My all-new, original graphic novel, Kolchak, the Night Stalker: The Poe Cases is in the home stretch in production and soon to be sent off to press. Moonstone Books will be publishing it this spring, the latest in their ongoing series of comics and anthologies continuing the adventures of Carl Kolchak. Although The Night Stalker originally comprised two novels by creator Jeff Rice, two television movies written by Richard Matheson and directed by Dan Curtis, and one season of an hourly television series, Carl seems more popular today than ever before. The full original series is currently streaming on Netflix, and I’m extremely excited to add to the Kolchak mythos, especially with The Poe Cases, which pits Carl against a series of macabre occurrences and threats inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. To hold you over until the book is published, here are some preview pages. More soon!
My latest short story, “In Wolf’s Clothing,” will appear in Gaslight and Grimm next month. A dark (and sexy!) steampunk retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” it also continues my Machinations Sundry short story cycle.
Once Upon a Time… ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.
Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Order here!
Journey With tales by James Chambers ~ Christine Norris ~ Bernie Mojzes ~ Danny Birt ~ Jean Marie Ward ~ Jeff Young ~ Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin ~ Elaine Corvidae ~ David Lee Summers ~ Kelly A. Harmon ~ Jonah Knight ~ Diana Bastine ~ Jody Lynn Nye.with through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.
My short story, “The Lost Boy,” appears in Moonstone Books’s newest anthology chronicling the shadowy adventures of Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker. I’ve been a fan of the original Kolchak television movies and series for years and loved writing Carl. An intrepid reporter, the supernatural, and a mystery to be solved–all makings for great stories. The anthology includes work by Nancy Holder, Nancy Kilpatrick, Ed Gorman, CJ Henderson, Lilith Saintcrow, Dave Ulanski, and many others, thirteen original stories in all, with a cover by Byron Winton.
“There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of Hell…” —Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial.”
“…when you have finished this bizarre account, judge for yourself its believability, and then try to tell yourself, wherever you may be, it couldn’t happen here.” —Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker
Kolchak, The Night Stalker: The Edgar Allan Poe Cases
From tell-tale hearts and premature burials to black cats and the Red Death, reporter Carl Kolchak grapples with deepening horror and madness as events from Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of mystery and imagination come to life in modern-day Baltimore. Kolchak teams with a street magician who performs tricks and escapes inspired by Poe to expose the supernatural power bringing the author’s deadly visions to life and solve a series of terrifying occurrences, disappearances, and murders.
Written by James Chambers, Art by Luis Czerniawski, Felipe Kroll, and Jim Fern, Letters by Bernie Lee, Cover by E.M. Gist.
The final part of my conversation with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, casting an eye on the nuts and bolts of creating anthologies, finding an audience, making the most of the convention circuit, and Dani’s most recent projects and ventures. Thanks all for reading! (Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.)
You’re known as one of the most successful anthology editors in the specialty press, having edited, co-edited, or worked on nearly a dozen anthologies in the past decade and helped to launch them. How does your role as editor shape your work as a writer?
Well…thank you again. Editing anthologies came out of my love of creating books, something I have been doing for thirty-two years. I get ideas, I find the twist, and then I am driven to complete the project. Mostly they come about because I want to explore whatever concept has captured my mind. Consequently, of all of the anthologies I’ve been involved with in an editorial capacity only two of them do not contain stories I’ve written. So…in that context my editorial work shaped my writing by enabling me to explore some fascinating concepts as I found my tale to fit the theme. Conversely, in most other ways my editorial work just gets in the way. I find I’m so busy dealing with production and administrivia (not my phrase, though I absolutely love it!) that my writing often comes in last minute as I scramble to get my story done before we have to go to press. That, in fact, is why I only have an introduction in Bad-Ass Faeries: It’s Elemental… I just couldn’t draw my story together fast enough and we were out of time. This is the first volume in the series that doesn’t have a Wild Hunt tale. I’ve started it, but I just haven’t had time to find my way to the end. I’ll likely post it on the Bad-Ass Faeries website (www.badassfaeries.com) as a bonus freebie once it’s done.
Oh… this is so hard to say… everyone has their own tastes when it comes to fiction. And I don’t think you can really break it out by editor and writer because there is too much overlap. Good fiction, originality, excitement. And as a writer I would add a solid connection to the characters, but that is me, as I am a writer of character-driven tales. Yet I know there are those readers out there who couldn’t care less about the characters, they want the action… You know. I think in the end it comes down to one thing: whether you are in the character camp or the action camp, you have to make the reader care. It is as simple as that.
To what extent do you think a shared connection with readers, such as common interest in fandom activities or a regular presence at conventions, contributes to succeeding as a writer versus simply publishing good writing?
I don’t know how it is for every author, but I know that I would not be where I am without my personal connection with my fans. I sell more books in person than I do on-line, with much more repeat customers because they know me. They can talk to me about what they liked and what they didn’t, we can chat and hang out at a convention. Now there are a lot more authors out there that are wildly successful who don’t do this, but most of those have a big-house publisher behind them feeding the distribution machine. And even so, I say an author that gets out and moves among their following has a stronger, more loyal fan base than one who stays up on their pedestal typing away, without connecting to their readership.
In terms of bringing great fiction to your readers, how do your goals as an editor differ from those as a writer?
