I welcome author Selah Janel to my blog today!
Please tell us more about yourself, anything you like- interests, background…
I’ve grown up throughout the Midwest, and I’ve always had a lot of creative interests. I’ve worked in theatre as a performer, seamstress, puppeteer, singer, and costume designer, and I’ve always loved words and music for as long as I can remember. There’s something magical about turning an idea into reality—it’s probably the closest thing to magic in the real world. I love that I can be a part of things like that. I’m always half on the lookout for ideas in my everyday life, so little things always catch my interest and amuse me. I currently have two e-books out with Mocha Memoirs Press and another on the way, as well as stories in The Realm Beyond Issue 3 (and another one in the upcoming Issue 5!), The MacGuffin, Stories for Children Magazine, The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil (Dark Oak Press/Kerlak Enterprises), and Thunder on the Battlefield: Sorcery (Seventh Star Press). Olde School, The first book in my cross-genre fantasy series, The Kingdom City Chronicles, will hopefully be out later this year through Seventh Star Press.
Please tell us more about the book or books you would like to feature today.
I’m really excited about my recent collaboration with S.H. Roddey titled Lost in the Shadows. It’s a collection of forty-seven shorts that range in genre and in length. We both had pieces on our hard drives that weren’t quite one thing or the other – they weren’t necessarily definitive genre pieces, but they were intriguing stories, just the same. Some may fit into a mold, but are only a scene or a vignette and let the reader decide what’s really going on. Others are much more experimental or conceptually based. We both really love playing with ideas and what the aspects of genre really are, so we decided to put this collection out, ourselves, with the hope that it would get readers thinking. Not everything has to be a franchise, a full book, or even a full story. Sometimes the best stories are the ones that start things rolling, and encourage us to wonder about what’s really going on, ourselves. We want this book to get people thinking, feeling, and reacting. We want readers to be encouraged to make up their own minds about things and to actively use their own imaginations, whether it be to make decisions about our stories, or ideas of their own. It’s not a bad thing to let your mind wander and see what’s going on.
Buy Lost in the Shadows here: http://amzn.to/1NWNQRM
What gave you the idea to write in this genre?
We cover pretty much most every genre, so it was fun to get our brains working and see what we like about horror, or fantasy, or sci-fi and not feel like we have to keep to certain elements or formulas. I could write a western but also have futuristic elements and surreal elements in it, as well. Susan could write extreme horror and not feel like she’s climbing uphill because she’s writing it as a female author. There are zombie stories that focus more on the human elements and not just the getting away from zombies, there are sci-fi pieces that focus as much on emotion as the science, there are fairy stories and fairy tale pieces that read more like horror…there were no limits to what we wanted to play with. We could take bits of what we like and focus just on those and see what people really thought about these elements, without having to worry if something made sense within a larger book or series.
Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect with?
With Lost in the Shadows, I’d be happy if it encourages people to let their minds wander and their imaginations work. I don’t like hearing people say that they’re not creative. It doesn’t matter if you’re published or not, a famous artist or not, have a number one single, or whatever. If you are a living, breathing, feeling, thinking person, you have the ability to be creative. It’s part of who we are as people. I don’t like seeing anyone waste that gift or think that it has to be done a certain way to be good. We make it a point to say that shadows can’t hurt you. I want people to wander through our stories like you’d wander through the forest on the cover, find those shadows, and see what ideas cast them. Make up your own mind about what you think is going on there, and then maybe see where it takes you from there. Don’t be afraid to meander around and see what happens.
Overall, I don’t play overtly to themes, but I think some shine through, anyway. With my shorter works, I write more or less to calls or plot-based ideas that occur to me. Those usually play with turning emotions or what we might consider normal standards of living on their heads, usually with a speculative element, though not always. With some anthology work I’ve developed potential characters for longer arcs, so with those and my novels I really like exploring growth of characters. I like exploring an underdog or someone who may not be considered hero potential. I don’t like to shy away from characters who may be considered damaged or boring or some other ridiculous label. I think everyone has potential to do something amazing or to have amazing things happen to them, and I want people to get that there are not only a lot of possibilities in fiction, but possibilities within themselves. There’s magic in the everyday, and because we’re all a part of it, we can make it happen. I want readers to get excited about the world around them and the ideas and worlds that exist in their own minds. If my work helps get them thinking about their own potential in some small way, so much the better!
What research did you do, and how? Or does it all come from your own imagination?
It depends on the release. For something like the upcoming novel Olde School, I’ve relied on my love of fairy tales and gone back to reading some of the lesser-known versions. I’ve also relied on my love of Lovecraft-style horror for some parts, and on my love of fantasy as a whole. A lot of that, though, comes straight from me, and the world-developing is definitely on my shoulders and not something I can read up on, because it’s such a unique realm.
For a book like my first novel In the Red (that’s currently looking for a new home), the process was a little different because it was firmly set in the real world. Some things I could fudge a little because of the magic/fantasy undertones, but other things like certain music industry quirks, rock n’ roll lifestyle stuff, medical practices, and other technical or cultural aspects, I very much had to rely on research. For a historical piece like my horror/vampire short Mooner, I had to read up on lumber camp history and vocabulary. I’m lucky that I’m ever-curious and willing to learn. I’m not often intimidated about researching something for a book. It may take a little while, but if it’s going to make the title better, I’m all for it. I do a lot of reading, looking around online, and I’ll contact people if I know a source or can be introduced to someone who is willing to help me out.
What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve done when doing research for your book?
In the Red was full of weird research! Besides what I listed above, I had to look into demonology a little bit, and all sorts of weird facts like what pitch a heart monitor beeps when a person flatlines (according to various sources, this is either B or B flat). I also had a lot of performance scenes and a lot of the book deals with how different characters feel about music. I’ve had performance and singing experience, but I’m not an instrumentalist, so I contacted a lot of friends, coworkers, and performers and musicians I know. They were a very patient lot and subjected themselves to a lot of questions they probably wanted to have me committed for. My personal favorite was a phone call I made to a friend who I hadn’t talked to in a while (I’d emailed him to warn him first), and point blank just led with something to the effect of “So if you signed your life and soul away to a dark power for success and then were…oh, I don’t know, hit by a bus or something, and could still play but were otherwise incapacitated for life, would you still see music as something to hold onto and some sort of saving grace, or would you just be done with it and annoyed? Oh, by the way, what goes through your head when you’re in the middle of playing a piece on stage?” It’s amazing I have any friends left after what I put some of them through, heh.
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
I try not to completely rip off anyone I know a hundred percent. I’m always looking at people’s quirks and characteristics, but I don’t really have an ability to stay true to an avatar when I’m writing. I think, if anything, a lot of my characters have facets or aspects of myself. I can see how a lot of how I feel personally about things or moments I’ve had in my life get filtered into characters here and there. If I’m stuck or if I notice something in someone else if I’m out and about, I may go in with a physical avatar or a characteristic in mind (usually for male characters, as it’s a quick way for me to feel comfortable writing against gender), but it always gets shifted to the point of not being recognizable. It always ends up about the character and not a real person. I like my characters to become their own people. I don’t like feeling like I’m tied down to a specific mold or cookie-cutter. I like my characters to have the freedom to defy expectations if they choose, so I try not to keep things too close to any avatar or starting point.
Do you make a plan for your novels, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
I usually have a definite starting point, at least several main plot points, and usually a definite end in mind. A lot of times the end gets obliterated or stretched out as I get ideas, and once the characters start talking, a lot of the details get changed or filled in. It’s become a give-and-take process where I definitely may have some structure, but also have enough sense to give my mind a lot of room to play, as well.
Which of your own books/ characters is your favourite and why?
I tend to be in love with whatever I’m working on at the time, but there are a few that still stand out for me. Although it’s not in print at the moment, I’m very proud of the work I put into In the Red. It turned into a very personal book for me, a very emotional book where I could explore a lot of the dark themes that I was afraid to face for a long time. A lot of the characters are damaged, but find some sort of resolution (Whether that helps them in the long run or not depends on your point of view). The book explores a lot of my feelings about music and made me confront a lot of anxieties or bits of self-deprecation that had haunted me to the point of being toxic. I have a lot of empathy for that cast, even though started out not liking a lot of them. In a very real way we made a journey together, and I learned with their help, that I could write longer works and have people be interested in it.
