Thursday, May 29, 2014

Please welcome the brilliant, the stunning, the incandescent Selah Janel!

I am VERY excited to share this interview with all of you because I just love this gal and her incredible energy!! Make sure you check out her new release, Olde School as soon as you read this:

VP: What is your inspiration? What helps you get through writer's block?

Selah: First, thanks for having me on your blog! I’m so happy to be able to talk about Olde School here for the tour. It probably sounds geeky, but I really love ideas. It’s rare that I’m at a loss for them, and hopefully I never will be. I love walking down the street, looking at things, and wondering what would happen if one little aspect was changed. I wonder about what the people I pass are going through, and if I’m in a writing mood I go on to wonder what would happen if one of them was actually from a different time or not quite human. To me, there’s magic in the everyday, mundane world. There’s possibility everywhere we look. It may not be world-altering, but it’s there, and it has its own kind of beauty. That’s amazing to me. I also find myself moved by a lot of classic archetypes, creatures, and story forms. There are some things that are just so classic for a reason: the hero’s quest, the characters of the crone or the fool, the search for love or fortune, good versus evil. The only difference is that I like to mix them all up and turn them on their heads.

With writer’s block, it depends. If it’s an issue with the story, I like getting quiet and letting the characters do their thing. That may mean I write little things that will never make it into the actual story. I may let the characters chatter at me in my own headspace. Sometimes music helps, sometimes watching certain TV shows or films helps relax me enough for my brain to work. I tend to hit the gym or go walking if I’m really blocked, especially if it’s because I’m in a mood. Moving, getting up and doing something, or even working on some mundane task really tends to help me get out of my own way.

VP: Do you listen to music when you write? Have a completely silent space?

Selah: I am a huge music geek, so I love having it! It depends on the book, but I like a little bit of everything: classical stuff like Handel, Purcell, Mozart, David Garrett. Classic rock stuff like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Velvet Underground, David Bowie (ALWAYS David Bowie), Motley Crue, Aerosmith, and other stuff like Sixx:AM, Seether, G Tom Mac, Counting Crowes, Blessed Union of Souls, NKOTB, Patti Smith, Alanis Morissette, whatever. Sometimes I just put on one of those radio stations that claim to play anything and let it go. If I’m working in silence, it’s usually because I’m frustrated or I really need to focus. PBS is also a good, pretty safe source of inspirational white noise. With Olde School, I actually found myself writing to a lot of British shows like Doc Martin and Call the Midwife, or a lot of actor interviews. A lot of my characters have those sorts of rural or interesting dialects. They kept me…maybe not honest, but they kept me more on target.

VP: Who inspires you? What authors do you look up to? Why?

Selah: I feel like I get inspired by all kinds of people: my family, my friends, people I grew up around, artists I get into, even people I observe in my everyday life. There’s something so beautiful to me about all of us going along having different life experiences, and it’s sad that most of us don’t realize that all of those stories are going on at the same time. Maybe it’s growing up in small towns as a kid, maybe I just have a very particular way of looking at the world, but that fascinates me.

In terms of authors, though, I definitely have my go-tos. I absolutely love Ray Bradbury. He had a flair for description and emotional honesty in his stories that is unsurpassed in genre fiction. His unabashed passion for the speculative and his defense of sci-fi and fantasy is something we very much need in the world. Neil Gaiman is another huge influence. I’ve always loved a lot of old myths, legends, and stories, but had shied away from using them in my work because of this weird idea that they weren’t meant for adult fiction. Reading Sandman and then American Gods (and then everything else because he’s amazing) really blew my mind wide open about the possibilities. His use of magic realism and his deft ability to weave a tale astounds me, and I really love that he works in wit and humor (and David Bowie references), as well. I’m also in awe of Clive Barker for the way he crafts dark fiction and how he portrays women, Madeline L’Engle for how masterfully she portrays realistic emotions, and Alan Bradley for how insanely good he is at crafting a really tight, forward-moving story. I always try to go back and read classics, too, because I think that it’s important to have a good foundation. I love Dumas, love Shakespeare, love Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams.  

VP: When did you first start writing? What genre do you prefer?

Selah: I’ve been writing for a long, long time. I grew up around some great rural storytellers, and was fortunate to be exposed to local access shows that featured storytelling elements, plus there was Reading Rainbow, as well. I was really into playing pretend as a kid (It was the eighties so we were way too enabled with weird ideas. I remember games of pioneers, Ghostbusters, and space dogs vs. astronaut dog catchers. My Barbies had evil twins at some point). Writing became an extension of acting out those (occasionally on my blog I’ll feature little stories that I wrote from when I was like five or six, or ten or twelve. I have yet to be brave enough to post bits of my teen angst journal period).  All are hilarious and cringe-worthy and I want to go back in time and hug Kid! Selah for being such a beautiful mutant.

