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Blog Interview – Casey Reinhardt

Casey Reinhardt is a writer from Buffalo, New York where she dreams up madness, most of which makes its way into a story or poem. Some will remain in the dream-realm for all eternity. Her work can be found in Apparition Lit and the TL;DR Press Women’s Anthology. Find her on twitter @yoscully.

Her story “Within the Red Fog” appeared in Issue Two.

What inspired your story?

“Within the Red Fog” started with a prompt, but what I wrote first was a 500-word disaster that was trying to be The Mist. I thought about it for a long time, kept the fog and ditched the rest. A few months later, on my way home after a long, awkward family Easter dinner, there was a man walking down the road with a 30-pack of Labatt Blue hoisted on his shoulder. I made him the main character and used the Easter dinner as a jumping off point. I have no idea who he was, but thanks Mr. Stranger.

When did you start writing?

I wrote like my life depended on it when I was young, and then went to college and wrote a lot of essays, like most. It sucked all of the creativity from my soul. There was a long muddling period through my 20s when nothing seemed to be working. The words were trite and ineffective. It was all sci-fi epic worldbuilding with no actual writing getting done. It took until I was 28 for me to realize I was a discovery writer. I just needed to pick up a pen and see where the story went. If I kept planning nothing was ever going to happen. Since that “aha” moment, I haven’t stopped to look back, just keep plowing forward. Many thanks to the few writing groups I’ve belonged to who never let me settle for the mediocre.

Who are your favourite writers?

Samantha Hunt first and foremost. She is just such a gritty storyteller who is unafraid of dark, weird corners of the mind. Margaret Atwood for the same reason. Jeff VanderMeer, for introducing me to The Weird with the Southern Reach trilogy.

What was the last book that blew your mind?

The Seasby Samantha Hunt. It’s a short, powerful little story that I could not put down. It’s weird and it was the first story with an Iraq War Vet I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil the ending, but when I closed the book after a binge-read I felt haunted for days. The voice is unmatched by anything else I’ve ever read.

What is your favourite TV show?

The X-files, hands down. I’m doing a re-watch now and just watched Pusher. (Cerulean blue. Cerulean makes me think of a breeze. A gentle breeze.)

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

Just write, goddammit. Let yourself suck for a while. Read more. Eventually you will suck less.

What writing projects are you working on now?

A Gothic historical fiction novel called With the Death of Edwin Donahuethat I finished last year. It’s a big diversion from sci-fi/fantasy, but I like exploring other genres.

 

Blog Interview – Tomas Marcantonio

Tomas Marcantonio is a novelist and prize-winning travel writer from Brighton, England. His short fiction has appeared in over a dozen journals and anthologies, including STORGYThe Fiction Pool, and Ellipsis Zine. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English and writes whenever he can escape the classroom. You can connect with Tomas on Twitter @TJMarcantonio.

His story “Plastic Lives” appeared in Issue Two.

What inspired your story?

This is a really unique one for me in that I actually didn’t come up with the idea for the story myself. My brother-in-law woke up one morning and sent me an essay of an email detailing the dream he had just had. I couldn’t believe the level of detail he’d created within his subconscious, and he just said something like: “There’s a story for you if you fancy it.” In the end I had to simplify the story and I just created a couple of characters to focus on, because the world he had imagined was so vast, it was like an entire novel. Of course, recent news about genetically-modified babies actually makes the story even more relevant right now; it’s almost at the stage where this isn’t science fiction any more, it’s just fiction.

Why do you write speculative fiction?

I love exploring new worlds and coming up with new concepts, and then finding the story within. It’s great to create a future society, for example, and then to wonder who the most interesting character is in that world, who doesn’t play by the rules, or what flaws can bring this society down. I’m currently based in Korea, where things often seem a lot more futuristic than they do where I grew up in England, so that provides a lot of inspiration, and the differences between eastern and western cultures always gives me ideas for speculative stories too.

What was the last book that blew your mind?

So far this year I’ve already read a few books that have stayed with me. The Point by Charles D’Ambrosio is an incredible collection of short stories; they’re so gritty and depressing and real, but laced with touching moments and brilliantly observed detail. Then on a completely different note, A Rose for Winter by Laurie Lee, who is one of my absolute favourite writers. Every time I read a paragraph of Lee’s writing I feel like I’m studying a masterclass in literature; his writing is so poetic and I can’t get enough of it. I also read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for the first time last month, and it was haunting. I love coming of age stories, particularly when they deal with anxiety and depression. These topics are more common in literature these days, but when the book was published I imagine it must have been all the more difficult to speak and write about.