Whatever hat I’m wearing, I love to create cool books. I love to share the unexpected and the wonderful with readers. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that goal is always the same.
You’re very well plugged in to the regional science-fiction/fantasy convention scene, appearing at several cons each year, often hosting launch parties for new publications. What advice can you offer to writers about connecting with readers, editors, and publishers at these conventions?
Talk. Listen. Socialize. Don’t pitch or pimp or continually drag focus only to your book or manuscript. Build a relationship, don’t just try and make a connection. We’re all there to have fun in a community where we are comfortable and can relax. Being pushy or obnoxious gets in the way of that and will turn people off more than anything.
Where should a reader who hasn’t yet read your work start? Give us some suggestions from your short fiction as well as your long fiction.
Well… any of my first novels are good places to start, depending on the reader’s taste: Yesterday’s Dreams (Celtic urban fantasy), The Halfling’s Court (biker faeries – urban fantasy), or Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn (historic/steampunk fantasy). After all, who wants to start with book two of a series. J As for the short fiction. If a reader is partial to science fiction it would have to be the short story collection A Legacy of Stars, which contains the bulk of my sci-fi stories. For fantasy I have a collection called Transcendence coming out later this year from Dark Quest Books. It contains a nice chunk of my fantasy stories. As for individual stories… that is so much harder to recommend. I just can’t do it. Each one contains some kernel of wonder that I love, and all of them are so different from the others. There is no comparison, no way to guide someone to ease their way in. Best to leap in with both feet. J
What should readers look for next from Danielle Ackley-McPhail?
Oh goodness! Who knows what mischief I’ll get into next! I certainly don’t. There are a number of on-going projects in the works. For anthologies I’m editing: Gaslight and Grimm, Eternal Flame, The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson, and The Transdimensional Adventures of the Miracle Mead Men. Those I’ve contributed stories to that are coming out this year are: Dance Like a Monkey, Athena’s Daughters, Hellfire Lounge 4: Reflections of Evil, and Lucky 13. Novels I’m working on are The High King’s Fool: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, Daire’s Devils (military science fiction), an as-yet unnamed sequel to Baba Ali, and an unconventional vampire novel looking for a new name. So…I guess readers should expect pretty much anything!
To follow Danielle’s projects, learn more about her, or buy her books, please check out her website and visit her Amazon author page. Also, look for her on the convention circuit where she’s a steadfast con presence up and down the east coast.
Talking this week about Danielle’s science fiction stories, her oceanic fantasy tales, and her most recent novel, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, co-authored with Day Al Mohamed, and the fine art of authorial collaboration. (Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.)
Basically? I have way too many ideas in my head. I get an idea and I follow it, it’s that simple. I read pretty much everything so I’m equally conversant with fantasy and science fiction. Beyond that, I love to play with ideas and to play what if. Whether the speculative element is magic or science it is still a challenge to make the improbable plausible. Also, no matter what I am writing it is virtually always character-driven. With the character being the most important element in the story, the rest is just a matter of how the character interacts with their world. With that approach it doesn’t really take much of a shift for me to go from magic to science.
Jean Paul Marot, a tragic character who appears in “By Any Means” and “Last Man Standing” in A Legacy of Stars has a bit of a cult following, even though you haven’t written that much about him yet. How did you come to create poor Jean, and do you plan to write anymore about him?
Oh, Jean-Paul…one of my favorite and most ill-fated characters. This is a case of a character introducing themselves. He first appeared in New Blood (Padwolf Publishing), a collection of stories about newly-turned vampires. When I was invited to the collection I asked the editor what they hadn’t received yet that they would have liked to have seen. The immediate response was science fiction. This is how Jean-Paul was born. I won’t go into the specifics since that would ruin the first story for anyone who hadn’t read it yet, but suffice it to say that these tales give a new perspective on humanity and the innate strength of man. I love Jean-Paul and I truly feel bad about what I’ve put him through, but you know… I think it’s always him because he is the strongest character I have. He is the best suited to come out the other end… eventually… even stronger yet. I am sure we will see him again as his tale is far from done, but I have to let my current idea simmer. Give Jean-Paul a chance to lick his wounds….
Most recently you published a collection of seafaring fantasy tales, Consigned to the Sea, and a novel, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, co-authored with Day Al Mohamed. Tell us about these books. Do they intersect with any of your series?
Consigned to the Sea (Dark Quest Books) is a collection of my short fiction that has appeared in various anthologies over the years. The stories are either in a purely fantasy world, or they are historic fantasy so they don’t draw on any of my other works. Someday they might spawn novels of their own…but right now they are just fiction written to whatever theme I was challenged to write at the time. Several of the stories are set in established universes that I return to from time to time when I can find a way to connect those universes to a particular theme, but that is mostly to simplify things for myself because, as with serials, a lot of the groundwork is already in place so all I need concern myself with is the thread of the story.
Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn is something altogether different from anything I have ever done before. Originally it was meant to be a story for Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales (Dark Quest Books, Fall 2014) and I was consulting with Day Al-Mohamed to ensure I captured the proper regional and cultural flavor the tale called for. In the end we instead co-wrote the piece, and it quickly grew beyond the bounds of our expectations. This was my first successful collaboration and while challenging, it also brought richness to the project as we mingled ideas and perspectives to find the right balance of action and introspection for the story. When we drew the “short” story to a close—having glossed over many details out of necessity—it was a hefty 17,000 words. When the publisher learned how long it had gone, he declared it a book and told us to go finish it. We owe him a drink for that one. After we fleshed it out and did a proper job of covering all the relevant points we had a work we could truly be proud of that seems to speak to the reader on so many levels, if our advance reviews are anything to go by. We are very excited to unleash this book on the world and see where it takes us all. Already we have several ideas for continuations… not to mention a new story to write for Gaslight and Grimm. We’re going with Aladdin this time, and tying it into the same universe. What can I say… we’re having fun!
