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
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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 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?
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.
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?
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
The Horror Librarian:
List five things that are currently on your writing desk.
Deftones Koi No Yokan CD
Jump Drive with Tim’s Salt Chuck [Copper] Mine Report that’s waiting for my
Black Bog Cat sculpture from Ireland (make sure you touch the kitty before you
leave the house!)
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.
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)?
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.
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 Schröedinger’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.”)
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?”