Blog

Blog Interview – Maura Yzmore

maura_authorphotoMaura Yzmore writes short-form literary and speculative fiction, as well as humor. She lives with her family in the American Midwest and works as a university professor in a math-heavy field. You can find out more about her work at https://maurayzmore.com or on Twitter @MauraYzmore.

Her story “Cryobliss” appears in Exoplanet Issue One.

When did you start writing?

How much time have you got? I’m an academic scientist, so technical writing is my bread and butter. I’ve also published a book of essays and cartoons on academic life with a small press under a different pen name; this material arose from almost a decade of blogging. But I never thought I could write fiction; I didn’t think I had the chops or could come up with a compelling plot, even though I’d always read a lot and across genres.

Then, last summer, something happened. I started looking into publishing markets and wrote a number of stories over a very short period. First some drabbles, then some flash and short stories, most of them literary or slipstream. Many weren’t very good when I first started sending them out (my apologies to the poor slush readers upon whom I inflicted those). But send them out I did, and, of course, rejections poured in, which was both demoralizing and illuminating.

Then a few acceptances snuck in, which did encourage me.  I connected with the flash-fiction literary community on Twitter, a wonderful and supportive group that is such a privilege to belong to. I met accomplished writers and started reading their work, stories upon stories every day, and learned about newer publishing markets.

In the fall, I started volunteering as a reader/editor at 101 Words (I had to say goodbye to them recently, as life got busy); this was a phenomenal learning experience, which really taught me what makes or breaks very short fiction. If you get a chance to be a first reader for a magazine, take it; it’s invaluable for the development of the craft. So I wrote and published literary fiction, slipstream, and some humor for about eight months before I got the courage to try my hand at speculative fiction.

“Cryobliss,” is actually my first pure science-fiction short story. I’ve sold a few since, but “Cryobliss” will always remain special.

It is special. Thanks for sharing it with us! Why do you write speculative fiction?

Speculative fiction is virtually limitless in what it enables an author to explore. The best speculative fiction has richly textured language and compelling characters, just like the best literary fiction, but at the core of speculative fiction lies a bright and shiny original idea that gives the piece its life force, the seed to a plot. This idea is unconstrained by our reality, location, technology, history, or biology. I’m a sucker for surprises, and speculative fiction delivers great ones.

The characters in your story get quite a surprise. What inspired you to write “Cryobliss”?

When I was a kid, my Grandma told me that Walt Disney had been frozen, hoping to awaken once he could be cured. I’m pretty sure she’d read it somewhere and believed it to be true. I never really thought about it much until recently, when I came across an article about the people who did in fact enter cryostasis and those who are widely believed to have done so, but actually didn’t, such as Disney. That article stayed with me until an idea came—what if someone in the future ended up with a frozen Walt Disney on their hands? That’s the main idea behind the story, and the rest arose from my fascination with the colonization of the solar system.

Fascinating stuff indeed. Who are some writers that have inspired you with fascinating ideas?

Among household names, probably Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Ray Vanderby, Kurt Vonnegut, and Stephen King. Contemporary speculative fiction novelists whose work I enjoy include Claire North, Becky Chambers, Ann Leckie, Nnedi Okorafor, Charlie Stross, and John Scalzi. Short-fiction writers in the genre whose work I always look forward to include A. Merc Rustad, Sara Saab, Vanessa Fogg, G. V. Anderson, Christopher Stanley, and S. E. Casey. But there are many more, really.

That’s quite a list of remarkable writers. What was the last book that blew your mind or made you laugh/cry?

“The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” by Claire North. Becky Chambers’s Wayfarer books. “Neptune’s Brood” by Charlie Stross. “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch.

What is your favorite TV show?

These days, it’s The Expanse, no contest. I love The Handmaid’s Tale in the way you love something that gives you nightmares. Among the lighter fare, I’d say GLOW and Santa Clarita Diet (yes, I waste a lot of time on Netflix).

If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?

Work on your craft to better honor your voice. I think newbie writers assume that all rejection is a comment on their imperfect craft and that all editorial feedback following a rejection must be incorporated. In reality, there is magazine flair and editorial taste; some magazines will never take anything you write, no matter how good you become, and that’s okay, but there’s no point in trying to write to their preferences. You want to find those that like your voice and your style and might even take a chance on your rougher stuff and work with you; these are your markets. You need to trust your gut and your vision; improving your craft is a way to bring your writing and your vision closer together, not to beat them into submission according to someone else’s specifications. Also, everyone gets rejected. A lot. All the time, really. Yes, even the pros.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I am working on several speculative short stories with August submission targets. Then I plan to focus on some literary fiction and nonfiction ideas before all the speculative pieces come back rejected and bum me out. And I mustn’t forget a humorous story about a zygote that I’d promised a good Twitter friend months ago I’d submit.

