Any great villain is relatable. The ones you feel for and almost root for because you can empathize with what they went through. When I see villains who are just dicks and "born this way", I can't get into you. Show me a Venom or a Punisher bad guy and I'm all in. Someone who has lost everything and I'm behind them 100%. John Kramer killed for a reason, and even then, had people kill themselves. John Doe from Seven.
"Any great villain is relatable. The ones you feel for and almost root for
Online presence is a big deal, especially for newer writers who are trying to build an audience. As your website is exceptionally professional, do you have any advice for newer writers who are weighing their options for an author website?
Definitely. Use Leia. It's an app that will build the website for you, based off your preferences. It takes zero skill to learn. The team has been super professional in assisting me where I need. There is a free version I recommend starting off with. From there, you can go pro with the click of a button. My site averages 1,000 hits a month (or more) and I didn't have to learn anything.
Though I am not a regular reader of horror, some of my closest author friends write in this genre. What drew you into the genre and what would you say to a potential reader who is hesitant about exploring horror-themed works?
As a teen I gravitated from fantasy to horror through an author named John Saul. Saul's books were more "Teens discover secret society" and "people with dark powers". I burned through them in a day. Despite his huge library of work, I needed more. I moved on to Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Horror isn't always about gore in books. If the synopsis sounds good, look at reviews. They should give some insight if you're avoiding the genre due to graphic violence.
"Saul's books were more "Teens discover secret society" and "people with dark powers". I burned through them in a day."
Strange Tales from the City of Dust, your serial sci-fi series, is a set of stories about a futuristic version of Pittsburgh which has now become the City of Dust. What inspired this dystopian cyberpunk world and what types of themes do you enjoy exploring through your stories?
The main things I was shooting for here was having a Bladerunner universe with a Sin City-type of spit storylines. As any writer knows, we get so many ideas that it's hard to keep up with all of our works-in-progress. Doing things as serial stories means any time I think of something new, I can find an episode to incorporate it. No waiting. No getting stressed at too many back burner unfinished stories.
"Doing things as serial stories means any time I think of something new, I can find an episode to incorporate it.
You have decided to create a set of serial novellas which all take place in the world of Strange Tales from the City of Dust instead of writing novel-length books. Was that an intentional choice or did the stories themselves inform that choice? What have been some of the advantages and/or challenges of marketing serial novellas as opposed to more traditional full-length novels?
I've written a ton of normal books of varying lengths. I get so distracted. New ideas, so I abandon works in progress. Not anymore. Every new idea is blended into stories I'm working on. It might be an infection I was studying. It might be an event that takes place. It'll all be within the City of Dust.
"I get so distracted. New ideas, so I abandon works in progress.
As I read through the descriptions for Clockwork Deus, The Darkest Part, and Pinned Butterflies, I could not help but think of my favorite Netflix series: Black Mirror. Do you think that your novellas could play out well on screen? Also, what are your thoughts on Black Mirror as a series in terms of its contributions to the public conversation about modern Sci-Fi?
I love Black Mirror. Been eating it up as soon as it launched and trying to find everything I can that released soon after and attempted to ride the waves it casted behind it. I always write things in a visual format so that it can be easily transferred to screen. I usually have specific actors/actresses in mind when designing characters. I look at the episodes like a comic book purchase. People enjoy comics for a fun, quick read. My episodes are always a buck each and have a 1-2 hour enjoyable read.
Each episode delves into something real-world, while also forcibly taking something currently that I don't care for and making it fixed and adamant. My books won't ever make sexual preference or sexual identity an issue. This isn't to skirt the issue. It's because, as I see it, it's all considered normal in my universe. No one will give you a side-eye if you were born a girl but identify as a guy. No one cares what's between your legs.
"Each episode delves into something real-world, while also forcibly taking something currently
Last, but not least, where can readers track down your books and stay up to date on your latest publications?
Amazon. For the moment, I am exclusively Kindle Unlimited.
Strange Tales From The City Of Dust
Episode 4: Neon Pentagrams is being worked on now!
Find more from Vaz on his website!
