Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to welcome a collection of wonderfully crazy authors to our Spotlight post this week. Last week, you met Stacey Luongo, who edited the anthology Insanity Tales. Stacey has now brought her anthology crew to chat with us!
Thank you all for being in our Spotlight blog! Can each of you share a little bit about yourselves and your work?
Vlad V: I’m the author of “The Sleep Artist” (Insanity Tales), The Button, Yorick, Brachman’s Underworld, and a children’s book. I’ve worked as a freelance editor, publishing consultant, freelance writer, and a journalist.
Stacey Longo: I’m the author of Secret Things, Ordinary Boy, two children’s picture books, and a couple dozen published short stories. My work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, from Shroud and Shock Totem to the Litchfield Literary Review. Also, I’m rumored to be a former runway model.
Ursula Wong: I’m a farmer, a computer engineer, and a writer who got married and had a kid along the way. Purple Trees is my debut novel, and it’s the story of a woman who struggles with a past that threatens to destroy her life. I’m also working on a series of WW II novels involving women in Eastern Europe fighting against the Soviet occupation. The working title is Amber Wolf but I’m open to suggestions.
Dale T. Phillips: I had Stephen King as a writing teacher back in college, then got sidetracked for a while, living life and writing a very flawed Great Canadian Novel. After years of honing the writing craft, my stories started selling. Wrote the first mystery novel in a series, then a couple more, and finally was able to fix that flawed first novel and make it good. Now busy with numerous writing projects, and not enough time.
What drew you to the theme of insanity? What is it that you find so frightening?
Dale: Our sanity is balanced on a thin edge at best, and it only takes a few episodes to tip the balance. Many of us have seen weird things we cannot explain. Add a few more of those events, and you start wondering where the line is. Writers live in a world that others fear to even think about, which makes us half-crazy to start with. Madmen sometimes have the knowledge we need to slay the monsters, so we need to listen to them at times.
Ursula: I think life can be disturbing. Tragedies like a child’s death or a rape are inherently scary. Focusing on such events and bringing in our own experiences can make for dark and chilling stories.
Stacey: For me, I think the concept of not being sure if you can trust your own sanity is pretty terrifying. My actions aren’t always perceived as sane, but at least I always trust them.
Vlad: Crazy has a tendency to creep up on a person. The guy mumbling to himself at the bus stop, the killer who swears he’s just like everyone else, the fanatics that use religion or politics or the fact that milk isn’t on sale as a justification for murder … Do they know they’re insane? Do they realize they’ve gone past the point of no return? I find the idea that crazy can seep into a person pretty disturbing, because I’m sure a lot of whackos started off as perfectly nice people. Do we all have a breaking point? If I snap, will I know it?
What was your favorite part of writing the stories included in this anthology?
Stacey: We really worked together as a team, submitting our stories to the whole group, and providing feedback on each. Watching the stories morph and improve with each round was amazing. The end result was higher quality fiction from all of us.
Ursula: I agree with Stacey. Working together as a team was the best part.
Vlad: What Stacey said. It was my first time collaborating in a group to produce a publishable work, and the energy that jazzed through us all was pretty motivating. Plus, I got to make Stacey’s nervous twitch kick in by making up cooltastic new words like “efficiefize.”
Dale: The characters. Both my stories have female protagonists, very different from each other. But they shine, and I’m happy to have brought them to light.
What part was your least favorite or the most difficult to write?
Ursula: I love the child, little Raymond, in Never Alone, who comes to terms with being a ghost. Vicky, in Dark Water, is a rape victim struggling with her memories while on vacation with friends in a tropical venue she finds haunting. I had to spend a lot of time thinking about rape in order to get the right feelings into the story.
Vlad: Formatting. I spent way too much time combining our different versions of Word into a cohesive file. That’s always my least favorite part about being an indie writer. It really makes my eyes ache and I get a sleepy, hazy sort of feeling … zzzzzz.
Dale: Rewriting to group edits. I pour out a version, then slog through the chipping away to make it fit someone else’s idea of the details of the story.
Stacey: For me, “Old Man’s Winter” was difficult because it was based on experiences members of my own family have faced. It was hard to hurt some of those characters—though some of their real-life counterparts are long dead—all over again.
What advice would each of you give to authors interested in writing and marketing shorter fiction?
Vlad: I actually don’t write a lot of short fiction. “The Sleep Artist”, my story in Insanity Tales, is about the shortest I’ve gone so far in terms of work that I’d actually show anyone, and that’s about 20,000 words. I have to punt this question to the others.
Ursula: Find workshops and review your material to gain confidence in your voice as a writer. Put your heart into your stories. Readers will love you for it.
Dale: Soak in as much short fiction as you can absorb, then do more. Historical and modern, your culture and others, great literature and pure escapist trash, and everything in between. Study how stories are constructed, how characters come to life, how words on a page create emotions within you. Take an idea, water it to story growth, get feedback, and repeat a thousand times more. Sorry, no shortcuts. Good art takes work and sacrifice. But you also find pure joy in the creation.
Stacey: Pick up a copy of the Best American Short Stories—doesn’t matter what year—and read it cover to cover. Read every piece of short fiction you can find by authors you respect and admire. Write, edit, rewrite, get feedback from people whose opinions you trust, and rewrite again. Learn as much as you can about the market you’re submitting to. Don’t take rejection personally.
Was there anything you learned via research or experience for the story/stories included in this anthology?
Ursula: Everyone who contributed to Insanity Tales reviewed all the stories. As a relatively new writer, I learned a lot from the feedback from the other writers.
Vlad: Nah. I’m omnipotent. Just don’t tell my wife.
Dale: I had an image of seas of cornfields, but knew nothing about the harvest schedule of Iowa corn. Had to research that, and extrapolate the effect on the community from my own rural background.
Where can people find out more about you and your other works?
All of the authors involved with the project work together in a collaborative group, The Storyside. Learn more at www.thestoryside.com.
Stacey: On my website, www.staceylongo.com, and, of course, we’re all on Amazon!
Thank you all, so much, for stopping by our Spotlight blog. If anyone would like to meet the authors in-person, most of them will be at ABSW at 65 James Street on Sunday, March 22 from 1-3 PM. Come out for a visit!