Woman Writer Wednesday: Chandra Rooney

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you right up front that this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday interviewee is one of my favorite people in the world, in addition to being the book “dealer” I go to when I need a hit of awesome.  Chandra Rooney is the author of The Tarot Cafe: The Wild Hunt and all sorts of lovely things at her blog Dreaming In Red.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
Stories were always important—they’ve always been my way to process the world around me, to try to understand and cope. But I do have a distinct recollection of reading The Sandman—and I should note after several people told me I needed to read it—and going that’s it, that’s it right there. How we interact with the abstract—with ideas, with beliefs, with wishes—is the beating heart of most of what I write.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
Well, I’m going to pull a Margaret Atwood here and say I write “Speculative.” I like writing about the world I live in as seen in a warped mirror; I love how what’s reflected is filled with true things disguised as things that couldn’t possibly be real.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
I promised my friend Hillary Monahan that the next time I was asked this question I would reply she gave me the best advice when she told me “don’t kill strangers on the bus.”
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
I’d love to write comics. When I wrote The Tarot Cafe Novel for TOKYOPOP I translated something visual into straight prose, so I’d like the opportunity to take straight prose and translate it into something visual.
5. You’ve participated in the Labor Day 3-Day Novel Contest; could you share a little about your experiences?
I can’t commit to a draft without a playlist for it, so I’m going to say that music is a definite influence. Often writers will talk about listening to loud music or soundtracks while writing, but for me… the entire song has to work. Lyrics are very important, because they’re the words entering my brain while I work.
Working in social media means the internet has had a profound impact on what I write. I have pinboards, and I find it fascinating that many of these images come from other people’s collections. These people I’ve never met who may be passing along images from people they’ve never met are influencing and inspiring me to create.
Speaking of visuals: TV shows are another influences because they convey so much through gestures and dialogue. It helps me block out scenes and keep my characters moving. Plus, there are multiple character dynamics and you never know when a throwaway concept or plot point is going to spark something. Shows I know I’ve been influenced by include The Vampire DiariesChuckPushing DaisesThe MentalistFringeSherlock. I don’t watch as much TV as I used to. Doctor Who was a go-to for inspiration for a long time—week to week an entire worlds got created, used up, and left behind—but I’m noticing lately that I’m more interested in the cinematography of the show than the stories.
Although my exposure to has greatly decreased over the years, I’m still incredibly influenced by anime/manga—the tropes, the genres, the character archetypes—and when I have a chance to watch a new series, I always get something from it.
For a sample of Chandra’s work, have a listen to her reading of an excerpt from her novel The Tale of Ariake:

Woman Writer Wednesday: Beth Wodzinski

For this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, I interviewed Beth Wodzinski, who in addition to being a writer in her own right is the editor of speculative-fiction magazine Shimmer.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. I remember starting a novel in kindergarten — my mom said she’d help me write down the words. So I told her all about how our neighbor went out to her chicken coop and discovered someone had killed all her chickens. Then what, my mom asked, and I had no idea, and stalled out of writing for many years. Since then, I’ve gotten a little better at figuring out what happens next.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
The suggestion that even the most mundane lives have magic and mystery in them.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
I am currently enamored with the 7-Point Story Structure, from a recent Writing Excuses podcast. There’s also a series of videos on YouTube where Dan Wells goes into more detail about it. I’m using it right now to work out the plot of my next novel, and it’s been extremely helpful.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
Most of my writing has been done under race conditions — NaNoWriMo or timed flash challenges. I do enjoy the glee and the lowered expectations — NaNo is so much fun, and I’ve gotten so much from it — but it’s also kind of insane and full of pressure. I’d like to learn to write in a saner and more grounded way, without all the fuss and craziness. Ha, probably you were asking for a subject or genre? But really I think the next big challenge for me is steadiness of practice. One of the most useful tools for learning this steadiness has been the Dance of Shiva, which is kind of like yoga for your brain.
5. How have your experiences in being the editor of Shimmer affected your own writing?
One of the unofficial-but-true reasons I started Shimmerwas to have an excuse to procrastinate on my writing, and that strategy has been brilliantly successful.Reading thousands of slush stories has taught me a lot — not just the usual stuff like how rejections aren’t personal, but more interesting stuff about what I look for in a story, what kinds of images and structures and ideas work for me. It’s clarified my vision. But it’s also raised the stakes for me; I don’t want to write the kind of “just ok” story that makes up the bulk of slush piles everywhere. And raising the stakes just makes it harder to get started writing my own stories.

