Monday, December 28, 2009

[Interview] Joan Metelerkamp

Award-winning South African poet, Joan Metelerkamp's poetry collections include Towing The Line (Carrefour, 1992); Stone No More (Gecko, 1995) and Into the Day Breaking (Gecko, 2000).

She is also the author of Floating Islands (Mokoro, 2001); Requiem (Deep South, 2003); Carrying the Fire (substancebooks, 2005) and Burnt Offering (Modjaji, 2009).

In this interview, Joan Metelerkamp talks, among other things, about the vacuum that exists on the South Africa poetry scene:

Do you write everyday?

For periods I have written every day, but not recently. In theory, I’ve wanted to. But I tell myself that fallow periods, periods of waiting, also happen. I don’t like it, and also I think the more out of a rhythm I get the worse the not-writing becomes. I lose heart in my own process, and doubt my own task. (My own poems remind me of this tension between simply “being” and “making”). The less energy I have, the less I seem to generate.

It’s not only that I’m impatient but I like rhythm and structure… of course I like most the ecstatic moments of “fine delight that fathers thought” and find it hard to be “the widow of an insight lost”.

In the past, writing has begun at any time on scraps of paper or notes… it’s sometimes proceeded by sitting down at my table, usually after breakfast, and giving up by lunch time.

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written seven.
  • Burnt Offering, 2009, Modjaji.
  • Carrying the Fire, 2005, substancebooks. It’s a three part sequence of poems, followed by a fourth, prose, short-story like, part. It’s about love, desire, art, poems… it’s like Jacob wrestling with the angel, or (the image of the last section) a mutual seduction between Mary and the angel…
  • Requiem, 2003, Deep South. This sequence is structured by the requiem mass -- I had in mind the many musical versions, not just the liturgical. It was written after my mother’s suicide.
  • Floating Islands, 2001, Mokoro. This is a long narrative but also dramatic sequence of poems; each poem written from the perspective of one of three main characters -- a 60 something mother living in Knysna, and her two grown daughters: one a potter living in Bristol, and one an English academic teaching in Durban. It’s also something of an essay or discussion about Ruth Miller and Dorothy Wordsworth. It’s an experiment in forms since many of the single poems take specific fixed-form shape.
  • Into the Day Breaking, 2000, Gecko. A collection of lyrical and discursive poems, some quite long, some short; most written after our move from Durban to this area in the Southern Cape.
  • Stone No More, 1995, Gecko. poems
  • Towing The Line, 1992, Carrefour. poems
How long did it take you to write Burnt Offering?

My latest book, Burnt Offering, took four years to write. It has a central sequence of poems based on the work of the alchemists, the various stages or processes in their chemical experiments. I take that Jungian view of alchemy being a metaphor for work on the psyche, so also a metaphor for any “task”: the task of becoming what one chooses and works at becoming.

It was published this June by Modjaji Books in Cape Town. I didn’t really choose the publisher, it was more a question of what was possible. Modjaji is a new independent publisher of women’s writing, and fortunately Colleen Higgs agreed to publish my manuscript. She’s taken the risk on poetry which few publishers are prepared to do.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

Finding the structure for the middle section was difficult; throwing away reams of material that came to nothing was also hard; working through the humiliation and despair the central section starts with was difficult… the anxiety that the whole book might not see the light of day, or that, like Carrying the Fire, it wouldn’t be distributed was the next difficulty.

I dealt with the difficulties by dealing with them -- I haven’t got an answer to this!

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I liked writing the last twenty-page poem the most; by then I had a commitment from Colleen Higgs to publish the book, so although I was faintly anxious she might not want to include it, as it developed I became more certain that it was the appropriate end poem for the volume.

The poem involved going away with my daughter for two weeks to the low-veld, just outside the Kruger Park. She worked on a philosophy thesis and I began the poem -- it was a marvelous time and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, something of a transformative experience -- the writing and the journey and the writing afterwards.

What sets Burnt Offering apart from other things you've written?

The second poem is a long meditation on poetry called “points on poems”. It’s a playful, sometimes silly, sometimes catty, essay -- it does shift tone from point to point; I think it stands out as something new for me.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Keeping going; believing I may be a poet.

When did you start writing?

Like most poets, no doubt, I started writing soon after I could physically do cursive writing -- which is to say I wrote the first “verse” (or one I still have a vague memory of) when I was about nine years old.

I wrote off and on through my school years, but I only decided that poetry was my calling after I had already been at university for four years and then had had a short-lived three year career as an actor; and also after I had accumulated 10 unpublished short stories. (I didn’t ever try to have these stories published though I did read some of them to various members of my family -- my brothers and my mother).

It was only after I had done some stints of teaching at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and was married, and had two young children, and was in the last re-writing of a master’s thesis on the poetry of Ruth Miller, that I began to re-shape and put together what would become my first volume of poems.

What happened was that I saw an advertisement for the SANLAM literary award -- which in the 90’s were prizes given every three years for volumes of poetry: one of which was for a debut collection. (I don’t know if these prizes still exist).

I decided it was worth entering the competition simply because it was an incentive to get the poems together into what I hoped might be publishable shape. (I had read the occasional poem at an English department conference before this, and had had at least one poem published in a feminist journal called Stir, and one in Lionel Abrahams’ journal Sesame, but I hadn’t had the courage really to send my work out).

Very fortunately I was a joint winner of the prize and my first collection was published, together with the collections of the other two winners by the long-since defunct Carrefour Press. So it wasn’t really an independent first “book”; but it was enough to boost my confidence hugely, and from then on I started sending out new poems, particularly to New Coin.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

At the moment, I’m really struggling to write anything at all. I’m waiting for the next poems: I’ve got some vague ideas about them, I’ve got hundreds of jottings, I’ve got two full note-books, but I’m a bit lost.

I’ve just told you about winning that first prize, and, to continue the story, I was lucky enough to win the Sydney Clouts prize for the central poem in my second volume. That helped to affirm the sense that I hadn’t just published a one-off first book.

I needed a sense of external validation to write more; but after a while, and as the years passed and I’d been the editor of New Coin, and then a judge of precisely such prizes (I’ve judged the Ingird Jonker and DALRO prizes), and I began to get more sense of how the networks and politics of this tiny group of poets and readers of poems functions in South Africa, I began to have a quite different feeling about recognition and affirmation.

What we lack completely in this country is any critique of poetry: even within the institutions which supposedly support it (like universities -- admittedly I’ve been out of an academic world for twelve years, but even in the late 90s poetry was being squashed right out of English department syllabi and from what I gather it’s not better now). The press is ridiculous when it comes to careful and considered critique, and to get someone to write a review for a poetry journal is an up-hill struggle second to none. I’ve tried!

So South Africa is not a country which fosters or cares for the kind of poetry I’m interested in: in that asphyxiating atmosphere it’s very difficult to keep going: in a vacuum of any debate about poetry or poetics. If “form” is spoken about at all, it is spoken about as opposed to “free verse” or “performance” poetry… There is almost no published discussion on the hows and whys of what makes specific poems or specific bodies of poetry in specific places work. So it’s difficult to feel that you’re developing or reaching anyone.

