This past week, I spent more time talking about myself than even I’m comfortable with, darlings, so I’m sure you must be sick to death of it by now.
But as I was asked by Dawn Quyle Landau of Tales From the Motherland to do one more interview, I must say I’m pleased to give you some more. I can’t say no to Dawn, darlings — since we discovered each other in Friday Fictioneers, we’ve been fast fans of each other’s writing. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
What am I working on:
Three things simultaneously, and it’s aging me horribly, darlings. First, I’m preparing to launch Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One on April 1st (yes, really — and you heard it here first) along with my friend Jim, who’s spearheaded the now successful Kickstarter campaign. This means scathes of shameless self-promotion (which, ironically, causes me to feel a great deal of shame, but more on that later), elevated levels of stress and worry, with likely a less than spectacular outcome. (You think I’m being negative, but hear me out — what I’m saying is that with writers in general and me in particular, I find that it’s never enough. I could have a 100 people standing and applauding me, and in the back of your mind, I’d be thinking: Only 100?)
But we continue to write, because — or rather, I hope because — we still love it, success or no, audience or no.
I’m continuing to write my memoirs to compile for Volume Two. Volume One focused mainly on my adult life, and left some biographical hints that remained unanswered. With Volume Two, I fill in a lot of those blanks, discussing some painful childhood experiences, some stories that lead up to me becoming the person I am. And of course, everything will be tempered with a smattering of humour so that it’s not all tears.
At the same time, I’m writing as Jessica B. Bell — my dark alter ego. I’m writing a sort of gothic swamp story set in a small Bayou in Louisiana, where, legend has it, there’s an actual monster living in the swamp. Fifteen years ago, some kids went missing, and were found in a horrible way. Now, the story opens with the disappearance of another young boy, and the Chief of Police in particular fears that the horror is beginning again. It started out as just a serial story — something to pass the time — but it’s taken such a solid shape that I’m turning it into a novel. I’m thinking of a tagline something like: Some monsters slither in the muck — and some monsters walk on two legs. I dunno. What do you think?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I like to think that nobody writes like I do, but I’m sure that’s a lie. I could confess my influences, and then it would destroy the illusion that I’m a goddamned genius. And so I won’t, darlings — continue to assume that I’m a genius, please.
Nothing in my life is sacred.
Most memoirs I’ve read actually read like a sacred text — just the facts, related in a “he said-she said” type of way. I don’t know why that should be the case. It’s a story, and you, as the narrator, have ALL the details after the fact. Why not craft it as a story? Also, I actually flaunt the fact that my stories are only quasi-autobiographical. I’m up front about the fact that I may tweak things from time to time to make the story better. I leave out all the boring stuff, and accentuate (and perhaps exaggerate) some of the more outrageous happenings. The result is that you can never quite tell what is real and what is not — you just have to accept your response to the story itself — the story is everything — never mind the writer or her life. Did the story move you? Did it make you laugh, did it make you cry, did it make you angry? If so, then what difference does it make which parts were line for line and which were improvised?
Why do I write what I do?
I write a lot of things. In fact, in true dilettante fashion, I dabble in all sorts of different types of writing, different genres, just to say that I have. What might start out as a romantic comedy might turn into a supernatural mystery. I like to keep people guessing. I like to be shocking but not vulgar; I like to be scary but not crude or gory. I like writing about broken characters, flawed people, anti-heroes. I’m a damaged person, I fully admit it, and I constantly question even the most virtuous person’s motives. Everyone’s got some dark secret they wouldn’t want their sweet old grandmother to know about.
I write other things as a way to find laughter. Whether I’m laughing at myself or laughing at the world, it all amounts to the same thing — I find the world I live in absolutely absurd, and yet there seems no other alternative but to live in it. And so I try to find ways to laugh, because if I didn’t, I’d spend every waking moment in tears.
How does your writing process work?
I’m going to let Jessica handle this one, because frankly, I’ve been asked this a lot lately, and I’m sure you’re all getting bored with hearing me answer the same thing.
Really, Helena? You’re going to let me speak.
Yes, darling. But you see this stick? You say anything I don’t like and this stick is going to do things. Unpleasant things.
Um, okay, well, I have a lot of nightmares. Even in the daytime. I hardly ever sleep, and I’m always so hungry. But that’s okay, I have a hard time writing on a full stomach anyway — it just makes me sleepy. Sometimes I’ll go for days and days without eating or sleeping, and then I start getting really dizzy and seeing things, sometimes hearing voices. I like hearing the voices — it’s nice having someone to talk to.
So then I’ll talk to the voices and tell them all about my nightmares, and they tell me I should write them down. And so I try my best to remember the nightmares, and I grab my sharpest quill and a piece of parchment, and I open a vein for some ink, and I begin to write.
When one is writing in one’s own blood, it’s not a good idea to take a long time, or to make mistakes, and so I make sure that I’ve thought it out in advance, and then put it down as quickly as I can. There have been times when Helena has opened the cellar door and found me collapsed at my desk, having pondered a metaphor too long and passed out. Those are the nights I spend on the rack, which Helena assures me is not a punishment, but rather a new health fad — something about stretching being good for circulation.
When I write I begin with the voices… I hear the character’s voice in my head. I formulate a back story for them, a whole history that you readers may only ever get important pieces of. Or sometimes, I have a totally blank character. A mysterious man in the shadows that is like the Ace up my sleeve (if I had sleeves. Helena said I could have a long sleeve shirt if I was good, and I think I’ve been very good, but I still shiver in the cold and wet wearing only this ratty old chemise.) Sometimes I’ll have that blank character there for me to fill a crucial role later in the story, when I can fit them in anywhere.
I like to keep readers on hooks.
You mean on tenterhooks.
Sure. Tenterhooks. Are they sharp, and strong enough to support body weight?
Um, I think this interview is over, darlings — Jessica’s getting a hungry look in her eye — time for your medicine, dear…
J. S. Collyer lives in Lancaster, UK, where she stayed after studying Creative Writing BA and MA at Lancaster University. She enjoys reading and writing Sci-Fi, Horror and a little Fantasy as has always been drawn to narratives that are larger than life. She shares short SciFi, Horror and other Speculative Fiction on her blog jcollyer.wordpress.com and has some big news to announce soon about her first foray into novel drafting.
For useful links, free fiction and pictures of cats, follow J. S. Collyer on Twitter @JexShinigami
Dana C. Thomas
Dana Constance Thomas is a creatrix. An artist and alliteration addict. She’ll be starting a support AAAA. Contact her directly to join. In the end she’s simply a storyteller. And she’d have it no other way.
Writer, blogger, Mom. Katie is the author of Changelings: Into the Mist, a young adult historical fantasy, and blogs under the moniker “A” at the D/A Dialogues. At home, she pretends like she know more than a 13 year-old, gardens recklessly and indulges her love of books, history, ridiculous British television, real food and more books.