We’re stoked to interview Noah Stainbrook, who just released Brimstone on the Bay. Mega thanks to Noah for interviewing with us!
With the release of your debut novel, Brimstone on the Bay, how have things been going?
Things with the release of Brimstone on the Bay went very smoothly, but I'm having a tougher time with marketing then I expected to be honest.
I'm always curious about what inspired the idea behind a novel. What's the story behind Brimstone on the Bay?
Well, it seems like at least once a year, articles titled with headlines like "Yellowstone hit by THREE THOUSAND earthquakes," or "THIS supervolcano could cause an extinction." They're frankly worried about something that is almost guaranteed not to happen in their lifetimes. Brimstone on the Bay is the story of a much more plausible scenario, and one that could kill hundreds of thousands of people.
What kind of research do you do for a project? How far down the rabbit hole do you go with it?
To be honest, I didn't end up doing much research, at least not as a result of deciding to write. Geology in general, and volcanology in specific has been something I've been reading about since I was a little boy. The phenomenon of volcanic eruptions is fascinating to me, and I want to share the science and imagery behind it with people.
How do you balance giving historical/scientific context with moving the story forward?
As far as scientific context goes, while volcanology is not a definite science, there's a consistent enough chain of events leading up to and through a volcanic eruption, so naturally I structured the story behind that, but at the same time, I also understand that the average person wouldn't understand some of the events I've described, so I felt the need to briefly educate on the science at the start of relevant chapters.
In a recent review of your book, one reader said, “I enjoyed the different aspects of the different characters used. Their prospects makes the book feel like you are living the situation with them.” How do you go about crafting realistic and relatable characters? What are your must-haves?
To be honest, I didn't spend too much time on character development. The concept of this book was more centered around the science behind volcanic activity. It was meant as a realistic scientific simulation. The main purpose of the characters was simply to have a viewing glass from different points of view. That having been said, I just tried to imagine myself in different situations with different outlooks on life, then apply it to the characters I did use in the book.
What's your schedule when you're writing? Do you have any advice for fellow writers in keeping a schedule?
Schedule? I would just write here and there whenever time made itself available! I actually wrote most of the book on my cellphone!
It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, anybody an write. I wrote tons of stuff in school that I didn't much care about. BUT, to really write something good, at least as far as fiction is concerned, the readers can tell when the writer is passionate about their chosen topic.
How do you think e-books have changed the present or future of reading? Writing?
Ebooks have opened up a lot of doors for authors that might not have otherwise attempted to publish! I was certainly in that situations. Something negative though that I do feel the need to mention, the market is quickly becoming oversaturated with people that are only writing to try and make money, and I feel that has a negative impact on people who are legitimately into writing
Where are you headed next?
As I mentioned previously, I didn't spend very much time on character development. My next project follows two main characters. One is a scam artists in West Africa, and another is a family member of a victim that goes looking for him. I think we've all gotten those hilarious emails in our spam folders. There's just as much explosive science and action in this, but I put a substantially larger amount of time into the development of the characters.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
In closing, I'd just like readers to give me and my work a chance! I put really alot of effort into this, and I only improve as a keep working on my hobbies.
Pick up your copy of Brimstone on the Bay here.
Find Noah Stainbrook on Facebook!
Photo Credit: Noah Stainbrook
Sheena Carroll is a talented writer, reader, and musician. She is also a kind, funny person. Her chapbook, Miss Macross Vs Batman is currently available to buy (link at the bottom of this article). She runs the Hell's Lid reading series in Pittsburgh. Who knows what a nice person like her is doing on a site like this.
Starting this off with the hardest hitting question. What's your favorite mech anime?
I talk a helluvalot about Gundam and Macross on a regular basis, but my favorite mech anime is Gunbuster. It’s a beautiful 1980s sports anime parody that turns into a generations-spanning cry-fest. It was also the directorial debut of Hideki Anno, who’s better known for Neon Genesis Evangelion!
You write about some pretty heavy topics. Do you ever have anxiety about releasing anything?
Constantly. There are still so many pieces of mine that I have yet to share publicly because I worry about how people will react to them.
What was your first experience reading in front of an audience like?
In college, my classmates and I formed a slam poetry club. Before that, I’d never really experienced spoken word and was totally unprepared for our first reading. I was initially sick from anxiety, but once I got on stage something just clicked. Making the audience laugh with my poetry was super validating because it meant that they were both listening to and enjoying it, which is why I insert so much (albeit dark) humor in my work today.
I was really psyched to see you mention Joseph Campbell in your article for Totto Journal. Has studying the structure of storytelling affected the way you approach your own writing?
It has, at least when it comes to my fiction. Campbell was my introduction to folklore studies and was an amazing discovery. It de-mystified the much of storytelling process for me and helped me critically examine others’ works much better.
How has releasing your debut chapbook, Miss Macross Vs. Batman affected you as a writer?
It has been a positive experience in all aspects! It emboldened me to write more because it proved that I could finish a chapbook. If I can finish a chapbook, I can finish a full-length manuscript, right? Well, that’s what I’m hoping.
Wait, wait, wait. Did you start Neon Genesis Evangelion with the Rebuild series? How did that go? (I love the original show and the End of Evangelion movie but haven't seen Rebuild.)
I watched the original Evangelion during its run on Adult Swim a little over a decade ago. I was in 8th or 9th grade and immediately connected with Rei because she was quiet, awkward, and kind of an asshole. (Now I connect much more with Misato.) The Rebuild series has been an interesting reinterpretation, but it’s so off the wall that I don’t even know if I like it or not.
What is the origin of Miss Macross? I also see it stylized as M I S S M A C R O S S. The only thing I found within ten seconds of Googling was a vaporwave track. So, there's a part two to this question and that is: Are you a fan of vaporwave?
miss macross is a reference to the anime Super Dimension Fortress Macross (a.k.a. Robotech). Early in the series, a whole city of people ends up stuck on the space ship Macross due to some science that doesn’t make any sense. To keep a semblance of their humanity while floating through space fighting a race of warrior giants, they decide the most human thing they can do is hold a Miss Macross Beauty Pageant, complete with a swimsuit competition.