What a great example of a book taking on a life of its own. Tell us a bit about what Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn is all about.
This novel is a steampunk retelling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, but it is so much more than that at the same time. We’ve drawn in the history and the culture of both Victorian England and the Middle East to immerse the reader in Ali’s world. In our version Ali is the son, not the father, though the rest of the core story remains pretty much the same.
As the second son, Ali is sent to England to apprentice with the famed Charles Babbage as an artificer. When he is in the middle of his apprenticeship a strange clockwork falcon delivers a puzzle box and a mystery others would kill to keep secret. Ali is unaware of this and only knows the box is magical and he has yet to find the key. When his father dies and his jealous brother summons Ali back to Arabia, danger follows him home.
Once Ali returns to the desert the tale—mostly—follows the same path as original, but in its own unique way.
This is a rich tale set against an exotic backdrop where the universe itself comes alive for the reader. No matter whether a person is familiar with the original or not, this novel will enchant with its melding of the magic and the mechanical.
With a great deal of patience! Both of us have very take-charge personalities, our greatest challenge was in relinquishing some of that control we are both so used to having on a project. For Day this wasn’t as hard because she is used to working as a team on screenplays and comic, but for me it was my first time seriously collaborating with another author. There was never any tension between us, but I definitely had internal struggles when her creative vision didn’t match mine.
Our process mostly worked like this: One of us would write a scene and send it back to the other. That person would tweak what was there and add a little more. It would go back to the original person who would then accept or reject the revisions and then have to support why. We would use track changes to leave messages or clarifications for one another, or to question a particular decision we didn’t understand. At the same time as all of this was going on we had our alpha reader, Halla, reading sections as they were completed and she would call us on things as well. From time to time we would talk on the phone, in person, or via email and hash out particular plot points. The whole process was somewhat controlled chaos, but it worked for us!
Our individual creative inspiration, with a bit of input from Halla, really melded well together to create a lush, vibrant setting and characters with their own distinct and consistent voices. Justifiably we take pride in the fact that readers have been unable to identify segments of the text that were clearly written by one or the other of us.
Next Week: Danielle and I conclude our interview talking about what goes into making successful anthologies, the state of publishing today, navigating the wild trails of fandom and conventions, and what’s next for Danielle.
To follow Danielle’s projects, learn more about her, or buy her books, please check out her website and visit her Amazon author page. Also, look for her on the convention circuit where she’s a steadfast con presence up and down the east coast.
Considering that some readers look to fantasy fiction for escape, do you struggle with balancing the realistic elements of your story—death and other losses, damaged relationships, abuse and victimization—with a desire to keep things from getting too grim?
The heart and soul of my fiction is the ability to make people care. To invest them in the characters I introduce and engage them to the point that they want to journey with them, no matter what they face. I write because I have tales to tell. I can hope the reader will appreciate those tales, but I can’t let them dictate the path they take…it would steal the life from the words. And…by the same consideration…I find many people find comfort in reading those harsh experiences the characters go through for several reasons. One, it is not their life so when the reader closes the book they can appreciate that this is a hardship that they did not have to go through. Two, the dark aspects in life and fiction give definition to the triumphs. Yes, we hurt for the characters that are hurting and mourn those who are dead, but there is great satisfaction in reaching the triumph conclusion with the characters you have followed through to the end. More importantly, we as readers learn from the choices these characters make and the way they face the consequences of those choices. While not always comfortable, there is satisfaction in that.
The Eternal Cycle books are urban fantasies, but they include many elements of epic fantasy, including some very exciting, well-depicted combat sequences. Many of your characters come alive in new ways or reveal their character during these sequences. Are you harboring a secret desire to write an epic fantasy full of armies and earth-shaking battles?
Why…thank you. I always worry about the battle scenes. Glad to hear they come across so well. I toy with the idea of epic fantasy from time to time, but my writing style is more intimate. I like to get into the characters’ heads. I want you to care about all of them, and trying to do that in an epic setting is daunting to say the least. Time, however, is the biggest obstacle in my way. It takes time and effort to create the kind of backdrop needed to properly develop an epic fantasy realm. Thought has to go into every detail. Things need to make sense and weave together in a believable fashion. I am so overloaded that I just haven’t had the time or focus to put that much effort into such a project. In fact the first novel I tried to write is still in a box somewhere because it is exactly that kind of book. Someday, perhaps. But for now I set my stories against the backdrop of an established world any reader would recognize and build or diverge from there.
Much of what takes place in The Eternal Cycle books bridges the past and the present. What most interests you about how the past intersects with and/or shapes the present?
