Who survives in this #Podcast? #HalloweenReads: #TheFinalGirlSupportGroup by @Grady_Hendrix

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! October has come, and with it the joy of reading tales deliciously eerie on chilly autumn evenings.

So let us break for a wee spell from the lovely indie fiction to venture down paths dark and mysterious. I’ve got some fun frights recommended to me by other neato book reviewers as well as some spooky stories by authors I’ve not had a chance to taste before. Let us begin with The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix.

What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what lessons can a writer take away in studying but a few paragraphs? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Many thanks to Tammy over at Books, Bones, and Buffy for putting me on to this read! You can check out her kickin’ book review here.

Stay tuned–more sweet scares are on the way. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Not all #Fantasy #Adventures Begin with White Rabbits on this #Podcast: Following the Green Rabbit by @ChrissyH_07

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! We’ll continue tasting the wares of fellow indie authors I have gotten to know in this beautiful community through the years.

I’m thrilled to share a bit of fantastical flavor with you today! Let’s take a sip from Following the Green Rabbit by Chris Hall.  

What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what lessons can a writer take away in studying but a few paragraphs? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

If you’re ever in the mood for unique serial flash fiction and poetry, do check out Chris Hall’s delightful blog!

Be on the look out for more sweet indie goodness in the autumn podcasts to come! 

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#AuthorInterview: #Wisconsin #Mystery #Writer Patricia Skalka Shares Setting Inspiration and Tips on Writing a Unique Detective

A stormy August has descended upon us here in Wisconsin, my friends. Not only has rain come at last to our parched farmlands, but so has the lightning, thunder, and even tornados. We’ve had to huddle in our basement a few times in the last week around the transistor radio to hear of funnel clouds taking shape, of lightning striking power poles blocks away, of tornados destroying homes miles away. But we are all safe and well, and no deaths as of yet been reported. A prayer of thanks for that!

While storms will always trigger memories of flooding in our home, I know storms can also be an amazing inspiration for storytelling. There is something about that dark and stormy night that puts us all in the mood for a good ol’ whodunit…

…and I cannot think of a better series to tuck into during the next storm than the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series by Patricia Skalka. Not only was her first book a delight to sip on my podcast Story Cuppings, but I was happily surprised–and yet not surprised at all–to find out USA Today selected her first book, Death Stalks Door County, as THE story readers “traveling” the States through fiction should read to experience the Wisconsin setting. My fellow creatives, I am pleased as beer cheese to introduce you to the one and only, Patricia Skalka.

Niceties first! Please tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in a blue-collar Chicago neighborhood, so I’m a city girl from way back, but I have a strong connection to rural Wisconsin thanks to my mother. Her parents, my grandparents, were Polish immigrants whose pursuit of the American dream led them to a small dairy farm in the north central part of the state, near the paper-mill town of Mosinee. I spent many summers on that hard-scrabble farm: milking cows, driving the tractor, baling hay, and staring at a night sky filled with stars. On one memorable night I even saw the aurora borealis flicker and dance above the horizon. To me, Wisconsin was always a magical place. I didn’t discover Door County until I was a young adult, but the majesty and sheer beauty of the area reinforced the notion.

Oh, yes, there is something magical in this land of forests and fireflies, I agree! Let’s get back to that in a moment. First, let’s explore the magic of the stories you enjoyed as a child.

When I was growing up books were a luxury we couldn’t afford. But I was a reader, and the books I enjoyed came from the library. Every Tuesday the bookmobile parked outside the neighborhood A&P grocery store and opened for business. Every week I walked in the front door –a seven-year-old proud to have her very own library card — and then marched out the back door with five books, the most you were allowed to check out. For the longest time, I was fixated by the biographies of famous women – women like Clara Barton, Betsy Ross, Molly Pitcher, and Florence Nightingale. Then one day, my Aunt Jean loaned me her childhood copy of The Secret Garden.  

My love of fiction began with that classic children’s story. The Secret Garden took me to a different time and place in a way that the biographies did not. Maybe it was the language or the fact that the story was about characters closer to my age, but I fell in love with the book. Just as Mary and Colin discovered the door to the hidden garden, I discovered a door to a limitless universe of literature, one that demonstrated the power of imagination.

Ah, so you were a frequent visitor of the library as a kid as well. I distinctly remember getting a small illustrated version of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and that cinched it for me as far as the genre went. After going through all the Nancy Drew stories the library had on hand, I devoured Colin Dexter’s Morse stories, P.D. James’ Dalgleish stories, and of course, Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Did you experience a similar journey through the mystery genre?

Growing up I loved the Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and Miss Marple stories. Here were people following clues and solving puzzles, figuring things out.  Then I read Dorothy L. Sayers, and my sense of what a mystery could be shifted to something more.  Her books about Peter Whimsey and Harriet Vane did so much more than simply solve the crime. They revealed the pain and struggle of the human heart. They were windows to the soul.

I’ve had the same experience reading other mysteries, books such as The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre, Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith, and The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. In each instance, the mystery was essential to the story, but in each instance the story encompassed more. These are tales of human strength and weakness, stories of internal conflict and struggle.

Thank you for these recommendations! I’ve not read Tartt or Smith, but I’ve enjoyed a number of Le Carré novels in the last few years. Now, what of your own fascinating mystery series? Just as Sherlock tells Watson in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”–

“It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

–you create suspenseful tales of murder not in the urban land of Chicago, but the quiet, rural peninsula of Door County. What inspired that choice?

