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An Interview with Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World, among other things. I’ll kick things off in the usual way by shamelessly stealing her author bio to make introductions…

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. Her fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. She is a 2006 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and her 2010 novelette “Stone Wall Truth” was nominated for a Nebula Award. Caroline’s debut short story collection is coming out with Fairwood Press in 2016.

7 Wonders CoverWelcome! First off, congratulations on the publication of your collection. Would you care to give readers a taste of what kind of stories they’ll find within its pages?

Thank you! There are stories of time travel, alien invasions, Japanese mermaids, and monsters under the bed. I try to write the kind of sense-of-wonder science fiction and fantasy stories I loved when I was younger, but from perspectives that were largely absent from the literature of my childhood.
Psychology features prominently in both my SF and my fantasy (that’s my academic background, and I find the workings of the human brain fascinating). The nature of identity is a recurring theme in my collection: If a person replaces their body (either all at once or bit by bit), are they still the same person? How does our biological form impact our sense of self? How does who we are change over time, with age and experience? Short fiction is a great way to explore these kinds of ideas because I can revisit the same questions from lots of different angles.

I’m a bit of a process nerd, so I’m curious, how did you go about choosing which stories to include in the collection? Are the way the stories grouped meant to highlight certain themes in your writing?

I started by making a list of all my available publications. At the time when I was putting the collection together, I had about 60 published stories to choose from. There were about a dozen pieces that I was sure had to be in the collection, so I started a table of contents with those. I figured out early on that I wanted to start with “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” and I wanted to end with the title story: “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World”.
After that I was at a bit of a loss for how to proceed.

I ended up taking my list of available stories and sorting them into categories: fantasy stories, science fiction stories, and flash fiction (irrespective of genre). Initially I’d planned on mixing the flash stories in with the longer pieces, but as a reader I enjoy flash stories more if I know in advance that I’ll be reading flash. When I go into a flash story expecting something longer, I am inevitably disappointed, despite the fact that I really love flash!

The solution was to separate the flash from the rest of the stories. I initially thought I’d divide the longer stories into fantasy stories and science fiction stories, with a cluster of flash fiction in the middle, but when I looked at my list I realized I’d written about twice as much science fiction as fantasy.

So I divided the book into three main sections, based on the type of world in which the story takes place: our world, fantasy worlds, and alien worlds. There were definitely some stories that could have gone in more than one category, but overall it seemed like a good structure. In between each of the main sections of the book there is an ‘interlude’ of six flash stories.

Flash isn’t an easy length to write. Do you find it comes naturally to you, or was it something you had to teach yourself to write? What is your process like for writing a longer piece versus a flash piece, if they differ?

These days I do find that flash comes pretty naturally to me, but it is something that I originally had to learn to write. One nice thing about flash is that because it is so short you can write lots of flash stories in a relatively short period of time–it is an easy form to practice. There’s also something very satisfying (at least to me) about trimming a story down to its bare essentials, giving the reader just enough to extrapolate an entire world.

For me, writing longer stories is often about building a core (flash-length) idea into something bigger. One way I’ve done that is to mash several flash stories together: “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” is an example of this flash-mash method. I show the aftermath of an alien invasion through a series of five interrelated flash stories. Each one focuses on a different stage of grief, and told from a different character’s perspective.

The other main strategy I use for building shorter ideas in to longer ones is to add extra threads. Flash stories tend to be simpler: fewer characters, one driving goal, fewer obstacles to overcome. Adding more elements tends to make the story more complex, at which point it requires more words. I’m currently working on a space opera novella, and creating something at that length has been an exercise in exploring tangents and nuances that I would normally trim away when writing a shorter story.

I have to gush about the collection’s cover art for a moment, because it’s absolutely gorgeous. Is the artist someone you found, or someone your publisher connected you with? Was it a pre-existing piece that fit your stories, or did you have any input into the design?

Thank you! I LOVE the cover art. It is by a Japanese artist: shichigoro-shingo. I was looking for artwork for my cover and stumbled across his work–he did the October 2015 cover for Clarkesworld. My cover art is a pre-existing piece, but it captures the feel I wanted for the collection as a whole, and it is also a good fit for the title story.

Wil Wheaton praised your story ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death‘ on Twitter, which is pretty darn awesome (both the story, and the fact that he linked to it). Did he happen across the story on his own, or do you have a connection to him? Was there a sudden spike in the story’s readership after he signal-boosted it?