Blog Interview – Terence Hannum

Terence Hannum is a Baltimore, MD based artist, musician (playing in Locrian and The Holy Circle) and writer. His novella Beneath the Remains was published by Anathemata Editions and his novella All Internal will be published this year by Dynatox Ministries. His short stories have appeared in Terraform, Lamplight, Turn to Ash, SickLit,and the SciPhi Journal.

His story “The Seam” appears in Exoplanet Issue One.

When did you start writing?

I wrote art criticism for years, but seriously started writing fiction seven years ago when I began my novella “Beneath the Remains. It took a while to finish, edit and get published, but it was an important experience and one I’ve kept at since.

And what specifically drives you to write speculative fiction?

To me it allows you the freedom to address subjects that maybe don’t fit inside traditional literary fiction, such as climate change or environmental collapse. I am not a very good orthodox sci-fi or horror writer, I don’t follow rules very well, so I tend to think of speculative as a great middle group for me.

You’ve certainly found that middle ground in “The Seam.” What inspired this story?

“The Seam” was inspired by a family camping trip. My kids were discussing how real things were. It kind of all fell into place. It got me thinking about how else you could replicate the reality of the outdoors and why you would.

That’s fascinating. “The Seam” definitely brought that realness. Who are your favourite writers that bring something beyond reality to the page?

I have to say JG Ballard and a lot of the New Wave of Science-Fiction. It always dismays me that that thread of science fiction has waned a bit, but writers like Ballard, Delaney, and Le Guin really challenged me. I also owe quite a bit to the New Narrative writers—like Dennis Cooper, Kevin Killian, and Kathy Acker—who would combine surrealism with violence, gender politics, and humor. I also would add André Breton, Anna Kavan, Don DeLillo, and Zora Neale Hurston.

That’s a great list of writers who have contributed a huge amount to science fiction. What do you want to contribute to the genre with your writing?

Really what I try and do is take something mundane, a camping trip or a mall, and imbue it with something uncanny. To me that is about sharing a sense of disturbance that something that would be normal is more strange and difficult.

What was the last book that blew your mind?

I’ll give you two, one a recent one and one an older one that I just got around to. First was Karl Ove Knausgard’s “My Struggle: Book 4”, it really blew my mind—it was so simple but really a great novel about writing and transitioning from being a teenager into an adult. The second one is more of a classic. I neglected Jack Finney’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and it was to my own peril. It is such a great novel, and so well written and composed. I was blown away.

What was the last book that made you laugh and/or cry?

A collection of short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. There were some stories in there that made me laugh out loud. I think when I read “Ice” by Anna Kavan I maybe felt a lot of sorrow—it’s a very strange and tragic story. I don’t know if I cried but I felt close to it.

What is your favourite TV show?

Of all time, probably “The Twilight Zone”. Recently, maybe “The Terror” (AMC) and “Dark”  (Netflix), so far “Sharp Objects” on HBO is doing it for me but I’m sure it’s going to be dumb when they catch the killer.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?

Write, I should have started writing earlier.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I have been editing my first novel, Lower Heavenfor a while now and submitting it for publication—it’s about surveillance, suburbia, and religion taking place beneath a surveillance blimp and diving into issues around guns, technology, and belief.

Blog Interview – Brenna Layne

Brenna Layne is a writer, teacher, wife, and mother living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. When she is not wrangling words or kids, she enjoys beekeeping, gardening, and broadsword fighting. You can find her online at www.brennalayne.com where she blogs, on facebook and on twitter.

Her story “The Bonny Bones” appears in Exoplanet Issue One.

What inspired your story?

“The Bonny Bones” is a retelling of the English ballad “The Bonny Swans” as it evolved into an Appalachian folk song. In the original story, one sister murders the other in a bid to take her lover. The ballad has intrigued me for a long time with its dark, lyrical portrayal of the effects of envy and its role in sibling relationships. It’s very melodramatic, as ballads tend to be, and I wanted to examine the sibling envy in a different way, in terms of the ordinary, messy envy non-ballad humans experience and often struggle to articulate. I also wanted to use the story to play with the truth that we often unintentionally hurt the ones we love. There’s a lot going on in “The Bonny Swans”—it’s a story about revenge, but also about family, transformation, and the power of music to speak hard truths.

You’ve captured all of those things here, very real feelings. Why do you choose fantasy as an outlet for such realistic themes?