I always wanted to write a mystery, but I had no idea of where, who, or what it would entail. One day, I was sitting on a Door County beach looking out at Lake Michigan. It was a perfect day – blue sky, blue water, warm sun. The kind you could sell for a million dollars if only you could bottle it up. That night I sat in the same spot. Heavy cloud cover obscured the moon and stars; it was inky dark – and eerie. I kept looking over my shoulder and thinking: anything can happen here. The contrast between day and night prompted thoughts of light and dark, good and evil. And the idea was born: I’d write a mystery about a picture perfect location (Door County) where sinister forces were at work beneath the surface.

What were the sinister forces; who was responsible for them; what happened as a result; who suffered and why; who stood to benefit?  I wanted to write a story in which the contemporary crimes were linked to past events. People in Door County tend to know each other’s histories. My protagonist had to be a stranger –enter Dave Cubiak. A former cop from Chicago who could track a killer, a man with his own burdens, a man who didn’t know anyone and would have to ferret out the clues and follow their trail until he stood before the culprit and asked Why?

Death Stalks Door County was meant to be a stand alone. One and done. When I began my career as a mystery writer, I couldn’t imagine writing a series. But as I was going through the long initial process of writing and revising and hoping to find a publisher, different story ideas kept popping up and slowly the notion of writing a series loomed not as an impossibility but as a logical next step. By the time I had signed a contract for the first book, I was half way through the initial draft of the second book.

Along with Cubiak, I, too have been on a journey. Writing his story, his books, has taught me two lessons that I believe every writer must learn and embrace: one, believe in your story and two, believe in your ability to tell it even as you continue to hone your craft.

Dave Cubiak is indeed on a journey! Meeting him in the opening pages of your first book gave me such a powerful picture of a man trying to hide from his grief as much as move on from it.

(If the above podcast link does not appear, you can click here for my post with the podcast episode.)

Do you find it difficult to write a protagonist of a different gender? What tips do you have for other writers who struggle to write outside of their gender?

I don’t find it more difficult to write a male protagonist than a female protagonist. Either way, I need to know them fully – who they are, where they come from, their struggles, dreams, disappointments, weaknesses, strengths, values, foibles, fears, how they walk and talk and think.  Dave Cubiak evolved with the idea for Death Stalks Door County. He was an integral part of the story before I wrote a single word. In many ways, the book – and then eventually the series – is his story.

My books are more than mysteries; taken as a whole they trace Cubiak’s journey from the pivotal moment that changed his life to all that came after. One male reader said he felt they were stories of hope for anyone struggling with loss. Another man said he liked Cubiak because “he’s real.”

The challenge, then, is not to write either a male or female protagonist, but to write one that is real, one that belongs in the story.

The keys to writing outside your gender are empathy and observation. Try to understand that character; walk in their shoes; feel for them.  Watch how they act; listen to how they talk. Invite them into your imagination and live with them for a while. Put them in different situations (finding an injured kitten; stumbling on a wallet stuffed with cash; getting a letter from an old lover seeking forgiveness for the unforgiveable) and see how they react. If you can do all that, you can write the character.

You mentioned earlier that Death Stalks Door County was meant to be a standalone, but your imagination created more conundrums for Cubiak and inspired you to write a series instead. A happy change in plans, I’d say! Yet I should think such a change in plans requires a change to one’s writing process. How would you say your writing process changed after publishing Death Stalks Door County?

I’d been a staff writer for the Readers’ Digest and a professional nonfiction writer for nearly twenty years when I decided to write my first mystery.  Death Stalks Door County was years in the making. I’d read plenty of mysteries and literary novels, but I’d always written nonfiction articles. Even a seven-thousand-word piece pales by comparison to a book of seventy-thousand plus words. With the first book I had a lot to learn. I wrote and edited; I revised and submitted. I got rejected. Repeat. And then again. At one point, I printed the manuscript and let it sit on a shelf for two years. One day I picked it up, fully intending to toss it in the trash. But as I flipped through, I realized that (1) it was decently written; (2) I really liked my characters; and, (3) I was the only person in the world who knew the story and if I didn’t tell it, then it would never be told. Sitting on the floor of my office, I decided that I would give it one more try. One more read through; one more edit; one more round of queries. And that’s when the magic happened. The email read: “Please send full manuscript.” Music to any writer’s ears.

I wrote Death Stalks Door County as a pantser. I had an idea and started writing a book. As I struggled with the process, I slowly evolved into a plotter. I began to think in terms of chapters, then scenes. Bit by bit, I broke the story down into pieces. The smaller the pieces and the more of them that I had, the better handle I had on the story and the more confident I became.

Last month I finished book seven and what changed from writing the first book to the way I wrote the rest of the series was my approach. Starting with Death at Gills Rock, the second volume, I realized that I needed to know the details of the story before I could write it, so I began to plot every step of the action. In essence, I created a road map that carried me from beginning to end.

There are writers who shudder at the thought of plotting the story first, and it’s not a technique that will work for everyone. But many will benefit from it. There are very clear advantages: Plotting ultimately eliminates writer’s block – with a well plotted story, you never sit in front of a blank screen or empty page and wonder now what because you know what comes next. Instead of writer’s block, however, you will have thinker’s block. Working out the kinks and inconsistencies and struggling to make sense of the story line takes work. It’s not easy but ultimately it means that you don’t toss out ten or twenty thousand words because you changed your mind midway through chapter three.  

I was once asked if detailed plotting doesn’t take the fun out of writing. Not for me, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes me more comfortable and confident and eager to write.

A seventh book in the works? Huzzah and congrats! I know just what you mean about pantsing. I enjoyed this style of writing quite a bit during the years I participated in National Novel Writing Month, but you’re absolutely right that when it comes to crafting a strong story–especially a mystery!–one needs to know where the clues are hidden, which characters are where and when, how the reveals happen, and so on. Having the plot planned takes a lot of the panic out of writing, to be sure.

