I have exciting news – my next publication is coming out soon! My fiction is included in Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3, due on or around Sept. 15th, 2019. My contribution is a bit of flash fiction, “The One that Got Away,” which won an award at a recent Pennwriters Conference. It’s about a bunch of fisherman swapping stories and the tale that tops them all.
My story joins Aud Supplee’s “Monkey in the Middle.” I’ve read a lot of Aud’s fine fiction, but not this one and I’m excited to read it.
Barnes & Noble is hosting an Author Residency Book Tour with Christopher Paolini over the coming months. And from what I’ve seen of it, it’s a lot of fun! The staff at the B&N bookstore I went to made it a great, smooth-running event. Kudos to them.
Now I confess I haven’t read the books (so many books, so little time! I’m a slow reader, and thick books can be daunting). But a dear friend who is an avid and discerning reader has enjoyed them, and that was good enough for me to think about getting the latest book, The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm, for my great-nephew who likes mythology and fantasy.
The Residency Tour is in only about a dozen cities, so I’m quite pleased that the only mid-Atlantic location was in my state! And dragons, like most mythical beasts, are dear to my heart. So I decided to go. My friend Aud Supplee also came, bringing another friend. And Aud has also written a blog about her perspective of the event, so check that out!
My first impression of Christopher Paolini was how warm and unassuming he was, and genuinely delighted to be there. (A friend who works at the store and helped organize the event says he was great to talk to and super-nice behind the scenes, too.) He was content to blend in with the crowd while we were playing trivia with the B&N booksellers. One of the questions was something like, “What did Eragon get from his sister?” Christopher jovially called from the crowd, “More questions!” (Please forgive me, fans – you’ll probably know exactly what that question was, and if it wasn’t about his sister, I apologize! I can only plead ignorance and faulty memory; I wasn’t taking notes.)
Then Christopher took the mike to talk to us. He honestly seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience did.
With self-deprecating humor, he said, “Some of you may have noticed that it’s been awhile since my last book.” We all laughed. He explained how he started Eragon when he was 15, (1998), and he was still touring with the fourth book in 2012 – a huge chunk of his young life. When he was done he wanted nothing to do with dragons for awhile! Meanwhile, he’s been writing a big sci-fi book “with tentacles.” But he would wonder at odd moments, “What are Eragon and Saphira doing now?” Then he wondered what it would be like to write about a very old, angry, hungry dragon. “Like Smaug,” I think someone in the audience said. “Or like the dragon in Beowulf,” Christopher said. That formed the basis of the “Worm” story in his new book.
A fan once tweeted him, “What’s Murtagh doing?” Because Christopher was awake at 1:00 a.m. from too much coffee and feeling kind of snarky, he answered, “Fighting off foes with a magic fork named Mr. Stabby.” But then he wondered, Could I write a story like that? That, of course, became “The Fork” in the new collection.
His sister Angela had an idea for a story, and he told her to go for it. That became “On the Nature of Stars,” part of “The Witch.” As Christopher sat down to write the story that weaves together all these tales, he felt like he was returning home after a long journey. “Why did I wait so long?” The audience cheered.
Speaking more about inspiration, he talked about how a certain disappointing blockbuster movie made him think – how could I fix that? Human beings are born storytellers, he says – we know when a story doesn’t work. He talked at length at how flawed writing can inspire a writer more than perfect writing does – as you think about how you could fix things.
As a young boy, he was inspired by a book he loved, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville, about a boy who finds a dragon egg. It made him think about what kind of world a dragon would come from, which led to more questions. That’s how we write stories and build worlds, he said – asking questions and answering them as honestly as we can.
Then Christopher engaged briefly in a bit of what he called “shameless self-promotion.” His mother is a homeschooler, and she has published books to help others; he hoped any home-schoolers in the audience would check them out. Also, he mentioned the recent Barnes & Noble Exclusive Collector’s Edition of Eragon. It has a full-color map, (I love book maps), and under the dustcover is the insignia of Brom’s ring, designed by Christopher himself. Pretty cool! Though of course that’s promoting his first book, it’s also supporting Barnes & Noble, his hosts, and like all bricks-and-mortar bookstores they can use all such support. Pretty gracious “self-promotion” if you ask me!