Which brings me to:

Who is your target audience?

I’m in total contradiction about this: I could say paradox if I were kinder to myself, perhaps.

On the one hand, I think it’s impossible to write for an audience -- as soon as you do that (remember [W. B.] Yeats?) you write rhetoric instead of poetry.

On the other hand, without any sense of connection with an audience, without some sense that there are anonymous readers or listeners out there, I find it extremely hard to write at all. Without the sense that one’s poems are somehow collective, what is the impetus to keep making artifacts? Even though I lead a fairly hermit-like life, I’m not a Jesuit priest (I’m thinking of [Gerard Manley] Hopkins who chose not to publish) nor do I have the extraordinary and constantly developing sense of self, nor the technical proficiency, nor the strength and faith in posthumous publication, of Emily Dickinson.

I wish for my work to be meaningful for, to resonate with, someone else -- who that is, I don’t know! I have to remind myself how similar our dreams are -- I’m speaking literally, our literal night-time dreams, so, since poems come from a similar place why shouldn’t they find resonance with someone.

Which authors influenced you most?

At the moment I’m reading contemporary American poetry, so I suppose this will have an influence… this year I’ve read the most amazing works -- Campbell Mcgrath, C. D. Wright, Sharon Olds, W. S. Merwin

but the old influences are still there.

There’ve been different influences at different times, all of which have something to do with what writing I’m doing (or not doing!). [Percy Bysshe] Shelley, [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge, [John] Keats

[Walt] Whitman, [Thomas] Hardy, Hopkins, Yeats, [D. H.] Lawrence...

Stevie Smith; Dorothy Wordsworth; Ruth Miller…

then local contemporary poets: Lesego Rampolokeng (for the clamour of his music and extraordinary bending of language to his own needs), Mxolisi Nyezwa (for the other-end-of the-scale kind of music: his dream-like images, his vison), Robert Berold (for his precision, the intense narrative within image, the way metaphor explodes -- expands and contracts: now you see it, now you don’t)…

[Elizabeth] Bishop, [Muriel] Rukeyser, [Amy] Clampitt, [Adrienne Cecile] Rich

and on to contemporary American poets I’m exploring now.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I write from myself, and I also have, though this might change, always written about the immediate: the process of writing itself has often been part of the “subject”.

I don’t know how I would write if not from personal crisis or self questioning.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

If by “concerns” you mean issues that I tackle in the poems themselves, I would say: existential questions. Balancing futility and simply being; the choice of a life task and the sense that it has been given; fear of meaninglessness and the attempt to make meaning; who I am, am I on the “right” path, where I fit in in my country and its history, my family, the world!

… how I deal with these concerns is as the specifics dictate! I don’t know -- I ask the questions, I look for the answers, the poem sometimes shows me I’m asking something else, really, and most often that I can’t find any answer…

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The challenge is to keep going. What will be (Yeats again) “the singing master of my soul”?

My challenge is real conversation about poems; but also to silence the real critical voices (and I’m not here talking about careful poetic critique) which have urged me not to publish, or have said that my poems give back nothing to “South Africa”, or that the real value is in meditative silence and acceptance rather than wrestling through language, or that my work is too convoluted, involuted, self-in-turning…

In fact the only challenge that matters is the recurrent one -- what form will the next poem find, how will I do it? The challenge is to stop asking “why” and to find an answer to “how… this exact issue comes up in a poem in my last collection.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka [Interview], Conversations with Writers, October 28, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

[Interview] Jason Bicko

Speculative fiction author, Jason Bicko has worked as a barman, garden labourer, care home kitchen hand, slot machine engineer and bingo caller.

His work includes Alien Inc. which is available as an e-book from Sonar 4 Publications.

In this interview, Jason Bicko talks about his concerns as a writer:

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Unobtrusive, I would like to say. I don’t go in for literary impact because I don’t like that in the books I read. I want the story to go straight into the reader’s head -- I don’t want them to fight through the prose, constantly reminded that they’re reading a book. One author I find excellent at the subtle prose is Stephen Leather.

I have no target audience other than those who pick stories for what they might want to read at that moment. That’s how I read. I don’t go to the crime section in the library because I fancy a crime novel that day. I pick up various books, read the blurb, and choose the one that I like the sound of. It might be a crime novel or a western -- I never know.

My writing style changes constantly and this is because of the novels I read. For instance, after reading Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, I wanted to structure my stories the way that one was put together, broken down into Books, Parts, Chapters with titles, and sub-chapters marked numerically. After reading Stephen Leather, I began to compose my stories in such a way that chapters didn’t really exist, only one-line breaks. I prefer this format now because it keeps a reader reading. I don’t like chapters because it’s too easy to stop reading at the end of one.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My emotions and personal experiences don’t figure into my writing much.

For me, writing, or reading, is about escapism. It’s like a little mental holiday when I pick up a book or sit before my keyboard.

If I were to have a car crash, for instance, I wouldn’t let that intrude into my mind enough to filter into my writing. But it might give me an idea for a story about road rage turned deadly. In fact, just talking about it makes me want to write just such a tale.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is spinning a decent yarn.

Way back, I used to try to come up with an exciting storyline and then make my version of that story. But I was always concerned that the same idea would be out there.

Take a story like Groundhog Day, in which a guy wakes up in the same day every day and must use his knowledge of what’s going to happen to change things a bit. That story has been done a few times, and since Groundhog Day was kind of the template, all the others are judged by it, I think. To me, that means a story might not live to its expectations, and I find that just wrong. So I gave up going for original storylines and concentrated on (trying to) tell good stories.

If I write a story about a guy trying to rescue his kidnapped wife, I know it isn’t the first of its kind. I just hope mine is better than some of the others out there. I just hope it’s a good tale.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finding time to write is my main hurdle.

Thankfully, I don’t need to sit down in order to plot stories. Once I have an idea for one, I can let it brew like a good cup of tea. Ideas, scenes, twists, they all grow in my head as I live and work. If I hear a good joke, it’s stored in there and will take part in the story one day. When it’s time to sit down and put a synopsis on paper that I will stretch into a longer story, it comes easily. All the ideas I had over the last couple of months, they just come together as if magnetized, then I write.

Do you write everyday?

I don’t write every day, but I always create in my mind. A bit like a musician humming on the bus. I call it plotting. It’s probably more like daydreaming.

How many books have you written so far?

Seven novel-length stories, but these are unpublished. Eight or so short stories that are out there on the Internet. These are all works that came about after I moved cities in 2000.

Before that, I wrote about ten novels, but none of these has survived. My ego hopes they’re preserved somewhere in a bag or box, to be discovered in 50,000 years.

The latest one, Alien Inc. is set for ebook publication by Sonar 4. I fancied doing a gung-ho horror based on that old idea of a bunch of people trapped in one place and hunted by an enemy. I wanted to set the scene, then let it run. There were a few directions I knew it had to take, but I set these as markers and sort of said to my wild imagination, “Do what you want, just hit these checkpoints on the way.” I wrote it in about six months.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Alien Inc.?