You have been such a joy to converse with here, Patricia–thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with us! May we please close with any other tips you have for aspiring writers? There are so, so many traps writers can fall into, and any trap sprung often wounds, even scars, a writer’s imagination and motivation.

Based on what I have learned from presenting and attending various workshops and listening to aspiring writers discuss their work, I’d say there are three common traps.

  1. Not being clear on the kind of book you’re writing – this is most likely to be a problem for  first-time writers. To paraphrase Socrates, “To know thy book is the beginning of intelligent writing.”  Different types of books have different rules. Something as simple as word count varies from one kind of book to another. Taking the time to figure out what you want your book to be – memoir or historical fiction, cozy mystery or thriller – helps the writer focus and start and stay on the right track.
  2. Misinterpreting the advice to “show don’t tell.” We’ll all heard this dozens of times. Unfortunately, many new writers interpret the advice to mean that you show everything, but that is not what is meant. As a writer, you show the important parts and tell everything that happens in between. As I see it, we have a responsibility to hand the reader a finished story on a silver platter, not to present the verbal equivalent of an unedited video of everything that happens in a character’s life and expect the reader to ferret out the story.
  3. Trying to please everyone. After Death Stalks Door County, my first mystery, was published I was invited to a book club whose members included both men and women. Listening to the book club members discuss my work was an enlightening experience. One woman said she really like X about the book; her husband said X was what he liked least. Then a man said he wished I had included more Y, and the woman across the table said, oh, no there was quite enough of Y for her. As the back and forth continued, I asked myself: which of these people should I be trying to please? It didn’t take long to realize the futility of trying to write to accommodate the preferences of a specific individual or type of reader. My takeaway from the experience: Write the book you want to read. Write to please yourself.

And so we shall, Patricia. So we shall. x

My fellow creatives, you are welcome to visit Patricia Skalka’s author site as well as book review site for more information on what she writes and reads.


~STAY TUNED!~

Blondie and I are keen to share our own writing updates! It’s also high time, methinks, for a bit of creative nonfiction crafting when it comes to those everyday absurdities. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

It’s #Murder in the #NorthWoods on this #PrivateEyeJuly #Podcast : Death Stalks Door County by Patricia Skalka

Good morning, my fellow creatives! Today’s selection comes in thanks to my mother, who is an avid listener of Wisconsin Public Radio and heard about a series set in one of her favorite places in all of Wisconsin: Door County.

A rural mystery series set in Wisconsin? Sign me up! So let us take a break from the fantastical (though if you want a bit of fantastical Wisconsin, check this out!) and enjoy a traditional cozy set in the American Midwest.

Let’s take a sip together to taste the campfires, the lake, and the murder in Death Stalks Door County by Patricia Skalka.

If the embedded link recording is not showing up, you can click here to access the podcast site.

Next week we’ll wrap up Private Eye July with another cozy featuring a detective I’ve never read before, much to my husband’s chagrin. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

This #PrivateEyeJuly #Podcast continues where the #magic is gone but the #monsters remain: #TheLastSmileinSunderCity by #LukeArnold

Good morning, my fellow creatives! During these cloudy, humid summer days, nothing strikes my fancy quite like a mystery.

Brilliant indie author and book reviewer S.J. Higbee recommended this book a while back, and at last I’ve found the perfect time to try it: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold.

Let’s take a sip together to taste the grit beneath the glitter…well, maybe that’s not the best metaphor here, but let’s, um….oh, let’s just try it.

If the embedded link recording is not showing up, you can click here to access the podcast site.

Next week I’ll actually take a little break from fantasy for a traditional mystery. You’ll see why soon. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#FirstChapter #Podcast: Infinity Son by Adam Silvera. #BookReview #UrbanFantasy #PrideMonth

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! Where on earth did June go? I’ve not the slightest, but my own three B’s have really taken to their summer reading programs, already earning some tickets to the local museum and state fair. Speaking of my B’s–Biff and Bash, in particular–this particular selection for the podcast is not just to help wrap up Pride Month, but to focus on a unique pair of protagonists: twin brothers.

Let’s take a sip from Infinity Son by Adam Silvera.

What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what does a writer learn? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I hope you enjoy this sip from Infinity Son with me! If there are any stories you would like to recommend for sipping on this podcast, let me know in the comments below! I’d also welcome reading any indie authors’ own stories.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Juneteenth #Podcast: Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

Happy Wednesday, one and all! With Juneteenth Day just around the corner, I would like to take a moment to step back from fantasy this Pride Month and focus on the power of a different kind of story: Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison.

This will not be a typical tasting of the story. A sip of the introduction, a sip of the first chapter. And so very much to savor.

 If the embedded link recording is not showing up, you can click here to access the podcast site.

As always, I welcome recommendations of classic, contemporary, and indie stories to read here. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#AuthorInterview: #SFF #Writer #AdrianTchaikovsky on #worldbuilding, #titles, and #readingwithkids. Thanks, @aptshadow!

A lovely day to you all, my fellow creatives! I’m really excited to have caught SFF author Adrian Tchaikovsky for another chat as he and readers celebrate the release of his latest, Shards of Earth. If you’d like to read our first interview, please click here.

Welcome back to Jean Lee’s World, Sir! Thank you so much for stopping by to share your work, your thoughts, your bugs, and all the jazz.  In our last chat together, we discovered a mutual admiration for the Queen of the Fantastic, Diana Wynne Jones. One of these days I would love to visit England and see where she spent time as a child and student. Have you ever gone on a literary pilgrimage? If so, where? If not, where do you hope to go and why? 

