Surly Questions: Cara Michaels

Today’s Surly Questions interview is courtesy of Cara Michaels, #MenageMonday magnate and author of Gaea’s Chosen. Thanks, Cara!

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I discovered a talent for writing in the middle grades or so, but I didn’t really start to consider a writing career until high school and college. Then I waited another 5-10 years for the idea to settle in and grow… not unlike a parasite. At some point in my mid 20’s, I realized I couldn’t not write.

3. What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

I gave five chapters to an editing friend. He told me quite calmly that the story had potential but it was boring. Then he did me the greatest favor ever and told me WHY it was boring. Passive writing kills the pace of a story. It may seem simple, but we rely very heavily on passive words in everyday conversation, and that carries over into writing. Once I got through the stages of denial and grieving, I picked up the manuscript and realized he’d done nothing but tell me the truth.

4. Who are the most influential authors when it comes to your writing?

Hmm… I don’t actually know. I actually try to avoid reading authors that write in similar genres because I don’t want to end up cloning their work. I’m a big fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, though.

5. You list yourself as an author of fantasy, horror and science fiction. What brought Gaea’s Chosen to the top of the heap?

Divine providence? LOL. The original run of the story was a full on horror tale titled ‘Prayer for the Dawn.’ I didn’t plan on anyone making it through to the end. The story popped into my head, more or less fully formed, like Athena in Zeus’ skull. All I had to do was sit down and write. As I wrote, I more or less fell in love with the characters and knew I wanted to do more with them, so I completely rewrote the majority of it.

6. You have a daily presence on Twitter, you run the #MenageMonday flash fiction contest, and participate in a lot of other contests. What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media and contests?

To be perfectly honest, the writers I’ve met through Twitter revitalized me and my writing. Daily contact with folks going through the same day-to-day struggles of managing real life and the imaginary lives we thrive on really boosted my drive to succeed. Add all the little challenges to that, and I find myself writing every day and absolutely loving it. Even when I just want to go to bed, I still steal a few minutes to write.

7. What advice would you give to other writers looking to build a community and a platform for themselves?

This would really depend on what a writer is wanting to accomplish. I see a lot of writers hiding behind anonymous blogger names and Twitter handles. I think for any writer looking to build a platform it’s important to embrace the name and/or concept you want to market.

8. What is “defiantly literate”? Who or what are you defying?

Hahaha. I love the name of my blog. As a proud geek girl, I’ve spent my fair share of time on boards. ‘Defiantly’ is my favorite chronic misspelling of ‘Definitely.’ I laugh every time I see, ‘Oh, I defiantly want to try that!’ or ‘I’m defiantly going there!’ I picture all of these interwebs people saying to hell with convention and marching proudly into the corner store or picking up the latest bestseller.

9. Can you tell us a little about the world of Gaea’s Chosen: The Mayday Directive and the upcoming Event Horizon?

The Gaea’s Chosen series is set a bit over 19K years from now. That gives me a lot of flexibility as far as creating technology, but I do a lot of research to make things believable. No, mankind has not discovered countless alien races. Instead, they’ve evolved due to life in space and scattered across different planets. Since the Gaea crew leaves Earth a little over 200 years from now, much of their tech, specifically the arc blades, travel speed, and potential destinations expands on current devices and knowledge, hopefully just enough to be believable yet still exciting.

The Mayday Directive tells the initial story of the ship Gaea’s Ark and her crew, dubbed by the media of their time as ‘Gaea’s Chosen.’ Essentially the crew wakes from 19K years in stasis to discover a whole lot has gone wrong while they were sleeping, including crewmembers being jettisoned and the ship landing on an already inhabited planet. Event Horizon picks up six months after the ending of Mayday. In this tale, the Gaea crew finds out what happened to at least one of their missing crewmembers. They also discover they’re not alone in their little corner of the universe.

10. You seem to have a lot of projects in what you call the “Red Pen Death Trials.” How merciless are these trials, and what are we going to see from Cara Michaels in the future?

No word is sacred. Except maybe sacred. 😉 I’m ruthless when it comes to editing and do not hesitate to cull the word herd. My 2012 schedule is packed with stories to write, edit, and publish, including a couple of ancestor stories (tentative titles Safer Waters and If a Tree Falls) for Gaea’s commander, Gemma Bryant.

