Author Interview with Damascus Mincemeyer

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Damascus Mincemeyer, an author in the History anthology.

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I took to writing immediately in Kindergarten when I was five. As soon as I could read and write I was creating little stories and books. My Grandmother encouraged me, too, and always bought me markers, pens, paper, books, comics–anything to feed my buzzing brain. A lot of my childhood tales ranged the gamut from adventure to science fiction to what I now know is called ‘bizzaro’ (Some were very, very strange). An oft-told anecdote of mine is that the very first thing I ever created (also at age five) was a horror story about a man coming back from the dead. I wrote it at the babysitter’s house, and enlisted the babysitter’s daughter into providing illustrations for it. When the babysitter read it, however, she was so repulsed by what we’d made that she ripped up the story and threw it away! It was my auspicious debut and I’ve been freaking people out ever since.

2. How do you handle writer’s block?

Well, in addition to being a writer, I’m also a professional artist and whenever I get stuck on a story I switch to doing a visual art project. It whets my appetite for being constructive and creative, but allows my mind a break from the sometimes draining effects of the written word. For a looooong time my main goal in life was actually to be a comic book creator. I never quite succeeded, though I did manage to get published several times in Heavy Metal magazine. I started doing horror art in earnest for Deadman’s Tome publishing in 2018, initially for the covers to anthologies such as Bikers Vs The Undead, Psycho Holiday, Monsters Vs Nazis, Mr. Deadman Made Me Do It, Satan Is Your Friend, Monster Party, Wolfwinter and Hollywood Holocaust. I’ve also done the cover for Ryan Woods’ debut novel The Journal of Cinnamon Paige: Un-Death By Chocolate. And all that has helped me to keep the creative juices flowing when a literary barrier rises in my mind.

3. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I’ve written two book thus far: the short fiction collection Where the Last Light Dies and my forthcoming horror novel By Invitation Only, but I’ve had roughly thirty stories published in various anthologies, magazines and websites in the past four years. But pick just one as my favorite??? Arrrrgggh!!! I can’t!

There are a few short stories I’ve done that I’m really proud of, though: ‘A Night At Satan’s Palace’ is about two old guys in their seventies who stop by a Las Vegas strip club where the strippers are demons in disguise and intent on opening a portal to Hell. I like its mix of comedy and horror, and it’s the story I’d share with someone unfamiliar with me to showcase my work. I’m also enormously pleased with two alternate-history tales I’ve written: ‘The Spirit of St. George’, about U.S. ace Eddie Rickenbacker leading a biplane squadron against awakened dragons in an alternate 1922, and ‘Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam’ from the Hell’s Empire anthology, which focuses on a demonic invasion upon Victorian Britain.

The problem is that all my work has something special in it to me. They’re all my babies in a way, and I think any writer can relate to being unable to choose just one.

4. Where do you get your inspiration?

Several years ago I subscribed to an email newsletter from Tampa, Florida, called ‘Salsa Ray’s Ideas 4U’. Every week they send ready-made concepts to my in-box, and while half are junk, some are surprisingly effective. No, I’m messing with you. I literally get my inspiration from everywhere. The strangest things will give me ideas–sometimes its a news story, an anecdote, something that happened in my life. Sometimes its an odd observation I’ve had or just something I wish I could see in a movie or read in a book but can’t find. A surprising amount of my inspiration comes when I’m doing something completely unrelated to writing, like when I’m washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. A lot of my ideas also derive from my sick sense of humor. 

5. What do you hope your readers take away from your work?

Any storytelling journey is a silent covenant between the writer and reader; each brings their own experiences and viewpoints to the tale, and I as a writer can only control my end of the bargain. I don’t really have any preconceived notion of what a reader will take from my work because I’m not able to fill in their own individual reference points. I just try to write what I find amusing and entertaining to me, and the fact that it appeals to others at all is a very blessed coincidence in my eyes.

6. Who is your favorite author and why?

James Joyce…oh, crap, I don’t have to lie to pass English Lit 101 anymore. Never mind.

The real hands- down answer to me is H.P. Lovecraft. The man himself was just as strange and fascinating as the fiction he produced, and I always conjure the vision of someone desperate to describe the worlds he’s visualizing in his head. Until I discovered him at age sixteen I had only been exposed to Western Folklore-Judeo-Christian concepts of horror–vampires, werewolves, slashers, demons, angels, etc.–and the idea of Cosmic Horror was a notion that upturned every notion of what I thought fiction was or could be capable of doing. My own writing style doesn’t reflect his influence, but his voice lurks in my mind while I create, particularly in his concept that an upheaval of chaos and disorder is just waiting to tear the veneer of safe civilization apart.

Clive Barker is a very, very close second. His Books of Blood is a collection of such raw, visceral intensity that I don’t think any work of short horror fiction has ever surpassed it, by any author, even by Barker himself. The extent that those tales impacted my seventeen-year-old mind cannot be understated. I’ll round out my list with Neil Gaiman, Harry Turtledove and Colin Wilson.

7. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Draw. Cook. Chitter-chat with my online peeps. And I LOVE music–punk and post-punk, metal (black/death/thrash/metalcore), gothic rock, electronic music, ‘80’s New Wave…the list just goes on and on. I usually create a ‘soundtrack’ of songs for a specific story I’m working on to listen to when I’m not writing. I helps set the mental mood, so to speak, for when I sit down for the real work. 

8. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Odd. Creative. Misfit.

9. If you could only have one season, what would it be?

My bliss would be a world of perpetual autumn. Chilly, crisp, clear-sky days, bright colors on the leaves, that smell in the air. If there is a Heaven, I would want it to be autumn. 

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Any reader thus inclined to follow my peculiar vision of the world can learn more about me on both my Amazon Author Page and Instagram accounts.

Author Interview with A.K. Stuntz

Dragon Soul Press interviewed A.K. Stuntz, an author featured in Extinct Worlds and History.

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but It wasn’t my first choice for a career. I was actually a horseback riding instructor and horse trainer. It wasn’t until after I moved and got married that I started focusing more on my writing.

2. Describe your writing space.

I have a large desk where I do most of my writing. In one area, I keep my laptop where I do all my writing, and off to the left is my notebook with my notes. I also keep my incentive (candy or cookies) within eye sight to encourage me to reach my writing goals.

3. What time of the day do you usually write?

Most of my writing gets done at night. Usually after eight PM.

4. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Endings are the hardest part of writing for me. It can take me days just to write the ending to a story. I never feel like they come out right.

5. Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story?

I’m more of a pantser. I do make a very basic outline, but mostly I just look over my notes, read the last paragraph I wrote, and then just start writing.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

So far, I have written 7 books. My favorite is Witch’s War. It’s a fantasy about a witch forced into a war after her husband betrays her.

7. Where do you get your inspiration?

I get a lot of my inspiration from pictures. I’m more of a visual person so things I see, like pictures, give me great ideas for stories.

8. How many bookshelves are in your house?

I have five bookshelves currently, but I’m hoping to add another one soon as all my books are spilling out of my bookshelves and filling up my floor.

9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing, I like to read and ride my horse. There is nothing better then racing across an open field on the back of a horse.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter.

Author Interview with Jo Niederhoff

Dragon Soul Press interviewed Jo Niederhoff, an author in the Rogue Tales, Dragons & Heroines, History, Space Bound, and Spirit anthologies.

1. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since about as long as I knew stories existed. I told my parents about the fairies that lived in my walls, and about my imaginary babies. I’ve been writing well since high school, when I joined a writing club and started getting feedback on my stories.

2. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Editing, definitely. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but it’s so much easier to put words down on paper than to go through and reshape them.

3. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I can write just about anywhere. I often have stories running in the back of my mind, which does sometimes mean I miss out on other things happening around me, especially the radio going while I’m driving.

4. What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

To me, success means feeling good about my life as a whole. I would much rather be a small-time writer who is happy every time I sit down at the computer to get some words down than a best-seller who feels like writing has become a chore.

5. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Daydreamer, sarcastic, fidgety.

6. Who is your favorite character?

Of my own, it would have to be a so-far unnamed girl from a novel I keep toying with, about the people left behind in fantasy novels. Her brother vanishes into a traditional fantasy adventure, but the novel would focus more on how she and her family deal with his disappearance. From others’ works, it would have to be Lois Lane or Cordelia LeHane from Amberlough.

7. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I’m actually working on a non-writing project which is really exciting; I’m studying to become a speech pathologist. It’s very interesting, but also a little stressful.

8. Who is your favorite author and why?

R. F. Kuang. The Poppy War tore me apart in the best way and showed me what historical inspired fantasy can be at its finest.

9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I do lots of community theater acting, but I also enjoy learning more about all sorts of things (mostly history and biology, but I’m trying to be rounded out with some hard sciences), and I have a quilting project I work on every now and then.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

I have Facebook, but I’m on Twitter much more frequently, even if half of what I write there is utter nonsense.

Author Interview with John Greville

Dragon Soul Press interviewed John Greville, a History and Reign of Queens anthology author.

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

As a child in Baghdad in the early 1950’s, I was drawn to the small diaries sold at the upscale department store, Orosdi-Backs, on Rashid Street. The diary had a little pencil that sat in the hold along the spine. I scribbled in the tiny books, and felt some level of satisfaction. Later, in 10th grade, I read a short story by Thomas Mann, “Tonio Kröger,” about a young man who desired a normal life, and as a boy and teen was attracted to normal, popular peers. But he never really fit in, and his sensitivities were also trampled by the oblivious crowd. He became a writer, an artist, and I immediately identified with him. I was also transfixed by Hermann Hesse’s novel Der Steppenwolf, also about an outsider. In 11th grade I started writing poetry, and in college much better poetry and short stories. Finally, as a freshman at Berkeley, I discovered Tolkien, and devoured Lord of the Rings. Fantasy and SF became my reading passion, and ultimately, the landscapes for the stories I wanted to tell.

2. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Believable and compelling characters facing mounting challenges are vital, otherwise readers will lose interest. The depiction of setting is also critical, particularly in SF/F. The detailed world building of LOTR and the Earthsea trilogy, along with Dune, early favorites of mine, formed the foundations of the epic nature of the stories. Clean, crisp prose that supports the action of the characters also matters. I dislike overwritten scenes. I agree with Elmore Leonard: “I don’t want the reader to be aware of me as the writer.”

3. Describe your writing space.

I have a small foldout desk which supports my laptop. On the shelf above the desk sit my collection of dragons, including a spectacular specimen of an alebrije, a piece of Mexican folk art. Stretching to either side are my book shelves, overflowing with books, nick-nacks, scattered notes, and, for good measure, a couple of ornamental daggers. I occasionally plug in my head phones to listen to ambient noise of waves breaking on shingle or sand. Music I find too distracting.

4. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

The first draft is the most painful for me. Watching myself set down the crappy words and sentences that are parodies of what I have in my head is excruciating. I am constantly reminded of William Gibson’s advice: “You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work.”

5. How do you do research for your books?

It depends on the story. For my fan fiction novel set in Middle Earth, I combed through Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth volumes to make sure I was within canon for the stub I was expanding on. For my own invented world, I studied different forms of government, economies, religions, cultures, mythologies. World building is intense, and I like to have a solid basis for my inventions. For the story published in Reign of Queens, I drew on my own memories of traveling through Wales, memories I also drew on for my story published in the forthcoming History with Dragons anthology. I also collect books on arcane topics such as the Tarot, witchcraft, shamanism, etc. I was struck by a piece of advice from a talk Connie Willis gave, when asked a similar question. She said it only takes a few telling details to place the reader in a particular time and place, and refrain from filling in the entire setting.

6. How do you handle literary criticism?

I welcome feedback. I have several beta readers whose comments have been invaluable. I also hired an editor to savage my prose. Humbling, but necessary. The give and take in writer’s workshops has also been important for my growth as a writer. I have learned as much giving feedback as getting it. It can be painful at times, but without it, I wouldn’t grow my craft.

7. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I have completed three novels and several short stories. Two of the novels were inspired by works I love: LOTR and The Seven Samurai. Three of my short stories reflect my various childhood heroes: Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Peter Pan. I have a special fondness for my fan fiction set in Middle Earth, where I set out to tell the story of a character mentioned in passing by Tom Bombadil. I wondered about her for years before gathering my courage and writing her tale.

8. Who is your favorite character?

Oddly enough, I only have one character who so clearly channeled himself through me that I felt I was basically dictating his story. He is Gyrax, a clumsy jewel thief, who is released from hanging to do a special job in my novel Seven at Bay. For some reason, his Han Solo type wise-guy persona must represent some shadow self in my subconscious.

9. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

I have several stories and one novel that exist in notes and bits of scenes. The one that is easiest to describe is a prequel to my current WIP, and describes the exodus of a people who leave their idyllic home city rather than succumb to the predations of an avaricious despot who covets their valley. Some 50,000 folk travel over a thousand miles to the north, seeking a land where they can prosper in peace, led by a young priestess who has a vision of their new home.

10. Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

My pen name, John Greville, comes from a nineteenth century house I lived in during my two years in London. The address was 2 Greville Place. It was a marvelous Gormenghastian dwelling, with nooks and hidies, perfect for my teenage day dreams.

11. Where can readers learn more about you?

On Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon.

Author Interview with J.C. Murray

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview J.C. Murray, an author of the Dragons & Heroines anthology.

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

If you had asked me when I was 12, I would have said yes. Back then I wrote what amounted to Black Beauty and Animorphs fan fiction and scribbled comics starring my siblings and me.

Something painfully practical took over down the road, and I majored in biology and worked in other fields. I returned to writing by accident. I got into table-top role-playing games, and found myself writing more character backstory and setting lore than I could use in a lifetime. Around 2018, I realized they were stories, and started quietly writing just for fun. In 2020, 3 months before the world turned upside down, I started taking it more seriously.

2. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I loathe picking titles. I never feel confident they capture the idea in my head, or aren’t cliche. I write most stories with placeholder titles like “sad robot story” and invent a label only after the piece is finished by playing with ideas until something sticks.

3. Is there lots to do before you drive in and start writing the story?

Very much so, I outline. I can’t write until I know which dots to connect. I find the degree to which the writing community pushes the plotter-vs-pantser debate interesting. From listening to or reading author interviews, it seems that each writer’s process is unique, and the amount of pre-planning truly is a spectrum.

I pre-plan major plot points, but all the juicy details in between flow once I get started. So, I think the writer I am today is 70% plotter.

4. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I am very much at the beginning of my writing journey. I have one complete unpublished manuscript written in 2020, queried in 2021. I am revising my second fantasy manuscript inspired by the Bronze Age collapse about misfits on an adventure surviving the fallout of a crumbling empire. I will start querying that one in early 2022. I’ve written about a dozen short stories, of which Yasmine Learns to Fly is the second published.

Picking a favorite is so hard! They are all so different. If I had to choose, my favorite is the unpublished short story I affectionately think of as “Casablanca with Mer-folk.”

5. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I am 90% sure I plan to take 2022 off from novels to focus on craft through short stories. Hopefully genre lit mag fans see my name pop up here and there before too long.

I’m leaving the door cracked open for a novel idea to sink its claws in and refuse to let go.

6. Who is your favorite author and why?

The last author I read, usually.

But, seriously, right now I am obsessed with Evan Winter (The Burning series).

Winter’s books are so intense. He writes clean, invisible prose about flawed people stuck in impossible situations. The Rage of Dragons is a masterclass of both crafting and conveying a magic system so the reader deeply feels the cost of accessing that power. Plus, dragons and demons!

7. Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I’ve hiked the first 100 miles or so of the Appalachian trail. I would love to go back and through-hike it one day.

8. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

Wesley Chu. I recently enjoyed his Lives of Tao series. I find his brand of action-humor refreshing, unique, and yet somehow attainable. As a person with a career jumping back into writing in my late 20’s, I find his career arc (from I.S. technician to stuntman to author) relatable. Ok, not the Hollywood stuntman part, but for everything else, I’d love to pick his brain over a cup of coffee. How to balance writing and a day job, how to keep improving, etc.

9. How many bookshelves are in your house?

Six, all bursting. My wife is a painter, so she organizes the books on the main three in the living room by color.

10. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

I deeply respect  N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth trilogy, The City We Became).

Jemisin’s writing is just so powerful. It’s beautiful at the line-level. She’s mastered hidden worldbuilding. She plays with stakes so well – her books are both deeply personal and capture that epic feeling we expect from fantasy adventures. On top of all that, she’s going to leave your mind a pile of mush as you chew on what you read for days after closing the last page.

She’s pushing boundaries in more ways than one.

11. Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place to chit-chat with me is on Twitter.

I blog about books I’ve read and general writerly thoughts on my website every Tuesday.

If you’re into that, you can see my blog posts interspersed with memes over on the Murray’s Bookshelf Facebook page or on Tumblr.