Welcoming Susan Tepper

Now, way back when this little blog began, I used to do loads and loads of author interviews, and I loved it. As well as supporting people doing similar things to me it was also cool for me to listen to how other people wrote and interesting to see what they were writing about and I like to think that it made at least a little difference to people’s sales and introduced people to stuff they might not have otherwise found. That was back when I had more time and energy and before my commitments became, well, big. That was also back when I had the time to read as much as I liked, and to write as much as I could too. Times change and we adapt. (I’ve actually had a pretty good writing week – two stories and a poem, so far – and all that along with short story edits I do (five acceptances of those over the past few days, get in!), slightly bigger edits and reports (just finished a 40k word one), workshops and teaching (four in three days last week).) Yeah, I’ve been doing stuff.

But a couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to get back into the interviews. It was time. Work and home have settled a little (I’m still typing and editing and dashing about like a madman looking like, and I quote, an under-nourished Johnny Cash, I’m just managing it better) so I’m able to do that, and do it properly. I should mention now then, I guess, that if anyone would like to come here and to talk about their work then drop me a line.

So, hot on the heels of the lovely Aliya Whiteley talking about her new book (which you can read here, and you should) I give you: Susan Tepper

The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Some of us, like myself, remember this ‘dawn’ vividly. We were there, in the thick of it, in some capacity, enlightened or hoping at least for a spark. Sadly, like other sacred movements and moments of pure white light, it burned itself out. The candle does have an end point. Deaths occurred. Two countries changed irrevocably. A lot of people from many countries died in a tiny country over what were conflicting points of view that got stirred up by corrupt politicians for economic gains. Why this ancient history? you are probably thinking.

I wasn’t a writer back then. I was an air hostess who flew several times with the US troops in planes called MACS and MATS (Military Air Transport Service). My company was TWA and we were flying troop ships during that war. Flying young men in and out of Viet Nam. This created general and specific confusions for me. Was I an air hostess and patriot, or was I a hippie against the war? I certainly felt connected to the soldiers. They were sweet and considerate on the way in, helping us serve the meal trays. Mostly tired, or manic, stoned or depressed on the way out. Or, of those in the forward part of the aircraft, accompanied by a medic, badly injured.

Once I ran into a young man from my neighborhood, while serving cans of soda in the back galley of a 707. Robert. Bob we called him. At the tender age of 12 we had shared a coming of age experience with a group of other neighbor kids. When I brought that memory up, he had no recollection of it. He had just spent a year fighting a war. What was still important to me had become a superfluous thing that his mind simply didn’t retain.

I believe it was my strong internal conflict (was I an air hostess or was I a hippie war protestor?) that eventually brought me into the writing arena a decade later.

Conflict. The meat of creative writing. You gotta have conflict. You also need other things, too. But you can dress that baby to the nines, and if there’s no conflict, there’s no art. You have written the stuff of greeting cards.

When I started to write fiction and poetry (one poem then a decade later one story), when I started that, it was obviously slow going. And that was good, in fact it was very good. Everything submitted went via snail mail and so you could pop it in the letter box and basically forget about it. For at least 3 months. Possibly a few years. Things moved at a crawl. So lucky for the fledgling writer. Because while my submission lay festering, I could write other things.

In my beginning years I wrote two novels. I had no idea how to write a novel. I sat down to write a story and it just kept going. I liked the characters, and I guess I was a little lonely, so every day I let them out to play with me. And play we did. We had love and betrayal and sadness and jubilation. We had people collide and separate, then come back together again. It was a writing experience of great joy and vitality. I never thought about what would happen when it was done, because it never seemed to be done. Even when I hit page 425, the revisions started. That novel was probably reworked 30 or more times. By then I had taught myself how to write a novel. I tried getting into a class about writing novels, but my excerpt from this book was rejected by the instructor. Lucky me! I learned on the job instead.

That novel was subsequently entered in the Zoetrope contest and won 7th place out of 10 winners. I got a little bit of money. There was recognition. I was able to pick up the phone and speak to the owner of one of New York’s top literary agencies. She assigned an agent to my book. It was all very heady and wonderful. Until that agent left the agency and the book was left to die.

This is not a piece about death, though you might be thinking that it is— because of how it’s unfolding.   You see, I’m writing this as though you and I were seated across a café table. It’s nearly 3pm and so we would have the cream tea, perhaps. I would forego the jam but pile on the clotted cream. Dead book, or no dead book, we need to enjoy what life offers in the moment.

So eventually I secured another agent. The experience was even more terrible because this agent was a jealous type. She fought on her phone continually with her authors, while I sat across from her at a lunch she had planned. She was sending my book around, but she wasn’t fighting for it, or really advocating for it. She wasn’t saying: If this or that doesn’t work, Susan is willing to make adjustments.

