Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Danielle Davis

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

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Excerpt from Danielle Davis’s story “The Egregia Cum Laude Adventure: A Sherlock Holmes Beginnings Story”

It wasn’t the first time someone had contacted him about a case as he was walking to his 6:00 A.M. Political Studies class, but it was the first time someone had thrown a rock at him to do it.

“OW!” He staggered and rubbed the back of his head. When his probing fingers found a lump already forming just behind his ear—just above the thick wool scarf wound around his neck—he turned with a livid glare to find the culprit. His eyes found a tall young man jogging towards him.

Instinctively, Sherlock Holmes noted several details all at once. The man was still in his pajamas, the kind with white and blue stripes down the button-front shirt and pants. The tousled clumps of his hair stood up in several directions, and he was barefoot despite the thin layer of snow that blanketed the grass. These things Sherlock absorbed without even consciously realizing he was doing so.

Interview

Hi Danielle,

You write novels and short stories. Do you do both at the same time, or do you tackle one at a time? Which do you enjoy more?

I do both at the same time, but mostly because short stories have a shorter turnaround for me than the novel does. I can get an idea for one and have a turnaround of a few days or a week, which presses my Immediate Gratification button pretty well 🙂 I think I favor short stories, though, because I short story better than I novel right now. It’s a medium that I am a lot more familiar with and have a lot more practice at, so I think when I get stressed about the novel it’s nice to be able to turn to my comfort zone medium.

Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?  Did you always know that you wanted to be one?

I did always know. I was writing stories and bad poetry and getting them published in the local newspaper in elementary school. And since my family has always been big readers, it seems like a really natural extension to start making stories of my own.

What do you read for fun?

Young adult, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and any mix of the above. I just finished Juliet Marillier’s Den of Wolves, which was delightful; I’m currently reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; and I’m getting ready to start rereading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, because the language of it is so amazing and I missed that world.

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be?

 

Realize that two things have to happen: you have to believe in your stories, and you have to be willing to revisit the editing process for a story (even after you may think it’s done) if you get a handful of form rejections for it. Sometimes a very good story will get multiple rejections, but as long as you sat down after the first handful and revisited your story with a critical eye and STILL believe that it’s as good as you can get it, then that’s where the believing in your story part comes in. At that point you have to just keep sending it out, because statistically it’s a matter of time before it finds the right home.

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

I usually have to listen to music while I write and can’t have any words that I understand and it (or I will start transcribing instead of writing)–I like soundtracks, techno, and Celtic or Russian pop. I also like drinking some kind of tea; it makes me feel writerly.

In the “Egregia Cum Laude Adventure: A Sherlock Holmes Story,” you imagine Holmes as a college student with a passion for sleuthing. Do you know if this has been done before? If not, what gave you the idea?

I don’t know if it is been done before, at least not to the early age that I have Mr. Holmes doing his work. But given how popular the character is, I imagine that’s more my ignorance than the fact that it doesn’t exist. I got the idea a few years ago when I did a September stories project for some of my social media friends that wanted to play, I gave them categories (i.e., a name, and adjective, genre, and a color) and then I wrote a short story a day for the month of September based on their answers. One of the genres I was given was a mystery and I hadn’t ever written one before and was a little worried because I didn’t really read them much. So I went and got a book on How to Deduce like Sherlock Holmes, which looked at all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and broke down the deduction process he used in each and then provided similar games for the reader to test and improve their own deduction process. And as I was reading it, I found myself thinking “Man, I really wish I could come up with a detective as clever and jerk-ish as Sherlock Holmes”…then I realized I didn’t have to. 🙂

You like to play unusual instruments. Do you find that exercising your creativity in different ways helps you to be a better writer?

I don’t think it helps me be a better writer, but I think it helps keep me from being bored. And keeping a creative mind happy is just as important as being creative in your writing. The former feeds the latter, I think.

You mention Stephen King and Maggie Stiefvater, among others, as your greatest influences. What in particular do you admire most about their writing?

The way their stories surpass the genre and get to the heart of the characters in the stories. Neither of those authors is afraid of putting their characters in difficult situations and then letting the consequences of their actions take the appropriate toll. They don’t give the characters easy outs. That’s the kind of writing I aspire to, the kind that doesn’t pull its punches.

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?

