Interview: Rei Rosenquist on “A Froth of Starry Sea Foam”


 
 
“A Froth of Starry Sea Foam” is in Beauty and Wickedness, the first volume in the anthology series Ever After Fairy Tales. In this collection, sixteen authors retell and reimagine some of the most enchanting fairy tales ever told – and make up some brand new fairy tales as well. Within these pages, you’ll find beauty and treachery, magic and courage, innocence and wickedness…and at least some happy endings.

Meet Rei!

Rei is a writer of speculative fiction, a barista, a baker, and a semi-nomad. They received a Silver Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest in 2016.

“A Froth of Starry Sea Foam”

“A Froth of Starry Sea Foam” is a fairy tale about a white star nebula who embarks on a quest to find love.

“But, first,” Darkness paused importantly, “you must make a deal with me.”

“A deal?” What price could be too grand for this rare chance to dodge one’s own death and, in doing so, experience love?

“You must make one of those souls fall in love with you within the time of one full cycle of the Earth’s satellite—called the moon.”

“Fall in love?” the nebula asked, confused by these words.

True, the nebula had recently learned this word “love.” Love seemed infinitely good. And yet, how could one fall into it? As an asteroid into a planet, or a smaller star into a greater one. These concepts simply didn’t go together.

“But why should I make a soul fall? Into what?”

“Into you,” Darkness explained.

Make one of Earth’s soul’s warm glow fall into this gaseous body?

But, falling was bad. Spatial bodies fell into other spatial bodies. A passing asteroid would sometimes drag some gas tendrils down into itself. A binary system would collide, and the smaller star would fall in toward the larger, being eventually consumed. Whenever this “falling” happened, the thing falling was lost. Those atoms spun into nothingness, never to return.

“You misunderstand,” Darkness cut in. “It is a good thing on Earth.”

“How?”

“Humans fall in love and protect one another. They provide for one another. They support one another, hold the other up. Humans need love to live. To fall into it is to fall into the very thing that gives life.”

– from “A Froth of Starry Sea Foam” by Rei Rosenquist

The Interview

The main character in “A Froth of Starry Sea Foam” is a nebula, which is an interstellar cloud of gases and dust. What inspired you to write a fairy tale love story from a nebula’s point of view?

Although I’ve never been a research scientist myself, I am absolutely fascinated by all things science. I happened upon the field of astrophysics a couple years ago, and ever since, I have been utterly fascinated by what lies out in the furthest reaches of space. As a child, I was raised in a strict religious tradition that downplayed the importance of science for the sake of belief in a monotheistic god, and thus most of my early opinions of the natural world were skewed and inaccurate. Nowadays, when I stare up at the night sky, I often wonder what else have humans misunderstood about reality? As a fantasy writer, a fun way to explore this question is to personify a subject and see where the story takes me. For years, I was fascinated by the idea of personifying a nebula. Finally, when I was invited to write for Beauty and Wickedness, the retelling of an old fairy tale struck me as just the right story for this journey.
 
 
The two main characters (Neb, the nebula, and Wills) have different genders and pronouns. What is the distinction between the two forms in this story?

As Wills first indicates to Petra, Neb’s gender is unknown at the start. Wills doesn’t want to assume a gender, so ey use the gender-neutral “they” as a non-selective choice. However, once we re-enter Neb’s point of view, the gender-free pronoun fits best for how Neb feels. As a being outside of humanity and its gender roles and gender norms, Neb feels no personal association to such concepts. Later in the story, Orion is also referred to by the gender-neutral “they” for the same identity reason. Both nebulae would, if asked, identify as “agender,” which is a term that means “devoid of gender” or someone who simply doesn’t register gender as something to pay attention to.

On the other hand, Wills identifies as non-binary and chooses to use the pronouns ey/em/eir as a way to indicate their identity. Wills doesn’t use they/them/their because ey do feel and care about gender, as indicated by Wills strong attraction to both Ajax (who identifies as male) and Aria (who is portrayed in a very cis-female way). However, Wills’ identity doesn’t fit within the rigid lines of binary cis-male and cis-female, but rather it lies somewhere in the grey area of both/neither.

My goal in including these similar-seeming yet very different identities is to indicate to people who have no experience with such identities that there are many ways to be outside the gender norms of male and female. There are many identity expressions even within more open labels such as “non-binary,” “genderqueer,” and “genderfluid,” among others. Gender is extremely complex, and I feel the vocabulary of mainstream American English is still at the beginning stage of wrestling with new words to express just how complex it truly is. Part of the goal of this story’s pronoun usage is to give a helping hand to those lost in the waves of words.
 
 
“Seed,” which is set in your Broken Circle universe, received a Silver Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. What appeals to you about the gritty speculative future you’ve created for this group of stories?

In truth, the Broken Circle universe was developed for a gritty science-fiction novel series I am currently working on. The world is a projection of my most pessimistic opinions of what the future of humanity currently holds. If the world we live in today doesn’t turn aside in some significant ways, the future vision of the Broken Circle could very well come to be. In writing this type of world, my goal is to post a black box warning to humanity. The Broken Circle universe itself cries out viscerally for help, and in experiencing that cry through the story, my sincerest hope is that when readers put the story down, they will feel compelled to turn inward and examine their own world. By shining a light on the darkest of futures, I hope is to bring more light to the here and now.
 
 
You call yourself a semi-nomad. What is it about travel that calls to you? Do the places you’ve lived in, and those you’ve visited, feature in your fiction?

Travel, for me, has been a way of life. My first memory is of the ocean through a hotel window. For me, packed bags are a sign of opportunity and arriving in a new place is a chance to grow and learn. I call myself “semi-nomad” because I find myself circling around to the same places where I set down a kind of root. These patterns are interspersed with going to entirely new places, but in truth, always landing somewhere new can be exhausting. So, as I’ve grown and listened to my own heart and body, I’ve found a deep peace in the return to places I love. Each time I return to one of these locations, it feels like opening the door to a well-worn and well-loved home.

Without traveling as I do, my stories wouldn’t be the same. Every time I go somewhere new, I find not just new details to add into stories, but an entirely new shape of narrative. I am inspired by different things in different places, and I am compelled to write different types of stories depending on the place and its people. Each location has its own narrative, I’d say, and tapping into that is what drives the stories inside of me. If I never traveled again, I feel I would write the same tale over and over again with the same perspective and the same ending. But, when the world shifts around me, so does my lens and the kinds of details I soak in.

In a more matter-of-fact way, I have stories set in future or fantasy versions of Tokyo, Osaka, Yamanashi, Kyoto, Lisbon, Paris, London, Venice, New York, Seattle, Portland, Waikiki, and many places that are a miasma of several real places. One thing I try to avoid is writing in length about a place I have never been
 
 
Why do you feel love stories are so important to tell?

Love, and the various ways people define it, is all about connection. That connection of hearts, of one being to another. That is what I think drives life forward. For my part, I think there is nothing as important as furthering, protecting, and upholding the cycles and patterns of life. As such, the most important story I can think to tell is a story of connection. One of deep sharing, giving and growing. That for me is a “love story.” It doesn’t always deal with romance or sexuality, but rather it looks at the question of how, where, when, and why do we connect? It demands big risks and takes many chances. And, in the end, it is the type of narrative that I truly believe can change the world. For without connection, we only end up in the same cycles of unsustainable choices which lead, ultimately, to death. On the other hand, reaching out our hands to one another with hope and trust, even if we think we aren’t strong enough, can save all manners of life.
 

 
You’re a baker! What do you enjoy about baking, and what are your favorite things to bake?

At its heart, baking is much like telling a good sci-fi or fantasy story. Each baked good like each character in a story has its own tale to tell. Both are made up of details and creativity. Just as each well-written character is entirely their own, so no two scones or loaves are bread are ever the same. The key to being a good baker is just like the key to being a good writer. First, one must learn all the rules. You must understand and internalize the nitty, gritty science of the act. You must take in and understand all the details that make the thing work well. You must try and fail. Then, once you’ve trained in good scientific habits, you do just like you do in writing – you take the rules and you throw them out. You internalize professor’s recipes and then, you burn them. You mix ingredients you’ve been told never to mix. You add in ingredients that should never fit together. You let bread proof too long, not long enough, not at all. You burn scones and see what that tastes like. And then, after all that wild experimentation – you begin to understand what your own creative sense is. And then, you train in those new skills by repeating the good ones, and eventually – you are making things no one else can make. Then, you have your baking story. And you can tell it with confidence and pride, sharing with the world your unique vision of what is good.

I’m not one for choosing favorites because I often find my preferences change frequently. However, currently, I am really into yeast starters. There is so much variety in things you can use to catch wild yeasts and so much that you can do with any single yeast to alter the flavor of bread! I love all the options and room for growth in my understanding.
 
 
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

Currently, I’m working on a long short story that’s a blending of European noir and Japanese anime “magic girl” genres set in a future version of Tokyo. This one should be out in the next couple months.

I’m also elbows deep in edits on the first novel of the Broken Circle Series, which will hopefully be ready for public release within the next year or so. But then, writing doesn’t like schedules so maybe I just cursed myself in saying that.

