VT was an excellent host, and asked some very good and thought-provoking questions, some of which actually took days of thought for me to put answers into words. I hope you’ll have a look. And while you’re there, have a look around the blog; VT writes very good and candid reviews of books (especially Westerns) and movies (not just Westerns), not to mention recommendations of Old Time Radio shows to listen to.
I’m very pleased to continue my interviews of Running Wild Anthology of Stories 3 colleagues, this time with author and poet Ed Burke. His story, “Maia’s Call,” truly moved me.
Welcome, Ed! Please give us a taste of what your story is about.
Ed: “Maia’s Call” begins with a phone call to the protagonist, Tom from his former lover, Maia, who asks him to come see her because she is dying. Tom travels from San Francisco to Maia’s home in a remote corner of Vermont. There they spend a night sharing the story of their lives over the intervening years and what has brought them to this point.
Gemma: Do you remember when and why you started writing?
Ed: I’ve been creating stories since forever but didn’t start writing until high school as best as I can remember. I’ve always had movies running in my head and I put some of those fictions down on paper. Poetry is a different matter; channeling lyric reality is a gorgeous passion that I am compelled to express.
Gemma: That’s a wonderful description of poetry. And I love the image of movies running in your head! What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
Ed: It’s hard to say. There is a lot of poetry that I am very proud of that date back a ways. Written fiction was a latecomer. I got a kick out of my school days pieces but barely remember them. When I began the novel Christine, Released I knew immediately I was writing something excellent. That is the first piece of fiction I was and am truly proud of.
Gemma: Tell us a bit of what that novel is about.
Ed: Here’s a short synopsis. Sixteen year old Christine Bancroft is desperate to escape her depressed Vermont hometown. She runs off with a small-time cocaine dealer and quickly descends into a harsh world with punishing consequences. Taken into state custody, Christine is placed at a foster home in a remote corner of Vermont where she searches for answers that may explain her suffering and her need to return to her imperfect mother. Opposing her return to her mother are the state child protection services and her estranged father who is determined to “save” his daughter. It is during the climactic custody hearing that Christine grasps her past which enables her to seize control of her fate.
Gemma: That really sounds like a gripping novel, especially knowing your skill and your voice in “Maia’s Call.” Do you remember what the seed for Christine, Released was?
Ed: I do. I had a case where the state had taken a 16 year old girl into custody because she was “unmanageable”. Her mother was a single, working mother. The girl’s estranged father hired me. In his mind the whole case was about him. I wondered how difficult it must have been for the mother to deal with a narcissist jerk like my client. The novel came into creation with the sound of a cigarette butt being dropped into a near-empty beer can, the resulting hiss. The camera in my mind’s eye drew back, and there was Christine huddled against the cold in a dank living room in a winter morning’s first light.
Gemma: Wow, that’s is an amazing story behind the story.
Gemma: I’d like to hear more about your writing history.
Ed: I’ve written a lot of poetry over the years. Some has been published in journals, most recently Ginosko Literary Journal in 2018. By the way, Ginosko is an amazing publication that I encourage folks to submit to.
Ed: I’ve written a fair number of decent short stories over the past fifteen years. Running Wild Press published my first short story, “Maia’s Call,” in Anthology #3 in September, 2019; my first novel, Christine, Released, in October, 2019, and will be publishing my first novella, Allure, in the novella anthology coming out in the fall of 2020.
Gemma: That’s a very nice run of publications! What are you working on now?
Ed: I am in the throes of writing a novel that is blowing me away, about a remarkable young woman, a nurse, during World War I. And I’m always writing poetry.
Gemma: I must ask you about that photo. Where is that street?
Ed: ee cummings Blvd. is in Old Orchard Beach, ME. I’ve been going there nearly every year for the past 20 years. It makes me smile. I love his poetry!
Gemma: I love ee cummings’ poetry, too! My older sister introduced me to him.
Gemm: I’d like to hear a bit about how your writing has changed over time.
Ed: My fiction now rolls out along a clearer narrative arc now, almost effortlessly. That’s how it happens with anything that is good. My poetry is constantly shifting in theme, temperament, form, lyricism.
Gemma: I admire your ease with narrative arc – mine always seem to have some potholes and blind turns in the first draft. And I admire the poetry of yours that I’ve read, too. What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Ed: I have a hard time with memoir, with the demand to get the details properly remembered. When I have allowed details to come forward of their own accord, bearing their own significance, I have written much better memoir.
Gemma: What do you like best to write?
Ed: I love poetry, fiction, memoir for its own reasons. Each is rewarding in very different ways.
Gemma: When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the characters? Or does it vary from story to story?
Ed: It always starts with an image, then my minds-eye camera pulls back to reveal a scene, a character, and I follow the camera as the character is depicted in more detail, through his or her actions and the reactions of those s/he encounters, and the set of interactions and reflections coalesce into a plot, subplots and divergences.
Gemma: Just like the movie running in your mind that you described. What authors did you love most growing up? What authors have influenced your writing most?
Ed: Growing up? Fiction, I have madly loved James Joyce (Dubliners! Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man!), Louise Erdrich, Annie Proulx, Edna O’Brien, Ken Kesey, Alice Munro, Arundhati Roy, Baron Wormser (Tom O’Vietnam!), Robin MacArthur. They must have influenced my writing without my intending them to, as I deeply cherish them all (and plenty others).
Gemma: Is there a place that you’ve lived that most influences your writing?
Ed: Vermont, where I have lived, studied, raised a family and practiced law the past forty years.
Gemma: Tell me more about what you’re working on now.
Ed: I am writing the first draft of a novel featuring a nurse during World War I with astounding healing power (a saint?) amidst the carnage. It’s been wild writing this, the reveals.
Gemma: It sounds amazing. What do you plan to work on next?