Know that this article was inspired by recent and very real events. A few weeks ago I received an edited manuscript from a very patient editor, almost three-hundred pages absolutely covered in red-slashed edits. Flipping through it was like fast-forwarding through a B-grade slasher film. A few days later, I got a review back from a female beta-reader who said that the mother in the story wasn’t landing properly and that a risk I took near the end, a scene that was meant to be the narrative climax of the second book, bored her. Double ouch. So let’s get real about what the editing process is like and how to survive it.
"...almost three-hundred pages absolutely covered in red-slashed edits.
Principle 1: Force equals mass times acceleration.
Application to Bar Fights: Big people (i.e. big mass) don’t have to move very fast (i.e. low acceleration) to throw forceful punches. Small people (i.e. small mass) need to strike extra fast (i.e. high acceleration) to hit with the same kind of force.
By the way, this rule also explains why sugar-coated feedback (i.e. low acceleration) is not helpful. It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with a big mass or a small mass; if it’s moving really slowly it isn’t going to hit with noticeable any force.
"...get strangers or friends-of-friends (i.e. small mass) to review it in order to lessen the force when those criticisms hit."
Principle 2: Force can also be viewed as change in momentum over time.
Application to Bar Fights: Bones don’t break because they are moving really fast. Bones don’t break because they stop moving. Bones break because they go from moving really fast to a complete stop really quickly. It’s the difference between being shoved up against a wall and being thrown into it.
Principle 3: Intensity of impact is proportional to an object’s rigidity.
"This principle is also the reason you can go diving into a pool of water but not into a pit of gravel."
Application to the Editing Process: The more nervous you are about others critiquing your work (i.e. rigidity) the harder their criticism is going to hit you. This is unfortunate because that means your own fear of criticism is proportional to how much it is going to hurt when it inevitably comes crashing into you.
So don’t tense up. Pretend you are someone else looking at your work. Even better, treat the work as if it was someone else’s story or poem. The more you can relax into the idea that your story is going to take a few hits, the more efficiently you can spread the impact of that criticism around.
"Pretend you are someone else looking at your work.
"My favorite magical creature is Al mi’raj from Arabic poetry. It is also known as the Wolpertinger in German mythology, the Jackalope in American myth and the Lepus Cornutus from medieval and early Renaissance times."
I like stories when seemingly weak or underdog characters win in unexpected ways. I’m not particularly religious, but even as a kid I liked the David and Goliath story. Speaking of Goliath- the mythology there is of the Nephilim- the giants who were apparently offspring of demons and humans. That’s interesting. It was when I was a little kid and to me, it probably always will be. I’m a lover of myths that attempt to explain life to believers. There’s a creature from the Ewe tribe of Togo and Ghana called the Adze. The Adze are shape shifting vampires and evolved as a way to warn against the deadly effects of mosquitos and malaria in the region.
"If I had to be best friends with a villian, I would choose the Fratelli family from Goonies."
If I had to be best friends with a villian, I would choose the Fratelli family from Goonies. They were such a bumbling group of silly meanies. I write Middle Grade and Picture Books, so it follows that I would like this group of greedy criminals from a smash hit kids movie. I especially loved Sloth Fratelli but he was a good guy, wasn’t he?
I drink an unnatural amount of coffee while I write. I recently upgraded to a Keurig after a decade of using the same drip coffee maker. Now, I can have a hot cup - fresh every time I need a bathroom break. It’s kinda funny- I was gifted a box of mixed flavor coffee from my wonderful husband and now I rotate through cinnamon, vermont maple, hazelnut, southern pecan and blueberry vanilla and I love it.
"I drink an unnatural amount of coffee while I write."
I often offer to read rough manuscripts for fantasy fiction and one piece of feedback I often give (and sometimes get!) is that the narrative doesn’t feel ‘real’. How do you manage to connect with your characters and express their thoughts and emotions to readers in an authentic way?
Well, thank you for this question because it implies that I know how to make a character come to life and feel ‘real,’ jumping off the page. I am not sure I always do this. There are times that I’ve reread my work and felt the feelings that the characters are reported to be feeling. I’ve cultivated those moments by writing about something that I have a personal, visceral connection to. Feelings are triggered by sensory experiences and if you can tap into the sensory experiences of your reader and make them feel the feelings that the characters are feeling from the lens of their own visceral life experiences...it becomes real for them. They feel like they “know,” the character. Using the five senses can get you where you need to be quickly. Also using observations about human nature and human behavior can create a connection and give insights into how a character might be feeling. The reader might find themselves thinking “I do that too.”
Many authors branch out from writing to provide other services related to the process of making books as editors, graphic designers, and online forum hosts; I call these ‘writing adjacent’ skills. In addition to your writing, you also design incredible author logos to help writers present their brand effectively. What advice do you have for writers who are thinking of exploring the option of offering services using their ‘writing adjacent’ skills?
I think that writing adjacent services help you to build an author platform. If you are launching a writing career out of obscurity - offering a service can help others get to know who you are and where you sit within the writing community. You can cultivate friendships, readership and writing adjacent customers in this way. When it comes time to enter into the querying trenches, having a following of some kind is important. How important? The blog subscribers, twitter followers or insta numbers as a platform are a mystery to most of us, but a general, strong effort to get your name out there is valuable and it shows. It shows you have staying power and that you are willing to work for your place in the industry.
There is an origin story for the bunny in The First Easter Rabbit narrated by Burl Ives from 1976 but I wanted to give my story a classic feel and tie it to another famous rabbit story. I find retellings satisfying because the reader gets to re enter a world they’ve loved before and learn a little bit more about the beloved characters. They get to relive the joy. My version of The Velveteen Rabbit, The Girl Behind the Magic sticks to Margery Williams’ original and has enough of her story for modern children to receive the wisdom that Williams intended about ‘realness,’ coming from the pure source of love. However adding a few more layers of contrast helps this story come to life in a fresh new way. Also there is a little girl in this story and I think adding little girls to stories that once had boys as the only protagonist is a fresh take too.
"However adding a few more layers of contrast helps this story come to life in a fresh new way. Also there is a little girl in this story and I think adding little girls to stories that once had boys as the only protagonist is a fresh take too. "
You are also a writer of short stories and in your lyrical piece The Hope Goblin, a young girl named Isabelle learns to confront a wicked, bullying goblin. The themes of building one’s own self-confidence and self-image are apparent throughout the rollicking tale. On that topic, how do you feel about instructive literature vs. escape fiction? Where is the line for you as a writer between stories that teach and stories that entertain?
I love escapism as a reader.
As a writer, I must be true to my roots, and instructive literature comes out in me in earnest. I was an English teacher overseas in the Peace Corps, Uzbekistan and then also independently in China. I taught 8th grade writing in Texas as well as ESL to adults and kids. If teaching is breaking something down to its simplest components to be able to build- students in tow, a thing to its theoretical completion- this is how I approach most things in life. I am a parent and I utilize those skills. I love to cook and paint abstract pieces and I do graphic design. I use the skill of looking at the building blocks and ingredients to get to a desired result in those areas too. I think this is why I like writing for kids. Simplifying may seem just that...simple...but it’s a lifetime thus far of developing the skill of breaking things down in order to teach it... I think I bring this skill to the table as a writer too.
"Simplifying may seem just that...simple...but it’s a lifetime thus far of developing the
You have an impressive compendium of mythological creatures on your website, including the little known fairy pig from the Isle of Man known as the Arkan Sonney. What draws you to these creatures and in what ways have other writers responded to your work on that collection?
"We all have similar fears and insecurities too and you find them personified in many of the creatures of myth."
Authors from other countries have contacted me and asked when I am going to do an article on a creature from their culture. I am slowly working through an alphabetical list and so many have said they will be patient until I get to theirs! Others have reached out and thanked me for expanding past what they can find on Wikipedia. I try to cross reference and give examples from several sites so that I am not just replicating what is already easily accessible on the internet. What also seems to be helpful is talking about where the mythological creature has shown up in American pop culture. I find that advertising and product naming ventures pull from International myth and folklore a lot.
"I try to cross reference and give examples from several sites so that I am
What can you tell us about your most recent project? Do you have a few smaller stories on the go or are you working on something big?
I am currently seeking representation for a #STEM, PB series and am very excited about the process. I have a MG Contemporary Adventure based on Aztec Mythology that I am trying to find a home for as well and am also continually working on short stories and creature articles for my blog.
Last, but not least, where can readers find more of your work and stay up to date on your latest publications?
Find A.R. Jung's adaption of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit on Amazon: The Girl Behind the Magic.
Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.