Beth and her fiction can be found at her own website.  You can find her magical magazine Shimmer here.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Nancy M. Griffis

For this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, I interviewed speculative-fiction author and screenwriter Nancy M. Griffis.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
You know, I don’t even remember. I was a serious reader before I ever thought to be a writer. Marion Zimmer Bradley, CJ Cherryh, Anne MacCaffrey, Sir Walter Scott, Madeleine L’Engle were all favorites of mine. And my family were big readers, too. It wasn’t until I stopped dancing, though, that I turned to writing when I was around 14. I guess I needed a creative outlet. My mother brought home this massive IBM Selectric typewriter from work and off I went into the world of writing. I had good English teachers, too, who always encouraged me whenever I turned in short stories for projects.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
I love the possibility. In scifi/fantasy/urban fantasy, anything can happen. The most boring or cowardly person can become a hero and impossible creatures of myth can show up in downtown LA or NYC.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
Write every day. Can’t remember where I saw/read it, but you should write every day even if it’s just a list of things you need to do or a paragraph on why you hate getting up for work/school every day. Something. Anything.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
Funny you should mention that! I’m going to do National Novel Writing Month this year (the last few years life has been against me doing it) and my novel will be in the YA genre, which I’ve never done before. I like to try something different with every novel and I think this will be a definite challenge. It will definitely be different! lol!
5. You’ve participated in the Labor Day 3-Day Novel Contest; could you share a little about your experiences?
It was a pretty manic experience each time I’ve done it. Three days of little sleep, way too much caffeine and sugar, and exacerbated carpal tunnel syndrome from too much typing. Creatively speaking, though, it’s a powerhouse. There’s something about all that pressure to produce in such a very limited time that just makes the words come out. Of course, having an outline and character sketches ahead of time makes it a hell of a lot easier, which I found out the hard way one year. hehehe.
You can find Nancy on the Web at her WordPress blog, or on Twitter.  Her published works can be found here at Amazon.com.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Rachel V. Olivier

Today’s interviewee is writer/poet Rachel V. Olivier, whose most recent work, the apocalyptic romance Needs Must When The Devil Drives, is available from Sam’s Dot Publishing.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?

When I was a kid I was a big reader of the Little House on the Prairie books as well as the Little Women books. I loved Laura Ingalls and Jo March, the characters. They wanted to be writers. And they were the “face” of the authors of those books as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott. I loved them. They were independent, they made mistakes, they said the wrong things, and sometimes did the wrong things, but they were funny and good and they wrote stories. I was nine years old and that’s when I decided I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After that, it was just figuring out what to write and what “being” a writer meant. I read lots of books, learning about the authors of my favorite books, like L.M. Montgomery, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I also read lots of plays I remember finding in a back corner of the library. I don’t know why, but I was fascinated with plays and wanted to direct them in our backyard – maybe it was the Jo March thing. Anyway, I loved reading how the plays would set up the stage direction and the dialogue and figuring out how you would do that. That was all grade school. And sometimes the dream to become a writer would be shoved to the back while I considered being a nurse/doctor/missionary/architect/violinist – etc., but it always came back.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?

I’ve always been a colorful magpie kind of person. I used to want one of those groovy rainbow-on-a-bright-blue-background bedspreads. I love signing my books and things with either silver or gold felt marker pens. I like sparkly crystals. I loved being in China, and going to a Chinatown in San Francisco, or here in Los Angeles, and seeing all the red and gold and black shoved together. I loved that. I love deep blue, turquoise, orange and yellow and green and purple and… I used to paint, though I haven’t in a long time. Not pictures, all the time. Sometimes I just put colors together on a canvas to see what would happen. Sometimes a picture would grow out of that, sometimes it wouldn’t. That’s what writing in the realm of speculative fiction does for me. To me, realist, contemporary literature is like working with charcoal on cream paper, there’s strength in it, but it’s not my strength. It’s interesting and a good mental exercise. I love black and white artistic photos, just as I love some contemporary or regular literature, but it’s not my strength.