I was ridiculously excited about that when I found out about it! Aside from that one tweet, I have absolutely no connection with Wil Wheaton. He happened across the story on his own–from what I gather, he reads Lightspeed Magazine on a regular basis.

The story definitely got some extra attention after the tweet. I checked with John Joseph Adams, and there was a spike of about a thousand readers over a two or three day period.

In addition to your writing, you’re also a photographer. Do the two ever feed into each other? Have you ever written a story inspired by a moment you captured through a lens, or, on the flipside, have you ever set out to compose a photograph specifically to illustrate your work?

These days the two tend to stay relatively separate, mainly because I haven’t had much time to devote to photography.

I’ve had one photograph that was the official illustration for a story of mine–back in 2010 my story “Blood Willows” appeared in Flash Fiction Online, illustrated with a photo I’d taken of a Japanese Laceleaf Maple. For the old version of my website, I used to make small photo icons to go with each story on my publications page. It was fun, but once I got over a dozen stories it made the page too cluttered and hard to read, so now I just list the stories.

I’ve written stories that were sparked by images before, and even stories inspired by photographs, but I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that was inspired by a photograph that I took myself.

In 2010, your novelette ‘Stone Wall Truth‘ was nominated for a Nebula Award. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news, and what you did to celebrate?

I do remember! At the time, my oldest daughter was a little over a year old, and I was home with her when I got the call to say that I was a nominee. We had a lovely time bouncing around in the living room and squeeing, although my daughter (obviously) had no idea what the excitement was about. Later celebrations included wine, chocolate, and shopping for a fancy dress to wear to the award ceremony.

Now that the collection is out in the world, what else are you working on? Any inclination to write something novel-length? Anything else in general you have upcoming that you want folks to know about?

I have just finished the latest round of revisions on a middle grade novel with the working title Junk Craft Magic. It’s the story of a mixed-race girl who helps the local junkyard pixies fight a monster made of hazardous waste. I’m also working on a space opera novella (with fire kittens!) and a handful of short stories.

The middle grade novel and the space opera novella both sound fantastic. I can’t wait until they make their way into the world so I can read them. Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

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An Interview with Claire Humphrey

Claire Humphrey was kind enough to drop by to talk about her debut novel, Spells of Blood and Kin, among other things. To get things started, I will stick with tradition and shamelessly steal her author bio by way of introduction…

Claire Humphrey’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Crossed Genres, Fantasy Magazine, and Podcastle. Her short story “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” appeared in the Lambda Award-nominated collection Beyond Binary, and her short story “The Witch of Tarup” was published in the critically acclaimed anthology Long Hidden. Spells of Blood and Kin is her first novel.

Spells of Blood and KinACW: Welcome! Congratulations on Spells of Blood and Kin. I adored this novel, and I feel pretty darn lucky to have gotten a sneak peek at it. For those who haven’t read it, could you give readers a hint of what’s in store for them?

CH: Thank you so much! Spells of Blood and Kin is what happened when I tried to write a light urban fantasy to distract myself during a tough time in my life. I failed at the distraction, and I failed even more at making it light. (I think I did okay with the urban fantasy part.)

Spells of Blood and Kin is about what families hand down through generations, both the good and the bad. One of the families is related by blood in the usual way. One of the families is related by blood in a supernatural way. Both families are kind of dysfunctional.

ACW: One of the things I found particularly brilliant about the novel is that it’s essentially a werewolf novel that never once uses the word werewolf. It also resists the tropes of moody/tortured/misunderstood-but-ultimately-awesome-person-turned-into-a-wolf and portrays a genuinely pained and terrible condition. Where did the roots of the story come from for you? Did you set out to write an ‘anti werewolf’ novel? If not, what inspired it?

CH: Actually when I first set out I wanted to write a fun paranormal romance. But that wasn’t in me. I initially imagined Nick as a charming lightweight who develops emotional depth through being turned into something new, and Lissa as a responsible girl who learns to let loose a little. And I was going to have them get together! But as I began writing, those tropes felt so false to me: not that others shouldn’t use them, but I couldn’t write them. I started to understand Nick as someone who takes his own power way too lightly, and hurts others as a result, and Lissa as someone weighed down by her duty, by a heritage that can’t easily be cast aside. And those are just the mostly-human.

I had been writing stories about Gus Hillyard–Maksim’s family member, for lack of a better word–for a while. None of those stories were fun. They were mostly about coping strategies, about surviving instead of thriving, about the high price we pay for being born and staying alive–and the price we exact on others. Gus and Maksim have learned that when they let themselves get close to anyone, they have the power to cause immense damage. They each deal with that power in different ways: Gus by becoming an alcoholic drifter, Maksim by walling up part of his nature with magic.