The hardest part was characters. There were eleven in it, each as strong as the next. That meant keeping track of the emotional make-up of eleven people as they went through the story. Much easier when there are one or two main characters and everyone else is built of a little less substance. It also made the choice of killing them off a bit harder. But that had to be done. Couldn’t have eleven people all survive in this sort of story.

Keeping track of all these people was made easier after the group split into five smaller groups. It became more like writing five short stories at the same time. I would concentrate on one at a time until the group was reunited.

What did you enjoy most?

If you read a Dan Brown book, you see important information on every page. That’s constant attention to telling the tale.

In this story, I mostly got to play. There’s a part where two people are trapped in a carriage on a monorail, hunted by an alien enemy. I just let it go with the flow and didn’t have to think about it or refer to notes. It was fun to write.

What sets Alien Inc. apart from other things you've written?

The horror aspect. I wrote horror as a teenager, because somehow that seemed easier. Setting a story on an alien planet filled with vampires means no wasting time on research. Garlic doesn’t bother my vampires. That’s another story you’re thinking of! I wrote horror because I had no experience of the world, so probably couldn’t have written a courtroom scene or a birth scene realistically. But chopping the heads off virgins came easily.

As I got older, I cast aside horror and wrote thrillers involving real people and realistic events. But maybe I missed the carefree ways of the horror novel.

For me, maybe Alien Inc. was the adult returning to the playground he’d so loved as a kid.

What will your next book be about?

Guy hunting down his lost sister. A good old action thriller set in the murky London underworld. Another chance for me to let the imagination run wild. I don’t often put guns in my stories. I’ll fill this one with them. Can’t wait.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Having Sonar 4 Publications decide to put the story on their website.

When did you start writing?

I started writing at age 12. My dad had started a creative writing course and I wrote a story to see what he thought. That was the beginning. I had the bug from that day.

I wanted to be published because I wanted my work out there, for all to read. I was young and foolish and didn’t understand how hard and competitive the writing world could be. Pocket money went on photocopying my work and postage costs to send it to the big publishers.

Back then there was no email submissions. I would wait months, get back a rejection letter, and start again. Usually, a rejection letter wasn’t seen as a fail, it was seen as proof that my story wasn’t the one I was destined to be famous for. So rather than tweak that story, I would sit down and do another. I would often send out the first thirty pages as soon as they were completed, knowing that by the time the publisher wrote back to ask for the full manuscript, the story would be finished.

Possibly related books:

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Related article:

[Interview] Allen Ashley, Author of 'Urban Fantastic', Conversations with Writers, September 5, 2007

Sunday, December 13, 2009

[Interview_1] Lori Titus

In this interview, Lori Titus, author of the short story collection, Green Water Lullaby (Sonar 4 Publications, 2010) talks about stories and the effect they have on people:

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was about ten years old.

I originally started by writing down nightmares I had, which always seemed to go away once they were on paper. At some point, I wasn’t having bad dreams anymore, but decided to start creating stories just for fun.

I used to take my stories and poetry to school, and would turn them in to my teacher for extra credit. Early on, my teachers encouraged me, that this was something I should pursue. So it’s always been a plan of mine [to get published], but figuring out exactly how I was going to do it was more difficult.

How did you eventually manange to do it?

I was surfing the internet one day and happened to notice that there were a lot of short story websites around which accepted work from unknown authors. I sent a couple of stories around, and finally got published on MicroHorror.

Once I got that first story accepted, I got busy writing more stories, and started submitting widely.

How would you describe your writing?

I’d describe it as paranormal/horror with a dramatic bent.

There are always paranormal elements, but the stories are all about people and how they relate (or fail to relate) with each other.

I believe that everyone is fascinated with the unexplained, with things that scare us, and things that we can’t see. My stories take the ordinary world and bend it a little.

I try to spark something in the reader’s mind, that question of “what if…?” So rather than appealing to any one group, I try to appeal to a human sense of curiosity.

Which authors influenced you most?

As a child I read a lot of classic authors, and [Edgar Allan] Poe will always be my favorite.

That said, I find that I am influenced by many authors, both known and up and coming. Some of my favorites include John Sanford, Dean Koontz, Tananrive Due, Stephanie Meyer, and Alice Hoffman.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I have always been enthralled with people's stories, how they tell them, and which things they emphasize.

Every story you hear from a friend, a co-worker, or relative, has a theme behind it, a certain meaning they want to convey. I’m always interested by what people have to say, how no two people tell the exact same story in the same way. In this way, your life is often reflected in writing. There are defiant themes within the stories that are relevant to my life experiences.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is writing a story that is entertaining, that holds the reader’s attention.

I want people to be able to relate to the characters, and I want to surprise them with what comes next.

I try to make the characters as relatable as possible. They may be in extraordinary circumstances, but they all have the capacity to love, hate, and make mistakes the way any ordinary person would.

My biggest challenge, like most writers, is finding the time to write.

I am very disciplined about what I write, but I do not write every day. I have been known to go on a “writing jag” where I will write a chapter a day for a few weeks, and then nothing at all for a month. Being an editor for Flashes in the Dark and Sonar4 helps keep my creative juices going when I am not writing my own stories. It also keeps me encouraged to plunge ahead with my own work.

When you write how does each session start? How do you proceed, generally?

I don’t write every day, but I usually have in mind how much I want to write before I stop. I may want to finish a particular scene or a group of scenes over a period of time.

I have a little office in my apartment, and I spend a lot of time there! Sometimes I write something by hand, but other times I go to the computer and start typing. I usually don’t stop until I have reached the end of whatever scene I’m working on.

How much writing have you done so far?

I have had stories published in three anthologies so far: A Demonminds Halloween 2008 (CreateSpace, 2008), Mausoleum Memoirs (House of Horror, ____) and Toe Tags (, 2009).

I also have another book of short stories which will be out next year. All of these are horror collections.

I also write an online novel for Flashes in the Dark called The Marradith Ryder Series. The first half of the series (or the first book, which is about 84 episodes) is already complete, and I am starting to work on the second half.

Marradith Ryder is a young girl who is not what she seems. She is abducted by a man who claims he was sent to protect her. At first, she doesn’t trust him, but soon finds herself the object of a hunt. Meanwhile, all the secrets her family has kept from her start to unravel.

How would you describe the stories in Green Water Lullaby?

Green Water Lullaby is an anthology of stories about the make-believe town of Chrysalis, South Carolina.

All the stories have a paranormal aspect, but there are equal portions of romance and action. There are stories about brothers at odds with each other, vengeful lovers, and a pregnant housewife awaiting the return of her husband, a soldier stationed overseas. There are ghosts, werewolves, and other things not as easily labeled.

These stories were written over a period of six months, between my work on Marradith Ryder and other projects.

The book will be published through Sonar 4 Publications [and] will be available from Sonar 4 Publications in April, 2010.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Green Water Lullaby?

The editing phase is always the most difficult, because I tend to pick my stories apart a lot before I settle on a final version. I think that I’m picky! But in the end, I feel my work has always benefited from it, so I just work at it until I’m comfortable with the product.

I like to change around the point of view, and I read the stories back to myself to see if it sounds like what I have in my imagination. I like that moment when I know I’ve almost got it where I want it.

