Surly Questions: Tracy McCusker

Writer, poet, artist, journal fetishist, freelance cat detective. Tracy McCusker is all but one of these things. She is also the author of Letters from Nowhere. Thanks for the great interview, Tracy!

 1. When did you know you wanted to write?

When I was in third grade, the teacher ran a contest for a couple lollipops and a good behavior star. Whoever could write a single scene with the most adjectives would win. They had to be different adjectives. I actually didn’t care about the lollipops. This was the grade after I’d been in timeout nearly every week for obstinate behavior. That good behavior star burned. I wanted to prove to this new teacher that yes, I was a good student–not the terror that Ms. Hata described.
On the day of the contest, every student was expected to stand up, say the number of adjectives they used, then read their passage. We all stood up in turn. Most people used five, six, or eight. The girl who wore nothing but overalls was pretty smug that she’d used sixteen. Then it was my turn. Sixty-six for a cozy little cottage scene. The kids bugged out as I read my very purple prose. I was pretty sure, then, that I wanted to be a writer. Because writers could make other people bug the fuck out.

2. Why poetry?

Because at 11 years old, I didn’t have the squirrel-brain patience to write those epic fantasy novels about stranded airline passengers on their bizarre pseudo-reality island. Novels got me nowhere fast. I’d plunk the keyboard in frustration. I could tell what I was writing was shitty. But why? And how could I change that?

At the time, I couldn’t. So I sulked for a few weeks. Then started up my first poetry archive and began to make tiny poem-objects. It just stuck from there. I admired their brevity, their musicality. Hungered for their incisive wisdom. Even as I was a wordy bastard myself. Now that I (maybe) have the patience to tackle large projects, I am caught by the starkness of good poetry. It leaves me breathless.

3. Do you have a #1 favorite poem of all time?

How about three number one favorite poems?

Piers Plowman, by William Langland. It’s an allegorical dream poem from the 14th century about Conscience, Will the dreamer, and a cast of thousands trying to make the perfect society. And failing three times. It is crazy, all-over-the-place, the very anti-definition of a poem that’s in control of its own allegorical meaning. This poem was Langland’s life work. It’s the only thing he wrote, and he revised it up until his death. I love reading someone’s Life Work. You can feel the stakes it had for them.

Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens. It’s powerful meditation on divinity and the Christian imagination. The poem moves through metaphysical questions/complaints like water, each building a new spiritual dimension on the last. It has one of the most moving final stanzas I’ve read on a poem anywhere. I think everyone should read this.

Jim McMichael’s “Celery.” It is completely unlike the other two poems. It’s a simple thing, inspired by the clarity of haiku. You should read this one too. It’s short. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

4. Who are the most influential poets and authors in your life?

The ones who formed my tastes & style: Marie de France, Ezra Pound (his stubborn/snippiness as an editor), William Carlos Williams, William Maxwell. Off and on the Romantics and the Victorians are inspiring: Wordsworth, Tennyson and Rilke. A book called “Japanese Death Poems.” If I could be an old poet, I would like to be Pablo Neruda. He was so prolific in his final years. So clear of eye, and quick in verse.
Then there are the little-i influences, whose work fascinates me. The unnamed poets of the 12th & 13th century who are ridiculous, quirky, accomplished, and moving. Their namelessness is itself is a kind of mystique to me. Writers today have to build brands–but what about the writers who wrote and were never known, except by their work?

5. I know you’ve done prose in the past — any plans to return to it?


5.5. You’re being difficult, aren’t you?

Yeah. I intend to return to prose for my next project, but It will be more of an occult reference/humor piece–not a novel. I don’t know if I’ll return to novels. Right now everything moving that I want to say can be done in the poetry format. My imagination tends to dream up small things that can be settled in the space of 20-50 lines. If a big idea announces itself, I may just come back to novels after all.