Currently working on a young adult novel where the protagonist is a harpy. #FlightNovel

About Danielle Davis

Danielle Davis is a liar, a cheater of cards, and a misrememberer of song lyrics; only two of these are true. Her work has most recently appeared in Kelly Ann Jacobson’s Candlesticks and Daggers anthology, Tailfins and Sealskins: An anthology of Water Lore, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Her horror novella, No Room for Valor, is also published in serial format on Jukepop Serials. She hails from Memphis, TN by way of Northern VA. You can find out more about her work at www.literaryellymay.com.

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Julia Tagliere

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

Excerpt from Julia Tagliere’s story “His Last Human Day” 

Trapped, he crouches, contemplating the giant sludge of applesauce oozing between his toes, and tries to remember exactly when everything went wrong. Then he does remember: He no longer has toes. It’s just another mind trick he still hasn’t conquered, like remembering he has an exoskeleton now, not skin. They say karma’s the bitch, but for him, it’s the remembering.

Interview

Hi Julia! Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? How did you begin? Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

As I suspect is the case with many writers, I started writing very young and wrote a lot of early garbage, resorting to non-writing employment—in my case, nine years of teaching high school Spanish and French—for survival purposes. Actually, when I began college, I really thought I’d be an interpreter at the UN by now; funny how things work out, isn’t it? After my third consecutive maternity leave, I took up writing again to save my sanity, and started taking graduate writing classes to get better at it. Sixteen years later, I’m still working on that.

What do you read for fun?

Anything by Neil Gaiman (I read Good Omens at least once every year) and Cook’s Illustrated magazine—outstanding writing, detailed research, and a healthy dose of dark fantasy (especially the cooking magazine). I’m also doing the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge this year, which will have me reading things outside of my comfort zone this year; they may not all be “fun,” but we shall see.

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

When I’m composing, I burrow into my comfy chair, put my feet up, and work with my laptop propped on a pillow on my legs; I can sit like that for hours without moving. When I’m revising, however, I’m all business—I hunch over my desktop keyboard to work, streaming classical music to help me tune out any distractions. Both approaches are terrible for one’s back; I’m certain later in life I’ll wind up emulating Dalton Trumbo and have to write in my bathtub. Keeping track of my daily word count keeps me honest.

You have a lot of experience with writing programs, having studied at DePaul University and most recently getting your M.A. from Johns Hopkins (Congrats!). What would you say to beginning writers who are trying to decide whether or not to enter a program? Is there anything you’d wished that you’d known before applying?

Dirty little secret time: I don’t believe that, in and of themselves, writing programs make anyone a better writer (except for Ed Perlman’s Sentence Power class—that kicked my butt. Thank you, Ed). In fact, I think that’s a mistake many beginning writers make—believing that if they just complete a program they’ll magically become great writers. What writing programs do, and it’s something I feel both DePaul and Johns Hopkins do quite well, is create opportunities: opportunities, in a (largely) supportive communal setting, to study, to analyze, to reflect, to debate, to connect, to be exposed (and I mean that in dual senses, both to be exposed to other works and viewpoints and such, as well as to be exposed as a writer oneself). Recognizing those opportunities and taking advantage of them with an open mind, a willing spirit, and the tenacity to put in some really hard work—that’s what makes one a better writer. Could you accomplish this growth on your own, outside of a formal writing program? Perhaps, but it’d be far more difficult to recreate such a banquet of opportunities in isolation.

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be? Any advice for writers trying to crack the anthology market?

We’d all like to think that being published is simply a matter of being talented, but the hard truth is that getting published requires more than just being a good writer. The world is full of good writers. The ones who are published are the ones who put themselves in the right place at the right time, something you do by getting out there and meeting people. I know, we’d all much rather snuggle into our comfy chairs and pretend the world doesn’t exist, but it just doesn’t work that way. Get out there! Attend conferences, seminars, lectures, readings, become active on social media; that is how you make the connections that will get your work seen.

Your story, “His Last Human Day,” was a ton of fun. Without giving away too much of the story, I’d like to talk about it a bit. This is a tale about transformation, on a number of levels. What touched me most about it was how well you humanize a character that is a species most find abhorrent.  Was that difficult to do, or did it just sort of happen organically?

One of the things I found so difficult about reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis (and this piece is obviously an homage) was that Samsa was just so gross (I can’t watch the Jeff Goldblum version of The Fly, either). For me, personally, as a reader, the grossness got in the way of the story; I knew that, if I was going to be able to say what I wanted to say with this piece, I would have to tone down the gross-out factor quite a bit, perhaps even incorporate some humor. Once I made that decision, the actual humanization came about rather organically.