I enjoyed writing all of these stories, getting into the psyche of characters that were very different from myself and each other.

What sets this collection of short stories apart from other things you've written?

The tone and the level of intimacy the reader will have with the characters in these stories is different. Each of these stories is like a photo with a shadow, lurking somewhere in the corner. Just within sight… but not easily recognized until you observe for a moment.

What will your next book be about?

There are two “next” books, because I am writing them at the same time. One will be about Marradith Ryder and another will be a sort of spin-off. There are also multiple, smaller projects in the works.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I am very happy with the success I have seen so far, but I can see things going further.

The Marradith Ryder Series and the response to it has been great. I’ve enjoyed writing all the stories I’ve had over this past year and a half, including the ones that made it into anthologies.

I always like to keep going forward, to the next project. That said, I also think that being an editor for two online ezines has been a big achievement. It’s made me grow as a writer, and I now feel that I am included within a community of artists that I am very proud to work with. But my most significant achievement, I like to think, is somewhere down the road. I always like to think about the exciting things that come next.

Possibly related books:


Related articles:
  • Raven Starr [Interview], Conversations with Writers, August 8, 2007
  • Lori Titus [Interview_2], Conversations with Writers, September 12, 2010

Saturday, December 12, 2009

[Interview] Molly Roe

In this interview, Molly Roe, the author of Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires (Tribute Books, 2008), talks about her writing:

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Until about five years ago, I wrote only academic papers, but I began writing fiction as an outgrowth of my genealogy hobby. At first the stories were just for my family and myself, but later publishing became my goal.

My writing combines family genealogy, Irish and coal region lore, local history, and imagination to create historical fiction for young people.

What motivated you to write for this audience?

Since I teach junior high students, they seemed the logical target audience. I read and evaluated middle grade and young adult library favorites and decided that an historical fiction novel similar to the Dear America series books would suit my style and abilities.

I also wanted my students to learn more about local history -- of which coal mining and the Molly Maguires are a huge part. Imagine my surprise when I found that the grandparents and great grandparents of my teen and ‘tween audience were also fascinated with Call Me Kate. Now some of my most avid fans are octogenarians!

Which authors influenced you most?

Two young adult authors, Susan Campbell Bartoletti and Suzanne Fisher Staples, have had a big impact on my writing. They are both Newbery Award recipients, and both grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, as I did. Last spring I had the enormous pleasure of sitting with Susan and Suzanne at a library luncheon. Both women are fantastic writers and unbelievably gracious people.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s historical fiction and nonfiction works relate to my area of interest, and she has been kind enough to give me advice about writing.

Suzanne, on the other hand, writes knowledgeably about an entirely unfamiliar but fascinating world. She worked in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for twenty years and brings that exotic setting to life in her books. I could never hope to match her global experience, but I become a virtual world traveler by reading her books.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My personal experiences influence my writing since my beliefs often surface in my characters’ lives.

I feel strong ties to my female ancestors who were so strong and enduring through the tough times of past generations. I feel their sense of injustice over discrimination, I feel for today’s immigrants because of what they endured. I get angry at the cavalier attitude of big business just as they evidently did against the Coal Companies that ran their lives.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

A general concern is that people will stop reading for pleasure. The modern world moves so fast that many people say they don’t have the time to sit and savor a book. I think writers and publishers are dealing with this issue by changing to meet the needs of the “modern” reader who like to jump right into the action.

A personal challenge with writing is making the time to write. Since I teach, most of my day involves reading and writing. When I get home, grading papers consumes much of the evening. I don’t always have the energy to write. On the other hand, teaching is a part of my platform and motivation, so my career is a double-edged sword.

Do you write everyday?

I wish I would buckle down and write every day!

When the muse is with me, I get an idea and start off great guns. Sometimes, I try to picture my current heroine involved in an ordinary chore and wonder what tools she had to use, how long it took, etc. Research on the internet and in book and old newspapers also spurs my imagination. Usually a writing session ends when my eyes blur and the pins and needles in my legs become unbearable.

How many books have you written so far?

Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires is my debut novel. My other published works are academic articles and short stories.

Call Me Kate was published in November 2009 by Tribute Books. It is the fictionalized life of my great great grandmother, Catharine McCafferty.

Kate lived at a time when the Great Hunger struck Ireland, and droves of poor peasants were shipped to the US by their English landlords. Kate arrived in the US at a time when nativists persecuted immigrants, and her teenage years coincided with the Civil War.

Her family and friends had to depend on each other to survive.

Some factions of this group became militant in their struggle for safety, justice, and human rights. A group of Pennsylvania miners became known as the Molly Maguires. There is still controversy about whether the group were labor activists, criminals or even whether they actually existed. One fact is known: Twenty men were hanged for crimes committed by the “Molly Maguires.”

What will your next book be about?

The working title of my next book is Sarah’s Story: The Curse on Centralia. This one is also about the Molly Maguires, but this time the story follows Kate’s younger sister, Sarah McCafferty, to the town of Centralia.

A devastating mine fire that started in the 1960s has reduced Centralia to a mere six residents. Was the fire the result of a curse placed on the Mollies a hundred years earlier? That’s the question that inspired Sarah’s Story.

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[Interview: Part 1 of 3] Brian Wainwright, author of 'Within the Fetterlock', Conversations with Writers, February 1, 2008

Friday, December 11, 2009

[Interview] Kathleen G. Collins

Kathleen G. Collins' work has been featured in magazines that include Today's Health and Wellness magazine.

Her work includes Depression: Cancer Of The Soul (Storyhouse, 1999) a short memoir about her experience of bipolar disorder, and Suspended (Sonar 4 Publications, 2009), a novella about three people who become the unwitting test-subjects for a new drug.

In this interview, Kathleen G. Collins talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

My first published sci-fi thriller, Suspended, released July of this year is actually the end result of many years of “journaling”. I have struggled my entire adult life with bipolar disorder and one of the many ways that my doctors and therapists have taught me to cope with the mood swings and frustrations of the medication's side effects was to write in a journal daily. As time went on, I discovered that I really enjoyed writing.

In 1999, I finished a short memoir about my experiences with bipolar, Depression: Cancer of the Soul, and after it was published, I thought, "Hey, why not go a little further and let my imagination run amok? I’ve heard that you write what you know about, and I know about medications and the side effects that can rear their ugly heads." The story of Suspended blossomed from there.

I let the anger at my situation and the paranoia tell the story of Beth, Bobby and Jack -- the three main characters in the story who get caught up in a conspiracy where they become the unwitting test-subjects of a new medication. It was not only cathartic, but fun too.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My bipolar moods are definitely in control of my writing. I tend to cycle very quickly from depression to mania, anywhere from hours and days to weeks and it’s when I’m manic that I’m more creative and have the energy to write. Therefore, I try to take advantage of those times when I’m manic to start a new project or work on one that I’ve already started.

I have many influences that benefit me when I write.

I love sci-fi authors like [Stephen] King and [Dean] Koontz.

The idea of being able to immerse yourself into any kind of reality you wish to create is incredibly appealing to me. It's a great escape, if even only for a few hours.