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

Oh they are two amorous disciplines indeed. Now I can’t even talk about one without mentioning the other. My anecdotes about drafting a poem or a short story end with at least one, “well, you see, there’s a thumbnail stage, and a rough phase…then a clean line stage. THEN you–”

I used to be a one-drafter. Do everything in one fell swoop. But drawing broke me of that habit. It helped me see that you can create something big, complicated, and beautiful from very small objects like the 30-second thumbnail. In fact, if you want to create the right big, complicated object, you need to start with those quick thumbnails. Otherwise you’re 1500 words into an epic poem, and you realize that the Roman Empire told from a stick’s perspective might not be the grandiose & literary undertaking you originally thought it was at 2 am.

7. What’s the hardest part about being an artist?

The single hardest thing (aside from affording the costs of supplies) is that people expect art to be something easy to pick up (is there a web tutorial where I can learn drawing?) or something super-hard (oh my god, you can DRAW?! It’s like you walk on the moon without breathing apparatus!). In honesty, it is neither; like any craft, it takes a lot of dedicated time.

I carry around a small chip on my shoulder because I didn’t start early. I was inclined towards things like layout, typography, line and color at an early age, but I let all of that go in favor writing. I didn’t start to take art seriously until 2006, less than a year away from graduating from university with an English degree.

Now I feel like I am always playing catch-up. I can see the long road stretching out behind me–I can see my improvement from those very first unwieldy stick figures. But I can also see the long road ahead. There’s a cult of youth in the illustration/graphic design industry. So I get a bit flustered at industry magazines when the next superstar of 18 TOTALLY BLOWS AWAY EVERYTHING ELSE. Eeeh, industry hype I suppose is always a bit demoralizing.

8. Who are the most inspirational people in your life when it comes to writing / poetry / art?

Well, there’s this tumblr feed…maybe you’ve heard of it. I derive inspiration from the pictures, blog posts, titles, and poems that are shared with me. Something shared means my friends liked it enough (or were proud of it) to say, “hey, come look at this!” There are a few artists I follow daily: Skottie Young, Android Jones.

Then there are the people who are equivalent to a gut-punch of strong coffee. I can’t drink coffee thanks to a caffeine intolerance. So when my energy flags during the day, I have an inspiration ritual instead.

When I feel the mid-day burn, I think of my overly-productive, energetic friends new & old. Martin Francisco and Alejandro Komai. Martin is one of the best designers I’ve known. He could create anything from basically anything else. Whenever I’m stuck, or having a down day, I think of what he’d do. His inspiring creations (a prop-quality lightsaber handle) from wire, super-glue, paint and a bit of shaped plastic. And then, I just make something. Doesn’t have to look good. I know I’ll have time to shape it later. Alejandro is one of those can-do-anything-he-sets-his-mind-to people; his energy is super-infectious. When my writing projects start to burn me out, I imagine having a conversation with Alejandro. I give him excuses for not working on my project, and I see the faint head-tilt of disapproval that betrays his own thoughts.

Within minutes, I’m back on my feet, striving for that level of super-productivity.

9. What’s the meaning behind Letters from Nowhere?

Letters From Nowhere just seemed to fit as a title. William Morris’ News from Nowhere was always one of my favorite book titles. A nowhere that’s still a somewhere, even if only in your mind. The poems in LFN are a several series of poems that I wrote over the past ten years. One set from when I was heart-sick, traveling in England, trying to shake a long-time crush in favor of working partnership. Another from when I was living with my then-fiancé in Irvine, dreaming of a quiet domestic life after college that never materialized.

When I wrote these poems, I would imagine myself reading them to their addressee. Because I couldn’t express these feelings in person. I make jokes to deflect tension, use bombast and hyperbole with glee when I’m lighthearted. Being understated doesn’t come naturally. These poems are about holding back the words bubbling up from a little place, to people who may never read the letters meant for them.