Ed: Either a crime thriller set in the collapsing world of 2037. Or return to a novel that I broke from to write Christine, about three lives that intersect through one event during the Vietnam War, changing the remainder of each of their lives.
Gemma: Those are very intriguing projects! How can readers connect with you and keep up with your news?
Ed: I have a facebook page Ea/ Ed Burke, focused on literary posts.
Gemma: Thank you so much for joining me on my blog, Ed! I look forward to your future novels.
It’s my great pleasure to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories author interviews with VT Dorchester. VT’s story, “Under the Eye of the Crow,” is an unusual and rather haunting Western that left me eager to read more.
Gemma: Welcome, VT! Can you tell us a bit of what your story is about?
VT: “Under the Eye of the Crow” is a historic fiction in part about an outlaw (Gar Weeks) who is robbed and left on the lone prairie to die. He decides he won’t, despite his circumstance and his regrets, and we follow him as he tries to reach…well, I suppose we could call it a kind of salvation.
Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
VT: I had written a first draft of a literary western novella in which Gar Weeks plays a significant role a few years before writing this short. When, as part of a local flash fiction group, I was assigned the prompt “torture your character,” I immediately thought of torturing Weeks! Much of his character was already established, including that he had taken part in a disaster of some kind during his service as a Union soldier.
I wrote a first few drafts of what became “Under the Eyes…” with almost the entire focus on this character dying of thirst. The story didn’t feel complete, and it sat rather unsatisfactorily for a while. After a time, I thought to specify the event during the U.S. Civil War which haunted the character and story. Doing a little research, I discovered the tragic historic incident at Ebenezer Creek, Georgia. I encourage anyone interested to search for information about The Abandonment at Ebenezer Creek. I knew immediately that I wanted to refer to that incident in this fiction.
It took several more revisions to get my story “right” enough for sending it out for possible publication, and then, when Running Wild accepted the story, I wrangled a bit, I hope politely, with the editor (Cecile Sarruf) until we finally agreed on the story as it now stands! I am glad it worked out eventually.
Gemma: And it worked out very well. Readers who want to know more about The Abandonment at Ebenezer Creek could start with Wikipedia. How did you find out about this anthology?
VT: I don’t remember. It is quite difficult to find venues which actively seek western stories, and as a result I tend to cast out my western short stories rather wildly. I’ll send them out to pretty much any publication which doesn’t specifically say “no westerns.” (I write and have published other literary and different genre stories under another name.)
Gemma: Westerns have such a long, venerable history I hadn’t thought how hard it might be to find places to publish them. I’m glad you found Running Wild Press! Do you remember when and why you started writing?
VT: The first story I remember writing “seriously” was a story about a stray cat. It was grey. I was in elementary school. I’ve played around a bit with writing ever since, but it is only in the past five years or so that I have become “serious” about writing fiction again. I don’t remember why, exactly, I decided to start writing about a cat, except that I must have felt I had an entertaining story to tell. I still feel that I have entertaining stories to tell, although I understand others may not agree.
Gemma: I most definitely do agree! (And I think one of my first stories featured a cat, too; apparently a good genre for budding writers.) What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
VT: While I have one other western short story published, “Under the Eye of the Crow” is definitely the one with greater depth. The other also includes (a far more laid back) Gar Weeks in its cast, but focuses on a different character. It’s a Christmas story about a bank robbery. Plus hot cocoa. No one dies.
Gemma: That sounds intriguing! Can you tell me a bit more about it?
VT: The first stories I wrote when I returned to fiction five years ago were pretty rough and I had trouble incorporating ideas or themes. I feel I still struggle to translate what I ‘see’ or ‘hear’ in my mind on to the page, but I’m getting better at it. I feel that my ability to edit my work has also increased greatly, as has my confidence in my work.
Gemma: For what it’s worth, I struggle with those same issues, and I know we’re not alone. But getting more proficient at editing is an excellent thing, as it can overcome a lot of those problems. What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
VT: The End. I have trouble completing writing projects. My best example is the novella I mentioned earlier. I would like to revise, edit and work towards having it published, but instead it’s been sitting for half a decade now as I work on shorter, easier to finish projects.
Gemma: I sympathize – I have a stack of unfinished projects, too. But working on finishable projects is a very worthwhile thing. Still, I hope you finish that novella, because I really want to read it some day! What do you like best to write?
VT: While it is not evident from “Under the Eye,” I am quite happy when a reader smiles or even laughs at something intentionally funny in my stories. I also like incorporating some science, history, or a sense of location.
Gemma: “Under the Eye” did an admirable job with its sense of place and history. I can still feel the grit and thirst from reading it. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, setting, plot or character? Or does it vary from story to story?
VT: It’s often a “scene” – a particular image or series of images I can see in my mind, usually with a character present. Other times, I can “hear” a character talking to me or with another character. I have lengthy, animated conversations, sometimes in public, with my characters.
Gemma: Oh, that’s excellent! I’ve had some conversations with characters while out on walks, and been kind of mortified when someone comes up from behind me and I wonder if they’ve overheard. On another subject, what authors have influenced your writing most?
VT: My western genre writing is most influenced by classic Hollywood western films. These were generally less concerned with historical truth and more concerned with characters, place and moral codes. And horses, songs, weird shirts and big hats.
Gemma: So true! I sense “Under the Eye” has more historical truth in it than some of those classic western movies, though it shares with them a strong sense of place.
VT: Thank you. While I do not pretend to have a great deal of historical knowledge, I did conduct more research for this story than I have for many others.