Decisions shape our lives. They are the most powerful tool at our disposal. Unfortunately we are often blind to which are significant and which are not, or what eventual outcome they may lead to. We may never know, but it still remains that the past is continually affecting the present, whether we realize it or not. In the context of the novel, decisions made millennia in the past culminated in the events Kara must deal with. Much like a tapestry—and my novels in general—it is an intricate weaving of thousands of threads that come together to shape a living work of art. You make the best decisions you can. Sometimes you know even as they are made that they are the wrong ones, but in the end it is the only real power we have as individuals. Our mettle is proven in how we deal with the outcome.
Events come full circle by the end of Today’s Promise, but as the story deepens and grows richer, so does the mythology you created for it. It feels like the decisions made, the battles won or lost, and the characters’ sacrifices in the trilogy will resonate deeply in this world, that we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg. Any plans to explore those possibilities in future works?
I don’t know where I might venture in the Eternal Cycle universe, but it is pretty safe to say there will be something, eventually. I’ve already dabbled with a few ideas. Certainly unexpected ideas. There is an anthology called Fantastic Futures 13 that contains my story “Forever and A Day.” Both Beag Scath and Kara are featured in that story…along with Kara’s granddaughter. Most surprising of all is that this is a science fiction story, and it ties in to another reality of mine found in the science fiction short stories “Travellin’ Show” and “The Devil’s Own Luck,” which follow Paolo, a Romani boy living in space. Sounds odd, I know, but it actually works and I am quite excited about these seed stories that will eventually make up the novel Forever and A Day. There will likely be other books following some of the collateral storylines from the Eternal Cycle series, but they haven’t spoken to me yet the way this urban fantasy-science fiction mash-up has.
The Eternal Cycle books represent only one of the richly detailed fantasy worlds you’ve created. You’ve also written a number of stories and two novels—The Halfling’s Court and The Redcap’s Queen—set in a world of faeries and mythical creatures centered around motorcycle gangs and biker faeries. Tell us about the main differences and similarities between the two worlds.
With the Eternal Cycle series I had the very specific goal of exploring Celtic mythology. So many Celtic-themed books play fast and loose with the actual mythology and I found that dissatisfying. Because my goal was so specific that very much governed my telling of the story. With the Bad-Ass Faerie Tale novels my only goal was to have fun with some really tough faeries! Those books were based on short stories that originally appeared in the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies where we attempted to de-Disnify the faerie. If you read the original legends they are mischievous, malevolent, and warriors. We wanted to bring the faerie back to those original roots so we paired faeries with something people automatically considered bad-ass. For me that was bikers, and then roller derby. Other people did mobsters, pirates, vigilantes… whatever you could think of that was tough.
What makes the world of the Wild Hunt bikers different from Kara’s world is that I had more room to play. I didn’t need to religiously follow the details of a particular myth cycle. Other than that, they are actually the same world. In fact, I think I might have loosely linked them at some point.
Next Week: It’s all about science fiction, steampunk, and collaborations!
To follow Danielle’s projects, learn more about her, or buy her books, please check out her website and visit her Amazon author page. Also, look for her on the convention circuit where she’s a steadfast con presence up and down the east coast.
Presenting part three of my interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, digging deeper into the elements of the Eternal Cycle characters and the series themes of growth and sacrifice. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)
All of the characters in the Eternal Cycle series are changed by the events of the story, but Kara undergoes the most dramatic of transformation. She’s impulsive and willful, and there’s a good amount of spontaneity in her. Was it a challenge to balance your goals for the story with the course of Kara’s experience? Did you ever find her taking you in a different direction than you’d intended?
I had to be very careful when I wrote Yesterday’s Dreams. Certain things needed to take place as the story unfolded and I discovered that Kara was weak and whiny, without much development from there. This was one case where I consciously progressed her away from those personality traits. After that point it was just a matter of letting the story develop and focusing on the choices being made and who the characters became. Once I was aware I could back off on guiding and go back to discovering. As for divergences….most of my characters pulled those pranks on me at one point or another…some died when they weren’t supposed to, others hung around long after they were meant to go away. Some grew close to one another despite my intentions. I found that if I followed their lead, though, the story became richer with layers of flavor I couldn’t have anticipated or planned. On the rare occasions I tried to force them away from the path they were determined to follow it stole the very breath from the scene. No…things didn’t go the way I had intended, but I wouldn’t change one thing of how they did go. It would rob the story of its magic.
Kara’s evolution from a humble young lady, lacking self-confidence to an assertive and self-assured woman in control of her powers is a fascinating element of the series. In particular, I enjoyed how Kara’s ability to use and control her power is sometimes contingent on her acceptance that she does possess it and should use it. Would it be too much of a stretch to consider this authorial commentary on how we all come of age and grow into our own?
Oh! I would love to take credit, I really would, but I really didn’t put that much planning into how the personalities developed. Like any good parent I let them figure out who they were, even when I didn’t like the choices they made. I gave gentle nudges, making sure whiny Kara didn’t surface for too long, but mostly I paid attention to the choices available and the impacts they would have. I gave them consequences and I strove for my good characters to grow and respond to those choices and consequences. Sometimes reality is harsh, sometimes it is chancy; I strove to capture that in the story.
Was it a conscious decision that Kara has no romantic interest at the outset of the series or simply a reflection of where you saw her at this stage in her life?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, but several things came to play here that made that development logical. One, the book takes place over only three days’ time and Kara’s attention was definitely not on things romantic during that time. Two, the main crux of the novel is the sacrifices Kara is making. Multiple jobs, financial burden…those things don’t generally leave time or energy for boyfriends and dates. Three, by the time I was about two thirds done I was starting to think about the rest of the books in the series and had some ideas regarding romantic entanglements possibly to be developed. Those didn’t turn out precisely the way I expected they would, but there is enough there that would have made any pre-existing romance inconvenient.