 I got away from it in high school, but took it up again in my late teens and early twenties as a coping mechanism when things got stressful. I really started trying to polish and craft my original fiction in my mid-twenties, got frustrated by the rejections I was getting, and stopped submitting. In the meantime I was developing a few longer ideas, but hesitated doing anything about it. Around 2010 I had a little bit of a health scare. It turned out to be nowhere near as bad as I’d been prepared for, but it took nearly a year and many different diagnoses, some scarier than others, before the actual problem was identified. It was then I realized that life is short. I could spend it worrying about being told “thanks but no thanks” or I could suck it up and give writing a real try. I didn’t want to miss out on something that could make me really, really happy. So (in true folklore style) I gave myself a year and a day once I started feeling better and had my energy back. I submitted shorts every single week, and I figured if I didn’t get a single acceptance within that time, I’d reassess if I wanted to continue. I hit every market book and website, dug out all my old manuscripts, and just went for it. I got a few acceptances, enough to give me encouragement, I made some connections, and eventually that lead to working with Seventh Star Press, who has The Kingdom City Chronicles series.

I don’t see myself as a definite writer of any specific genre. I go where the idea is. I want to be true to the story in my head. I do like writing magic realism, urban fantasy, and I definitely love working with elements and archetypes of folk and fairy tales, but that’s not all I do. I love horror, I like writing historical stuff from time to time (usually involving pioneer America), and I’ve even written literary drama and a cozy Christmas e-book. I feel like I really stretch my wings when I get to combine genres and don’t try to play to a certain formula or any sort of set genre expectations. I think it’s important to keep playing with ideas and what people think genres are. They may be established and work for marketing, but I don’t find the need to keep hard and fast to their borders.

VP: If you had to choose another genre to write, what would it be? Why?

Selah: Probably horror, I guess, but as I pretty much write a little bit of everything, I’d be willing to try most anything. I haven’t done a lot of Sci-Fi because I tend to gravitate to more of the Bradbury style than the hard tech Sci-Fi, but I enjoy it. I really love dystopian worlds and post-apocalyptic settings, and I feel there are a lot of possibilities there, too, so possibly that. Pretty much, my general answer is: yes.

VP: What is your favorite book (or who is your favorite author) and why?

Selah: Probably Dandelion Wine. I grew up in Illinois until I was nine years old, and although the book takes place upstate from where I was and in a time period far before mine, I feel a huge connection to it. I love the detail and romance that the everyday activities are given. Little things like buying new shoes, playing tag before a friend moves away, or following local news become epic events in that book. There’s also an undercurrent of magic realism and some horror elements, as well, but it’s all very restrained and handled masterfully. To me, that book is what life is or can be. I may be something of a realist, but I think there’s room for optimism and beauty in that outlook, and this book shows that there can be something special in the little, everyday things.

VP: Do you have another job and if so what is it?

Selah: I’ve done a lot of different things through the years, and it depends on any given year. I do a lot of work with costumes and have for about 14 years, give or take: I’ve been blessed to work in wardrobe and as a stitcher with some fantastic directors and designers, some really top-notch theatres and operas. Currently the work I do is build and design work for events and companies, but I enjoy it a lot. I’ve also done some theatre administration work and event work, and I’ve done performance and puppeteering work, as well.

VP: Tell about your first book and how long it took you to write the first draft?

Selah: Olde School is the first book in The Kingdom City Chronicles, a cross-genre series that combines elements of fantasy, fairy and folktales (some obscure), urban fantasy, the paranormal, and even some Lovecraft-style horror here and there. I started writing it with no clear path and just a few scenes in my head, and I liked the idea so much that I kept it going and found that I was throwing a lot of things in just to entertain myself. I definitely wrote this because it was something I’d want to read. Kingdom City and The Land in general are a fantasy/fairy tale-based society, but it’s developed and modernized. No one really believes in magic, and they treat the stories we know as fairy tales as either history or historical fiction and old wives tales. It’s fun because I can have trolls with laptops, princesses resorting to dating sites because princes have started to court career women more. I can turn things like Rumplestiltskin into a long-running horror franchise. I combine a fantasy world with modern technology and it really, really amuses me. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to do things like invent my own slang and throw in a lot of little fairy tale references that people may not catch at first glance. I worked so hard to make it a well-rounded, believable world.