 This isn’t anything I’ve done, to be honest. (Shakespeare, maybe, but that’s more just standard tourist stuff. And when I went to Oxford a friend took me to Tolkien’s old drinking den, but that was also just ‘a thing you do’). I have an odd relationship with places. People always seem to expect writers to be vastly plugged in to landscapes and the place they grew up and exotic locales they’ve visited. I’m someone who exists very much inside his own head. I draw from a melange of images that filter into my head but my connections to place are generally internal and imaginary. Which on the one hand is probably entirely unhealthy, but on the other hand is probably why I’ve been able to soldier on with things despite adverse external conditions.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

 You mention Diane Wynne Jones and there’s a lot of that in her work, with the way she can use carefully chosen language to manage a reader’s expectations and perspective. Another enormously formative book I read was Pratchett’s Strata – one of his very early pre-Discworld (or proto-Discworld in a way) books. It remains the book with the biggest twist I’ve ever read. It turns the whole universe on its head, basically. But what it also does is suddenly make sense of a whole series of weird little inconsistencies that almost look like errors the editor missed when you first (as a 12 year old) romp through it. Except it’s all intentional and it’s all part of a carefully constructed trap.

Here in the States, summer break means long, agenda-less days for kids. Thankfully, all three of my children are avid readers, which promises a smidge of peace in the house. So now comes that precarious balance of celebrating my children’s reading while also challenging them with trying new authors/stories. I recently dared to let my eldest, Blondie, read my WIP Middler’s Pride, and I cannot tell you the wave of relief I felt when she said she liked it. What sort of stories does your son enjoy and recommend? Has he read any of your own stories yet?

So my son doesn’t read much. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to him, which obviously cuts a bit. I do read to him, though, and there’s a small list of books he’s completely fallen in love with. He loves Wynne Jones’ Homeward Bounders, Sophia MacDougall’s Mars Evacuees and its sequel, Space Hostages. He really liked Frances Hardinge’s Fly-By-Night and John Robertson’s Little Town of Marrowville. And I have read him a few of mine, and he really took to The Expert System’s Brother, which was nice.

Looking at your site, I see you recently compiled a list of your short story publications. YOWZA, you published a lot of short pieces in the midst of crafting novels. I confess that I get a bit muddled over submitting short pieces. Some recommend scouting journals first to see what their contests call for and write for the contests, but then others say to write first and then see what journals take the sort of things you wrote.  Which process did you use—or did you use a different process altogether?

I wrote some stories on spec and then was able to find a home for them later, but there’s a network of small press contacts that’s fairly easy to get on the radar of, and there are always anthologies being put together with various themes and criteria, so I just wrote and submitted for whatever turned up and for which the ideas came. Writing to a prompt like that is a great exercise for the imagination.

You’ve also been sharing some wonderful bug art lately on your Twitter feed. Do you find that art helps you work out elements of the story, or does the art tend to come after the words are written?

So the art I share on Twitter is very much not connected to any of my books, It’s a relaxation thing, because there’s definitely a part of my mind that needs to do something that’s not writing, but still ends up with a finished product that I can feel proud of (I also paint Warhammer figures!). However, as these things go, I now have quite a collection of art and that professional part of my mind is telling me that I should be doing something with it, so… perhaps the connection will go the other way.

I’d like to touch back on your skill in crafting fantastically beautiful and complex fictional series. Instead of looking at the worldbuilding as we did before, let’s consider your prewriting process for the plot. See, I’m something of a pantser. I love getting into a world with the characters and just seeing where they take me and work out the plot accordingly. In creating series the likes of Shadows of the Apt, however, I can’t imagine “pantsing” to be a productive method in building a solid plot arc for a series. In our last chat you mentioned learning how to write from reading a lot, so would you say your planning process for your own novels was inspired by something you read, or perhaps from the trial and error of early writing? Or perhaps even both?

Well Shadows of the Apt was unusual in that the world was already thoroughly explored in a role-playing game I ran years earlier at university. In general, though, I’m a heavy planner but I start with the world. Worlds are what interest me, as reader and writer, and I feel they’re what the SFF genres can do in a way no others can. I’m always interested in bringing a new world to readers, and the plots and characters arise organically out of the details of the world that I’ve already set out.

Speaking of crafting new worlds, do you use any special author-friendly software to keep your writing organized? A friend of mine highly recommends Scrivener and Wonderdraft, but I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to learning new software.

I basically just use Word to write notes and lists and things like that, and sometimes I use pencil sketches or a drawing tablet to create visual records of what things look like. I know a lot of authors who do use dedicated writing software, and it’s like everything else, if it helps you, then it’s good.

The protagonists you write are not limited to one gender. Considering the care writers must take in writing outside of their physical experience, what tips could you share for those writers who want to write a for gender, race, or creed that is not their own?

I mean, the protagonists I write aren’t limited to one species! I’ve always pushed myself beyond the natural knee-jerk of characters who are basically of my own demographic, because it’s a very easy trap to fall into. I believe in positively expanding character diversity, especially in a fantasy world where the only limits are those you’ve set for yourself. There’s no reason to have everything follow some stale old stock pattern where it’s always men (white, straight, etc) who Do The Things, and everyone else is a supporting character. And the payoff is, books with a variety of characters are basically more interesting, imho.