Fantasy feels deeply real and true. It’s just what makes sense to me. On a mature college-educated adult symbolic level, I write fantasy because its magic provides a language of metaphor for all that is lovely and perilous in this world, for the transcendent moments that pierce the ordinary like glimmers of light, or darkness. On a very primal emotional level, no one has yet managed to convince me that dragons are impossible.

Well said. And what are some books that have influenced your work?

The books that seem to influence my own writing the most aren’t fantasies at all. Earlier this year I read Naomi Williams’s Landfalls, an utterly brilliant, completely ambitious work of historical fiction about the ill-fated voyage of a French ship. Each chapter is told from a different perspective and set in a different part of the world, and yet Williams manages to create a unified narrative via prisms of story that reflect light on one another and illuminate each other from without and within. It’s stunning—the kind of book that can teach you a thousand new things about how to tell a story.

What was the last book that made you laugh and/or cry?

Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog completely destroyed me. At one point I was clutching the book while sobbing huge, desperate tears—and then something in the midst of the heart-piercing sorrow made me laugh out loud. While sobbing hysterically. Many books have made me laugh or cry or yell at them (and one I even put in the freezer à la Rachel and Joey on Friends) but so far this is the only one that’s made me laugh out loud while ugly-crying.

What writing projects are you working on now?

Appalachian ballads continue to confound and intrigue me, so I’ve written a couple more retellings, with more to come. I’m also revisiting an adult fantasy I wrote a few years ago. Inspired by the bold ambition of Landfalls, I plan to burn my novel to the ground and start over, rewriting it as a series of linked short stories that (hopefully) tell a set of individual stories while unfolding a larger plotline. I had originally intended to write it this way and failed. Williams showed me that it can be done. Now I just have to figure out how. 

Blog Interview – Callum Colback

20180604_092053
Callum Colback 
is a Scottish-born writer based in Bedfordshire, U.K. He writes across all genres, although Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror are closest to his heart. When not writing he can be found sketching, playing guitar, and chipping away at the ever-growing to-be-read pile of books stacked around the house. Follow him on twitter.

His story “Departure” appears in Exoplanet Issue One.

What do you want to share most with your readers?

I want to share the feeling I experience when I see a certain moment in my head for the first time; the twist, a betrayal, the finding of redemption.
When you dream up a story there are always a couple of these moments that pull at your heart and give you *feelings*—could be a punch to the gut, a creeping sense of dread, or full body encompassing elation (comparable to eating a sharing sundae designed for four all by yourself).

That’s what I take away from a book I have read; an experience, a sense of something, something tangible to hold onto. A story can be amazingly written, or a plot beautifully laid out, but if it doesn’t make you feel something then it can leave you inexplicably unsatisfied.

Really, we’re in it for the feels.
I only hope I can occasionally translate the scene in my head to paper well enough to allow the readers to feel what I felt the first time I experienced it.

You’ve certainly done that with “Departure.” The plot is wonderfully executed and there are lots of feels to be had. Where did you get your inspiration? Who are some of your favourite writers?

There’s a long list…but amongst them are:

George R R Martin (For Wild Cards as much as Game of Thrones), Robin Hobb, Jen Williams (The Copper Cat Trilogy is sublime), Patrick Rothfuss, Ursula K Le Guin, Dan Simmons, Stephen King (Not so much his horror, but The Dark Tower is my all-time favourite series—to the point my right forearm homes a tattoo devoted to it. The Stand is a firm favourite too), Phillip K Dick…

. . . and the list goes on, but the enjoyment of reading a list of authors’ names does not, so I’ll stop there!

That’s a great list. What was the last book that got you in the feels?

The Wise Man’s Fear, by the above-mentioned Pat Rothfuss. If you haven’t read the Kingkiller Chronicles, I highly recommend them—I haven’t been that invested in a character in a long time. And they are beautifully written too. My inability to put them down, sometimes at the expense of basic human functions like eating or drinking, is what really blew my mind. Not many books get me *that* bad.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?

Finish your S#@%!!! Seriously, finish it. All of it. Like, now.
I spent a number of years, more than I care to note here, starting things. Starting, but never finishing. Too easily was I distracted by the shiny new idea, the freshly dreamed up character, or doing just a little more worldbuilding (despite already having fifty pages of an alien language that would never feature in the story itself). When I learned the self-discipline of finishing what I started, suddenly the pieces began to fall into place. It was a lesson a long time in the coming, but the most valuable one to date.

What are you working on finishing now?

