You are someone who knows how to finish things as you recently completed your first book. What lessons have you learned on your creative journey that might help those who are constantly starting stories but never seeing them through to the end?
Great question! First, the story must have legs. It must compel and fascinate me enough to obsess you for months, if not years. My debut novel, The Norse Queen, took six years to write. I was working full time and commuted to work on the backroads so I could work on the story in my head. When I pulled into the parking lot or my driveway, I would scribble everything I’d come up with on the drive. I know, a tape recorder would have been better, but it didn’t work for me. I adore the research, poring over books about the Vikings, trying to translate texts from Norwegian. I went to Norway twice, and dogged the steps of archeologists. So, obsession helps, but maturity is also important. I tried to become a novelist in my twenties, and actually forced myself to finish a literary novel that made me so miserable I gave up writing for years. I wanted to have adventures, not sit in front of a computer, so I chucked that miserable novel in the sock drawer and went to sea. Years later, I had calmed down a bit and was ready to dive down the rabbit hole.
"So, obsession helps, but maturity is also important. I tried to become a novelist in my twenties, and actually forced myself to finish a literary novel that made me so miserable I gave up writing for years."
You and I share two particular things in common: an interest in writing stories about Vikings and the area of the world we live in, specifically the Pacific Northwest! I often hear the Pacific Northwest, especially the coast, being compared to the iconic geographical features of Norway and Sweden. How has living in this part of the world influenced the world you write about in your historical fiction?
I do feel like I’m in touch with Norway in the Pacific Northwest. It is very similar in many ways. I love the sea and always want to be close to it, and the fact that seagoing is still a way of life here helps a lot.
Maria Headley has famously challenged the male-dominated narrative of the epic poem Beowulf, both through her award-winning book The Mere Wife and her new feminist translation of the original text. What was your process for discovering, uncovering, and filling in the gaps of Åsa’s story in your Norsewomen series?
There was very little fiction from a Viking woman’s point of view, so I had to put my story on the bare bones of archeological discoveries. I read a ton of archeological books, especially Neil Price’s The Viking Way, as well as the sagas and the various annals from the time. I try to stay up-to-date on new discoveries that can have a major impact on my writing. About midway during my writing of The Norse Queen, BJ581 became big news. BJ581 is a grave in Birka, Sweden, that was uncovered by an archeologist in the mid-1800’s. The burial was a full weapons grave with two horses. The occupant was buried most likely sitting upright on a saddle. It was long considered a chieftain or war leader’s grave. In 2017 the only occupant was proven to be that of a woman!
"I try to stay up-to-date on new discoveries that can have a major impact on my writing. About midway during my writing of The Norse Queen, BJ581 became big news."
You have a really interesting background knowledge concerning the handling of raptors (falcons, eagles, etc). How important were raptors to Vikings and in what ways were they used? Were they symbolic or culturally significant in any particular ways?
Viking falconry is an elusive subject. There’s not a lot of archaeological evidence—most of the harnesses, hoods, jesses, etc. were leather and didn’t survive burial or cremation graves. Bronze or copper items such as swivels and tiny bells have been found in burials, as well as some raptor bones. There are picture stones in Norway and Sweden that portray hawking scenes. The Carolingian Chronicles mention that the Danish King Godfried was murdered just as he was about to release his hawk. In Hrolf’s Saga Kraki, riders with hawks on their shoulders are mentioned. The goddess Freyja owned a falcon cloak that enabled the wearer to fly—possibly alluding to “shapeshifting” (in which the shaman’s spirit enters an animal).
"Some of the most magnificent raptors are found in Norway, and the Norse traded in falcons."
Your third book is in the final stages of development and will soon be released. How did you find the process of completing your third book compared to the challenge of finishing your first one? And what have you learned along the way that might help a new writer who is stuck on their first book?
My writing method is a strange amalgamation of pantsing and plotting. I write a lot of scenes until I get stuck and then I drag out one of my writing craft books such as Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, or The Night Time Novelist by Joseph Bates, and just follow the steps until the writing begins to flow again. It works every time. I think I just run out of plot and need to go back and impose more structure. In the later stages of writing I flit all over the place, making the beginning, middle, and end work together, and at one point I was working on all 3 books at once. Like most writers, the majority of the writing I do is actually revision. Just get something down on paper so you have something to work with, then go back and work on it until it’s right.
"Just get something down on paper so you have something to work with, then go back and work on it until it’s right."
Will there be another book in the Norsewomen series or are you going to begin a different project following the release of the third book? Can you give us any hints or sneak peaks?
I’m already working on the fourth book. Åsa ruled for 20 years and there is absolutely nothing written about those years. The tale doesn’t pick up again until her son takes over the kingdom, and she is never mentioned again. I have a lot to explore!
Where can readers find your books and keep track of your latest articles and publications?
My books are available on Amazon in paperback, ebook, and free on Kindle Unlimited. I also have a website, a Facebook page, and I’m active on Twitter.
Find out more about Johanna's Norsewomen series on her website!
Welcome John! Thanks for taking some time to chat about writing. First, a few quick-fire questions: What is your favourite book series of all time? Do you prefer a pen or a pencil? And (most contentiously), what is your favourite bookshop in Vancouver?
Josh, thanks so much for making time for me. I always love to chat about writing, and in that vein, congratulations on your recent launch of "The Gatewatch." I wish you all the success in the world.
Okay, now to your questions--OMG, quick-fire? Really? In my mind, all three of these are contentious and deserve exploration to do them justice.
First up--my favourite book series of all time. Like I suspect is the case with many readers, mine's changed over time (either that or I'm hopelessly fickle, which is also a distinct possibility). When I was about sixteen, I liked The Belgariad by David Eddings. It was the first modern fantasy series I encountered after reading The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, and it led to me falling in love with the genre. In my twenties, my favourite became The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. My first introduction to the Arthurian Cycle came through the original Welsh legends and I've always been dubious/snobbish/a bit of a jerk when it comes to the character of Lancelot. The way the character was presented to me showed him as a twelfth-century addition, with the intent of promoting the tenets of courtly love (I was also told he usurped Gawain's place in the legends, whom I've always liked).
"In Cornwell's series, he treats Lancelot with the same disdain I've always felt for the character, and it made me cheer to see someone else with the same prejudice against a fictional character created eight hundred and fifty years ago."
In Cornwell's series, he treats Lancelot with the same disdain I've always felt for the character, and it made me cheer to see someone else with the same prejudice against a fictional character created eight hundred and fifty years ago. Today--after much deliberation (as I've read many good series and had a difficult time picking just one)--I'll say my current favourite is The Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch. Lynch's series (which isn't complete yet) is a fun rogue's story that has me eagerly awaiting it's next installment.
Now, to weigh in on the pen versus pencil debate--well, it depends on what I'm writing. If it's quick notes to myself, I prefer the pencil and notepad I keep on my desk. If it's writing something requiring more longevity--like a grocery wish list, or the draft of a story I'm writing, or critiquing a student's work--I prefer pen. However, I will point out my handwriting is absolute crap in any case (I failed penmanship in public school for as long as they gave marks for it), so if I want someone else to actually read what I've written, I've got to concentrate very hard. In all honesty, I prefer a computer (I can usually type much faster than write with either a pen or a pencil), with legibility being a very welcome by-product).
"In all honesty, I prefer a computer (I can usually type much faster than write with either a pen or a pencil), with legibility being a very welcome by-product)."
And finally, my favourite bookshop in Vancouver...um, well, it's actually in Chilliwack. I live in North Vancouver and with bridge traffic being what it's become the past few years, I find going overtown has become a major pain in the ass I prefer to avoid. However, I really like going to bookstores so for me to cross Burrard Inlet, the destination has to be worth it. I first came across The Book Man several years ago and quite frankly, it's one of the few used book stores I've been to which is completely catalogued (and fully integrated with their Abbotsford location), is laid out neatly, and doesn't smell like musty pages. Their selection is wide and I've had a trading account with them for years (wherein I give them books I know I won't read again for credit against the new-to-me books I bring home). Every now and then my wife and I make a day trip out to Chilliwack for lunch and bring back a book haul to add to our seemingly-never-depleting TBR piles.
Describe your writing practice. Do you have a specific space that you write or do you like to write in different places? Do you like white noise, music, or silence? Do you have a schedule or do you write as inspiration strikes?
I'm lucky to have an office within stumbling distance of my bedroom (it's just down the hall on the far side of the bathroom), complete with a whiteboard on one wall, a corkboard on another, a map of my fantasy world on a third, a shelf of reference books, and an old dining table for a desk. Occasionally, I set up a tarp and drag my laptop (along with our main dining table) out on our patio, but I usually only do that on the hottest of summer days.
"I'm lucky to have an office within stumbling distance of my bedroom (it's just down the hall on the far side of the bathroom), complete with a whiteboard on one wall, a corkboard on another, a map of my fantasy world on a third, a shelf of reference books, and an old dining table for a desk."
As for background noise, I generally prefer silence, but sometimes will use ambient sounds to create a specific mood (like waves on a pebble beach or a forest at night or the sounds of a fantasy tavern--whatever I think the scene I'm writing requires). When I'm not looking for auditory inspiration, I've got a set of industrial-strength protective ear muffs I wear to ignore the intermittent sounds I find so plaguingly-distracting such as leaf blowers, basketballs, back-up beepers, garbage and recycling trucks, exuberant children, and neighbours with large voices. As to a schedule, I generally write Monday to Friday, from when I wake up until mid-afternoon (when I drag my butt outside and go for an hour-long hike to offset the damage my many hours of continuous sitting do to me).
You’ve taught Creative Writing at many places: Capilano University, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia to name a few. What has teaching creative writing brought to your own practice as a writer?
Humility. As luck/fate would have it, the very first student paper I had to grade was submitted by a student who I recognized immediately was a far better writer than I was. Yes, I had a rubric to help guide me, and yes, this writer ticked all the boxes for what the assignment called for, but outside of that, the evident passion, precise clarity, and emotional depth with which that manuscript was written just blew me away. And the fact that I can still remember that story today speaks volumes in my mind.
"...the evident passion, precise clarity, and emotional depth with which that manuscript was written just blew me away. And the fact that I can still remember that story today speaks volumes in my mind."
Respect. While I was taking courses on how to specifically teach creative writing, I met a professor who shared some advice I've never forgotten (to paraphrase): Always be respectful when critiquing a student's (or anyone's) work. Writing is often very close to people's hearts and it can take great courage to share. As a teacher, I have the power to cause a student to never write again if I choose to say something flippant or hurtful (which I try never to do). The way I understand it, people typically study subjects in order to improve, so I try to be as supportive as I can, while also being encouraging, honest, and (hopefully) helpful.
And finally, for my own practice of putting words on paper, the biggest lesson I've learned from my students comes as a result of both humility and respect: taking comfort in the fact I'm not alone, unique, or even as big a blockhead as I sometimes think I am. Most of the writing problems, insecurities, and other challenges I encounter, I've seen my students face (and usually solve) many times over. It's very comforting to know that writing--even though it's an inherently solitary act--can be a shared communal experience (and that's even before what happens when readers get a hold of your stuff).
"It's very comforting to know that writing--even though it's an inherently solitary act--can be a shared communal experience (and that's even before what happens when readers get a hold of your stuff)."
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for a diverse array of writing genres, including sci-fi, fantasy, horror, alternate history, apocalyptic, superhero and supernatural fiction. All typically involve worlds unlike our own. What is it that draws you to speculative fiction as a writer? And are there any specific genres that you feel suit your writing style particularly well or do you like to experiment across multiple genres?
What draws me to speculative fiction as a writer? It's simple--I want to write what I like to read. Ever since I finished reading C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy (I think I was seven or eight at the time), I knew I wanted more stories like that one, stories filled with adventure, danger, excitement, fear, fun, and wonder. Stories set on different worlds where people lived lives different from my own, according to a different set of rules. Oh yeah, and magic--I've always thought that was pretty cool. And mystical creatures, too. And swords. Yeah, I like swords.
"Oh yeah, and magic--I've always thought that was pretty cool. And mystical creatures, too. And swords. Yeah, I like swords."
You’ve got a new story about a werewolf stuck in a halfway house with vampires coming out in Speculative North. I’ve noticed a bit of a resurgence of interest in monster fiction online (vampires specifically) and I want to know, what do you think keeps drawing people back to stories about werewolves and vampires? What is it about these creatures that fascinates us so deeply?
To be honest, I really don't know why these creatures have such a grip on the Western imagination. Maybe it's cultural familiarity, maybe it's a collective thrill, maybe it's the security of a fear people can understand the rules of (thereby making it conquerable). I once heard Margaret Atwood link the popularity of monster stories to contemporary fears about disease--lycanthropy to rabies, vampirism to tuberculosis, and zombism to Alzheimer's.
"I once heard Margaret Atwood link the popularity of monster stories to contemporary fears about disease--lycanthropy to rabies, vampirism to tuberculosis, and zombism to Alzheimer's."
Ulrica (my werewolf) is placed in the unfair, untenable, and completely unreasonable position of trying to keep her shit together while contending with increasing provocations from sources which have no regard for her as a person whatsoever (in part, the vampires). Aside from being fun to write, the ending was also very cathartic for me.
One of the things I feel that newer writers really struggle with is conveying emotion. Typically, I find that they err on the side of overwriting emotion to the point that their descriptions become either redundant or hyperbolized. What advice can you offer these writers about writing emotion well?
If you're a writer struggling to convey emotion, here's my advice: relax and don't worry about being redundant or hyperbolizing... whatever you write in a first draft--you'll fix in revision. For me, the purpose of a first draft is solely for getting a story down on paper (or on the computer--or, well, anywhere, really, just as long as it's no longer just in your head). A first draft is not for sharing; it's for giving you something to work with. If you find you've gone too far in trying to convey emotion, simply pull it back in subsequent drafts (yeah, drafts is plural). If you find you've cut too much, simply add more until you find the right balance. I honestly believe no manuscript written by no author ever (whether new or veteran), can't help but be improved with revision. Rather than let this scare you, take comfort in the opportunity to fix everything and anything before you share it with a reader.
"A first draft is not for sharing; it's for giving you something to work with. If you find you've gone too far in trying to convey emotion, simply pull it back in subsequent drafts (yeah, drafts is plural)."
