Besides knowing the intricacies of installing Linux on a dead badger, Lucy A. Snyder is the two–time Bram Stoker Award–winning author of the poetry collection Chimeric Machines and the Stoker Award–winning short story “Magdala Amygdala,” which originally appeared in Apex’s own Dark Faith: Invocations. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Weird Tales, GUD, Strange Horizons, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, among numerous anthologies. She is the author of the Jessie Shimmer dark urban fantasy series which includes the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, and Switchblade Goddess. Her fiction and poetry have been compiled in over half a dozen collections, most recently in Orchid Carousals and the upcoming Soft Apocalypses.
This month’s issue of Apex Magazine brings you Ms. Snyder’s short story “Antumbra,” a tale that is guaranteed to stick in your mind long after finishing it. I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes of Ms. Snyder’s time to pick her brain about the toughest revision she’s ever had to make, effective social networking, the next phase of the Jessie Shimmer series, and Hayao Miyazaki. To find out more about Ms. Snyder, visit her website at www.lucysnyder.com.
APEX MAGAZINE: I think the first thought readers are going to be wondering after reading “Antumbra” is, Whoa. The second thought is going to be, Where on planet Earth did this story come from? It’s not every day we come across a tale like this. What was the initial spark for it?
LUCY A. SNYDER: The initial spark came when I was writing my third Jessie Shimmer novel, Switchblade Goddess. I usually listen to instrumental music while I write, but for that book I started listening to a fair bit of Tool, Sabbath, etc. One Black Label Society song ended up in heavy rotation on my playlist: “Blacked Out World.” My brain took the lyrics in some strange directions and a couple of the images that popped into my head stuck with me. I couldn’t use them in Goddess so I mentally filed them away for later. Later arrived and the story grew from there, influenced by the six months of darkness and insomnia I experienced when I was working a third–shift job.
AM: Point of View choices make a big impact on a work of fiction, particularly in what restrictions or freedoms a POV allows. In “Antumbra,” you’ve chosen to have the story told from the first–person perspective of June, Lily’s stepsister who’s had a more difficult time adapting to the new world they now live in. How did you come to select this POV for the story?
LS: To me, first–person is a bit more immersive than third person and I wanted that for the story. Why June? I picked her because, of the two sisters, she’s the most human and the most conflicted. She’s experiencing more of an internal struggle than the other characters in the tale.
AM: The world of “Antumbra” feels expansive, far beyond the confines of this single tale, and there are a lot of bizarre and fascinating possibilities regarding what might come next for Lily and June and the diabolical Dr. Freeman. Do you ever see yourself revisiting this world and writing or expanding this particular tale into something larger?
LS: Most of my first readers have remarked on that, and there’s certainly room for more in that world. It’s occupying space on my long–term projects list.
ABOUT WRITING IN GENERAL:
AM: What was the hardest revision you’ve ever had to complete (whether requested by an editor or in the intermediary drafts of a project), and how did you get through it?
LS: I recently had one of my most difficult revision experiences. What happened was that I submitted a new story to an anthology editor and he replied that he liked the story but wanted some changes. When I read over the revisions he wanted, it seemed that he wanted me to turn the story into a narrative I wasn’t interested in writing. And part of my brain rebelled at that. Rebelled hard. I couldn’t get myself to sit down and even so much as re–read his critique because the little voice in the back of my head was screaming “Nope! Don’t wanna!”
I very much wanted to have a good working relationship with the editor and to get my story into the anthology. I tried reasoning with the little voice. I offered it cookies and beer. Nope!
I think every speculative fiction writer has some childlike mental qualities: a sense of wonder, playfulness, etc. These are all crucial for our creative processes. But sometimes that part of ourselves slams right into what we’re expected to do as responsible working professionals.
I got through it, finally. First, I asked the editor for a bit more time and he graciously extended my deadline. I simply told him I needed a few more weeks and didn’t go into the reasons why.
Next, I set the story aside for several weeks and tried to clear it from my mind entirely in the hopes that the part of my brain that was resisting the changes would no longer be clutching it and screaming, “No!” I hoped that given time and distraction with other projects that irrational grip would be loosened.
The third thing I did was enlist a trusted writer friend to read over the editor’s comments and let me know what he thought of the requests. It helped to get a fresh outside perspective and my friend saw some solutions that I hadn’t been able to consider because of the roadblock in my brain.
And that all worked. I was finally able to sit down with a plan of action for the revision and I was able to get through it fairly quickly, even considering that one of my tasks was to change the point of view and most every sentence needed to be changed.
AM: You began your career with short fiction, particularly after attending Clarion in 1995. What was the best, or most useful, piece of advice you received when you were starting out, or later, that changed the way you approached composing short fiction in some way?
LS: I was a relatively young writer when I attended Clarion. I’d sold some stories but I really had no clue why they’d sold whereas others I’d written hadn’t. I started figuring that out at Clarion and started fixing it afterward.