Paddlelump Stonemonger is a troll who’s had some success with his toll bridge, but he’s young, reactionary, and probably too nice for his own good. His friends get frustrated with him because he’s hired a human maid, but she’s taking total advantage of his good heart (and by taking advantage I mean she may have hired assassins to take him out). He has to deal with her and politicians that are trying to re-zone the city and get his land and bridge. And in the middle of all of this, it turns out magic DOES exist, and it’s not the sparkly, happily ever after kind. It’s been fun to combine all those elements and put all the characters through a bunch of little twists and turns. It’s definitely a unique title, and one that I think a lot of people can find enjoyment in.

In terms of writing time, it’s a unique example because I started writing the idea before I really had a clue what it was going to become. I anticipated it as a short story in 2006, but didn’t like the ending I had in mind, so I put it away. I picked it back up in 2011 with the thought process that I needed to be working on something longer while I was shopping short fiction. It grew to a novella, then a short novel, and changed and grew drastically in terms of world-building and content. I still had trouble with the end, though. I was approached by Seventh Star Press for a series idea, and after some discussion I realized that the reason I couldn’t end the thing was because it was supposed to be more than one book! I signed the series on with them in early 2013 and got to work on finishing and fixing the manuscript. I probably had it turned in around September, and then started on edits around December. I wasn’t happy with the last fourth of the book, so I took some time to rework quite a bit of that section and finesse a few other things all the way through. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and I was definitely fiddling with things right up until I was checking the proofs before the book came out at the end of March.

VP: List all of your titles with a one sentence synopsis of each.

Selah: Olde School – A troll deals with con artists, politicians, a bird who may be more than he seems, and has to save the world.

Mooner – A vampire haunts a lumber camp saloon.

Lost in the Shadows – Forty-seven stories by myself and SH Roddey exploring the edges of ideas and the spaces between genres.

The Other Man – A disenchanted father comes home from work, hears his wife playing rock music, and after a dinner conversation their lives will never be the same.

Holly and Ivy – Holly’s life is changing so she moves back to her parents’ Christmas tree farm and reconnects with her childhood dryad friend and makes a strange bargain.

VP: Who is your favorite character? Why?

Selah: It’s really, really hard to choose one in Olde School. Clyde the bird is probably the most fun to write because he can be so outrageous. I can get away with things with him that I’d never be able to do with another character. His speech patterns can be a pain to write and sometimes I feel like he’s overtaking my brain a little bit, but I adore him. It would probably be a tie between him and Ippick the troll, because with Ippick I can let out my cranky, crotchety side that says inappropriate things and totally get away with it.

VP: Who is your least favorite character? Why?

Selah: I actually don’t really have a least favorite character in this book. There’s no one that I hate writing. They all have their fun aspects, even the characters that only show up here and there. The only one that might qualify is Addlebaum, because he doesn’t show up a ton, but he has a lot of influence in what happens in this book. I’ll feel better about him when I get the chance to do more with him, I think, but it’s not really that I dislike him.
All we really get to see of him in this book is that he’s a pixie, he’s the Lord Mayor of Kingdom City, and he’s here and there doing his political thing.

VP: Which character was most difficult to write?

Selah: Paddlelump. Absolutely Paddlelump. I really like his character, and when I started the story I think I felt very much how he feels in the first half of the book. I was in a place in life where it felt like every little thing was raining down on me, and I was overwhelmed and taking it personally. By the time I was writing the book in earnest, I’d matured a lot and had much more of a positive outlook on my place in the world. Unfortunately, he was still reactionary and wishy washy. The problems with the first draft ending came from him trying to be something he wasn’t – trying to be all action-hero when that’s not a believable progression for him. I was really frustrated because what worked in the first half wasn’t going to fly for the ending, and he just seemed so “nice.” I have a personal thing about not loving the description of “nice” to define a person or character. To me nice can apply to anything: a couch, a person, the weather. It’s a word that tells me absolutely nothing about a person except that they can behave in public and probably won’t murder me.

I actually happened upon a link or was sent a link of Tom Hiddleston doing a Q&A at Comic Con a while back while I was doing edits. Now, I knew nothing about this guy at all. I tend to be a year or two behind in movies because I get so busy juggling work, writing, and freelancing, so I hadn’t seen The Avengers, hadn’t seen Thor, and since I wasn’t familiar with him I hadn’t been trying to see his other work. All I knew was that he had apparently cast some sort of bizarre spell of seduction over the entire internet and everyone thought he was nice. That told me nothing about him as an actor, and only half appeased any thought that if I passed him in the street he probably wouldn’t come up and punch me in the face (I promise I’m coming to the point. No, I don’t really think Tom Hiddleston is a violent weirdo. From what I can tell he is a lovely person and besides, random face-punching would be bad for his career).