11. How do you feel about the success of #WIP500 since its inception? What, if anything, has it taught you?

Yeah, I totally did not see #WIP500 taking off like it did. When I started it, I hoped to get 15 or 20 people wrangled into my brand of madness. Now there are over 80 people working hard to, if not make the goal, at least keep writing regularly. I think the network building is important to a lot of folks. Some writers are solitary, but I think a fair number of us are pretty damn social. Having companions on the same journey makes it seem less arduous, I think.

12. What inspires you?

Music. Overheard conversations. Storystorming with my offspring (though that inevitably ends up with killer robots or boy wizards… sometimes both). Mostly music, though. The right music and lyrics can help evoke a specific emotion for me, which is great.

Surly Questions: Chantal Boudreau

This week’s Surly Questions are courtesy of Chantal Boudreau, an author and illustrator of dark fantasy and horror. When you’re done reading, make sure to visit her website at Writers Own Words. Thanks for the interview, Chantal!

1. When did you know you wanted to write?

I was four – there was a children’s television show called The Pencil Box that would take stories written by kids and turn them into full scene tales on their show (sets, props, dialogue, costumes, etc.) I was too young to write a coherent story, but I knew I wanted to create something for this show. Sadly, by the time I manage to write something decent, the show had been canceled.

2. You write mostly horror and dark fantasy. What do you find so alluring about the darkness?

It’s cathartic. Most creative people are hyper-sensitive to the troubles of the world and writing about dark things lets you flush them from your system. It also allows you to turn things around so that the hero or heroine vanquishes those dark things in the end, if that’s what you want. There’s often some element of hope to the endings of my stories, especially the novels. Less often with the horror stories.

3. What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?

My favourite thing about writing is getting lost in a scene. It happens more often with action or battle scenes, or one of those really moving portions of a plot where you get completely immersed in a character. The thing I like least is the editing. Picking apart the technical elements of the story, and forcing yourself to pay careful attention and to avoid getting lost in the plot again, can be pure drudgery.

4. You seem to have excerpts of your work up on Scribd. Has that helped increase your exposure at all?

I believe it has. I have people who read my excerpts and who have taken an interest in my work, giving me feedback, who might never have sampled my work otherwise. It’s hard to translate that into specific numbers, but every little bit helps.

5. In a recent blog post, you talk about why authors shouldn’t respond to negative reviews. Do you feel the same way about positive reviews?

A “thank you” never hurts, but I try not to say more than that. Reviews are subjective and while a good one is appreciated, you shouldn’t go on about it. It may express that person’s opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect how the book will be received in general. You don’t want to come across as gushing or egotistical either.

6. You also relate an anecdote about a reader taking you to task for writing a male protagonist in one of your books. Do you think male readers are intimidated by female writers writing male POVs?

I don’t think that individual was intimidated, as much as he felt that there aren’t enough good female role-models in books and therefore that it is specifically the responsibility of female authors to present that type of female protagonist, since we have a better understanding of what girls or women have to deal with on a daily basis. I got the sense he had a bone to pick with characters like Harry Potter and felt that Rowling had failed her gender by offering up a boy wizard as her protagonist. He was taking out his frustration on me because I happen to have a young male protagonist as well, in Fervor. I don’t usually have male readers questioning the gender of my protagonists. It usually comes from female readers. I don’t, however, feel like I have to have a woman as the focal character of my stories. I like to follow whatever inspiration strikes and I have a fairly even ratio of males to females.

7. You draw in addition to writing — how have the two disciplines influenced each other?

A few of my drawings have inspired stories, like the first in my Masters & Renegades series, Magic University. More often, if I’m struggling a little with a story, I find I can solidify my thoughts by sketching them out. I’ll do that if I find myself stuck. It’s also a good way of attracting attention to an excerpt. If you have a striking drawing accompanying your writing, it can hook an observer’s curiosity and they’ll give it a read.

8. If you had to pick one passion over the other, which would it be? Or could you choose at all?

Oh, I’d definitely pick the writing. I find them both somewhat therapeutic but I “love” writing while I only “like” drawing. I feel that it’s much more difficult to achieve what I’m striving for when I’m drawing. I can usually capture what I’ve envisioned in writing with more ease.

9. Who are the most influential authors and illustrators in your life?

I’ve read so many books it is really difficult to pick only a few authors. I grew up on Anne McCaffery, Tanith Lee, Mervyn Peake and Roald Dahl, adding Theodore Sturgeon, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams and Frederic Brown to the mix as I went. Lately I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer and some great lesser known authors like Ren Garcia and Arlene Radasky, as well as a fabulous variety of horror writers. Illustrators that have influenced me include Darrell K. Sweet, the Brothers Hildebrandt, Michael Whelan, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, and lately, Carol Phillips, Eve Ventrue, Shawn Conn and Fantasio. There are so many great artists out there who put my efforts to shame.

10. What are you working on now?

I’m working on an experiment – a paranormal thriller called Intangible involving a young man who discovers that he has the ability to astral project. This discovery leads him to the victim of an abduction, a little girl who looks to him for rescue. But the protagonist can’t make use of his talent on his own and is forced to pair up with a homeless medium. She is the only person whom he can trust will believe him and help him, even though she can’t convince others regarding the situation either. It’s quite different from the many other novels and short stories I have written. I like to play with new concepts and stretch my boundaries from time to time.

11. What songs are in your writing soundtrack (if any)?

I have playlists for every novel I’ve written, most of them stretching 3 to 4 CDs in length. Alternative rock is my music of choice although I have eclectic tastes and I went pretty old and mellow for what I’m working on now. My usual listening preferences range from things like Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, Finger Eleven and Evanescence, to artists who are a little more obscure, like Bif Naked, Megan McCauley and Sarah Slean.

12. What’s the single best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t be fluffy.” I have a tendency to over-describe things that have little importance to the story if I don’t purposefully rein that in. I heed that advice carefully, and while my writing may end up a little sparse in description as a result, I stay true to the stories and characters, which aren’t bogged down by unnecessary detail. Having a little flavour is good, but when it drowns out everything else, you have a problem.

13. And now, the clichéd question: your top five “desert island” books?

I had no idea that was a cliched question. I guess in a way that depends on your definition. Lord of the Flies is my absolute favourite pick for this, hands down, both set on a desert island and a book I’d want to have with me. Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon is a must and I’d want to have Arlene Radasky’s The Fox and Ren Garcia’s The Hazards of the Old Ones. The last one would be a tie between a classic, Jane Eyre, and a moving and dark novel called The Gargoyle.


Surly Questions: Angela Goff

Today’s post kicks off a series of interviews I have planned for the Surly Muse blog. Christening this new feature is fellow writer and founder of #WritingEmpire, Angela Goff. Thanks, Angela!

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Second grade was the turning point, when my teacher helped me assemble my first book, filled with the stories and poems I made up in class when I had finished my work early. It wasn’t a class project – she did it just for me. After such encouragement, and seeing my own work in a “real book”, I was smitten with a passion for writing. Thankfully, it’s been a lifelong malady.

2. What made you decide to start Anonymous Legacy?

My decision to abandon Facebook triggered that decision. I realized my best writing energy had siphoned off into witty status lines and photo comments. Then I read multiple blogs by editors, agents and published authors about how to establish a writer’s platform and/or “presence” online. Considering how the internet is integral in all industries now, I saw Anonymous Legacy as an investment, an ongoing resume for my future publisher – but one that had to be built gradually, over an extended period of time. That’s when I shut down my Facebook, set boundaries for myself in regards to texting and social internet time, and really got to work.

3. What was the inspiration behind the #WritingEmpire hashtag on Twitter?

I hear a lot of talk, in person and online, about how there is so much (insert favorite euphemism here) in books today. People enjoy trends and fun reads, but I hear more from writers – and readers – who wish to see new life breathed into the overall quality of fiction writing today. The #WritingEmpire mantra is, at heart, a reminder that if we want to see change in the books we read, then we are the ones who must go out and build it.

