INTERVIEWS


by Aliza Greenblatt

blunk_team

Dan Blunk is an aspiring fiction writer who loves stories of all kinds, golf, the outdoors, and a nice bourbon on the backyard deck as the sun goes down behind the mountains. He lives in northern Colorado with his wife and dog.

Aliza Greenblatt: What inspired you to start telling stories? How old were you? Who are some of the authors that influenced you? Favorite books?

Dan Blunk: My family was pretty book-crazy. My mom was a librarian and so some of my favorite parts of my childhood were going to the library with my two younger brothers and reading and letting my imagination run wild. I was pretty young when I thought I wanted to be a writer, probably seven or eight. Around that time I started a ‘novel’ a time-travel story with dinosaurs and adventure and a daring male protagonist. I’d go up to my room, write a couple chapters, and come down and give them to my parents to read. They must have thought I was nuts, but they really encouraged me. I read a lot, but one book that I really connected with as a kid was a book called The Missing Persons League by Frank Bonham. It’s a dystopian story about a high school kid trying to track down his dad, who is missing. I was in fourth or fifth grade when I read it and it blew me away. I was so entranced I said to my mom how cool it would be to actually talk to the author about it. She got the publisher’s address and told me I should write him a letter. So I did, and he wrote back! It was really exciting, I was such a nerd, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. It was a formative experience in my life. We carried on a correspondence for a while, it just made me want to write more. Other authors I love are Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea Trilogy is amazing), Michael Chabon, Stephen King, so many others. I’ll read anything that interests me.

AG: You mentioned on EDF that Rig #9 was your first published story. Congratulations! What a great way to start your fiction endeavors. Can you tell me about your writing goals, both some long term and short term ones?

DB: Thanks! It was a pretty exciting thing for me. I’ve always kind of thought of myself as a writer, but only in the last two years or so have I gotten ‘serious’ about it. I started taking classes at a place called Lighthouse in Denver, it’s an outstanding community of really talented teachers and writers and going there has really energized me to actually apply myself. They have really taught me to have fun but to take responsibility for developing myself as a writer by reading a lot, critiquing the work of others, and just keeping at it, never stopping. I fell in with a group of writers and we started our own writing group (Knife Brothers!) and it’s a lot of fun. We get together every month at someone’s house and have some wine and some food and chat and share and critique each others’ latest stuff. That has been really energizing for me, it forces me to work hard because I don’t want to show up with nothing for the group to talk about! As far as goals, I would like to keep working on short stories and flash fiction, which I really love, but eventually I’d like to try writing a novel or screenplay.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

DB: For me, things start with a kind of day-dreamy ‘what if’ chain of thought. I have always had a very active imagination, and I’ll see something in real life and that will spawn a chain of questions. For example, I’ll see a guy walking out of an assisted living facility wiping tears from his face and I’ll just imagine, ‘what happened in there? Is his dad sick? How do they get along? Did they argue all the time when he was growing up?’ And it will just go on like that, I’ll have this spur-of-the-moment exploration of possibilities in my own brain. That starts way before I ever actually write anything down. I have a day job that I really enjoy and that challenges me a lot. In order to make time to write, I started getting up around 5:30 and spending 45 minutes or so. I’m not that great about doing it every day, it’s a tremendous feat of discipline and I really admire people who can stick to a regimen like that.

AG: One of my favorite parts of this story was the voice. Immediately from the opening line, the mood was set and it was clear that even though the narrator is an old hand at this business, he also has a good grasp on literature and the local history. How did you find the voice for this piece? Or did it find you?

DB: Thank you very much. This piece started with my wife wanting to go for a drive. We live in northern Colorado and there are a few little ghost towns to the east of us, and as you get away from the mountains you get into the windy, flatness of the western Great Plains. It’s a hauntingly beautiful place, with the tall grass and the wind and the open sky, but it’s incredibly inhospitable and it feels hostile and alien and it just struck me as very powerful and it just got my creativity flowing. So we went out to see one of the ghost towns and it kind of started the day in the creepy old-West way. Then we drove to a really cool hiking place with all these big rock formations and while we were out there I started seeing all these oil wells pumping. So then it was a little bit of a lightning strike moment for me, I imagined this old oil rig worker dealing with something that had happened to him that he couldn’t really explain, but I wanted him to be trustworthy and intelligent, someone who is more than just a simple roughneck because I wanted to present the nuance that I imagined when I heard him in my head. So I think the voice came from a deep connection I had with that place and it kind of flowed from there.