Congratulations on your latest publication, Shards of Earth! Its premise promises grand adventure, to be sure, but I cannot help but contemplate your word choice in the title: “Shards of Earth”. I immediately think of something small, broken, but also sharp and able to pierce something strong. (I also think of Dark Crystal, but that’s not really relevant here.) Come to think, loads of your titles have a certain flare with word choice that hooks readers. A few examples:

  •         Firewalkers
  •         Cage of Souls
  •         Spiderlight
  •         Salute the Dark
  •         Redemption’s Blade

“Souls” are so ethereal, substance-less, yet we can cage them? Spiders are of the dark, skittering and silent, but they hold light? The word choices are just too enticing to not contemplate them. I don’t know if this is peculiar or not, but usually, my titles are in my head before I’ve even written a word. The title appears with a visual of a scene, and I have to grab it and copy it before it flies off on me into the unmapped region of the story’s fog. Do your titles arrive early in your process, or do they come later, perhaps with feedback, as you edit?

So the shameful truth here is that the majority of my working titles don’t survive contact with the editor. Either they get trimmed or changed a little, or changed completely. Doors of Eden was originally “The Brain Garden”! I’ve come to accept that what sounds good to me during the writing process doesn’t always hit the ears of others very sweetly. 🙂 We often have a huge faff and rush over the actual title post-submission, after my original gets voted down.

Speaking of those moments of inspiration, I’m also intrigued by Shards of Earth’s conflict with these architect aliens vs. man pushing its own evolution forward. Your antagonists are as intriguing as your protagonists in every novel, so I cannot help but wonder which came first in Shards of Earth (and/or in any other novel of your choosing): the villains, or the heroes?

So in Shards, the Architects came first. I remember talking the series concept over with my agent long ago, where we hammered out various elements (including stuff that will only be made explicit in book 3!) of the setting. The idea of the enormous world-reshaping monsters is definitely the heart of the series.

You can’t go wrong with world-reshaping monsters!

Let’s wrap up with another creature question. As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal?

Well I write a lot of animals so I’ve got a fair few to choose from. I tend to write about the animals that really appeal to me, too, so they’re right there on the page. So maybe octopus, or praying mantis, or salticid spider… Or perhaps some unholy combination of all three.

An unholy combination is right! I’ll just be sure to keep my daughter’s flying foxes handy…just in case, of course. 🙂

Thank you so much for sharing your time in the midst of a crazy release schedule! I hope you and your son continue to discover new stories to enjoy together, and that the worlds of your imagination never lose their wonder.

~STAY TUNED!~

My podcast series continues with a detour to Juneteenth before returning to fantasy in celebration of Pride Month. We’ll also consider the timeless, transcending character that is the Outsider-turned-Hero. Character names, everyday absurdities, and more author interviews are on their way!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

The Power of #OralStorytelling in #History, #Reading, and #Writing

Hello, my fellow creatives! Summer has returned to the Midwest at last. While my kids eagerly toss their backpacks into the air crying Hallelujah, I am wrapping up finals while also preparing for the next term. It’s a little scary, changing over terms, but, you know…we manage somehow. 🙂

But all this monsterly ruckus does not mean we cannot think of writerly things. In fact, I was fortunate enough to host a virtual Creative Salon for some fellow teachers about the importance of oral storytelling for its cultural, creative, and classroom significance. Let me take you through a few bits of research, perhaps a pondering or two, so that we may all remember just what is treasured–preserved–known through the tradition of oral storytelling.

The oral traditions and expressions include of many spoken such us riddles, proverbs, folklore, tales, legends story, myths, epic songs and poems, charms, prayers, chants, songs, dramatic performances and more. Oral traditions and expressions are used to give information about the knowledge, social and culture values as well as the collective memory.

Cultural Preservation: Rediscovering the Endangered Oral Tradition of Maluku

Think back to your days listening to a story a loved one tells you, or that you told yourself. “Once upon a time”… and off you go into someplace Other and New. Such a common little phrase, isn’t it? We hear it over and over in familiar fairy tells and legends. You can even trim that phrase down further to simply “Once.” Countless stories start at this very moment. These stories come from across land and time to reach us, here and now, and pull us into their “once”: stories of battles waged, quests completed, families reunited.

Or perhaps those stories come from an Elsewhere altogether different: lands of myth and magic, where the Impossible is just as real as you, or you…oooor you!

Campfires call upon that Impossible Magic, don’t they? When the words of a spoken story combine with the sparks and stars, we cannot help but fall under the story’s spell. Such was the way we and others wove with words: summer camp’s ghost stories, Dad’s evening devotions, or the bizarre fairy tales we’d tell ourselves while poking the embers with our sticks still sticky from the last of the marshmallows.

In the time of Dickens, reading aloud at home was very much a common household entertainment. The practice had become broadly accessible in Britain a hundred years earlier, with the spread of literacy and the increased availability of books and periodicals…they saw reading as a pick-me-up and a dangerous influence, a source of improvement, a way to stave off boredom, and even as a health-giving substitute…

The Enchanted Hour

But let us not be so foolish as to suppose the stories told could only be for fun. Telling tales aloud could be extremely instructive, too, for any class. From oral historians describing battles to Caesar as he dined, to the man reading newspapers to Cuban cigar-rollers as they worked, we have depended on the oral storyteller to take us outside of ourselves and witness that which we cannot experience otherwise. It is through the telling of lives that we have learned what it is like to emigrate to a foreign land, to live in a centuries-old slum, to hide in the trenches as bombs decimate the land. Countless cultures have depended upon oral storytelling to preserve their histories and customs, and it is through such practice that modern generations have been able to preserve the ways of their ancestors.

The art of storytelling was practiced by both men and women in Lakota culture and society, where a form of high culture existed prior to the reservation period. Those individuals born in the early part of the twentieth century retained memories of narratives told by grandparents who lived during this “high culture” period, which extended from the time before contact with Europeans to approximately 1850.