We all have that power in reality, of course. The bond of blood–literal or metaphoric–is what keeps us close even when we’re hurting, or being hurt, or both.

ACW: The novel also draws heavily on Russian fairy tales, mythology, and history. What kind of research did you do for Spells of Blood and Kin?

CH: I started with a pair of books my parents gave me so long ago that I feel like I’ve had them always. They’re reproductions of Russian folk tales from 1899 with gorgeous illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. One is about Vasilissa going into the forest to get magical fire from the witch Baba Yaga: this one’s described in my book. The other is about Vasilissa’s later life as a powerful witch turned into a frog by the sorcerer Koschei the Deathless; she convinces a prince to marry her and hunt down the sorcerer to break his spell. Both are full of rich images of skulls, animals, eggs, trickery and bargaining. Those stories formed the thematic heart of the book.

As I wrote, I had to dig into some practical, factual stuff too, of course. One of my favourites was a book called The Soviet-Afghan War, by the Russian General Staff, which contained intense detail of troop movements and composition, and analysis of engagements which the Russians felt they had lost. I ended up using almost nothing from this book but it was fascinating to read.

I’m a pantser generally when it comes to research: I’ll be halfway through a scene, trying to describe a vehicle or a house or a piece of clothing, and then I’ll realize I don’t know enough about it, and start Googling. I have a lot of books in my house, too, on topics like historical weaponry, homes and costumes, so I usually have something helpful I can consult.

ACW: Shifting gears a bit, there’s a question I like to ask my fellow Canadians. In your mind, are there particular tones, themes, or subjects that make a piece of literature quintessentially Canadian? If so, do you ever consciously draw on them in your own work, or deliberately avoid them?

CH: There’s a lot of Canadian fiction dealing with families and inheritance, with the idea of baggage carried across the ocean and bestowed on a new generation. A whole lot of us in this country came from somewhere else, or our parents did, and we didn’t always get to choose what we brought with us. This book takes that trope and makes it magical.

ACW: On a related note, since you live in the Toronto area and quite a few other excellent speculative fiction writers have settled there, is there anything about the neighborhood that makes it especially speculative in your mind? Having recently visited, I feel there are certain areas ripe for inclusion in SFF stories. Do you have any favorite spots that inspire your stories? If not, are there generally things about the city that inspire you – bookstores, parks, museums, restaurants, must-see places you’d recommend to first time visitors?

CH: I struggled with how to answer this question, because I don’t find Toronto magical at all. After some thought I realized that I don’t find any places magical. I’m not that writer. I actually want exactly the opposite from a place: I love places that have a strong and particular sense of themselves, an air and a look that can’t be found anywhere else. I lean on these places to ground my work. To me, stories with speculative elements need a strong counterbalance.

Toronto is an easy one for me because I’ve lived here for almost two decades, and even before that, I always yearned toward it. My Toronto is a gorgeously messy place: graffiti murals in the alleys off Queen West, fruit smashed on the streetcar tracks of Spadina. Every bar with a raunchy basement bathroom painted some garish colour. Kensington Market, Parkdale, Little Italy, Little Portugal, all thronged with people, usually celebrating something: religious parades, soccer wins, zombie walks, all-night art festivals. It’s a city that rewards you for just walking out the door and joining the rush.

ACW: In addition to your novel, you’re also the author of some stunningly brilliant short fiction. On a purely selfish note, might you ever set additional stories – or a longer work – in the world of ‘Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines’? (Because boxing and magic are an awesome combination as far as I’m concerned.) On a more general level, how does your process differ in writing short fiction versus a novel?

CH: Oh, thank you! The world of “Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines” is actually a world I built for my first novel… a novel that won’t see the light of day unless I am prepared to substantially rework it, as it’s more than a quarter of a million words long and still not nearly finished (!) Never say never, though, right? I love the world and I’m sure I will set more stories there, even if that novel stays in the trunk.

In general I guess I start novels with a character, while I start stories with a feeling. Stories are easier to feel your way through without much of a plan, and I do. I wrote the first draft of Spells of Blood and Kin without a formal plan, also, and was delighted to discover I’d given it an intricate structure anyway (kind of a repeating chiastic structure–although I’m not sure all of this survived through the multiple drafts). The next book I wrote turned out to naturally follow a three-act structure, without my conscious intervention. For the one I’m now working on, I actually made a three-act plan before I began writing, although I’ve departed from it a little as I go. It’s helping me write faster.