AG: What were some of the challenges of writing this story? What are some of your favorite parts?

DB: I would say my main challenge was making the voice of the main character ring true. The first part kind of came to me, but I had to work hard to maintain the voice and keep momentum going in the story and, hopefully, give readers a payoff in the end. My favorite parts are probably when the narrator is at his gruffest when he talks about what an idiot the Kid is, and the way the birds gather together to form the shape of the Kid, that image just bubbled up from deep in my subconscious and frankly scared the hell out of me.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

DB: I am working on a couple short stories, I am due to submit one to my writing class in a few weeks, so I’m working hard to get that into shape. I’m also working on a few flash pieces that kind of came out of a trip we took to Florida during the holidays. I haven’t submitted in a while, but I should have some things ready to submit by spring.

 

ED: This is Aliza’s last EDF Top Author interview. I want to thank her for her time and effort in providing us with these interviews and wish her well with her future writing endeavors. Beginning in March, Jessi Cole Jackson will take over these duties.

____________

Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt.

 

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Nancy Stohlman

Have you ever read something that made you feel the space of the characters, like what you’re reading isn’t about someone else—some fictional them—but a very real and present you? Nancy Stohlman’s The Vixen Scream takes you there, whether you want to go or not.

The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners. (Death Row Hugger)

Stohlman offers a you a seat on a rickety coaster ride—not one of those break-neck affairs that rushes you from start to finish and leaves you unsure of what happened, but that one ride at the carnival you’ve always been afraid of because there are things in the dark that sneak up and grab you unawares. What do you say about falling in love with a homunculous of your boyfriend? If you’re Lazarus, do you long for Jesus or the tomb? What is the “regular life” of a Jehovah’s Witness like?

I’m not saying I’m proud of how it all went down. But maybe if those collection agencies hadn’t been calling me all the time. After avoiding another 800 number last Saturday morning, I looked over at you sleeping, lips pursed, eyelids fluttering, all mussed up like a baby koala, and I thought: there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money for that. (I Pawned My Boyfriend for $85)

vixen-cover-final

The prose is hauntingly beautiful, to the point you bite your lip because you know something is coming, but you don’t know what and the anticipation is killing you and then, there it is: the vixen, ehem, just had fox babies and let them run off. Of course it’s fantastic, unbelievable, impossible, but is it really? If you read The Quickening, you’ll believe. Stohlman answers every question you’ve ever thought to yourself in the darkest night, including “what’s the cost of a broken heart?” and “what would a sculpture of my spite look like?”

There are tales that will make you laugh and then immediately look around in wonder, because it might not have been appropriate to giggle at such an experience. To wit:

One morning Mr. G woke up without his penis. It was just missing. There was no blood, no struggle. He tried to remember when he’d last seen it. Certainly he’d gone to the bathroom before bed? Yes, the unflushed toilet confirmed. (Missing: Reward)

The snickers are sure to continue as Mr. G looks for his lost appendage in the bedsheets, piles of clothes, and ultimately in the butter dish. There are moments that will make you wonder if you should stop and cry, or simply agree and keep reading. And just when you’ve gotten in the groove with the vixen and the fox, there are real fox statistics to make you think. Yes, Stohlman educates as well as entertains.

But there is an underlying something that adds a shiny brilliance to each piece. You want more, but the stories are so very complete. Of course you want to know what happened next to the magician’s assistant, but psychically, you already know. As you let out the breath you’ve been holding for a hundred-plus pages, you realize you’ve reached the end, and you want more. Find it at www.nancystohlman.com.

____________

Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Aliza Greenblatt

amybw01

Amy Sisson is a writer, book reviewer, crazy cat lady, and former librarian. Her fiction ranges from Star Trek work for Pocket Books to the short stories in her Unlikely Patron Saints series, which have appeared in Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and the Toasted Cake podcast site. She enjoys making artist trading cards, studying German and Japanese, attending Houston Ballet performances, and traveling with her husband, Paul Abell. Her story, On Not Noticing a Bear, was EDF’s top story for December

Aliza Greenblatt: I’m going to start this interview with an assumption so, correct me if I’m wrong, but if I read your blog correctly you started off as an avid reader (and still are) and picked up writing later. When did you decide to become a writer? Was there one particular story or moment for you?