And as the story grows and Kara continues making sacrifices, for the sake of others or for her own sake—simultaneously, she seems to awaken to the possibility of a relationship, almost as if she’s maturing into it. Did that come about organically or did you have to play matchmaker?
It is a combination of the two. Kara’s choices throughout the story arc led to several possibilities and even I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to pursue. While I wanted to show that Kara had a future that could include romantic love, in the end I felt it wasn’t really a part of her current journey. She was still discovering who she was so how could she be ready to discover who she could be with another? I chose to give the hope of a romantic future, while showcasing the maturity and responsibility she worked so hard to refine. In the Eternal Cycle series we see her scarred and damaged and healed and growing. Her journey has been tumultuous and brutal, to have given her a sweet, pat, Happily-Ever-After would have been wrong.
The name of Maggie’s pawn shop—Yesterday’s Dreams—is deceptively melancholy. It suggests that the things stored there represent abandoned dreams, but dreams that might yet be revived if their owners only reclaim the object they pawned, however unlikely that may be. Can we read that as metaphor for how we all live our lives by bargaining our dreams for existence, sacrificing aspirations for practical concerns?
Instead of thinking of the name as a grim omen, think of it as a mission statement. Maggie is a protector, and her chosen profession allows her to protect the dreams others find themselves forced to give up. There is a quote in the book that has actually become quite popular on the Internet. Every so often someone posts it and it makes the rounds again. The quote is: Because dreams are the difference between living, and existing. If this is the only thing I am ever known for when I am gone from this earth, I will count it well done. In the context of the novel, this is something Kara’s father says to her when he discovers she has pawned the violin. It is not uncommon in life to have to let go of certain of our dreams. This is to be expected. Some are impractical, others are unwise…harmful, some are set aside so that we can reach for something greater. Other dreams we set aside out of necessity. Maybe we can come back to them; maybe they are gone forever. It is an act of faith that we make such sacrifices. The dream itself does not matter. What matters is that we keep dreaming; it is when we give that up that something in our soul dies.
Kara’s connections to her music run deep. Music ties her to her family. It also sustains her family and sustains her spirit and perhaps helps her balance her soul. As an author, how does your creative work fit into your life?
I coined a phrase a while back. It sums it all up: Words are the closest we can come to creating something from nothing at all.
I won’t say that I have a god-complex, but there is something phenomenal about being able to create people and worlds that would never have otherwise been introduced to humanity. When I write I am revitalized by the intricate nature of what I do and in awe of the inspiration that leads me to visualize the wonders I have seen, even if only in my mind. Each time I learn of someone who has seen the vision I have tried to convey…there are no words. I tell tales because my mind insists on seeing them. I share them because it is a gift I have been given that I want to explore to its fullest, the beauty, the wonder, the joy of it. Passion feeds the soul…and not just your own. Our souls could stand to have a better diet.
One of the main themes in the Eternal Cycle series is regeneration and renewal and the consequences of failing to renew one’s existence or purpose. The Tuatha de Danaan recycle the souls of the fallen, and many of your characters—human and Fae alike—must revise their concepts of reality as the story progresses. This affects protagonists and antagonists. It is both external, for example, contemporary minds accepting the existence of gods and mythological beings, and internal, such as characters accepting truths about their own nature. What interests you about the cycle of renewing and reinventing one’s self?
I think it’s very important that we be open to possibilities, whatever they might be in life. We grow. We change. We find ourselves in different situations, not necessarily of our choosing. If we resist adapting in the face of all of that we remain brittle and often bitter. We lose out on so much in life when we are not open to the prospect of change. If we do not change we stagnate, we become victims of entropy. My husband and I have had many lives together since we linked our fates. Each major change we have embraced marks a new beginning, a new existence. We bring elements of the old ones with us into the new, but like the rings denoting the years a tree has lived, our landmarks in life show how we’ve grown and changed. Better yet, they are examples of how we have survived. This is the very essence of being alive. Though the changes in real life are more often less extreme they definitely bear kinship to the triumphs and torments I inflicted on Kara and the other characters in the series.
Goibhniu, the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, is a fascinating character. His people love and fear him at the same time—yet we see repeatedly that he seems to have only their best interests at heart, and he hints at possessing powers greater than what is revealed in the course of the story. Is there a dark or more dangerous side to the Smithgod we haven’t yet seen?
We have already glimpsed some of the darkness in this fae. No matter his finer points, there were times in the books when his flaws were evident as well. In my perception, though, the longer a being has been alive the more likely they have worked past the petty little flaws many of us still struggle to recognize in ourselves, let alone overcome. I am sure we will see more of Goibhniu at some point and very likely the very awe-inspiring nature of him, in the truest sense of the phrase. But at the heart of him is good and that will always shine through.
Everything gained by the characters—human, Fae, or demon—in the Eternal Cycle comes at a cost. No one is left unscathed or unchanged by their experiences, their decisions, their growth. Often the price paid is a heavy one. Does this reflect your personal view of how we exist in the real world?
In most instances we are very fortunate. While uncomfortable, many of the costs we pay for our decisions are not lasting or gradually lose their sting over time. In the high-pressure, high-paced setting of these books the stakes were high, the forces faced of supernatural power, and so the costs were in proportion. When you are battling to save the world, few consequences are small. There are those who in their day-to-day lives face such conflicts and sacrifices. Every day police and fire-fighters and soldiers wake up knowing this could be the day they die…or someone else will if they don’t make the right choice. For the most part the characters in the Eternal Cycle series are or become warriors on par with these real-world heroes so what I have depicted is an extreme, but yes. If we are not changed by life we have not lived. Sometimes those changes are positive, sometimes they are not. What is important is how we allow them to shape us. What lesson do we take away from the experience? Have we made our choices count? Our scars might fade quicker than Kara’s…or they might not, but we all have them.
Next Week: We wrap up talking about the Eternal Cycle series and touch on the stories of the Wild Hunt MC.
Continuing my in-depth interview with author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail, this week we dig into some of my favorite writing topics–the alchemy of breathing life into fictional characters and how much of the real world underlies our fantasy tales. (Read the first part of this interview.)
Carman and her three sons, Calma, Dubh, and Oclas, are Athenians who attempted to invade Ireland. How did you discover that myth? Is there a connection between that story in Celtic mythology and anything in Greek mythology?
This is one of those happy accidents. See, as many already know, I occasionally use the Morality Play method of naming characters, but nothing so obvious as using Mercy, Hope, or Charity type names. If I am writing in a particular cultural heritage I like to use that language. Not for every character, but for specific ones. In the case of Yesterday’s Dreams I wanted to name my antagonist “Evil” so I picked up my Irish/English dictionary and found there were about five or six different words for “Evil”. Of those words I felt “Olcas” was the one that most resembled a name. Choice made, I fleshed things out a bit and then went and did some random reading in The Dictionary of Irish Mythology, trolling for things I could add to my story. I was very surprised to discover that there actually was a character in the legends called Olcas (at least in the version I first found. There are a couple of variations of the sons’ names, as I discovered in later research). When I made my initial discovery it solidified the story I was going to tell. It was also the point where my single novel became a trilogy. Why? Well…my simple story had gotten infinitely more complex. I was a beginner, after all. It would have been very confusing to have four major bad guys in the one novel. I chose, instead, to introduce one brother in each book, building up to the climax of the series.
Another variation I discovered in my research is that sometimes Carman was called an Athenian goddess, and other times she was called the goddess of black magic. Because it was never my intention for her to come onto the page in primary action I didn’t research too much further into Carman specifically. I also have to be honest that I never thought to see if there was a corresponding presence in Greek mythology…hmmm…very curious. I think I’ll have to go look now…Nope, a casual search did not turn up anything.
Continuing that theme, tell us about the name of Dubh, second of Carman’s sons to enter the story, which means “black,” and the name of her third son, Calma, which, oddly for a villain, means “valiant.”
The legend of Carman and her three sons have variations depending on the source where you find the reference. I first came across them in The Dictionary of Irish Mythology and there were only about two or three lines explaining the context and giving the relevant names and their meanings. Since this is the first reference I discovered I used those names, though I admit Calma didn’t make much sense to me either. If I had to theorize, though, I would think it might have a connotation related to false honor or chivalry where the appearance of being honorable is more important than actually being honorable. Just a theory, though. I discovered different names for the sons, eventually, but that wasn’t until after the second book was done and the characters were already firmly seated in my mind under the original names.
Calma, Dubh, and Oclas don’t especially respect or like one another, but they’re dependent upon each other for their existence and bound together by their family connection. This proves both a strength and a weakness for them. Had you planned that for them from the start or did it evolve as you developed the characters?
Most of what I wrote in this series was inspiration. The characters really took it on themselves to define their personalities as I wrote. In very few instances did I project my own perception on them and often when I tried they fought back and went in completely different directions. With the three brothers I mostly thought of the most dark, despicable personality traits I could and took cues from how they manifested themselves. In part this was influenced by their names. In part by events that unfolded in the book. At the beginning Lucien Blank, the first victim inhabited, read very flat and one-dimensionally evil so I compensated by contrasting that with the more layered, if still focused evil that was Olcas. In Tomorrow’s Memories, Dubh became the epitome of his name so I kept him very dark and sadistic. Calma, the last to appear, remained focused and organized and the most calculating of the three.
Some of the elements in Yesterday’s Dreams—coping with cancer, the cost of health care, facing foreclosure—resonate with timely real-world issues. An intentional as a way of contrasting the modern world with the world of myth? Or only a happy accident?
You know, it’s kind of strange. I really can’t say why I made the choices I did…the cancer part, anyway. I was looking for a strong motivator. A valid reason for Kara’s actions when she gives up the violin; see, the scene in the pawnshop was where things all started when I first wrote this. I knew what happened, I just hadn’t found the why. Once this turned into a novel cancer seemed appropriate. The rest just trailed from there in a logical progression.
The irony? After I wrote the book elements of my life started to echo the novel. I moved into a house that in many ways matched the description of Kara’s house, right down to the tree stump on the block and the bodega on the corner. Unfortunately, my mother was also diagnosed with cancer. (She has been free and clear for over ten years.) Sadly, I did not end up with a magic violin or an amusing sprite for a companion.