Music has a huge impact on me both creatively and emotionally, as well. However, my mood picks the music, not the other way around. So, if I’m, say, frustrated or angry, I’ll listen to loud hard rock music, not something soft to try to calm me down.

I am also a big fan of art. I love to sketch, paint, design, photograph and, well, anything creative. My all time favorite artist is Salvador Dali. My mother lives in St. Petersburg, Florida where the Dali Museum is located and she always sends me Dali paraphernalia every year for Christmas. I always look so forward to it. My favorite piece is "Lincoln in Dalivision" of which I have a beautifully framed print given to me before he died. I treasure it. My husband thinks Dali is weird and awful. That’s okay, I love my husband anyway!

What were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Suspended?

I’ve been writing off and on since college, but nothing of great substance until my memoir in 1999. I do think it’s important, though, to be as honest as you can in anything you write and I think I’ve been pretty consistent in that aspect.

The most difficult part of getting Suspended completed and published was finding the publisher. As a novella, it is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel. Thankfully, Shells at Sonar 4 Publications recognized it's potential and took it on.

I haven’t agonized at all over anything I’ve written. Even some of the difficult facets of my memoir such as mental illness, hospitalization and suicide. They were simply too important not to be included. In Suspended, there are some graphic scenes, but they were actually some of my favorite parts to write. I know that sounds kind of strange, but that’s my odd mind at work!

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I think my biggest challenge as a writer is inspiration. I am still very new at writing substantial pieces so it does take some time for me to get motivated to write, but once I get started though and an idea pops into my head, my fingers just start typing away and it’s sometimes hard to stop… especially when I’m really manic!

I am unable to work because of my medical status and, of course, the nasty medication side effects -- that does give me more time to write, but my writing so far has not been very lucrative. But, you know, I’m perfectly okay with that. I didn’t start writing to make money. I do it to make myself feel better and if I can make someone else feel a little better too, then, that’s a huge bonus.

What kind of support networks do you have?

I’ve pretty much been on my own in this whole writing thing. As a matter of fact, when Suspended was finally published, very few of my friends even knew I was writing a book.

When my memoir was published in '99 that gave me the confidence to go on to something bigger, like Suspended. But again, I charged ahead… alone.

I would love to be able to mentor someone but I don’t think I’d be very good at it. It’s somewhat difficult for me to verbalize ideas. I’m much better at sitting quietly alone with my thoughts and a computer and the time to think before writing something down.

How would you describe your association with Sonar 4 Publications?

I see online publishing, like my publisher Sonar 4 Publications, as nothing but a good deal for everyone. It gets writers like me out there with my stories and it’s an affordable way for people to buy books, not to mention the fact that it’s eco-friendly. It’s truly a win, win and I hope more people realize that.

I've always thought that it's so important that a writer have fun and if they really want to get published, not to give up and stick with the reputable publishers. It took a good couple of years to find a good publisher for Suspended, so, I hope budding writers hang in there and keep trying.

Do you write everyday?

I don't write everyday and I’m not currently working on anything but I do have an idea for another sci-fi fiction novel. It will be based on actual facts like Suspended is but will be a completely different premise.

I really enjoy doing research and learning about different subjects then putting my own strange spin on them.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant achievement is definitely my novella, Suspended. I am so proud of it because I think it’s not only an interesting and unique premise but that it’s intelligent reading as well.

That's not to say I haven't had failures. Everyone does. I can think of two right now that were actually rather embarrassing. Back in 1985, I think it was, I wanted to do something different for my family for Christmas. So I decided to do a piece of art for each member. One for my Mom and Dad and one for each of my three sisters. I would use a different medium for each. Now, my parent’s was done in colored chalk and was a lovely sea shell scene. It turned out beautiful and it’s still to this day hanging proudly in their foyer. My sister Kim’s piece was an incredibly intricate and colorful Alice in Wonderland scene done in ink. I really loved hers too. Well, Christmas was creeping up fast and it was at this point in my life that I came to realize that I don’t do so well creatively under pressure and deadlines. Let’s just say the last two pieces were trashed and I made a dash for the mall.

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[Interview]Tabitha Suzuma, author of 'A Note of Madness', Conversations with Writers, April 30, 2007

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

[Interview] Jay Luke

Musician, graphic designer and local historian, Jay Luke is a graduate from Marywood University. He is also a project engineer with the Olyphant Coal Miner Memorial Association.

His first book, When Coal Was Queen (Tribute Books, 2009), looks at the history of Olyphant, Pennsylvania.

In this interview, Jay Luke talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I began writing while in grade school. It was mainly lyrics. I would write these songs and kept at it as often as I could. I think, looking back, my earliest attempts are very laughable, but on the same token they were the springboard to better things. Without those early fearless attempts, I may not have had the courage to dive in later on in life. So I never gave up and kept refining my writing craft.

I think things really heated up for me during my high school years. I think it was where my creativity came into its own. With each song I'd write, I noticed they always told a story of some sort and that was when I decided maybe I can put together a real story that doesn't have to rhyme or fit into a musical score. So again I assembled parts little by little and eventually I got some short stories.

I put the writing on a shelf as my art career took off a bit and my band played continuous shows. My recent publication came about due to my activity in the town of Olyphant, PA. I'm a project engineer for The Olyphant Coal Miners Memorial Association. We set out to erect a bronze statue in town that would memorialize the countless men who'd sacrificed their lives in the anthracite abyss. When we accomplished that goal, the next step we planned was to put a little book out, as a "Thank you" to those who donated for the statue. Once I began writing, it quickly turned from a small project into a very tireless research project and it ended up as the greatest history lesson I'd ever had.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

My writing, for the book I'm promoting now, is historical/documentary style. I took on the difficult task of delving in the origins of the town history of Olyphant. I learned relatively quickly that this was to be no easy task. Often during research I found dates from previous publications clashed with others, and spellings were inaccurate. It was sometimes a maddening experience, but it meant a lot to me to get this as accurate as possible. I didn't want others to have to go through as much trouble as I did in search of good information.

My target audience for this publication are people in the area of Northeastern PA. Not just Olyphant residents but even those of surrounding towns. I felt strongly that as more time passes, places and names of historical significance seem to disappear. That isn't as much of a problem for people of my generation and older, but younger kids today really have nothing to teach them what their town was like when their early ancestors first came here. We were fortunate enough to have had our grandparents tell us tales of the old days, and today it's a different story. So I was motivated to try to bridge the gap and help those who are curious of their area's origins learn where it all started.

Which authors influenced you most?

Being that this book is a history book, I really didn't have any authors that I could say were a direct influence. I kind of went from my heart on this one more than anything.

Had you asked me who influenced my upcoming novel, I would have said Dan Brown, Ian Caldwell, Dustin Thomason, and Elizabeth Kostova. (Hopefully I can speak more of that closer to publication time.)

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I think the most obvious answer here is that I grew up in this town and have been lucky enough to have spoken to countless people who had a great knowledge of the area.

