Interview with Maggie Slater

IMG_0380Maggie Slater is many things: accomplished writer, an experienced slusher, a parent. Today, she shares with us her take on the writing life and its many facets.

Do tell us your genesis as a writer. How did you become the writer you are now?

Although it probably sounds a bit cliche, I’ve been interested in telling stories since before I could write. In fact, my mother—saint that she was—used to write down stories I dictated to her when I was really little. I also told atrocious jokes that made no sense.

I started getting serious about writing—and by serious, I mean completing short stories and submitting them—my freshman year of college. I sent out my first short story to the Fantastical Visions new-writer contest, and wouldn’t you know it? The story was accepted! First thing I ever submitted! Wow, I thought, this is it! This is the start!

And then, although I did continue to write short stories and even submit some of them, I pretty much sat on my butt and waited for that story to come out in print. Fast forward five years later, after many delays, it finally did, but I’d been so hung up on that one publication, I hadn’t done much during the waiting time. I’d had one other short story published for no pay, but otherwise, I wasn’t much further than where I’d started.

But I’d done a lot of writing, so I had improved a lot. During that time, I’d completed what my mother and I call “The Chekhov Year” in which we both tried to write one short story a week for a year. In the end, I wound up with forty-two rough drafts, most of them crud on a stick, but I’d learned how to cull my ideas down to short story size. Since then, I’ve even sold a couple of those Chekhov Year stories, after some decent editing!

By that time, I was married, had a full-time job, and had started working for Apex (the anniversaries for both my marriage and Apex fall within a two-week period, actually). I wrote extensively during my hour lunch breaks, slushed for Apex in the evenings, and reviewed fiction for Tangent Online on the weekends. I even sold a couple other stories to Jason Sizemore on a pair of independent projects he was doing. Then I retreated into longer-form fiction for a while, and am just now—on the heels of Zombies: More Recent Dead reprinting my short story “A Shepherd of the Valley”—emerging back to short fiction again, and collecting those rejection slips!

Do you have any particular influences, or books that stand out?

Hmm, tough question. I am completely enamored with Edith Wharton’s ghost stories (and all her work, if I’m honest), and Roald Dahl’s adult dark fiction. Haruki Murakami has been a huge influence recently. Asimov’s short fiction was really what got me into the short-form, and Octavia Butler’s longer SF—it’s dedication and approachability—really rocks my socks.  Maureen McHugh is a huge favorite in the SF field, also, and I recently discovered Shirley Jackson’s longer fiction, particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Jack London has always been a favorite, too. I read Martin Eden not that long ago, and honestly, it’s a book I think almost any aspiring writer ought to read. That, Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (which has one of the best sequences discussing artistic talent I’ve ever read).

I think it takes a special kind of writer that wades into the slush pile. Is there anything you can share with us about the experience? Did the slush pile teach you anything about writing you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

It was a wonderful learning experience. It’s one thing to read a market’s guidelines and guess at what they want. It’s another thing entirely to see the inner workings, how editors choose what stories to publish—and why or why not! I saw some really great stories get passed on because they just didn’t quite fit what we needed or wanted at the time; I’ve seen how badly authors can respond when given even a pleasant rejection. It taught me why most markets don’t offer feedback with rejections (in terms of time, author response, and clarity—sometimes a story just “doesn’t work” for you, and it may hit another editor at a different market just right). It also taught me how hard editors and slushers work behind the scenes, often just for the love of fiction. And it taught me how tough the competition for publishing slots really is: as a new author you’ve got to bring your A-game, because the other authors getting to the editor-in-chief’s desk are pros and you’ve got to be that much better to knock them out. It’s mortal combat!

Perhaps most importantly, slushing taught me why reading a market before submitting to them is important. When I was just starting out, I used to balk at a market suggesting that I buy a copy of their magazine to see what they publish. It struck me as a cheap way to make money off desperate writers. But the truth is, most submissions are rejected because they just don’t fit what the market publishes. A familiarity with a market guarantees you’ll be sending them stuff that at least generally fits the mood and tone of what they publish, and that’s bound to get you into the top 20-30% of submissions. Whether that helps you sell your story to them is another challenge entirely, but knowledge of the market will at least give you an edge-up on a vast majority of other submissions.

Slushing is an absolutely amazing way to learn about the industry and about writing short fiction. I’d recommend it to any aspiring author if they can make the time for it.