Protagonist, Kara O’Keefe, is a talented woman, dedicated to her family, struggling with her creative aspirations, and in possession of power she does not yet fully understand. Is there any of you in Kara? Any of the author in Maggie, the Fae who becomes Kara’s protector and mentor?
As authors, it is not possible to create characters that don’t have any glimmer of yourself in them. Even the dark ones hold the seed of potential we hope we never see realized in ourselves, but the fact that they came from within ourselves means they are touched by who we are, who we want to be, or who we are afraid we could become. That having been said, it is possible to use characters that don’t necessarily come from within us. Those are usually stock characters, part of the background of the story, but not integral to the plot. I often have Kara’s worries and Maggie’s weariness and determination. Patrick’s frustration and Beag Scath’s mischief. Lucien is actually a stock character, but the true villain, Olcas…I am sure I must have the slightest echo of him somewhere inside, if nothing else his raging against powerlessness when working with less-than-optimal resources.
Next Week: Part III, wherein we learn more about Kara O’Keefe as well as Goibhniu, the leader of the Tuatha De Danaan, and the cost of experience and personal growth.
I’ve known Danielle Ackley-McPhail since around her second anthology, No Longer Dreams, something more than a decade now. We first met at World Horror Con in New York City, introduced by a mutual friend, the late CJ Henderson. Over the years, we’ve become good friends and colleagues and have weathered many a convention and writing project together. Danielle has remained one of my staunchest supporters as a writer, inviting me to contribute to many of her anthologies, editing my novella, Three Chords of Chaos, and generally showing the kind of unwavering belief in my work that every writer hopes for in an editor. I’m not the only one. Danielle, like our good friend and mentor who introduced us, has taken many a writer under her wing and helped them find their footing, polish their work, and launch their writing career. She has edited and launched numerous anthologies, becoming something of a legend for the launch parties she organizes for new books each year at Balticon. I believe one of the things that makes Danielle such a terrific editor is that she is also a gifted writer and thus understands exactly what each author she works with puts into their stories, what they sacrifice for their writing, and what it means to take creative risks.
A while back, I realized I’d become a huge fan of Danielle’s writing, having read many of her short stories in anthologies and then her Eternal Cycle series of novels. We spent a lot of time talking about writing, and since she was frequently my editor, my writing in particular. So I thought it would be fun to turn the tables and talk to Danielle about her writing, in-depth, and dig in behind the scenes of her many projects. As writing projects sometimes do, though, what was intended as an interview about Dani’s novels blossomed into something of a retrospective look at her entire body of work. And as delays here and there dragged out completion of our conversation, ever-busy Dani published more work–even launching her own publishing company, eSpec Books–leading us to extend the interview, and leading us finally to what will be a four-part series getting down and dirty with Dani about her books, how she does research, her thoughts on writing, editing, and publishing, and what to expect from her in the future. Check back here every Wednesday for the next month to read more!
ABOUT DANIELLE ACKLEY-MCPHAIL: Danielle is an award-winning author and editor. Her work ranges from fantasy to science fiction to steampunk to poetry and non-fiction. She is a fixture on the mid-Atlantic science-fiction and fantasy convention scene, where she frequently appears on panels, gives readings, and coordinates events at numerous conventions. Her writings include The Eternal Cycle trilogy of Celtic urban fantasy, the Wild Hunt series—including The Halfling’s Court and The Redcap’s Queen—about biker faeries, a collection of science fiction stories, A Legacy of Stars, and one of fantasy, Consigned to the Sea as well as the writing guide, The Literary Handyman—and most recently the steampunk faerie tale, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, a novel co-authored with Day Al Mohamed. She is a co-editor of the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, as well as the fantasy anthology Dragon’s Lure, and the steampunk volumes, A Clockwork Chaos, In an Iron Cage, and the forthcoming Gaslight and Grimm. A costumer and multiple masquerade champion, she is also the purveyor of wickedly wonderful costume horns, for which she earned the nickname “The Hornie Lady” from the young son of a fellow author.
Inspired by a fascination with mythology, legend, and fairy tales as well as a love of creating characters, Danielle has developed a unique writing style that invites readers into her characters’ lives in an intimate and compelling fashion. Based on in-depth research and her expansive imagination, she illuminates richly detailed worlds populated by fantastic beings both noble and savage and humans who rise to extraordinary challenges or fall in the attempt. In all of her writing she strives to lead her readers to wondrous and unexpected places, to make them care deeply about her characters, and above all to create cool books. Her work spans multiple genres and forms, and she is as accomplished an editor as an author, giving her a unique perspective on the contemporary fantasy and science fiction scene. Danielle recently took the time to talk with me about the full scope of her work, her writing and editing, and how she hopes her work will leave its mark on her readers.
The Eternal Cycle books blend old Celtic mythology with contemporary characters, themes, and settings. Do you see a role for mythology, and Celtic mythology in particular, in general in today’s world other than in fiction?
There are very few aspects of our lives that are not touched by myth or legend in some way. TV shows, movies, music, even science gives some nod to the legends most of us are familiar with in some way.
In science, technology, sports teams, and commercial concerns concepts and innovations often draw their name from the same sources, for the same reasons. The Trojan Horse as a computer virus; the Midas Touch as a corporate slogan or to indicate a successful business man; Pandora’s box referencing a treacherous situation…the examples are endless. As a people we want deeper meaning in our lives, as a society, we want to connect with celebrity, even if it is just in some small way, and the figures of myth and legend are the celebrities of the ancient world. In addition to that, society connects certain concepts with characteristics: Spartans are bad-ass, Phoenix cannot die, Venus is the epitome of beauty. Those are the kinds of connections industry wants customers to associate with their products, hoping the unconscious association will work in their favor.
The application works much the same with creative ventures, though for different reasons. The themes are universal, even if the particulars of the legends are culture-specific. This is evident by the parallels that are found in world mythology, folklore, and legend. This even includes the major religions today. In our entertainment (books, media, visual arts) the use of mythology adds depth and resonance with the audience. By drawing on that resonance the author or artist builds a foundation for the story they want to tell, helping to anchor the audience more quickly in the creative piece, regardless of genre. This is an invaluable tool for authors in particular. The content of those ancient tales can easily be adapted as the framework of a more modern or futuristic tale, or simply used as a literary allusion to enrich a creative piece. Names and elements used as background details to compliment the creator’s original concepts. Alternately, the same names and elements can be utilized to create irony or dissonance when used in ways that contradict the ancient references they are drawn from.
It really depends on the novel. With the Eternal Cycle series research was a key part because I had a specific intent: to explore Celtic myth and legend. I have always been drawn to books with a Celtic feel but was often disappointed because most of the books I picked up only utilized the flavor of the culture, loosely utilizing a generic mythos. I like to learn something even when I am reading fiction so this approach always left me wanting, even when I enjoyed the book. When I realized I was, in fact, writing a novel I decided that I needed to write the type of story I was always looking for. That meant incorporating actual Irish myth and legend (not always the same thing) into the story as both plot and background color. Know what that means? Yup…research.
I had a basis for the story before I even began so I didn’t know what I was going to need or where I was going to take it. At first, Yesterday’s Dreams was going to be a stand-alone novel…mostly because I couldn’t conceive of writing one book, let alone more than one! When I started researching the Irish myths I was just looking for elements that would dovetail with the story I had in mind.
Now with the Halfling’s Court, an unrelated novel, I needed to research for that one too. Based on my biker faerie universe created for the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies, the Halfling’s Court draws heavily on the biker culture. Not being a biker myself I couldn’t write what I know…until I actually knew it. Fortunately for me—mostly because my husband, author and editor Mike McPhail, was not keen on my frequenting biker bars—there are quite a few sites on line dedicated to and run by bike clubs. Not only did they educate me in the proper lingo (a whole other language onto itself) but it explained things like context and usage, sprinkled with little tidbits that gave me a glimpse into the biker world.
So, to finish answering your question, yes in some ways the research constrains me as an author, but only in that I am striving for authenticity. Research also expands the depth and richness of my work and makes it much more satisfying. Yes, I could write purely from my imagination and it is unlikely anyone would see anything wrong with the finished work, after all, we are talking fiction, but research applied properly lends both validity and flavor to fiction that can only enrich the experience for the reader. Give them satisfying substance and they will come back.
In Tomorrow’s Memories (Book Two), the story, which began in New York City, moves primarily to Ireland and Tir na nÓg, the land of the Fae. Descriptions of Tir na nÓg, presumably, rise from your imagination. But your descriptions of Ireland ring true. Did you visit any of the locations you write about or did that also come from research?
You want a real laugh? I didn’t really do much research on Ireland, beyond pulling some place names from the Internet and looking at a couple of photographs related to the articles where I got those place names. Not really sure why, but there you go. Now comes the laugh part…I traveled to Ireland after the second book was written but not yet published. I made a point of visiting some of the places I mentioned by name to see if what I came up with would fly. One place in particular was St. Stephen’s Green…where I just happened to discover a space that could have been photographed to illustrate the book at the scene where Kara comes upon Olcas and Dubh holding their rally. I also visited Phoenix Park and we participated in a convention where the hotel was literally right next to the bus station mentioned in the book. Ironically, I didn’t go in…
I’m not sure why I was able to come up with descriptions that were fitting to the region I wrote about, but there really isn’t anything in the book I feel I would have to change for accuracy. Perhaps it was racial memory. Perhaps I just kept it safely neutral for the most part and the characters carried things along, but I’ve long believed that this series of books has a life of its own and experience has yet to prove me wrong.
How does your approach to writing about real world locations versus imaginary ones differ?
If I am writing in the real world I try to keep the background in the background and only bring in specifics if they are relevant to the story line. See…for the most part we don’t pay a lot of attention to our everyday surroundings and so neither would the characters. I give description filtered through the character’s experience, so while I try to give detailed descriptions when I do focus on the surroundings, it’s almost always from the character’s point of view so it blends with the action, like a tapestry where you don’t notice the individual threads until you get up real close to the image.
When I am creating a fantasy setting, such as the scenes that took place in Tir na nOg, it was very important to showcase the differences between their world and ours, thus more focus on the scenery. There I was building a world and I needed the reader to understand it was a magical, foreign place. Even then the descriptions I focused in on the most closely had the most relevance to the culture and the story line. I have to admit I am in awe at some of what developed. Even I become transported and can scarcely believe I wrote the words. Perhaps channeled them would be more appropriate.
Next Week: Part II, wherein we discuss the origin of villains and how much of an author might hide within their characters.