George Sword’s Warrior Narratives

Nowadays, Kapata is performed (sung) widely [in Indonesia]. In its development, Kapata helps to carry out the function as the medium to enrich language and literature…Another function of Kapata is a social control function. It can be found in the texts of Kapata such as in Kapata Nasihat in Central Maluku from parents to children or from kings to his people. Kapata [maintains] the sanctity of customs regulations and upholding custom laws in a particular community; and to preserve and maintain custom relations that have been established in a community for years.

Rediscovering the Endangered Oral Tradition of Maluku

Māori who participate in ceremonies and meetings there, descendants of those who composed and passed on the ancient records, know the lineage of their forebears because of often quoted genealogies, which were also preserved in the oral tradition. The words handed down from the ancestors are cherished and kept current in various ways and through new media….The literature that bears the closest relationship to the oral tradition in its original form are the texts that Māori first wrote down from memory or that were written for them as they dictated…

Maori Oral Tradition

The West had shaped the knowledge and discourse about Africa for hundreds of years and it was important to shift that power relationship. Obviously, decades of European colonial incursion and rule needed to be sorted out as it pertained to earlier scholarship….Certainly, African societies have preserved their histories, cultures, and ideas in nonverbal forms in the plastic, musical, dancing, and ritual arts, and these need to be taken into account when seeking a thorough historical picture. This also allows us to understand how earlier events have been reconsidered or even reshaped over time for contemporary purposes.

On the Status of African Oral Tradition Since 1970s: An Interview with Robert Cancel

But what does oral storytelling mean for us in the here and now? Since the professionals cannot make up their minds about listening to stories vs. reading them, let’s just focus on what we get out of oral storytelling as both readers and writers of the present.

Reading becomes a priority again. One of my university colleagues broke down the current literacy plight as an inevitable consequence of the “multimodality” of our entertainment. Once radio and film came to Main Street, people no longer needed newspapers and books like they used to. A representative of Wisconsin Literacy concurred, noting that a child is not raised in a home where reading matters, that mindset is carried into adulthood and passed on to the next generation. This mindset propels that vicious cycle of low-literacy onward: no motivation to read = inability to decipher and synthesize text both simple and complex. Forget research–low-literacy means being unable to properly fill out a job application or understand a medical prescription. Studies shared in The Enchanted Hour show that the majority of a child’s neurological development occurs in the first five years, and when a child watches a video instead of listening to a book being read, that development suffers greatly.

Listening to a picture book being read, however, helps children connect the pictures and words they see with the words they hear. They hear how the words sound, how the sentences sound, and are therefore able to use those words and sentences themselves with confidence. And this isn’t just for kids, by the way. I have recommended my adult learners reading fun stuff for years, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. Reading for fun makes reading for school a smidge easier. Reading for school makes writing for school a smidge easier. Writing for school makes writing for work a smidge easier. Put all those smidges together, and you’ve got yourselves a broken vicious cycle.

If a child sees something in a parent that that child aspires to, he or she will copy that parent and be content.

The Reading Promise

This is another reason why I started my podcast last month: in all my encouragement to students, I was neglecting myself. Story Cuppings became a way for me to not only sample and study stories through reading their first chapters, but to read aloud and experience new language again and again. If you’ve a book–be it one you love, wrote, or both–you’d like me to share on Story Cuppings, just let me know!

Passion swells to share one’s life experience, the struggles here and now. “Once upon a time” is not limited to Past Days or Elsewheres. “Once” means “now” as much as it means “then.” “Once” there is a group of people who struggle, not struggled, against adversity. That “once” takes us to the accounts of individuals in Hong Kong, in the United States, in Myanmar, in Poland, in Mexico. It is through the words of an individual—what they see and hear, what they experience at the hands of others—that we learn of the epic quests and battles of today.

And do not assume “epic” must mean “global stakes.” On the contrary, the most epic victories can be one family, one person, living life one season to the next. Such are the stories we hear at family gatherings, be they around a campfire, kitchen table, or fence post. As fellow Wisconsinite storyteller and documentarian Jeremy Apps explains:

My father and my uncles were storytellers, and so were several of the neighbors in the farming community where I grew up in central Wisconsin. Family members told stories when we gathered for celebrations, birthday parties, anniversaries, and at Christmas and Thanksgiving family affairs. Our farm neighbors told stories during threshing and wood sawing bees, while they waited at the grist mill for their cow feed to be ground, and when they came to town on Saturday nights and waited for their wives to grocery shop. These stories were always entertaining, as many of them had a humorous bent to them, but they were also filled with information—how the cattle were surviving during the summer drought, what price Sam got for his potato crop and how he managed to get that price. How the weather this year was not nearly as bad as the weather twenty years ago. Many of the stories were also sad, such as how Frank was making it on his poor farm since his wife died and left him with three kids to fee and care for.

Telling Your Own Story

When I read App’s words and see his work like A Farm Winter, I see the shine of the pivotal truth he wrote in Telling Your Own Story….

Click here for more on this documentary.

Your stories are snippets of history.

Never, EVER, sell your own story short. Whether you weave your experiences with imagined elements or you stitch the raw details together for all to know, YOUR story matters.

Now, tell it aloud.

Hear the sounds of the words you choose, the rhythm they create like the genealogies repeated by the Maori over and over as the story is told by the teller. Listen to the nuances of your characters’ voices–what words embody the tones you use when your voice dresses up as each character? What words bring sensory feeling to the settings you describe?