I am currently working on a full-length novel, of the cyberpunk variety. It’s a story that has been with me for many years, slowly germinating, but always scaring me just a little too much to begin work on it. That’s changed now, and I’m enjoying seeing it become a physical reality.
I’m also working as an editor on the upcoming TLDR Press Horror Quarterly (meaning I get to read loads of awesome stories that proceed to keep me up at night), and aside from that I write a constant stream of short stories, so they are an ever present and (hopefully) never ending project.

 

Blog Interview – Ari Drue

33112967_10155297133880824_3771981175749345280_n

Ari Drue is a D.C. native who has always looked at everyday life and wondered, ‘what if?’ She believes there is a story in everything around her. As an author of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Paranormal, her stories center around characters of color. Ari is also the creator of Terra Stone, extraterrestrial superhero of the Urban 30 stories which take place in a fictional Washington, D.C. Her novel Anterrian’s Heir is available now. 

Her story “Malfunction” appears in Exoplanet Issue One.

When did you start writing?

I’ve written stories for almost as long as I can remember. The youngest of five, I read the textbooks my brothers brought home and the novels my mother exchanged with my godmother. So, the evolution to wanting to write my own stories just kind of came naturally. By junior high, I wrote whatever came to mind; songs, horror stories, romance serials for my friends, you name it.

And why speculative fiction?

My love of writing speculative fiction came from a long history of reading fiction and fantasy and watching horror movies with my older brothers. Saturdays were for horror and science fiction movies. And books. The idea that something existed out of the ordinary always drew me to those types of stories. I love the concept of ‘what if?’.

There is a big ‘what if’ in “Malfunction.” What inspired your story?

Growing up in Washington, DC, you can’t help but to grow up feeding on politics. The city was always one of the most controversial places to live. But the decisions being made often made you feel like the politicians were puppets, or as in my story, robots programmed to run the country, with other people in the background controlling their motions. With the current administration, it feels like someone changed the program and nothing is going the way it’s supposed to, which inspired my story.

It’s a brilliantly topical story, one that offers a fun and fresh take on the current political situation. Your writing is so sharp and cinematic. Who are some of your favourite writers that you drew inspiration from?

Ah, where to start. So, first, there’s Octavia Butler. Someone recommended Wild Seedto me and I’ve never been the same. Stephen King. The first thing I ever read of his was his book of short stories, Night Shift. I was completely fascinated, and I’ve tried to read everything of his ever since. Also, Anne McCaffrey with her Dragon Rider series.

And what about TV shows?

I haven’t had much time to watch television lately, I always seem to either be on a book deadline or trying to catch up on my to-be-read pile—which is growing in print and in eBook format. So, I can tell you that some of my favorite shows have been X-Files (I mean, of course), Fringe, Millennium (an oldie, but a goodie) and American Gods. American Gods got me with the ‘what if?’ What if Gods walked the Earth and all were in some kind of power play.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?

Stay on the path you set for yourself; don’t doubt that you can accomplish anything.

You can, and I know you’re always hard at work on the next project. What writing projects are you working on now?

I actually have several projects in the works. I’m working on another short story channeling my hatred of staying in hospitals and a fantasy. Under my other hat (romance) I’m working on a new suspense series and a sci-fi fantasy.

 

Top 5 Reasons We Need Speculative Fiction

Imaginative fiction is often dismissed as impractical entertainment for children and dreamers. And maybe it is. But it is also a vital part of understanding our place in the universe.

To celebrate the launch of Exoplanet Magazine, our editors have come up with a list of the top 5 reasons we need speculative fiction. 
Even though these are in no particular order, let’s count down to make it more exciting…
 
IMG_3618
First in Space by Brooke Fawley

5. It’s creative
Speculative fiction provides a playground for the imagination. When the boundaries of realism come off, fiction allows us to conduct thought experiments that are both safe and fun!

4. Let’s face it, we all need a little escapism (or a lot)
Fantastical stories can serve as a therapeutic release from every-day stresses. Dreaming of something beyond the mundane is one of the most fundamental aspects of fantasy, and sometimes we just need a vacation from our lives.
 
3. Allegory/metaphor/myth
Science fiction, fantasy, and other imaginative genres offer tools of abstraction to help us understand the world around us. Otherworldly metaphors allow us to channel our thoughts and feelings into a form we can deal with and relate to.
 
2. Tackling big ideas
Speculative fiction is the most effective and fun (this is important!) way to tackle big ideas such as gods, the nature of reality, alternate planes of existence, and humanity’s purpose and place in the universe.
 
1. A sense of belonging
When we don’t see people like us in the world we live in, speculative fiction gives us an opportunity to imagine worlds in which we are the norm. Better yet, it gives us stories in which embracing our uniqueness allows us to become more than we thought possible.
 
Those are our top 5. Why do you love speculative fiction?