I admire that you’ve taken a leap into another arena involving a lot of hard work: motherhood. Is there anything you’d like to share about learning to balance the creative life alongside parenting responsibilities? Any advice for the many mothers and fathers who wear these different hats?

This is actually something I blog about quite a lot these days, maybe more for myself to keep track of the ebbs and flows of my current creative process. When I was pregnant, I looked around for information about how people dealt with babies and writing, and didn’t find a huge amount. Maybe I looked in the wrong places. But I wanted to be honest on my blog about how challenging this chunk of life can be, balancing kids and writing.

Having the Little Man around has certainly changed a lot in my writing life, mostly in terms of time and being able to sit down when I want to and write. When I worked full-time, I could brainstorm during the day and then come right home and write. Or I could write on the weekends. Now, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any time at all during the day to write, or in any of the days to follow. My husband is finishing med school, and for the last year has been rotating at a hospital a state away, so I’m pretty much on my own with the Little Man. No breaks for this lady! It’s made me much less of a procrastinator, because when I’ve got something I want to work on, when the Little Man’s eyes close, I’m writing! Now if only he’d nap more regularly…

I’ve also got some great friends and family who are willing to watch the Little Man for a half hour to two hours (if he lets them! Lately, we’ve been hitting a separation-anxiety wall, and a half-hour with someone else in a home not his own is about his limit). That’s been immensely helpful. Oddly, I’ve gotten a lot more fiction out in the eight months since he’s been born than I have ever previously. I think that comes from the perpetual distraction: I’m finding it much easier to edit than to compose new work, so I’ve been on an editing binge, getting things fixed and submitted. It’s been a nice change!

The main thing I would advise is something I’m still working on myself: cut yourself some slack and enjoy this time. Don’t guilt yourself. You’ve got enough on your plate. Babies disrupt everything, and if holding yourself to too-strict goals or timelines just makes you miserable, let the goals go for now. If you get time to read, read. If you have an idea you really want to work on that is burning a hole in your brain, see if there’s a family member or friend who can give you a little time to focus on that. But most importantly: just relax. You’re sleep-deprived, you’re worn out, you’re on this huge learning curve as a new parent (or new parent of two or more—gosh, they especially need to cut themselves some slack!): it’s okay to not write everyday if you can’t. Or write one sentence. There was a time even before the Little Man when I couldn’t get ten minutes to myself. I used the “write one sentence” goal to get a tiny bit of something done every day, and that assuaged a lot of guilt. And someday, the kiddo will nap again, or play at other kids’ houses, or go to school, and you’ll have a lot more time to get things done then.

Could you tell us about your short story appearing in the recent anthology edited by Paula Guran, Zombie: More Recent Dead?

Sure! “A Shepherd of the Valley” is a story about a man left completely alone after the zombie apocalypse, who is struggling to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. He’s lost and lonely, searching for a faith that left him long before the zombie uprising, something that can justify his existence and forgive his past. When an injured girl who reminds him of his long-lost teenage daughter enters his life, he comes face-to-face with the man he’s become, and reevaluate his new life’s ministry. Is it worth trying to save the souls of the already walking-dead?

I wanted to write a story that examined what happened after the apocalypse, after almost everyone was gone. What kind of life can one have in such isolation, when the only others around would be more than happy to chomp on your brains? What does that do to one’s faith in a higher power, or lack thereof? It’s a ships-in-the-night kind of story about two lost souls coping with a ruined world in very different ways.

Do you have anything you’re working on at the moment that you’re excited about?
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Actually, with all that “free time” I have, I’ve recently started an Etsy shop selling “snake-oil” designed bottles for writerly ailments. I usually put Tic-Tacs in mine, and use them to “cure” writer’s block, the blues of rejection, and to spur productivity.

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Obviously, as placebos, the Tic-Tacs themselves don’t actually *do* anything, but it makes me laugh and they’re still tasty. They’re quite fun to design, and it’s a wonderful creative outlet for my graphic art interests.

DrE_RutRemedy_FrontI’m somewhat slow to get them listed, but I’ve got a whole line-up of them coming soon. You can see the current postings listed here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ThePlaceboEmporium .

 We thank Maggie Slater for taking the time to share her insights and experience with us. She has a blog where you can keep up with the latest in Slater’s writing life.

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Interview with Maggie Slater

Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: John C. Foster

Everyone, welcome John C. Foster to the blog. I’m featuring fellow contributors to Death’s Realm, of Grey Matter Press, with a short mini-interview to learn more about the talent involved, a preview of what we can expect from their story, and speculate on what lies ahead in the great beyond.