I believe there will always be room for new quasi-mythic western stories in the tradition of classic westerns, but there is also a demand from modern audiences for a greater incorporation of historical truth. Westerns have always, to a greater or lesser degree, reflected the concerns and demands of society contemporary to their creation. Today, a certain degree of “realism” is in demand. It is easier than ever for writers to research, and it’s easier than ever for readers to research, too. In the case of ‘Under the Eye’ I felt a particular need to take care and research due to it’s incorporation of historical tragedy. But first and foremost, when I write, I’m trying to tell a story. A fiction story. If I get some facts right along the way, I’m glad, but the facts aren’t the most important thing to a fiction story, if they were, the story would be creative non-fiction, or a non-fiction essay, instead.
Gemma: Good points and well put, VT. Is there a place that you’ve lived or visited that especially influences your writing?
VT: I live in a small valley town in British Columbia where I am mere minutes away from hiking trails. I am also lucky enough to travel with some regularity. I regularly feel inspired by new scenery or walks in closer-to-natural settings, and my stories often involve weather events and nature.
Gemma: What stories are you working on now?
VT: While I’m not working on writing a western story right now, I am seeking publication for a short story I completed earlier this year, about a modern state trooper in eastern Oregon who has an encounter with super-natural beings during a blizzard.
Gemma: That sounds enticing! I hope that gets published because you’ve hooked me with that description.
VT: I am also looking forward to the publication of a western flavoured re-telling of the stone soup folk tale late this year with Frontier Tales.
Gemma: I can’t wait to read that – I love folk tales, and that’s actually a childhood favorite of mine. How can I and other readers keep up to date on when that comes out, and otherwise connect with you?
I’m very pleased to continue my series of Running WildAnthology of Stories author interviews with Jenn Powers. Her story, “A Friend’s Text,” captured my senses with its vivid imagery and my emotions with the plight of the main character.
Gemma: Please give us a taste of what your story is about.
Jenn: My short story, “A Friend’s Text,” is about a woman who has an epiphany that helps lead her out of an unhealthy love affair with a married millionaire.
Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
Jenn: Yes, I do. I fictionalized a similar relationship I had fallen into myself. During that relationship, I always felt like I was betraying my true self—the core of who I am. Once I decided to do the right thing and end the relationship, it was completely life-altering and empowering, even though the pain was immense. I think this scenario is, unfortunately, too common. I hope my story will inspire others to find it within themselves to do the right thing if they’re in an unhealthy relationship, which comes in many forms.
Gemma: That is truly a powerful mission, and I can see your story being a positive catalyst. Can you tell us a little about your writing history?
Jenn: I started journaling when I was 15 years old. It was a way for me to soothe my emotions since I was quite lonely and I didn’t have many people I could trust or open up to. Journaling turned into a survival mechanism. Being able to spill out my troubles onto the blank page became (and still is) very therapeutic.
Gemma: Writing can be such a healing process, and to be able to share that is a gift. I found out from your website that you’re an artist as well as a writer. Does art have a therapeutic effect for you like writing does?
Jenn: Absolutely. Whenever I’m being creative or out in nature, I lose myself. It’s very in-the-moment mindfulness. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, even as a child, and so, early on I found ways to tend to that. I figured out how to self-soothe with art and nature. I journaled throughout my teens and the writing sort of bloomed in different directions from there. I can say the same thing regarding art. Painting, drawing, photography. One feeds the other. And both feed me. It’s symbiotic.
Eventually, I played around with creative writing, such as flash fiction and short stories. By my 30s, I started to pursue it seriously and I got my first short story publication in 2012.
Gemma: I’d like to hear more about that.
Jenn: My first publication was in The MacGuffin in 2012, a short story about domestic violence. It’s titled “Some of Us.” I’m proud of this piece because it’s important to keep violence against women (and men) at the forefront.
Gemma: That’s truly something to be proud of, and a vital message. Can you tell a little more about your writing history?
Jenn: I kept at the craft, sporadically, while living life and working a multitude of jobs. Around 30 to 33 years old, I took writing more seriously. I wrote several days per week, and now, about eight years later, I have around 70 publications in literary journals. (Half art, half writing.)
Jenn: I earned an MFA in 2014 and I plan on applying to PhD programs this year.
Gemma: That’s impressive and exciting! What are some of your recent publications?
Gemma: Very cool to have so many stories published in so short a period! How has your writing changed over time?
Jenn: I’m continuously growing as a writer. It’s a constant learning process, and, for me, there’s no end point. I improve every year. And, like anything, the more you work at something, the better you get at it.
Gemma: What do you like best to write?
Jenn: Drama, thriller, mystery.
Gemma: What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Jenn: I tried writing in other genres, like romance. But it doesn’t work for me. I write about the dark stuff. I’ve experienced some crazy situations. I’ve been a victim many times over, but I’d rather call myself a survivor. As a survivor, I empower myself through writing, and I believe my past experiences have molded my style and preferences.
Gemma: And good stories, like “A Friend’s Text,” can empower readers in turn. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the characters? Or does it vary from story to story?
Jenn: It varies from story to story. It might even be a feeling, a song, a landscape or place that makes me feel something. When I sense that dip of inspiration, I stop to explore where it’s coming from. Does it remind me of something or someone? Does it reconnect me with a lost emotion? My ideas come from the strangest places and my inspiration is super-fickle. I’ll sit there frustrated for hours, take a break and go for a walk or run, and an idea will hit me. Boom! Just like that. Easy-peasy. Taking the pressure off can stimulate creativity. And creativity needs to be organic, natural, flowing.
Gemma: I often get some of my best ideas walking, too. If nothing else, it can open up the channel and let the creativity flow, as you say. I read on your website that you have a fondness for botany and geology as well as music. I have a love of biology and botany that’s stuck with me since junior high, so that resonates with me! Do you have stories that particularly reflect botany, geology, or music?
Jenn: A driving force in my life is exploring nature, whether that comes in the form of hiking up Mt. Washington, driving solo cross country, or studying a birch tree throughout the seasons. Inevitably, this passion and interest has infused my life and work as a writer and visual artist.
