Interview with Damien Angelica Walters6 min read
A prolific writer of speculative short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters’ work has appeared in magazines such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Nightmare Magazine, and Daily Science Fiction, and in anthologies such as Glitter and Mayhem, What Fates Impose, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction. While publishing upwards of ten short stories every year, she makes time for editing as well, having been an editor for the Hugo Award winning Electric Velocipede.
Her debut short fiction collection Sing Me Your Scars is forthcoming from Apex Publications and is currently available for pre-order. Her new novel Paper Tigers will be released in late 2015 from Dark House Press.
In this issue of Apex Magazine, we are thrilled to present the titular story from her forthcoming collection “Sing Me Your Scars.” This fresh and unforgettable take on Frankenstein gives us a monster who is not a monster, a woman who tries to live her life in the most rational way possible. With prose as focused as a theater spotlight, the reader is given an intimate view of Kimberly’s predicament, and of how she decides who and what to bind her destiny to. Damien was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the story, her new short story collection, and about other aspects of her professional writing career.
APEX MAGAZINE: Kimberly is imprisoned with these other women. Do they see each other as friends? allies? What lessons do you imagine she’s learned the along the way regarding “welcoming” the new women to the “club”?
DAMIEN ANGELICA WALTERS: I think they see each other as unwilling partners in a macabre dance, and that no welcome will ever be a welcome one. They all take part in trying to make the new woman as comfortable as possible, because their peace of mind depends on her acceptance of the situation.
AM: The man who gave her life and is keeping her alive—is he saving her, or killing her? Why do you think he did what he did with her and the other women?
DAW: His purpose is definitely a selfish one: he’s creating his perfect woman with all the attributes he deems necessary. As far as why? Because he can. Like Mary Shelley’s doctor, he’s the true monster. He views women as objects, not as individuals, and as such, he feels no guilt and no hesitation. He wants, so he takes.
AM: Kimberly takes a stand, and finds herself facing a crossroads at the end of the story. What’s next for her? Do you think she’ll ever find peace or acceptance?
DAW: At the end, she’s found the acceptance that matters most: her own. I’d like to think she finds some sort of peace in the world at large, and that she finds a place among people who will think of her not as a monster, but as someone to whom monstrous acts were done. In truth, though, what I think doesn’t matter too much at this point; once the story is done, it belongs to the readers and they might have a very different concept of what comes after.
AM: Where did the idea for this story come from?
DAW: I’m not sure it came from any one thing in particular. The opening line popped into my head and once I finished the intro section, I knew where the rest of the story would lead. It’s definitely an homage to Mary Shelley and her creation, but I also wanted to make it very much my own story. I couldn’t stop but think how horrific it would be for all the monster’s parts and pieces to have their own consciousness, and I coupled that with the twisted concept of the perfect woman.
Questions about writing in general
AM: Your short fiction often features knife-sharp opening lines that demand the reader stop what they are doing and read the rest of this story *right now*. Is the first line usually the first line you write? Or does the opening scene develop later once you’ve got the story drafted?
DAW: Yes, the first line usually pops in my head, and if I’m lucky, the rest of the story spills out or at least an opening section that tells me where the story wants to go. But I also have dozens of first lines and opening paragraphs written down that I haven’t spun into full stories yet.
AM: Congratulations on Sing Me Your Scars, your new collection of short fiction (available from Apex Publications). Do you have a favorite piece in the collection? How did you decide what stories should be included?
DAW: The favorite story question is a hard one to answer because so many of them mean different things to me. “Like Origami in Water” was my first professional rate sale, and they say you never forget your first; “Girl, With Coin” has its roots in my relationship with my mother, and both “Melancholia in Bloom” and “Glass Boxes and Clockwork Gods” were influenced by my grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Deciding what stories to include was a nightmare. The first draft of the collection had several additional stories, but as I read through the collection as a whole, I realized that some didn’t fit the tone and themes as well as others. So I cut here and there and hopefully the end result is a cohesive one.
AM: Later this year, your novel Paper Tigers will be released. What can you tell us about the novel? Is it true that there is a connection between the title and one of your tattoos?
DAW: Paper Tigers is a ghost story, but it’s as much about the things that haunt us personally as it is about external ghosts.
It’s true about the tattoo—I have one on my forearm that reads “A paper tiger to swallow me whole.” What the phrase means to me, within the context of writing and reading, is that words can grab you and refuse to let go, much like a tiger would if it had a chance. What it means within the context of the novel is…a little different.
AM: Tell us a little about your writing process. Is it different for short stories than for novels? Between writing short stories and writing portions of a novel, which do you find easier? Which is more enjoyable?
DAW: I don’t have one set process. Sometime I sit in front of a blank Word document; other times I sit with a notebook and pen. Sometimes the stories flow like rain; other times they’re more like molasses in January. I try to let them come as they will because trying to force them out creates a ton of frustration. Deadlines are a great incentive to make them flow, though.
Both novels and short fiction come with their own set of difficulties, but I enjoy writing short fiction more. While it’s nice to spend a long time with a character or a group of characters, the short form is a bit more freeing. I don’t have to commit to one genre, and I can experiment with form and voice and tense and points of view.
AM: Where do you get your ideas? and with so much short fiction published each year, how do you keep all of those ideas from getting tangled up with each other?
DAW: I buy my ideas in bulk online. Much easier that way.
Seriously, though, they come from everything I’ve done, everywhere I’ve been, and all that I’ve seen, mixed with a hefty helping of what if? The human imagination is a powerful thing, and that’s the best answer I can give.
Keeping the ideas straight is fairly easy. I typically work on one first draft at a time. If another idea rears its head, I’ll jot down a sentence or two in my notebook and let it sit until later. I’ve found that at times, themes will cross story lines. What was a minor mention in one becomes the backbone for another, or I’ll tackle a similar theme from a different angle. Sometimes that ends up a good thing, but it can also be limiting. Of late, I’ve been trying very hard to write stories outside my comfort zone, and thus far, it’s working well. I’ve recently sold Lovecraftian and King in Yellow-inspired stories, neither of which I was sure I could successfully write. Writing is a neverending cycle; there’s always more to learn, always new things to try and new ways to create.