  Tell us aboJohn C Fosterut your background, who you are, and how you came to the writing life.

Well, I was born in Sleepy Hollow but raised in a small New Hampshire town, and despite the fact   that any number of teachers told me (in so many words) that I was a writer, I never believed it to  be “real” until I hauled stakes for Los Angeles at age 20, determined to be a screenwriter despite never having seen a screenplay – or Los Angeles for that matter. I did write screenplays on the side while building up a PR and marketing career, but I discovered that I didn’t really want to write what my agents and managers wanted me to write – or what the studios wanted to make. It wasn’t until I got to New York City that I realized what my real problem was: I was focused on being a writer and all the accoutrements that come with it, not on the writing itself.

Boom, that epiphany (yeah, I said “epiphany”) was like a caveman discovering fire and I focused intently on my craft, reading everything I could get my hands on, learning about the myriad of small presses, and writing-writing-writing. I went from someone who could only write when I was alone, everything quiet and the muse upon me to a guy who could plant his ass on a loading dock and crack open his laptop with all of NYC squalling a few feet away.

Then I started getting my stories published and a few years back, wrote my first novel, Dead Men, which will be published in July of 2015 by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. If folks are interested in updates on that or the rest of my writing they can check me out on Facebook or my web site, www.johnfosterfiction.com.

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Gray Matter Press has released an anthology, Death’s Realm, featuring your work, “Burial Suit.” Give us a preview of your short story without giving away too much.

This is the second story I’ve done with Grey Matter Press and I’m ecstatic at how damned good the books look. The story in Death’s Realm is entitled “Burial Suit” and deals with a man recently released from prison who learns of his father’s death and sets off with his dad’s favorite suit for the burial. And because he has certain dark preparations in mind to care for old dad in the afterlife, he’s also carrying a pistol, electrician’s tape and his cat, The Loose.

There are so many good writers in this collection, I’m flattered to have “Burial Suit” nestled in with their work.

The premise behind Death’s Realm is what happens after death. If there is a great beyond, what do you imagine it to be?

I don’t believe in any religious concept of an afterlife, although with half an hour and a pitcher of beer I can compose an argument in which various ideas might be “true” in a sense. I do believe that there is an energy to us that may move on to some other level of existence or perhaps return to the universe – much in the way our physical remains break down and return their constituent components to the earth. I also believe, particularly at night when I’m alone, that some of that energy may linger for a reason, perhaps a powerful trauma, and encountering such a lingering presence scares the hell out of me.

We thank John C. Foster for coming by to share his thoughts.
John C. Foster was born in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and has been afraid of the dark for as long as he can remember. A writer of thrillers and dark fiction, Foster spent many years in the ersatz glow of Los Angeles working in entertainment and marketing before relocating to the relative sanity of New York City where he lives with his lady, Linda, and their dog, Coraline.
 
Foster’s first novel, Dead Men, will be published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in July, 2015.  His short stories can be found Death’s Realm (Grey Matter Press) as well as Shock Totem Magazine, Dark Visions Vol. 2 (Grey Matter Press), and anthologies such as Under the Stairs (Wicked East Press) and Big Book of New Short Horror (Pill Hill Press) among others. For more information, please visit www.johnfosterfiction.com.
Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: John C. Foster

Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: Gregory Norris

Everyone, welcome Gregory Norris to the blog. I’m featuring fellow contributors to Death’s Realm, of Grey Matter Press, with a short mini-interview to learn more about the talent involved, a preview of what we can expect from their story, and speculate on what lies ahead in the great beyond.
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Tell us about your background, who you are, and how you came to the writing life.

I grew up on a healthy dose of creature double-features and reruns of classic TV science and speculative fiction shows—Dark Shadows, Lost in Space, the original The Outer Limits, and especially first runs of Gerry Anderson’s brilliant outer space parable, Space:1999. I was raised in the lush, green veldt of Windham, New Hampshire. There weren’t a lot of other kids to play with, so one day my imagination, which was steeped in wonder over bases on the moon and haunted houses, began to invent stories. I still have all of my original short stories from boyhood. When I was fifteen, we had moved from rural Windham to a residential town that became my own version of Hell on Earth…I was a troubled teen and spiraling toward self-destruction, again without many friends. That summer, those I had saw me writing out what would amount to my first novel (a whopping 200 pages!) in which I cast them as the main characters. They all tried their hands at writing their own original tales, only to give up after a few pages. When I finished the novel, that same night I started another story. A light went off that summer—I loved to write and it was all that I wanted to do with my life. Writing saved me, I’m convinced. And the following autumn, I made a new friend as a result of writing, Tina Perry, who was writing poetry (and was/is very good at it!). She became one of the best influences of my life, and we’re still thick as thieves.