ACW: Now that Spells of Blood and Kin is out in the world, what’s next for you?

CH: The novel I’m currently working on in set in the same world, this time with Gus Hillyard as the protagonist–she’s my favourite character to write, and I’m loving spending time with her, although so far this book is pretty emotionally difficult.

I’ve also got some new stories in the pipeline–I haven’t been writing as much short fiction lately and it feels good to have some things lined up. The most recently published is a story called “Crew 255″ in Dominik Parisien’s Clockwork Canada anthology. The anthology consists of steampunk alternate histories of Canada, and my story is about Portuguese workers coming to rebuild downtown Toronto after an airship explosion.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by! Now that I know about your plans for the next novel, I’m very much looking forward to reading Gus’ story.

CH: Thanks so much for having me, and for the great questions!

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An Interview with Anna Kashina

AnnaAnna Kashina was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about her Majat Code series, among other things. The third novel in the series, The Assassin Queen, was just released by Angry Robot Books. To start things off, I will shamelessly steal from Anna’s author bio by way of introduction…

Anna Kashina was born in Russia and moved to the United States after receiving her PhD in biology. She has been writing for as long as she remembers herself, and completed her first novel (published in Russia) when she was in high school. Her fantasy and historical fiction appeared in original editions in Russia, Germany, Australia, and the US. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she combines her writing with a successful career in biomedical research.Anna is the 2015 Prism Award winner for “The Guild of Assassins”, which received the first prize in the fantasy category and the “Best of the Best” grand prize.

Welcome, and congratulations on the publication of the third book in your Majat Code series! For those who may be unfamiliar with the series, could you provide a taste of what the books are about? And for those who do know the series, without giving too much away, can you give us a hint of what’s in store in book three?

Hi, Alison, thank you so much for the chance to stop by! I love to talk about my series!
The Majat Code books are adventure fantasies with elements of romance. Each has a standalone story, but together they continue the same overarching plot that comes to a full – and hopefully satisfactory – conclusion in “Assassin Queen”. The books center around the Majat warriors, highly skilled mercenaries and assassins who hire out their services and follow a very strict code. Throughout the series, their resolve to follow the code is thoroughly tested as they face a powerful enemy plotting to overthrow the Majat and restore the notorious rule of the Old Empire.

In book 3 the conflict erupts in full and leads to the final showdown. There are also some subplots involving a royal family in a very fun desert kingdom. I hope that the fans of the series as well as the newbies will enjoy it!

After writing two previous books in the Majat series, along with a few shorter companion pieces, was there anything about the characters or the world that took you completely by surprise this time around?

Assassin QueenMy characters have been surprising me all through the series, to the point that I started thinking of them as real people. In book 3 I was especially fascinated by the way several of the characters, who tended to be somewhat immature before, took charge and accomplished seemingly impossible things, which resolved some of the standoffs and ultimately saved the day. Some scenes literally unraveled in front of my eyes. It was the strangest thing to see them do things I had no idea they were capable of. In “Assassin Queen”, more than any other of my books, I found myself just following their whims and letting them do what they want. I am very happy with the result.

The second book in the series, The Guild of Assassins, won the ‘Best of the Best’ 2015 Prism Award, which is given by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal branch of the Romance Writers of America. Prior to receiving the award, did you consider yourself a romance writer? Did receiving the award change your approach to the third book in terms of romantic content?

Funny you asked. When I wrote “Blades of the Old Empire”, book 1 in the series, romance was very far from my mind. Yet, a few main characters are young and attractive, and I found them developing interests and relationships before I knew it. In fact, the only relationship that wasn’t quite working out was the one I planned from the start, so the characters really took control right there.

When the book came out, many readers and reviewers commented on how the story seemed so romance-heavy. So when I was working on the sequel, “The Guild of Assassins”, I decided to just let it go. I allowed the characters to follow their hearts, and what came out was, I believe, true romance by the conventions of the romance genre.

I was tremendously honored and thrilled to receive the award, for which I was nominated along with some authors I really admire. Among other things this award did teach me that romance is a genre I feel natural and comfortable exploring in my books. So, when I wrote “Assassin Queen” I allowed all the romantic elements to happen, without holding back. I would say it is less of a conventional romance than “The Guild of Assassins”, but it is still up there. I hope it will appeal to the readers of both fantasy and romance genres.

Shifting gears a bit, let’s talk about your first novel, which was published in Russia. You wrote it while you were in high school, which is quite amazing! How long was it before the novel was published? How do you feel about that novel now?

That novel, “In the Name of the Queen”, was historical fiction –again, with elements of romance – co-written with my grandfather. It features Queen Elizabeth of England, Sir Francis Drake, and has been inspired by our love for the novels by Rafael Sabatini and Sir Walter Scott. This book remains very special to me, because it holds the essence of my closeness to my grandfather and the memory of our good times together. It was also very rigorously researched, and the story is seamless. But, I was in 10th grade when we finished it, and I would have definitely written it differently today.

It got published about 6 years after we wrote it, I believe just because historical fiction about England is always popular in Russia. The print did sell out, and the publisher promptly spent the money and went out of business, as tended to be the trend in Russia in those times.

I sometimes think about translating this book into English, which would really mean rewriting it completely following the same story line. Some day, I might actually do it.

I think that sounds like a fantastic idea. I for one would love to read it! On a related note, I’m always fascinated by people who write in multiple languages. When did you first begin writing and seeking publication in English? With your English novels, do you ever find yourself coming up against concepts or phrases that would be better expressed in Russian and wishing you could switch over?

Around the time I moved to the US I wrote my first not co-authored novel that I considered publishable – “The Princess of Dhagabad”. It was in Russian, but I quickly realized that if I wanted to achieve something with it, it needed to be in English. So, I took a big dictionary and translated it, word by word. I was surprised to realize in the process that the two languages are completely different. Very often there is no direct translation for words or concepts. I write in English now, but for the more difficult concepts I still come up with a Russian word first, and often I cannot immediately find an appropriate English equivalent. In these cases I usually put the Russian words down, to return to later when I edit the draft. Very often it is hard to say it as well in English, and I have to get around it by rewriting the whole passage.

In general, I think Russian is better for descriptions, and English – for action and dialogue. So, a perfect book should really be written in both languages at the same time?

Your day job in biomedical research seems far removed from the secondary world fantasy you typically write. Have you ever written anything more on the science fiction side inspired by your work? Does your day job inform you writing in other ways, even when you’re not writing science fiction?

Somehow I enjoy keeping these two sides of my life separate. Every time I try writing science fiction, I tend to feel too constrained by everything I know. My imagination just does not fly the way it tends to do with fantasy. This sense of letting go of all boundaries and constraints of my everyday life has always been a big part of the appeal for me, both in writing and in reading.

At the same time, I do consider writing and science very synergistic. In both, it is essential to keep in mind both the big picture and the details. It is also essential to lay down every thought very clearly. When I write, I do better science, and vice versa. When I cannot find time to write fantasy I tend to feel miserable and less productive in my day job. And I do feel so blessed to be able to have two creative professions at the same time.

There are quite a few speculative fiction writers living in the Philadelphia area. Do you think there’s anything particularly speculative or fantastic about the city to draw such authors to the area? What are some of your favorite things about living in the Philadelphia area? Are there restaurants, attractions, or other places you’d recommend to someone visiting for the first time?

I actually believe Philadelphia is one of the best kept secrets in the US. It looks shabby on the outside – especially when driving from the airport–but once you are in the city, everything just magically changes. When I first moved here I was terrified, and it took all but five minutes to blend in and realize how good this place is. In some ways this change of perception felt like stepping through the looking glass into another world.

To me, there are many things about Philadelphia that factor into this attraction. It has rich and diverse history, and is very active and dynamic without being overwhelming. It is also ideal for living a quiet, comfortable life. I do enjoy the restaurants, and art galleries, and shows, and the fact that in the Center City you can just walk outside at midnight and feel very relaxed. I also appreciate the fact that I can shop for food in big supermarkets selling ethnic foods. And, I love living in the forest and working in the city, only 25 minutes away. In the end, I guess it comes down to having a lot of things just right to fit your lifestyle. I am not sure if our great writing community is the result of this, but this community by now is part of the attraction too. It does seem amazing how many wonderful speculative fiction authors live here and how open to interactions they are.

Now that the third book in the Majat series is out, what’s next for you? What else are you working on or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

I am working on a new novel that will hopefully become a part of a brand new series. True to my current passion, it will have a multicultural setting, adventure, intrigue, fancy swordplay – and, of course, romance.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for having me. These were great questions I really enjoyed!

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An Interview with Mike Allen

Mike Allen was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about his latest collection, The Spider Tapestries, among other things. The Spider Tapestries is out on March 1, but there’s a Goodreads giveaway going on right now, so after you’re done reading Mike’s interview, head on over and enter for your chance to win. Now, to get things started, as I frequently do, I will shameless steal Mike’s author bio by way of introduction…

Spider TapestriesMike Allen edits the critically-acclaimed anthology series Clockwork Phoenix and the long-running magazine Mythic Delirium. His books include post-apocalyptic dark fantasy novel The Black Fire Concerto and career-spanning poetry collection Hungry Constellations. Mike’s stories have popped up in places like Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the anthologies Cthulhu’s Reign, Solaris Rising 2 and Tomorrow’s Cthulhu. His poetry has won the Rhysling Award three times, and his fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. By day he works as the arts and culture columnist for the daily newspaper in Roanoke, Va., where he lives with his wife Anita, a goofy dog, and two cats with varying degrees of psychosis. You can follow Mike’s exploits as a writer at descentintolight.com, as an editor at mythicdelirium.com, and all at once on Twitter at @mythicdelirium.

First of all, welcome and congratulations on the publication of your latest collection! I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at The Spider Tapestries, but for those who haven’t, would you care to provide a taste of what’s in store?

Thanks, Alison! The Spider Tapestries samples my writing at its absolute weirdest. It’s funny for me to say that, because just about all of my published stories were born in Bizarreland. But these seven stories (and I always wanted it to be seven, I think because of the rhythm of “Seven Strange Stories” as a subtitle) represent the tales where I pushed hardest against the boundaries of what a story can hold –and in some instances, how a story can be told.

My first collection, Unseaming, had some wacky story structure and surreal plot developments, but I think all the tales in that book can be unambiguously classified as “horror.” While the stories in Spider Tapestries run amok through genre conventions. I tend to describe the book as “half as long as Unseaming and ten times weirder.”

You blend a lot of styles in The Spider Tapestries. One style I was particularly intrigued by was the weird-noir of Twa Sisters and Still Life With Skull. Could you talk about where that voice and world came from? Are there other stories set in this universe? Perhaps a whole story cycle, or even a novel?

“Twa Sisters” was the first, and it came about as a kind of kooky convergence. On the one hand, my buddy Patty Templeton introduced me to the art of Alessandro Bavari, whose astonishing photo-manipulations contain a whole cosmos of post-human decadence. One the other hand, my great friend Nicole Kornher-Stace dared me to write a story the way I write a poem. She was thinking in terms of my use of language, but that’s not the only tool I use in poetry. I’ve written a lot of ekphrastic poetry, and I’ve written concrete poems that arrange words in shapes on the page to convey sci-fi concepts, in deliberate tribute to works by Alfred Bester and Harlan Ellison.

So I decided to write an ekphrastic story based on Bavari’s imagery, and added concrete poetry techniques to convey how the two entities that live inside my first person narrator’s brain have independent points of view. I challenged myself to just make up the story as I went rather than work from an outline, which for some reason led to that mock-noir tone. That established the atmosphere for all that follows. I began “Still Life With Skull” as a lark and finished it for Ian Whates’s Solaris Rising 2 anthology, drawing more inspiration from Bavari’s work. It was a fun exercise: I assumed those surreal images were photographs of real events, and then tried to deduce the who and the why.

I have actually drafted a third story in the sequence, called “The Three-fold Feather,” that will probably end up as a novelette once it’s all spit-polished. I can’t fathom where I’m going to sell that story, but that’s a problem for another day.

In addition to your short fiction, you’re also an award-winning poet, a novelist, and a newspaper columnist. Do you have separate compartments in your brain for each type of writing, or do they all flow into one another? When you need a break from writing all together, are there other creative (or non-creative) outlets you turn to in order to recharge your batteries?

The different types of writing do require some compartmentalization, but not as much as you might think. Stringing together the paragraphs of a news story and stanzas of a poem can be remarkably similar, for example. Often, both are non-linear in structure, and I’m writing them with a mind toward juxtaposing elements so they convey maximum information and impact. When I’m writing a story, I don’t concentrate near as much on cadence and quirky word choice as I do with a poem, and yet, if I had a dime for every response to my work that included some variant on “You can tell the dude’s a poet” … I’d have a nice pile of dimes, heh.