I was impressed at how articulate and intelligent he was, and because I was in the habit at that point of finding interviews on youtube for voice references in the book, I started using him as a vocal reference for Paddlelump. I quickly became really, really impressed at not only how articulate he was, but the fact that he wasn’t just “nice.” I’m all for a person being kind, generous, compassionate, quirky, etc, but the whole be social one-dimensional type of nice doesn’t immediately qualify a person as authentic or genuine in my eyes. It was refreshing to see that there looked to be an actual person under the surface, someone who was comfortable talking about all sorts of things. He wasn’t trying to “be” any particular type of person. Plus, he’s just a hell of an actor. The work he does is incredible.

Let it be said that I’m uncomfortable using avatars when I’m writing. I don’t like the “this character is based on this person” model. I don’t think that’s fair, because you’re writing the character based on who you think a person is, not who they actually are. Paddlelump is absolutely not based on him, or any one person or thing. The problem with trying to develop a nonhuman, well-rounded creature, though, is that at some point I just plain needed a reference point to keep things believable. I tend to use references more for actual physical quirks, or in the case of performers, to see how they play certain emotions and qualities. That’s where I feel my theatre training does come in handy – I’ve gotten decent at developing characters because I’ve had to learn to do that sort of work to a certain degree. The more I listened to Hiddleston’s voice, the easier Paddlelump was for me to write. That helped me get a better grip on how my troll lead talked (I swear I’m not being creepy. This is the product of many years of vocal study and voice and diction classes). I also realized that I’d been doing the same thing I accused others of: I was totally pre-judging someone based on popular assumption and the fact that he was being pre-sold as “nice”…just as Paddlelump was in my book.

Amazing how things link up, right? So I went back to Paddlelump and began to find ways to show that there was something under the surface waiting to be tapped, that his shortcomings and quirks could be turned into strengths. It’s his wit and compassion that help to save the day, and that’s totally believable for his character. So while I still say Paddlelump was spawned by my own frustrations, he grew to be exactly what I wanted: a character who has the potential to be more than what he starts out as; someone who can be a hero. That’s important to me. I want to believe that people can be good. I want to believe that despite the things going on in the world, despite how we treat each other, despite the vitriol we fling out of the desire to be “right”, if put under pressure, any random person could grow to be more than what they start out as. Anyone could become someone who acts outside of their own interests and insecurities to do amazing things.

This still does not lessen my embarrassment over this admission one bit.

VP: What scenes are most difficult to write?

Selah: I still feel uncomfortable doing complicated action sequences. I like them, but they take me longer and I get worried that I’m going to drop focus on a character or forget to tie things together. For this book there were a lot of subplots and little things that factored into other elements later in the book. Some of the bigger sequences dealt with a lot of characters interacting at once, so I was very nervous about juggling all. I was lucky to have a detail-oriented editor there to help me keep track of things and point out ways to tighten those sequences up.

VP: Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

Selah: At the risk of sounding like the self-insertion queen of the world, I think I definitely put parts of myself into a lot of my characters. They’re coming from me, so it’s hard not to have that happen. The way I approach character development, I like to try to find a place where I can identify where they’re coming from or why they’re feeling the way they do. It’s not quite sense memory, but there’s still a decent amount of thought process and analyzing going on, because it’s important that this cast is more than a gimmick, more than just weird-looking creatures carrying around modern gadgets.  

I’ve already talked about Paddlelump to death. Flora probably reflects my desire to be a strong woman, but she’s definitely more cynical than I am. There’s probably some of my insecurities in her, but I think she’s got more walls up than I do at this point. Plus, I’m a better crafter than she is. Ippick is what happens if I don’t eat enough and I’m in a foul mood. He’s a little more “get off my lawn” than I am, but I very much have the capability for that irreverent, inappropriate sort of humor, though most people don’t see that side of me. Uljah tends to reflect my protective nature toward people, but also how frustrated I get when those I care about and want to see succeed lock themselves into a rut. He’s way more laid back than I can be, though. Clyde is probably the little devil on my shoulder in a lot of ways.

VP: Indie pub or trad pub?

Selah: There are pros and cons to both. I’ve always said that I’m open to both, but small/Indie press is what’s been good to me so far. It really depends on the publisher and what they’re offering. I’ve been lucky that Seventh Star is very author oriented and is open to answering my questions and working through concerns with me. I’m very hands on, and I like that they allow and encourage me to be that way. Any more, though, I think you have to realize that if you want to be an author, whatever route you go you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever expected to. You really have to take part in the process, keep an eye on things, and take a huge part in marketing and promotion. That’s just the way the business is now. I love the Seventh Star Press model, and I’ve really learned a lot by working with them.