10. Tell us about your upcoming book of poetry.

The upcoming book is a 180-degree shift from Letters. It’s a series of blackout poems cut out of the text of the Communist Manifesto. As non-personal as poetry can get. Yet I felt a great connection to Engels–his sighs over Marx’s death. There was a great friendship here, brought together by sympathy and a desire to make a utopia. Using just the words from the Manifesto (and some words carved from letters in a line), I try to chart different currents in the text, from horror at machinery’s toll on man, to the revolutionary spirit of working men. Also, there’s some sort-of-erotic-for-Victorians poetry thrown into the mix. Because isn’t everything ultimately about making–whether it is production of machines or people? The manuscript is nearly complete; I expect it to be out by the end of February.

11. So, your insane journal fetish. Why?

Why doesn’t everyone share this fetish? Uh, okay, I don’t have a good explanation for it. It’s more than just journals; it’s the writing paraphernalia. I am terribly fond of journals, writing pads, and pens. I do 70% of my writing longhand. Since I exhaust a journal before I exhaust a pen, I collect far more of the former. I also illustrate my journals. The current theory is that I should have been a 13th century monk.

12. In your opinion, how important is a measure of insanity to creativity?

Insanity goes very poorly with creativity. When you’re to the raving mad stage (who hasn’t had hysterical fits that stretch on for hours? High five!), you don’t get a lot of writing or thinking done. Same with the catatonia. There’s a happy middle, which I’ll call eccentricity, and that’s where ideas mash together in brilliant ways.

Still, if you haven’t been broken in some way in your life, how can you write about broken people? Nearly all of human creative output has been about broken people striving to be less broken, more complete. The Adventures Of Mr. Sane Jobbed With Good Benefits And No Marital Discord is an awfully dull series.

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

1. Harmonium by Wallace Stevens
2. The Sea and the Bells, Pablo Neruda
3. The Poems of the Gawain Poet (Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Pearl)
4. A 500-page journal
5. Red hardcover Lord of the Rings hollowed out to hold pens, ink & converters

Surly Questions: Tristan J. Tarwater

When Tracy McCusker from Dusty Journal first heard of Tristan J. Tarwater, she said: “That is the best name for a writer EVER!” And it pretty much is. Tristan is the author of Thieves at Heart and the upcoming Self-Made Scoundrel, the first two books in the Valley of Ten Crescents series. Thanks for the great interview, Tristan!

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

Oh wow. At the risk of sounding cliched, when I was very young. I wrote my first book when I was 7; it was about my brother. I learned to read pretty early on and loved reading and as I got older wanted to do the same thing. Write stories, create worlds. The prospect was very exciting as a child and it still is.

2. What is the meaning behind the phrase “back that elf up”?

Back That Elf Up is a pun; when I first started writing the stories of Tavera and the Ten Crescents I was still used to saving things on disks and those disks inevitably getting corrupted or just flat out destroyed. The netbook I was writing on at the time didn’t even had a disk drive and I was worried about my computer dying so at the suggestion of my Admin (and spouse) I posted all the stories on an invite-only blog to archive them. I figured, Blogger isn’t going anywhere. My computer could get hit by lightning. So they were ‘backed up.’ The elf part is kind of obvious. I’m obsessed with elves, probably from a very early exposure to Zelda when I was younger. This blog was called ‘Back That Elf Up’ to reflect the nature of the thing and when we had to think of a name for the official site I thought, ‘well, this is easy to remember.’ And it is more related to ‘backing up’ other writers and creators, supporting them. So basically, it’s a lot of things.

3. Supporting other indie authors seems very important to you. What do you do to support your fellow indie authors, and what has been your greatest source of support?

I think the biggest support I have been given and have been able to give is advice from other authors. Connecting people however I can and sharing my experiences. Being indie means you can sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the waters of publishing, trying to find an editor, a cover, where to print, etc. and getting a bit grounded and being pointed in one direction can save you a lot of brain flails. My greatest source of support has been my spouse who has encouraged me to write and celebrated with me every step of the way. My friend Nathan who has read ALL the beta and is probably the only person who knows how Ten Crescents ends. MeiLin Miranda who told me that I could be better, which was kind of a lifesaver. And my editor, Annetta Ribken who is just fabulous.

