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.

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Kelly Ann Jacobson

candlesticks-and-daggers-front-coverThis interview is the first in a series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock that will appear in connection with the brand new anthology Candlesticks and Daggers.

Kelly Ann Jacobson is the editor and publisher of the anthology, and so we shall kick off the series with getting to know her a little better.

***

Sati: Hi Kelly! Looking at your bio, I’m so impressed. You are a literature professor who also finds the time to write short stories, novels, and publish anthologies? How the heck do you find the time to do all of this? Do you sleep? Please tell us you don’t sleep.

Kelly: Thank you so much, Sati! I do sleep, but I don’t do a lot of other things…like clean my house ;). Or fold down the recycled cardboard boxes, which pile up on the Answers Ill Acceptcounter and drive my husband nuts.

Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? How did you begin? Do you remember your first story?

I definitely remember my first story. I was in kindergarten, and I wrote a book about moving (we had just moved into a new house). My school published the book in their library book program, in which students chosen by their teachers could get their books bound and other students could check them out of the library like a real book. I’ve been writing ever since then.

What do you read for fun?

Ha! This falls under the category of “things I don’t do often.” I used to read constantly, and I still do, only now I read student papers and contributor stories. I teach five classes a quarter, and the school runs all year long. On some weekends, I read 300 pages of literary analysis essays!

When I do have a little time, I read pretty much any genre of fiction—for example, my favorite genre is probably classic literary fiction, but I also really enjoy young adult fantasy. A random selection of books I read this year that I loved: Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple, Atlas Shrugged by Ann Rynd, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

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?

These types of questions are hard for me to answer because I love writing and just do it naturally—it’s a part of my routine, like brushing my teeth. Give me a spare 30 minutes, and I will add a few paragraphs to whatever book I’m working on. I think that kind of process comes from just doing it for so long, and being the type of person who always has a million ideas they want to get down. The problem for me isn’t staying on track when I am writing or getting inspired, but rather just finding the time to sit down and put my thoughts to paper. I try to take at least half an hour a day to write, and little by little, my novels grow.

MagicalHow did you make the transition from writer to publisher? Do you find it hard to keep changing hats–from teacher to writer (and poet!) to editor to publisher?

Before I started doing my own projects, I volunteered as a Poetry Editor for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine and interned at a small book press, so I was already very familiar with the role of an editor by the time I started publishing my own books. I didn’t really plan on making the anthologies a reoccurring project, but once I published one, I couldn’t seem to stop. I love giving other writers the opportunity to share their work, especially a new writer who has never been published before—every time I say “that’s it!” I get a nice email from a contributor about how much the book means to them, and bam, I’m back to sending out calls for submissions.

Speaking to the question about changing hats, I think this is something that I’ve “grown up with,” in a way. In college I had three jobs in addition to a full course load at GWU, and within a single day I might go to class, go to the financial aid office, go back to class, and end up at the cupcake shop handing delicious treats to kids all night. In the meantime, I would write on the bus or on napkins at work (which is how I completed the first draft of my first novel—one little scrap at a time). I got used to multitasking.

Now I wake up, write for half an hour, go to class, edit between classes, go back to class, and come home to grade papers. Every few months I finish a book and move on to the next one. The only one that’s hard for me to “slip into” is poetry—it’s a harder genre for me to write, and I need to be in the right headspace, which is probably why I write a lot less poems than anything else. The easiest genre for me to write is young adult fantasy or science fiction.

As a literature professor, what classics do you think short story writers can most benefit from reading?BookCoverImage

I try to give my students a little bit of everything, the same way I try to read a little bit of everything (except nonfiction—I just always think But it would have been better if they’d changed that to…).

My students really connected with “Silver Water” by Amy Bloom, and a few of them cried. Other stories we read and spend a lot of time on: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (focus on plot), “Cat in the Rain” (focus on finding subtle hints in stories), and “Astronomer’s Wife” (focus on language). We also spend a lot of time on poetry, and again, I try to give them a mix of modern and classic material.

Any advice for anyone considering self-publishing?

Self-publishing is hard. I go into every anthology expecting to lose money, and that has definitely happened before and probably will again. But I don’t publish the books to make money—I publish them because they make a lot of people, myself included, really happy.

If you want to self-publish, the important things to think about are 1) who is going to edit your book and 2) how are you going to market it? It’s so easy to self-publish these days, but it’s hard to promote the book once it’s out. Book stores generally won’t carry it, so you need to personally get the book into a reader’s hands by going to book fairs, speaking on panels, buying ads…anything you can do to sell the book.

I think people don’t realize that promoting a book takes completely different skills than being a writer. In fact, completely opposite skills, in a lot of ways. As fiction writers we like to hide in our rooms and live in our made-up worlds, but to promote, you need to get out and talk to a lot of strangers.

IMG_20160617_203851If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be?

Get rejected a lot, as early as possible. That probably sounds like really depressing advice, but it worked for me! Rejection is just another part of the “writer life,” and you need to learn to brush it off quickly and get back to work if you hope to make it. Every editor has different tastes, different things they love and hate about a story—if yours doesn’t fit, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad story.

How did you get the idea for Candlesticks & Daggers?

This book actually started as an idea for a book launch party and worked backward to a book. After doing four other anthologies, each with its own book launch extravaganza, I realized it would be really cool to throw a mystery-themed launch. Mystery was a genre I hadn’t done yet, so I figured, why not! But I didn’t just want regular mystery stories—I wanted the weird, quirky stories, the ones that were completely unique and wouldn’t fit in other traditional venues. So I decided to collected mixed-genre mysteries.

 

I understand that this is your 5th anthology. What were the themes for the other anthologies? Are any of them related in any way?

Yes, I can’t believe it’s already the fifth! They are not really related in any way except that they’re all what I consider to be “new takes on old genres.” Love poems, but about inanimate objects. Science fiction, but only epistolary. Fairy tales, but written for adults.

Any future projects you want to tell us about?compressed

People have been asking me to make a romance anthology…I’m afraid of what might come into my inbox, but also a bit intrigued. Stay tuned!

***

Kelly Ann Jacobson is the author of many published books, including the novel Cairo in White and the poetry collection I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, and she edits anthologies such as Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction and Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects. She works as a professor of English and creative writing instructor. Kelly also writes young adult fantasy novels such as The Sun Dragon Series under her pen name, Annabelle Jay.