Now, if you've revised your manuscript as much as you can and still aren't convinced you've successfully conveyed the emotion you want to, my suggestion is this (and OMG, it is so not original advice)--show, don't tell. For a quick example, rather than tell your reader that Director Chalmers, the Overseer of the Principal Europan Water Collection Plant is the angriest she's ever been in her life at Technician MacNulty's stupidity for letting the sewage outflow pass through the potable water intake filters, show how pissed she is by having her punch (and crack) the only glass window in the air-tight facility; or by having her physically pick up MacNulty and throw him into the sewage tanks (although I understand Europa's gravity is only about 13% of Earth's, so this might not be such a remarkable feat); or, have her grit her teeth so hard she draws blood or chips a tooth, or, call him a list of four-letter names three paragraphs long (never once repeating herself), or you could even do something as subtle as have her shake her head, lower her voice to a whisper, and tell MacNulty to return to his quarters (which, given Director Chalmer's possible past behaviour, might be the most menacing response of all).
"...or you could even do something as subtle as have her shake her head, lower her voice to a whisper, and tell MacNulty to return to his quarters (which, given Director Chalmer's possible past behaviour, might be the most menacing response of all)."
In any case, I hope you get the idea. It's in specific details and actions where the more enduring fictional impressions are created and by showing your readers how angry Director Chalmers is, they'll infer (usually, very quickly) what you want them to understand, with the side effect that any connection the reader makes (as in Director Chalmer's behaviour betraying her emotional state), will have much more impact than simply telling your reader the information, and should avoid the tendency toward redundancy or hyperbole.
Can you give us any hints or clues about what your next project is? Any sneak-peek quotes or teasers?
I'd be happy to give you a tiny sneak-peek, but I will preface it by warning what I'm about to share may not end up in the final version of the story. I'm currently working on a dark fantasy trilogy (tentatively called "The Unhallowed"), and (at the moment) I'm planning on opening book one with an excerpt from its epilogue (the idea being to give readers a sense of where the story is going, and to let them know which characters they should pay attention to). Oh, and I think it's only fair to say this story could easily be classified as grimdark, so expect something a little twisted and morally questionable. Here goes:
Where can readers find the current issue of Speculative North and how can they keep track of your future publications?
Speculative North is available for purchase on Amazon, and I'm also told an electronic version will be free from the publisher for a short time after that. As for keeping track of my future publications... I've got a website which should have all the information anyone could possibly want, a very infrequent newsletter (which you can sign up for on my website), a Facebook page, and I'm pretty consistent about putting things up on Goodreads, too.
Read John Mavin's short story "Restraint" and more amazing Canadian short fiction in the TDOTSPEC publication Speculative North!
Yes, like the rest of Western Europe, we get a heck of a lot of it, but we make the most of it and remember that without it the countryside wouldn’t be so green. So, we all long for the sunshine and then moan that it’s too hot when we get it. As for me, I love the sun (in small doses) but I also love a nice gentle rain. Both give me that feel good factor.
Sailing will always get my vote in preference to flying, despite my huge phobia about sharks. I’ve never sailed on anything bigger than a ferry, but strolling on the decks watching the sea and seabirds is far better than being confined to a seat in an aeroplane. But, like everyone else, my family and I have flown many times for the speed in which it gets us to our destinations.
"Sailing will always get my vote in preference to flying,
As a writer of historical fiction, including four books about Alfred the Great, I’d like to go back to A.D. 871, the year in which Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown and several months later was crowned king. Naturally, I’d need to be an invisible observer at the battle. It was a bloodthirsty affair to say the least, as were all his battles.
What does a productive day of writing look like for you? Do you write on a schedule? Do you have a dedicated writing space or do you write on the go? Do you write in quick bursts or in grueling marathons?
I have a big desk and a filing cabinet in our study where my research documents and other writing materials are kept. A desktop computer sits on the desk, although I rarely use it. I much prefer to write on my laptop, and that can be in any room in the house and more often than not in the afternoons and evenings. My mornings tend to be taken up by long walks and doing any shopping or housework that needs to be done - the usual, boring stuff. The length of time I spend on my writing varies. Sometimes it can be for several hours at a time, at other times just a short burst. When I have long blog posts to write, I confess that time for my novel writing suffers.
Millie's Writing Desk
On your website, you recall growing up in a working-class family in Southport, UK. How did this childhood experience influence you as a writer and does your family background play into your stories?
I had an extremely happy childhood and my parents ensured their three children had plenty of books to read, mostly through the local library. As yet, my family background hasn’t influenced the content of my novels, which are set in the mid-ninth century. However, I like to explore human emotions and behaviour and there were some colourful characters in my family - Irish and Welsh amongst them - who have undoubtedly played a part in creating some of the characters in the flash fiction pieces I’ve included in A Dash of Flash and those I’m still writing on my blog.
"I like to explore human emotions and behaviour and there were some colourful characters in my family - Irish and Welsh amongst them - who have undoubtedly played a part in creating some of the characters..."
I also feel I can sympathise with the struggles that poverty can cause. Fortunately for my family, my dad was never out of work so we had decent food and clothing and a roof over our heads. Many people didn’t then, and many don’t today. I have considered writing my memoir, starting with my earliest memories at the end of the 1940s. Either a memoir, or a novel set mostly in the 50s, would involve many of those ‘colourful characters’ and of course, a look at post-war Britain.
You are the author of the Son of Kings series and recently released the fourth book titled King of the Anglo Saxons. First off, congratulations! What inspired this series and how did your writing process evolve over the course of writing it?
By 2004 I’d managed to write the first half of Book 1, Shadow of the Raven, when I noticed Bernard Cornwell’s first book featuring King Alfred in a book store in Australia, where we were on holiday. I admit to being a little gutted to see a novel about Alfred since, as far as I knew, no one else had written one. But after 2004 my writing went ‘on hold’ anyway due to my teaching commitments. Even after I’d retired in 2010, the story was ignored for another two years as we spent long holidays in places we’d always wanted to see. In 2012 I decided to persevere with the book, eventually finished it, found a good editor and self-published it on Amazon in 2014. Since then, writing has become the focus of my life and I couldn’t imagine a day of not doing any. I’ve learned a lot about writing techniques, style and characterisation while writing my books and feel sure the learning process will continue.
"I noticed Bernard Cornwell’s first book featuring King Alfred
Indie publishing is hard work and it can take a long time to build up reviews. My books are on Kindle Unlimited, which allows authors to have five free days every three months. I’m not particularly convinced it’s worth giving my books away for free, especially as being with KU demands exclusivity, which means that my books can’t be sold on any other platform. I’m still debating whether or not to take them off KU. Being self published also means that a lot of time must be spent on social media sites in order to promote the books. But I’m told that traditional publishing demands as much work in that respect. There are thousands of self-published books for sale and becoming successful and selling huge numbers of books doesn’t happen to many authors. I’m struggling along like the majority of us.
"Indie publishing is hard work and it can take a long time to build up reviews... Being self published also means that a lot of time must be spent on social media sites in order to
The particular time period in Viking history that you write about is enjoying the public spotlight through series such as History Channel’s Vikings and the adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom on Netflix. Are there any misconceptions that viewers might pick up from these film adaptations or are there any important characters that you feel get left out of the picture?
Viking history is full of brilliant female characters but they are too often overshadowed by the predominantly male narratives of the Norse sagas. As a woman writing fiction during this time period, how did you navigate this and in what ways were you able to explore the experiences of women during this historical period?