I’ve quite deliberately maneuvered things so that darn near everything I do in my life connects to writing in some way. I love hiking and I’m something of a movie snob, and that might well be about the sum of what there is to know regarding how I spend my time…

On a somewhat related note, you also edit Mythic Delirium, which in its current iteration is a magazine of prose and poetry, and the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series. Do you ever sleep? Or, to put it in a slightly more seriously, how do you balance all your projects? Does your editorial work influence your writing, or vice versa?

I didn’t graduate college with any ambitions to become an editor. In 1995 an acquaintance asked me to edit an anthology, claiming he would provide the funding. This turned out to be a lie, but I had already acquired all the stories and poems before I figured this out! I finished the project on my own dollar, and on the scale of what could be expected from a self-published, Kinko’s-copied, saddle-stapled book in that era, it was a success that actually opened some doors for me. That book , New Dominions, is long forgotten, but it showed me that I could pull off that kind of project. So I kept pursuing them.

How do I balance them? Quite poorly! I do sleep occasionally though.

My writing and editing do cross-pollinate, but it’s difficult to explain exactly how. As an editor, I get introduced to writers who are working well outside the mainstream (some of them I catch while they’re still on their way toward re-defining the mainstream). That’s great for me, in terms of discovering creative regions to explore that are new to me. As a writer myself, I know what my hopes are in terms of how an editor will treat my work, and so I use those as guidelines for how I approach editing. I think my tastes as an editor are significantly different from my tastes as a writer, though: more breadth of subject matter, more light to balance the darkness, fewer monsters and corpses.

At conventions, you have been known to roam the halls wearing a truly fabulous hat. It looks like the kind of hat with a story behind it. Is there a story, or is it the sort of thing where if you told me, you’d have to kill me?

Alas, the hat you reference has vanished into the aether! A natural outcome, I suppose, for a gift from a Goblin Queen (i.e. Amal El-Mohtar, co-editor of Goblin Fruit). My wife, Anita, must be given due credit for having added more and more decorations to that hat until it achieved extreme fabulousity — everything on it referenced something I had written. A replacement may be in the works.

I have no doubt that the new hat will be every bit as fabulous as its predecessor! Anyway, now that your second collection is out in the world, what are you working on next?

I am revising a novel, Trail of Shadows, that’s an expansion of one of my stories from Unseaming, “The Hiker’s Tale.” I’m also busy promoting my newest anthology, Clockwork Phoenix 5, which you know as you contributed an awesome story to its pages (he said with a grin).

Aww, shucks! You’re too kind. Thank you for stopping by!

Thanks for letting me do so!

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An Interview with A.M. Dellamonica

A.M. Dellamonica was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about her latest novel, A Daughter of No Nation (released today!), among other things. To get things started, as I frequently do, I will shamelessly steal her author bio by way of introduction…

A.M. Dellamonica moved to Toronto, Canada, in 2013, after 22 years in Vancouver. In addition to writing, she studies yoga and takes thousands of digital photographs. She is a graduate of Clarion West and teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, was released by Tor Books in the summer of 2014 and was a finalist on the Lambda Award ballot.

She is the author of more than thirty-five short stories in a variety of genres; they can be found on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and in numerous print magazines and anthologies.

ACW: Welcome! Congratulations on the publication of A Daughter of No Nation. Could you talk about the novel a bit and the Hidden Sea Tales Trilogy in general? Did you always plan for the books to be a trilogy, or did you find yourself coming to the end of the first book and realizing there was more of the story to tell?

AMD: I conceived of the Hidden Sea Tales as a trilogy from the start–or, really, “at least three.” The basic scheme was to create a world I could keep visiting from now until death, with an abundance of political and physical settings and cool photogenic wildlife and intriguing magic and pirates. Writing three to begin with was in some sense reining myself in… limiting the initial story to Sophie Hansa and her journey.

Except I didn’t, which is how I ended up writing The Gales. More on that soon.

ACW: I’m always curious about process and what goes on behind the scenes of an author’s work. After finishing Child of a Hidden Sea, did you jump straight into writing A Daughter of No Nation, or did you give yourself a break in-between to work on other things and recharge your batteries? Is there anything in particular you find easier or harder about writing the second book in a series as opposed to the first?

There was a bit of back and forth. Initially sent an outline of the story to my editor at Tor and tried to work on other things–they could have said no, after all–but then I couldn’t leave the world of Stormwrack alone. I’d made all these shiny things, after all! So I wrote some backstory on Gale Feliachild and Garland Parrish, which eventually turned into the first of the story cycle I call The Gales – “Among the Silvering Herd.” That gave me some insight into some things that happened in the first novel, and I couldn’t quite keep from writing another big chunk of that. Then I got to the part of Child of a Hidden Sea that takes place on Erinth, and I remembered I wasn’t “supposed” to be writing the novel yet, but I wanted to explore Erinth. And hey, that would help with the book anyway, right? So I wrote the next of the Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.”

And then I simply couldn’t contain myself so I went back to CHS, until I found myself wanting to do some story development on the Fleet itself, so I wrote “The Glass Galago” (which’ll be out on tor.com in the not too distant) and then I worked on the book until everyone got to Tallon, at which point I stopped and wrote a story set there: “Losing Heart Among the Tall.” (ACW note: Losing Heart Among the Tall will also be published by Tor.com sometime in the future.)

It was something of a process of wallowing in my own splendid creation, and being thoroughly pleased with myself.

At some point, to make a long story long, I got to work on ADoNN. I don’t remember there being any kind of delay between books. The only thing that was really hard about the second book was that in writing it I used up most of the nifty plot turns I’d proposed to Tor for both books two and three. So the hardest work came when I then had to figure out the story within the third book, The Nature of a Pirate…

ACW: Did you have any trouble slipping back into your characters’ voices and their world? Were you ever constrained by something you’d written in the first book that closed off an avenue you suddenly found yourself wanting to explore in the second?

I have trouble slipping into specific pieces of the setting sometimes. That “should” voice of mine is pretty sure I ought to finish off the next of the Gales, “Island of the Giants,” but there’s some piece of that setting, the island Nysa, that is holding me at a distance.

ACW: Since we’re both Canadian, I feel the need to ask – do you think there are particular tones, themes, or subjects that make a piece of literature quintessentially Canadian? If so, do you ever consciously draw on them in your own work, or even consciously avoid them?

People tend to say Canadian SF is more engaged with the environment or landscapes that surround the characters. I’m not sure I entirely buy this–it sounds like a generalization–but it’s certainly true that the ecofantasy I write is very much about terrain: the mutated semi-enchanted, entirely-feral forest that erupts in Indigo Springs and Blue Magic when the magic gets loose, for example, and the microclimates of the Fleet of Nations in this new series.

ACW: On a somewhat related note, there seems to be quite a few excellent speculative fiction writers living in and around the Toronto area. Is there anything about Toronto that makes it such fertile ground for speculative fiction writing? In general, what are some of your favorite things about the city – bookstores, parks, museums, restaurants, must-see places you’d recommend to someone visiting for the first time?

AMD: I am still getting to know all of the amazing people who live and work here–it’s very exciting. (Though of course I miss all my Vancouver friends, writer and otherwise, too.)

Is Toronto especially fertile ground for speculative fiction? I suspect that the thing that makes it so is population density. I’m a big believer in the idea of a scenius, a critical mass of like-minded artists who essentially inspire and push each other, and I think that happens more in face to face contact than online. Toronto is the city where events like the ChiSeries readings happen monthly, which means that every 3-4 weeks there’s a gathering of writers. Those personal connections and the conversations that arise from them increase our productivity, help us plow through rough patches in the creative (and professional) process, and also add fun to what can sometimes seem like a solitary grind.

ACW: You have a background in theater, and you’re also an avid photographer. Do either play into your writing at all?

AMD: I have written theater stories, though in recent years more of those have been straight mystery-genre stuff than speculative fiction. Music–I used to sing–and dance come into my work quite a bit too. As for photography, I write about it all the time, and Sophie Hansa, the main character in the current trilogy, is a marine videographer as well as a biologist. She’s a modern woman from San Francisco running around a Narnia-Galapagos mash-up, with a single tank of oxygen and a camera, in other words.

ACW: Finally, aside from the third book in the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy, what else are you working on or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

AMD: As I write this, I’m prepping The Nature of a Pirate for submission to my editor at Tor, and I really cannot see past that. I have a few ideas about what my next project will be, but finishing Sophie’s story is like a huge wall, blocking out everything. It’s an unfamiliar sensation–it seems weird. I do have an arc for the Gale and Garland stories, which I call “The Gales” in my head, and Should Voice says I ought to finish “Island of the Giants” and then write two more novelettes in that timeline, preferably one of which would feature Sophie’s birth father. But these are just the haziest fumblings toward the future; I’m not really sure where I’m going next.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

AMD: Thank you for having me!

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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?

FW:
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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