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

Hmm, it’s a toss up between ‘Just keep writing’ and ‘Get an editor.’ If you don’t keep writing, you’ll have nothing to edit and you’ll never get better. But editing is important. Another brain needs to take it in and let you know what’s up, to put it lightly.

5. You were born and raised in New York City. What sensibilities, if any, have your surroundings brought to the Valley of Ten Crescents series?

When people find out that I grew up in NYC the reaction I generally get is ‘Man, it’s so busy! How did you deal with all those people?’ And people fail to realize that it’s very easy to keep to yourself, to get lost in a sea of people and be alone with your own thoughts. With that many people and neighborhoods, it’s very easy for enclaves of people to follow their own rules, set up their own norms. It’s a place where a lot of people can believe very different things and live very different lives adjacent to one another. Yet with all the dissonance, things keep going.

6. What are the most formative books in your personal library?

Probably the Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart. I read that as a young person and to this day, I still don’t think of it as fantasy? It takes Merlin who damn near everyone knows about and turned him into a person, which I thought was awesome. It shows the power of time and story by giving accounts of how things really happened as opposed to the flash and bang of myths. I must have read that book so many times. I kind of have a bit of an investment in Arthurian Legend, given my name and all.

7. Tavera, the main character of Ten Crescents, apparently started as a character in a role-playing game. How has she evolved in her transition into prose?

Well initially I heard we were going to play a game so I thought, ‘What would be fun to play? Okay, a rogue, make her a half-elf. One of her ears is cut.” Then you get your stats and try to fit them to the character, trying to think of back story to have the numbers make sense. At some point they diverged because well, characters in books don’t have stats. Their limitations and abilities aren’t numerical. The back story gave her more history than was necessary to kill things and her journey is definitely more emotional than in the campaign. Especially because the party died in a TPK. HA!

8. Who is the titular “Self-Made Scoundrel” of the second Ten Crescents book, and what’s behind the title?

Tavera’s adopted father, Derk, is the Self-Made Scoundrel. It’s a prequel to Thieves at Heart and talks about how Derk goes from being Dershik, the son of a Baron to the man who kidnaps Tavera at the beginning of Thieves at Heart. Like Tavera he spent his childhood at the mercy of other people but starts his story in a very different place. He has help along the way to scoundrelhood but unlike Tavera, he gets it much later on in life and he has his own weaknesses and strengths to work with.

9. Who does your cover art for Ten Crescents?

Amy Clare Learmonth aka Ruby Saturna does my covers and she is just fabulous. I found her on Twitter and I really dig her style, in addition to her just being a great person in general. She actually does a lot of awesome cyberpunk illustration. She’s in DeviantArt as well.

10. What has been the biggest challenge in writing and self-publishing the Ten Crescents series?

Getting attention is very difficult. Especially for myself and my personality. Believe it or not I’m pretty introverted and publicizing the book and the series has been really hard. Getting people to review and take you seriously after all the work you’ve put in is hard. I’m glad I have help from my Admin and for the internet. It’s made getting info about what we’re about and about Tavera way easier.

11. What songs are in your writing soundtrack?

I find that I write best in silence for the most part to be honest. But sometimes when I need to get my brain in a good spot I listen to PJ Harvey (Uh Huh Her) or The Black Heart Procession (anything but the 3rd album). I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues specifically) when I first started writing the series so I listen to that as well. And Blonde Redhead is another good one. Kind of moody, stuck in your brain kind of tuned I suppose, heh.