Nothing beats first-hand accounts, and in a lot of ways, I look at the elders of the town to be like living national treasures. They know the real story, because writing about history is so hard since most of the writers weren't there. In my case, I've been lucky enough to have talked to those who were there and discussed the important events and facts about the subject matter.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My concerns were that when I finished this book no one would have to travel the difficult road I did in finding the information. I hoped it would be a great shortcut to accurate knowledge. I wanted this to be a great help to students and new residents of the area alike to find out more about the area.

My concerns as a writer were numerous. I wanted to make sure that the dates, spellings, and events were all accurately described. So many dates clashed and the biggest error I caught was that when researching the first woman ever to enlist in the U.S. Navy, Ms. Loretta Walsh of Olyphant, I found that her name has been misspelled on a historical marker in town for years. I found it to be a great injustice and hope that when I get some responses to the request it will be fixed. I mean, not everyone may read my book but every day people are walking by that marker and it is inaccurate.

So many things that have been previously published had data that didn't match up, so I really had to do my homework and live in libraries to trace things as far back to the sources as I could to get the final data.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write a little each day, most of the time if I'm too busy to do anything else. It'll be journal entries. They either begin in the morning or before I go to bed. I find writing before sleep can be better than a sleeping pill. Getting everything out before sleeping definitely helps get a better night's rest.

As for the right time to write, I have to say that it could be anytime. Inspiration hits everyone at different times, and in my case it'll take me by surprise and I have to hope I'm within quick reach of a pen and paper when it occurs.

How many books have you written so far?

As of this very moment, I have only one published work entitled When Coal was Queen, published by Tribute Books in August of this year (2009).

The book is about the origins of a town called Olyphant, PA. Interesting events that have occured through its history, famous residents and visitors, as well as its storied anthracite-rich past.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

It was published through Tribute Books in Eynon, PA in August of 2009. The publisher was chosen because we wanted to keep this publication as local as we could, as that was a theme of ours, and also because I know the owner of Tribute Books very well. So it seemed the obvious choice to go with a reliable publisher rather than someone we had no connection with.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into When Coal was Queen?

I found the fact checking and editing to be the most difficult portion of the entire process. Right up until the hour it was sent to the publishers, I was still trying to go over everything with a fine tooth comb to make sure my information was accurate, and that was a good thing because that was when I noticed a name I had down was misspelled, not within my book, but on a historical marker for Loretta Walsh, the first woman in the U.S. Navy.

I was going over my information and looked at the plaque and thought something was out of place. It turns out the marker spelled her first name as "Lorretto." So it pays to really look over your subject matter thoroughly.

I enjoyed the researching and speaking to people about what they knew the most. Not only was it enjoyable to hear the stories, but the education it provided me was remarkable. Out of all my research, the oral discussions were the most informative. They gave the whole human element that can often be lacking in library research.

I also got to travel around town with my camera in very obscure locations which almost made it feel like an Indiana Jones style adventure.

What sets When Coal was Queen apart from other things you've written?

For one, I've usually only written fiction.

I have always had a serious interest in history but never imagined I'd one day write a book on it. I am the sort of person that will pass through a place and always wonder what it might've looked like 300 years ago. So this book is a stark contrast to my usual writing and songwriting.

It was a great departure but a very thrilling one.

What will your next book be about?

I might do a second edition to When Coal was Queen.

I am also underway with a novel I began some years ago. It is a thriller with a looming suspense throughout the book. It is about two childhood friends that grow up very differently and one goes on and accomplishes some truly miraculous feats. The greatest part will naturally be the climatic ending, which I hope you all get to read soon.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Aside from getting published, I would have to say it's been the warm reception I've been given. I had no idea this book would've struck such a nerve. Seeing people get very emotional when they come up to me is a feeling I cannot describe. People have such fond memories of the coal miners and it is a wonderful tribute to them to keep their memories alive, even if it is just by re-telling their stories.

On the opposite end, when younger kids come up to me and ask me for help or advice on Olyphant for their school projects that is the entire reason I started this process, and to see a goal continually get accomplished is one of life's greatest gifts.

I thank each and every person who has helped me along the way. This has been one of the best experiences of my life.

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[Interview] Patricia Fry: editorial consultant, publisher and freelance writer, Conversations with Writers, October 27, 2008

Thursday, December 3, 2009

[Interview] Maureen Myant

Educational psychologist and novelist, Maureen Myant was born in Glasgow where she currently lives and works.

Her first novel, The Search (Alma Books, 2009) has been translated into Spanish and Dutch.

In this interview, she talks about the challenges posed by juggling writing, studying and work:

When did you start writing?

My first attempt at writing a book was when I was about seven. I was in the garden and had just finished reading an Enid Blyton book (I think it was about fairies) and I thought 'I could do that.' So I ran inside, got some paper and a pencil and wrote about three pages. Then I was called inside for my dinner and when I went out again I found that the pages had disappeared - a wind had sprung up. I thought all I had to do was search my memory and what I'd written would come out again fully formed but of course it didn't.

After that early start, I didn't do much writing for years apart from some very bad poetry during my teens and some terrible attempts at short stories during my twenties and thirties.

I was 42 when I decided I really wanted to write. I also wanted to be published. I had spent much of my adult life studying and was about to embark on a professional doctorate when I had a 'lightbulb' moment and realised that if I was ever going to finish the book I'd started at seven I'd better get on with it. So I ditched the doctorate and started an evening class in creative writing. A writer called Janet Paisley was the tutor (Penguin have just published her novel, Warrior Daughter set in the bronze age and it's a terrific read) and she was inspirational.

A few more evening classes and I was confident enough to apply for the MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. I did this at the time when Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Tom Leonard were the professors. It was a very exciting course. I have a strong belief that you can be taught creative writing. I think there has to be some sort of spark there to begin with but you can definitely improve what you have with good teaching. I can't remember who it was that said that writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, but that is something I do agree with.

It's been a long road to publication though. I have a drawer full of rejections from magazines and agents but I kept on trying and eventually my lovely agent, Diane Banks, signed me up. I think it's essential to have an agent who believes in you and your work and I would recommend this to any writer. Agents have so many contacts and can cut out so much of the waiting for publishers to get back to you.

How would you describe your writing?

I'd love to say that it's literary but I'm afraid it's not. Strong narratives which are well written and are psychologically true... that's what I aim for.

I think my target audience is me. By that I mean people who like reading, who want to be drawn into a story and live with and believe in the characters.

Which authors influenced you most?

That's a really difficult question. I have very eclectic tastes and sometimes I feel I'm very easily influenced by whatever I read.

I do like writing which is full of psychological suspense though and with this in mind I'd say that I've found certain novels of Ian McEwan's very influential, specifically Black Dogs and Enduring Love. In particular the opening chapter of Enduring Love was something I had in mind when I wrote the first chapter of The Search. The way it draws you in to the story, I loved that and I would hope that my first chapter also draws in the reader although the subject matter is of course very different.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I'm not sure that I use specific personal experiences much in my writing. The Search is not at all autobiographical and I think that's perhaps because I started writing properly when I was much older.