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

Read more fiction. Actually, when I was growing up I mostly read fantasy through my teens, and then travel writing as a young adult, as I mainly focused on travel writing myself. When I started writing more fiction, I realised how much more I needed to read. Even now, in between reading books in the genres that particularly interest me, I’ll pick up classics that I probably should have read fifteen years ago.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a novel based on a series of short stories that I wrote for STORGY Magazine. It’s a dystopian novel set in a neon-drenched island city located between Japan and Korea, where the government has introduced a host of policies to combat the ageing population. The main character is a one-eared ex-con who is forced to deform himself and go on the run after being framed for murder. It’s been a joy to write and it’s kept me busy for a while, but I also find time for short stories and travel writing between drafts.

Blog Interview – Zanib Zulfiqar

Zanib Zulfiqar is a pre-medicine student at the University of Cincinnati, College of Allied Health Sciences, and has been writing since the age of nine. “Paper Boats,” first appeared in the literary journal for the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash branch as a second-place winner of their spring writing contest in 2017. Follow Zanib on Twitter @ZanibZulfiqar.

Her story “Paper Boats” appeared in Exoplanet Issue Two.

When did you start writing?

I have been a story-teller pretty much my entire life. When I was four, I had an imaginary friend that I’d construct fantastic adventures around. I think I wrote my first official “story” when I was nine years old. Something about a strange woman living in a house on a hill. Never really knew where I was going with it, but it was interesting to think about thirteen years later.

Why do you write speculative fiction?

Escapism. I’ve always found stories that took place in the mundane and everyday (boy meets girl, teenager in high school, old man coming to terms with his past mistakes) less interesting than stories that lived in constructed worlds. I know I’ve always loved vampires, werewolves, magicians, and dystopias, but it wasn’t until I actively started writing things down for Oblivion – the series from which “Paper Boats” originated – that I realized just how much I loved playing around in the realm of Science Fiction as well.

What inspired “Paper Boats”?

I think I can speak to a lot of imaginative people when I say that my best ideas occur in the shower. I was in the process of defining the mindscape of Oblivion’s main character, Alex Valentine, and was between several ideas that all worked for various reasons. There was something about an expanse of nothingness that spoke to the character’s deep-seated fears of confusion, isolation, and immobilization. My character is part of my universe’s super-SWAT units, the guy that kicks down doors and shoots anything that moves. Being alone in a knee-deep ocean of black water and rocky outcroppings seemingly in a world that was permanently asleep – being afraid of being in a blank, quiet world – says so much about Alex’s character.

What do you want to share most with your readers?

The world, the story, the characters, the troubles that plague them. Of course that’s the primary purpose of writing. But with that, I am eager to share the scaffolding and architecture behind the scenes. I’d love to share the maps of the world, sketches of Golem City, the previous versions of the storyline, where the ideas came from. I’d love to see how people construct their own worlds, and I think the best way to get that conversation rolling is to start with yours.

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

Let. Stuff. Sit. Just because the words “darkness” and “teeming” came up in a sentence doesn’t mean that I need to produce a detailed description of how they fit into my story that very evening. I don’t need to stare at a blank Word document for hours until I can scrape something together because I have this rough diamond of an idea that I want to see cut and polished. It’s okay – and often better – to write down fragments of ideas as they occur, turn the journal page, and allow them to stew for a while.

Author Spotlight – Tara Cameron

Tara Cameron is a writer, editor, and photographer who has struggled with mental illness and being an odd duck since childhood, has never fit into any of the neatly labeled human boxes. Her photography has appeared in Rascal Journal, Red Flag Poetry, Scene & Heard, and Penultimate Peanut, and has been featured in an outdoor installation by her hometown in Kingston, Ontario Canada where she lives with her three daughters, partner, cat, dog, three rats, and a house that is way too large. You can find Tara on twitter @CreativeOddDuck, Instagram @the_creative_odd_duck, or on her website https://thecreativeoddduckca.wordpress.com.

Her story “Bad Moon Repeating” appeared in Issue Two.

EP: Hi Tara, thanks for joining us! How’s your 2019 going so far?

Tara: It’s looking pretty good so far. I just put the finishing touches on a second short story and have just finished a new collection of photographs, so I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

EP: That’s awesome! Sounds like you’re off to a very creative start. What’s the new story about?

Tara: It’s a second technician story. It follows a different set of characters through the same universe set up in the story published in your December issue.

EP: That’s very cool. I love shared universe stories. Do you have any plans to make it into a larger collection of stories, or longer work?

Tara: This one is actually much longer than “Bad Moon Repeating,” clocking in at just over 10,000 words. I actually think because of this particular universe, they work really well as a collection of shorts rather than each as individual books, but I am hoping to put together a collection. I have a third started, just a rough draft, and a rough outline of how I would like the book to be laid out.

EP: That sounds like a really interesting project. I can definitely see how the technician could tie a bunch of diverse stories together and give them a unified perspective. Well, I was going to ask you what inspired “Bad Moon Repeating,” but it sounds like your scope is far wider than a single story. So instead, what inspired this universe, or this sort of alternate reality?

Tara: I’ve always been a history buff. I absolutely love reading historical accounts and I eat up documentaries like most people do reality TV. There’s all these patterns in human history that seem to create these recurring themes. My mind just ran with it over time, imagining what those themes would look like from the outside, as an observer with no skin in the game.

EP: Of course, that’s a fascinating idea. It makes you kind of zoom out from your own life and realize that there is always a larger perspective. It’s very humbling. And it makes for a gripping narrative. Because, even as an observer, you can’t help but become attached to these characters you’ve created. And their believability is so sharp in contrast to the speculative setting. Is speculative fiction something you’ve always been drawn to, or was it just a fit for this particular concept?

Tara: Well the great thing about history is the large overarching narratives that historians string together from all these individual lives, and part of the inspiration for the story was the bias that sneaks in while they are weaving them, often times without them knowing it. Speculative fiction, for me, is like a creative extension of that. We really don’t have a very clear picture of our history, and no idea where it is we are heading—it is often a great place for inspiration. Taking that bit of knowledge and letting your imagination run with it.

EP: That’s a great point. I love it. You certainly can’t tell a story without an observer. So every story has a bit of the narrator in it. And yes, there are so many unknowns, history is a valuable tool—even though we can’t use it to predict the future, it’s all we have to help us identify trends in our culture, our lives, and our world. Speaking of getting the narrator into the story, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your identity as the “creative odd duck.” Our mission atExoplanetis to share stories from underrepresented voices, and your story is a perfect fit. You “get it.” Can you speak a little to this identity and how you’ve come to own it?

Tara: I didn’t always. I’ve never quite fit in anywhere, not ever. Growing up, it was hard being the odd one out and I did spend time trying to fit in. I ended up in a very bad place, sort of spiralled into this person I couldn’t recognize and realized it just wasn’t worth it. It was exhausting, really. I guess it wasn’t so much that I accepted I wasn’t what ‘everyone else considered normal’ so much as I just gave up trying to fit that mold. Sometimes it’s just as exhausting putting up with the attitude I get from some people, but not nearly as often. It took a long time to get there though, and for me anyway, finally just getting tired and fed up. I wasn’t really good at it anyway.

EP: It is exhausting trying to fit in. I can definitely empathize. And I’m so glad you came out of it and became this amazing person and writer!

Tara: Thank you so much. I am a much happier, much more recognizable person, these days.

EP: That’s awesome! That’s all we want to do really, is to let people share their stories, like yours, and at the same time to let people who need to hear these stories experience them. I’m sure many people have already been inspired by you and your work, and many more will be in the future.

Tara: Thank you. I hope I didn’t pale too much in comparison to my characters. They always live much more interesting lives than I do.

EP: I’m glad to hear it. Is there anything else you want to add before we go?

Tara: Well, I guess since you put me in the inspiration seat, I hope anyone reading this, if they take away anything inspirational that is, is to keep going. Never give up on yourself and what you love. It might not always be easy, but it will always be worth it. It sure has been for me. 🙂

EP: Those are great words of advice. Thanks so much for joining us Tara, and for being a great addition to the Exoplanet family.

Tara: Thanks again for having me. The whole process has been incredible from start to finish. I love working with you.

EP: Thank you so much, you’ve been super great to work with too!

Blog Interview – Marjorie Tesser

Marjorie Tesser is a fiction writer and poet. She is editor-in-chief of Mom Egg Review, a literary magazine with a focus on motherhood. Visit her on facebook or instagram.

Her story “Heart of Gold, Heart of Coal” appeared in Issue One.

What inspired you to write “Heart of Gold, Heart of Coal”?

My story, and in particular the characters of Midas and Bright Billy, obviously found inspiration in current events.

Why is speculative fiction the tool you use to write about current events?

I love speculative fiction for its reach and its attitude. It extrapolates from our current situation, illuminates tendencies and directions, and imagines alternatives. It can take on big issues and still explore human truths. It often employs humor and irony. My favorites are when a “regular” person gets drawn into some bizarre circumstances, as in Alice in Wonderland.

Well said. And who are some of your favourite writers who capture those things you love about the genre?

In the speculative realm I love all of Angela Carter’s work. I’ve also recently enjoyed books by Carmen Maria Machado, Octavia Butler, Amber Sparks, and Karen Russell among others. I’m in an MFA program (at Sarah Lawrence College) that has a Speculative Fiction concentration, and the teachers and students in that genre are doing inventive work. In any fiction, I love writers who are keen observers of people and of the human condition; writers who help me understand not only what but why, especially those who can leaven our worst impulses with compassion. Some of my favorites are Lore Segal, Joan Silber, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson, and Carol Shields.

Two recent favorite reads include Matthew Sharpe’s Jamestown, for its ability to evoke past, present, and future with horror and humor, and Victoria Redel’s Before Everything, which is a combination of devastating and life affirming.

You spoke about past and present earlier. If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?

Don’t wait until you have a degree or official piece of paper or someone else’s permission to start doing what you want to do. Equally, take every opportunity to read, hear, and learn about your passion by exploring the works of others.

And for the present, what writing projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel that re-tells a well-known fairy tale from a new perspective, some short stories, and a poetry manuscript.

We can’t wait to read them! 

Blog Interview – I. E. Kneverday

I. E. Kneverday’s story “Swap.me” appeared in Issue One.

“Swap.me” is a brilliant concept. Where did you get the idea for this story?

I’m fascinated by this notion that there are infinite universes existing simultaneously, with new ones branching off all the time as a result of the actions we do (or don’t) take. This was something Blake Crouch explored in his extraordinary 2016 novel Dark Matterwhich featured a multiverse-hopping protagonist who would encounter different versions of himself during his adventure. After reading this book, the notion of being able to have a conversation with another me from another universe lingered in my brain, gestating for more than a year. Then, a few months ago, I heard an ad for an online dating service on the radio and within seconds the plot of “Swap.me” had put itself together. I had been driving between San Francisco and San Jose at the time, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and it dawned on me: If humanity ever does develop technology that allows for inter-universe communication (and/or travel), how would tech companies exploit it and productize it? And the natural follow-up question there, of course, is What could go wrong?

When did you start writing?

The oldest surviving story of mine is actually a story I co-wrote with my older sister. We were kids, on summer vacation, sitting in our rental cottage in Truro, Cape Cod, and I remember hearing the wind whistling through the beachgrass and the fishing lines outside and thinking it sounded like someone playing a melody on a flute. This soon evolved into a story about a love-stricken pirate-flutist who would play his tunes, in secret, for a Spanish princess who was being held captive by the evil Captain Bellamy aboard The Whydah. (For the record, The Whydah was an actual pirate ship, the wreck of which had been discovered off the coast of Cape Cod a few years before we wrote the story, so you can file this one under Historical Fiction.)

Why do you write speculative fiction?

I like my fiction with lots of fiction. When presented with a medium where anything goes, where you are free to bend, stretch, or straight-up break the laws of physics and tap into different realities and planes of existence, why set a story solely in the world of the mundane? Of course, there are many, many incredible and powerful works of fiction that don’t include a speculative element. But for me personally, I love that challenge of creating a world that readers can relate to (at least at some level, and at least at first), but then as they continue reading, that familiar world slowly, almost imperceptibly begins to rotate, until your story has readers suspended upside down, like they’re strapped into a roller coaster.

Who are your favourite writers?

A couple years back I spent a dollar on a collection that includes every single novel and short story H. G. Wells ever had published. Now, I had read Wells as a kid, but revisiting his stories as an adult—The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Door in the Wall, and others—they had a profound effect on me, and got me interested in writing speculative fiction of my own. Flash forward today and here I am: I quit my tech job earlier this year so I could focus more of my time on writing stories about inter-universe communication. (Thanks, H.G.!) Ultimately, however, I draw inspiration from all of the writers I’ve read over the years. I tend to go through phases, reading several (if not all) of a writer’s works in batches. There was the Arthur C. Clarke phase. The Stephen King phase. The gothic horror phase—Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. More recently I’ve been in a Robert Coover phase and have been devouring his bizarrely fascinating short stories, including “Going for a Beer” and “The Frog Prince”.

What writing projects are you working on now?

So for the past few months, I’ve been working almost exclusively in science fiction and horror, but now I’m returning to the realm of folklore and fantasy. I have long been inspired by Irish legends and mythology, as evident from my Woburn Chronicles collection (which includes a story about a shape-shifting leprechaun). More recently I’ve been working on a short story that explores modern/urban Druidry as well as the sacredness of liminal spaces—once seen as portals that led to different worlds. I am also editing a fantasy western that my father has been texting to me, in serialized chunks, every Monday for the past several months. I have no idea how this ritual got started, but it has turned into quite the tale. (Imagine the movie Sicario, but with a supernatural subplot.)

If you’re interested in reading any of the craziness mentioned above, you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, or drop by my website, Kneverday.com to get updates. I also just recently got my author profile set up on Goodreads. Thanks for reading!

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

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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.