Amy Sisson: In college I double-majored in English and Economics: English because I was thrilled that I could get a degree by simply reading books and then saying what I thought about them, and Economics to try and be a little more practical. In my junior year, I got it into my head that I wanted the “romantic” writer’s life—I thought I would strike forth on my own to live on the other side of the country, work odd jobs while I polished my masterpieces, and so on. (I may have been on a John Steinbeck kick at the time.) But I found out that I really didn’t have that much to say in my stories just yet.

I never gave up the idea of being a writer, but I decided to get a graduate degree in Space Studies, both so I could get a decent day job in that field and to gain some background knowledge for writing science fiction. Later I also got a library degree. None of that was my original plan, but now I can’t imagine a different path to my writing.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

AS: For me, most stories start with voice. Sometimes I know what the voice will be ahead of time, and other times I just type a first sentence and let the voice decide itself. I’ll admit that I’m not one of those writers who have fifty different ideas to work with at any given time—ideas that are big enough to become complete stories are really hard for me to develop.

The process for every story is different. A few of my stories seemed to just write themselves in a few hours, but on the other end of the spectrum, I have one story that I worked on over the course of fourteen years! The end result has very little resemblance to the story I started with, but I think it has ended up being one of my best, and I’m currently sending it out to markets.

AG: I really liked the versatility of this story. On one hand, it felt like a children’s fable but there were also deep undercurrents of adulthood worries, such as workplace unhappiness and loneliness. Was that your intent or did you have a particular audience in mind for this story?

AS: On Not Noticing a Bear is based on one of my favorite James Christensen paintings, which is literally titled Lawrence Pretended Not to Notice that a Bear Had Become Attached to His Coattail (Google for the image “lawrence notice bear” and it will come right up). It hangs over my piano and it was the most natural thing in the world to write about why that silly little man might try so hard to ignore the bear. And of course I wanted them both to have a happy ending. Oddly enough, my other Every Day Fiction story, The Lion Tamer’s Sock, is also based on a Christensen painting and it also has to do with a companion animal and with getting out of a rut.

AG: The thing that drew me into the story immediately was its voice. How did you develop it? (Or did it find you?) Was it a challenge to maintain the storytelling style within the flash fiction length?

AS: This was one of those stories that I started with a sentence and it just flowed from there. The original version was actually 1500 words, but I realized that I could take it down to flash length without losing anything important. I also think that this sort of affected writing style works best with flash fiction, because you don’t want the reader to get tired of the voice before they reach the end of the story.

AG: Can you tell us a bit about your Unlikely Patron Saints Series? Are you still adding stories to the collection?

AS: This series of stories is about little miracles, and people who discover they’re meant to protect some unlikely group of creatures or people through some small magic. The first one I wrote was about city squirrels, because I was in library school at the time and there were so many squirrels on the downtown campus that I was always petrified I would see one get hit by a car. So I made up someone to protect them. I called that one number three in the series even though it was the only one I’d written, as a way trick myself into eventually writing more of them. I’ve had four stories in the series published in different venues, a few more still unpublished, and a frame story to go around them for an eventual collection. I think I’m likely to write a few more, but I want them to come naturally instead of trying to force them so I’m in no hurry.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AS: I recently left librarianship to concentrate on writing full-time. My two main goals are to finish a young adult novel (I’m about a quarter of the way through) and to have a minimum number of short stories out looking for a home at any given time.

My favorite of my Patron Saints stories, Fella Down a Hole, is available free in the Strange Horizon archives and as a Toasted Cake podcast. Another one, Minghun, is also available free at Strange Horizons. And Waterfall, a standalone science fiction love story, is available free at Khimairal Ink.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

__________________

Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt.

 

by Aliza Greenblatt

Angela_Hui

Angela Hui is a part-time student and full-time procrastinator who occasionally writes stories. She enjoys cramming for finals, reminiscing about her prep school days, and making the inedible edible. You can read about her (and her mommy’s) culinary exploits at hungryempress.com. Angela’s story Birthday Girl was EDF’s top rated story for November.

Aliza Greenblatt: I usually like to start interviews by asking the authors a little about themselves. What made you want to start writing? Is your focus primarily on short stories? Your bio mentions you are a student, what are you currently studying?