I have to ensure that the women I write about behave, speak and dress in a way appropriate to the 9th century. I can only hope that my long hours of research, and visits to historical sites in various places in Europe, have paid off in that respect. I have some very ‘strong’ female characters throughout the four books, among both the Anglo-Saxon and Danish women. I’ve thrown them into a number of difficult, sometimes heart-rending, situations in order to show how they dealt with them. But at the end of the day, it was a male-ordered/patriarchal society and few women, other than those of noble birth, could aspire to more than menial roles in life. Perhaps the Norse shield maidens are an exception here - although I don’t have any in my series.
"I have to ensure that the women I write about behave, speak and dress in a way appropriate to the 9th century. I can only hope that my long hours of research, and visits to historical sites in various places in Europe, have paid off in that respect."
Can you give us any hints or sneak-peeks regarding your next big project?
I’m currently researching my next novel and hope to start writing very soon. It will be a ‘one-off’ this time and set in early 17th century England. In fact, this story takes place in and around the village we moved to after leaving Wantage, so I’ve known much of its history since the late 1970s. My novel will focus on one particular historical event, and although most of the characters I intend to include actually lived, little regarding either their looks or their personalities is recorded so they will be largely of my creation.
Tea - I love the smell of coffee, but can’t stand the taste. I process bitter flavors more strongly than most. I also don’t like IPAs.
Dragon from Pern - Flight, fire breath, AND time travel? Yes, please.
"Boromir - After a solid first scene, Aragorn became a generic character with very little depth.
Describe a successful day of writing. Where are you? What time of day is it? And how do you measure a solid day’s work?
The most successful days, I get at least two hours in before my 6 year old wakes up. I still consider myself to have been successful if I can squeeze in 45 minutes of writing while he’s playing Smash Brothers or watching Pokemon. I have daily goals, to which I hold myself accountable by posting something online almost every day. If my post goes up each day, I was successful in my writing.
You are a writer, teacher, runologist, and host of the website Futhark Village. What does your work entail and what drew you into your study of the runes?
I was 12 when I first found the runes of the Younger Futhark. The writing system of the Vikings was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and I proceeded to write the next half dozen papers I was assigned in school in runes. My teachers, however, did not appreciate having to translate, even though I gave each of them a key. I got a bunch of Fs on papers, and even detentions.
Everything I do through Futhark Village is trying to teach people about the runes. There is a mindset that using runes in magick creates, and I find it easier to talk to witches and heathens who are able to use that structure to their thoughts. Really, I’m just trying to reshape the world in my own image.
"The writing system of the Vikings was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and I proceeded to write the next half dozen papers I was assigned in school in runes. My teachers, however, did not appreciate having to translate, even though I gave each of them a key."
Also, you left out sword-fighting instructor. I teach medieval martial arts (sometimes called HEMA or WMA) to children. When I am writing combat scenes, I get to think back on battles that I have fought at various events and describe that feeling, that motion. I don’t get to use any of the fancy words like Zornhau or Schrankhut, because my readers won’t know them, but I can describe how they work in the same way that I teach a child how to do them.
Fantasy authors love to use runes but I doubt that most have much of an understanding of what they mean. In my limited experience, I believe there are several versions of the runes with different origins, characters, and purposes. What is the history of the runes and why are they still relevant today?
Among the Long Branch family of Younger Futharks, I’m aware of at least a dozen, and then there are the Short-Twig and Staveless families. The Anglo-Saxon runesets add extra runes, including the Frisian and sometimes the Northumbrian mini-Aetts.
"There are three major groups of runes: the Elder Futhark, the Younger Futhark, and the Anglo-Saxon Runes."
I think the word “still” is inaccurate when you ask why they are “still” relevant today. The Runes are relevant “again,” rather than “still,” because modern practitioners of magick have revived their use. We don’t know if they were ever historically used in magick as we currently do, and we can be fairly certain that we are doing at least most of it differently than the ancestors ever did.
"I think the word 'still' is inaccurate when you ask why they are 'still' relevant today.
For me, the Runes are a system which allows me to structure my intention. If I can phrase what I want through the esoteric meanings of the runes, then I can create a spell that will be more effective. I use it the same way that some witches I know make all of their spells rhyme.
Many writers and readers online are fascinated by folklore and participate in social media events such as #FolkloreThursday. However, many may be unaware of some of the more nuanced conversations happening within the folklore community right now. As someone who actively practices your beliefs, can you give us a brief explanation of the origins and implications of Declaration 127?
In order to answer this question, I want to back up and talk about the Skinhead Punk movement. The Skinheads were a very inclusive group, inviting everyone who was dissatisfied with the status quo to come, enjoy the music, and share a beer while talking about changing the world. But that’s not how most people think of them today. The phrase “Skinhead” is almost always associated with “Neo-Nazi” now.
Declaration 127 says that Nazis are not welcome in Heathenry. We are experiencing the same thing that the skinheads did in the 70s and 80s, where they are trying to invade our faith and corrupt it to their own evil ends. I will welcome anyone into my faith, except Nazis. I have seen the damage they have done to other movements, and I will not have it happen to mine.
"Declaration 127 says that Nazis are not welcome in Heathenry."
For a long time I’ve enjoyed snippets of your serialized microfiction series on Twitter. What inspired you to start writing micro-fiction and what advice do you have for a new writer who would like to explore that field?
So I shifted to the idea of writing a novel. To keep myself accountable, I post 400-600 words of the story on Twitter each day. It isn’t a lot by comparison to the 1700 words per day you need to do for a typical NaNoWriMo, but I’m not trying to write a novel in one month. I’ve been writing my current iteration of Futhark Village since November, and I am about 60,000 words in. I expect to finish somewhere around 75,000 words.
As for advice: I have two things. 1.) Find a system that keeps you accountable. And 2.) When you get writer’s block, pull out a divination system, like Runes or Tarot, and ask them what is happening in this scene that you are stuck on.
"I shifted to the idea of writing a novel. To keep myself accountable, I post 400-600 words of the story on Twitter each day. I’ve been writing my current iteration of Futhark Village since November, and I am about 60,000 words in."
Can you give us any hints or clues about your upcoming projects? Any sneak peeks or snippets?
Futhark Village gets posted to Twitter three days per week, so you can see that just by looking at @futharkvillage.
I am reopening my sword school, now that my state is in a safe enough condition to do so. We will all be wearing cloth masks under our fencing masks and wiping all the equipment down both before and after, but the parents and I agree that it is safe to restart. I have also started a dual blog called “Tarot for Rune Lovers” and “Runes for Tarot Lovers” which is coming out twice per week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"Futhark Village gets posted to Twitter three days per week, so you can see that just by looking at @futharkvillage."
I am trying to figure out how to get my coven (Wicca) and my kindred (Heathenry) back together safely. Cakes and Ale (Wicca) and Sumbel (Heathenry) don’t work with a mask on, and the social connection is so much more strained when we can’t hug each other or share a meal.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have the energy for more projects right now because my day job, as a math teacher, is back in session for in-person classes. This wouldn’t be so bad if we were allowed to have more than 25% of the students in the building at once, meaning that I still need to teach 75% of my students online while also teaching some of them in person. My 60 hour workweeks in the spring just got even longer.
"Cakes and Ale (Wicca) and Sumbel (Heathenry) don’t work with a mask on, and the social connection
Where can readers keep track of your latest writing and stay up to date on your future publications?
I am most active on Twitter. Writing Twitter and Magickal Twitter and Heathen Twitter are fun happy places, and a liberal use of the mute functions keeps Politics Twitter away from me for the most part. (I am politically active in my own town and region, but the internet is not a place for political activism. It just makes people angry, which I find unhelpful.)
After he died we just got all the Good Guys teaming up like the freaking Avengers. Blech. (No hate on the actual Avengers, though, to be clear). As far as actual devastation goes, though, I have to say Brienne of Tarth in the books. IT WAS A FAKE OUT, I know that now. But I genuinely cried when I read that passage. She was my favorite in the books and in the show, and I was so upset when I thought GRRM killed her off.
So, my current only-child cat’s name is Thorin Oakenshield (after the Tolkien character, of course). If I got a second cat I would name her Tali’Zorah, after everyone’s favorite quarian from Mass Effect! If my husband gets his way Tali will end up being a puppy, which sounds pretty great to me too!
"If I got a second cat I would name her Tali’Zorah, after everyone’s favorite quarian from Mass Effect!"
I recently read a blog post you wrote about the required (and/or forcibly acquired) virtue of patience as a writer. As you shared in your post, you are not a particularly patient person, nor am I. Yet we somehow managed to survive the publication process! What are some tips for writers in the ‘weary middle’ of this grueling journey?
Oof, let me just say, writers, if you’re in that ‘weary middle’ right now, I feel you. Though, let’s be honest, there are about fifteen ‘weary middles’ throughout the writing and publishing process. You wait for feedback from beta readers, responses from agents you’ve queried, responses from editors you’ve been subbed to, the list goes on. My best tip is always to keep busy. Sink yourself into something new. For me it’s always a new writing project - something else I can fall in love with and let myself get distracted by while I’m waiting for [insert part of the process here].
"Oof, let me just say, writers, if you’re in that ‘weary middle’ right now, I feel you. Though, let’s be honest,
But there’s the other half of patience too - the half where you’re being patient with yourself. Brainstorming/Drafting/Editing a novel takes time - weeks and months and years of it. So I think it’s also important to have hobbies outside of writing to help reset your brain a little bit. For me it’s fitness - kickboxing, weightlifting, all that good stuff. Maybe for you it’s the same, or maybe it’s running! Or knitting! Or puzzles! Whatever it is, my advice is to find something else you can sink yourself into aside from writing.
"But there’s the other half of patience too - the half where you’re being patient with yourself. Brainstorming/Drafting/Editing a novel takes time - weeks and months and years of it."
Time management can be a huge issue for writers. I constantly hear newer writers complain that they would write if they could only find the time. How do you manage to balance your career, your personal life, and writing schedule?
I am super lucky to have a really supportive husband who viewed my writing as a second job long before I even got an agent, which makes things easier. I also don’t have any kids, which I know makes things way easier.
So, to sum up, no one has the time, everyone has to make the time. But the great part is, if you write for eight hours every day, sure, you will end up with a book. But if you only write for one hour? Twenty minutes? You can still end up with a book if you keep at it long enough! Write however much you can fit in without going absolutely crazy or shirking other important responsibilities, and don’t let other people bully you into thinking you’re “not a real writer” if you can’t squeeze in some massive, arbitrary word count every single day.
Fantasy, as a genre, has historically struggled with diversity of representation. How does diversity play into your character cast and what advice might you give to writers who struggle with implementing this in a meaningful way?
This is such an important question. I’ll start by saying I think this ties in with the world-building question below. Part of building a vivid and realistic world is populating it with vivid and realistic people. If all your fictional people look and sound the same, I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing that. The main cast of Among Thieves is made up of characters from every corner of my fictional world.
"Part of building a vivid and realistic world is populating it with vivid and realistic people. If all your fictional people look and sound the same, I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing that."
My biggest advice to other writers, though, would be to make sure you’re reading broadly in the genre. In other words, if all the fantasy authors you’re reading look a lot like me… you need to expand your selection. There are so many awesome fantasy authors of color out there! N.K. Jemisin, Sabaa Tahir, Tomi Adeyemi, R.F. Kuang, I could go on naming all day. I also think it is important to remember to make sure you're telling a story that's yours to tell. Ask yourself if you’re really the right person to be writing the story you’re thinking of writing. Lastly, make sure you seek criticism on your work early and often to make sure the representation present in your story is not harmful.
Your first novel, Among Thieves, is set to be released in 2021 by Saga Press. It takes place in the Five kingdoms of Thamorr where Ryia Cautella is deftly navigating the criminal underworld of the port city of Carrowick. What inspired this story and what kinds of feelings are you hoping to awaken in readers?
Not to give too much away, but Among Thieves involves a high-stakes heist. I personally love a good heist in any genre. What tips do you have for building the mystery and suspense around a heist without letting it detract from the overall narrative?
Let me tell you, it’s a tough balance, haha. You want to give enough info that the reader can follow what is happening without giving away all of the fun. The heist elements in Thieves went through about… ten(?) full rewrites to try to get that balance right. And god, I hope I got it in the end! My best tip for any story that has several complicated webs woven together (like a heist) is to outline.
For Thieves I had a giant Excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns for all my plots and subplots, planning out every aspect of the heist. That meant having solid plans for how each individual character wanted each step of the heist to go so I could make sure their motivations and actions would be clearly blocked out and fit together with each major plot point. Then, of course, I made sure to have a solid plan for how things actually turn out.
"For Thieves I had a giant Excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns for all my plots and subplots,
Moral of the story, the most important part of building mystery is making sure you know all the secrets yourself. That way you can pick and choose which parts of the puzzle to reveal when.
I don’t let any Fantasy writer get through a Q&A with me without talking about world-building. Talk us through your world-building process for the book. What were its evolutionary stages? How did it evolve? What was the greatest challenge you had and how was it resolved?
Where on the map is this particular kingdom located? What are some of the customs here? What sport or game is most popular? What kind of foods do they prepare? Holidays, religions, rulers, kingdoms they’re allied with - all of these things are crucial. Even if the details never make it into the pages of the actual book, you can’t make a world feel real to a reader if it doesn’t feel real to you.
"Even if the details never make it into the pages of the actual book,
For the world of Thamorr (the world in which Among Thieves is set) I actually had done a good portion of the world-building before I even started this particular story idea. The basis of the magic system and a good part of the geography actually comes from an old, dead project of mine. I’m a big fan of cannibalizing old projects for parts. The plot of that old story was not workable, but there were parts of this world that I still loved, so I stole them and built them up to ultimately create the world of Thamorr!
The biggest struggle for me was deciding which pieces actually appear on the page and which don’t. I always want to put too much in the MS, which can get info-dumpy. Then I usually reel it back too much in my early edits and beta readers have no idea what is happening. Finding that balance is always a challenge for me.
"The biggest struggle for me was deciding which pieces actually appear on the page and which don’t."
Where can readers find more information about the release of Among Thieves and about your future works?
Among Thieves is scheduled for release in early 2021, but does not have an official release date yet! I will keep everyone posted about Thieves and any future projects on my website, on my Facebook page, or my Twitter account.
Also, don't forget to add Among Thieves to your Goodreads!
Besides writing your novel you also manage to write for online publications such as the Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, USAToday, and Time. What type of schedule or routine helps you maintain that level of productivity?