I think if I'd persevered with my early writing it would have been much more autobiographical. Having said that though, I do think that as someone brought up in the west, in the shadow of WW2 and the cold war, that this has influenced my writing in general ways.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I want to write as well as I can. I worry that I write too quickly sometimes and that I'll let something sloppy slip past my internal editor. I tend to rewrite a lot, going over passages again and again until I'm happy with them. And even then...

My biggest challenge is finding time to write. I have to be very disciplined. When I'm working on a big piece such as a novel, I tend to write in the evening from 7 til 9 and one day at the weekend.

Do you write everyday?

I think I write pretty much every day, whether it's to continue with a story or write a brief review of what I've been reading or (very recently) to add to my blog.

The best piece of advice I was given was when I was doing the MLitt in Creative Writing was to write something every day and if that meant keeping a journal then do so. I started keeping a journal then and I have to say it's a pretty self pitying piece of work! It catalogues all the rejections and setbacks and it can be rather depressing reading it. Since getting the contracts for The Search however, I haven't written much in my journal I'm pleased to say.

I always write in my living room, with my laptop on my knee. I have a bit of a time wasting habit in that I'll play a couple of games of solitaire before getting started. I kid myself on that it's helping to clear my mind. As I said earlier, I work from 7 til 9 in the evening (sometimes 10 if I have a deadline) so the clock stops me. It's rare that I work beyond that time -- I have to speak to my family sometime!

How many books have you written so far?

The Search is my first novel. It was published by Alma Books in September 2009.

The Search is based on what happened to the village of Lidice during WW2. Following the assassination of Heydrich, the Nazis destroyed the village after having executed all the males above the age of 15. The women were sent to Ravensbruck and some of the children who looked Aryan enough were sent to Germany mainly for adoption. It's unclear what happened to the majority of the children but it's thought that they were gassed at Chelmno. The Search follows two of the children, Jan and Lena, who were sent to Germany to an orphanage. Lena disappears and Jan finds out she's been sent to a farm in Germany. There's a subplot which concerns the ordinary German family Lena has been sent to and how the war affects them.

I started the novel when I was in the middle of a PhD in creative writing and wrote about 30,000 words before putting it aside to finish the thesis. When I got an agent on the strength of another novel, I showed her what I'd written of The Search and she encouraged me to finish it. I think in total, it took about nine months but spaced out over about two years because of the interruptions.

It was first published in Spain as La Cancion de Jan (Jan's song) in September 2008 by Grijalbo Press (Random House Mondadori), then in the Netherlands by Arena Press as Zoeken Naar Lena (Searching for Lena) in February 2009. It's now been published in the UK by Alma Books.

My experience hasn't been that I choose a publisher -- more that they chose me! Seriously, the choice of who to send the novel to was up to my agent. I did a lot of googling though and I did like the look of Alma. I thought their list looked really interesting and now that I've read some of the books they publish I'm really chuffed to be published by them. Having said that, I'm very happy will all three of my publishers. Big publishers like the Spanish one have the advantage of a large organisation behind them but I do like the personal touch of small publishers like Alma Books.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into The Search?

I wanted to ensure that I was as accurate as possible in writing about a time and place foreign to me. I had to read many factual books about WW2 and the Holocaust. That part was emotionally demanding. I'm not sure how I dealt with it -- I suppose I just saw it as something I had to do.

Another thing I found very upsetting was that sometimes when I googled something, a Holocaust denial site would come up. This happened again very recently when I was trying to find the name of a film I'd seen as a teenager about Lidice. Up popped this ghastly link to a site which claimed the whole story of Lidice had been made up. I was livid. I've been to the memorial site, I've seen the photographs, listened to the testimony of those affected, watched the film that the Nazis made at the time. And yet here were these idiots claiming it didn't happen.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I love writing. I love finding out what's going to happen to the characters. But I also really enjoy rewriting. It's great going back over stuff you've written and tweaking it until you're happy with it.

In what way is The Search similar to other things you've written?

The novel I wrote for my PhD is also set partly during WW2 and the Holocaust. In addition, there are common themes of separation and loss in most of my work.

The novel I'm working on at the moment is about a British tour group visiting the USSR in the late 1970s and the cultural differences they encounter there. There's much more of me in this novel as some of it is based on my own experience of visiting the USSR in 1979. At the time, I knew I should be writing down my experiences because it was so different to anything I'd ever experienced before (though I was only 24 at the time and quite naive) but I didn't and I really regretted it when it came to writing this novel. However it's been good in one way because I have to rely much more on my imagination.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I started writing The Search while I was doing a PhD in Creative Writing. I look back on that time and can't quite believe how much I juggled: the critical aspect of the PhD (which was extremely demanding as my first degree is in psychology), a novel for the PhD, starting The Search and working full time as an educational psychologist.

I want to sleep for a week when I think about it!

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[Interview] C. Y. Gopinath, author of 'Travels with the Fish', Conversations with Writers, September 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

[Interview] Dylan J. Morgan

Dylan J. Morgan was born in New Zealand and raised in the United Kingdom. Currently, he lives and works in Norway.

His books include the novel, Hosts (Wild Child Publishing, 2009; DJM Entertainment, 2009) and the novella, October Rain (Sonar 4 Publications, 2010). His short stories have been featured in anthologies that include Gentlemen of Horror (Sonar 4 Publications, 2009) and Wolves of War (Living Dead Press, 2009) as well as the January 2010 in Issue 9 of Necrotic Tissue.

In this interview, Dylan J. Morgan talks about the importance of growing as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I remember writing some books when I was still in school, but on those occasions they were just pieces of paper folded in half, stapled together and the stories were written in pen and they weren’t very good. Storytelling has always fascinated me and I started reading full length novels at an early age.

I’ve been writing seriously now for 6 years. Reading books and discovering I had a talent with the written word gave me the encouragement to consider getting myself published. That was probably a little more than 6 years ago, while I was still writing clueless stories just to satisfy my own desire to write.

I thought getting published would be easy; just write the story and send it in but that’s not the case. It’s hard, crafting a story that the editor will like (because first and foremost if you can’t write a story good enough for an editor to like you’ll never get anybody to read it).

I started at the bottom and worked my way up; writing stories I thought were good enough that ultimately were not. Being afraid to send that story in is not going to get you published. Just write it, polish it, edit it, and get others to critique it, edit it again, polish it once more, and then send it in. That’s exactly what I did to achieve my current status as a published author.

How would you describe your writing?

My writing is dark. Predominantly horror.

I’ve written a published novel about prehistoric killer parasites and unpublished novels about the Wendigo and another about vampires and werewolves.

I’ve written a novella called October Rain which will be released early next year which has science fiction elements in it, but which is also a very dark, tragic story.

My stories are gruesome yet entertaining but do tend to steer clear of Hollywood endings.

Who is your target audience?

I guess it would be quite broad, my target audience, if indeed I have a target audience at all. I hope most people are like me and read all sorts of material. That said, I prefer horror -- but I will read crime and thriller novels, erotic, even romance if there was nothing else to read.

With any luck, people who are interested in reading new horror authors will stumble across my name if they haven’t already done so, like what they read and want to read more from me. As long as anyone who reads my work enjoys it and finds it entertaining -- then, that’s all I’m after.

