Monday, March 18, 2013
Let's All Welcome My New Guest!
Hello friends! Welcome to Day 2 of my Tails of the Pack interviews. Don't forget, you can purchase this superb werewolf anthology here and here!
Today's author is Sarah Ennals. Her tale, 'Noble Metals', is set in the 1970's and involves picking up a hitch hiker...hardly unusual in those days. This time it's the hitch hiker who's...unusual.
Take it away, Sarah!
1. Tell us about yourself. What do you write? What do you do besides write?
Well, so far, I've only one other published story, 'The Emmet.' It
began as a sort of not-quite-steampunk period piece, and turned into
the tale of a man who covets his neighbour's giant ant. Most things
I'm working on fall into the fantasy/SF genre, but generally the kind
where there's one weird thing in an otherwise realistic setting;
although that setting tends to be historical; I like having that sort
of distance. When I'm not at my day job, I draw cartoons, and I do a
lot of knitting. Lately I've also started sewing.
2. What's your writing routine?
Erratic, I'm afraid. I do listen to a lot of music while I'm writing
-- partly for inspiration, partly to drown out distractions. Sometimes
I'll compile playlists for particular stories. I also scribble a lot
of notes on small scraps of paper -- they're less intimidating than a
full sheet of foolscap. Bit by bit I transfer them into an online
document that I can check from anywhere. I've also been known to
email myself notes from work.
3. Who or what are your influences?
'Noble Metals' originally grew out of some anecdotes my grandfather
told me about the jobs he did while putting himself through college in
the 1930s, although for logistical reasons I eventually had to move
the setting up to the 1970s. There are a lot of strange things that
really happened and that haven't yet been used in fiction. I've been
reading a lot of Frederic Brown's crime fiction the last few years;
also Cornell Woolrich, who basically invented noir, and Chandler...
Not sure how much that shows up in my stuff, though -- it's more the
little everyday details in their work that inspire me: I figure if I
don't know what the characters should do next, they should probably
stop and eat something, and the next scene can grow out of them
talking over dinner. Also, Chandler is full of characters who only
show up for one or two scenes to move the story forward, but who are
amazingly memorable. I'd love to be able to do that.
4. What's on your bookshelf (or shelves!)?
(Goes and looks) A lot, mostly in chaos. Lots of Lovecraft, including
some of his published letters. 'A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities,' by
Jan Bondeson. Some anthologies of ghost stories, mainly Victorian.
Picture books, how-to guides. Non-fiction, especially about animals,
and criticism. It's been a while since I took down Charles Lamb, but
I was obsessed with him in high school, which is sort of an odd time
of life to be fixated on an early-19th-century essayist. Chandler,
Gaiman, Chesterton, some Cory Doctorow. A big anthology of Early
English stage drama, mainly Corpus Christi plays and Saints' plays,
which tend to be like professional wrestling meets biblical fanfic --
just incredibly bizarre and fascinating.
5. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just jump right in, I guess. Also, use spell-check and a beta-reader,
if possible. My spouse is usually my beta, but I trust him. Also, it's
not procrastination if it's research.
6. What's your favorite thing about writing?
It's more tactile, in a way, than reading; it proceeds at a slower
pace. I'm also still getting used to the idea that if I want something
to happen -- it can (as long as I can make it make sense).
7. Why did you decide to write a werewolf story for Tails of the Pack?
Originally, I only knew that my PoV characters were going to pick up a
hitchhiker and he was going to turn out to be something non-human; and
that this revelation was going to be through the medium of some object
triggering a reaction in him.
8. Did you have to do any research for your story?
As noted above, it was originally set in the 1930s, until I remembered
that the Head Tax had pretty much prevented Chinese immigrants from
bringing their families over to Canada, so that if I wanted the
restaurant to be run by a family with a teenage daughter who was born
in Canada, it would have to be set in a much later decade; but I also
had to check the history of the price of gold and pick a decade where
the narrator's job would be viable.
9. Give us a blurb for your story.
Um, "commercial travelers; mysterious hitchhiker; resourceful
waitress?" Or wait, "Loup-garou + pâté chinois?"
10. What other projects or publications are you working on that we
should know about?
Sandra Kasturi (of Chizine Publications) is trying to push me to
finish a novel I began a few years back, about superheroes and
villains, but since things like Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog have
come out in the meantime, I'm worried people will just think I'm
jumping on a bandwagon. I've got a first draft of a 7,000-word story
called 'A Mind is a Terrible Thing;' and I'm tinkering with an idea
about a female private detective in the 1950s, which may or may not
turn out to include speculative elements.
There was a question -- two questions, really, in the interview
yesterday: "What's your advice to writers" and "Did you do research
for your story?" I woke up with my brain making further comments on
the topic of research for fiction: do it, yes, but deploy the
information you discover wisely. Awkward info-dumps are bad enough,
but worse is characters who keep making clever remarks on aspects of
their environment that should be beneath their notice.
The example that always jumps to my mind is Anthony Burgess' A Dead
Man in Deptford,a novel about the life of Christopher Marlowe
that just can't get over the crazy lack of standardized spellings in
Elizabethan England: every time characters are introduced, they'll
spend several paragraphs talking to each other about how there are
multiple ways to spell and pronounce their names. Not only did this
completely yank me out of the story whenever it happened, it's now the
only thing I can recall about the book.
Even if it were had just been Marlowe who did this (he at least has
the excuse of being a writer*,) and everyone else rolled their eyes
and muttered "he's on about it again," I think I could have accepted
it as plausible; but, well, a modern-day equivalent would be a story
set in the late 20th/early 21st century in which everyone chats about
how the temperature of their tap water can be adjusted by turning the
faucet handle; or wonders out loud who decided that chairs should be
the height that they are; without this ever becoming an actual plot
It occurred to me last night that there's an opposite example in Cory
Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: in which
the protagonist's name changes from paragraph to paragraph. He's
usually called Alan, but it soon becomes evident he'll answer to any
masculine name beginning with A, and when his younger brothers show up
(by this time we know Arnold is one of the few members of his family
able to pass as human), we realize they weren't actually named -- they
This works, because none of it is ever directly commented on in the
novel -- to Alan it's completely normal, and he's our PoV character.
Whether regular humans notice Arthur's shifting nomenclature is left
to the reader to judge, though I suspect they simply block out any
incongruity. Only one person pointedly addresses him as Abdul
shortly after meeting him to let him know she's spotted the
phenomenon, but she's not exactly human either, as it turns out, and
her perception is probably meant to foreshadow this.
* He also gets really annoyed if anyone addresses him as
"thou," but at least he doesn't lecture them about how it's
disrespectful to address anyone in the singular unless they're a close
Thanks Sarah! Good luck with your future work (and don't worry, everyone loves superheroes no matter what!).
Join us tomorrow for more words of wisdom from Deirdre M. Murphy!