Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Interview with writer Deborah Sheldon


Writer Deborah Sheldon joins me today to chat about her collection of dark literary short stories, 300 Degree Days and Other Stories

Bio:
Deborah Sheldon is a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. Some of her latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the collection 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, the novella Thylacines, the collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, and the novel Devil Dragon. Upcoming titles include the novel Contrition later in 2018, and a retrospective dark fiction collection in 2019. Her short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.

Welcome, Deborah. What do you enjoy most about writing short stories?
The challenges of the form. Novellas and novels give you plenty of time to develop your characters and hook your readers. It is much harder to emotionally engage a reader in just a few pages. Every sentence must convey plot, character development, mood and theme. You need to sweat each word. A short story is extraordinarily labour-intensive compared to a novel chapter of the same word length. It’s the intensity of this kind of writing that I enjoy.

Can you give us a little insight into a few of your short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
Each of the 11 stories in my collection, 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, has at its heart a little piece of my own. Memory – especially memories of traumatic or upsetting events – is an extremely useful addition to any writer’s toolbox. Memory allows you to imbue your stories with an emotional honesty that can, hopefully, trigger a similar feeling in the reader. That said, I’m interested only in fiction, not memoir. Even though I often use memories as inspiration for scenes or characters, all of my stories are fictitious.

Sorry, but I honestly can’t choose a favourite! Each story was my favourite while I was writing it.

What genre are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I enjoy reading stories that move me or provoke emotional reactions. I guess that’s why I gravitate towards writing dark fiction. My preferred genres are crime, noir and horror. These genres allow us, as readers and writers, to safely explore the fears and anxieties that we all share just by being human. I believe that dark fiction, in all its forms, is the most emotionally honest type of fiction there is.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I recently had to undergo major surgery. Currently, I’m working on a short story inspired by that experience. My goal is to make the piece work on two levels – as both psychological- and body-horror – so that the reader has to decide what is really happening.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I sold my first piece of writing at the age of 18: a freelance feature article on steroids to an Australian bodybuilding magazine. (I was a gym rat in earlier years.) Holding that cheque in my hands instead of the usual rejection letter was a life-changing moment. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m on my way. It’s started.” And I’m still writing with the same enthusiasm some 32 years later. No regrets.

How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for writers?
Back in ye olden days, before the Internet, researching a market took legwork. If you wanted to pitch to a magazine, you had to visit a newsagent and buy an issue. Getting the feel of a publisher’s submission requirements meant a few hours in a book shop, ideally with the help of the shop owner. I also used to rely on market almanacs, which gave potted summaries and contact details. Today, researching for markets is a comparative breeze. Every company has a website. Most magazine websites have free online TOC samples. Amazon allows you to read the first few pages of most books. Everything you need to know is just a click away.

But I think the most important tip when researching markets is this: slavishly follow the submission guidelines, no matter how finicky they may seem. Editors and slush pile readers have a staggering amount of reading to do. They have neither the time nor the patience to indulge you. If your manuscript is not presented in the exact manner requested, editors will most likely hit “delete” without a moment’s hesitation.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I plan a project’s word length before I start writing it. Flash fiction, short stories, novellas and novels require vastly different techniques and approaches. Deciding on word length beforehand saves a lot of time. It also means I rarely have a failed project. Almost everything I begin gets finished, and almost everything I finish gets published sooner or later.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
In order: a bus driver, Wonder Woman, an illustrator for superhero comics. But I realised at about the age of 11 that writing was my one true love.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I like to keep in contact with readers. If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter (via my website homepage), you will receive current information on upcoming titles, links to anthologies that include my work, and author interviews; plus, you can enter the draws to win e-book copies of my collections, novellas and novels.

Links:

And thanks so much, Lisa, for having me as a guest on your blog.

You’re quite welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

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