And I get really impatient when people try to impose the “discipline” of “literachure” on my fun rainbow colored genre. I hate it when “they” (whoever they may be – sometimes people outside the genre, but many times people inside the genre, which is surprising to me) try to suppress the colors and life and joy in science fiction and fantasy. I feel like they’re trying to get rid of the merry-go-round and swings on the playground and only keep the bars because they’re “good” for you. Or trying to take my five dimensional world and make it flat and two dimensional.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?

Doesn’t matter how much you talk about it, the writing won’t get done until you sit your ass in the chair and actually do the writing, do the work. That’s pretty much paraphrased from something I read on Neil Gaiman’s blog a while ago. I also remember seeing Vicki Petterssen saying something similar on Facebook. And it’s a truth I keep coming back to, I can do all the “pre-writing” in my head that I want, but it doesn’t count unless I actually sit down and put it on a page somewhere. And then, I need to keep at it – write, rewrite and revise until I’m tired of looking at it. Let it sit and revise some more. And then put it out there in the world to see what happens.
4. Is there any type of writing you’d like to try that you haven’t already?

I want to write murder mysteries. I love reading murder mysteries, but I’m weak at that type of plot structure, so I haven’t attempted it, yet. Though I have several outlines in a folder somewhere of ideas I’ve had. And I’d like to do hard science fiction, but those will come later I think.
5. You write poetry, which is a skill I have never learned and greatly envy!  What inspires you to write poems, and does your process differ from your prose-writing process?

To me, writing poetry is like making liqueur or essential oils or espresso. It’s a distillation and refining process. There’s a feeling or some ephemeral something that I want to hang onto, to capture for a moment and try to describe and it wants to be it’s own discrete thing. Sometimes it’s a longer bit and sometimes it’s a shorter bit. But it’s usually just this thing, it’s ineffable, I can’t describe it, that I want to capture and describe or explore. It could be how the contrasting colors on a building with a splash of shadows in the autumn morning look or make me feel or think. It could be the turn my brain takes whilst people watching at a bus stop. Or I’m trying to process some experience I am going through or have been through, and trying to explore it. And like any craft distillation process, it takes time. You might jot down a few lines and let them sit for while and brew before you come back to it and work on it later. One poet friend of mine told me once that one of the ancient poets said it takes a decade to write a proper poem. I know that’s not always true, but I do know that for me that’s sometimes true. I have some poems that I worked on for years before I felt they were finished. And I have other poems that were finished much sooner.

Writing prose has some of that, but there’s more of a logical process in writing prose, with fiction or nonfiction (unless you’re writing one of those long epic poems that’s going to end up being a story – then it’s about the same). In prose, you might want to describe a certain feeling or process, but writing it out in magical words is just part of the process. If you’re writing a story, then you have a beginning, a middle and an end. You have characters who need to grow from the opening of the story to the end. You need to make sure the plot works and the mechanics of the storyline and action work.

I guess you could say that poetry is like spending time in your kitchen making rosewater or mead or some magical potion. You have ingredients put in just right. You take the time to make it brew. You have the pretty bottles and labels all lined up and ready to be filled. Writing prose, especially fiction, is more like making a holiday family dinner for 10. So, you might spend some time making sure you make things pretty and just right, but mostly you’re just chopping vegetables, checking on meat, doing dishes and wanting to make sure that everything is cooked and makes it to the table at about the same time so everyone can enjoy the meal.
You can read more about Rachel and her works here at Putt Putt Productions.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Lucy Woodhull