I love vaporwave but I’m more of a fan of future funk and lo-fi hip-hop. The song you’re talking about is by MACROSS 82-99, who is one of my favorite artists.
My name is stylized as M I S S M A C R O S S on Facebook because I was allowed to do that, but not to make the page name all lower-case, which is my preferred way of styling it.
In your article, "So You Want to Publish a Chapbook?" you mention reading a metric fuckton of books every year. I've been reading Finnegans Wake for about eight months and am unable to make any headway between that and my own writing. How do you manage?
Honestly, it’d probably take me just as long to read Finnegan’s Wake. I often spend a few months reading one longer, denser book while simultaneously reading multiple other, “lighter” books. When I’m struggling through a book, it makes me not want to read anything else for months. By reading graphic novels or thin poetry collections at the same time as a massive novel or biography, I avoid this.
You documented your NaNoWriMo struggles on your site. You wrote 32,141 words in that time. Do you think that compressing a creative experience into such a short time span works in the benefit of the work? Do you think such pressure is healthy for an artist?
I love the challenge of NaNoWriMo, though I’m not sure if it’s the healthiest thing I’ve done to myself. I tend to put too much pressure on myself – my output will be ridiculously high for a month, but then I’ll start cracking. I had a total breakdown this winter and I’m still recovering from it, with intermittent periods of neglecting everything in my life to write a ton of shit that I’ll hopefully edit when I feel better. I don’t know why I put so much pressure on myself and I don’t think that any artist should. Most significantly, I don’t think it either improves or degrades the quality of my writing in any way.
How did Hell's Lid get started and how has it grown?
Last summer, I was approached by a lovely local singer-songwriter, Sadie’s Song, about doing a reading series. She was booking events for Full Pint Wild Side Pub and they expressed interest in hosting regular literary events. I jumped at the opportunity because at the time I was organizing several readings, all at different places, and it was starting to overwhelm me. Having a consistent date and location for readings has been a huge relief, though I still occasionally book shows elsewhere. Full Pint has become a hot spot for literary events, including the amazing Steel City Slam run by the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective (which has been running for years and recently moved to Full Pint from their previous home in East Liberty).
The Hell’s Lid Reading Series is an interesting project. I had no idea what to expect and I wasn’t sure if it would last longer than a couple months. I'm pleasantly surprised that it's grown as popular as it has; many readers have told me they enjoyed it because it gave them a chance to hear the work of other local artists whose social/creative circles had never previously overlapped with theirs. I like that a lot, and I think there are still many circles of writers that I have yet to reach in Pittsburgh. I’d like the chance to bring us all together, even if it’s just for two hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Thank you so much, Sheena, for your awesome answers! Readers, please check out her links and buy all of her stuff.
The Miss Macross website:
Buy Miss Macross Vs Batman from CWP Collective Press:
Miss Macross on Twitter:
Miss Macross on Facebook:
Huge thanks to Dani Pasquini for her awesome interview! If you want a writer who'll take you through heartbreak, joy, and everything in between look no further. Check out her work!
When you first started writing The Gold Feather, did you initially know you wanted to write a series or did it emerge as you went?
Oh my goodness, it completely emerged as I went along. I had this simple little story in my mind when I started writing but then it just grew. Each character took shape in my mind so that they were living and breathing inside of me. I had to keep the story going for them. Even though the stories are told through the eyes of Lily, each character plays a distinct role in her rebirth.
Reviewers praise your work for how it "starts and ends with heartbreak, but goes through every other emotion on the spectrum" and "melds love, friendship and tragedy." To you, what's an important thing about writing emotionally-charged stories?
When I write emotionally charged scenes, I am drawing from my own feelings. Memories of heartache and joy, sadness and love. I have to draw from those experiences to give my words texture and meaning. People don’t want to read a flat story. They want to feel that love that the character is feeling. They want to feel their sadness and their hopes. It is through emotions that we connect. So, at the end of the day, I’m just trying to connect my emotions to yours. But then it gets tricky because let’s say you as the reader have never experienced heartbreak, then the connection has to occur on a different level and with a different emotion. So, incorporating as many human conditions into my work will strike a chord at least once. Well, hopefully.
Readers are also saying they "felt like [they] were a part of the story" and "feel at home in the pages." What helps you put readers "there?"
This is certainly not something that I do intentionally. I am writing the stories as if I were walking in the characters shoes. I am going through their motions and responding in a way that I would respond if I were them. I believe that by pulling the readers to interpret my words through my eyes helps pull them into the characters as I have been.
On your Goodreads page you say that your stories are inspired by some of your own experiences. Do you have a process for translating your experience into your work? Do you have any advice for those wanting to do the same?
When I was a child, I would have vivid dreams of flying. Floating off of my mattress, hovering in the kitchen and then out the door. Up into the sky. Feeling the wind and the cold on my little body. Those feelings have stayed with me to this day and I drew from those memories to write the first chapter of The Gold Feather. The descriptions and the feelings that the character feels are all drawn from those memories.
I think that we all do our best work when we pull from experiences that we have had, filtering emotions and sensations through our own minds eye. So, when one of my characters finds themselves in an emotionally charged moment, I dig into my vault of difficult experiences and pour those feelings onto the page. I am no expert in this, but what has helped me in my writing is to use what I know and what I have felt in my own skin to give my characters those same feelings. So, my advice would be to write what you know. You need to filter everything through your own past experiences to turn it into something that has texture.
Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I'm picking up on messages of rebirth and breaking free in your work. When you write, do you have a theme in mind as you begin or does it emerge as you go?