He confirmed (to much audience excitement) that there is a fifth Inheritance book in the works, which will answer a lot of questions. Then the audience asked fun questions, like what fantasy would he like to insert Eragon into. “Does Hunger Games count as fantasy?” His favorite movies? He has so many, including “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Terminator” and “The Little Princess (1995)”. Yep, an odd juxtaposition, that! Some of his many favorite books include The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison, pre-Tolkien fantasy of Tolkien caliber, and Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peak, the gothiest book ever, according to Christopher.
When someone asked what he wished he’d known about publishing at the start, he answered: mistakes are part of the process. A bad sentence, paragraph, even a bad draft doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. When something makes you uncomfortable, the things you know you’re not good at, push into them. That’s what will make you grow as a writer, and a person.
He read a little from all four books, including an Elven blessing, (he claims he has an awful Elven accent) and something from a very angry Dwarf (he says he has an excellent dwarf accent, because he trills his rrrs with his uvula!) When he read from “The Worm,” (in normal English), it struck me it had a fine, old-epic tone.
Then it was time for the book signing. Even waiting and standing in line was fun – we got to talk to very friendly fans (who didn’t seem to mind my ignorance). Christopher took time to talk to everyone who came up. He was as warm and friendly up close as he was from a distance. And early-comers got a cool Inheritance pin, compliments of Barnes & Noble.
Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for hosting such a fun event. Readers, if you’ve enjoyed the books, check out his tour and see if he’s coming anywhere near you.
And thank you, Christopher Paolini. You’ve made me a fan! Even though I bought the book as a gift, and I really shouldn’t, I might just have to peek inside for a read…
Here begins a new chapter of interviews featuring members of the two awesome critique groups I belong to. Aud and I have been in the same group for about seven years now, and I’m delighted to invite her to my blog.
Welcome, Aud! I understand you have some news to share.
Aud: I’m excited to announce that one of my stories has been recently accepted for publication by Running Wild Press. It’s a novella for adults titled Broken Soul to Broken Soul, about two people with separate traumas who come together and help each other heal.
Gemma: That is exciting! I’ve read prior drafts of that novella, and it not only brought tears to my eyes, it gave me goosebumps, and also made me laugh! I’m so happy it’s going to be seen by a wide audience.
G: That’s a very cool book trailer, by the way.
Gemma: I’d like to chat a bit about your past as a writer. How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?
Aud: Ever since I was about 8 years old.
G: Do you remember what led you to that?
Aud: Two things:
One: I grew up in a chaotic environment and writing was my way to create order from chaos.
Two: As a kid, I couldn’t find stories that I wanted to read, so I made up my own.
G: Both of those are really compelling reasons. Writing is definitely a positive, powerful way to deal with chaos.
G: What’s your goal as a writer?
Aud: To entertain. I like it when a reader wonders, “What’s going to happen next?” My characters often make me laugh and/or cry. It’s my hope that they’ll do the same for my readers.
G: Your characters have definitely made me laugh! And sometimes make me yell their name out loud in frustration! But that’s only because I’ve come to care about them like friends. And Broken Soul to Broken Soul isn’t your only story that’s brought tears to my eyes.
G: What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of and/or happy with?
Aud: Standing Ovation. It was my first published book, put out by Ace Tempo Books. It’s a YA novel about a girl trumpet player who upsets her family’s balance when her dream of fame motivates her retired jazz musician father to come out of retirement. Sadly, this book is out of print. The last time I read Standing Ovation was during a train ride to an author presentation to promote another novel. Even though the book was old, it still made me laugh out loud!
G: Oh, I love that! Now, tell me more about that other novel.
Aud: That other novel was my second published book, I Almost Love You, Eddie Clegg, put out by Peachtree Publishers.
Aud: It’s a middle grade novel about an 8th grade girl who begins to develop a father/daughter relationship with her alcoholic stepdad. Fun fact: That book was rejected over 30 times.
G: Wow! That is all too common, but still, how did you deal with all that rejection? What did you do next?