There is beauty in your story’s language, my fellow writers. Share it with the sparks and stars, and see its magic pass from one generation to the next.~

~COMING SOON!~

Would you believe I’m actually working on a humor writing workshop for my university this summer? I’m still working out how I got roped into that, too. Plus we need to FINALLY talk about the process of choosing character names. Let’s not forget studying those character archetypes that cross time and culture! There’s lots of literary fun to share over the coming months, not to mention some more kickin’ author interviews.

Read on, share on, and write on my friends!

#IndiePublisher #Interview: @WyldbloodPress Discusses #ShortFiction #WritingTips, #FavoriteAuthors, and #Submissions

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! As my children’s school year comes to an end–and my students bombard me with finals to grade–the online celebration of fantasy fiction continues with Wyrd and Wonder.

This month’s interview is unique. Rather than interviewing an indie author, I have interviewed an indie publisher. My friends, welcome to the world of Wyldblood Press!

Let’s start with the niceties. Introduce yourself, please!

I’m Mark Bilsborough, publisher and main editor at Wyldblood Press. We publish short and long fiction on our website, in our bi-monthly speculative fiction magazine and novels. We publish digitally and in print.

Before we dive into the Wyldblood, let’s first here about your journey as a reader. What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

Tough question. I can think of a few I liked when I was younger but dislike now – Tolkein, for instance (and I know this might sound sacrilegious). I loved Lord of the Rings when I was twelve but when I tried to reread it a few years ago I found myself bogged by the meandering narrative, irritated by the burst into song and puzzled by the lack of female characters. Plus I hold him responsible for the glut of high fantasy names and by-the-numbers epic fantasy plotlines that make many doorstop-sized fantasy books so inaccessible. But without Tolkein would we have had Game of Thrones? So I’m still in awe of his influence and legacy even though I won’t be digging into The Silmarillion any time soon.

Tolkein aside, I’ve grown into fantasy more generally and I can appreciate the flexibility of the form more now. And I like poetry now. I’d always hated it (thanks, education, for making me read it), but Simon Armitage, Carol Anne Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Percy Shelley and John Keats (and a whole bunch of others) are definitely on my reading list now.

I took a while to come around to Becky Chambers and Emily St John Mandell but I’m glad I did.

What inspired you to found Wyldblood Press? Did you see something unethical in the publishing industry that you felt could be righted with Wyldblood?

I launched Wyldblood Press deep in lockdown last year. I’d just self-published a collection of my own short stories through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service and I thought “well, that was easy!” I then thought, “wouldn’t it be better to publish through an imprint?” So I set up Wyldblood and invited submissions.

But then I thought (and this is where the ethics come in) that it would be wrong to publish my own stories if I’m publishing other people – why should I get a free pass to publication when other people have to go through a rigorous and competitive selection process? So I send my own stories to other places and keep my fingers crossed.

I’m not new to editing though: I used to run a sword and sorcery fanzine called ‘Crom’ and for many years I’ve been producing journals for British Mensa – first on creative writing and latterly on speculative fiction.

Sounds like experience abounds in your writing life! Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both!

TRUTH. I love to write, but finding time to do so is an eternal battle. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Planting my behind on the seat. I’m easily distracted – I guess most writers are – so firm discipline is important. And it would help if Twitter could close down for a few house every day too.

In writing short fiction, you have to hook readers to care about characters, ground them in your story’s setting, and leave them pondering about your story’s end all within a few hundred to a thousand words. Can you walk us through the process of crafting your fiction’s pacing and language to accomplish so much so quickly?

I’ve got a big whiteboard and a multicolored clutch of marker pens. I then plan it out in big, sweeping curves making sure the story beats are all there and in the right place. Seeing the whole thing visually makes it easier to see whether the story is paced well – this works better for novels, because there’s more to think about – but it works for short fiction too.

Language is important. With flash fiction there’s no meat on the bones and every word must count. So draft revise, draft, revise, draft, revise is my advice, always asking ‘does the story need me to say that, in that way?

Many writers, and not just beginning writers, fall in love with their own words (I know I do) and sometimes it’s hard to cut out those perfect metaphors – but it’s not about the author – it’s about the story.

Oh, I fall in love with my own words far, far too often, lol. What would you say are common traps for aspiring writers?

Thinking they know how to write when they don’t. Thinking it’s easy to get published. Thinking their great original idea hasn’t been seen before, many times. Thinking they don’t need to get critiqued and seek out the opinions of others. Feeling down when they get rejected (we all get rejected – dust off and resubmit!).

How did publishing your first story change your process of writing?

My first published story was a competition win in a UK print magazine: Writing Magazine. They paid me a nice professional fee and all my friends and family could pick it up in their local supermarket. I thought “hey, this is easy.” How wrong I was! I think I learned more from the subsequent rejections, kind editor comments and networking.. The competition win gave me confidence and probably an impetus to push my writing – but the process? Trial and error, and a willingness to take and work on feedback.

How long on average does it take you to write a short story? I’d love to hear more about your process, as I’m always working on that balance of writing, teaching, and parenting.

I’m pretty quick and I tend to write my first drafts in long sprints. I learned that on Odyssey, where we had to produce a new short story every week. We had a 6,000 word upper limit and I always like to get my money’s worth. I’m also a deadline-chaser – if you give me months to do something I’ll start writing a day before it’s due and deliver it at five to midnight. So I had to write fast.

I write best late at night after everyone’s gone to bed. But that’s just me.

Redrafting (and you have to redraft) takes longer and I set time aside for that. I’ll usually show the first draft around other writers for feedback then, if I agree, I might make some changes. Then I do a proofing edit. Sometimes that’s enough, but more often than not it’s rinse and repeat.

Marketing is often the bane of many indie authors. Do you have any tips on marketing and/or platform building that you’ve found effective with your own writing or publications?