You are absolutely correct in interpreting the theme. It is heavy on breaking free and rebirth. When it comes to the theme I think that it’s been a little bit of both. The spark for the theme was certainly there when I started but then it grew as the story progressed. It’s almost as if the characters are telling me the story and I’m just responsible for documenting it.
On your site's Inspiration page and on your Instagram, you've got a lot of motivational quotes that make me feel like I could be a badass and take on the world. Would you like to share with readers any of your absolute favorites?
I really don’t have a favorite quote because they’re all my favorite quotes. All I am trying to do is convey acceptance, support and encouragement. Believe in yourself, support others even when they are different or have different beliefs than you do and live every day in a way that leads you to feel something new. Many of the quotes that I post have done just that for me.
Is there anything you'd like readers to know?
I love to laugh. Laughter has pulled me out of some very dark days. Inappropriate laughter and cursing are some of my favorite things. Without those two things I would be in a heap of shit.
Follow Dani on Instagram and Facebook!
Check out her blog too!!
Buy her books here!
Photo Credits: Dani Pasquini
Chelsea Margaret Bodnar is made of blood, meat, and bones — the usual suspects. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: The Bennington Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Freezeray, Leopardskin & Limes, Menacing Hedge, and NANO Fiction, among others.
Where did the title, Basement Gemini come from?
Aww, you’re going to ruin my mystique here. So, I place approximately zero stock in the zodiac, horoscopes, and the like—they can be fun, though. Anyways, I read an article (or more likely, a Facebook post) about how a huge number of serial killers were geminis, and it kind of stuck with me. Duality, doubling, and the concept of the uncanny is all pretty omnipresent in horror. And, well, basements are creepy, especially in my parents’ house growing up. Black mold and low ceilings, man. Not to mention that basements are underground and hidden. Plus, it’s a better title than, like, Secret Doppelganger or something. Hidden Double. You get where I’m going.
What led you to Hyacinth Girl Press?
Their books are beautiful, the people are lovely, and I haven’t read a thing from them that I didn’t like. I think my personal favorite might be Like Ash in the Air After Something Has Burned, which is themed around saints and gender, or else Vast Necrohol, which is ostensibly orc poetry, which is exactly as cool as it sounds.
Was it a conscious decision to blend two interests like poetry and the horror genre? Or was that just a topic that came naturally to you?
I think that horror is just easy for me—it has great imagery, weird metaphors, and visceral themes. What people are afraid of says a lot about them, and what’s marketed to scare people says a lot about social climate. If a major movie studio stakes money on the idea that a movie is going to successfully frighten people, the horror element’s got to be culturally relevant somehow. So basically, what’s sold to us as scary? A lot of the times, it’s women, mental illness, and the inevitability of death. And in the immortal words of Hollaback Girl, this my shit.
Jaws IV is one of the most notorious sequels ever made. What convinced you to write a poem about that of all Jaws films? (I mean, it's one of my guilty pleasures, but had to ask.)
Because I love it! Something about the hokey romantic subplot, old lady protagonist, and the roaring shark just resonates with me. I think the first line I wrote was “Brodys! Brodys in banana boats and floaties,” and I laughed at my own joke for way too long. The funniest Jaws IV-specific bit, though, has to be “she doesn’t need a bigger boat / she’s got a new man—Hoagie. / she’s Ellen fucking Brody, bitch / she’s Ellen fucking Brody.” Idk, sometimes you have to make your own comedy, I guess? Plus, Michael Caine’s character is named Hoagie. What’s not to love?
You've mentioned in another interview that you work on your poems on the bus. Are the other passengers ever distracting to you or are you able to hone in? Have you ever missed your stop due to being in the zone?
Other passengers are always distracting. I spend a lot of time on the bus and the train, so I’ve seen and heard some weird stuff. I’ve seen an alarming number of old people reading large print erotic fiction on their tablets. Most of the time, I’ve got headphones on & I’m either listening to music or pretending to listen to music. When I’m doing poetry stuff on the bus, it’s usually editing, which I spend an obscene amount of time doing.
Do you ever listen to music when you write?
No! I couldn’t. I’m a relatively decent multitasker, but I have issues with auditory stuff. If I hear something, I listen. I can’t even do white noise generators.
As an atheist with an interest in supernatural fiction, are you able to be frightened by anything of that nature?
Well, even though I’m a pretty adamant skeptic, the world would be exponentially cooler with ghosts in it, so I’m holding out hope that I’m wrong. As for being afraid of the supernatural, I’ve been terribly desensitized to all of that, but if the storytelling is compelling and immersive enough, I could probably be convinced to feel a little bit of fear. I’m not ruling anything out. When I was a kid, my primary fear was bigfoot, though, and a similar South American cryptid, the mapinguary, which is allegedly a giant carnivorous sloth. I saw it on the discovery channel or something and it scared the hell out of me.
What was your worst experience at a reading?
Cop-out answer—my worst experience at a reading was not being able to attend a reading. When I was in high school, I won the poetry category of the Ralph Munn Creative Writing contest, which is sponsored by the Carnegie Library for student writers. I made the questionable life decision to follow my high school boyfriend to WVU my first year of college, and a mandatory orientation was scheduled on the same date as the reading and award presentation for the contest. I ended up sitting in the basketball stadium in Morgantown crying to Country Roads instead of reading my poem, which was about feeling sad/underwhelmed at the homecoming dance. It was all painfully metaphorical.
Since you have many untitled poems, is it hard for you to identify them in your head? Are they, "The one about the ___"? Or do you identify them with a line from within the text?
I usually identify them with a line. I just really suck at titling. It feels… grandiose or something? Even though it’s totally not.
How do you organize your chapbooks? Do you see them as more of a concept album or a greatest hits collection in terms of organization?
Concept albums, for sure. I go through thematic phases that are pretty distinctive, and usually the form I write in is also unique to the theme. I have way too many documents on my computer with different versions of chapbooks I’ve worked on, though. Sometimes I open them & there are poems I don’t remember writing at all.
[Obvious question incoming.] What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a bunch of poetry about interpersonal disappointment, loneliness, and dating apps. It was a chapbook, but it’s somewhere around forty pages now… These poems address my issue with titling by using the icebreaker prompts on OkCupid as titles (e.g. “One thing you should know about me,” “On Friday night, you’ll find me”). I’m also fine-tuning a poem I wrote for the event Free Fucking Poems About Fucking, which is on March 23rd at the Glitterbox Theater. It’s going to be exactly what it sounds like it is.
Thanks a ton to Chelsea for this interview! Please check her out at the following links and buy everything she has available for purchase.
Buy Basement Gemini from Hyacinth Girl Press:
Rhino Poetry review of Basement Gemini:
"lonely deadgirl seeks unkillable love interest" published over at Freezeray Poetry:
"Jaws IV: Thre Revenge, Sonnet II" at Barrelhouse Mag:
Duncan's a cool dude. I've wanted to interview him for a while but I didn't want to exclusively interview horror authors. The truth is, the horror community is the coolest I've ever known. Another anxiety that isn't discussed enough is that of asking an author for an interview. It's kind of like asking a girl out, but "professional." Anyhow, this interview was worth the wait. Really happy with this one. If you don't know who Duncan Ralston is yet, then you fucking should.
What gave you the idea to write about a sex offender colony?
Ooh! A hardball question, right off the bat. Okay, I'll bite.
The idea of a regular guy going undercover in an encampment of sex offenders to take revenge on the man who abused his child was something that clicked with me right away. I'm not a big fan of real-life vigilantism in general (despite my love of the Batman character), but I'm fascinated with themes of obsession and revenge.
I think the initial concept must have come about while re-reading Stephen King's Dolan's Cadillac from Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 2012. It may have been around the same time I watched season three of Dexter, where the eponymous serial killer of evil men says of a pedophile, "In the land of predators, a lion never fears the jackal." And I'd seen a photo of the "We are not monsters" graffiti under the Tuttle Causeway in Miami during the Bookville era around the same time and it intrigued me enough to do some research. All of this came together in a eureka moment and my novella Where the Monsters Live was born.
I'd written a decent draft by the time I saw Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin (his predecessor to Green Room) and that changed everything for me. It's a damn fine revenge thriller, one of the best in my opinion. It's just come out on audiobook and I'm tinkering with adapting this sucker into a screenplay. It might be a hard sell but I think it would be worth it.
Has offering a free e-book (or six) with a subscription to your website worked out well for you? Have you noticed a spike in traffic or anything?
I have noticed a fair amount of new subscribers--and many daily downloads on Amazon--but it's difficult to tell how that translates to people actually reading my other books. How much do people value free ebooks? Do they just amass them in an endlessly growing collection, hoping they'll be able to read them all before they die?
Out of the blue about two months ago I saw a huge spike in downloads for Where the Monsters Live on Amazon. Almost a thousand in a day, and I have no idea what caused it. So I'm hoping a handful of these folks actually read it, and even feel the urge to review it--whether they love it or hate it--and maybe dive into one of my longer books like Salvage or The Method.
I love some of your book covers (particularly Video Nasties). How much say do you like to have in the designs for your covers.
It depends on if I've got any ideas for the cover initially. I love working with a great artist like Peter Frain (who did the covers for my horror collection, Video Nasties, and my crime thriller Dickens adaptation, Ebenezer), as he seems to have an endless supply of ideas and has created some visually stunning covers for other writers (including the "Dark Minds Novella" series from authors such as Rich Hawkins, Laura Mauro and Chad A. Clark). When I don't have an idea, working with someone you don't know or haven't worked with in the past can be more difficult. It's a lot of direction and "does this look right?" and "can we tweak this?"
My concept for the cover of my first novel, Salvage, worked out pretty well from the get-go. It was the first cover I'd gotten done professionally (via Booktrope, the original publisher), and it was interesting to see the image I'd imagined as envisioned by someone else. With Video Nasties my idea was to do an old VHS cassette cover. Peter offered a ton of different concepts and images and but I think it was pretty quickly we decided to go the cover-within-a-cover route, since the title story is about a horror videotape that's haunted by its director.
What is your proudest moment as a writer?
I've recently placed in a handful of prestigious screenwriting contests, which was nice. I was also very pleased--initially--to get a book contract from Kindle Press via the now-defunct Kindle Scout contest. And having my first foray into extreme horror published by UK writer/director Matt Shaw was pretty great too!
You've written short stories, novellas, novels, and screenplays. Do you have a favorite?
I like aspects of all three, and I like being able to hop back and forth between them. (I think it was Mickey Knox who said "In this day and age a man has to have a little bit of variety.") I like short stories because they can be much easier to write and they pack a punch in a small amount of time. I like writing novels because you can dive much deeper into character and theme. And writing screenplays is something I've done since my teens--I'd just love to see something with my name on it on the big or small screen someday.
On that note, is there a different approach you take with the different lengths/formats you write in?
With short stories I tend to start with the ending in mind. If I know the that, I can tailor the opening paragraph to encapsulate the story, in a way, and work backwards.
With novels, I tend to underwrite the first draft, overwrite the second draft (deepening characters, adding details in the setting, etc), then refine it in subsequent drafts. Woom was a one-draft book, and it's one of my most well received. The novel I've just finished has taken me two years on and off, with multiple drafts and early attempts at getting the first chapter just right.
With screenplays I've started using a seven-act structure that's helped immensely. I found the classic three-act structure to be too restrictive. At the end of each act there's a big moment that changes the direction of the story, just like in television. I find this method helps with plotting out the story as a whole.
What was it like being a "guest author" for the book, The Devil's Guests? That seems like an interesting process.
My story was a bonus short. I was glad to be a part of it but it wasn't involved in the overarching narrative. It's now available in my collection Video Nasties.
I got a lotta flack growing up for being into horror. Does your family have any issue with you writing horror stories?
My family is very supportive. Horror isn't their preferred genre but they read my stuff, even the books they probably shouldn't. But I also write thrillers and crime, which they do read regularly.
You were included in Bah! Humbug! An anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. What's your favorite Christmas horror movie?
Scrooged. I know it's not technically horror but it has horror elements and I feel like most holiday-themed horror movies are shit. I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to movies.
Do you ever have ideas that are too cinematic for a written story or too literary for a screenplay?
I like to think all of my stories are pretty visual, but there are definitely stories that lend themselves more readily to either screenplays (or series) than to prose. I used to have a difficult time deciding which a story should be but now they're pretty clearly delineated in my mind. Although I have adapted my three of my last four books into screenplays, and am currently working on the fourth.
I see your novella, How to Kill a Celebrity has gotten high praise from the likes of George Orwell, L. Ron Hubbard, and Rod Serling. Would you be intimidated or afraid to have any of your idols read your work?
A handful of well-respected writers in the genre whose work I have much admiration for have read one or two of my books. I was very happy to hear it, and especially that they enjoyed them.
You're the second Ginger Nut of Horror I've interviewed. Can you explain that group for the uninitiated?
Ginger Nuts of Horror is an excellent site for horror news and reviews. Jim McLeod has built up a great community of reviewers over time and has been making a bit of a name for himself in the industry lately. I haven't had much time to review for them lately, and I don't feel like I was much of a reviewer anyhow, not with folks like George Daniel Lea, Tony Jones and George Ilett Anderson to contend with.
Is there anything too disturbing that you've encountered and had to shelve or refused to write about?
The places I fear to tread are the places I most want to take the reader.
If you require evidence, read my stories "Cuttings," "Baby Teeth" or Woom.
[Obvious closer question] What's next for Duncan Ralston!?
I'm sending out queries for my latest novel to agents. While I await the inevitable multi-million-dollar, six-book contract with movie rights and points on the back end, I will be writing a new horror novel, and working on the screenplays adaptations of Where the Monsters Live and The Method.
Some links to find Duncan Ralston at:
His official website (with free books):
How do your poems develop? Could you walk us through the stages?
All of my poems are an instant reaction to something I’m feeling at the moment. I could be anywhere and just feel something so intense that I will need to grab my phone and write something in my "notes" to get it out of my chest. It’s as simple as that, I don’t plan something for days and think about an idea for hours or whatever, I just write what I feel at a specific moment. It’s a very smooth writing process.
Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing poems?
I actually began writing poems at a very young age, I’ve always loved that. But at that time, poetry for me was just an imaginative script, it was just creative. I saw poetry and writing in general as something fun to do, as any other hobby. Today I write about reality, about life, it’s not fantasy anymore. I don’t write for fun now I write as a need. Poetry for me now is a helping tool, and, I realized, something that could help me share my vision, my thoughts, my conceptions about life with the rest of the world, as well as all the things I couldn’t say.
Which poets/poems influence you?
Believe it or not, I’m not a big poem reader. I love writing, but reading poems is not something I do a lot. I just want to express myself, get things out of my chest, but reading others is not my cup of tea. Occasionally I do, because i like myself some good poems. Since I created my Instagram account I started reading a little bit from time to time to give feedback to my mutuals. So I can’t really give you names of poets I could say influence me. I really like Guy de Maupassant though.
Your poems on Instagram are introduced by beautiful pieces of companion art. Do you write around the image or does it come after? Or how do you craft an image to accompany your poetry?
The images come after! They often could not even have a link with the poem.
You must be wondering why I do that then, let me explain!
On this account I post poems which are very personal to me, it’s my little space, my little world, so I felt like the whole feed/aesthetic of it should also give an insight of my world and feel personal, thus why I chose this particular one because these are my favorite colours and anything related to Greek and Roman art/architecture/sculptures etc are something I’ve always been very interested in from a very young age. It’s just about creating a certain atmosphere!
From your poem “Slice your heart” the last lines, “Oh queen of hollow / swallow back your words / slice your heart back in / fill it up with black ink / until it runs outta your eyes,” really stuck with me. Are there any lines of poems you’ve come across that you carry with you?
It makes me happy a line from my poem really made you stop and think for a few seconds. Thank you! I have this one line that is from a song, actually, but I consider songs as a form of poems too so here you go: " I don’t mind falling / If it means I get to fly again" from " I Don’t Mind" by Zayn. Really stuck with me !
With titles like “Honey drops, “Slice your heart,” and “Less than that,” what role do you feel title should play in a poem? Any advice you have for fellow writers on titling?
Title is one of the most important thing for me when it comes to writing! First of all, this is what potential readers are going to see first and what will make them want to read or not your poem. I don’t want to make a living off of my poems so I don’t really think from that point of view, but for someone who wants to, they should keep this in mind.
Since title is what someone reads first, it will also influence the way they will understand your poem and the vibe/dimension they will give and attach to it.
Titling is what I have the most fun doing though!
If you have trouble titling your work here are some tips: it should sum up the emotion you felt while writing it, or the most important word from your poem, or something that sums up the whole poem, or just something that you feel is important to put forward. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to really have a reason honestly, just chose what you’re feeling!
Faulkner is often credited for saying to “kill your darlings” while revising. Do you find this to be valid advice?
If you write for others, it is, if you write for yourself, then the answer from my point of view is: no!
What’s something you wish readers knew about the poetry form?
I just wish they knew what they are reading is only the tip of an iceberg, poetry is not like writing a book, it’s not pages and pages of words, each poem has its own essence, its own story. The poetry form is the clearest form that enables to see through someone’s soul but also the most confusing, it’s very rare a reader clearly understands what the poet meant and felt.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d just want to encourage them to write, or just create! Any kind of creation, may it be painting, sculpting, or even music, anything!
Huge thanks to Colin Webster for interviewing with us! Colin has written two novels so far: The Mayakovski Assignment and The Solutude Tree and a short story titled "Bad Timing." Hope you guys enjoy this interview as much as I do!
How much research do you do to prepare your writing? Are there any sources/methods that you'd recommend for fellow writers?
I only really do enough research to allow me to create the fictional world in which the story is set. I am not aiming to write a text book but provide just enough detail to paint what I hope is a realistic image of the fictional world in the reader’s mind. For me the research creates a vivid image in my own mind which I then try and create in the book. I use all different sources for my research including books, magazines, TV, anything that is relevant and feeds my imagination. The internet of course is a source of knowledge on everything!
Your work is rich in history and detail, and your books are praised by readers for being page-turners. How do you balance giving us the details with moving the story along?
It can be difficult to balance historical detail and keeping the story moving along at the right pace. I try and aim to create enough of an image in the reader’s mind to convince them they are ‘there’ in that fictional world and hopefully then the reader will ‘see’ the characters and story played out in that world as if it were real. Creating that image in a way the reader does not notice is not an easy thing to do – but is part of the challenge of writing.
Someone once told me that in writing a novel the story goes a mile wide and an inch deep, and in a short story it's the opposite. What are your thoughts? Were there any noticeable differences for you in writing novels vs short fiction?
Writing a novel certainly allows the writer to develop the story and characters in much more detail. A short story on the other hand has by its nature to be brief, to bring the story to its conclusion efficiently and usually contains only a few characters. I lean more toward writing novels as I like being in the challenge for the long haul.
Your back-of-the book summaries fill us in enough to give us a picture of what to expect and enough mystery to hook us in. What helps you write a strong summary?
That’s a tough one. When you have written a full length novel, trying to summarize it in one paragraph always seems impossible. It takes time and more than a few attempts to create something which you hope grabs the reader’s attention. It forces you to think what the story is really about and then put it down in one short paragraph. Unless you are a marketing guru there is no easy answer. If it is good story you should be able to achieve it.
Are there any tips/tricks about the writing/publishing process you have to share with aspiring writers?
Writing is hard work, especially novels, and it takes time – a lot of time, so be prepared to put in the effort. If you do you will find the journey a rewarding one. I write for pleasure, it provides an outlet for my creative side. And yes, to see the finished novel published (either self or commercially) and to have it read and reviewed positively is a hugely satisfying after the years of work. Yes I did say years. Unless of course you are lucky enough to be able to write full time.
Publishing is extremely difficult to achieve. There are many more writers than agents or publishers and so getting a publishing deal is a bit of a lottery. Thankfully writers can access the market through self-publishing with platforms such as Amazon and the e-book revolution. Given that more e-books are sold than paperbacks this is a very respectable way for most writers to get their work ‘out there’.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
My novels are available on all Amazon on-line stores and can be accessed by the following links:
The Solitude Tree: https://www.amazon.com/Solitude-Tree-Wartime-Memories-Australian-ebook/dp/B07BCZT9MZ/
The Mayakovski Assignment: https://www.amazon.com/Mayakovski-Assignment-Cold-War-Thriller-ebook/dp/B007Y4D750/
You can also find him on Facebook and Instagram!
Photo credit: Colin Webster
Nicky Blue is a fantasy and dark comedy fiction writer and former translator on the planet KELT 2Ab in the Andromeda Galaxy. Oh, and he was in an alternative rock band too. If you're looking for a book that's naturally hilarious, charming, and full of the unexpected--Nicky Blue's your guy! Mega thanks to Nicky for interviewing with us!
According to Goodreads, Hot Love Inferno, the sequel to Escape From Samsara, is expected to be released November 24. How have things been going?
BUSY! As I took on nanowrimo too! So apart from organising all the promotion, review team, formatting, cover design I’m also trying to get my latest novel finished.
Has publishing affected your writing process?
Self-publishing is a lot of work and I think it can affect your writing process. A lot of indie authors spend at least 50% of their time marketing. For me the trick is to write when I am fresh.By the end of the day when I am dribbling I then try to get more followers on social media.
Do you let humor emerge in your writing or do you build up to the punch? Any advice to authors wanting to write on the funny side?
Whatever works! A key thing I have learnt is that humor should come because of the characters and settings you have designed rather than shoe horning in a gag. That really stands out. Also, don’t be afraid to get it wrong. If you write something that no one likes. Fine, try something else. NEVER GIVE UP.
Is there anything you wish more readers (or writers) knew about dark comedy? Dystopian fiction?
Dark comedy has made come back in recent years. I wonder if it’s connected to the political climate we find ourselves in. It’s my sense that dark comedy is a deeper anxiety release than mainstream comedy. I was a social worker for 15 years, I think that is why I’m attracted to it.
What led you to the novella format for your books?
A novella is a great format to float an idea. If the first book is popular, you can then expand on and develop its themes.
Do you hide any Easter eggs in your books that only a few can find?
I’m currently working on a novel about middle aged goths full of cryptic messages and references. I will test people.
With titles like “Hot Love Inferno,” “Wife Who Glued Herself to the Ceiling,” “The Apocalypse is Coming” I’m immediately thinking hell yes I want to read this. What helps you come up with a title? Do you typically have one in mind or does it come together as you go?
I pluck them out the air that way. It helps to have a twisted perspective on life I think. Again being a social worker for so long helped with that.
What else would you like readers to know?
If they would to read chapter one of Hot Love Inferno for free, they can do so here: http://bit.ly/Hot-Love-Inferno
Follow Nicky Blue on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram! Find his blog here. Find and read every book of his here.
Dorit Sasson is an award-winning memoirist, writing coach, SEO specialist, and editor. I first met her on Instagram and was blown away by her platform--and I told Todd immediately that we had to talk to her. Thank you Dorit for interviewing with us!!!
You're releasing your next book Sand and Steel: The Spiritual Journey Home this fall. How has it been going?
Actually, it's due for early summer of 2019, but in any case, the writing process has been eye-opening in terms of the themes of finding and writing about home. Discovering the home inside of you seems to be the over-arching theme and deeper insights about what it means to reinvent oneself after so many years in Israel. I wake up early each morning to reconnect with the Israel inside and discover how to bring that part out in the actual writing.
Who designed your covers?
The winning design came from 99 design. I am really happy with the way it came out. The designer really "got" Sand and Steel.
While reviewing your work, reviews, and articles--I'm getting recurring messages of courage and voice. How did you find yours, and do they connect for you?
As a writer, I've been known to carry a lot of shame, self-doubt and fear thinking people wouldn't take me seriously when all I needed to do was to learn how to advocate for myself. I could never write for example about serving in the Israel Defense Forces, my first award-winning memoir, in Israel because no-one frankly would care. Everyone, men and women included, does the army over there, so it's no big deal. In America, I and my story about my IDF service is a novelty. So at the time of writing, I had a choice: I could either let the voices of shame poke fun at me or I could hustle about my business. Every day is an exercise in learning to dig deeper, listening to the voice of intuition and getting past the struggle. It takes a lot of courage to stay present and listen to the nudges - the story whispers that are calling us.
Many writers I've met worry about writing honestly about the roles their families, friends, loves, and the like have played in their story. Have you had this? Any advice you could offer to fellow writers?
To get your reader to care about your story, you need to write it for yourself first. We need to protect ourselves as writers and particularly as memoirists which is why I coach writers focus on telling the truth. In most cases, they discover that their truth does not cross paths with someone else and that the story is benign. We build up the drama and tension in our heads to justify that our stories aren't worth reading. Many writers I've coached have suffered from the silent syndrome it's only when they are able to get past the voices of fear and doubt, are they able to experience a real breakthrough.
In your opinion, is it better to be objective, subjective, or somewhere in between in memoir?
I am a big fan of truth telling. Our truth will always be myopic or in your words, "subjective" - for storytelling in memoir is based on our unique and personal experiences. With that said however, in order to embrace the full integrity of truth, one needs to strategically focus on turning points that are the building blocks for scenes. From this point, we objectively look at a scene as if we're watching a movie - the short and long zoom in camera lens and the unfiltered memories is the closest to being objective. When we unpack our takeaways, that's when we speak to our subjective truths which should also touch the reader's heart.
Someone once advised me that when writing about yourself, your life, and memories, you have to let the story "stew" for a while before you can write about it. Is this sound advice?
Yes, I like the action of "stewing" like writing in crock pot mode. But sometimes, this can be used as an excuse not to get the writing done. We live in an increasingly fast pace digital world saturated with celebrity writers and it's easy for writers to think they don't have something worthy to say and they freeze in their tracks. At the same time, perfection paralysis can stump a writer from never starting a book, a story, an essay. My recommendation would be to pre-write and journal about it. One such coaching exercise I have writers do is journal turning points or even whispers of nudges. This takes them out of their heads and unto the page. I think it's important to cultivate a writing practice and you've got to start somewhere.
Kind of going off of the last question here--how much distance do you put between yourself and your subject when writing?
Distance helps us with telling our truth. If we're too invested in justifying the memory, then we can't be creative. Only recently was I able to write about my mother's death which happened in 2013 for my current memoir Sand and Steel. Distance means time and space and learning to put emotions aside. The truth of then is not the same of writing about it as a character in "now" time and without distance, we can't get to know ourselves as characters (particularly for memoir) and characters run the show. Sand and Steel, the memoir I'm writing now is about leaving Israel to come to Pittsburgh and because I no longer live in Israel, it's much easier to view my journey through the lens of longing.
How would you describe your book coaching style?
I intuit a person's story before s/he even knows it. I listen deep for the threads of human emotion. People come to me often nervous, scared and overwhelmed. They feel awkward telling their story or they are so focused on the story but get distracted by what they think is the core truth. I hold the space for them without judgement. I listen deeply and compassionately. I give each writer the marketing and developmental/coaching ears and eyes s/he needs. We get clear on goals. We get clear on their timelines, scenes, structure and then worry about publishing. Some have never taken a memoir writing class before so my job is to teach them craft essentials and best practices. I see my job as unleashing the published writer within whether they are re writing pure non-fiction or prescriptive or literary memoir.
Do you have any snippets of wisdom, quotes, that motivate you as a writer?
The quotes I use to motivate me are the ones that lend themselves to the actual scenes in my writing. Since my memoir is a hybrid of story
and prescriptive content, I rely on quotes to build on takeaways and
connect themes. I have found some amazing quotes on forgiveness,
self-belonging and connection, surrendering - in essence, life
coaching tips and advice that are also relevant to myself as a writer.
With that said, there are quotes that I live by daily. Like the famous
Steve Jobs quote: "Remembering that you are going to die is the best
way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
To me, that spells urgency right there.
What's one thing you wish you knew when you first started building
1. Not to get overwhelmed too quickly. Platform building is a
marathon, not a sprint.
2. To recognize that a platform building effort can be as small as an
email and not necessarily writing oriented. Think of it as personal
3. To realize that people really do *connect* to the work you put out
there as a writer and not give up so quickly if you don't see traction
4. To not always be obsessed with aiming high. Local is even better.
You don't have to run down perfect strangers to get noticed.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
Cultivating a writing practice takes time. There's no one way to go
about it. But giving up puts you at ground zero.
I like to think of writing with a sense of urgency. If I were to die
tomorrow, would I have said everything I could say until that point?
Follow Dorit Sasson on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Find her memoir here. Check out what she's up to here!
But first, some background from Amber Renee herself--Amber is a poet and performance artist "//who writes to // delight the imagination; skirt // slithers straight flung across // your tongue & bite you." Mega thank you to Amber for interviewing with us!!!
What have you been working on lately? What's got your interest right now?
Oh boy, let’s see. Currently I have a collection of dissociated essays & shorter fiction half thoughts 99% completed; it’s short. A bare bones of story & poetics, archetypes personified for feeling’s sake & a joy of writing mixed with desperation. I might go over the 7 pieces each again though. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to this stuff. //So as well, I’m 7 orchestrations deep in the musical accompaniment of my poetry book “Thoughts On This Most Recent Episode.” It’s set to be done in 8 parts, so I’m alllmost complete with that one too!! (https://amberreneepoetry.bandcamp.com/album/thoughts-on-this-most-recent-episode) I’ll be particularly proud finishing the over 40 minute piece, because I Am Not A Musician. But I did it, & maybe I enjoyed it too:) //Next I’ve been practicing & brainstorming on how to perfect my performances of my book with music. I’ve been lucky enough to have been given many opportunities to be on stage at the many readings Philly offers. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZWT4pMetKU&t=1s) Seeing what emotions I can bring out in people by the use of my words & body language has been a trial & error. //Okay, onto the next project….. & can you tell I’m bipolar yet? Many unfinished projects done in whirlwinds of creativity. I’ve been on & off creating a very important to me collection of 3 fiction stories. The collection highlights the application of mental illness, grandeur & psychosis, while forcing the reader, through their reading, to understand the where & why & how it’s all coming from. The stories are surreal, automatic & poetic. It will be called “The Occasional Delusions Of...” //A fun & easy thing I've been doing is online, I have been enjoying the process of pasting my poetry onto strange visual art I make. (https://www.instagram.com/amberreneepoet/) //Lastly, I’m idly collecting poetry over the past 2 years to put out another collection.
Do you go into composing your work with a theme in mind, or does it emerge for you?
Hm, I guess I usually somewhat know what mood I’m going for, but only after it emerges for me;) //Because only in fiction writing do I outline exactly what I need to cover, what needs to happen, etc., in order for me to capture the theme or message or plot point I’m going for. In poetry & music however, I go into it with only a vague feeling that has emerged for me pre-writing. Pre-writing happens throughout the day, all times that are after being done writing during one session, & before writing for session 2.
On your Facebook your poetry is often accompanied by some really cool companion art. How do you go about translating your work into an image?
Structurally I use multiple apps, sometimes at different times, usually overtop each other. I’ll list a few: Photo Editor Pro, Glitch!, Overlay, 8Bit Photo Lab, Fraksl, Layout, Texgram Legacy, & of course: Insta.
Otherwise I think I translate my work to art by sheer will. My spatial relationships in art & design are poor, I’m sad to say. I’m no visual artist. I play. I play & I try. Thank goodness for the reverse button & to saving every layer as I go.
I've seen/heard some of your performances, namely Pt. 3 from "Thoughts" and "Universal Void Theory." I really feel like you command a presence and own the space you're in. How did you find your voice and style? Any advice to fellow poets still trying to pin theirs down?
Well, you’re giving me some new information. Glad to know my words & body are enough to command & own. I suppose the best & most cliche way of saying I found my style would be to say I followed my heart. I feel compelled to bow before my wishes for myself; that is, to be the weirdo-est thinking poet you know. My advice then is to take time, serious time, to peer around inside your own heart & write what you see. What style does your inner voice speak in when you stay silent? Copy it. Think about it. Assimilate it to your outer voice & see what happens.
(https://amberreneepoetry.bandcamp.com/track/universal-void-theory) Universal Void Theory
How do you prepare for a reading? Any tips you can share?
Ha. I prepare by wondering how in the world I thought I’d have the spoons* to get up on a stage & perform that night.. //No, but once I drink enough coffee.. (never enough coffee) & I’m on my way driving toward the city from my suburban home, I’m listening to music only specifically chosen:
Run the Jewels
It’s obvious the type of mood I’m getting into with that selection. I prepare by amplifying my self worth by listening to grandiose music. Before that it’s a million & a half read throughs of my set that night. Any tips would comprise of those two rituals. Practice, practice, practice, then rock out to your favorite, most self-empowering music right before the actual reading.
I've heard you perform live and in studio for recording. Are there any notable differences for you in how you read? Which do you prefer?
Oh for sure. I’m a very nervous recording artist. I say one word, hate it, try again, hate it, try again, hate it, but go with it because I can’t just say this one word over & over again,, or this 20 minute piece will never get recorded. //I much prefer reading live, without headphones & a recording mic in my face. Live I can flow, & move, & mess up without the need to go back & perfect it. Live is definitely more freeing.
Is there anything the audience can do you prepare for a performance?
Yeah, of course checking me out online is the best thing to do. I tend to write with a lot of flair in my wording, which can make it difficult to understand right off the bat. Especially live, where you don’t have the words to back up the reading, or performance. & when I use my speaker, I can only imagine your attention splits to hear the music too... Bottom line: Check me out online.
Who's one poet you love who you feel more people should know about?
Good question. I’m going to go local poet & say James Feichthaler. He’s a hustler when it comes to this poet stuff. A real cool dude, a forrealist inside & out & you’ll have to read his stuff to understand.
Is there anything else you'd like readers or fellow writers to know?
I just would like people to know how from the heart my writing is, & to give it a try. I’m just a neurodivergent mixed girl trying her best to stay above water. Any support for my writing, any, is so appreciated. Whether in likes & comments (preferably SHARES!!), or stopping by a show, or maybe even buying a book; I’m appreciative & hope my writing opens you up to taking that inner journey with me. If only to blueprint for you, how you could better know yourself by exploring your own psyche. Thanks:)