How did you come up with the idea for this story, I mean…were you just standing there in the shower, thinking dark thoughts while pondering Kafka….and…suddenly, you weren’t alone? In other words, any basis in real life, or was this just one of those fantasies that evolved out of “what if’s”?

This piece came about in two ways: First, the house we’d just moved into had a huge infestation of stink bugs; those little fuckers were everywhere. As I was showering one morning, I noticed a stink bug on the door; it was just sitting there, swinging its antennae back and forth, looking for all the world like it was actively watching me shower— that left a very disturbing impression. Then, in one of my classes later that week, we did a first-line swap: We each wrote an original first line on the chalkboard and then chose someone else’s line to start a new piece. I chose one about someone standing in a bowl of applesauce and wondering where everything went wrong, but when I began working on the assignment, using a normal-sized human protagonist just didn’t work; for my purposes, the character had to be someone (or something) very small. Of course, I thought immediately of my stinkbug stalker, but I worried about being perceived as ripping off Kafka. After much deliberation, I tackled the problem head-on by making the character an actual cockroach (a common misconception of Samsa’s character) and having the cockroach itself address Kafka’s work directly in the piece. It turned out to be one of the most fun pieces of writing I’ve done to date.


You wrote a novel, Widow Woman, in 2012. One theme of that work was forgiveness, which is also touched upon in “His Last Human Day.” Do you find that this is a recurring theme for your writing? 

Yes, it is a recurring theme. I suspect it’s because I have a hard time with cynicism. Perhaps that makes me a Pollyanna or a naïve chump, but I always want to believe the best of others, no matter how abhorrent. Enough evil exists and dark things happen every day in real life; in my fiction, I can let the more optimistic, hopeful side of my imagination take over and create those opportunities for redemption. It’s not always granted, of course—wouldn’t that be dull? But the opportunities are definitely there.

Any future projects (or anything else) you want to tell us about?

I have a few short pieces already in the pipeline, along with an upper middle-grade adventure I’ve finished and am hoping to get out in 2017. As far as new writing, I’ll be working on completing my third novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die, a fun work of magic realism for adult readers I’m excited to get back to now that I’m done with my classes; I also blog about “stuff” at justscribbling.com


About Julia Tagliere

Julia Tagliere is a freelance writer and editor and studied in the M.A. in Creative Writing program at DePaul University in Illinois. Her work has appeared in magazines such as The Writer and Hay & Forage Grower and in numerous online publications. Julia’s debut novel, Widow Woman, was published in 2012. In 2014, Open to Interpretation, the juried photography and prose series, selected Julia’s short story, “The Navigator,” for publication in Love + Lust, its fourth and final installment. Another of her recent stories, “Te Absolvo,” won Best Short Story in the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition. This December, her personal essay, “Stars I Will Find,” appears in a collection of stories about the challenges of simultaneously caring for growing children and aging parents, Here In The Middle: Stories Of Love, Loss, And Connection From The Ones Sandwiched In Between. An active blogger and past finalist in Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series Competition, Julia resides in Maryland with her family, where she recently completed her M.A. in Fiction Writing at Johns Hopkins University.

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Joel Goldberg

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

Excerpt from Joel Goldberg’s story “Anglerfish” 

A wail, unlike anything heard before on sea or land, emanated from the cargo hold; a damp, echoing shriek mixed with fear, anger, and sorrow. Pym gazed at the crewmen scattered about the living quarters. Brows raised and furrowed. They looked at one another, then looked down at the floor. Three more sounds, along with steady vibrations, pierced the floorboards. Thud, thwack, rrrip. The floorboards stretched as a phantom force slammed against them from below. A wave of jitters swirled about the room.

“Kill it! Kill them! Send the beasts to hell,” screeched the young, timorous sailor.

Interview

Sati: Hi Joel! Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? How did you begin? Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

Joel: I’m going to say it started in second grade. My teacher, Mr. Wong, convinced me to enter a science fiction story, called “Apollo 18”, into a writing contest at my school. I really impressed the moms and dads who came to our class to watch us read. I especially impressed my mom – as she tells me, at the time, she was surprised I could stand up in front of an audience and entertain people. I’m usually calm, quiet, shy, an observer, and it’s been true my whole life. At readings, I like turning the tables: the audience sits quietly while I present my thoughts.

I placed second in the writing contest behind my neighbor, Kenneth Kane. I was devastated.