Gray Matter Press has released an anthology, Death’s Realm, featuring your work, “Drowning.” Give us a preview of your short story without giving away too much.


My story featured in Death’s Realm is called “Drowning”. It’s a historical about a Swedish immigrant named Edgard Palmveist who survives the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 only to be haunted by the belief that not all of him came out of the Atlantic intact. The story owes to a trippy article a friend of mine cut out of the newspaper and handed to me not long before Grey Matter Press started reading for the anthology.

 The premise behind Death’s Realm is what happens after death. If there is a great beyond, what do you imagine it to be?

The afterlife? We bought an old New Englander house in New Hampshire’s remote north country in 2013. It has a zillion-dollar view, even though we got the place on the cheap because the economy here has never recovered and may never. By relocating here, we were able to own the house, as opposed to the other way around. We got a lot of house for very little money, and my Writing Room is bright, big, and filled with all of my favorite family heirlooms and talismans. I am happiest in that room, where I court the Muse daily. As I tell everybody, I plan to haunt this place for eternity!

We thank Gregory Norris for coming by to share his thoughts. You can keep up with him at his blog, here.
Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: Gregory Norris

Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: J.G. Faherty

Everyone, welcome J.G. Faherty to the blog. I’m featuring fellow contributors to Death’s Realm, of Grey Matter Press, with a short mini-interview to learn more about the talent involved, a preview of what we can expect from their story, and speculate on what lies ahead in the great beyond.
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Tell us about your background, who you are, and how you came to the writing life.

I tend to think I was always meant to be a writer, but I never really believed that, or made the conscious decision to try being one, until I was 38 years old. As a child, my father (an English teacher) would tell me stories before bed, and often they were ones he made up himself. In grade school, I excelled in English, wrote stories that made my teachers spout about my talent, and drew comics that made my classmates laugh. But somewhere along the way in high school, all of that gave way to sports, girls, and music, and writing fell by the wayside, although I was always an avid reader. Several books a week. I tried my hand at a horror novel in college, but after the first couple of chapters I thought “This sucks compared to Stephen King and Peter Straub.” (My two favorite writers at the time.) “I guess I just don’t have the talent.”

I had no one to tell me that writing was hard work, it didn’t just flow out ready for publication. My college was big on business and science, poor in creative writing. I went on to hold a variety of jobs – marketing, laboratory sciences, photography – and never thought about writing until one day, after the company I was working for closed, I took on a gig writing elementary standardized test preparation books for the Princeton Review. It was fun, it was easy, and I enjoyed the creative writing passages the best. One day, I stumbled onto an internet ad for an anthology seeking submissions for horror stories. On a whim, I wrote one and submitted. No beta readers, no edits other than proofreading.


I was the last story rejected, and the editor sent me a note saying A) I had real talent and B) I should start meeting other writers and editors and learn more about the industry. That’s when I joined the HWA. And decided to start writing.

Gray Matter Press has released an anthology, Death’s Realm, featuring your work, “Foxhole.” Give us a preview of your short story without giving away too much.

My story, “Foxhole,” is the tale of two soldiers caught behind enemy lines. Best friends since childhood, they have to sneak and fight their way through more than 20 miles of enemy-infested jungle. One of them is wounded, and sometimes delirious. By the time they reach safety, he has learned new things about friendship, death, and what lies beyond.

The premise behind Death’s Realm is what happens after death. If there is a great beyond, what do you imagine it to be?

I’m sure this is something that not only every horror writer but every person on earth wonders about, especially as they get older. I’m a lapsed Catholic, but I’ve never believed in the traditional Heaven and Hell, although it would be great to think there’s a wonderful place in the beyond, where all you family, friends, and pets are waiting to see you again. Perhaps because of my background as a scientist, or because I’ve learned not to believe things that are too good to be true, that’s always struck me as a fairy tale. I think there is something to the idea of reincarnation, but that’s a story for another day. What I do believe is that there’s more than just a final blackness, that life doesn’t just end when you die.


We thank J.G. Faherty for coming by to share his thoughts. You can keep up with him at his website, here.
Death’s Realm Mini-Interview: J.G. Faherty