12. What are your top five “desert island” books?

Wow, well. Haroun and the Sea of Stories would have to go on their. It’s one of my favorite books. An illustrated William Blake anthology because I love how he combined his poems and art. It’s just glorious and he himself is such an interesting person. I would bring Sky Doll which is technically a comic by Barbara Cenepa and Alessandro Barbucci because it’s such a killer story with great art as well. I love the mixture of religion, faith, sex, technology. It has a lot. Principia Discordia. And the complete works of HP Lovecraft because I love his writing style and when you’re on a desert island surrounded by the ocean, you need to be totally freaked out by Cthulhu.

Surly Questions: Michel Vaillancourt

To kick off Surly Questions for 2012, it’s my privilege to bring you an interview with Michel Vaillancourt, author of The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name. Thanks for the terrific interview, Michel!

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

Hmmm.  Funny question that.

I knew I wanted to -write- around 12 – 14, which is when I was caught up with Anne MccAffery and Robert Heinlein.  I’ve had stories in my head ever since, which is why I was so heavily into table top role-playing games in my youth.  I still am, to a degree.

Want to be a -writer-?  Hmmm.  You know, I still don’t think I’ve made a conscious decision to “be a writer”.  I’m a storyteller at heart, and right now, instead of doing spoken word presentations, I’m writing them down and putting them out in eBooks.

Is writing The Big Calling In My Life, the way I know some writers feel it in theirs?  No.

2. Why steampunk?

Steampunk fascinates me on a few levels.  Something I heard Phil Foglio say at Steamcon was that “Steampunk fiction is about when technology can save humanity.  It isn’t the problem, it is the solution.”

I agree with that.  In my opinion, Steampunk fiction is inherently hopeful.  The right man (or woman) with the right perseverance and the right science at the right place could change the world for the better.  It is about people doing incredibly cool things at a point in time when when no one knew what the boundaries were and they seemed to be on the brink of revolutionizing the world.  Everything was within the realm of possibility; everything was within reach.  That’s pretty empowering.

3. What do you think sets the Sauder Diaries apart from other steampunk fantasy?

**chuckles** This is going to sound odd, but I really can’t comment, because I haven’t read much Steampunk fantasy/ fiction.

Having said that, I’ve tapped into something other than existing books for my creative process here.  I’m a fan of the overall Steampunk movement itself;  two trips to Steamcon in Seattle, spending time with the local Steampunk group in Halifax as I can, listening to the music, following folks on blogs and Twitter who are “living the scene” and such.

I guess what I have done is spent a lot of time researching the Steampunk community and tuning in on what themes seem to resonate within it by being part of the community.  This is a book for Steampunks, by a new member of the group. As opposed to being someone who wrote other stuff first and then that thought this might be a neat setting to try.

4. Any relation to Michel Vaillancourt, the Canadian show jumper born in Saint-Félix-de-Valois, Québec in 1954? Or is that just a coincidence?

Wow, you’ve done your research!  As far as I know, there is no direct relationship.  However, my family only really has its geneology traced as far as when we first arrived in what is now Quebec.  It’s possible that there is a connection on the France side of the trip.  If there is, I am unaware of it.

5. What songs are in your writing soundtrack?

My listening music tends to be based on my mood.  Sometimes, I just want quiet.  I either listen to Steampunk music from groups like Abney Park, Vernian Process and Vagabond Opera, or I listen to trance/ electronica from Tiesto or Armin Van Burren.  Other times, I listen to atmospherics like Brian Eno’s “Music For Airports” or “Music for Films”.

6. I’m told you have a strong military / technical / engineering background. What, if anything, has that brought to your writing?

Well, certainly, it has allowed me to add a level of detail that I might not otherwise have.  My father, for example, ran steam boiler systems on warships as an engineering officer… I spent a lot of nights as a kid sitting at the table watching him with a sliderule working on his training homework.  We’d talk about what he did and he’d explain to me how it all worked.

So, the part where Hans notes that it is possible for the metal of the boiler to catch fire and start burning unstoppably?  Yeah, that’s real.  Spray water onto it, and it burns -hotter-.  My dad has seen what’s left of boiler rooms where that has happened.