4. You have a daily presence on Twitter. What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media?

O goodness. Where do I begin? Coming onto Twitter just before NaNoWriMo was bewildering – there were so many amazing writers that just came out of the woodwork. Nor were they snooty or overbearing, touting their own spiffy writing skills or stealing ideas. They were real. Transparent. They told on themselves. They smacked each other into line. They were there for each other when the frustration hit.

Moreover, I found these are not “fair weather writers” but people in the trenches for the long haul, wet feet and dysentery be hanged. NaNoWriMo is gone, and people are still having word sprints. Asking questions and getting answers. Needing encouragement and finding it. To find an online community of like-minded, dedicated writers who are willing to heckle or word-sprint with you at the drop of a hat (whatever it takes to get it done, y’know?) – that was an amazing blessing. Still is.

5. You’re a teacher as well as a writer. What lessons have your students taught you over the years?

When students – or any writing newbie, actually – ask you to read their work-in-progress, for heavens’ sake – TURN OFF YOUR INNER GRAMMAR TEACHER. Grammar, I’ve learned, is best left for someone else to criticize – or at least should not be a first step – when proofing a budding writer’s creative work. Go for the soul of their creative vision, and help them from there. The rest will fall into place.

6. What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

That readers are like a cider jug – narrow necked, but capable of holding vast amounts of information. This has helped me tremendously in terms of pacing, and learning to drizzle in information so that my readers can swallow whatever complexities I serve them.

7. Who are the most inspirational people in your life when it comes to your writing?

My second, ninth, and twelfth grade English teachers were key. So were my parents (they still are), and my local writer’s group that has been meeting now for about three years. As for authors, the list is endless, but I would say my earliest and most long-reaching inspirations have been Lewis Carroll, C S Lewis and the Brothers Grimm.

8. I see from your web site that you have several projects in the works, including Castle 8. Can you tell us a little about it?

The Underground has been quarantined for centuries, running on the impersonal laws and mechanical system of a “big brother” tyranny that dissolved long ago. Crippled by earthquakes, mired in darkness, victimized by gangs, the Underground is on a path to self-destruction. But the Swackhammer brothers – math genius Greg, illiterate poet Errol, cannibal safe-cracker Finn and the illegally-born March – know there is something more beyond the Underground, that life hasn’t always been this way.

Severed from all history, literature, music and culture for so many generations, no one in the Underground has the least idea how to save, let alone rebuild, their world. The Swackhammers are thrown headlong into that mystery, as they scramble to escape the Underground and recover what was lost – at whatever cost to themselves.

9. Castle 8 seems to tie in your idea of “Anonymous Legacy.” What is the nature of the legacy the characters of Castle 8 must pass on, and how does it relate to your own “Anonymous Legacy”?

My characters must recover a legacy – one that was stolen away by earlier generations, leaving their descendants in perpetuated ignorance. Even those who think themselves in power only have access to fragments, and none in such quantity or coherence that they can easily reconstruct what came before. Whether the Swackhammers will recover that Anonymous Legacy is the journey I intend to present. As a history teacher, I consider these ideas – of recovering what was lost, to not forget your roots and know what has shaped your world – to be critical. We must all come to terms with our past. If we dismiss it, we do so at our own peril.

10. How close is it to completion?

I finished the first hard edit just last week, and plan to go back to it in mid-January. A couple more layers of edits and beta readers are needed before I begin the querying process, but I am certainly a matter of months from doing so – definitely before the next NaNoWriMo. Ideally? I would like to begin querying this summer. We shall see.

11. And now, the cliched question: your top five “desert island” books?

  • Bible
  • The Oxford Book of English Verse
  • Silverlock, by John Myers Myers
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, by C S Lewis
  • A blank journal for writing

A special education teacher by trade, Angela currently has multiple manuscripts in various stages of readiness, and plans to begin querying Castle 8 in the spring. Angela is also part of a close-knit writer’s group known as the Y5, which consistently plans out dignified meetings, only to have them devolve into food fights, hysterical laughter, and plans for world domination. In her spare time she meets with other aspiring authors at various coffeehouses, so as to encourage other kindred spirits while maintaining a quasi-respectable appearance to society. She can be found on Twitter as @Angela_Goff or at her blog: