Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Amy Marshall Interview

The Horror Librarian: You have referred to yourself as an "Alaskan horror novelist." Can you share with us what that means? (And related, can you tell us about your inspiration for The Fishing Widow?)

Amy Marshall: Alaska is a different creature, and Alaskans definitely are a little more skewed than people Outside. I dunno. Maybe it’s the cold or the dark, or the relentless light of summer, but something puts us all about half a bubble off plumb. I like the colors of light here. I like the stories here. I like the people here. There are such extremes of weather here that Alaska becomes a character in the story. The place is so evocative that you can see ten thousand stories just walking along a rocky beach or hiking a trail in the interior or while you’re cutting wood for the winter.

The Fishing Widow? The joke is that a character from another story who knew he didn’t have a hope in hell of seeing the light of published day freaked out completely (and I have pages of his freak out, they’re really quite chilling and funny in places) and sent his friend Colin over to tell me a story about the two of them before his gig in Cut Time (the novel that will never see the light of day). I was at the sink, washing dishes, when I heard (and this was an audible hallucination) Colin say, “I hear you tell stories good.” I turned and took a swing with a frying pan. Apparently, he ducked, but it was unnerving enough for me to think I was on to something. The crew of The Case in Point is based on every dive crew and field crew I ever worked with. I found myself looking up a lot of what Colin and Ethan (he was renamed) said. I didn’t really know what the Sitka herring sac roe fishery was. I didn’t know much about seine boats in particular. My mother became agitated early on. “You can’t write that! You don’t know ANYTHING about running a commercial fishing boat in Alaska!” To which I replied, “But, mom, I don’t have to. It’s Colin’s boat.”  

Once I started writing, though, everything moved. I mean MOVED; moved in a cosmic way that was positively mind-bending. When I became my small fishing town’s librarian after the initial draft was completed, you can bet there was snickering among my writing friends. But, that wasn’t even the weirdest of the “coincidences” that surrounded the writing of the book. It truly was like the Coelho story where the universe conspires to make your dream come true when you really want it. Things fell into place. If you read the book, there’s quite a bit of Tlingit language in it. Amazingly, whenever I needed a phrase, I was able to come up with it effortlessly. That’s the real deal in there. Like I said, a conspiracy of forces and I had no choice but to get the boys’ story out there.

The Horror Librarian: How do you approach a new writing project? Are you a planner or a panster?

Amy Marshall: It depends, really. I love pantsing. The Fishing Widow was a wildly pantsed novel. I love it when I don’t see things coming. There were a lot of things I didn’t see coming in that one, so readers aren’t alone when they say, “What the—” I found myself scrolling back through text to see if there truly was a breadcrumb trail, and, sure enough, all the hints are there. Even writing it, I didn’t pick up on it.

My fairy tale series is different. Since those stories are based on real fairy and folk tales, I pretty much know how it’s going to go. That said, there were some surprises along the way.

As far as the approach, I sit down with and get to know the characters outside their story. I know that sounds weird, but Colin and Ethan (and the rest of the crew) have a life beyond The Fishing Widow. They all agree it happened, but they’ve moved on. We sit around and talk and joke (Brett and Alex are hysterical together like that). Sometimes they argue like I’m not there. I had knock-down, drag-out yelling fights with Mike [Passarella] because he was so focused on fishing and making Colin’s boat and permit payments that he didn’t have “time” for the horror aspect. I think all that psychosis, and seeing the characters as living, breathing, walking around and trying to date your daughter people makes them real on the page. No. They can’t date my daughter. No way; not ANY OF THEM.

The Horror Librarian: What are you working on right now?

Amy Marshall: In Dark Places: Set in an interior Alaskan copper mine in 1912, it’s a completely different story than The Fishing Widow. The voice is different, the telling is different. It’s not “cinematic” in the least. That’s what happens when you meet new people, I suppose.

The Soul Cages: That’s the second story in Vol. 1 of Dark Soundings. The first story, Salt, was completed last Fall around the time of Coffin Hop (an annual horror blog hop in which I am a habitual offender).

Untitled (sorry): A prequel of sorts to The Fishing Widow that goes back to 1791, the Spanish mission on San Angelo Island, and the origins of the creatures.

The Horror Librarian: Who are your writing heroes?

Amy Marshall: Writing heroes? I love Haruki Murakami, I’m a fan of Douglas Adams. My heroes, though would have to includes Chris Baty (the founder of NaNoWriMo) because of his commitment to the creative potential of every person on the planet, followed by Grant Faulkner (current Executive Director of The Office of Letters and Light) because his soul is so good and his heart follows that, and Hugh Howey, not because he’s so wildly successful as a writer, but because he’s so wildly successful as a human being: he’s approachable and funny, he doesn’t take it all too seriously and he understands that imitation is the greatest expression of fandom. I guess I’ve got this thing about people who genuinely love and support other people. Baty makes me laugh because I believe he really does not realize what he’s done with NaNoWriMo and the full impact of the program.

The Horror Librarian: List five things that are currently on your writing desk.

Amy Marshall:
1. Deftones Koi No Yokan CD
2. A Jump Drive with Tim’s Salt Chuck [Copper] Mine Report that’s waiting for my editing.
3. Lucky Black Bog Cat sculpture from Ireland (make sure you touch the kitty before you leave the house!)
4. A small, green, ceramic turtle (that came from a box of Rose Tea) because Chris Baty once told me that a Green Sea Turtle is my writing totem.
5. A varnished sea urchin fossil. No clue why, but it’s seriously cool.

The Horror Librarian: Do you keep rejection letters? Why or why not? (And if you're feeling brave, how many did you amass before The Fishing Widow)?

Amy Marshall: I have them. I got my first set of rejection letters when I was 15 (after writing my very first EPIC FANTASY NOVEL). They’re all sorts of awesome, but, when I was 15, they were completely and utterly soul-crushing. They’re hand-written notes from the Chief Editors of Ballantine and Del Rey and Daw. They’re full of encouragement and advice. They never came out and said anything like Snoopy ever got. In the end, they realized I was very young, but they also called me “talented,” and that they couldn’t wait to see how I developed. But, the answer was still “no.” and I put them away. And, I put fiction writing away. For years. 

The Fishing Widow wasn’t much different. I sent a cold query to St. Martin’s Press and was staggered when I was invited to send the first three chapters and a synopsis (Oh! The Horror!), but then, the silence was deafening. I received encouraging words (words like: “You should really poke at them!”) from Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (The Book Doctors), but I didn’t poke hard enough (apparently). Since St. Martin’s never told me no, I choose to have my hand hesitate on the lid of that particular box; my Publishing Kitty is still alive and well in there (until I look … kind of like Schr√∂edinger’s Cat). I received rejections from Pyr (but only because the genre wasn’t quite a fit for them) and two agents (one of whom nearly started a riot in Craig by asserting that her problem with the story is that “it’s all weather, emotions, and mannerisms.” Of course, when I mentioned this to the REAL fishermen, one of them chuckled and said, “Shit, Amy … that’s all we ARE.”)

But, I’ll tell you this. I met Curtis Ebbesmeyer. He’s a scientist who studies ocean currents and debris fields. He came to Craig for Whalefest in 2012. We talked for HOURS about a bunch of things, and then the book came up. He told me about his path toward traditional publishing (want to talk horror? A world-renown and respected scientist who, with an agent, pitched TWENTY-FIVE publishers. He heard back from exactly TWO). He told me how he and others would consider self-publishing over the traditional route. I talked about my beta readers and the feedback I was getting as well as my market. He sat there for a moment and then said, “Really, what are you waiting for?”

Thanks, Amy!

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