Welcome to this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, my new feature where I profile, review or interview women whose words I’d like to bring to your attention.  For today’s post, I interviewed romance/humor/space-opera writer Lucy Woodhull, whose Ragnar and Juliet II: Concubine Boogaloo and original recipe Ragnar and Juliet are available for sale at Amazon, AllRomance.com and Liquid Silver Books.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, and was good at it in school and stuff.  (“And stuff” — that’s the kind of subtle brilliance I’m unfamous for.)  A few years ago, I began commenting on a Certain Ladyblog and got a bit of a following for being funny.  It made me think well, hrm, self, maybe you could be writing of the funny for to make monies!  Monies = good, my brain concluded.  I love romance as a genre, so I decided to write a funny romance novel.  Thus Ragnar and Juliet was born.  The first pub I sent it to told me it was too funny — I wasn’t allowed to just have a funny romance novel for no good reason!  It must have terribly SERIOUS parts to balance out the funny parts.  I said, “LOL nope,” and kept the book as-is.  I enjoy being edited and getting critiques (how else do you grow?), but I have learned, over time, to respect my voice.  I get further when I trust in myself, and I have more fun.  If I’m not having fun, what’s the point?  I’m not in it to write someone else’s version of a book.  I then submitted Ragnar and Juliet to the magnificent Tina Burns (at that time with Liquid Silver Books) and sold it in twenty-four hours.  Hooray!  I’ve subsequently written a sequel to R&J and a straight-up humor book, and gotten myself an agent for it, so things are proceeding apace.  By “things,” I mean “my plan for universe domination, and also unlimited Cheez-Its.”
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
In romance, I love the happily ever after.  This is a part of the genre that people shit on a lot, claiming that there’s no suspense when you know the hero ain’t gonna die when he runs through a hailstorm of bullets to rescue his dog.  But lots of genres are predictable that way.  In a long-running series about a male detective, the dude probably isn’t gonna bite it with three books in and three more sold.  Happy endings are the best!  (Pun intended.)  Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it, so what’s so wrong with reading a book about love and sexy times that you know will end with hearts and flowers?  During the tough times of life, especially, I dig some escapism with my free time, and that doesn’t make me a moron.  Plus:  SEX!In humor, I love the silliness of it, the incongruity, the anything-goes nature of what is possible.  (But I say “anything goes” with an eye to avoiding jokes that are racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and all the other “ists.”  When humorists say they can’t make a joke without being an asshole, I say they must not be very good at it.)  I also adore and respect the power of parody and humor to right the world’s ills.  One needs only to look at something like Blazing Saddles to know how powerful humor’s statement can be.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
My best friend and sometimes-writing partner told me, in the midst of that first rejection and my struggles with the “rules” of writing, to stay true to myself and honor my voice.  And she was so, so right.  When I stopped trying to simultaneously play by the rules and be myself, everything was so much better.  Write what and how YOU love.  It’s the only thing that can possibly keep you going in this soul-sucking journey we call art.I’ll use this gif here, for these are my people.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
I would love to write a half-hour comedy or film.  I figure I’ll write books for now until Mel Brooks comes a-knocking to adapt one of them into a film.  What’s the point of dreaming unless it’s big?  Mel:  call me!
5. You’re a fan of satire… tell us why you enjoy it and what you feel its significance is.
Satire is a way to poke fun at the world’s ills, and thereby help to improve them.  It combines humor and activism, two of my favorite things, and when it’s done well, is so damn clever it hurts.  Just look at the way The Onion sometimes blurs the line between reality and satire in such a scary way, you almost can’t tell what’s real.  Especially during an election cycle.  Some folks respond well if you stand up and say, “Hey, racism is bad!” but others will watch Blazing Saddles and get a perspective on race they never had before… all undercover-like while they laugh.  And maybe, ever so slightly, their mind will be changed for the better.
Many thanks to the ever-fabulous Lucy.  You can find her on Twitter here or at her website.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Rachel Lynn Brody

