Interview with Phyllis Anne Duncan, author of Fences and Other Stories & Blood Vengeance and Other Stories.
Why are you taking part in the author blog challenge and what do you hope to achieve?
I have two e-books that just came out and would like to get them exposed a bit more. Both are collections of short stories, available at Amazon.com. Fences and Other Stories is a collection of literary and speculative fiction short stories. Blood Vengeance and Other Stories is a collection of stories in the espionage genre, featuring a pair of characters who are great fun to write.
How long have you been writing for?
Ha, ha, that’s a tough one. When I was in third grade and got my weekly list of spelling words, I was supposed to use each correctly in a sentence. I, however, connected all the sentences into a little story–usually about horses, which were my obsession then. So, you could say I’ve been writing a half-century! Professionally, I started writing non-fiction for a consortium of aviation insurance companies and the Federal Aviation Administration in 1976.
What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?
I can usually visualize the beginning and the ending quite well. It’s all the middle bits that I struggle with–what’s enough, what’s too much, what’s going to happen. The middle section of any work I’m in the middle of starts out as a series of disjointed scenes. It seems once I get them down, going back and doing the transitional matter is a bit easier.
What genre do you generally write?
What I’ve written the most of is espionage fiction, I hope in the mien of John le Carre and Alan Furst, but I also write literary fiction, particularly short stories, and some sci-fi or speculative fiction. I’ve been exploring flash fiction for the past year and have been very eclectic with that.
Do you have a favourite author and why?
My favorite author changes a lot. I have a list. ;-) Right now Margaret Atwood is atop it, but that will shift, too, as I read something I particularly like.
What is your book called and how did you choose this title?
When my two e-books were a print edition only, the title was Rarely Well-Behaved (now out of print). I took that from a quote by the historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich–“Well behaved women rarely make history.” (It turns out people have misquoted her for years; it’s really “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”) Each of the stories features a woman who makes a non-traditional choice. When I decided I wanted to make Rarely Well-Behaved into an e-book, I separated it into two sets of stories because I wanted the espionage stories in particular to stand alone. Both of the e-books are named for my favorite story from each book, “Fences” and “Blood Vengeance.”
Fences and Other Stories is a collection of fictionalized versions of family stories and legends, plus a couple of my attempts at political commentary through fiction and science fiction. Blood Vengeance and Other Stories features a pair of spies, who just happened to be married, who deal with issues from the Balkans to Northern Ireland to America’s right-wing extremists.
Has your book been published and how did you go about this?
Rarely Well Behaved was published 12 years ago when I was a runner up in a short story contest with the story, “Blood Vengeance.” The runners up got a contract with the on-demand publisher iUniverse, and I decided to use that to publish a book.
Approximately how long did it take you to finish your book?
The above-mentioned publishing contract had a quick turn-around, so to finish and edit enough short stories to make a decent sized collection took me about 90 days. Now, most of the stories existed before that, but I wanted to make certain they were as perfect as I could get them. From winning the contract to publication was about five months. However, so that it doesn’t seem easy, I’ve been working on a trilogy about an act of domestic terrorism for 15 years.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
You have to write, write, write, and read in between. Try to be as consistent about your writing as possible. Think of it as your job. Since I retired from my government job two and a half years ago, I write Monday through Friday, either on some new piece of flash fiction or a short story or editing or revising one of my manuscripts. Writing is my new work, and you have to work every day to make it the best it can be. Write, write, write, and read, read, read.
Do you use social media to promote your book, if yes then which social networks do you like the most?
For the two e-books, yes, definitely. The e-books have only been out a month, so I’m not certain which is working best for me. One of the most unusual ones is Pinterest, but I think I use Twitter more than anything, with Facebook a close second.
Have you enrolled your book onto Amazon’s KDP Select and how have you found it?
Yes, I did, and I suppose it’s working. I think it’s too soon in the process to judge it yet.
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
Nothing really. I’m a big believer in dealing with what life deals you, but I suppose I’d be more diligent about submitting my short work to literary magazines.
What books do you like to read in your spare time?
I also have eclectic taste in books. Right now, I do a lot of non-fiction reading for a political book club, and I’ve been reading several different genres to review. I do enjoy several writers–Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Sara Paretski, George R. R. Martin, among others, and will read everything each of them puts out. There are times I need to just vege out and not think about what I’m reading, so I’ll go for Charlaine Harris or J. D. Robb.
What do you feel is the most important stage of writing a book?
The editing/revising stage. I’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of indie fiction lately, and this is a step many indie authors neglect. I’ve seen way too many first drafts have a cover slapped on and put on Smashwords or Amazon. Editing and revising are crucial to the writing process and should never be overlooked. They are as important as the first draft, perhaps more so because they make your work better.
How did you go about designing the cover for your book?
This was the hardest part for me because I’m not a graphics artist. I found a perfect picture for Blood Vengeance. One of the stories features the forensics work done to identify the victims of the Srebrenica massacre, and I found what I thought was a public domain picture of a scientist holding a skull; and the photo had been taken at a mass burial site near Srebrenica. I tried for nearly a week to confirm its public domain status and couldn’t, so I designed a cover that was representative of the Yugoslavian flag during the 1990’s. A disappointment because that picture was perfect, and not only could I not confirm that it was public domain, I couldn’t find a person or an organization to request permission from. Very frustrating.
For Fences, I did find a public domain picture of a white picket fence, which is featured in one of the stories, and it was ideal. I ran both covers by a friend who does graphics work, and she tweaked the fonts. I was very pleased with both, though the original cover for Blood Vengeance would have rocked–and I haven’t given up trying to find whoever owns the rights to get permission.
Are you writing or considering writing a follow-up to your book?
Fences is a stand-alone, and I think I’ve taken those stories as far as I can. Blood Vengeance references the trilogy I mentioned earlier, and I have several manuscripts in various stages of completion featuring the two main characters from the stories in Blood Vengeance.
Do you have a day job (if so, what do you do?) or do you write full-time?
I’ve always written full-time; it was just a matter of whom I answered to. For 30+ years I wrote for the U.S. Government’s Federal Aviation Administration, but I retired a few years ago to write for myself, which is now my full time job–when I’m not spoiling grandchildren.
Where is your book available to buy?
Both will soon be available as paperbacks through CreateSpace.com.