The funniest thing about writing I think is the process itself. Seeing a story start as a spark in my mind, some flickering little light that I often have to write down immediately or else it slips away. Then, that spark takes me on a journey through twists and turns, across bridges, climbing to staggering heights and stumbling through forests of the deepest dark. Then, once I have the heart of the story, the journey becomes one of making maps and charting out the territory I wandered across. I nit-pick and tear details apart. And at the end of this unforgiving surgery, what I have in front of me is a story: something I want to share with others who haven’t been along on this journey with me. At each stage, the process feels different and the outcome is always refreshing, and I think that’s what keeps me going. The newness of each new attempt and the shock of joy at the end of it when I get to share with others what I’ve poured my heart into. A kind of quiet, long-lasting love story all its own.

Rei Rosenquist is a queer agender (they/them) speculative fiction writer who depicts a wide variety of identities struggling to find a place in a wide variety of speculative worlds. They are also a lifelong barista, baker, and semi-nomad.
Rei first remembers life as seen out the high window of a hotel balcony. Down below is a courtyard, swarms of brightly dressed tourists, the beach. The memory is nothing but a blue-green washed image. Warmth and sunlight. Here, they are three years old, and this is the beginning of a nomadic story-teller’s life.

Over the years, they have traveled to many countries, engaged many peoples, picked up new habits, and learned new languages. But, some things never change. For them, these are stories, coffee, food and traveling. These three passions have bloomed from hobbies, studies, and jobs into a way of life.

These days, Rei can be found somewhere in between the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and Japan. There, you will find Rei cozied up with a laptop obsessively writing whilst intermittently pouring beautiful latte art, baking off a batch of famous savory scones, and sharing ideas on how homo sapiens sapiens can collectively make our awesome Earthship a better (not worse) place to live.

Find Rei

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Interview: Deb Logan on “Faery Beautiful”

“Faery Beautiful” is in Beauty and Wickedness, the first volume in the anthology series Ever After Fairy Tales. In this collection, sixteen authors retell and reimagine some of the most enchanting fairy tales ever told – and make up some brand new fairy tales as well. Within these pages, you’ll find beauty and treachery, magic and courage, innocence and wickedness…and at least some happy endings.

Meet Deb!

Deb Logan writes light-hearted fantasy tales for middle grade readers and young adults. She also writes fantasy and paranormal romance as Debbie Mumford. She loves mythology, and is especially fond of Celtic and Native American lore.

“Faery Beautiful”

Claire appears to be a normal teenager, but what most people don’t know is that she’s also a real live faery princess. In “Faery Beautiful” she learns how Princess Rhiannon and Eoin the Strong met and began the series of events that led to Claire becoming the heir to the throne of Faery.

Rhiannon’s faery steed raced along the enchanted river that divided Faery from the mortal realm. She glanced over her shoulder and urged the stallion to greater speed with hands and heels. She knew I would catch her if she allowed her pace to slacken. My charger, heavier boned than Rhiannon’s mount, couldn’t match her mare’s speed, but the charger’s depth of chest meant he could maintain his pace far longer.

Rhiannon, stop this nonsense. I sent my thought winging to her mind.

She bent lower over her mount’s neck and replied in kind. It’s my life, Rhydderich Drest Guerthenmach. I won’t be auctioned like a prize heifer.

You are a princess of Faery, I countered, layering my mind-voice with soothing overtones. You’ve known all your life this day would come, especially once we made it clear that we didn’t wish to marry.

Her misery bled through our mind-link and I fought to stay calm, to keep from empathizing with the tears I felt stinging her eyes. Her will faltered, and the mare slowed her pace. I had won. Rhiannon acknowledged my argument.

My princess had been raised with every comfort: beautiful clothes, rich foods, precious jewels, faery folk to entertain or obey her slightest wish. Every indulgence had been granted my dear friend. Everything but the desire of her heart. More than anything, Rhiannon craved her father’s love. The King of Faery had ensured his only child possessed every physical trinket a girl growing to womanhood could need or desire, but he had denied her his love.

– from “Faery Beautiful” by Deb Logan

The Interview

Claire, the protagonist in “Faery Beautiful,” is a teenage girl who attends high school and lives at home with her parents – but what most people don’t know is she’s also the heir to the throne of Faery! Why did you decide to have Claire have a (mostly) normal life even though she’s a faery princess?

Hmmm…this may be a convoluted answer! Claire is also the protagonist of my novel, “Faery Unexpected”, which tells the story of how she discovers that she isn’t just a normal teenager, but is in fact a faery princess.

The very first short story I published, “Deirdre’s Dragon,” held the seed of my Faery universe. It was a simple, 800-word tale written for the preteen set. But when I finished that story, I knew there was a lot more that needed to be discovered, so “Faery Unexpected” was born, and later “Faery Unpredictable” and “Lexie’s Choice.” This story, “Faery Beautiful,” is a frame story – beginning and ending with Claire and Roddy, but returning to the roots of Claire’s family and explaining how it is that a seemingly normal American girl came to be a princess of Faery.


 
 
What elements of traditional fairy tales have you incorporated into this story, and into the other tales in your Faery Adventures series?

The tale of Princess Rhiannon and Eoin the Strong is based on Welsh folklore of the Gwragen Annwn, fairy maidens who consent to wed mortal men … under certain conditions. Obviously, I arranged the details to suit my world, but the Gwragen Annwn provided the inspiration.

The rest of my Faery universe is simply inspired by a lifetime of reading, and absorbing, fairy tales!
 
 
Do you plan to write more stories in this series?

Undoubtedly. I adore Claire and Roddy and Lexie and Brent. I’m sure those characters, and the Realm of Faery itself, will call me back eventually!
 
 
In addition to Celtic mythology, you love Native American legends as well. What specifically calls to you about Native American mythology?

I’ve always been entranced by mythology in any form and dragons in particular. When I was working on “Deirdre’s Dragon,” one of the members of my writing group asked me what an obviously Celtic dragon was doing in America? Well, obviously, dragons can be wherever they want to be, but the question made me think. There are stories of dragon all over Europe and Asia, were there dragons on the North American continent as well? That’s when I decided that the Native American legends of the Thunderbird could be interpreted as a dragon … or possibly a dinosaur.

That train of thought led to my middle grade novel “Thunderbird” – featuring Native American twins Justin and Janine Prentiss who live in Bozeman, MT with their father, a renowned paleontologist. Since I once lived in Bozeman and happen to be the mother of boy / girl twins, I had a blast writing that one! A dragon-ish thunderbird and 12-year-old twins, what’s not to love?
 
 
Why are dragons your favorite fantasy creatures?

Honestly? I haven’t got a clue. They’ve just always appealed to me. Not the evil, demonic version so common in books and movies, but the misunderstood creatures of great intelligence who just want to be left alone to live their lives.

When I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, I was in heaven. Finally, someone who understood dragons! One of the highlights of my writing career came in 2005 when I met Anne in person at a Writers of the Future function in Seattle, WA.
 
 
In addition to writing middle grade/young adult stories, you also write fiction as Debbie Mumford. One of your series, Sorcha’s Children, is set in a world where a human sorceress and a dragon lord fall in love and create a new race of beings who can change form from human to dragon at will. What do you enjoy most about this series?

“Sorcha’s Heart,” the origin of the series, gave me the opportunity to play with an entire community of dragons, but from the perspective of a human woman. Sorcha, a young and rather reckless sorceress, finds herself transformed into a dragon and taken under the wing (literally!) of a creature she’d believed to be an enemy. I had so much fun allowing Sorcha to get to know these dragons as individuals of intelligence and grace, to find that many of her preconceived ideas were based on misunderstandings, and that humans had much more in common with dragons than anyone had ever imagined.

“Sorcha’s Heart” is a love story, but it’s also a tale of looking past our biases and discovering that our similarities matter more than our differences.


 
 
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

As Debbie Mumford, I’m working on the final novel in my “Sorcha’s Children” series. “Dragons’ Destiny” has waited a long time to be told, and Luag and Eibhlinn are getting impatient to discover their happy endings … at least, they’re hoping I’ll give them happy endings!

As for Deb Logan, she’s launching a middle grade science fiction series tentatively titled “Galactic Cadets.” The first tale, “Cinnamon Chou: Space Station Detective,” is due to be published in May.

A prolific copywriter by day, Deb Logan has been published in WMG Publishing’s Fiction River anthologies, Dreaming Robot Press’s Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthologies, Windrift Books’ Chronicle Worlds anthologies, and other markets. She has also released several short stories, short story collections, and novels for young readers, including the popular “Dani Erickson” series. Find out more about Deb’s work at her website or follow her on Facebook. Be sure to join Deb’s newsletter list to receive an exclusive link to “Deirdre’s Dragon”!

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Interview: Alexia Purdy on “The Ruins of Oz”


 
“The Ruins of Oz” is in the Once Upon a Quest anthology, a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairy tale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Meet Alexia!

Alexia writes fantasy stories about faeries, vampires, and magic. She also writes contemporary romance under the pen name Tovie Bryce.

“The Ruins of Oz”

The Land of Oz was the last place Thea thought she’d find herself after falling through her mother’s enchanted mirror. If the stories she’s been told are real, why is the Emerald City in ruins?

“I—I need to go.” I spotted my boots sitting at the end of the bed and yanked them on. “Is there anyone who could tell me where I might find someone who can return me to Kansas?”

Mally pressed her lips tightly, frowning at my question.