7. How big a role does reader feedback play in your writing process? What’s the biggest change you ever made because of something a reader said?

I have re-written entire chapters or moved chapters around based on reader feedback.  Originally, the “The Sauder Diaries – By Any Other Name” was released as episodic fiction, on Scribd, as each portion was written.  So as readers told me what they liked, I did more of that.

One of the most extreme examples is the scene at the lake between Hans and Annika.  That was re-written five times, based on my closed test reader group.

Another example is the good Doctor Koblinski. He was supposed to be essentially a one-scene character who was irrelevant to the long-term plot. His job was to be an authority figure (a medical doctor) that Hans would be able to believe in the face of what Captain Blackheart was telling him.

The fans, however, were enamored with him and insisted he had to stick around.  I had tremendous feedback at the release of Chapter One that everyone loved his wit and clear common-sense.  And again in Chapter two, when he got a bit more air time.  By Chapter 3, the Doctor was around to stay.

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

“Shut up.  Don’t tell me about your story.  Go write it down.  If you tell me about it, you’ll be satisfied and you won’t need to do anything.”

Thank-you, Nick Jequier.

9. What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media and the Internet in general?

A serious amount of “we know you can” gets traded around.  When it feels like I’m on Mission:Impossible, someone I know gets a break, a shot of good news, a great review, or something… they Tweet it, Facebook it, Blog it, whatever… and I get a shot of “whoo-hoo” that helps keep me moving.

So, I try to give back into the “Can Do” pool whenever I am able.

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

Well, when I tripped over the works of Anne McCaffery and Robert Heinlein in my ‘tween years, they literally changed my world and got me writing.  I’d say they are my literary heroes.

I’ve been very fortunate to have Chantal Boudreau as a mentor in the process of getting from “story” to “novel”.  She has been wonderfully encouraging as well as open about her own experiences as an author and a trail breaker.  She’s the one that first really got it through to me that The Sauder Diaries was a publishable work.  She’s been there for me to talk to and compare experiences with whenever I just didn’t have answers or direction.

Another person that really got me where I am now was my grade 10 English teacher.  She flatly refused to accept anything but my best effort in my essays and compositions.  That’s carried over in anything I do in writing.  She also gave me a love of Shakespeare;  there is a nod to that and to her in the second book in the works.

11. How close is the second book of the Sauder Diaries to completion?

Another funny question.  It depends how you count it… “The Sauder Diaries – A Bloodier Rose” is currently at about 78300 words, with about two more chapters to write.  Because of the way I write — I edit as I go, because I hate leaving junk behind me — its pretty close to good.

However, it still needs my internal team’s two edits/ revisions before I even show it to my publisher and their editors for a two-pass edit.  My preference would be for mid-May to hit the virtual shelves.

12. What’s next after Sauder Diaries?

Well, as I have said elsewhere, that is partially going to be dictated by the fans.  I figure that after “A Bloodier Rose”, the world of “The Sauder Diaries” has at least four more complete stories in it that bear telling, if the fans want to hear them.

I’m also currently tinkering with a short story tentatively titled “After Three Degrees and One Percent”.  I’ve also got a SF story I’d like to do called “Marshal Station – The Dustpilots of Mars”, and a swords-sorcery called “Revenant”, but both of those are a ways away.

All of that said, one of those quotes that has always stuck with me was by Canadian singer Corey Hart.  During an interview, he made a comment to the effect that if a singer doesn’t have anything to say, they should shut up.  Hence a decade gap between his last two albums.

I sort of feel the same way about my writing.  Once the third “Sauder Diaries” is out, we’ll see if I feel like I still have something to say.

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

1.  SAS survival manual for desert islands
2.  “Space Chronicles” by Neil Degrasse Tyson
3.  “The Harper Hall of Pern” compilation by Anne McAffery
4.  “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” by Robert Heinlein
5.  A blank leather bound journal, like the ones my wife makes.  (I’d have to be able to write)


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: