Author Interview: Megan Hinde

3 book covers: The Complete Collection, A Second Helping, and Pieces Fall Together

Fellow writer Megan Hinde offered to interview me, and I gladly accepted (posted here). I suggested that I interview her as well, as I was curious about her background as a writer. Let’s learn a bit about her…


1. What caused you to get started in writing?

Midlife crisis…I turned 40. Honestly it just evolved, I wrote quite a bit in high school and college, I worked on my high school newspaper and my college paper. Once upon a time I was a Journalism Major with a concentration in print media. But then life happens. In 2015 I found underlying creativity that had been lying dormant for a good while. Grace Summers who was a character from a piece of dialogue exercise came out to play.     

2. You’ve published a variety of story types in your books — such as flash fiction, detective, and thriller. What inspires you to write these different types of stories?

Variety is the spice of life. Over the last six years writing short stories has also led to reading more variety. I got into more Agatha Christie and odd short story anthologies. Then the Where, What and Who of Writing came to be and immersed me into Flash Fiction. Which was a style I hadn’t really ever written. 

‘Inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Clue, is my version of Where, What, And Who. I think of these as writing prompts to help get the writing juices flowing. I thank everyone for playing along, and invite you to be inspired by the prompts. Also feel free to suggest a place, an item and a name/occupation.’ 

The Detective Stories are just fun, I may have a slight obsession with classic crime, pulp fiction and serial killers. Which all make for good storytelling. Sometimes inspiration just happens, be it things you over hear, read or watch.

3 book covers: Welcome to Edna's Kitchen, Edna's Kitchen: Holiday Collection, and Edna's Kitchen Presents The Best of Bacon

3. You’ve also published several cookbooks, all coming from “Edna’s Kitchen.” Who is Edna? Is there a story behind why you chose that name?

If you read the introduction to Welcome to Edna’s Kitchen you would know. That being said, yes Edna became a creation out of a short story I wrote about my grandparents called After the Glory

‘Mrs. Rachel Darling sat in front of her typewriter working on her next column for The Daily Star, the local newspaper for the area. Her column Ask Edna had recipes, gardening advice and household tips and tricks.’

It has also evolved into its own breathing entity with 16 ebook cookbooks and a recipe blog on WordPress.  

4. What are your favorite meals to cook?

Stroganoff, Spaghetti and Meatballs and Lasagna. Runner ups would be Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Slow Cooked Pulled Pork with Katsu Sauce.

3 book covers: Detective Stories, Descending the Spiral Staircase, and No Rest for the Wicked

5. Do your story ideas start with a character, a scenario, or something else?

Usually scenario, which is why I like the Where, What and Who writing prompts. Some of the combinations just write themselves. Like this one: Airport, Winter Jacket, Martha.

‘Winter Jacket 

Martha stood at the arrival gate in the Kansas City International Airport, clutching John’s dark blue winter jacket to her chest. John had been deployed overseas, it had been the longest six months of Martha’s life. She watched, shivering in anticipation as the crowd of people exited the jetway, waiting to see his familiar face among the crowd. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw him, he immediately pulled her into his arms, the winter jacket being crushed between them. She never felt safer or more at peace.’ 

There is also a little truth in all my fiction, details or characters that come from my experiences in life. A lot of them are inside jokes or references for my entertainment.  

6. Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?

Not really, if the inspiration is there things get written. Coffee is always involved. 

7. Do you ever experience “writer’s block?” If so, what do you do to help ease out of it?

Not so much ‘writer’s block’ as lack of inspiration. Over the last two years the inspiration to write fiction is just not there. Hence the growing number of book recommendations and articles about other writers. Been reading more and writing less. 

3 covers of flash fiction books: Haunted Hydrangeas, Down the Rabbit Hole, and Hat Trick

8. What kinds of fiction do you enjoy reading? Do you have favorite authors?

I’ll read just about anything, if it doesn’t hold my attention I just stop reading it. I go through phases. I used to read  a lot of Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Miller, and James Joyce. Recently it’s been Agatha Christie, and Rex Stout.     

9. What is one work of fiction that moved you deeply? Why did it have that effect on you?

Here’s the thing I read for pure enjoyment. I don’t put a whole lot of thought into what I’m reading usually at night to fall asleep. This is why I was never an English Lit major. Put it this way, in high school I asked my friend how ‘Catcher In the Rye’ was rather than actually read it. 

10. What project(s) are you working on now?

There are always ideas floating around in the back of my mind: Things like do we need another Holiday Treats From Edna’s Kitchen? Does Detective James Andrews need a back story or a continuation of his Detective Stories? Or is it time to walk away and take a break? I don’t have any answers, I figure if inspiration occurs then more words will be written. 


Links!

Megan’s books are available on Amazon.

You can read some of her stories on her blog — along with recipes and photos.

Her Goodreads page is here.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Photo of a hole in drywall within a house.
by Lujia Zhang/Unsplash

Yesterday, I posted a review of Horrorshow, and I wanted to follow that with a post about another aspect of the novel.

This post has a spoiler for Horrorshow, so if you plan on reading it, you might want to stop reading here.

(Well, the post’s title is big clue, but try to forget that.)

Moving on…

In that book, just beyond halfway through it, the main character (Riley) starts coming to grips with the notion that he could be a character in a novel. I’ve learned that the phrase to describe the situation is “breaking the fourth wall.” The Free Dictionary gives a background how that got started:

“Taken originally from theater, in which the fourth wall describes the invisible ‘wall’ that stands between the audience and the stage.”

I can’t remember when I first heard about the concept, but it’s a fascinating one. The idea that a writer can develop self-awareness in their characters, so they realize (or are told) that they’re within a story.

A helpful video on “metafiction” is on YouTube: Understanding Metafiction (Literature, Films and Video Games).

The movie Stranger Than Fiction (2006) explores the idea when Harold begins to hear, inside his head, a narrator describing his life. I enjoyed that movie, and it planted a seed in my mind to eventually write a metafictiony story.

Years later, I heard the Radiolab episode, “The Real Don Quixote” (2015). The show’s guest Bruce Burningham (professor at Illinois State University) talks about how Miguel Cervantes broke the fourth wall in the sequel of Quixote’s adventures. In Part Two, the character Sampson Carrasco tells Don Quixote and Sancho Panza about the Part One book and drops the news that they’re characters.

The episode set the brain gears turning, then I wrote a flash-fiction piece “Characters in a Story,” in which two characters chat about the suspicion that they are, yes, characters in a story. Maybe funny in an absurd way, but too much like a writing exercise.

I came up with a broader story, and that flash-fiction piece is within it: Other Lives of the Boothbys

Cover for Other Lives of the Boothbys, with the title included within other text that's not important and grayed out.

Bradley Boothby has also seen Stranger Than Fiction, and he feels déjà vu when he walks by the building for Randolph-Turley Publishing Company. Bradley doesn’t think he’s a fictional character, but he feels he is somehow connected to a story published by that company. So Bradley takes the step of entering the building and talking with an editor to see if, somehow, his name is included in one of their books.

That meeting sets off a series of events. Included in those, the editor Jack Schneider and the writer George Foulkes write passages of books inspired by Bradley’s quest. Jack Schneider takes a crack at writing scenes of two characters forming a deeper relationship. George Foulkes starts a new story in which another writer is visited by his characters from a post-apocalyptic world.

I had fun writing Other Lives of the Boothbys, trying to come up with how different people could be inspired, then act on that inspiration. All of the writing process wasn’t fun, as self-doubt continued to pop up. I wondered if people would find the book boring. But in the end, I was pleased with the story, and I’m proud of it.

Tomorrow, I’ll post an excerpt from the book. Ah, the suspense…

But if you can’t wait for 24 hours, you can read an excerpt from the novella’s beginning here (I posted it last year).

LeVar Burton’s Podcast and Writing Contest

Photo of a recording studio with a microphone.
by Jonathan Velasquez/Unsplash

If you enjoy listening to stories, I highly/strongly/very muchly recommend LeVar Burton Reads podcast.

First: who is this guy? LeVar Burton is an actor: he was Kunta Kinte in the Roots miniseries and Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation (among many other roles). He hosted Reading Rainbow for more than two decades. Also, he has directed episodes of TV series and movies.

In his podcast, Burton reads short stories. As he says in each episode, “the only thing these stories have in common is that I love them.” Typically, the stories have science fiction or fantasy elements. Burton makes for a really entertaining narrator with a smooth voice. To me, his enthusiasm for the stories comes through in his readings. His warmth and thoughtfulness also come through as he introduces the stories, then talks about how each affected him after the story.

It’s difficult to pick a few examples of the stories I’ve heard on the podcast, but here’s a short list: 

The podcast’s website. You can listen to the stories on SpotifyAppleStitcher.

Now on to his writing contest…

Photo of a woman typing on a laptop computer
by Christin Hume/Unsplash

Here’s the chance for a writer’s short story to be read on season 10 of LeVar Burton Reads! How awesome that would be for him to read an indie writer’s story — or writer published by a small press. The contest’s website is here.

According to the website, “Works must include speculative or fantastical elements.” So stories would fit into speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, or horror. 

The contest’s theme is Origins and Encounters. That centers on the intersection of different civilizations and the results of that intersection: The website says:

“We are interested in stories that examine the magical joys and tragic pitfalls of blended civilizations and cultural exchanges in all their forms. As our worlds change, what precious things do we carry with us and allow to be altered or demand they remain untouched? What is taken from us and what will we do to get it back? What do we allow ourselves to remember of our histories, our roots, and what do we allow ourselves to forget? What do we leave behind and what do we choose to carry into the future?”

Only the first-place winner’s story will be read on the podcast. But there’s more! Their story will be published on Tor.com, and the winner will get $500. The second- and third-place winners will also be published on Tor.com, as well as receive money: $250 (2nd place) and $100 (3rd place).

The contest starts today (August 1) and ends on August 31. Stories need to be between 2,800 and 5,200 words. For the rules and details, click here.

Octavia Butler’s Rules on Writing

Photo of colorful bubbles
by Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash

Yesterday, I posted reviews of two books by Octavia Butler, and today I’m following them with highlights from one of the essays included in Bloodchild and Other Stories. I thought these highlights deserved their own post.

The essay “Furor Scribendi” (“mania for writing,” according to Merriam Webster) includes Ms. Butler’s rules for writing, and she encourages writers to make them into habits in your life. In each item, the rule is taken word for word from Ms. Butler’s essay, then I’m offering a condensed explanation of each item in my words.

  1. Read. Inhale fiction and non-fiction, read books in the genre you’re writing, read books that discuss writing. And that doesn’t have to be old-fashioned reading: audio books are good ways to experience books, and you get the benefit of hearing the sound of language.
  2. “Take classes and go to writers’ workshops.” These provide feedback on your stories — readers who can tell you what works and what doesn’t work in the stories, before you send them out into the world.
  3. Write. Set aside time in your schedule to write every day. If you’re stuck with your work in progress, shift to journal writing. Setting down your thoughts could inspire ideas for later stories.
  4. “Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it.” Check the writing and research. Fix the flaws you find.
  5. “Submit your work for publication.” Check out the markets and submit your stories to the ones that interest you. Yes, this can be scary. And yes, rejections will hurt. Every writer experiences them. You can learn from rejected work, and you could use it in a new project — even sections of those old pieces.
  6. “Some potential impediments for you to forget … first forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not … Forget talent. … continued learning is more dependable than talent… finally, don’t worry about imagination.”

Especially with imagination, I liked Ms. Butler’s words so much I want to put more emphasis on her advice:

“Play with your ideas. Have fun with them. Don’t worry about being silly or outrageous or wrong. So much of writing is fun. It’s first letting your interests and imagination take you anywhere at all. Once you’re able to do that, you’ll have more ideas than you can use.” — Octavia Butler

I’m drawn to this kind of advice. I’ve posted about it from Shel Silverstein (“Put Something In”) and Felicia Day (Embrace Your Weird). I believe the reason I’m drawn to them is that they serve as reminders to me. Be serious about crafting stories, but don’t forget to have fun along the way. And hopefully, these words will be helpful to other writers out there.

All the quotes in this post are from: Octavia E. Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories, Seven Stories Press (New York: 2005), pages 139-142.

Across the Universe

Photo of bluish-black space with tiny dots of stars
by Kai Pilger/Unsplash

Recently I listened to the audio version of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, which was good but I liked The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle better, and in which the Beatles song triggers memories for the main character — Toru Watanabe — of when he was a young man in the 1960s, so the book is a coming-of-age story with cool music references, and triple which it sparked the idea of me possibly writing a book titled Across the Universe, because I’ve been really enjoying that Beatles song recently, and the sci-fi book could be about a team of astronauts on a deep-space mission, and much of the plot could involve the relationships among the diverse crew, since they’re stuck in a spaceship with limited space (the only opportunity of getting a break: space walks, which of course are dangerous yet would increase plot drama), and given that everyone has different attitudes the astronauts don’t always agree or get along (more drama!), but still they must focus on their mission; however, the situation raises the chance of making puns on relationship and companionship, which readers might think is clever in the first mention of the words but would grow tired if they are used too frequently, so no more than one instance per chapter, adding sprinklings of characters saying “I just need my space” to play on another corny pun, but again I would caution my potential self writing this potential book to not overdo the puns, because they would become monotonous — which could symbolize the monotony of flying through space, all that darkness broken by pinpricks of starlight, and readers might think, This book is so gosh-darn boring, there needs to be some aliens swooping in and a majestic battle commencing between the ships and maybe one crew boarding the other ship and the two crews engaging in hand-to-tentacle combat, and I’d rather not risk that potential thought in a potential reader, so maybe the book is not a great idea.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Write Something Towards (‘Ulysses’ pages 160-210)

Photo of vintage typewriter on a desk.
by Patrick Fore/Unsplash

Write something towards
bloodypapered stuff.

Smellsipped poison: burgundy nectar.
Smiledyawnednodded, said, “Prrwht!”

Do wines suppose quiet sorrows?
Glittereyed, John is one
possible softcreakfooted writer.

Remember Cordelia?
Paradoxes are husbandwords backward
flying warningfully to stayathome.

Mulligan leftherhis company.
Myriadminded, Venus brings another shakescene,
wooed catastrophe!

There, fingerponder life:
toyable,
play,
strive,
sunnywinking.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Bartholomew Eskrew

Bartholomew Eskrew reached the end of his story and walked away from his writing desk and turned around to look upon the pile of papers next to the typewriter and said, “It’s got to be tighter.” And so, he set upon cutting the story down: removing unnecessary back stories of characters, tossing out implausible situations, slashing needless dialogue that really had nothing at all to do with the plot, crossing out descriptions of places that seem to go on and on and on. He worked like this, a man with a red pen instead of a machete that he would’ve used to bring low the tall grass out in the country to clear an area for a field next to a house he had built with his own two hands, a field in which to plant vegetables and fruit trees, a field with which to feed a family he hoped to someday have to bring life into the house and fill it with laughter, talk, crying, and more–all the noises of human emotions bursting out to remind ourselves we are really and truly alive. Bartholomew Eskrew worked far into the night editing his work this way. The nights strung together, each lit by a feeble light that some people noticed as it emanated out of the tallest window in the old house where many other tenants lived underneath the floor boards of Bartholomew Eksrew’s apartment. The light–seen by those people looking up as they walked the sidewalk, possibly gazing up at the stars and moon, or possibly simply stretching a tired or pained neck–burned each night, with each night’s light connecting to the next like a string of Christmas lights from years ago that’s dim but still works. Bartholomew Eskrew worked steadily, patiently, making slow, ponderous progress, for the more he read of his story, the more it seemed to him that most of it was him just trying to impress the reader, and he wished to pare this apple down to the very core where the seeds remained, waiting to be discovered. Night after night, the pages from the original pile lowered, and the edited pile grew higher. Finally, after two weeks of editing, Bartholomew Eskrew again stood up and walked across the room and turned around to look upon his writing desk and saw what remained and he smiled, finally satisfied with the story. There, on the top page of the pile, written in his careful handwriting in red ink: “He tried.”

Victoria Ray Interview

Fellow indie author Victoria Ray invited to interview me, and I happily accepted. Also, I offered to interview her, as I was entertained by her two short story collections, So Absurd It Must Be True. I enjoy absurdist fiction, and her short stories are bursts of activity and humor and unpredictable plots.

Victoria posted her interview of me yesterday on her blog. And today, I’m posting my interview of her…


How did you get interested in writing? Which kind of writing — short stories, novels, poems — do you enjoy the most? Why?

The sheer pleasure to hold a pen? Or to see if my pen would create the unique blend of images, or build a new universe, or maybe, because, ‘In the beginning, was the Word?’

I believe writing is a part of our daily life: something – it could be a theme, a hero, an idea, or just the word – invites you, then seduces you, and at the end, absorbs you. It’s impossible to force or to stop. You, me, anyone on this planet is a writer. The only question is: what are you – the talent or a genius? The time will tell… Russian writer David Samoylov brilliantly described it:

“In this minute, a genius is sitting and writing…
In this minute, 100 talented people are sitting and writing.
In this minute, 1000 professionals are sitting and writing.
In this minute 100 000 graphomaniacs are sitting and writing.
In this minute, 1 million lonely girls are sitting and writing.
In this minute, 10 million young people (perhaps in love) are sitting and writing.
As a result of this grand event –
ONE POEM IS BORN. Or a genius, throwing out everything
that has been written in a basket.
And heading off.
but the world of literature will remember him/her.

I love writing if it creates the desire to feel, think, and reread. I prefer to write ‘compressed, short’ prose. Why? This is how I perceive the world around me.

Book covers: So Absurd It Must Be True collections and Sophia von X novel

I enjoyed reading your two collections of short stories: So Absurd It Must Be True (Book 1 and Book 2). Now I’m enjoying your novel Sophia von X. What did you think of the jump from writing short stories to novels? Was it a difficult transition?

Thank you! It was and still is a difficult transition. I wanted to try to write thrillers or sci-fi, but there’s a chance I’ll stick to absurd fiction, satire, and humor. I’m never sitting and writing the short stories, not in a usual way – it is often written brick by brick, like Lego – with attention on the construction, shape, form, model.

Example: To write the scene, let’s say 2k short story, I need bricks I’d like to use. For that, I’m collecting words, sentences, and phrases. It doesn’t matter how bizarre/wild they are or how out of context – I’ll find the place for them in my chapter or story. That’s why, perhaps, the text seems a bit rough, irregular, abstract, or undeveloped.

Writing the big novel is a different deal. Usually, I’m writing 20k (a core or skeleton), then I’m expanding the text – adding chapters, situations, details. It takes a lot of memory cells – to keep all those details in mind.

Book covers: The Life Written by Himself by Archpriest Avvakum and Buddha's Little Finger by Victor Pelevin

Your profile says you have a Ph.D. in classic Russian Literature. Very impressive! How have those studies influenced your writing?

I read and analyzed so many books (from the 11th century to modern fiction) that often, I’m leaving empty-handed at any bookstore. I love being there, though. Ah, all those books! Even if mass media products, those books are magical to me, too; full of messages and endless words. As a teacher of Russian literature, I love words. I can’t say that bookstores are selling boring books, not at all. What troubles me, the writing is nice and clean, but you won’t find any modern Prousts, Diderots, Kafkas, or Cervantes on the shelves.

