Friday, May 1, 2009

Meet Danielle Ackley-McPhail

For your reading pleasure and edification, please meet Danielle Ackley-McPhail. She's a speculative fiction author, anthology editor and fellow member of Broad Universe.

AW: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

DA-M: I don't know that it was ever that conscious a decision. You had to write for school and I enjoyed it and was good at it. From the point they taught me language skills and my mom got me my library card, books and writing have been a constant part of who I am.

AW: Why fantasy?

DA-M: I read and write pretty much everything, but fantasy (and all the other speculative genres) really makes me think and gives me so much freedom to play ... I like to play. My favorite thing when writing is to be given a topic I have to write on and then finding the twist I can put on it that technically observes that topic while giving the reader something they totally did not expect.

AW: Tell me about your current series, Bad-Ass Faeries.

DA-M: Bad-Ass Faeries came out of a friend's artwork, a dreadfully under-attended author event, and the dissatisfaction with this cleaned up and sweetened view everyone has of faeries ... a la T-belle and Walt. If you go back to the original myths and legends faeries were to be respected at best, feared at worst. They are the reason the phrase "terrible beauty" was coined. We took that essence of the tradition and brought them into the modern day, giving our readers urban faerie fiction that kicks butt!

AW: What inspired you when you were creating Yesterday's Dreams and Tomorrows Memories?

DA-M: I am — to listen to my father—somewhere in the region of 75% Irish. I never knew what that meant, having lost virtually all of my family history but regardless have always been fiercely proud to be Irish. The music, the accent, the tales have always moved me beyond any reason. Because of this I have been drawn to fiction with a Celtic element. I have been highly frustrated when, in picking up that fiction, I discover that most of the authors took an Irish word or two, or perhaps an element of the mythology and built a story around it where all but the barest kernel was completely fictitious. I wanted to learn something about what it was to be Irish, explore the myths and legends, and instead I was trapped in someone else's creativity. So, I wrote my own. I researched the mythology and brought it into the story as a part of the plot and the background color. To distinguish among the aspects that were from the myths and legends and those I extrapolated myself for the purpose of the story I included a glossary at the back for those like me who wanted to know more.

AW: What's it like collaborating with your husband? (So It Begins and Breach the Hull)

DA-M: Oh ... oh ... that is touchy. We are both very strong, opinionated personalities. We duke it out when we are working on a project. In the end the book is fantastic, but we each have clear ideas of how things should be. It makes for an interesting project but we draw on each other's strengths. He takes advantage of my characterization skills and he keeps me honest on the technology and science. That is for our personal stories. For the anthologies, as a whole, things run much smoother, mostly because of the quality of authors we work with. The biggest decisions are what order to place the stories in, which makes our jobs simpler.

AW: Tell me about the project you're working on now.

DA-M: Oh no ... which one?! LOL I am afraid my personal motto is "better to be busy than bored." I have Dragon's Lure and In An Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk in the immediate future, both anthologies I'm working on for Dark Quest Books. In addition to that we've signed the Bad-Ass Faeries series with Mundania Press so we are busy converting the files for that and starting work on the third volume, Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory, which will be slightly military themed. On a personal note, I am working on The Halfling's Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, a novella for Dark Quest Books, Maiden, Mother, and Crone, a trinity for Padwolf Publishing, a Blood Will Tell (series title) novel about unconventional vampires that is unsold, and that is about it for now.

AW: How has your editing experience helped your writing?

DA-M: Editing so many anthologies has made me more aware of common mistakes I've made myself that I now strive to avoid. It also makes me conscious about what others are writing, what works better than something else, and humbles me when I come across such authors as Bernie Mojzes or Jack Campbell and the effortless way they seem to turn out solid and original stories the reader (in this case me) loves to read ... to the point where I stop editing.

AW: What has been your most remarkable find when researching for a project?

DA-M: Hmm ... I don't know that I would call it a remarkable find, but when I started working on Yesterday's Dreams an eon ago, I named my antagonist Evil, in gaelic, of course. There are many words for evil in that language. I chose Olcas because it looked the most like a name. So I have my bad guy labeled and I'm doing my research on another point and lo and behold I encounter a listing in my Irish Mythology dictionary for Carman, the goddess of black magic, and her three sons, Calma, Dubh…and Olcas! I read what little there was about the myth and all of a sudden my novel turned into a trilogy. This gave me a basic framework I could work with directly based on existing Irish myth. The four of them, by the way, terrorized ancient Ireland, killing and destroying until finally they were stopped by the Sidhe, the Celtic elves. The mother, Carman was bound in iron chains and made to watch as her sons were destroyed. The legend says she died of grief. I put my own spin on things, though, but you'll have to read the books to find out what that is. :)

AW: Tell me about your most rewarding convention experience.

DA-M: Hmm ... I think it was when I launched the first Bad-Ass Faeries book. They had put me in a regular programming room where the legal room occupancy was 40 people. We had 88 people show up and ended up taking over the entire corridor. People stayed the entire time and the party was a blast. I felt so loved. :) Ever since then our launches have taken on an air of legend that is gratifying. People like our books, a lot. In the small press market, authors and editors rarely get to see that first hand.

AW: How has Broad Universe helped you?

DA-M: Broad Universe is a wonderful support structure. Not only do they promote the books through their online catalog, print catalog, and via flyers at various events around the country, but they give a place to share and commiserate. We warn each other of problems in the industry, share submission opportunities, present a united front at conventions and sales conferences. And you will never find a better group of ladies. To meet them in person is to feel an automatic connection, a friendship to be built upon. Of all the groups I belong to this one has benefited me the most both professionally and personally.

AW: Please list three things for writers to avoid when building a fantasy world.

DA-M: This one is tough for me because I deal primarily in urban fantasy when I write fantasy. However, avoiding melodrama and purple prose is very important. I do find myself doing those two things on the rare occasion that I write pure fantasy. It's like we equate such things with the age of Chivalry or something where their English was much different from what we speak today. Another thing to avoid, and this goes for any genre you are writing in, are clich├ęs and over-used tropes such as the poor boy that becomes king, or the bored girl that pretends to be a boy, or any number of things we've come to expect from faerie tales. If you've come to expect something, well that is a sure sign you should be trying something else.

AW: What advice can you give to new writers submitting to magazines and anthologies?

DA-M: Learn patience and learn to accept rejection without letting it undermine your confidence. Magazines are a tough market because so many of them have disappeared and they are the first place anyone thinks to send a short story. Anthologies have a bad rap because people assume they don't do well, but there are an amazing number being put together, particularly as more magazines fade away. This means that there is a lot of competition. Read the guidelines and submission requirements and FOLLOW them. If you get a rejection, turn around and send the story out somewhere else the same day, it is the only chance you have of reaching that one person that is meant to take your story. After all, publication is as much a matter of luck as it is skill. You are banking your story lands in front of someone with similar tastes in fiction and that the venue has not recently accepted a story that is similar in plot to your own. It can take a while to get there because of this.

AW: If you could only recommend one book on writing or genre writing, what would it be?

DA-M: You know, I don't really read books on how to write, I just do it. However, I have heard very good things about Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel. Dragon Moon Press also puts out a wide range of writing guides (The Complete Guide to Writing...) that are very good. I've written chapters for some of them.

AW: Who are your favorite authors? Why?

DA-M: Hmmm ... Mostly women. Don't know why, just drawn to them. Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, PC Hodgell, Robin McKinley, just to name a few. All of them write grand epics. Rich, vibrant worlds with solid characters. A touch of melodrama and a hint of purple, without crossing the line. Whether they are writing fantasy or science fiction, their work contains the essence of the myths and legends that I love. Truly modern faerie tales I can read over and over again without losing my appreciation of them.

Read more about Danielle and her work on her website, Sidhe na Daire.


David Scholes said...

Very interesting. I particularly liked the part about not reading how to write but just doing it.

I'm afraid I'm very much the novice by comparison. I've just been published in the US for my first science fiction book, the link is:

Sharon E. Dreyer said...

Danielle Ackley-McPhail sounds like my kind of person and author! Great interview.

Once I began to write, it was addictive. Basically, I taught myself how to turn the stories in my brain into a written tale that would entertain readers. Although I've been writing for numerous years, I have finally had my first romantic action adventure science fiction yarn. For more information go to:

Kim Richards said...

I've loved the Bad Assed Faeries concept from the moment I first heard about it.

Very nice interview.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Thank you all for taking the time to read! And congrats on your individual successes! Not an easy thing in this industry, particularly these days!

And Kim,

Mundania Press has signed the two existing B-A Faeries books as well as a minimum of two more to come. Glad you are enjoying them!



Phoebe Matthews said...

Danielle Ackley-McPhail's comments about editing anthologies were especially interesting as that isn't a subject area that pops up in most interviews. Thanks for the insights.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Thanks Phoebe,

Yes, I am one of those odd creatures that is both editor and author, and if the opportunity to do both isn't presented to me, I create it :) Can't stand to be bored.

Now most authors don't edit anthologies, but they can benefit from the same principle by joining a critique group, where you likewise learn as much from critiquing someone else's work as you do from them critiquing yours.

Thanks for reading!


Barbara M. Hodges said...

I've read both your novel, Yesterday's Dreams and your stories in Breach The Hull and So It Begins.

I enjoyed all very much.

Ann Wilkes said...

My congrats to David and Sharon on your publications. And thanks for reading.

Danielle, thanks again for allowing me the opportunity to interview you and for responding here to the comments. I'm glad I found some questions for you that you hadn't seen before.

Great comments, all!

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Wow! What wonderful responses! Thanks Barbara, and thanks Ann! This was fun :)