Get social. Twitter etc don’t come naturally to me but they’re really important. Network. Go to places (real or virtual). Be seen. Be noisy (put pleasant). Build a website, a brand, a reputation. Sell to places. Network. And advertise  there’s a way to do this profitably – but it takes patience, perseverance and a steep learning curve).

The most important thing, though is clarity. Knowing what the objective is (sales? Profit? Exposure?) then being clear about the methods and the message.

Wyldblood’s first anthology (published February 2021) features stories about werewolves. What was your process for selecting this theme, and what themes do you see being featured in future anthologies?

The werewolf anthology was pretty much unplanned. We emphasised wolves in our early marketing and branding because Wyldblood seemed to suggest wolves. And so, without specifically asking, people were sending a lot of werewolf stories our way. So many, that we had enough good ones for an anthology. So we did one.

It’s obvious in hindsight that calling our press Wyldblood and using a wolf head as a logo would have that effect. But at the time all I thought was that my grandfather’s middle name – Wydblood – would make a great name for a publisher.

Your announcement for your werewolf anthology Call of the Wyld got me thinking of those iconic pieces of folklore that haunt us through the centuries. One of my favorite fantasy authors, Diana Wynne Jones, had this to say about writing:

If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible colour you can imagine.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this quote.

Great quote. Most folklore is metaphor and speaks to our hopes and (usually) our fears. Werewolves – loss of control, release into savagery. Vampires – identity crisis (coming of age, embracing sexuality, the lure of danger). Fairy tales are usually about innocence lost (Hansel and Gretel. The Pied Piper. Pinocchio). Myths and legends are about making sense of a confusing world (thunder and lightning? Must be the gods fighting).  The myths shift and adapt because we shift and adapt – we don’t (I hope) believe in the thunder god now but we’re happy to buy into the Marvel reimaging of, say, Thor. The image still speaks of power, and of beings more might than us, of hard choices and titanic struggles.

And Vampires have come a long way since Bram Stoker (and before – vampire folklore stretches back through time). Today’s vampires have their affliction under control and are presented as attractive love interests (Twilight, The Vampire Diaries), or are footsolders in the war against the Lycan (Twilight). Or are substitute zombies, laying waste to humanity (The Passage). But in all iterations they represent a dark and sensuous alternative to the mundanity of our own lives. They’re attractive immortal, seductive – our forbidden fruit. Just one sip…

Are there particular authors you friends with, or authors that have inspired you to become a better writer?

I’m in a writer’s group with Jaine Fenn, who’s been published many times by Gollancz and Angry Robot, and I hang out from time to time with Tiffani Angus (who’s just been shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Award for best novel – Threading the Labyrinth) and Jacey Bedford, who’s probably lost count of the number of her books DAW has published. Vaughan Stanger’s a good friend (and one of our first readers) and dozens of his short stories have appeared seemingly everywhere, often multiple times.

I’m part of the Milford Writer’s network – a loose collection of writers who have attended the annual Milford writing workshop in Wales. That’s a networking and critiquing group – that keeps me sane and grounded. They push me, gently point out my writing’s flaws and praise its good points.

I came across a lot of famous ‘name’ writers both on my Creative Writing Master’s course and Jeanne Cavelos’ excellent Odyssey writing workshop. I tried to learn from them all. My biggest early influence, though, was Hugo-winner Kij Johnson. I went on one of her novel writing workshops at the University of Kansas and she was inspiring, guiding with enthusiasm, openness and insight. She’s also one of the best writers I’ve ever come across.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes – usually when I have to read something. As an English major at University endless great works were required reading – in my defence I read some of them, but I kept being distracted by all the great science fiction books in the library.

I also get intimidated by our massive submissions pile. I love seeing great stories, but sometimes I don’t have the head space (or time) to work through them. Thank God for first readers (I’d be lost without them).

I review books for an SF newssite ( www.concatenation.org ) and I get real reader’s block if I come across something I can’t get into. The normal way round that would be to read something else but if I’m reviewing I feel obliged to finish – and that can block me for weeks.

I get writer’s block too – I have it now. I’m putting off edits for some short fiction because I hate the redrafting process. The first draft is a massive creativity burst but after that the process becomes more mundane and I worry that it sucks the joy out. But I have a deadline and deadlines are a great motivator.

A massive submissions pile sounds like writers love submitting for Wyldblood! You published the first edition of Wyldblood Magazine this past January—congratulations! Are you currently accepting submissions? What does it take for a piece of writing to be featured in your magazine?

We’re usually open in some submission category or other so it’s always worth checking out the website. At the moment (mid April) we’re open for flash fiction (we publish a story once a week on the website and we’re always hungry for material), open for novel pitches (synopsis and first 10,000 words) and open for steampunk stories (up to 10,000 words for an upcoming anthology: Runs like Clockwork. We’ll reopen for short stories on July 14th.

To get published means beating off some very fine competition. The stories we take have strong, clear narratives, are cleverly written and have engaging characters. It goes without saying they need to have got the basics right – structure, theme, conflict, resolution – and give us confidence in the author’s writing ability (there are only so many comma splices I can overlook).

Thank you so much for your time and tips, Mark! I look forward to seeing the new worlds gathered for Runs like Clockwork. Folks, I hope you check out Wyldblood Press soon…and perhaps my new podcast when you have a few quiet minutes, hint hint. 🙂

~STAY TUNED!~

I think we’re about ready to talk about names…or the power of familial storytelling. One of these University projects will come up, to be sure, lol. I’ll continue reading fantasy fiction for my podcast, and Blondie is working on ANOTHER story to share with you! Be still, my writing heart! xxxxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!