Aud: I had a few cool rejections for Eddie. One publisher wrote that the main character was “refreshing and endearing” and the book was “beautifully written,” but it wouldn’t fit their list. I remember saying to myself, “They don’t want refreshing and endearing characters or a beautifully written book?” Obviously, there’s nothing you can do with a rejection like that. A lot of the other letters were form rejections. They sting, but I’m blessed to have a significant other who always takes my side. Whenever I complain that publishers are stupid for rejecting me, he not only agrees with me, he tells me I’m a genius. (Laughter) They’re not really stupid; calling them that is just part of the process.
G: Dealing with rejection can be a multi-step process for sure!
Aud: After a day or so of whining about it and licking my wounds, I’ll put the manuscript aside for a while, then re-read the manuscript with a critical eye, make changes and submit it somewhere else. Here’s the other thing about Eddie. I loved that story and the characters and I believed in it enough that I would have kept going until somebody accepted it. Also, it didn’t hurt that whenever I’d ask my husband if I’d ever be published again he always said, “Yes.” And he’s the most indecisive person I know!! (Laughter)
G: It’s wonderful to have so much support! And that you were dedicated to your characters and your story.
G: Now, what’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Aud: The dreaded first draft. Once that one’s out of the way, the rest is pure joy.
G: What’s the best?
Aud: Editing! I love polishing and seeing how a raw idea evolves.
G: Wow – for me, it’s just the opposite. I really enjoy the first draft. The editing makes me sweat. Of course, having a great critique group really helps. Even if their hard questions are sometimes what make me sweat the most!
G: Is there a place that you’ve lived, or visited, that especially influences your writing?
Aud: When I was 15, I spent a summer at a lake in Maine with relatives. It ended up being the setting for Broken Soul to Broken Soul, as well as for my adult short story, “Monkey in the Middle,” also accepted by RWP for their next short story anthology.
G: Congratulations on that acceptance! And a lake shows up in your book trailer, too.
G: A lot of writers when they start out emulate other writers, consciously or not. Can you think of any authors you emulated?
Aud: This probably makes me different from the average author; I began life as a reluctant reader. As a kid, I didn’t think anybody wrote stories I wanted to read, so I started writing for myself. When it comes to emulating, I probably emulated lively stories and conversations I’d heard when my mother and grandmother met for coffee. I think that’s why I enjoy writing dialog so much. Without realizing it, I paid attention to the cadence of their voices.
G: That’s very cool! And I can vouch for your dialogue – it just feels so real when I read it.
G: What writers do you most admire?
Aud: Right out of college I couldn’t get enough of Kurt Vonnegut. Back then I was also a big fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. I was also impressed with Stephen King’s down-to-earth dialog.
G: What authors do you read most and enjoy most now?
Aud: I like Timothy Keller and Andy Stanley. Both are Christian nonfiction writers. As for fiction, the actual author doesn’t matter. If it’s a fantasy, cozy mystery, romance, literary fiction, Christian fiction, middle grade, YA, or anything about horses, I’ll pretty much read it. Good or bad. You can learn a lot about the art of writing by reading really bad fiction.
G: You know, you’ve got a good point. I’ll have to remember that the next time some writing doesn’t impress me.
G: What are you reading presently, or most recently?
Aud: I just finished a YA novel about a girl surfer titled, We Thought We Were Invincible, by Michelle Lynn. I’m bad with names, I only know that author’s name because I just checked it on my Kindle. (Laughter)
G: And what are you working on now?
Aud: Edits to my middle grade novel called, This Way/That Way.
G: We’re reading that story at our critique group now, and I’m really enjoying getting to know your heroine, Nickie. She’s quite a character!
G: What is the next project you hope to do?
Aud: It better be book three of my Frama-12 trilogy. (Laughter)
G: Good, because having read the drafts for the first two, I can’t wait to find out what happens in book three!
Meanwhile, I’ve been hard at work on my fantasy novel. If you look deeply into my author photo, you can catch a peek at early lines from my first draft.
All right, honestly, I haven’t been writing it with quill and ink, but I do write the first drafts longhand. I like the ease and physical contact of writing with pen and paper.
During this year, Running Wild Press has been busy with many awesome projects – just check out their twitter. Among their latest offerings are writing courses.
From RWP: we’re launching a fully online creative writing program.
Want to join a supportive, online writing community for feedback and encouragement? Take a Running Wild Press writing course.