Lost in the Shadows is also a title near and dear to my heart because it gave me the chance to collaborate with one of my favorite people in the world, and I got to use stories that I really believed in, even if they weren’t a definite genre or had some other weird quirk about them. It wasn’t a planned book—it happened really fast—but I needed that. I needed to see that these things I’d written in moments of inspiration or glee or whatever were meant to have a home, and that they could be used for a larger purpose.
At the moment, I’m eyeball-deep in the world of Olde School, the book that will be coming out sometime this year from Seventh Star Press. It’s an odd fantasy world that gives me a chance to combine genres at will and play around with a lot of things. Paddlelump is a troll that I feel for. He just wants to be a good guy and be successful and do his thing, but he definitely has the potential to be so much more. I adore Ippick and Uljah’s (two other trolls) banter, inappropriate humor and misguided attempts at help. The character of Flora the waitress is one I love because she works so hard to be independent and is so cynical, yet it’s obvious she’s been hurt and wants to be optimistic, but has a hard time pulling it off. Even characters like the mysterious Nobody the maid and odd Clyde the bird make me happy, because I’m to the point where I’m realizing that there’s a lot that makes them tick. I just want to go all over Kingdom City and meet everyone!
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
It wasn’t necessarily meant for writing, but it’s some of the best artistic advice I’ve ever received. I was at a horror con years ago and got into a conversation with Billy Wirth, one of the actors from the movie The Lost Boys. Things were slow and we got to talking. I can’t even remember how we got onto it, but I mentioned frustrations I was having with some of my freelance endeavors (I was just venturing into submitting stories again after a long time away from it). I’ll never forget it—he looked me straight in the eye and said “Look, you really just need to keep working. That’s all it is, just keep working.” At the time, I was so irritated by the answer (but was behaving myself, so I didn’t tell him that), because it sounded so simplistic to the point of being patronizing. As I went along, though, I realized that he was right. The only way you learn is by doing. The only way you network is by working on things and meeting people. The only way you find new projects is by looking for them. The only way you keep moving forward is by doing just that: working and moving forward. It’s so simple that it’s easy to ignore, but it’s also really hard to forget. I carry that moment with me everywhere and go back to it when I get super-frustrated with myself.
I’m also really into the blunt honesty that’s featured in Nikki Sixx’s This is Gonna Hurt. Every time I read this book I fall more in love with it. All creative types should read it, because he puts what he’s learned from his experiences and thoughts on creativity so well (and his photography is just incredible. If anything, people should check it out for that, alone!). It’s also a really good look into the mind of an artist. He just has this way of getting right to the point and putting things so everyone can understand them. I love that, I envy that to a point. As a writer (or any kind of artist), you really have to learn to stand up for yourself and believe in yourself, while learning to better yourself as a person. It’s a delicate dance that comes only through experience and the willingness to get honest with yourself. A lot of what he says cuts so hard and so deep, but they’re things that every artist (and person, really) needs to hear. For me, personally, it helps that he’s been through a lot, himself, and speaks from a deep well of personal experience and emotion. It doesn’t read like he’s being trite or was just looking for a book deal. This is a man who’s been through hell and has worked through it to become a confident, creative powerhouse. I have nothing but respect for that. Every time I sit with his photos or read over sections of the book, I get something new, something that I need at that precise moment. It’s nice to have something like that to keep going back to while I’m trying to work something out, letting an idea percolate, or dealing with frustration.
What books or other projects do you have coming up in future?
The first book in my new series The Kingdom City Chronicles should be out this year and I’m so excited for it! It’s called Olde School, and it’s a unique blend of genres that’s going to turn the stereotypical fantasy tropes on their heads. This first book blends my mad love of fairy tales and fantasy clichés with horror undertones, some mystery and conspiracy, and a good dose of humor. I’m lucky to have a publisher that not only trusted me to play around with the world I was writing, but wholeheartedly encouraged me to do so! I’m grateful and excited to have this world to play in and develop, and we’re talking about things to do with it that will really make the series an exciting experience for readers!
Contact Selah here:
Other books by Selah Janel:
Buy here: http://amzn.to/1h2mOvk