eventual story but it’s where I start.

Once I have that I become super organized. I use post it notes to story board, sometimes an outline. I write tiny character portraits. I will pretend that a given character is a friend of mine and I am introducing him to someone I know. I write short shorts–a couple hundred words–that I know are going away but help me visualize the path the story will take. Then, when I start, I use those things to build a head of steam.

But inevitably I reach a point where that stuff loses relevance. The story and characters take on a life of their own–I know how cheesy that sounds–and I am just going along for the ride. At that point writing is not linear. It’s steps forward that require things that came before to change, things to be removed or added. The entire ending of Waking Dreams just came to me as I approached the point where something had to be resolved–I was rapidly approaching this huge conflict but had no idea how to resolve it. The moment that it came to me was an epiphany and though I had to do a lot of backfilling and revisiting previous sections the ending never changed after that.

ACW: What made you decide to go the self-publishing route? How has the experience been for you thus far? Do you have any tips for authors considering self-publishing?

JDK: Frustration over trying to get an agent to look at my work. There are so many gateposts blocking writers from a clear path to a publisher that after three years of beating my head against that wall I decided I’d had enough. In retrospect I can easily rationalize it: the internet is slowly killing off the massive power of the traditional publishing industry, freeing up people like me to put real effort into realizing their dreams.

Once I made the decision my first step was to publish my book in Kindle format. During that process I found CreateSpace, an Amazon publish on demand service, and the entire world changed for me. I really have come to see self publishing as the best course. As part of the CreateSpace service the novel will also become available through Ingram’s, which means that any bookstore, physical or digital, can sell the book. I’ve been told that traditional publishing houses have taken to leaving the bulk of marketing to the authors. In this brave new world what exactly do those publishing houses provide? A certain weight of perceived quality, perhaps. A big name backing your work. Those things can be overcome by simply finding and using the truckloads of resources available on the internet. I bet I’ve just ensured I’ll never get a book deal with a traditional publisher.

At any rate, the experience has been deeply liberating and empowering. The first time held a trade paperback copy of my book–that was almost religious. I’ll never forget that moment.

As for tips? Don’t sell yourself short, believe in yourself and learn to market. Make marketing postcards and either mail them or take them to local businesses and ask them to put them on display. Look into doing book signings–I’ve found that local businesses would love to have you do this in many cases. For them it’s as much a marketing opportunity as it is for you. Write to anyone you can imagine that does book reviews and ask them to read your book. Invest yourself in the process. Most importantly, build a large online presence. Tweet daily, get a Goodreads author page, a Facebook page. Be noisy. Promote other authors that are doing the same things you are–it doesn’t seem to be a competitive situation and they’ll more often than not return the favor. It’s all about exposure.

ACW: Now that Waking Dreams is out in the world, what’s next for you?

JDK: I’m really interested in writing another book set in the same world. The characters are still fresh and my head is buzzing with ideas and scenes that might be good starting points. A nice side effect of the power of this experience is that my brain is buzzing with new ideas.

ACW: Since your novel is all about dreams, it seems appropriate to close the interview with some dream-related questions. Do you tend to remember your dreams? Do you ever have recurring dreams, or dreams that continue over multiple nights? Are you the kind of person who realizes right away when you’re dreaming, or do you just flow with the dream-logic of ‘of course there’s a swimming pool full of horses in the middle of this office building’ and let the dream take you where it will? Any particularly vivid dreams (that you can share with the general public) that really stuck with you?

JDK: Dreams, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some I remember, some I forget. Some leave residual emotions that cling to me for days. In some I know I’m dreaming and in others I don’t. Some are good and some are bad. The thing that fascinates me most about dreams is the way it reflects the sheer power of our minds and imaginations. Dreams are often non-linear and illogical but our brains find a way to cloak them in believability. I have dreams where the story of the dream is heading one direction and suddenly it shifts radically. Instead of feeling this moment of dissociation and awareness, my mind just changes what came before–I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It backfills and mutates what I perceive as history in the dream, adjusting things so that the change is seamless and smooth. One minute I’m on an airplane arguing with a flight attendant and the next I’m a super spy on a train, and the shift doesn’t even bother me. When I wake up I want to know how the heck my airplane turned into a train and why it felt so natural. The thing that makes fiction so enjoyable and powerful is our brains’ ability to suspend disbelief under certain circumstances. Dreams and stories represent infinite possibilities and food for the imagination.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

JDK: Absolutely my pleasure.

[House-keeping note: Unfortunately, comments on the site are still broken. I’m doing my best to fix them. Apologies again and thanks for your patience as I try to figure it out!]

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