These fully online courses will be taught in 4 to 8-week formats entirely online by experienced instructors from higher education institutions from around the country.
Three of these courses will be taught by my anthology colleagues Elan Barnehama, Nick Mazzuca, and Amelia Kibbie. I heartily vouch for their writing abilities, because their stories are honestly some of my favorites. Check out my interviewswiththem for more about them and their stories.
A fourth course will be taught by Dr. Lisa Montagne. I’m not acquainted Lisa, but if you’re interested in reading and writing poetry, have a look! You can check out all the courses here.
As for me, check back soon for more interviews with new authors, and of course I’ll keep you posted with any news!
To close this chapter of interviews with my Running Wild Anthology colleagues, I’m very pleased to feature Amelia Kibbie. Her story, “Idylls of the King,” moved and enchanted me.
Is there a part of the Anthology’s cover collage that reminds you of your story?
The image that I think reflects my story the best is on the far left. It looks like a person with dark pants standing with their hand open but facing back, perhaps to take someone else’s hand. The figure is wearing a black glove. It reminds me of “Idylls of the King” because the picture does look historical, and my piece is a LGBT WWII romance, and it could also represent James reaching back to take Arthur’s hand so they can stand together.
Would you add anything to the cover to hint at your story?
A sword. In the story, Arthur is given a sword that represents the mythical Excalibur, and it inspires him to reach his full potential and be true to himself in declaring his love for James.
What do you like best to write?
That’s funny, because honestly I would have to say horror and fantasy, which is a pretty far cry from “Idylls.” But to be real, I love to write pretty much everything if I’m invested in the plot and characters.
What’s the biggest stretch for you to write?
I don’t typically write things I don’t like to write, but if someone paid me to write a traditional hetero romance where the proper girl falls for the bad boy, or a Twilight style scenario where the guy’s actually a stalker with no boundaries and the girl defines her existence based on her relationship, I would have a really hard time writing that. But, if you’re offering me money, I’d make it work.
Where do your stories fall on the plot-driven vs. character-driven spectrum?
I’d like to think they’re equal. Typically I come up with the plot idea, and then develop the characters after that. When it’s brewing in my mind they tend to develop relatively simultaneously.
What authors did you love most as a kid? Now? What authors have influenced your writing most?
As a younger kid, I was way into Patricia C. Wrede, Betty Wren Wright, and Brian Jacques. My teen years focused on Stephen King and Anne Rice. In college, I got into Chuck Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis. Now I read anything and everything I can get my hands on and I’m not all that particular. I learn something from everything I read. I’d have to say my current favorite author is Hillary Mantel.
Is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
I’m from Iowa, so there are a lot of Midwestern culture and themes in my work. However, I’ve done a lot of traveling, and visited France and New Orleans several times. I’ve been to England, and did quite a few historical tours of WWII sites, which helped in the writing of “Idylls of the King” and the follow up novel, Legendary.
What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
The first place I was really published was on the website BigWorldNetwork.com. They publish stories in installments as serial fiction. I have a fantasy novel there called Harvest of Ash. The first two seasons are available on the site. I have the third season written, but the new managers of the site don’t want to see anything until the series has concluded. I still have to write Season 4. When I turned 30, I decided that it was now or never to accomplish my dream of being a writer. When I was 31 I had my daughter, and I used her nap time during my maternity leave to write Harvest of Ash. I love that book and I hope to finish it someday. It’s a gritty retelling of Cinderella with echoes of Game of Thrones.
What have you been up to since the Anthology came out? Any other news?
I have written a follow-up novel to “Idylls of the King” called Legendary. It takes place about ten years after the short story, though the short story is included in the narrative as a flashback. The plot revolves around James and Arthur as they journey to find someone given up for lost many years ago. On the way they grapple with society’s judgmental treatment of gay people, and some rocky aspects of their own relationship.
What do you plan to work on next?
Man, I have a to-do list! I need to finish Harvest of Ash, as well as a story I have on Wattpad that some of the students I work with are reading. I tell them if they get their homework done and pass their classes, I will write another chapter. I owe them a chapter right now! I’m also working with a filmmaker on a screen play about the Holocaust.