Since my head injury I have less capacity to write, but I still do a lot of that writing, partly for income because I live in Vancouver which is expensive. But I also write because it's something I enjoy. So for me as a disabled person, for now it’s about pacing myself and being really open. The interesting thing is that I struggle with using screens so I can’t always write. Then I have to get creative. I write with my eyes closed. Sometimes I write a draft on paper and then transfer it over. And sometimes I just write on the weekends. I like to write in the morning on the weekends. It’s the first thing I do. Right now I am doing a lot of editing for my creative work rather than writing so I have to balance it all.
"Then I have to get creative. I write with my eyes closed. Sometimes I write a draft on paper and then transfer it over. And sometimes I just write on the weekends."
You and I have a common connection in Rob McLennan, a Canadian poet who runs an amazing blog promoting Canadian writers. With your background in CanLit, where do you think Canadian fiction is going and what would it take to boost the signal for Canadian writing around the world?
I think in Canadian fiction a lot of marginalized writers are getting more of a voice and receiving more recognition. I absolutely love seeing that. In fact, I think that some of the best writing is coming from writers who have traditionally struggled to get published.
I also think there is a lot of fiction that is becoming a bit more experimental as writers play with form. As a novelist and a non-fiction writer who is interested in form and experimental writing I think that to get more exposure internationally Canada needs to continue to promote a diverse array of voices. The freshness of those voices and the level of the work being done really speaks for itself.
"The freshness of those voices and the level of the work being done really speaks for itself."
Much of your work has centered around advocacy for the community of writers living with disabilities. Who is one writer in particular from this community that inspires you and that you believe should be getting more recognition for their work?
I’ve noticed a common theme in your columns and that is plenty of praise for the great English writer Virginia Woolf. What is it about her life and craft inspires you in your writing?
As I said earlier, when I was about sixteen I picked up the book To the Lighthouse. What was interesting about this for me was that I had to read the first sentence twice because it was very wrong. Virginia Woolf tried to rethink what a sentence could be as a very literal and deliberate act. What she brought to everything that she did in fiction was a deep engagement with what fiction could be, what it should be, and how she wanted it to be right down to the level of a sentence. She put a lot of thought into what a sentence could look like, how it could be different, why it should be different, and what it could potentially do.
"What she brought to everything that she did in fiction was a deep engagement with what fiction could be,
Your novel Unfinished tells the story of V.E. Clark, a young author who revelled in a decade of literary success before disappearing into small-town Connecticut. When it is revealed that she is dying of cancer her publishers send a biographer to dig into the shroud of questions that cloud her existence and so her tale unravels. With ‘all things unfinished in life’ as a central theme in the book, what has been the greatest challenge for you as a writer in crafting the story?
When I try to talk about writing this book it’s hard because it has been written through the darkest part of my life. As I wrote this one a loved one was dealing with thoughts of suicide which was the most painful path I’ve walked in my life as it just broke my heart to see him in so much pain. My whole life became centered around trying to help him. At the same time, some of the themes in the book came from the fear and the belief that we often try to accomplish things that we are unable to finish. It was a theme that was very alive for me in that moment because I wanted to write and I wasn’t really able to write a lot. It was coming in drips and drops which was really, really hard.
"When I try to talk about writing this book it’s hard because it has been written through the darkest part of my life."
After he recovered, I had a very serious head injury and it was through this period that I was trying to edit the book. As I was getting close to finishing it, I experienced extreme amounts of ableist abuse from various parts of my life and people I loved dearly. And so now, if this novel ever gets finished it will be an incredibly emotional moment in my life because it is a symbol of all of my deepest struggles. Hopefully it will also be enlightened by those experiences as well. We all go through difficult times and this is a story about a person dying as they worry that they won’t be able to finish what they started.
Though my own personal literary adventures take me into medieval Icelandic texts, I am intrigued by your interest in experimental writing. Who are a few authors in this field who inspire you and do you have a particular recommendation for a book to start with for those interested in learning more?
It’s really interesting because when people talk about experimental writing they have a very specific view of what that looks like. Often it’s this image of fiction that is very difficult and drab. In fact there have been a number of different debates in literary culture about whether it's too complicated or whether it's bad for fiction. Very famously, Jonathan Franzen wrote a piece called Mr. Difficult which sparked a debate within the community of people who support experimental writing.
Where can readers keep track of your latest writings and stay up to date on the publication of Unfinished?
The best best is to follow me on Twitter as I’m on there all the time. Feel free to send me a DM!
Sweet. I have a devilish sweet tooth, and have since I was a child. I was the kind of kid who reached into the cookie jar when no one was looking. I still do so today, but as an adult, no one can really stop me!
There are a great many things that would pose a threat to one as curious as I in H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. The most likely bane for my existence would be Yog-Sothoth. I feel like my current quest for knowledge would eventually, and undoubtedly, lead me to this Outer God. A being locked outside the universe that knows all that occurs in space-time would likely overload my brain, causing me to bleed from all facial orifices while incoherently sputtering the deepest secrets of all life. That is, until I would shrivel up into a mumbling husk doomed to be cast out into an unfeeling, unthinking void, with nothing but my long sought secrets to keep me company.
"The most likely bane for my existence would be Yog-Sothoth.
Your original artistic pursuit was in film and TV but you opted to focus your creativity on writing. In what ways has your training in film influenced you as a writer? Do you write screenplays as well or are you committed to the text-only format of books?
There are many ways to tell a story. Visually, auditorily, or in written form. Film and TV focus on the visual and audio aspects, but everything always starts from the written format (script). My education in broadcast television allowed me to learn about how to create content for an audience. My writing could be the best work to ever grace this planet, but if no one wants to read it... well, it doesn’t really matter then, does it? I learned how to create a story from people who have been doing so professionally for a long time. Working with professionals like this allowed me to develop an understanding of how to create the kind of story that people want to experience.
"There are many ways to tell a story. Visually, auditorily, or in written form. Film and TV focus on the visual and audio aspects, but everything always starts from the written format (script)."
I no longer write scripts/screenplays. I used to in college, and shortly following college, but I discovered more freedom in more traditional styles of writing. I found the formatting for scripts and screenplays (interior vs exterior, types of shots, location and character names, etc.) to be a drag. Having to expend effort for such things for stories that I don’t plan to shoot seems like a waste of effort. Effort that would be better spent fleshing out lore and building a literary world.
You and I are both Canadian authors which, if you walk through the average Chapters bookstore (pre-quarantine, of course) is fairly rare. What unique challenges has being a Canadian author brought to you? Are there any advantages you’ve found to living north of the US/Canada border?
"Canadians tend to be less inclined to push their way to success,
For a similar reason, I feel that Canadians have an advantage on our home turf. Mark, an author I worked with recently, told me of a time he was doing a book signing for his work at a bookstore in Waterloo (his home town). That day, there was a promotion going on for a recently released Stephen King book, but Mr. King was not there to do any reader-interaction stuff. That day, Mark’s new book outsold Stephen King’s. All because he was a local author who came out to see his readers, and King didn’t. No offense to Stephen King, I’ve heard he’s a cool dude, I’m just saying that taking advantage of your home town and local bookstores can be a great boon! Especially when we can all return to our beloved bookstores in the, hopefully, near future.
One of the things that many newer writers really struggle to do is to finish things. Perhaps they write three quarters of a story then abandon it or even complete a first draft but never edit it. What advice do you have for writers who find themselves stuck within sight of the finish line?
I think I’m kind of a freak in this regard. These days, I always finish every writing project that I start, but that was not always the case. I wrote the first half of Inner Expanses during 2014/2015, but stopped when... life... and death got in the way. There was one week in March of 2015 where I completely lost sight of my life and temporarily devolved into a wretch of a man. After a little while, I regained my humanity, but found that I was not able to pick up where I left off. I felt that if a life can end suddenly and without reason, then so can a book. I purposely left Inner Expanses unfinished as a testament to this notion. It wasn’t until 2018 that I picked up the pen once more, so to speak.
"I think I’m kind of a freak in this regard. These days, I always finish every writing project that I start,
The reason I reached for that pen once more, and why all writers should do so themselves regarding unfinished work, is quite simple, though hard to see until you have a paradigm shift. Because you can. And because you want to. When I think of potential… when I think of what could be, I cannot rest. Write because you want to, but remember that if your writing is never completed and no one reads it….it’s pointless and useless. This is harsh, but I feel these are words all writers need to hear. No, not hear, FEEL!
No one cares about a half-written story. No one is going to write it for you. If you truly care about your story, finish it and share it, otherwise it won’t matter. You can write for yourself, if you want, but why deprive the world of your beautiful words?
Your book Inner Expanses is a dimension twisting story about two planes of reality that swirl and collide, one that is full of battles with monsters and another that is familiar to our own world. I am always intrigued when Fantasy and Sci-Fi genre elements are mixed. How did you manage to balance these two threads? Were they blended into one in your mind or woven together?
"When you define the rationale behind concepts, they go from being 'unknown magic'
For example; long ago, people thought natural disasters were the work of Gods or monsters, but today we know that they are the result of nature’s natural rhythm. Fictional concepts always come to my mind on their own, but always get swirled into the vortex that is my brain. There, they live with their neighbours of different origin and reason. Much like the beings of the realm of nightly battles, from Inner Expanses.
As well as being an author, you are also an artist. In fact, you created the art for your book Inner Expanses which many writers, I’m sure, would love to have the skill to do. Do you often visualize your stories through art as part of your writing process or is your artwork reserved only for covers?
Art has always been a huge influence in my life. Particularly visual arts, such as painting, sculpting, and even modern artforms like photography and videography. I use them as lenses to see certain things through. Things that I cannot experience personally, but things that I can appreciate the aesthetic value and meaning of. Horrific concepts not of this realm, long dead romances of tragic heroes, tales of fairies and wizards and dragons.
"Art has always been a huge influence in my life. Particularly visual arts, such as painting,
I don’t always incorporate art with my stories, but it is relatively common. The acts of creating, both in writing and visual art, are just two mediums in which to tell stories. There are much more, but these are just the two I use the most often...and probably the best, if I’m being honest. Creating the covers/accompanying art for my stories, including the silly little “figures” in my ongoing newsletter story, has given me a valid reason, or rather an excuse, to use a visual medium of storytelling in conjunction with the written.
I live on Vancouver Island and absolutely love living by the sea. One of your upcoming works follows the adventures of Captain Charles Salt as he becomes a dreaded pirate. Can you give us any sneak previews or hints as to where his adventures might take him and his feisty crew?
Firstly, let me state my envy. I’ve been to Vancouver Island and really enjoyed my time there! I wish I could live in a place like that someday. My dream home would be a lighthouse, I think.
Ah, yes. Captain Charles Salt, along with his brothers and sisters, will be the protagonists in my next full length novel ‘Salt On the Waves’. So far, this tale exists solely as concepts and daydreams, albeit somewhat organized ones. I don’t even know if this story will be a single book, two, or even three. There’s certainly a lot of fuel for adventures that the Salt crew could have. I have been playing with ideas for Salt On the Waves for years now, many of which tie into the book that I’m going to be releasing this summer, ‘Unusual Tales for Curious Minds’. This is actually the first time I’m typing out the title, on my website it is still ‘Untitled’! I may change that soon, though.
Picture a world, similar to ours in cosmic geography and geology, but there are no great land masses. Just many islands. Some big, some small, but all very interesting and unique. Due to ancient and secret reasons, there is a great degree of variation between islands. The amount of different kinds of life in this world, known as Okeanós, is staggering. This includes, but is not restricted to, colossal sea monsters the size of islands, vicious pirates hungry for gold and blood, and many curiosities of prehistoric and sinister nature.
"This includes, but is not restricted to, colossal sea monsters the size of islands, vicious pirates hungry for gold and blood, and many curiosities of prehistoric and sinister nature."
Where can readers keep track of your latest writing and stay up to date on your next publication?
My newsletter and my website are the best places to do that. I have added a ‘Latest Updates’ board on the homepage of my website to let everyone, myself included, know of recent changes and developments. I also mention the same things on the board in my newsletter, in addition to giving my subscribers short stories, art, and poems. All of which are EXCLUSIVE to the newsletter.
Twitter is also a great place to keep track of my work and get in touch with me. I’ve made plenty of friends in the writing community there. I tweet daily and am always looking to connect with new readers and writers!
And amplify a sense by a factor of ten...hmmmm. I would say sight because my vision suuucks, so amplifying it by a factor of ten would probably just about give me normal vision, yay! In all seriousness, yes, I’d say sight. I feel like all the other senses being amplified would be really rough in different ways.
I love both Sci-Fi and Fantasy in all their forms. However, I sometimes wonder why they are grouped together as, for me, they seem distinct in many ways. As a writer of sci-fi and fantasy yourself, how do you distinguish the two genres? Can there be any crossover? Should they be considered separately or are they just two ends of the same spectrum?
That’s a really great point, and it’s a pretty big part of my concentration. For my major, I chose to study The Concept of Otherness in Speculative Fiction, and one of the things I talked about a lot with my adviser was the use of the term “speculative fiction” instead of “science fiction” or “fantasy.” For me, speculative fiction means anything that lets the writer make observations about the human condition, society, technology, or really anything, without setting the story in our own world. I would say that sci-fi and fantasy have always been grouped together because they take issues that exist in the here and now and comment on them through creating these other worlds, whether those worlds involve magic and whimsy or tech and innovation. For that reason, I see them as two ends of the same spectrum working towards a similar goal. And as for whether there can be any crossover, my WIP merges magic and technology because I love both genres so much. Whether that crossover is effective is up for debate, but I enjoy it and always look out for it to read!
"I chose to study The Concept of Otherness in Speculative Fiction, and one of the things I talked about a lot with my adviser was the use of the term 'speculative fiction' instead of 'science fiction' or 'fantasy.' "
You host the online journal Satyr Central which posts “anything soulful and non-conformist”; I personally find this focus so refreshing as almost every publication I have encountered is looking for something so specific that it seems that all but a dozen people on earth are disqualified from submitting. What have been some of the highlights of hosting Satyr Central?
Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. And shoutout to one of our editors, “Jon the Semite” for coming up with that little blurb on our About page.
I think the biggest highlight of hosting Satyr Central is knowing that I can post some really weird stuff and not worry about “Oh, does this meet guidelines? Oh, is this too weird to publish?” I’ve accepted some great submissions where the authors told me when they submitted that they weren’t sure what category the piece fit into, so they thought it would work well with us, and it did! From theological rants to odes to headless women to articles rating books by how nice they feel and sound, we’ve got some bizarre stuff on Satyr, and I say that with a lot of pride.
"From theological rants to odes to headless women to articles rating books by how nice they feel and sound, we’ve got some bizarre stuff on Satyr, and I say that with a lot of pride."
Most writers spend a fair amount of time sending queries and submissions. You have experience on both sides of that conversation. As someone who receives and reviews submissions, what are some tips you have for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Other than that, the biggest tip I can give writers looking to submit anything--whether it’s queries for a book, article, short story, poem, whatever--is that it’s a good idea to (politely) follow up if we take too long to look at your submission and get back to you. I love getting submissions, but with everything going on, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and I always appreciate someone giving me a gentle nudge and saying, “Hey, I sent you this a few weeks ago and just wanted to confirm that you got it.” Now note that some publications/publishers/lit agents don’t like it when you do that and will say that they’ll get to you when they get to you or to take no response as a rejection, and that’s where reading guidelines carefully comes back into play. But for me personally, I appreciate those quick nudges and it’s helped me get back to awesome writers whose submissions I somehow managed to entirely miss. So there’s that!
"...the biggest tip I can give writers looking to submit anything... is that it’s a good idea to (politely) follow up if we take too long to look at your submission and get back to you."
Sci-Fi and Fantasy as genres offer writers almost unlimited freedom in creating worlds and characters. As always, in the words of Uncle Ben, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. What are your thoughts on the power of that freedom and what do you think should guide writers in their use of that power? Are there any limits? And where have you seen this power wielded masterfully for the greater good?
"I do think the best stories—Sci-Fi and Fantasy in particular—have the power to
You and I share an interest in myths and mythology. One of the joys of engaging with the writing community online is the opportunity to learn about myths from all over the world. Which is your personal favorite flavor of mythology and are there any mythological personalities that you think deserve more air time?
Wow, this is a great question (and a tough one!). I grew up on Greek mythology and have always loved it, but in terms of mythological personalities that don’t get enough air time, I’d have to say the legends from The Ramayana. I got to be a student mentor teaching a high school class this Hindu epic, and it was such a joy to explore all of the themes, characters, and political and religious context for the story of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana. Yet I had never, ever heard of the epic before being invited to take part in that program. I think that’s a real shame and I highly recommend that any lovers of mythology check it out.
"I grew up on Greek mythology and have always loved it, but in terms of mythological personalities that don’t get enough air time, I’d have to say the legends from The Ramayana."
Can you give us a hint about your current project? Any tantalizing clues or sneak-peek quotes?
I’m planning on finishing my first short story from my work-in-progress, which will hopefully be the start of some sort of web series I can post on my website. I want to hold myself accountable because I’m a chronic procrastinator, so I’d love to include the first paragraph from the short story!
“It had been two years since the first time Kamiel had been to the Hex Market on the border between his home district and the worst, most loathsome district in The Core City. Since then, he’d gotten accustomed to the hushed conversations, the shifty-eyed patrons, the bubbling of Imaginate elixirs used for something far different and more sinister than their intended purpose, and even the occasional Rending when tensions were high and fights would break out...”
Fingers crossed I can actually finish it, ha!
“It had been two years since the first time Kamiel had been to the Hex Market on the border between his home district and the worst, most loathsome district in The Core City..."
Where can readers keep track of your latest writings and stay up to date on your next publication?
I am all over social media, but the best way to keep up with my writing is to subscribe to my blog’s newsletter! I promise we don’t send hundreds of emails a day, but you will get an update when we have a newsletter out or a brand new post weekly.
However, my wife will always choose something new. Always. I have to admit that I owe some culinary revelations to this habit of hers, including my addiction to sushi and a discovery of the treasure trove that is Lebanese cuisine. But to be honest, the majority of new dishes we order are disappointments that we have no desire to encounter again. Is it worth it for the rush of discovering a delicious new food? Sure. Is it enough to stop me from ordering a pulled-pork sandwich or a pad thai for the one-hundredth time? Definitely not.
So what does all this have to do with writing genre fiction? Well, some might say that reading genre fiction is a bit like ordering pulled-pork sandwiches over and over, that it makes you predictable (i.e. boring). Others might add that writing genre fiction is little more than an act of trying to resuscitate long-dead tropes while trying to pass off cheap imitations as original work. Given these two stereotypical notions, especially within the writing community, there can be a lot of shame or defensiveness around reading or writing these kinds of stories. Therefore, I feel the need to present an argument in defense of genre fiction, its readers, and its writers.
"Therefore, I feel the need to present an argument in defense of genre fiction, its readers, and its writers."
I would love to include a comprehensive list of all that is included under the umbrella of ‘genre fiction’, but there are endless branches and sub-branches which spiral down toward infinity in fractal patterns. Some of the most popular are Romance, Westerns, Mystery, Horror, Thrillers, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. If you are a writer or reader of any genre, or aspire to be one, this rant is for you. (And if not, feel free to go read a dictionary…)
So I’ll just go ahead and say it straight: I write Fantasy. I write cursed swords and magical monsters and medieval feasts with calorie counts high enough to kill an olympic weightlifter. I don’t have a BA in History, in Poetry, or in Literary Criticism (though I’m sure those are all great degrees to have) and I don’t aspire to be published in a literary journal. My aim in writing is not to win an argument or to show off my intellectual prowess, and it is certainly not to win prestigious literary awards to line my shelf with.
"I write Fantasy. I write cursed swords and magical monsters and medieval feasts
"My highest aspiration as a writer is this: to write the book that people keep on that extra-special place on their shelf, the book whose pages are wrinkled and stained from use..."
I write Fantasy because I strive to create the kind of stories I want to read. I want adventure. I want magic. And most of all, I want worlds unbounded by the shackles of our present reality or belaboured past. That is the kind of story I crave when I feel numbed by the drivel of the day-to-day, when I feel crushed between the cogs of ‘the system’, or when the itch for adventure is so insistent I can no longer ignore it. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t reference history or challenge real political or philosophical ideas; what it means is that I have a safe place to explore and create, a cushion between raw reality and a mental other-space where it is easier to think, explore, and feel.
"That is the kind of story I crave when I feel numbed by the drivel of the day-to-day, when I feel crushed between the cogs of ‘the system’, or when the itch for adventure is so insistent I can no longer ignore it."
Despite my love of Fantasy, many writers of genre fiction get it wrong. Really wrong. Their plot lines get tangled in tropes, their characters end up skewered on tired stereotypes, and the overcooked hyperbole of their world causes it to collapse in on itself. In fact, these fumbled attempts at imitation, rather than creation, are what give genre fiction a bad name in the writing world. So where does good genre fiction start? Well, it starts with a promise.
"Promise is the foundation of genre fiction... You must fulfill the promise of your genre
But don’t stop there. Give your genre fiction something extra. Zest it with a character or an idea that will catch your reader off-guard, that will make them think, that will stay forever impressed on their minds. Give them the rush and the escape that they have felt before while reading that genre and then dazzle them with something they never expected.
So don’t be ashamed of writing or reading genre fiction. If you are a writer then start with the promise and build off of that foundation. If you are a reader, don’t settle for dry characters or soggy plot lines.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me because I am really craving a pulled-pork sandwich...
For more advice about writing genre fiction, Joshua recommends listening to the Writing Excuses podcast.
Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.