Jenn: Growing up as an only child without too many close friends, I always found solace in nature. Early on, I’d collect pinecones and chips of Mica and bluets. I’d explore the forests and swamps near my neighborhood. I’d be outdoors as much as possible. I’d also draw, paint, and write since I was alone a lot. In school, ecology and biology classes felt very natural to study. It came easy, even though I majored in English and creative writing in college.
About seven years ago, I started studying botany. I love exploring the woods with a field guide to identify the plants, flowers, and trees. Mostly the New England area, and specifically, Connecticut. I like to observe how nature changes throughout the seasons. It’s like getting to know a friend. I focus on the anatomy, ecology, and taxonomy. It’s fun to nail down genus and species. It’s this entire plant kingdom that’s keeping us alive, and vice versa. A true symbiotic relationship. It amazes me how every little thing is connected. I just started getting into geology too—rocks and minerals of a particular location and the geological history of that location. For example, the plethora of rock walls crisscrossing New England.
So, as you see, this passion I have for the outdoors has formed a large part of who I am today as an adult, and, inevitably, it shows up in my work. I’ve used nature (or setting) as a character itself in many of my short stories. It’s a tool used to set the tone or mood. It can be used symbolically, metaphorically. It can literally be an extension of the protagonist or antagonist, or even a minor character. Mix that up with being a fan of nature writers, like Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, Dillard, Ackerman, and certain literary periods and movements, like the Romantics, Gothic, the Transcendentalists, the Beat Poets, and contemporary mysteries and thrillers, and that’s my writer-artist brain on fire. It’s nostalgia, melancholy, and the darker side of nature rolled into one.
Since I started writing a mystery-thriller in 2016, I’ve infused my novel with a lot of botany, and I believe it adds something truly special. I believe people want to feel that connection to earth, which is so easily lost in today’s fast-paced, superficial, materialistic society. They want real. They want to feel something that’s good for their soul. I also believe the more you know about a specific region, the better. You may not use all of that collected information but knowledge is never a waste.
Gemma: I totally agree – knowledge has worth for its own sake, and you never know what connections that will spark in your brain. You mentioned several authors before – what authors did you love most growing up? And what other authors have influenced your writing?
Jenn: Ironically, I didn’t read a lot as a kid. I loved being read to in school. I remember falling in love with the work by Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. I liked the Sweet Valley High series too. I liked The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, and Poe and Bram Stoker. But it wasn’t until college that my obsession with books began. As an adult, I’ve been most influenced by legends like Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Joan Didion, and Mark Twain. As for more recent authors, I read Gillian Flynn, Shari Lapena, Jennifer McMahon, Delia Owens, Janet Fitch, Karin Slaughter, A.J. Finn. I could go on and on.
Gemma: It’s a wonderful thing to have so many authors to love, and it makes it hard to name just a few! What are you reading right now?
Jenn: I’m reading several books right now. For fiction, I’m reading Burntown by Jennifer McMahon and Paint It Black by Janet Fitch. For nonfiction, I’m reading Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England, and, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (Eastern).
Gemma: I love reading field guides, too, and I actually use them sometimes even though I write fantasy! They really can help ground you in a place by learning about the other living things around you. Is there a place that you’ve lived that most influences your writing?
Jenn: Old New England. The snowy, gray winters. The green hills and rock walls. The homesteads and chimney smoke.
Gemma: Where I live in Pennsylvania has a lot in common, and the green hills, rock walls and centuries-old buildings are inspiring to me, too. Tell us a bit about what you are working on now.
Jenn: I’m writing a mystery thriller around 80-90K words. I’m in the rewriting phase. I should be done by spring and will be searching for agent representation. I’m also working on a collection of paintings/drawings based on the hometown in my novel. Here’s an example of where my passions overlap each other. Science meets art. Left brain meets right. I’m in love with nature, but I’m also in love with art. The fictional hometown in my novel is named Rockwall Springs, which is loosely based off Tolland, Connecticut, my own hometown.
Gemma: That is so cool! Will your artwork about the town be viewable by your readers?
Jenn: Yes, these photos and paintings will be available for anyone interested. I’ve had several photos of Rockwall Springs published in various literary journals. For example, three photographs were published in The Sandy River Review (September 2018) and one photo was published in Blue Mesa Review (Issue 39, 2019).
Gemma: What do you plan to work in next?
Jenn: As soon as I begin the querying process for this book, I will begin another mystery thriller. I would like to write them in succession. I’m also working on short prose, poetry, and art.
Gemma: It’s very impressive that you work on multiple projects at once. Will the next mystery-thriller be a sequel to the one you’re working on now, or are they stand-alones?
Jenn: That’s a good question. I’m open to either option. As of right now, it’s a stand-alone novel. But, I could definitely create more novels using the same characters and settings. If not, I’d like to write a mystery-thriller every two years or so. Once I find an agent and get a book deal, that’s my goal. I want to stay productive.
Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?
Jenn: Honestly, I don’t remember. I am a subscriber to several outlets offering opportunities for creative writers. It might’ve been via Submittable. I am thrilled to have found this west coast press.
Gemma: How can readers connect with you and find out more about your work?
It’s my pleasure to continue my series of Running WildAnthology of Stories interviews with Dawn DeAnna Wilson. Her story, “Los Sueños,” was very vivid and poignant.
Gemma: Can you give a taste of what your story is about?
Dawn: The story is about a medical student who can sleep, but she can’t dream. One night, during her pathology rotation, she discovers that she can hear the dreams of the dead.
Gemma: What a striking story premise. Do you remember what the seed for it was?