Welcome to a new feature here at ye olde blogge.  In the spirit of Throwing Down the Rope, or at least reaching out a hand from the next rope over, I bring you Woman Writer Wednesday, where I profile, review or interview women whose words I’d like to bring to your attention.  For today’s post, I interviewed playwright, speculative-fiction author and anthology editor Rachel Lynn Brody.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always loved reading, and writing came as a natural outgrowth of my love for storytelling. My mom was responsible for getting me to apply for my first paid writing gig, which was as a correspondent for the teen section of The Buffalo News, my freshman year of high school.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
In any genre, the thing that attracts me is the opportunity to explore human reactions. All my work contains elements of the fantastic, and how that expresses itself changes from genre to genre. In science and speculative fiction, the exploration of our civilization through the interactions of technology and humanity is a theme I tend to visit a lot. In theater, the idea that you’re presenting an experience of subjective consciousness as objective experience lets you leave naturalism behind for deeper human truths. Does that answer the question? (Yes.)
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
A friend and I were talking over Bruschetta on the Lower East Side the other day, and she reminded me of a piece of advice I hadn’t heard in a while: “Know the rules before you break them.” Otherwise, maybe something my MFA supervisor said: “Kill your darlings.”
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
I’ve just been emailing a guy about a musical, so that’s something that would be really exciting, I think. We’ll see what happens. I’d love to write a video game. That would be something completely new, but in keeping with a lot of my fascination with theater as an immersive experience (for example, Sleep No More’s performance at the McKittrick felt a lot like a live-action video game).
5. For those of us who have never written for the stage — tell us why we should give it a try.
There’s not a lot to recommend stage writing to those who don’t love theater. It’s nearly impossible to make a living, even if you are produced professionally. It’s long and arduous and requires you to spend hours upon hours seeing new and interesting (and sometimes terrible) productions of other plays. On the other hand, if you can step away from your work and enjoy the collaborative process of creating theater, if you can stand up and defend your work while still taking on constructive criticism, getting a play on its feet and seeing actors perform your play so it lives outside your head the same way it lived in it is one of the most rewarding feelings I know as a writer.
Many thanks to Rachel for being the first of what I hope will be many interviewees.  Please stop by her website for more on Rachel and her works.  You can also follow her on Twitter here.

The Audacity of “Nope”

Not something you say every day.

We writers hear the word “No” a lot.  Sure, sometimes it’s dressed up in fancy clothes, like “They decided to go in another direction” or “The position has been filled” or “I’m sorry, we’re all out of Venti cups”… but it’s always there.  And, as writers, we’re expected to accept it.  But we’re not often expected to say it.  In fact, we’re expected to be agreeable almost to a fault.  Say yes to everything: Yes to working on spec.  Yes to unpaid revisions.  Yes to even the most boneheaded of notes (while screaming inside our own heads that the note-giver wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them on the ass).  Be “good in a room”.  Pitch solutions, not problems.  Chin up, try again, pay your dues.  And most of the time, that’s all right.  Better than all right — it’s necessary.  The collaborative spirit, and being easy to work with, is essential for creating art by committee… or at least for not starting a brawl in the room.  None of us really wants to have that on our rap sheet (or on the front page of Deadline).  Choosing your battles is important.  But what happens when you choose the road less travelled?
Note that I’m not advocating a Network– (or Newsroom-) style rant, nor any other bridge-incinerating behavior.  What I’m talking about is checking in with yourself and being honest about what you want – what’s best for you as a person and as a professional.

NOT the recommended approach.

I’ve been a professional script reader ever since I moved to LA, even during the years of Ye Olde Corporate Dayjob.  Saying “No” isn’t just a right, it’s a responsibility.  But passing on sub-par scripts and saying no to an opportunity are completely different things.  We’re all looking for a break, no matter where we are in our careers, and it’s one of the peculiarities of this business that there’s no set path to get to where we’re going.  And it’s tempting to say yes to everything in case it’s the one thing that will make the difference.  But I believe there’s a place for a well-considered “No”, especially when choosing who to listen to.  Consider the source: where is the person offering notes or advice coming from?  Are they considering your priorities or their own?  How similar are their priorities to yours?  Can they speak with authority on whatever the subject at hand happens to be?  When we’re just starting out, it’s easy to get bogged down in a thousand different contradictory messages, or to latch onto the first opportunity that comes our way, and it’s worth examining our short-term needs and long-term goals before jumping in with both feet or taking one person’s advice as gospel.

Not having a single clear-cut path to success can be terrifying, but it can also be liberating. We get to make our own way, and after all, aren’t our instincts – or, in terms of writing, our point of view or “voice” – what we hope to be hired for?  This isn’t a one-size-fits-all industry, so choose your advisors and your battles wisely, and always remember that while being open and flexible is vital, you are the ultimate authority on your own work and your own career.  You always have a choice, and sometimes it’s okay to say no.  Like they say about the numerous passes most of us face… every no is just one step closer to yes.