“Well, there is one person, but that old tart doesn’t enjoy visitors and is dangerous. She lives in one of the towers still left standing in the great city. It used to be a watchtower for the Emerald City. In the city… it’s dreadful, and most say it’s haunted. That’s why Minkin don’t ever go there.”

“What’s her name?”

Mally shrugged. “We don’t say her name. She’s just an old hag now.”

“Um, all right. How do I get to the Emerald City?”

“It used to be you could follow the Yellow Brick Road, but it’s been left to ruin for decades since the—”

“End of all things. I get it. Can I still follow it?”

Mally frowned, appearing frightened more than anything. “It’s intact in some places. In others, it’s only stones here and there, under the grasses, bushes, and darkness.”

“Darkness?”

“It starts near the edge of town by the old wishing well. Right by the old ruins of Dorothy’s house. You know, the one she used to kill the Wicked Witch of the East.”

– from “The Ruins of Oz” by Alexia Purdy

The Interview

 
 
“The Ruins of Oz” is based on The Wizard of Oz. What inspired this choice?

Honestly, it was a story I had stuck in the back of my head for a while. I loved the take that the movie Return to Oz took but it wasn’t exactly what I imagined a post apocalyptic Oz to look like, so I guess I tried to convey my own kind of spin to the original story ending in a not so cozy way. What happens if Dorothy was the whole reason Oz existed and what if she never came back?
 
 
You’ve been a part of the Once Upon anthology series from the beginning. How did the series begin, and what do you enjoy about participating in it?

I’m so privileged to be pals with Anthea Sharp whom I’ve partnered with in several Faery anthologies before these came about. When she suggested the first of the trio of Once Upon anthologies, I leaped at the chance to work with her on it. She’s a brilliant organizer and I love to participate in anything she does. So much love for the woman.


 
 
What are some of the traditional faerie myths you incorporated into your Dark Faerie Tale series, and why did you choose them?

My Dark Faerie series is loosely based on the Unseelie and Seelie courts of Celtic mythology, which I loved to read about and was so immersed into, I had to write something with my own twists and turns. I was fascinated by the idea that faeries could be good and could be evil but you wouldn’t really know until you faced them, and even then, loyalty was something that wasn’t easily given. Magic is always fun to write about, especially when I could spin my own lore and modernize it in ways readers could understand could happen in today’s world. Now eight books into it, I seriously can’t believe there was so much to say about that world but it’s been quite the adventure to meet the characters and flesh them out. They are each unique and fantastical in so many ways.
 

 
You’re turning “The Glass Sky,” your short story in Once Upon a Kiss, into a series. Why did you decide to provide early access to the chapters of the first novel on Patreon?

The Glass Sky has been my favorite story to write for the Once Upon Anthologies and I recieved amazing feedback on it from my readers. They wanted more! I’ve held off for several reasons but when I decided to open a Patreon account to deliver stories and exclusive content more easily to my readers without having to deal with the low views that Facebook and Amazon now provide, I researched Patreon after seeing a couple of my favorite authors on there getting up close and personal with their patrons and really getting to connect far easier than the platforms I traditionally shared on. The Glass Sky was the perfect project! I’ve been wanting to expand it into a trilogy and this was the perfect chance to do it while still keeping it exclusive and not out in the full public. I seriously am having fun jumping back into this fairytale retelling world loosely based on the tale of King Thrushbeard. I hope people check it out.
 
 
How much of the city in your Vampires of Vegas series is based on your real-life experience living in Las Vegas?

So much of it is based on my experiences of places in Las Vegas. I practically wrote all the sites from memory of being in each place. I’ve been here in Vegas for 28 years now and I used to work in a Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. It never ceases to amaze me how many hidden corridors, doorways, nooks and crannies are kept from the public view and the thought occurred to me that it was the perfect scenario to get lost in when the world really died off and a new species of people emerged.
 

 
In addition to writing fantasy, you write contemporary romance under the name Tovie Bryce. What do you have planned for this pen name?

I honestly am trying to build a contemporary romance readership, and I’ve been trying to do so for years, but under my own name. After much failure on that part, I decided separating the genre from my best selling stuff in YA Fantasy/Paranormal would be the best way to get a more focused audience. My readers don’t cross over. Yes, it’s been like starting over but I have another book in my City of Lights series planned plus a contemporary sweet romance based on some of my experiences coming of age. You can see why I wouldn’t want my name associated with it as much but I am not keeping the pen name a secret, just in case I do have some readers following along the romance branch.
 
 
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m currently working on my Accursed Archangels series. It’s basically taken over almost every working hour lately and I literally attempted to write it in a month. The outline for it came to me in just a couple hours, literally this story possessed me. I got book 1 done in six weeks, so a bit over the timeline I wanted but it’s been an amazing time honing down my organizational skills in writing. The first book is titled The Unbreakable Curse and is due out March 27th. Book 2 is titled The Cursed Labyrinth due out in late May 2018, and book 3 is called The Irredeemable Soul due out July 2018.
 

Alexia currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada–Sin City! She loves to spend every free moment writing or playing with her four rambunctious kids. Writing has always been her dream and she has been writing ever since she can remember. She loves writing paranormal fantasy and poetry and devours books daily. Alexia also enjoys watching movies, dancing, singing loudly in the car, and Italian food.

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Interview: The Editors of Electric Spec

Electric Spec

Founded in 2005, Electric Spec is a not-for-profit speculative fiction magazine published four times per year. The primary goal of the editors is to get great speculative fiction into the hands (or screens) of readers; they’ve published short stories from authors all over the world.

Meet the editors!

Grayson Towler has a lifelong fascination with dragons, dinosaurs, magic, and the telling stories. His first book, a middle-grade fantasy titled The Dragon Waking, was published in 2016 by Albert Whitman & Company. The book was a finalist in the 2012 RMFW Gold contest.

Grayson has worked as a copy writer since 2004 for Sounds True, a publishing company for books and audio programs concerning meditation, spirituality, and self-help. He is also an illustrator, and he has been writing and drawing an urban fantasy webcomic, Thunderstruck, since 2004. He also created “Tales from the Vault” – a popular collaborative fiction website active from 1996-2001.

In addition to writing, Grayson has also been a web designer, substitute teacher, comic artist, and small business owner. He and his wife, Candi, live in a house owned by three relatively benevolent cats in Longmont, Colorado.

Lesley L. Smith has a Ph.D. in Elementary Particle Physics and is the author or coauthor of many scientific articles. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, including Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Lesley is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Minta Monroe writes darker fantasy, particularly involving the occult or supernatural. She is the author of The Mound Dwellers and several collections of short stories. In addition to fantasy, she writes science fiction and mystery under other pen names.

Nikki Baird writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror, both long and short form. Her short horror story, “Devastation Mine” was published as part of the anthology Broken Links, Mended Lives, which was nominated for a Colorado Book Award. She has been a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold contest for the two years in the Speculative Fiction category, and is a regular contributor to Littleton Writers Critique Group, an open critique group in southwest Denver. She is currently trying to place her second fantasy novel with a publisher.

The Interview

 
 
What’s your sorting process for stories that come in?

Grayson: Lesley handles this, and I believe she randomly divides the stories evenly between the slush readers.

Lesley: I randomly assign each story to an editor.

Minta: I start with the earliest subs and read in the chronological order in which
we received them.

Nikki: I don’t sort at all, I take them in the order received.
 
 
How far do you read into a given story?

Grayson: This very much depends on the quality of the writing! So writers, all that guidance you’ve heard about how important the first lines and pages are… it’s true. If I’m confused, bored, turned off by a cliche, or annoyed by basic errors of grammar and spelling, the odds are I’m not going to force myself to push through to the end. I might skim a story and see if it picks up, but it’s really important for a story to make a good first impression.

That said, I really do try to give every story a chance. A story doesn’t have to start in medias res to capture my attention (in fact, that technique has as high a failure rate as anything else). If the author’s writing fundamentals are good and the story doesn’t seem derivative, I’ll generally stick with a story to the end.

Lesley: I basically agree with what the others said: I read until I stop reading. 🙂

Generally, I’ll give it a page. If my attention hasn’t been grabbed by then: sorry! We get hundreds of stories submitted for each issue and we just don’t have time to keep going.

Minta: Until something makes me stop reading. Usually it’s something about the story itself, and usually this becomes clear in the first 2 pages, although sometimes much sooner. Almost half of my subs make me read the entire story.

Nikki: Until I get bored or irritated. Sometimes that’s half a page in, sometimes it’s half a page before the end. Very rarely will I read a story I plan to pass on through to the end, but it does happen every once in awhile, when I’m so confused about what the story is about or where it’s going that I just have to know how the author thought it SHOULD end. But that’s definitely not a good reason to finish a story!
 
 
How many readers does a story have to pass through before a decision is made about it?

Grayson: There are two stages of evaluation. In the first stage, one of our slush readers will engage with the story and decide if it is good enough to make the finals – that’s upward of 170 stories per issue in total. When we have the finalists selected, we generally have a list of 20-22 stories left. Then all three editors read everything on the finalist list, and we select our top 5 by consensus.

Sometimes that last cut involves leaving some very good stories out of the issue, which is tough.

Lesley: As Grayson said, we have two stages of evaluation. In stage one, a story will get one or two editors to read it. If a story reaches the second stage, then a minimum of three more editors will read it. So, potentially, all five editors might read a story that we publish.

Minta: If I think a story isn’t right for us, then it has only one reader: me.
But if I think a story is worthy of publication, then I ask another editor to read it also. If the second editor agrees with me, then it goes on for review by the remaining editors. In that case, a story will have 4 readers, because in the end, we all love the stories we select for
publication.
 
 
What do you like/dislike about editing?

Grayson:
DISLIKES: I dislike rejecting stories. I’ve been on the other end of that process often enough that I know how it feels.

I dislike having to send form letters out for rejections–every author wants to know why their story wasn’t selected. After all, without feedback, how are you supposed to improve? I get it. But we just do not have time to engage at that level. It’s that simple.

I dislike getting excellent “first chapters.” The experience is this: I’m reading along in a submission, I’m really getting into story and loving where it’s heading, and then all of a sudden it stops. It’s as if I’ve gotten the first chapter of a book but I don’t get to read the rest. An open-ended ending is one thing–those can be great. But a good story that just cuts off mid-stream? That’s the most frustrating sort of submission.

LIKES: I love finding that stand-out story in the submission process. Having to reject a bunch of stories in a row starts to feel so depressing, and I begin to wonder if I’ve become too jaded to enjoy anything. But then, a gem of a story comes along, and it’s a bit like falling in love.

Once we settle in and get our stories assigned, I love working with authors. Maybe I’ve been fortunate, but my experiences have been universally positive once an author and I get down to the actual editing process. Helping an author find the rough spots in their story so the whole thing can shine is infinitely rewarding.

Lesley: I like having the opportunity to encourage other authors and give them the opportunity to share their work with the world.

Minta: Editing is not part of my tasks for Electric Spec, but I enjoy the
challenge of figuring out why a story either works for me or not.

Nikki: I actually like editing. I feel like it helps me cast a stronger critical eye over my own work. It’s so much easier to see what’s not working quite right in someone else’s writing than your own. I was “raised” in the critique methods of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, which subscribes to the sandwich method of good-bad-good. I always try to say something positive in the note I send back with edits – what I liked about the story that got us to offer publication. And I try to point out 2-3 things in a story that I thought worked really well, in amongst all the edits. I try to offer concrete explanations for why something doesn’t work, and also a suggestion for what might work better. I try never to say “This doesn’t work – fix it”. That’s completely unhelpful. And I try to end with a positive comment or two at the end of an edit.
 
 
Once Electric Spec buys the rights to a story, what’s the editing process like?

Grayson: Speaking for myself, I scrub through the story in detail and look for any spot where the author could be more clear, more succinct, or more engaging. I generally don’t do too much developmental editing, but if I see a spot where a plot point might go a different way to strengthen the story, I’ll offer the suggestion.

In general, I find that an editor’s most useful function is to spot problems and explain why they’re problems. The actual solutions are better when they come from the author. My goal is to support the author in making this the best version of their story it can possibly be.

Once I’ve engaged with my first editing pass, I send it back to the author for their review. The author then reviews every suggested change and either accepts it, improves it, or contacts me to discuss whether the change is needed. There may be a bit of back-and-forth, but by that point the story is generally ready to go on to proofing.

The time frame we’re talking about here is about 4 weeks from signing to publication. So when we select stories for the issue, we keep that time frame in mind. What that means is we look for stories that are already quite solid. In submissions review, I’ve seen many “diamonds in the rough” that have a lot of potential but would simply take too much polishing. Stories have a better chance of getting accepted if the author has put the time and effort in to make them as mistake-free as possible.

Lesley: I print out my stories and then critique them as I do for my critique partners’ stories. Then, I email the authors back this edited doc and we go from there… From there, it differs quite a bit. Some stories need very little work. Some need more.
 
 
What’s your favorite part of working on Electric Spec?

Grayson: Well, apart from what I mentioned above about the editing process, I really enjoy working with Lesley and Nikki as editors. I’ve learned a lot, and I think we have a good rapport. Most of all, I love good stories. Being able to give authors a platform to share their stories is incredibly fulfilling.

Lesley: I really enjoy encouraging other authors. I’m also honored to work with such a great group of editors (who are all also great authors)!

Minta: Finding an unforgettable story. When a story sweeps me away, I form my own
list of stories that I hope will also sweep away the other editors. It’s a sweet moment when one of those stories ends up making it into the current issue!

Nikki: Getting the exposure to so much creativity. I get to read literally hundreds of short stories for free, and get a look into basically the “raw psyche” of spec fic writers out there. That’s pretty cool! And E-Spec wouldn’t be possible without a
crew that is dedicated and organized – and Lesley most of all keeps us all running
smoothly!

Find Electric Spec

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Interview: Chuck Anderson and Jim LeMay on “Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence”

Meet Chuck and Jim!

Chuck Anderson and Jim LeMay are the editors of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence, a collection of stories by writers whose lives were touched by the late Ed Bryant. In addition to creating this collection as a tribute to Ed, Chuck and Jim are both very talented speculative writers in their own right.

Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence

Edward Bryant influenced a generation of readers and writers. In this collection, you’ll find stories of dinosaurs roaming the Earth, zombies rampaging a small town in Colorado, a Norse god in a rock band, and a family road trip to view the solar eclipse in Montana when something strange becomes visible in the darkness. Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence contains twenty-four stories influenced by a master of science-fiction and horror. Editors Chuck Anderson and Jim LeMay are proud to find and work with so many talented writers who called Ed their friend and mentor. In this book you’ll discover the extraordinary influence of a master’s touch!

This collection contains stories by Edward Bryant, Connie Willis, Steve Rasnic Tem, Eneasz Brodski, Kevin J. Anderson, Janis Ian, Gary Jonas, Denese E. Dora, Kent Johnson, Richard E. Friesen, Jamie Ferguson, Wayne Faust, Mario Acevedo, Lucy Taylor, Bruce Holland Rogers, Gregory R. Hyde, Robert Chansky, Trey R. Barker, Stace Johnson, David Kilman, Marie Desjardin, Van Aaron Hughes, Rebecca Hodgkins, Chuck Anderson, and Jim LeMay.

The Interview

What inspired you to create this collection?

Chuck: Jim and I decided to start the collection after we were at a remembrance for Ed. There, a bunch of us who knew him were telling stories about him and drinking beer when a writer said, ‘We were all just Ed’s kids!’ That’s when I got the first idea for the anthology. A few days later, I told Jim my idea. Luckily for me, he came onboard and soon afterward we came up with the guidelines and started to ask authors for stories. Jim and I also knew Ed’s estate was trying to start a scholarship in Ed’s name and part of the anthology’s profits will go to it.

Jim: As with our most unusual and innovative ideas, Chuck came up with this one. When he mentioned the idea to me a few days after our group reminisced about our friend and mentor I immediately agreed. What a wonderful way to honor Ed! In his will Ed stipulated that part of his estate should be used to set up an award to be called the Edward W. Bryant Jr. Mathom Award. As Chuck mentioned a portion of the profits from this book will go to that award.
 
 
Tell us about the theme for these stories. How did you select them, and what do they have in common?

Chuck: The stories were all by authors Ed worked with over the years. The oldest story is by Connie Willis from 1979, and a few were created just a few months before his death. The stories vary just as much as the authors who wrote them. It’s surprising to see their range and their talent, but it doesn’t surprise me because Ed had so much to give to most of them. How did we select them? Jim usually reads them first. They have to get by him. He’s a good gatekeeper.

Jim: Selecting the few stories to include was an agonizing process. We had such excellent stories from so many talented writers to choose from. Even though, as Chuck says, I read the stories first, we decided on the final cut together. We wanted to include stories that represented the broad range of subjects that Ed favored in science fiction, horror and fantasy.
 
 
What did each of you learn from Ed? What impact did he have on your own writing?

Chuck: I always learned from Ed the dignity of how a professional writer should always act. It was always the way he carried himself and how well he treated others. How we should critique each other’s stories. How we should deal with publishers and editors. How to talk to act at a convention. Ed always showed us his professionalism, and I have always felt the best teachers always taught by example and Ed was one of them.

Jim: I had written non-fiction for decades before I started experimenting with fiction. I explained everything in enough detail for my clients to clearly understand the subject and which actions should be taken next. That worked fine for non-fiction, but manifested itself as a stiff writing style in my first two novels. Then I joined one of Ed’s writers’ groups. He taught me to give the reader just enough detail to let her figure out the rest. He showed me my strengths as well as areas where I needed improvement. All this in a firm but gentle manner that has made me a much better writer.

Oh, yeah. I rewrote my first two novels after finishing those under his tutelage.
 
 
What did you enjoy most about putting this anthology together?

Chuck: The things I enjoyed most about putting together the anthology were working with Jim and the other twenty-two authors. At first, I didn’t know if we could put the book together but after a few weeks stories started to come in one after another. The outpouring from our community was overwhelming; there will always be a great amount of love for him.

Jim: The day after Chuck suggested putting the anthology together, to which I so eagerly agreed, I had second thoughts. Had we committed a horrible act of hubris? How could we possibly have thought giants of our genre like Connie Willis, Steve Rasnic Tem and so many others agree to place their stories in our inexperienced hands? But, as you can see from the result, they did. And now I find I have made new friends of all those excellent writers and friends of Ed.
 
 
What makes it fun for the two of you to work on a project like this together?

Chuck: Jim is the best. We’re neighbors and only live a mile apart. We usually meet every week at a local brewpub. We have become good friends over the last couple of years, and I don’t remember any big disagreements when we were putting the anthology together. He’s always level-headed, and he listens to all of my crazy ideas. When Jim came onboard, he made the anthology one hundred percent better.

Jim: Our similarities (among other things, we both like beer) and differences (Chuck’s full of crazy — his definition — ideas that fascinate me and I tend to be more conservative and curmudgeonly). We’re close friends as well as neighbors. I feel honored that he chose me to help him with the anthology. Just wait’ll you see what he just came up with for our next project!
 
 
Are you planning other collections?

Chuck & Jim: We are currently putting together an anthology of dinosaur stories, tentatively to be called A Fistful of Dinosaurs. We are working on several other ideas.
 
 
What’s your most memorable memory of Ed?

Chuck: Maybe the time we almost got into a minor car accident on I-25. Or the time he proudly showed me the tulips in his garden. Or the unusual Christmas gift he seemed to find for everyone each year. Or the two of my short stories he purchased for Wormhole Books? One memory? How can I only choose one?

Jim: I remember those of his books he signed for me at several MileHiCons. He signed the first, his collection of short stories “Wyoming Sun” my first year in the Denver area in 1982. He always spoke to me for a moment or two before signing a book to find out how to make the message personal. And I remember our joking about his “flat cats” and trading puns about cats on our way to a writers’ meeting in the mountains. And his memorable comments about my novels. And as Chuck says, there are many more.

About Chuck

Charles Eugene Anderson is a painter, publisher, writer. Chuck lives in Colorado.

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About Jim

Jim LeMay is originally from Missouri, the land of Mark Twain, Yogi Berra, Walter Cronkite, Edwin Hubble, Robert A. Heinlein and many other worthies so he knows his characters well. He has engaged in many of their vocations and avocations – homebrewer, bartender, waiter, land surveyor, civil engineer, land developer – and in some they have not: author, copywriter, commercial artist and others best forgotten. Jim lives in the Denver metropolitan area.

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Find out more about Ed Bryant

Locus Magazine | The Internet Speculative Fiction Database | Wikipedia

Find Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence

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Interview: Alethea Kontis on “The Goblin and the Treasure”


 
“The Goblin and the Treasure” is in the Once Upon a Quest anthology, a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairy tale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Meet Alethea!

Alethea weaves fairy tale fantasy in the realm of Arilland, and dabbles in other fantasy worlds as well. She’s been a guest speaker about fairy tales at the Library of Congress, and gave a keynote address at the Lewis Carroll Society’s Alice150 Conference in New York City, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“The Goblin and the Treasure”

Out-of-work soldier Kira Kobold is handpicked by the High Wizard Zelwynn to go on a quest. Her companions? A growly ogress, a surly dwarf, a dimwitted troll, and an overly optimistic goblin. This wasn’t exactly the quest she was looking for…

Kira fumed. It was supposed to be her up there. According to the dreams, it should have been her.

“Company,” announced the High Wizard, “I present your champions!”

There was a smattering of applause at the declaration, but far more groans and grumbles.

Kira tried to contain her anger…and failed. “They don’t even know what they’re looking for!”

Zelwynn’s bushy brows furrowed. “Didn’t I say?”

“No!” Kira yelled. A few others echoed her answer.

“Goodness, that’s very unlike me,” Zelwynn muttered. “Thank you for setting me straight, clever young woman. Tell me, would you like to join this questing party as well?”

“What is the quest for?” Kira asked pointedly.

Zelwynn spread his arms wide and proudly announced: “The Lost Treasure of Zelwynn!”

Laughs were hidden under coughs, along with a few expressions of confusion. What on earth had the High Wizard misplaced in the mountains that he couldn’t just go find himself?

Kira narrowed her eyes. “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

“It is an instrument of both perfect peace and ultimate destruction,” Zelwynn answered. “Its value is beyond price.”

Trench and Forge exchanged knowing glances. The troll and the goblin didn’t stand half a chance against those two. But with Kira’s help they might. She loosened the grip on the hilt of her sword. “Fine. Count me in.”

“Kira Kobold, everyone!” Zelwynn announced as she approached the dais, and the crowd of soldiers actually cheered. Kira hadn’t expected that. Nor had she expected the High Wizard to know her by name, but she supposed wizards had their ways. At the top of the steps, she faced Zelwynn. Unafraid, she stared deep into those beady little eyes.

“It’s about time,” the High Wizard said. And then he winked at her.

– from “The Goblin and the Treasure” by Alethea Kontis

The Interview

“The Goblin and the Treasure” is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Goblin and the Grocer.” What is it about the original fairy tale that inspired you to use it as the inspiration for your story?

The message at the heart of “The Goblin and the Grocer” is about the magic of books, and how vital they are to an optimistic life. Plus, I also love the whole crazy “cut out the Grocer’s wife’s tongue and put it on a whole bunch of inanimate objects so they can have their say” plot device. I’ve always been a big fan of personifying inanimate objects. Comes from being a young girl with a big imagination, I guess…

Why are fairy tales so important to you?

I began reading at three years old. By five I was eating up poetry and novels like there was no tomorrow, but the fairy stories were always my favorite. So on my eighth birthday, my French grandmother gave me a HUGE volume of collected tales by Grimm and Andersen. They were the unexpurgated tales, full of magic and monsters and darkness and blood and hope. These were the adventures of my childhood, and the well from which all my other stories since have sprung.

How do fairy tales manifest in your Trix Adventures series? Can you give us a sneak peek at what will be in book three, Trix and the Fire Witch?

Fairy tales leave most sensible people with a lot of questions. I like answering those questions with other fairy tales. Trix’s character comes from the Grimms’ tale “The Foundling.” Right before I decided to spin his adventures off into a series of novellas, I had just re-read Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book. Trixter is very much an homage to that book. Trix is the “Beggar Boy” who knows “The Language of Beasts” and “How to find out a True Friend.” Lizinia and Papa Gatto’s characters are straight out of “The Colony of Cats.”

I always wondered what would realistically happen to that girl dipped in gold, and her sister with the donkey’s tail on her forehead. Why was the Colony of Cats formed, and what would happen to all those cats after they died? Writing Papa Gatto as both The Godfather and the Cheshire Cat was just so easy…it made far too much sense!

Those who know “The Colony of Cats,” and have read “Hero Worship” from Tales of Arilland, will have a very good idea who’s going to appear in Book Three…including the identity of the Fire Witch!

Do your novels and stories connect with each other? If so, how? And why?

That, my friend, is an answer that will take more time than we have here. Arilland has become my Middle Earth. A Thousand Years of Faerie live in my head at all times now. I have begun including essays at the end of my novels (where I can) that discuss the origin of certain elements in that novel, and how they connect to the other stories. For instance, beta readers of “The Goblin and the Treasure” recognized my goblin mythology from When Tinker Met Bell, but they completely missed the MASSIVE reference to Hero until I mentioned it in the essay!

One day, there will be a map. But that is not this day.

You’ve been a part of the Once Upon anthology series from the beginning. How did the series begin, and what do you enjoy about participating in it?

“The Unicorn Hunter” in Once Upon a Curse might be my favorite story of all time. And then I started my tale for Once Upon a Kiss: “Once upon a time, long after the Wizard War, in the Third Age of Faerie the kingdom of Upper Reaches was separated from the rest of the world by a glass mountain.” At that moment, a Thousand Years of Faerie sprang into my head fully formed. I suddenly saw how everything I’d ever written and everything I’m ever going to write all fit together, and my life changed forever.

The thing I love best about my stories in the three Once anthologies is that right now they relate to each other more than they relate to any other storyline I have out in the world. I’m so excited for all my future projects from here on out!

What’s the status of Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants?

I made 55 episodes of the original Fairy Tale Rants. They are still available to binge watch on YouTube.

I miss making them SO MUCH! But as fun as they were to do, the filming, editing and promotion of each took a solid day out of my week and brought zero income, so I had to stop. I made a few more bonus episodes at the behest of my Fairy Goddaughters, and we debut a new Fairy Tale Rant Theatre production every Dragon Con at Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow. But Fairy Tale Rants will not be created on a regular basis again unless I can hit those milestone goals on my Patreon.

You incorporate aspects from a number of different fairy tales in your Woodcutter Sisters series, which is about seven sisters who are named after the days of the week. Three books in this series are out so far – what’s the plan for the other four?

That answer is best explained here: http://aletheakontis.com/2017/08/status-woodcutter-sisters/

What’s important to you about the patchwork skirts that Friday Woodcutter, the protagonist in Dearest, makes for herself?

“Friday’s child is loving and giving.” Since Friday’s nameday gift was a magic needle and sewing is her forte, it made sense to me that she would fashion skirts from leftover bits after she made clothes for the orphans. I did not realize how much this would become a metaphor for Friday’s heart in Dearest, and in my own life. A fan made me a patchwork skirt that I wear with pride. I look forward to making another one from scraps other fans have donated!

Tell us about Charlie!

Charlemagne Montesquieu, the Marquis of Albec, is my teddy bear. We have been together for almost 30 years now. He’s witnessed me at my best and stuck with me through the worst, with a steadfast determination that no other person in my life has ever had. (I refer you back to Question One, about the girl with the big imagination and her passion for inanimate objects. Did I mention that my first best friend was a tree?)

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I just finished an essay for Clarkesworld’s “Another Word” feature, about how I’ve developed as a podcast narrator over the last seven years. I loved delving into how exactly I use my experiences as a child actress to breathe life into other author’s characters. There’s a magic there—real world magic, and it’s a beautiful thing!

Click here to listen to some of the stories I’ve narrated.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders.

Alethea’s YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won both the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award and Garden State Teen Book Award. Enchanted was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013 and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both Enchanted and its sequel, Hero, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award. Tales of Arilland, a short story collection set in the same fairy tale world, won a second Gelett Burgess Award in 2015. The second book in The Trix Adventures, Trix and the Faerie Queen, was a finalist for the Dragon Award in 2016.

Princess Alethea was given the honor of speaking about fairy tales at the Library of Congress in 2013. In 2015, she gave a keynote address at the Lewis Carroll Society’s Alice150 Conference in New York City, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She also enjoys speaking at schools and festivals all over the US. (If forced to choose between all these things, she says middle schools are her favorite!)

Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea currently lives on the Space Coast of Florida. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.

Find Alethea at:

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Interview: Jenna Elizabeth Johnson on “Bane and Balm”


 
“Bane and Balm” is in the Once Upon a Quest anthology, a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairy tale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Meet Jenna!

Jenna writes fantasy and young adult paranormal romance. She’s a talented visual artist as well as a writer, and creates the images and maps she uses for her various worlds.

“Bane and Balm”

When the stream providing healing water to Claire’s sick aunt dries up, she must venture into the dreaded Dorcha Forest, where she discovers a stranger willing to risk his freedom in order to help her on her quest.

Claire snapped out of her daze and blinked down at her dark rescuer once again. He had removed one of his gloves to reveal a pale hand, which he now held palm out toward the tree. The pull of magic, the stranger using his glamour, tugged gently at Claire’s senses and the fire eating away at the beech slowly died.

The eagle stretched its wings and clicked its beak, tilting its head upwards.

“In the tree?” the man murmured, his low voice growing quieter.

But Claire had heard the words anyway, panic gripping her heart. The stranger tilted his head and gazed into the branches above. She held absolutely still, not daring to move.

Perhaps he won’t see me, Claire thought hopefully.

The man’s hood fell back, and his eyes met hers. Claire sucked in another breath. This man looked nothing like the young farmers in her valley. His pale skin was smooth and unblemished, his eyes a severe, golden brown, so bright they reminded her of a wolf’s. Hair black as coal hung in unkempt strands around a haunted face of masculine beauty, and his mouth was drawn in a hard line. A mouth that probably never smiled.

– from “Bane and Balm” by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson

The Interview

“Bane and Balm” is loosely based on “Red Riding Hood.” What inspired you to use aspects of this particular fairy tale?

When Anthea reached out to me about participating in another Once Upon anthology, I had already started work on “Bane and Balm”. It was very much in its infancy, but I felt that “Red Riding Hood” was the closest match with where I had gone so far with my story. Claire, my main character, was already standing out as a bold young woman and I knew the answer to her plight waited in the heart of the haunted wood behind her home. I added in the element of the red cloak and the wolfish stranger to make it more like the original tale, but it’s very much its own Otherworldly fairytale. In a way, I kind of cheated, but I’m very happy with the story that evolved from what started out as the spark of an idea. Making “Bane and Balm” my submission for Once Upon a Quest helped give the tale and its characters direction and depth.


 
 
You’ve been a part of the Once Upon anthology series from the beginning. How did the series begin, and what do you enjoy about participating in it?

My involvement in these anthologies actually goes back a little further than Once Upon A Curse, the first Once Upon collection. Anthea first asked me to take part in the Faery Worlds anthology way back in 2013, and I jumped at the chance. Since then, any time I’m invited, I’m happy to take part. It gives me a chance to explore my world more (so far, all my stories have been from my Otherworld universe), and having a deadline for the short stories helps keep me productive. When Once Upon A Curse came along, I was challenged to write something new (all the other anthologies included previously published pieces).

I think what I most enjoy about being a part of the Once Upon anthologies is the challenge of creating more fairytales for my Otherworld universe, and getting to collaborate with so many wonderful, talented authors. Sorry, that was two things!


 
 
“Bane and Balm” is set in the land of Eile, which is also the setting for your Otherworld series. What inspired you to create this world?

My Otherworld series, and Eile (what the natives call the Otherworld), emerged from my time spent in my Celtic Studies classes during college. I wanted to bring Celtic mythology to life the way Rick Riordan opened up Greek mythology to his readers in the Percy Jackson books. There are some really cool stories and characters in Celtic lore and I wanted to share my love of these legends with readers, young and old.

Many of the locations in Eile itself are based on Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England. Pretty much the Celtic nations and British Isles. I actually hadn’t been to any of those places before starting my books (hurrah for Pinterest and Google images!), but I was able to make it to Ireland a few summers ago, so now I have my own experience to draw from.

The setting for Faelorehn (the first book in the series) takes place mostly in my hometown of Arroyo Grande, and the wooded swamp area Meghan (my main character) visits is an actual location. There is just something about that place that feels Otherworldly to me, so of course it made its way into my series. I also highlight a few other locations (the old village in town with its swinging bridge, one of our local beaches, a cool little post office and gift shop). It was a lot of fun featuring these places in my Otherworld series because every time I visit them I get to step into the story. And I’ve heard from many of my local readers that they just love reading about paranormal and magical events happening right where they live.
 
 
You practice both long sword fighting and target shooting with your longbow. How did you get started with these crafts, and what appeals to you about them?

Ha ha! I don’t get much archery in these days, but I still have my longbow and arrows! I have to give credit to my friend Laura for this. I’ve always liked the old arts of war (I’m a nonviolent person, I swear!), but Laura actually took the steps to make things happen. I got into sword fighting while at my first book fair in town. The author next to me had a daughter who was taking classes, so we got her number and a few years later, met our coach. I’ve stuck with it for several years and go to class when I can. I’m by no means at a competitive level, but I enjoy doing it and it definitely helps whilst writing fighting scenes in my epic fantasy series. Someday, I need to get back out onto the range with my bow.

I can’t say what makes these activities more appealing than others. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you must rely entirely on your own skill and body to perform well while swinging a sword or shooting an arrow into a target. Longswords and longbows are both somewhat primitive, the bow more so than the sword, and maybe it’s the fact that my Viking and Celtic ancestors probably used these weapons that also makes these activities so appealing to me.
 
 
What types of mythology do you most enjoy, and why?

Oh my goodness, Celtic mythology by far is my most favorite. I loved it so much I took as many classes on the subject as I could in college. I think it links back to my ancestry (I’ve got some Celtic roots) and there is just something that appeals to me about the Celtic Isles. Maybe it’s the nearly constant gray skies, or the mountains and hills, or the music, or the fact that trees are sacred to the Celts (I love trees). I also love Norse mythology and took a few Norse myth classes alongside my Celtic classes. Of course, in high school I was really into Greek mythology (Xena and Hercules!), but I think on a whole, I’m fascinated by all mythologies of every culture. At their core, ancient myths and legends are a reflection of a culture and the beginning of storytelling. As an author, I am always amazed by the wonderful stories our ancient ancestors wove to explain the world around them. We, as authors, are carrying on that legacy and it’s so important not to forget that storytelling is at the heart of our existence as human beings.
 
 
The Legend of Oescienne series is set in a world where dragons exist. Did you base your dragons off of any legends in particular? And what did you most enjoy about writing about dragons?

My Legend of Oescienne series was my very first leap into the writing pool. I have always loved dragons, even as a kid, and have always believed that, just like people, dragons can be benevolent or malevolent. My dragons are mostly benevolent, but there are a few mixed in who are troublemakers. One of the main characters in the series, the dragon Hroombramantu, is based very much on Draco from Dragonheart. I loved that movie and Draco’s bravery, wisdom, and kindness always stuck with me. I wanted Hroombra (Jahrra’s mentor in the first two books) to be wise and kind as well.

I think the best part about writing dragons is that my dragons are able to speak and reason just like humans. It’s especially fun to work with them because they react and behave as humans do sometimes, but they are so much more powerful, not to mention they can fly and breathe fire.


 
 
You’re a fan of honeybees! Are you a beekeeper with hives of your own?

I absolutely LOVE honeybees!!! They are actually sacred to the Celts (considered little cows with wings because they produce a valuable commodity). I had a hive some years back, but unfortunately, my bees disappeared. I miss having them, but if I ever find the time to get back into the hobby, I need to take classes and become more of an expert first. I’d honestly be happy if a wild swarm made a hive somewhere in my backyard (there’s a lot of space back there) just so I could have them around. For now, I have to get my honey from the local farms and farmers’ markets (I only get the good stuff – local, raw honey) so I have a constant supply for my tea. I especially love the fact that there is an old wisteria vine growing on my back patio and every spring/summer I can stand beneath it and just listen to all the bees visiting the flowers.
 