Dawn: I have serious insomnia, and the whole science of sleep has always fascinated me. There was a sleep center at the hospital I used to work for, and the director knew about all these unusual and bizarre sleep disorders. Essentially, the REM phase in dream sleep is what is responsible for keeping us healthy. Dreams are necessary.
From there, it kind of meandered. I remember thinking of the dead as being “asleep” and wondering what it would be like to never, never be able to dream.
Gemma: That is quite a disturbing concept – and disturbing concepts can turn into great stories. Yours is proof of that.
Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?
Dawn: Through the Submittable website.
Gemma: I need to explore more about Submittable’s calls for submissions and other resources for writers. Do you remember when and why you started writing?
Dawn: I wrote my first story when I was in kindergarten. I loved creating the characters and delving into different worlds. I can never remember a time when I did not want to be an author.
Gemma: That’s impressive – I’m not sure I was writing full sentences when I was in kindergarten! What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
Dawn: My first novel, “Saint Jude,” is about a young adult with bipolar disorder. The novel is far from perfect, but it has touched the lives of others, which of course, is the whole point of writing.
Gemma: That is truly something to be proud of – and the best kind of legacy for a story. Can you tell me a little more about your writing history?
Dawn: My first poem was published when I was in eighth grade and my first short story was published when I was 16.
My work has appeared in such publications as Byline, Writer’s Digest, Evangel, and The Lutheran Journal. I won second-place in the N.C. Poetry Society’s annual contest for my love poem, “Learning English in Four-Letter Words.” My play, “Jesu of Fondue,” has been produced by the Nash County Arts Council and presented as a staged reading at the Storefront Theatre in Waxhaw, NC.
Gemma: You have a wonderful array of published work. How has your writing changed over time?
Dawn: I think I’m delving much more into quirky characters, exploring the difficult facets of what makes them who they are. I’m also going more outside my comfort zone, as I’m preparing to tackle a murder mystery novel that is in a genre I’ve never written before.
Gemma: Good for you for going outside your comfort zone! What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Dawn: I wouldn’t dare undertake some historical fiction. I would just get so easily overwhelmed by all the research.
Gemma: I have dabbled in historical fiction, and I can totally understand – I got lost in the research for a couple of years, I think! (It was a really good excuse to not get down to the nitty-gritty of writing.) What do you like best to write?
Dawn: It’s hard to say, because every story and every project has its own joys and its own personality. I think that my favorite part of the writing process is the exploration that goes on during that first draft, when you’re getting to know the characters and unearthing the story. It’s like going on a treasure hunt.
Gemma: Oh, that’s a cool analogy. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the character(s)? Or does it vary from story to story?
Dawn: Honestly, sometimes it’s a line or two. Sometimes, it’s a scene that stands out very crisp in my mind. Then I explore—WHY did they say that? Who is in this scene and why is it important?
Gemma: I remember C.S. Lewis saying something about how the Chronicles of Narnia (one of my childhood favorites) started with the image of a faun with an umbrella in a snowstorm. So you are in good company! What authors did you love most growing up? What authors have influenced your writing most?
Dawn: Ray Bradbury, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. LeGuin and Rod Searling. And maybe a bit of Donald Barthelme.
Gemma: Ray Bradbury and Lloyd Alexander are two of my favorites to this day! For a long time I’ve been meaning to read Ursula K. LeGuin, and now I want to learn more about Donald Barthelme. On another topic, is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
Dawn: Living on the coast of North Carolina is a fantastic, inspirational place to write. There’s the gorgeous beaches, the marshy inlets and the full spectrum of Southern characters.
Gemma: What are you working on now?
Dawn: I’m polishing up a few short stories to try to get them ready to send out. Not trying to give anything away, but one does have a lizard man in it.
Gemma: A lizard man sounds intriguing! What do you plan to work on next?
Dawn: I’m going to tackle my first murder mystery/thriller that’s kind of in the same vein as the Stephanie Plum series.
Gemma: Going outside your comfort zones like you said! How can readers keep up with you and your writing?
Dawn: I’m around here and there. You can connect with me by contacting me through my website or on my author Facebook page. Although I encourage readers to email me through my website (I’m not on Facebook as much these days. I find that the more I’m on Facebook, the less I write)
Gemma: Oh, yes, social media and the internet in general can be such time-stealers! I find I have to keep offline to get writing done, too.
Thanks for taking time to join me on my blog, Dawn. And Happy Valentine’s Day to you and our readers!
There’s a rich variety of stories in our anthology; not all of them are urban or contemporary. (Take, for example, VT Dorchester’s haunting Western, Under the Eye of the Crow, and Monique German Gagnon’s Creach, which takes place at an indeterminate time.) And by no means all involve elements of fantasy. But as Katrina points out, “There’s an air of mystery that ties all the stories together; the sense that something more is going on in the scene below the surface.” And the very variety of the stories included is one of the anthology’s many pleasures
Along with her thoughtful review, Katrina (editor) also generously posted an interview with me. Elsewhere on the website you can find helpful and interesting reviews of books of speculative fiction both new and old. It’s well worth taking a look!
I’m welcoming 2020 with interviews of some of my Running WildAnthology of Storiescolleagues. I’m delighted to begin with Monique Gagnon German, whose story Creach gripped me with its understated tension.
Gemma: Give us a taste of what your story is about.
Monique: Creach is a story about a family living a simple life off-grid, until the unexpected arrives. Creach asks the question, “When something entirely new shows up in your life, do you embrace it or fear it?”
Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
Monique: A parenthood moment spurred this story. With two kids, there is an almost constant barrage of requests for various toys, pets, games, & tech. For me, there’s always this decision-making duality: I want to protect them but I want to give them whatever they need to grow and thrive. Knowing with certainty the “best” yes’s and no’s is impossible.
Gemma: Your story crystallizes and magnifies this paradox so well!