Lately, many authors trying to come up with some new forms, ideas, word-playing, but still, it is rarely something different from all that what-market-wants-plot-hero-sleek-sameness.

And yes, of course, Russian Literature influenced my writing – from Life of the Archpriest Avvakum (written by himself) to modern surrealist, Viktor Pelevin. In my books, I make a unique mix of everything I know – DJ Ray NB. Welcome to my party!

How does research factor into your writing? Do you pick a topic, then research it, and that leads to ideas for stories? Or is it more often that you have a story idea, and you do research to give it believability?

Each story or novel starts from an image or a scene. When I’m writing a book, sometimes I can research beforehand. The problem with novels – they are so damn long – I see nothing, I forget everything – my mind is blurred. About short stories, usually, I’m working on each for only 2-7 days (max), and I never get back to rewriting after the piece is finished. I have to admit, I dislike rewriting. I see each story as an ‘impression’ of that particular moment/feeling.

Book covers: Seeds of Tomorrow and Harvest on the Don, both by Mikhail Sholokhov

The spontaneity and unpredictability in your short stories reminded me of the graphic novel Giraffes on Horseback Salad, which was based on Salvador Dali’s screenplay for a movie he hoped would star the Marx Brothers. Sadly, the movie was never made. Other than authors, what artists or musicians or actors do you see as role models for your writing? Why those artists?

What a fantastic title – ‘Giraffes on Horseback Salad!’
To answer your question: Ye shall make you no idols – my #1 rule
BUT I’d like to mention a couple of ingenious people:
Movies – Louis de Funès (because he is a true joy)
Literature – Teffi (a Russian humorist writer, fascinating lady, died in 1952); Mikhail Sholokhov (Nobel Prize winner 1965, Russian novelist. Seeds of Tomorrow and Harvest on the Don are my favorites: epic dramas); Dostoyevsky (so much passion, madness, and imbalance); O. Henry (fun, intelligent stories with a lesson); W. Thackeray (because of Becky and Amelia; satire, the sketch of English society); Stendhal (because he had more than 100 pen names and visited the city where I grew up); R. Sabatini (adventure and pirates).
Music – anything without words. Or silence.
Art – impressionism.

Book covers: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich and The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet

What’s one work of fiction that moved you deeply? Why did it have that effect on you?

Nothing ‘deeply moved’ me for the last thirty years, but there are modern books that made some splash. I’d like to mention Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. I know a lot of people dislike this book. They want an ‘easy-read’ crime novel. People are simple creatures, we often prefer to be a part of the flock, and in XXI – we are even more ‘simplified’ – more herd-y, I’d say. It means we don’t want to think, imagine, or reflect. Not by ourselves. We want everything to be delivered – given – gifted – placed inside of our minds.

The goal of any novel – to stretch your imagination. Any story/book is a Novel of Uncertainty; remember that. You can retell it the way you wish in your head – and that’s the magnitude, the real value, and the strength of great immortal literature.

One more book I’d like to mention – The Erasers, by Alain Robbe-Grillet: mix of avant-garde and nouveau, literary puzzle in each sentence, bizarre prose, can make you dizzy… I’m still reading it.


Links!

Victoria’s blog, where you can read some of her surreal and funny stories, as well as posts about writing and philosophy and wisdom she’s picked up from reading from various sources.

Victoria’s books on Amazon. In addition to the books I’ve mentioned here, she has published The Pearl Territory (surreal, sci-fi drama), Dulcinea and The Death Code (young adult novel), and two poetry collections.

Also! I want to mention two awards that Victoria Ray has won … Book 2 of So Absurd It Must Be True was a Finalist of the Book Excellence Awards for, and Sophia von X was picked as the Silver Medal Winner in the Fiction – Religious Theme category of the Reader’s Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest. You can see the awards on her blog’s about page.