 
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

Now that “Bane and Balm” is out in the world in the Once Upon A Quest anthology, I am focusing entirely on finishing the fifth and final book in my Oescienne series first. It’s been a long journey getting to this point, and my Oescienne readers have been waiting a long time for this one. Once I’ve finished the first draft and send it off to my beta readers and editor, I’m going to jump into either my Draghans of Firiehn series (will eventually be a collection of novellas set in my Otherworld universe but mostly outside of Eile) and a continuance of my Otherworld series (Cade, my main male character, needs his trilogy and there are a few more characters awaiting their own books, too). I’ve also been working on and off on a brand new trilogy I’m hoping to get traditionally published. Basically, I’m going to be busy this year!

Jenna Elizabeth Johnson is a best-selling, multi-award winning author of Fantasy and Young Adult Paranormal Romance. Jenna grew up and still resides on the Central Coast of California, a place she finds as magical and enchanting as the worlds she creates.

Jenna received a BA in Art Practice with a minor in Celtic Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. It was during her time in college that she decided to begin her first novel, The Legend of Oescienne – The Finding. Reading such works as Beowulf, The Mabinogi and The Second Battle of Maige Tuired in her Scandinavian and Celtic Studies courses finally inspired her to start writing down her own tales of adventure and fantasy.

Besides writing and drawing, Jenna is often found reading, gardening, camping, hiking, bird watching, and practicing long sword fighting and archery with a traditional longbow.

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Interview: Anthea Sharp on “Once Upon a Quest”

Meet Anthea!

Anthea Sharp writes fairy tale retellings, Victorian steampunk, fantasy romance, and has combined the Realm of Faerie with immersive gaming in her Feyland series. Once Upon a Quest is the third volume in the Once Upon anthology series.

Once Upon a Quest

Once Upon a Quest is a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairytale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Elly took me out and set me gently on the floor. The stone was cold beneath my paws. I walked forward until I was a short leap from the throne. The fetid smell of ogre sweat pinched my nose, and I could hear the breath rasping in and out of his throat. One of his hands was big enough to crush me, should he so choose.

“Your eminence.” I made the ogre a bow. “My name is Mistress Bootsi, and I have come to look upon your might.”

“A talking cat?” He laughed, a harsh, nasty sound. “If you thought I’d be impressed, I’m not. I have no use for you.”

The ogre stood and, in a wink, transformed to a huge lion. He roared, and I shivered in fear. My instincts clamored for me to run, run! It took all my courage to stand my ground, and I hoped that Elly had the sense to do the same. Being breakfast for a lion was not part of my plan.

– from “Mistress Bootsi” by Anthea Sharp

The Interview

How did the ‘Once Upon’ anthology series get started?

A group of author friends and I started kicking around the idea of dark fairytale retellings. Everyone got excited to do the project, and I offered to manage the details, since I have experience running multi-author projects and anthologies. The fabulous Christine Pope offered her graphics skills, and Once Upon A Curse was born! It sold very well, and we decided to make this a yearly project. Quest is the third collection, after Curse (2016) and Kiss (2017).

How did you come up with the ‘quest’ theme?

We needed something to match the other titles. Curse (dark tales), Kiss (romantic tales)… and then Quest, featuring adventurous tales. We’re thinking about getting a little wild next year, and doing SF-set stories with Once Upon A Quark

After that, who knows? 🙂

What do you find compelling about fairy tales?

The archetypal plots and characters of fairy tales still resonate today, though all the authors are having fun putting modern twists on the stories!

Your own story in the collection, “Mistress Bootsi,” was inspired by the the fairytale “Puss in Boots” (also known as “The Master Cat”). Why did you pick this particular fairytale as the basis for your story?

When thinking of quests and adventure, “Puss in Boots” just stood out to me as a classic tale full of magic and adventure. Plus, we have a new kitty in the house, so felines are on my mind these days!

Your Feyland series is also based in part on fairy tales. What aspects of fairy folklore have you used in that series, and what inspired you to combine that with gaming?

I grew up on collections of fairy tales and also singing some of the classic old fairy ballads. I’ve always loved the story of “Tam Lin”, where the maiden saves her knight (in fact, we have a “Tam Lin” retelling in Once Upon a Quest).

I’ve also played computer games since, well, Zork, and then more recently lots of MMOs. I got to thinking one day (in 2010) about the parallels between being in-game and the descriptions of humans sucked into the Realm of Faerie: time moves strangely, everything feels intense, you emerge dazed and feeling like you’ve been somewhere magical and not-of-this-world…

And Feyland was the result – a series where a computer game is the gateway to Faerie. It’s not a new idea, and portal fantasy has a long, wonderful tradition (I suppose there’s a bit of my love for Narnia in the books as well) but I think my gaming experience put a new, different twist on the theme. I’m delighted to say that the Feyland books have found a wide audience, and I still have two more books planned in the series! The prequel is free, and the first book, The Dark Realm, is just .99 cents at all ebook retailers, for those who are interested in diving in.

You play the Irish fiddle! Tell us about the kind of music you play – and about your band, Fiddlehead.

I’m classically trained, but discovered Irish music in college, and never looked back. I love playing the fiddle, and my band, Fiddlehead, has three CDs out (find them on cdbaby.com). I also love putting music into my stories, and have released a short story anthology called Tales of Music & Magic that combines my love of magic, music, and short tales.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m currently working on another fairytale retelling series, complete with a dark, enchanted forest, elves, and two sisters who must fight on opposite sides of an epic battle. Hoping to get those books out in 2019!

Growing up on fairy tales and computer games, Anthea Sharp has melded the two in her award-winning, bestselling Feyland series, which has sold over 150k copies worldwide.

In addition to the fae fantasy/cyberpunk mashup of Feyland, she also writes Victorian Spacepunk, and fantasy romance. Her books have won awards and topped bestseller lists, and garnered over a million reads at Wattpad. She’s frequently found hanging out on Amazon’s Top 100 Fantasy/SF author list. Her short fiction has appeared in Fiction River, DAW anthologies, The Future Chronicles, and Beyond The Stars: At Galaxy’s edge, as well as many other publications.

Anthea lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes, hangs out in virtual worlds, plays the fiddle with her Celtic band Fiddlehead, and spends time with her small-but-good family.

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Interview: Grayson Towler on “The Dragon Waking”

Meet Grayson!

Grayson loves dragons and dinosaurs, and has managed to tie them together in a wonderful, magical story in The Dragon Waking, a middle grade fantasy.

The Dragon Waking

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their enchanted slumber. When Rose and Jade come face-to-face with a rival dragon in a battle over neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, it will take all their courage to avert a catastrophe sixty-five million years in the making!

The dragon raised its head very slightly, watching her intently.

Rose still trembled at the sight of the dragon’s long talons and massive jaws, but she mustered her courage and edged closer. The dragon slowly extended its great head toward her as she approached, a posture that suggested both restraint and intense curiosity.

Rose’s sense of fear melted into wonder. Never had she seen anything lovelier than the tremendous green dragon before her. The elegant shape of its head and neck, the subtle shadings of green on each of its diamond-shaped scales, the delicate patterns on the translucent membrane of its folded wings – every feature of the dragon struck a perfect balance between beauty and power.

– from The Dragon Waking

The Interview

What inspired you to write The Dragon Waking?

It’s the sort of story I wanted to read. That’s usually my starting point… the reader in me wishes a certain kind of book would be waiting for me on the shelves, and then the writer in me decides that I’d better get working to make that happen.

More specifically, I’ve always loved stories of dragons, especially the ones in which dragons and humans are companions. Not that I don’t enjoy a good rampaging monster story with a dragon as the star, but I’m more moved by stories like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books – stories about the friendship between a humans and dragons.

I’ve often found myself spotting dragons in the environment, like clouds or rock formations shaped like dragons. I liked to dream about those formations waking up and becoming actual dragons. From those daydreams, the world of The Dragon Waking crystallized on a particularly productive evening of staring off into space.

Do you have more stories planned in this world?

I’m currently working on the second book in what I intend to be a trilogy. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I think there could be plenty of room for more short or long stories on top of the trilogy I have planned.

What did you find to be challenging with writing this story?

Well, it was my first book that I truly wanted to finish and get published, so there was a huge learning curve. The biggest challenges came from learning the conventions of the middle grade genre, and the first of these challenges was figuring out that the book was actually middle grade! I went in thinking it would be YA, and wrote it with that idea in mind. The resulting story turned out to be a better fit for middle grade, though.

Then the next big challenge was compressing the story down to middle grade length, which is a lot more restricted than YA. This was a crash-course in editing like I’d never experienced it, and I learned a lot.

The audience for The Dragon Waking is middle grade. Do you write stories for other ages?

I’ve got two novel-length manuscripts awaiting a second draft. One is a YA story to start a new series (really YA this time, I think). The second is an adult supernatural thriller. I’m quite excited about both of them, and I’m eager to get them into shape to pitch to publishers… if only pesky things like bills and my full time job didn’t keep getting in the way.

I do write short stories sometimes too, though I tend to focus on novels. I’ve got a sidestory from The Dragon Waking available on my website, and a couple other stories I’m going to try to get published this year if I can. I think my favorite of these is a story called “Crotar” about a 19th century British naval vessel encountering a very strange being in the south Pacific.

What’s important to you about Rose, and why did you give her these characteristics?

Rose has a lot of fine qualities, but I think the two most important ones are imagination and compassion. People tend to think of imagination as the ability to come up with things that don’t exist, which is part of it. But I also think a strong imagination is what allows us to see our world with greater clarity, and perceive truths that exist beyond accepted facts. It’s Rose’s capacity for imagination that allows her to see Jade and connect with her–most people couldn’t deal with the “impossible” appearance of a dragon in their world.

Compassion is just as important for Rose. Her compassion is why she can overcome her fear and connect with Jade, and sympathize with Jade’s mission to awaken the rest of the dragons. Rose is 13, which is a time when we’re still concentrated pretty much on figuring ourselves out, but that inward focus doesn’t mean we can’t expand our perspective and put ourselves in another’s shoes. I think Rose trained her compassion in working with horses, and learning to see the world through the eyes of an animal with a very different perspective than a human.

The Dragon Waking includes both dragons and dinosaurs. Why did you decide to include both? What’s the relationship between dragons and dinosaurs in the story’s world?

Is it not a kind of chocolate and peanut-butter combination? Seems so to me. In any case, I’ve always loved to toy with the idea of what would have happened if an intelligent, civilization-building race had evolved from the dinosaurs instead of mammals. At some point, it clicked that dragons would be a perfect candidate for that race.

In terms of the story, in the first book the main antagonist is a dragon who has disguised himself as a casino mogul named Rex Triumph, and has a dinosaur-themed resort in Las Vegas. When he gets back his full power, he naturally wants to bring back the old world he used to know. So he ends up animating a lot of dinosaurs, which in turn give our protagonists a lot of trouble.

In addition to writing, you also have a web comic. How did that start, and what do you enjoy about the comic that is different from what you enjoy about writing?

That’s Thunderstruck, and I started writing that as a conventional paper comic back in the mid-90s. At the time, I wanted to be an independent comic book artist-writer. Unfortunately, I chose to follow this aspiration right about the time the entire comic industry underwent a massive implosion, so the whole plan stopped being viable as comic stores folded left and right.

But the story stuck around, and when webcomics started to become a legit avenue for self-publishing, I revived Thunderstruck in that form. I wrote for many years, took a hiatus for a while to focus on my fiction career, and then came back and hopefully will be able to follow the whole complex story to the end.

The thing I like most about comics as opposed to straight prose is the ability to use artwork to express a story. Not only can a good picture be worth a thousand words, a visual medium like comics can sometimes express things prose never can. Yet comics still lets you keep many of the advantages of prose. It’s a unique medium and I enjoy exploring the various ways you can use it to tell stories…even though I feel like I’m a pretty limited artist, by comparison to many others out there.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

Currently it’s the second book in the dragon series that’s getting all my attention, apart from my monthly engagement with writing the webcomic. There’s a lot of fun things about this book. There’s a change of setting, as part of it takes place in Hawaii. It’s also a story where Rose’s friend Clay gets to share the spotlight. He gets to come into his own this story and has to fend for himself when Rose and Jade are engaged elsewhere. We’re also going to get a new villain I’m really looking forward to introducing, and we’ll find out some of the mysteries we haven’t yet touched about dragons.

Grayson Towler has had a lifelong fascination with dragons, dinosaurs, magic, and the mysteries of the natural world. In addition to being a storyteller since he could first string words together, he has been a marketing copy writer, web designer, substitute teacher, comic artist, and small business owner. He and his wife, Candi, and their dog, Luna, live in a house owned by three relatively benevolent cats in Longmont, Colorado.

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Interview: DeAnna Knippling on being a writing contest judge

Meet DeAnna!

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She runs Wonderland Press, a micropublisher of curious fiction and non-fiction for iconoclasts.

The Interview

You’ve been a judge for multiple writing contests. Give us an example of one type of contest, and what the authors submitted.

The contest that I’ve judged most for is the Zebulon for Pikes Peak Writers, and before it was revamped, the Paul Gillette PPW contest. In general, you end up submitting a query letter, synopsis, and sample first chapter. Just like in submitting something to an agent, the first stage is having someone read the query letter and decide whether the entry deserves more attention.

Let me tell you…I loathe query letters with a passion. It could be the best book in the world, and I would hate the query letter. I feel like authors are getting bad information on how to write query letters and are taking that information the wrong way in order to create the Most Boring Sales Pitches Ever. I don’t have a good system to replace it–learning how to write good advertising material is hard, and I don’t have it mastered yet–but I seriously would just rather burn most query letters, even if I have to print them out myself.

I never volunteer for that part. I would either reject everything or accept everything, nothing in the middle.

I get the submissions in the middle part mostly, where the first pass of readthroughs/judging on the synopsis and sample are done. I’ll give a little bit of feedback on the query letter if I have to, but often I’ll just scan through the query letter to see if I can pick up hints on how experienced the writer is, so I can give better feedback.

I also feel that most writers couldn’t write a synopsis to save their lives, which is unfortunate–if writers spent as much time on a synopsis as they did on their outlines (or just tossed their outlines and wrote a synopsis?), then I feel they’d have a better grasp on the core story they were trying to write. A lot of times I see things like the story not actually having an antagonist, or the writer not really being sure who the story is about, things like that.

In the sample chapters, what you get is the opening of the story, about 2500 words. My biggest pet peeve is people who are writing a prologue and trying to hide it as “Chapter One.” Uh-huh. I don’t mind a good prologue, but I vehemently resent a writer trying to fool me on this. Like it’s not immediately obvious. Sheesh.

What’s it like being a judge?

I’ve been a contest judge for a number of years. I always feel like it’s a nailbiting experience, swinging between the poles of snark and honestly providing feedback? As in, writers have a tendency (I’m no exception) to have a mental running Snark-o-meter whenever they’re reading critically. And yet those comments aren’t helpful, and I usually have to go over my responses several times to make sure I’ve cut most of that out.

I’ve spoken to a number of contest participants, and it seems like the people who are sending in contest entries–especially in contests that don’t lead directly to being published in an anthology–are looking for feedback that they’re not getting from their usual sources. A lot of them are early writers who don’t have a writing community at home to help support them, but it seems like most of the entries that I see are from writers who have been writing for a while and are covering the basics, but not seeing a lot of success in publishing.

The kind of feedback that that second level of writer needs is often hard to get, and I always wonder if I’m saying the right thing, making the right guesses about where the writer is and what they need to move forward. It’s like, sure, on the surface level you’re just trying to answer the questions, but you also have to keep in mind that someone is on the other side of those answers, dying to find out what’s working on the manuscript and what isn’t. So I’m always torn between wearing a kind of editorial hat (snark) and a writer support hat (decent feedback). I try to score like an editor and give feedback like a writer supporter, so that I’m not artificially inflating entries that probably shouldn’t win the contest just to be nice, and yet giving the most supportive (yet honest) feedback I can give.

What are you looking for in submissions?

I’m not an editor, so I don’t approach submissions by going, “What can I publish?” That’s not what a non-publishing contest is for.

Instead I’m looking for what level of writer I’m working with, first and foremost, so I can give feedback. We all have different paths as writers, which complicates things, but in general you can check off things like, “This person is handling beginner’s basics like dialogue and character correctly but not intermediate level things like pacing and opening a scene well” to determine how far along someone is. I’ve also noted a split between two different types of writers–I call them engineer brain and poet brain. Engineers plot well; poets have better style. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but where one’s strengths lie.

Once I can kind of guesstimate how far along a writer is and the general areas of their strengths, I can start thinking in terms of what feedback might be useful.

I generally don’t care who wins a contest 🙂

How is an entry scored? Do you use rubrics of some sort?

There’s generally a checklist of some sort with spaces for feedback. I helped develop a checklist for the Zebulon with Pikes Peak Writers, and that was interesting. What are the main areas of writing? How do you organize all the aspects of writing into a system that makes sense in a contest, to multiple judges who themselves use vastly different organizational/teaching tools in their own writing? I think we did okay, but I always wonder if it could be better.

What do you aim for when you’re asked to write feedback letters?

I always aim to try to give decent advice for the level of writer involved. A lot of times, just because of the type of submissions I see, I end up typing a variation of, “You probably want to know why you’re not published yet, if everyone says you’ve got the basics down pat. Welcome to intermediate writing, where there’s not a lot of advice to be had because 90% of writers have dropped out at this point and it seems like everyone expects you to make the jump from amateur to professional with no extra work. It’s so simple, for someone who’s worked as much as you have…isn’t it? Here’s where you need to start working, though…” And then I try to block out two or three main areas for the writer to start working. I feel like the winners of contests are going to be happy no matter what I write; it’s the people who didn’t win who need to be able to walk out of a contest with a path ahead, arduous but true.

Why do you judge writing contests?

I like being able to dive down into the meat of where someone is in their craft, and find out what strengths and weaknesses they have, and how that affects the work. I’m starting to see how different writers’ points of view really affect what they write, and I find that incredibly interesting. Also, I really hope to be able to pass the education in craft that other people have given me forward, and this is one of the ways that I seem to be able to help.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m working on a novel in a series I haven’t released yet. It’s the third novel in a near-future thriller series. Murder and tech that’s so close to being real that it’s scary; not quite Blade Runner but in the same spirit.

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She started out as a farm girl in the middle of South Dakota, went to school in Vermillion, SD, then gravitated through Iowa to Colorado, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of putting together haunted houses in the basement of her grandparents’ house with her cousins, and taking flying leaps off haystacks and silage piles in the middle of winter with her brother. She was in charge of coming up with the “let’s pretend” ideas when they were kids, at least in theory. But then no plan survives contact with the enemy. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names.

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