I’ve been invited to participate in a blog tour of questions about the writer’s life originated by Michael Cieslak. Michael is a board member for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers, as well as a writer and editor. His latest anthology, Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails, includes tales of loneliness, isolation, and abandonment. A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit Last Day Dog Rescue. To learn more about Michael, please visit him at The Dragon’s Roost.
My friend E.S.Magill posted some brilliant answers to the blog tour questions last week on her blog, www.esmagill.com, and I thank her for inviting me to participate in this tour.
So, without further ado, here are my answers to these very writerly queries.
1. Why do you write what you do?
If you mean, why do I write fast-paced fiction laced with thrills and chills, it’s because that’s what I’ve always felt I was meant to do. Strange, isn’t it, how one can be so certain of something, even as a young child. The desire to write a story, any kind of an interesting tale, is something I’ve had since I was able to connect the fact that I loved to read with the idea that it would be possible for me to create stories of my own by writing them. At the age of eight, I announced to my parents that I would be a writer, and that’s what I became.
As far as my fondness for the fantastic goes, different experiences blessed me with that love fairly early on. In particular, I remember watching the film “Frankenstein” as a tiny tot of four. Rather than being frightened or repulsed by the monster, I pitied it in its loneliness. I’ve been fascinated with “outsider” type characters ever since, especially those whose strange appearance and/or extraordinary abilities exclude them from the life that is considered “normal” by their neighbors.
Thus, many of my stories contain the “special” or “different” character who is challenged by perceived normalcy and often made to suffer by those who can’t or won’t understand. That’s also the theme of my horror anthology, Mutation Nation: Tales of Genetic Mishaps, Monsters, and Madness, where I chose and edited stories about people whose own DNA has consigned them to the realm of the misfit.
Mutation Nation, with original cover art by Audra Phillips.
And, since I have a problem sitting still for very long, I like to read and write fiction with a lot of fast-paced action and surprising twists and turns.
2. How does your writing process work?
My first step is finding out what the project requires. If there is a client who is soliciting the material, I find out to the best of my ability what the client would like. Very often, this approach applies to fiction as well as non-fiction.
For example, the first novel I wrote, Beloved of the Fallen, (written under the pseudonym Savannah Kline), was a work-for-hire project. The publisher specifically requested a story about a fallen angel, and stated the desired plot elements to be included in the novel. I added my own ideas, weaving a tale of political intrigue around the concept of a good angel gone “bad,” Valentin, and the young, vulnerable politician he covets as he tempts, Kira Castlemaine.
Short-story markets, too, usually have precise requirements as to the types of stories they are looking for. When I wrote the short story “A Call to Temple” for the anthology The Dead that Walk, the editor encouraged me to “give the readers what they want” in terms of delivering a hard-hitting horror ending to a zombie story involving the fate of an unfortunate child. I have found that writing cannot be a random act of self-expression: Every piece that is created needs to find its audience to be a complete work.
After determining what is desired, I do a great deal of research to find out as much
Beloved of the Fallen
about the subject as possible. Books, magazines, newspapers, interviews with experts in the field—anything I can discover that will unlock the questions of the material. I’m immensely grateful to have a background in journalism, because it’s made the process of finding the information I need much easier. A recent non-fiction book I worked on required weeks of sifting through legal correspondence. That wasn’t much fun, but carefully going over the material did give me the foundation I needed for one of the most important chapters of the book.
Then, of course, it’s a matter of holding still long enough to get the writing done. To me, that’s both the toughest and the most rewarding part.
3. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel of suspense set in Victorian England. The Victorian era has always been my favorite time period, with its mix of gentility and bawdiness, progress and squalor. Also, this is an era that has something for everyone, because it went on for nearly a century, and so many changes occurred in society at this time. The Victorian era combined the fascination of the old and the wonder of the new. In this setting, it’s fun to explore the motivations of the various types of characters lurking in the shadows.
4. How does your work differ from others in the genre?
As a longtime fan of horror and dark fantasy, I am steeped in the tropes and traditions of the genres’ greats, whether the gothic subtlety of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Uncle Silas, the intellectual terrors of Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Professor’s Teddy Bear,” or the lush, dark sensuality of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. But I also savor fiction from other literary traditions, from the drawing-room tragedies of Edith Wharton to the deep symbolism of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man to the page-turning melodramas of Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon. The ideal for which I strive in my own work is a synthesis of the virtues of all these works: narratives with the depth of literary fiction, the ingenuity and wonder of speculative literature, and the attention-grabbing suspense of the best popular fiction.
In the story “Marvel at the Face of Forever,” which I wrote for the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology After Death, I was given the challenge of depicting a radically different afterlife from those generally portrayed in supernatural fiction. As a springboard, I chose the story of horrific real-life serial killer Adolfo De Jesus Constanzo, whose ghastly crimes were inspired by his belief in the arcane religion of Palo Mayombe.
However, I did not want the story to be a mere gore-fest about victims being vivisected; instead, I wanted to make it a journey into a wondrous otherworld inspired by another culture’s myths and traditions, similar to some of Neil Gaiman’s fantastic fiction. I researched the spirits of Palo Mayombe, using my imagination to personify and make concrete the amorphous beings of this strange cult. The result was a fast-moving otherworldly adventure that provided a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
I genuinely want my work to entertain and, perhaps, leave the reader with a little food for thought in the bargain. But mostly, I want readers to get the spine-tingling pleasure out of my work that I’ve received from the work of my favorite writers.
Meet the guests for next Monday’s post! These fine writers will be posting on Monday, June 23.
Wendy Rathbone has had dozens of stories published in anthologies, such as Hot Blood, Writers of the Future (second place,) Bending the Landscape, Mutation Nation, A Darke Phantastique, and more. Over 500 of her poems have been published in various anthologies and magazines. She won first place in the Anamnesis Press poetry chapbook contest with her book Scrying the River Styx. Her recent books include: Pale Zenith, a science fiction novel, The Foundling, a romance novel, None Can Hold the Dark, sequel to The Foundling, Unearthly, an omnibus collection of seven out-of-print poetry booklets, and My House is Full of Whispers, an erotica short story collection. She has just finished a new poetic science fiction novel entitled Letters to an Android, due out this summer of 2014. Visit Wendy at http://wendyrathbone.blogspot.com/
Stephen Woodworth is the author of the New York Times best-selling Violet Series of paranormal thrillers, including Through Violet Eyes, With Red Hands, In Golden Blood, and From Black Rooms. His short fiction has appeared in such publications as Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy& Science Fiction, Year’s Best Fantasy 9, and The Dead That Walk, and he has other tales forthcoming in Nameless Magazine and Black Wings IV. He is currently at work on a new novel. Visit Steve at http://stephenwoodworth.wordpress.com/