Monique: That is a great compliment. Thank you!
Gemma: You’re very welcome! How did you find out about this anthology?
Monique: I saw a call for submissions. I investigated the background of Running Wild Press and was very impressed with who they are and what they published. When I sampled some of their published pieces, I really wanted to be in that company. I was absolutely thrilled when they wanted Creach.
Gemma: Do you remember when and why you started writing?
Monique: I grew up immersed in books. Quite the book nerd, actually. Some of my heroes include: Alice Walker, Steven King, Stephen Dunn, Nathanial Hawthorne, Lucy Grealy, Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, and Billy Collins. I wanted their jobs; I wanted to create worlds in stanzas and paragraphs.
Gemma: That is a cool way of putting it! And you wanted to be a poet from the beginning, it sounds like. What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
Monique: One poem I’m still proud of is, “God’s Voice,” (it was picked up by The Wayfarer).
Monique: One short story I’m still proud of is, “The Gambit Game” (it was published by The MacGuffin).
Gemma: Tell a little about your writing history.
Monique: I started with poetry, but stories were also always coming to mind. I’ve written both pretty much all along, but only in the past few years have I submitted stories for consideration to be published.
Gemma: How has your writing changed over time?
Monique: Hopefully, it has gotten better. By better, I mean better at transporting the reader into the content, so they feel they are “in” it for the journey of the story or poem.
Gemma: In Creach and your more recent story The Now I really felt immersed in the atmospheric worlds you created, so well done! What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Monique: My first thought is always, hey, there’s no challenge too big! And then, the second thought races in, every story/poem I write is the current biggest challenge.
Gemma: What do you like best to write?
Monique: Anything that feels new.
Gemma: When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the character(s)? Or does it vary from story to story?
Monique: Story ideas are a combination of plot, characters, setting, and mood for me; even at inception they form a sort of blurred painting in my mind. But, usually, the spur that gets me excited to write the story is the engine: the plot concept.
Gemma: I love the “blurred painting” analogy! Plot is often what comes to me first, and spurs me to write, too. Do you tend to know the ending when you start writing?
Monique: Never. Sometimes I think I have an inkling, but I am always wrong. [laughter]
Gemma: Is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
Monique: I think living in so many places has influenced my writing more than any one place in particular.
Gemma: What are some of the places you’ve lived?
Monique: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California, Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona – But before you gasp at so many moves, let me explain, I married a Marine some 14 years ago. He’s retired now but we moved every three years for awhile there based on his assignments.
Gemma: What are you working on now?
Monique: A few things are in progress… a few new flash fiction stories… a few new poems. I have a process where I get multiple things started, then edit, change, edit, change, edit until they feel done.
Gemma: I admire your ability to work on more than one thing at a time! Readers can find one of your recent works, The Now, on Typishly. I really liked how swiftly I was immersed in that new world, and the tense journey you took readers on.
Monique: Thank you. I had a weird sense of fun writing The Now, I felt immersed in that world and like I was seeing it rather than “inventing” it. That story really came alive almost movie-like in my mind when I was writing it and it was such a cool journey for me.
Gemma: That is cool! And I think it shows in the story. How can readers connect with you and find out more about your work?
Monique: The best way is through my website or email.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome Alexandra Coulter to my blog. Alexandra has been in a critique group with Aud Supplee and me for many years.
Tell me a bit about your writing history. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? And what led to that?
Alexandra: I had written most of my life and always enjoyed it. My earliest memory was of a story about lions I wrote in 3rd grade. I penned several collections of stories about a group of characters in spiral notebooks. From time to time I’d write stories or essays on a topic. However, no one ever said I could be a writer.
Gemma: Was that discouraging? Or was it simply not something that you thought about?Alexandra: I wasn’t discouraged. I wrote because I enjoyed doing it. As the years went by, I did several writing assignments and a few articles for friends and relatives, but it still hadn’t occurred to me that I might be a writer.
Gemma: Wow, even after doing significant writing… So, how did you come to that realization?Alexandra: During a time when I didn’t have to work, faced with many hours alone at home, I knew it was time for me to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had spent my working career chasing the music business the only way I knew how, through my administrative, typing and organizing skills. A series of unsatisfactory jobs leading up to my semi early retirement left me wondering what to do with myself. Was I going to give up and do nothing, looking for the same old job or make a commitment to become a writer? When it dawned on me that I had already done a lot of writing and I really enjoyed it and found it easy, the decision was made.
Gemma: Excellent! To find something that you enjoy and that comes easily is really a gift.
What came next?
Alexandra: That prompted me to take a writing class, get a lot of library books and learn everything I could about it. Despite a difficult teacher, I produced in that class, writing 2 and a half short stories, while most of the class only managed 1 over the 6 weeks. After a short set back, I came out swinging.
Gemma: Good for you for overcoming that setback. Was it the teacher?
Alexandra: Yes it was. He criticized everything I did, including commenting on knowledge he didn’t have, on the content. The rest of the class liked what I did. So, I eventually realized he was a jerk and that shouldn’t stop me from moving toward becoming a writer.
Gemma: Excellent. That’s not an easy realization to come to. Where did you go from there?
Alexandra: I had read somewhere that you can call yourself a writer when you’ve written 100,000 words. I was determined to do it! I remember the day I realized I’d reached that point. When I had reduced the number of words in my novel from 180,000 to 100,000. I figured I must have written much more than 100,000 words, maybe pushing 300 or 400,000! That was the moment I felt I could call myself a writer.
Gemma: I had never heard that definition – but that’s an excellent goal to achieve. And it’s quite cool that you came to it not by struggling to reach that number, but by cutting down to it.
Gemma: Tell me a bit more about your writing history.
Alexandra: My first published writing came in college where I maintained a monthly column called “Stick this in Your Ear,” which featured my thoughts on contemporary music and local musicians. I had been writing love stories and essays. And even a few pieces for local small-town publications. From the first writing class, I developed my stories into novels and worked with them. The first novel, The Easy Road, was published on Amazon as an e-book in 2012.
Alexandra: When I found myself out of work again, I decided to give professional freelance writing a try. I had moderate and sporadic success which had me running back to the safety of a “real” job time and time again. I gave up the idea of freelance writing in 2014 and have never looked back. I continue to play with my second novel and am developing a book for teenage girls, through my critique group, that I hope to publish in the next few years. Writing continues to be a practice for me, striving for 3 pages a day and 10 pages a month.
Gemma: 10 pages a month is my goal, too – perhaps not coincidentally the page limit for our critique group!
Gemma: what’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of?
Alexandra: I think the initial short story of Easy Road was maybe my first truly organized and me-inspired work I’d done. For the class I wrote a sci-fi story that I do still like, but The Easy Road has come to be a much bigger piece of work and more integral to my growth as a writer. I haven’t read it in a long time, but I feel proud of putting it together and publishing it.
Gemma: that really is an accomplishment! Tell a little of what it’s about.
Alexandra: It’s about a 30-something accountant with aging parents, a girlfriend and an impending partnership in the accounting firm who’s offered a record deal. He struggles with taking what he always thought of as the easy road of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
Gemma: I’ve read drafts of that novel in our critique group, and it was quite a ride! It’s so satisfying that now it’s a book.
Gemma: What do you feel is your mission as a writer?
Alexandra: My mission has always been to say what I feel compelled to say. I wish to be a conduit for words. I believe I have stories to tell and messages to communicate. I’m not sure I can say what writing means to me. It’s always been my solace. I have been journaling steadily for many, many years now. It has allowed me to find my voice and my inner core, to learn more about myself and how I tick. Writing has allowed me to express the visions in my head. Written words have, at times, allowed me to express thoughts and feelings I couldn’t any other way.
Gemma: So much of that rings true for me, and I bet it resonates with many other writers, too.
Gemma: What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Alexandra: Well, that has changed over the years. I think, these days, the hardest part is finding the time and energy to give to it.
Gemma: What’s the part of writing you like best?
Alexandra: I’d like to say that it is when I get it right on paper. When I say exactly what it is I wanted to say. That is a wonderful part of it. But I also really like praise. When someone appreciates what I’ve said to them. That I have somehow eased or lightened their burden, lifted their hearts, opened their eyes.
Gemma: That’s the most wonderful kind of feedback, I think. Your writing has certainly opened my eyes in some new ways!
Gemma: What kind of experiences have most influenced your writing?
Alexandra: My experiences in the music business have certainly had an influence on my fiction writings. I find what inspires me more than anything is live music. Live performances. I do like to write with music on. I am quite sure that influences me on many levels. My other impactful influences are other people and their words.
Gemma: And your writing often has music and musicians in it – that influence really shines through.
Gemma: What other kinds of things have an effect on your writing?
Alexandra: Maybe movies like Help and Spinal Tap had an effect on my writing. Certainly, it was the people I met. As for my non-fiction writing, I have been influenced by Susan Jeffers, SARK, Marianne Williamson, and Libby Gill. Writing teachers Brenda Ueland, Natalie Goldberg, and Anne Lamott. I’d have to say too, that I have been heavily influenced by my writer’s group who have kept me committed, guided me back to the path and showed me a new way month by month.
Gemma: Me, too, Alexandra, me too!
Gemma: What kind of things do you read?
Alexandra: I don’t have a lot of time to read these days. Most of what I read are my colleagues’ work. I read selected works of the spiritual authors I most like and I read health and healthy eating publications.
Gemma: I’m touched and honored our pieces are a lot of what you read – but also sad you don’t have time for more!
Gemma: What are you reading presently?
Alexandra: I am reading Ask and it is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks. An Abraham book. There are quite a few business books in my stack and I always have an inspirational writing book. At the moment it’s If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.
Gemma: I’m glad you take time to read these!
Gemma: What are you working on now?
Alexandra: My focus continues to be How to Create an Awesome Life – A curriculum for girls. A book of classes for girls 14 to 18 to help them find themselves and build lives they can love. I am working on 2-pages per day writing practice on a topic and trying to complete an essay every month (or 2). I am also working on developing my writing at work to be able to grow my career.
Gemma: What is the next project you hope to work on?
Alexandra: I have a good draft of my second novel, Lucky Day. When I complete the Awesome Life, I hope to do a final draft of the novel.
Gemma: Tell us a little bit about Lucky Day.
Alexandra: This one is about a girl drummer who dreams of recording her songs, but her bad luck continually keeps her from realizing her dream.
Gemma: I’ve read that in its earlier drafts, and I’d love to see it published.
Alexandra: My first novel, The Easy Road, will be published as a physical book this year.
Gemma: that’s very cool!
Alexandra: And I want to work on my publishing company, UpWrite Words, including a physical book from author Paulette Terrels-Clarke. Other projects bubbling under the surface are to revive my blog and develop some of the material I have in my files.
Gemma: that sounds like a lot of great projects to look forward to.
Gemma: Readers, check out the e-book of The Easy Road here. And be sure to check back for Alexandra’s future projects.
Alexandra: Thanks, Gemma, for talking with me. It’s been a real pleasure!
Gemma: The pleasure is mutual! Thanks for being part of my blog, and part of our critique group!
I’m delighted to welcome Katrina S. Forest to my blog. Katrina and I have been in the same critique group for many years, along with Laura Selinsky and others, and Katrina is the first of us to release a novel! It’s a very cool-sounding middle grade sci-fi called My Best Friend Runs Venus.
You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Katrina’s site, or order it from your local bookstore. I ordered a copy from my local Barnes & Noble – I got Free Shipping to my home and it arrived in only about 2 ½ days. (It looks even more cool in person – so cool, in fact, I ordered another copy from my local indie bookshop for my great niece!)
To celebrate this great news, I’m taking part in a blog tour for Katrina’s book; the tour runs until June 16th. This blog tour is hosted by Lola’s Blog Tours. You can see the full tour schedule here.
Be sure to get to the bottom of this post, as there’s a tour-wide giveaway for the blog tour. One winner will win a signed copy of My Best Friend Runs Venus along with a $25 Amazon gift card.
Here’s what the book is about:
“At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids “living” across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Unfortunately, robot bodies can be hacked.
One day during an (innocent!) experiment, Kade unwittingly breaks a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. The madwoman targets all the royal avatars, including Kade’s best friend, Princess Tamika of Venus.
If Kade and Tamika don’t want to become the hacker’s puppets, they’ve got to stop her fast–even if it means waking up on Earth to fight with bodies they never realized could be hurt.
Sidebar: after a quick peek inside, now I know why Kade looks the way he does – I think.
Welcome, Katrina! What a fun story this sounds like. Can you tell us something (non-spoilery!) about what first gave you the idea for it?
Katrina: It started with me trying to take a fantasy-based idea I saw on an old TV show and imagine how it could conceivably work as a science fiction setting. The show’s premise was that a group of teens were secretly interstellar royalty and drew magic powers from their respective planets. I think a lot of sci-fi starts with the “what ifs.” So in this case it was, “What if we could live comfortably on other planets without magic (or magic-like levels of terraforming)?” “What if we had kids and teenagers in charge?” and more importantly, “Why would we do that?” I came up with the concept of the robot avatars allowing people to live across the solar system. And since kids are much more adaptive to new technology, they’re the only ones that can use it 24/7. Hence, they’re in charge. The characters who would inhabit this world were then developed, which is actually the complete opposite of my usual brainstorming process.
Gemma: I love the thinking behind this! Tell me a little more about one of the characters. For instance, which of them would make the best friend?
Katrina: Princess Lorelei of Mercury would make a great friend, as long as you can understand her unique way of talking. (She’s trying to create a simplified language and throws a lot of invented words into her speech.) She’s very open and accepting and tends to see the good in people. She’s also a creative type, and let’s face it, they’re awesome. 🙂
Gemma: oh, she sounds like a lot of fun!
Gemma: I’d like to know a bit about your writing past. What’s the first story you remember writing?
Katrina: The first story I ever wrote was called “The Prettiest Flower.” I think I was five. Old enough to sound out simple words but young enough to go pester my mom for spelling helping every two minutes. I guess technically it was a non-fiction piece and included such impressive insights as, “Flowers are pretty” and “Bees like flowers.” I stapled together pieces of construction paper with only a mild attempt to straighten them out first, and my cover was an extra-wide sheet of paper from a dot matrix printer. I knew that “real” books had logos of some kind on the back of them, and because I was making a “real” book, mine got one, too. It was the Chiquita banana logo. I took the sticker from the fruit basket. My mom still has this book, and a few years ago, she showed it to me. It was a totally surreal experience. ^_^
Gemma: I love this! And it’s awesome your mom kept it to show you. When did you realize – or decide – that you wanted to be a writer?
Katrina: Pretty early. My mom got me a school memories book when I entered kindergarten. Every year had the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (It changed to, “What do you hope to do after graduation?” for 8th grade and up.) Every year, without fail, I wrote “writer” or “author.” In kindergarten, apparently, I was also open to the possibility of being a ballerina.
Gemma: it’s always good to keep an open mind about such things. And it’s quite impressive that you’ve followed this dream for so long and now have brought it into the world with a novel! What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Katrina: The hardest part is admitting when I’m stuck. I like to try to push through problems, and sometimes what’s really needed is a quiet step away with a long walk, a cup of tea, or a good book. Or, you know, all those things, because they are all awesome.
Gemma: I totally agree – and those are good ways to get unstuck. What’s the best part for you?
Katrina: The moment of breaking through the aforementioned stuck-ness.
Gemma: yes – that’s a wonderful moment! I think many writers can relate.
A lot of writers when they start out emulate other writers, consciously or not. Can you think of any authors you emulated?
Katrina: Not specifically, although I’m sure I have subconsciously. I do remember being a kid and writing a line I thought sounded totally awesome and way better than what I normally wrote…only to realize shortly afterward that it was a line from Charlotte’s Web. Apparently I’d read the book so many times, my brain just sort of internalized it. ^_^
Gemma: well, that’s an excellent book to absorb! What are you reading presently?
Katrina: I’m currently reading The Merchant Princess series by Charles Stross. My friends are all reading the Laundry series by the same author, but I just really latched onto the protagonist in this one. She’s a very analytical character who finds herself in what’s essentially a magical portal story. Characters really make or break a novel for me. I’ll sit through the most predictable of plots and the most uninteresting of settings if the characters are good. Thankfully, The Merchant Princess has good characters and an intriguing setting and plot to go with them.
Gemma: that sounds like a great combination, and I know what you mean about good characters. If I don’t like at least one character, I can’t make it through a book.
What are you working on now?
Katrina: I’m finishing up a YA novel called How to be an Immortal. It’s about a gorgon and a vampire forming an unlikely friendship as they try to find the gorgon’s sister and stop a mysterious entity from stealing a bunch of humans’ life energy.
Gemma: I’ve been enjoying reading this in our critique group, and I’m very excited to hear you’re close to finishing it. I can’t wait to read the finished book — and, of course My Best Friend Runs Venus! I think it will make a great summer read.
Thanks so much for joining me on my blog, Katrina – and congratulations on your new novel!