VP: What is your favorite scene? Why?

Selah: I really, really love a fight that takes place in Trip Trap’s diner. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a very unconventional battle that involves a lot of princes and my main cast, and may reflect my disenchantment with online dating. I just lost my mind writing it – it’s one of the few times I’ve had to stop because I was laughing so hard. I remember when I originally got the scene on paper, I kept thinking “Oh, man, this is hilarious and I know I’m going to be made to take it out because it’s too out there!” Thankfully, that scene was fully embraced by my publisher and my editor. And since every other part of the book is just as weird, that’s definitely a good thing.

VP: Give a one sentence summary.

Selah: In a modernized fantasy society, magic still lingers and even a nice-guy, progressive troll can save the world.

VP: If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Selah: Oh, I hate questions like this! The answer for me changes daily. At this moment, probably either David Bowie or Jim Henson because they’ve been on my mind a lot lately. Both have had a huge impact on me personally and creatively. With Henson, I’d love to talk stories and just ask a lot of questions about his thoughts on the world and what he thinks about how puppeteering and storytelling have progressed. I’d love to know about the projects that he’d wanted to do that didn’t get done, and his take on his fantasy projects. With Bowie, I’d probably just be happy to be around him or be working on anything he was doing. When I was in my teens growing up in a small town, I felt like I was so out of place for having a lot of different interests and just being really ambitious and creative. When I got turned on to his music it was like I finally realized that there was someone else in the world who was smart, extremely talented, but who also had a lot of interests and combined them well…and he succeeded at it. At the time it appeared that he wasn’t afraid to just go out there and be who he was, and that really helped me move forward and get over some of the shyness that had clung to me at that point. That meant a lot to me, to have him exist as a reminder of what was possible.

VP: If you could take the place of one of your characters, which one would you choose and why?

Selah: Absolutely no one. No. Not on a bet, not for all the money in the realm! I know all too much about the ins and outs of Kingdom City and I would rather just have my own little time share there than take the place of one of the characters. Or maybe I’d take Brindle or Clyde’s job on a whim, because that would be hilarious.

VP: If you could vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?

Selah: I’ve not been to the UK yet, or Ireland, and I’d really like to explore them. I also missed a chance to go to Florence right out of college because I’d accepted a job offer, and I’d love to have that chance again. I studied Renaissance art a little in school, and I just love the hidden symbolism and movement in it. I would love to be able to see all that architecture and sculpture and the rest in person. I personally love Krakow, Poland, and would love to go back. I had such a great time there when I was in Eastern Europe in college.

VP: What is your favorite TV show/movie from your childhood?  What is it now?

Selah: I feel like those changed for me every other week as a kid. In general, I think people don’t give the 80s enough credit for influencing kids beyond the nostalgia and materialistic factor. The thing is, even for girls, some of those cartoons were freakin’ bold. Care Bears had an evil book that was like a cartoon Necronomicon, their second movie had Dark Heart acting in demon possession mode. My Little Ponies had this ooze that was taking over Ponyland and weird, inter-dimensional portals, The Real Ghostbusters just plain existed, Jem, Lady Lovelylocks, and a lot of other shows had characters nearly dying or losing their souls every other week, the Duloks wanted to enslave the Ewoks, He-Man and She-Ra featured galactic wars…and yet no one ever questioned these plot elements on TV because they were in sparkly packages. I grew up with a lot that combined really cute elements with some really dark story elements. I can’t help but think this wrecked my personality early and I’m pretty happy about it. In the 90s, my mind just exploded over Batman: The Animated Series. I watched the show so much, just absorbing every detail. Movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and shows like Jim Henson’s The Storyteller definitely influenced me, and I was a huge Star Wars fan growing up, as well.

My favorite movie now is probably It’s a Wonderful Life. I get that a lot of people think it’s cheesy, but I think its message of hope and decency is so important. How many people that you pass on the street are at the end of their rope and just need a little validation? How many people help you out that you aren’t even aware of? It’s such a powerful story and I become an emotional wreck every time I watch it. With TV, I love NCIS – their character arcs have become so good, and it’s one of the few shows where I can turn my mind off and not feel the need to guess all the twists and turns ahead of time. I’ve also been in the cult of Downton Abbey from the beginning, I love Sherlock, and I’ve really gotten into Call the Midwife, as well.

Curious about her work? Check out Olde School....