Which authors influenced you most?

Certainly a lot of Stephen King’s early stuff was a huge influence to me, and virtually anything by Dean Koontz.

James Herbert has provided some influence but not as much as the other two.

At the start King wrote stories that entertained me, made me enjoy the story and get deeply involved with the plot and the characters. I think he influenced me the most in my decision to become a writer. Koontz on the other hand has inspired me a lot more since I’ve started writing seriously. The way he crafts a story, builds the plot and the suspense; it’s like a master class with each book written. Koontz definitely inspires me to improve my craft.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I try not to let any personal experiences of mine come through in my writing or indeed to influence which direction I’m going. Saying that, a couple of my stories have been written from life experiences: a business trip to Poland; a boat trip in Oslo Fjord, but these are simply scene-setting occurrences.

I never consciously inject anything of myself, or my life experiences, or those of anyone close to me, in any of the stories I’ve written so far. Fiction is fiction, even within my world and it has to be like that.

I’m a family man and as such I have to separate what I write with how I live my home life.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns would be, first and foremost, writing stories that weren’t entertaining. Regardless of the venue the work appears in, and regardless of how big a name I do or don’t become, my main aim when I submit stories is to have them accepted and to have readers be entertained by the stories. If I fail that then I’ve failed in my duty as a writer.

The best way that I deal with such issues is to have trustworthy proofreaders. I never send out any stories if they haven’t had a few good edits done by myself and then been read (and sometimes re-read) by my proofreaders. They often catch things that I miss. It’s a practice I recommend to any up-and-coming writer. Don’t think your story is good enough if you haven’t let others read it first.

The biggest challenge I face as a writer is bettering the work I’ve just completed. I don’t want to write x-amount of books that are the same. I don’t want my next project to be inferior to the one I’ve just wrapped up. It’s important to me to grow as a writer, to continuously improve my craft, and it’s not easy to do. Writing what I want, what excites me. If the story enthralls me then hopefully it’ll enthrall others too.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, I write everyday -- at least I try to! Sometimes life gets in the way but for the most part I write daily and I try to accomplish one thousand words in a session.

Basically each session starts with me reviewing and editing what I wrote the night before and this usually drags me back into the story enabling me to pick up where I left off and continue writing. Sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes I envisage scenes from later in the book and I write those instead. I can have multiple scenes being written from different chapters. It’s all a bit jumbled but it works for me.

As stated, my aim is to write 1,000 words a day but as long as I write constructive prose then that’s all I ask for. I write until the flow has gone: either by family disturbances that require my attention or because I’m just burned out. There’s no point forcing the words. Once they stop flowing, I stop writing.

How many books have you written so far?

So far I have written three full-length novels and two novellas, although not all are available.

Only one of my novels has seen publication, Hosts, a biological horror novel set in a Canadian ski resort called Snow Peak during the worst snowstorm in living memory.

In the novel, a family of frozen First Nation people has been discovered on a mountainside near town and the archeologists examining the body allow it to thaw out too much. Something resides in the corpse; a prehistoric parasite that comes back to life and infects the town with disastrous results.

Hosts has had very positive reviews so far. It is available as an e-book through the publisher, Wild Child Publishing. And, complete with new cover art, the novel has been re-issued in print format by myself which is something I’m very excited about. More details can be found on my website.

My second published work is a novella entitled October Rain. It will be available in both print and e-book format in January 2010 through Sonar 4 Publications.

October Rain is a tragic story about Steele, a bounty hunter for the Martian government during a time in the distant future when the sun is a red dying giant and Earth is scalded rock. Steele has been promised one more assignment before he can leave Mars to start a new life with his beloved family. But he discovers a horrific truth behind the government’s intentions, and a torturous twist of fate leaves him fighting not only for his own life but for the people he cares most about. It’s an exciting read.

Of my other written works, the two novels are in various slushpiles and the other novella resides with proofreaders.

How long did it take you to write October Rain?

The first draft probably took me about six weeks to write, but this book was written four years ago so it’s had multiple drafts, countless edits, and at least four different proofreaders go over it. If it isn’t tight now it never will be!

Sonar 4 Publications will be publishing the book. I selected this publisher because of one main reason: they publish a blend of horror and sci-fi. I’m not a sci-fi writer, but with the book being set on Mars in the future there are obvious science fiction elements.

Sonar4 publish straight-up horror, or straight-up Sci-Fi or a mixture of both. There are horrific elements in October Rain, although none blatant, but this publisher seemed the best fit for my work. So far this has presented me with nothing but advantages. I’ve been very pleased with how my relationship is going with this publisher and I’d thoroughly recommend anyone else checking their guidelines.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into October Rain?

This is a hard question to answer. At times I struggle with my muse but generally I find writing an easy task, nothing is difficult when it comes to transferring the plot from my mind and onto the page. What is difficult for me is spending time away from my girlfriend and my kids while I’m writing.

I try to write at night, when the children are in bed and the house is quiet, but my ideas don’t always follow that pattern. Weekend mornings I use to sit down and edit and sometimes write, but always when I’m done I feel a tad guilty for spending time at the keyboard and not with those I care about the most. But then I try to make the most of the time I do spend with them.

What did you enjoy most?

The editing -- like I do with all my work.

I might be in the minority here but I seldom really enjoy the process of writing a novel/novella even though I find it relatively easy. For me, writing that last word is always a great occasion and is generally greeted with a sigh of relief and perhaps a celebratory beer.

Editing the story, watching it truly unfold into the final product is by far the part of the writing process that I enjoy the most.

What sets October Rain apart from other things you've written?

The one main difference with this book to any of the others I’ve written is that it is set in the future, in space, which is a destination I’ve never been before in my writing. I tend to keep things in the present (or the past, in some instances) and I’ve never gone outside the Earth’s atmosphere before. It’ll be interesting to see how this book is received.

In what way is it similar to the others?

It’s certainly my style of writing. I haven’t changed the formula from what I usually do when I write stories, so hopefully -- even though this is not strictly a horror story -- people will still be able to recognize it as being the work of Dylan J. Morgan.

What will your next book be about?

As of this moment, October Rain is my latest book and no others have been accepted. Of course, I hope this will change.

I have two novels at various publishing houses just waiting to be picked off the slushpile, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I have something else available for people to read. One of those is called Flesh and is about a Wendigo spirit terrorizing a Northern Wisconsin town.

The other novel, Bloodlines, is an epic novel which could easily be separated into a trilogy of novellas -- it tells the story of a centuries-old blood feud between vampires and werewolves who have crossed the bloodlines and created a monster race of hybrids. All three species are fighting for control of the supernatural world.

The novel I’m working on now is a bit secretive but I will say it involves angels, demons, and the end of the world.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Getting published is always a significant achievement for a writer and while this is right up there as one of my most significant, I feel that’s bettered by the simple fact that people have liked my work. Not everyone will, I know that, but to have feedback from readers saying they enjoyed the story makes all the hard work, effort, and time spent away from my family just that little bit easier to bear.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

[Interview: Part 2 of 2] Tonia Brown, Conversations with Writers, November 29, 2009