Angela Hui: I’ve loved writing short stories since I was in preschool. It’s fun, and I love the feeling of creating an entire universe from scratch. And I prefer writing flash fiction over, say, novels or longer short stories, because I just don’t have the stamina and patience for anything too long. After a while, I start to hate anything I produce. The more I read it, the worse it gets. I usually manage to finish writing a work of flash fiction before I want to delete the whole thing.

Right now, I am triple majoring in pre-med, English, and nutrition. Just kidding, I’m a junior in high school. I don’t know what I want to study later on.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

AH: It really varies. When I wrote Birthday Girl, the process was something like this: it was around 3am on a Sunday morning, and I’d just finished binge watching five episodes of SVU. I started having one of those moments of panic that we kids tend to have every other hour, and I thought, my goodness, I’ve accomplished nothing, I’ve become so lazy and stupid, it’s like I’m not even Angela any more! It’s like I’m an impostor. And then I thought, hey, what if someone also felt like she was just impersonating herself except it were actually true? What if a little girl were kidnapped but she didn’t know it? So in a wild frenzy, I typed out my story in about 45 minutes, completely neglecting all my homework. But at least I accomplished something!

AG: I found the reader comments on this story fascinating; there seems to have been some very different takes on who the narrator was and what her situation was. Can you tell us a bit about how you created the voice for this story?

AH: Well, “Jenny” is a child and so am I, so it wasn’t too hard to create a voice for her. I was truly intrigued by all the different interpretations as they stretched so far beyond what I had intended; that’s the beauty of literature, I suppose.

AG: I recently saw an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations. This story reminded me of Miss Havisham’s character, whose heart breaks so badly she decides to freeze her life at that one particular moment. The difference here is that the narrator is the victim and doesn’t want time to hold still. So, if you could give this character the birthday present she always wanted, what would it be?

AH: If I could give her the birthday present she always wanted, it would be the one wrapped up in the old box that “Momma” never let her have. Other than that, she probably doesn’t know what she wants for her birthday because she doesn’t exactly go out much. Jenny’s pretty much a blank slate, to be honest, so she is whatever the reader wants her to be.

AG: What were some of your favorite parts about the story? What were some of the challenges in writing it?

AH: I know that my least favorite part is the ending because it felt awkward to me. I liked the very beginning, maybe the second paragraph, because I think it adds the most complexity to the kidnapper character. She’s not just an evil person who brainwashes and locks up a little girl. She’s so obviously crazy and delusional that it’s really pitiful and pathetic.

It wasn’t too challenging to write the story itself, but it was hard to work up the courage to submit it for publication. I didn’t think anyone would like it, but I’m glad some people did.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AH: I am not working on any other literary projects at the moment, but I’m taking a fiction seminar next semester, so hopefully I’ll produce something worth reading. My main project right now is my family food blog, hungryempress.com.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
__________________

Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

by Susan Tepper

 Araton-Harvey-ap1-280x186Harvey Araton is a sports reporter and columnist for The New York Times. He was nominated by The Times for a Pulitzer Prize in 1994; was named 1998 Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association; won first place in 1994 for Best News Story from the Associated Press Sports Editors; won first place in 2005 for Column Writing from the New York State Associated Press Association; and was honored in 1997 and 2007 for Column Writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. In 1986, he received the Feature Writing Award from the Associated Press Sports Editors.” [from The New York Times] He discusses his new book, Cold Type, in this conversation with Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper: You are a career journalist as well as a book author. How much do you relate to the inner life of your protagonist, Jamie, who is also a newspaper man?

Harvey Araton: I think I best relate to Jamie through his ambivalence, his general sense of uncertainty over where he belongs with regards to his work, or even whether he belongs in that world at all. While Jamie often feels like an outsider in his own family of newspapermen, I struggled with the fear of being trapped within my own family’s lack of upward mobility and have had to fight the notion that I was somehow fooling people along the way to a four-decade career in journalism. Perhaps to some extent many of us deal with such doubts, especially with work that is publicly judged.

ST: That’s for sure. Anything we put out there in the public domain is subject to intense scrutiny, and we often take that scrutiny into ourselves very personally.

HA: In Jamie we have a character who seems to resent the people around him who walk and talk with a self-assurance he can’t muster or relate to. He correctly assesses and understands that audacity typically wins out in the sensational world of tabloid journalism, but he prefers a more nuanced approach, more order and predictability than the world in which he works.

ST: His struggle with order and predictability extends beyond the newspaper world, too, in this novel, as he is in the midst of a marital breakup when the book begins.

HA: Yes, life is spiraling out of Jamie’s control and without much direction from him. His wife had dictated a move to a distant suburb and greeted him at the door of their new home by announcing an unplanned (at least by Jamie) pregnancy that immediately put him under enormous pressure to advance and earn more money at his job. While he ultimately succeeds, he inadvertently creates schisms not only with his wife but also with his father, leaving him in precarious personal and financial positions.

At the outset of a strike at the newspaper, the heart of the story’s conflict is set in motion as the divergent interests of Jamie and his father create a much-too-public and violent confrontation between them. And one that is exploited by several people for various self-interests.

ST: Do you think it took a great deal of bravery on Jamie’s part to cross the picket line alone?

HA: From my own singular experience of crossing a picket line (for one day) during the Daily News strike of 1990-91, there can be a certain sense of bravery, however misguided the act is in the first place. Sort of facing the music and your fellow strikers, as opposed to sneaking in a side door, as one of my sports colleagues did that same day. Jamie’s decision is more tortured, based on the generational differences with his father and resulting acrimony. Part of his decision to cross his father’s picket line is to confront him, finally demand the attention he felt lacking in his life and incapable of otherwise earning. But while Jamie crosses alone, an act that becomes a pivotal part of the story, he does so with the assurance that Patrick Blaine, the paper’s esteemed columnist and someone he greatly admires, is already in the building. It provides for Jamie a sense of comfort. But that is obliterated once he enters the newsroom and discovers what is really going on.

Jamie and his father become victims of their own industry’s insatiable appetite for news however it can get it. Finding a path to family resolution for Jamie—and especially his desperate need to maintain a relationship with his two-year-old son, the one joy of his life—will not be easy.

coldtype

ST: Cold Type (your title) is a newspaper term that a lot of people may not be familiar with, can you explain it to us?

HA: Hot Type was the primary part of the printing process back in the dark ages of publishing, lasting—depending on where you were—into the late 1970s. The process actually involved injecting molten type mental into a mold that would ultimately be fitted to become a page. It was painstaking and even potentially dangerous work that created a composing room that was a cacophonous and crazy, certainly by today’s technological advances, the kind of place Morris Kramer—Jamie’s father and longtime printers union leader—would naturally romanticize roman like an old war veteran. He brags to his indifferent son about the days when the paper couldn’t be put out without the proud tradesmen, even if reporters got the bylines, the glory and the starring roles in Hollywood movies. When these old composing rooms were finally replaced by the room-cooled hum of the computer age, the new age of printing became known as Cold Type. The decision to use it as the book’s title reflects not only the evolution of the industry but also the chilled relationship between generations or, in the case of my narrative, father and son.

ST: I have always been enamored of journalism, and journalists. There is a kind of glamorous noir quality to the concept of ‘the newsroom’. Do you think with Jamie there is more than meets the (surface) eye? Is he perhaps out to carve his place in history, consciously or otherwise?

HA: I agree that the newsroom, be it for print, electronic or digital, has, for many, been a very seductive workplace. Hence, the glut of films and television shows across the decades, from His Girl Friday to Mary Tyler Moore to HBO’s latest iteration, The Newsroom. After almost four decades at four very different newspapers, let me just say that the reality, for most, is that the newsroom is far more about stress and toil than it is about glamor. But, yes, there is no denying that the untidiness of it all, the daily racing against the clock, has been an attraction for me, as well as an affliction and a way of life I worry will be difficult to replace when I am done with my daily journalism career in the not-too-distant future. Jamie, conversely, was never consciously drawn to the newsroom; for him it was going there as a matter of survival, a chance to do something, anything, to earn a living. He resented the family help he needed to get there, the sacrifice of having to work in the shadow of his father, a printer but also a respected union strongman, and his cousin, always the cool kid and the star Jamie never imagined he could be. Most of us spend a good deal of our working lives trying to find or sustain that proper balance between personal and professional. But the tangled events that create the arc of the story lead Jamie to the threshold of media celebrity and the existential dilemma of having to choose between that and his young son, who provided the inspiration that drove him to professional triumph in the first place. Should he let go of the rope after he’s finally climbed to what feels like the top?
ST: He should not let go of the rope.

_______________________

Susan-Tepper200w

Susan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2014, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com

 

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of Susan’s UNCOV/rd series. Thank you, Susan, for an entertaining and educational series. Hopefully, she’ll be back in 2015 tackling a new project.

Next Page »