You are also a journalist. Is there ever tension between these two sides of you—truth and fiction? How do you find balance between the two?

They say non-fiction is about the facts while fiction is about the truth. Right? I’m not sure I agree. To me, writing fiction is like designing a game. You want to challenge the reader because the reader will feel bored or ripped off if you don’t. At the same time, if it’s too confusing or drawn-out, they’re going to get frustrated and give up. The bottom line is: games are fake. I believe, at best, they’re simulations of life.

Journalism, which I think is a specific style of non-fiction, forces you to interact. You conduct interviews, you review published information. You dedicate yourself to observation and conveying observations with dispassion.

It’s still a juggling act, and this balance gets thrown out of whack all the time. My friends and family, even coworkers, tell me to “keep it real” or they tell me “you’re in your own head,” while other times they say “don’t be so serious.” I’m not sure how long I can keep writing non-fiction and fiction, if I want to keep my sanity.

What do you read for fun?

Sports articles, haha. I usually read fiction, but I’m very impulsive about the type of story. I don’t have a favorite genre or anything, but I like stories that are philosophical and character-driven. House of LeavesThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and The Millennium Series were all fun for me.

I’ve read a lot of biography and autobiography over the last year. Right now, I want people to tell me who the they are and what they’ve been up to. I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats and Dennis Lehane’s Sacred, and I’m enjoying both.

This is going to sound like bragging, but the stories in this book are pretty fun!

Where did you get the idea for “Anglerfish?” I looked up a picture of one, and they are terrifying! I noticed that they also have fascinating predatory and mating habits, such as bioluminescence (and you use this this in your story, of course). I can well imagine that all of this alone might have spawned a story, but how did you think to marry it to a science fiction tale with a strong historical component? Do you usually write historical fiction? It seems to come very naturally to you.

The idea came from my nightmares! I’ve never seen an anglerfish in person – they live a mile under the surface of the ocean, or something like that. But in photos, they are ugly, strange, and creepy. That got my attention, and I thought it might keep a reader’s attention, too. The name Pym is a reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which someone recommended when I told him the subject of my short story.

I learned about anglerfish in biology classes – or watching the Discovery Channel, who knows – so the science fiction aspect came naturally. The historical component was a shot in the dark. I hadn’t written or read my own piece with a historical component prior to “Anglerfish,” and I’m not sure I would classify this as historical fiction. Historical language and situations were an intentional part of the creative process, so glad you noticed and appreciated that!

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be? 

Before you submit, make sure your piece fits your editor’s and your publisher’s needs.

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

Great question. No, I don’t have any rituals that support the creative process. This is a real problem for me, and I want to develop some. However, I do participate in a weekly writing workshop, which gives me a chance to explore ideas.

You placed as a finalist in Glimmer Train‘s Very Short Fiction contest, which is quite hard to do! In fact, your short story, “14 N 3rd,” was one of over 1,000 submissions. Well done! Any advice for anyone entering contests?

Don’t do it! I think it’s a crapshoot whether a publication will accept your work, unless it’s specifically tailored to their needs. If you’re dead-set on submitting your work, Duotrope is a good resource. I searched Google to find Glimmer Train’s contest and a handful of others.

The Glimmer Train contest was a nice ego boost. When I submitted “14 N 3rd,” I didn’t think the story was complete. I was frantically submitting it to publications and sharing it with people. I hadn’t heard of Glimmer Train before I submitted the piece. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t publish “14 N 3rd.” The story wasn’t a story, yet.

Any future projects (or anything else) you want to tell us about?

I’m working on a novel, which could be a series of short stories. It’s based on experiences and environments I grew up with: Philadelphia, Jewish families, racial and class tension, unrequited love. I probably need to narrow my focus to make it work. I want it to be something other than science fiction.

I can’t believe I said, “I’m working on a novel”. It could take thirty years to complete at the rate I’m going.

About Joel Goldberg

Joel Goldberg was raised in the peculiar dimension known as the outskirts of Philadelphia, adjacent to Valley Forge National Historical Park. He currently lives in Washington, D.C., a world far more bizarre, where he works and writes. His reporting has been published in National Geographic Magazine’s “Pop Omnivore” blog and National Public Radio, and he placed as a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest.

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Jim Norman

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

Excerpt from Jim Norman’s story “The Old Photographer” 

 The photographer covered his head, shoulders, and the back of the camera with the dark cloth. The white side of the cloth faced out, to reflect light away. The black side of the cloth kept out all light except what came through the lens and created an image. The woman’s face was sharply focused on the ground glass.

“Relax and be yourself,” the photographer said, looking at her deeply and honestly sad face.

He came out from under the dark cloth. “I’m going to make a few adjustments.”

He turned a large knob on the side of the brass lens and got back under the dark cloth. His cloudy, blue eyes looked again at the image on the ground glass. Two heads were now in the frame. A young, handsome man had joined the woman in the camera.

Interview

Sati: Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?  Did you always know that you wanted to be one?

Jim: I could always write well.  All through school, I got better grades than I should have because what I said sounded better because of the writing.  I always liked writing and it came easily, but making it a career wasn’t an option.  Family pressure said I could be anything I wanted to be as long as it was a doctor or lawyer.

I see that you were previously a lawyer, which is a great background for someone who writes mysteries. What sort of law did you practice? Have you been able to incorporate any of your experience into your stories?

Law hasn’t, to this point, been part of my mysteries.  I was a commercial real estate lawyer representing companies that developed, owned or managed hotels and resorts.  What law gave me was an introduction to some genuine characters and the interest in doing research that would add dimension to my writing.

What do you read for fun?

Mostly mysteries, some non-fiction. I don’t read things similar to what I’m writing. I’d never read a Dick Francis novel or James Lee Burke novel when I’m writing dialogue in one of my stories. The characters would wind up with an English or Cajun accent.

You teach writing at the University of North Carolina. Do you have any favorite short stories that you like to teach? If so, what is it that you like about these stories? And what, in your opinion, is the best way to master the craft of short fiction?

I don’t teach from specific short stories. I start with “where do story ideas come from” and then discuss the differences among short stories, novels and screenplays. I stress the three-act format that started with Aristotle and applies to all fiction types. Students are encouraged to read short stories in the genre they intend to write and are taught how to deconstruct a story to see what the writer did. To illustrate the special challenge of the short story, I quote Abraham Lincoln, who once wrote, “I’m sorry for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” The best way to learn and improve one’s writing is to keep reading and keep writing.

You are also an award-winning writer of screenplays. How much overlap do you see between writing for film and writing short stories? In longer fiction, for example, there are screenwriting devices that work nicely, such as “set pieces” or “beats,” or dividing a novel into 3 acts, but do these devices ever translate well to short fiction?

All those devices work in all types of fiction. A story is a story. Each type of fiction has structural and format limitations. The toughest one for short stories is word length. It is much harder to have plot, character development, setting, dialogue and description where you are limited by word count. In writing fiction, it is very important to learn and deal with the limitations and requirements.

I understand that “The Old Photographer” is a tribute to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone series.  Have you written any other tales in tribute to the Twilight Zone, or have you written other stories that are a tribute to film in any way? In other words, was this a “one off,” or is this a common theme for you, since you are a screenwriter?

“The Old Photographer” is the first Twilight Zone genre story I’ve done. I’m a big fan of Serling and the series. It took a long time before a viable story came to mind. I’ve started making my notes for a second, and have an idea for a third.  A secret benefit to writing short stories is that they are a great outline for a screenplay. I plan to write both for most stories I come up with.

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be? 

Expect rejection, keep writing and enjoy the validation of acceptance of any kind.

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

All my writing begins with a one-sentence idea of the story. In the screenplay world, it’s called a logline. When I’m happy with that, I do an outline of bullet points that define the three acts. After that, a detailed outline follows. The last step is the actual writing. Doing the early work allows problems to be fixed and avoids writer’s block.

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?

I’m currently working on a sequel to my short stories featuring autistic Las Vegas detective  Chandler Dunn, a screenplay TV sitcom pilot set in 1925 Brooklyn and a first for me, a romantic comedy feature length screenplay. I don’t confine myself to one genre or one type of writing. If a story starts rattling around in my head, the only cure is to write it.

About Jim Norman

Jim Norman is a recovering lawyer who has turned to writing short stories, novels and screenplays for therapy.  His mystery and humor short stories have been published in numerous magazines and his young adult and television pilot screenplays have captured awards in many prestigious film festivals. Mystery elements are found in all his writing, which should be expected from a member of Mystery Writers of America.  During the summer, Jim teaches short story, novel and screenplay writing at the University of North Carolina Asheville College for Seniors. Winters find him in Florida with his wife and dog.