It seems to me that there are roughly two groups of fiction writers: those who come to writing because they love language and wordplay, and those who come to it because they love stories and storytelling. Before Clarion, the quality of my writing was decent enough, but my storytelling was lacking. My plots had holes you could fly starships through. I remember sitting there listening to Joe Haldeman talk about the five–point plot structure and while that was old hat for a lot of the other students, it was nothing short of an epiphany for me.
I’d had a few creative writing classes taught by literary instructors and they all focused on theme and metaphor and plot was largely ignored. Until Joe’s discussion that day, I had no clue that a story’s plot was something you could open up and examine and fix parts of. Before Clarion, all my first readers were people who were not writers and the feedback I got was frequently misleading in the same way that a driver who’s unfamiliar with auto mechanics might misdiagnose why a car is driving badly. There’s a funny rattle coming from the engine and the car doesn’t accelerate well, and a naive driver may confidently tell you that your transmission is hopelessly shot when really you just need more oil and a couple of adjustments here and there. After Clarion, not only did I have people I could turn to who had good eyes for why a story wasn’t working right, I had a better grip how to pop the hood on my work and fix the problems.
AM: You’ve also worked as an editor — in genre and outside of it — and as a mentor at Seton Hill University’s MFA program, so as a follow–up question: what is one thing you feel beginning authors miss or don’t think about as much as they should when approaching their fiction?
LS: Being able to take criticism is something that every beginning writer has to learn. Your work will be critiqued in MFA programs, it’ll be critiqued by editors (if you’re lucky), and it’s hard for most everyone. But the thing that a lot of beginning writers don’t understand is that learning to take criticism isn’t like learning to take a punch, despite what some people seem to think! I’ve seen dysfunctional workshops in which the members were embroiled in a macho one–upmanship of seeing who could dish out the harshest criticism and who could take it with the most stoicism.
And all that is largely beside the point. Yes, most creative folks are lacking certain emotional insulation that a lot of other people were given as a matter of course, and it’s an important survival skill to be able to receive criticism without being mortally stung by it.
But the most important part of taking criticism is learning to evaluate its worth, and I see a lot of beginning writers swinging between the extremes of either taking every little bit of criticism to heart or rejecting everything that isn’t praise. Even well–meaning people will sometimes give you lousy advice, and sometimes that obnoxious guy you can’t stand to be around will have a useful insight. You have to figure out what you should really listen to (even if it’s bad news) and what you can set aside. And that takes time and experience.
AM: In this age of social media and blogging and various such sites it can be a challenge for authors to promote their work without becoming intrusive to their prospective readers. Any pitfalls you see authors often fall into?
LS: The biggest pitfall is spending so much time on social media that you forget to actually get new writing done! Which has never happened to me. Nope, never. Excuse me while I go polish this tarnished halo and take a picture of it to put on Facebook…
AM: What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations, fiction or non–fiction?
LS: I just finished reading Loud in the House of Myself by Stacy Pershall. I found it fascinating, if sometimes depressing. It’s a nonfiction memoir chronicling the author’s struggle with borderline personality disorder that led to her trying to commit suicide on camera in 2001. Pershall and I are roughly the same age, and even though we grew up in different states in different families a lot of her experiences as a kid really resonated with me.
That aside, if you are one of the rare writers who is the picture of good mental health and you’ve never once struggled with depression or mania or anything else you would probably get good insights from this book, particularly if you want to get inside the heads of difficult, creative characters to see how they tick.
AM: Last we heard, you were still planning a trio or so of books to follow in the Jessie Shimmer Spellbent series, and Apex’s recent Appalachian Undead anthology includes the short story “Repent, Jessie Shimmer!” How is that project going, and what other things (if you can say) can we look forward to seeing from you in the coming months?
LS: In March, Alliteration Ink will be running a Kickstarter to fund a new trilogy of short Jessie Shimmer novels. If all goes well with that, I’ll start writing the next book in the series (titled Devil’s Field) and it might be out as early as the end of the year. I’d have gotten started on that already except that I’ve been pretty busy writing stories.
I’ve participated in some anthologies that have done really well with Kickstarter, so I’m enthusiastic about that platform as a way to take the guesswork out of launching a book. So, if any of you out there want more Jessie Shimmer, participating in this Kickstarter will be the best way to make sure that happens.
AM: I’ve read that you are a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Do you have any particular favorite, and if so, what makes it stand out for you personally?
LS: I love many of his films. My Neighbor Totoro makes me cry. Every time. I don’t really know why. I love it to bits. I also really love his adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw the movie long before I read Diana Wynne Jones’ book, and I think this is one of those instances where both works are equally enjoyable but different enough that one doesn’t spoil the other. Spirited Away is another one of my favorites; I love just about everything in that movie. I think of myself as a pretty cynical person a lot of the time, but I suspect I would be a dumbstruck fangirl if I ever actually met Miyazaki.
AM: Thank you so much, Ms. Snyder, for sharing “Antumbra” with us here at Apex Magazine and for lending us some of your time for this interview!