Histoire.

I moved into online publishing of short stories and poems. A burgeoning new market for the writer! Some of it was spectacular and you did reach a much larger audience. But how many actually read the online work? Hard to say. I was still publishing in any concrete print anthology that accepted my work. I like holding a book. It’s tangible evidence that you’ve been there, your fingerprints, your DNA, your tears on the page, a drop of blood from that mosquito bite you kept picking during the saddest moments in the story.

Life is a fluid thing and I can’t begin to imagine what the next five years will hold for the writer. In Europe there is a huge resurgence of print books vs the e-book. That is very encouraging. In the US there is a huge resurgence in buying the latest cell phone which is less encouraging. Some people refuse the gift of a book. That’s very discouraging.

But art has endured worse. It’s been buried under the ravages at Pompeii, and dug up all over the world. Maybe someone will discover our crumbling abandoned books a century from now, all wrapped up in the Amazon box, just waiting for the word-archeologists to do their interpretative thing.

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Front Cover for Susan

Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her current title “The Merrill Diaries” (Pure Slush Books) is a novel told in flash chapters that begin following the Viet Nam War, and continue for nearly a decade over two continents. Tepper is Second Place Winner of ‘story/South Million Writers Award’ for this year, and the recipient of 9 Pushcart Nominations. Her novel Snug Harbor took 7th place on the longlist in a book contest sponsored by Zoetrope. Tepper pens a monthly column about all things writerly at Black Heart Magazine. In early 2016 her new novel will be out by Big Table Publishing.
how i learned to sing riff raf

Another Kiss

The latest issue of Downtown and Driftwood is out and I’m very pleased to have a story in it. It’s an old one. It’s Kiss, the first story in Not So Perfect and it’s one that people seem to like (it’s been reprinted a few times now). It’s one that I’m very fond of too.

There’s also a little feature on me with a bit of an interview thrown in for free. As you’ll see, Steve, the man behind the publication dropped in on me a little while ago and we chatted and drank tea and ate biscuits and he took some photos and it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. There’s plenty of other great stuff in it too – stories and poems and photographs and, if you like you can get your copy, digital or print, here.

Also – why not send them something. They’re only on issue three and they’re after cool stuff so, have a look and get something sent.

[Added: because I forgot… You can drop the editor a mail at mag@stevemurphyphotography.co.uk and they’re on Facebook here. As you were.]

Library Day + Digital Readman

I’m back at the desk now after spending a big chunk of yesterday in the library. I got there at half three and left just after seven. And it was fun.

First the young writers I’d been working with for eight weeks since January got the books they’ve written. I’ve said before that they looked brilliant and they really, really did. The writers thought so which was the main thing. And then they read from them and the audience was, without question, captivated – and impressed too. I loved seeing it, mostly because the stories are so good, but also because I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked on them over those eight weeks. (Again, huge thanks to the mums and dads who came along to listen too.) And there’s probably a big dollop of pride in there too.

Then we started all over again. I met the next group I’ll be working with over the next couple of months and, again, I loved it. Looks like I’ve got another great group and that there’s plenty of good stuff to look forward to.

And then, after that, I taught my adult group and that was great too – lots of good and interesting stories going on there as well.

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In other news… the very lovely and ridiculously talented Angela Readman goes digital today (click here to see how).

As well as being a friend, Angela’s also one of my absolute favourite writers – I said this about her latest book a little while ago when her publisher asked for a quote, and I meant every word of it:

“Angela Readman’s stories are gems. Rainbow coloured ones that probably glow in the dark and sing too. They are perfect, fizzing explosions of stories, told by a perfect storyteller. You will love them.”

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And here are some picture of the Juniors’ event. Apologies for the quality – the sunshine was gushing into the library while we did our thing.

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Photo Evidence

It’s been another very busy few weeks here – one of the reasons there’s been such little activity on the blog for a little while. But things have been done. Oh yes they have. I’ve been doing plenty of teaching and workshop running, and prepping for ones coming up. The presentation and reading for my last group of Junior Writers is next week, and right after that the next group starts, which is all exiting stuff – especially as the local press are going to be there,

Also exciting has been receiving the books the juniors have written. Huge thanks to the magnificent Vicky for their superb design. They look every it as brilliant as the stories are in them.

Here are a couple of pics:

Junior 2 books 2 Junior 2 Books

It seems a fair old time ago that we were starting with this…

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So lots to look forward to (and writing, there’s always writing). I’m really, really happy to be working with younger people again after so many years only concentrating on grown-up things. For once, it seems I made a good decision.

And, here’s another picture. This is me, snapped while I was looking out for a taxi to take me to a workshop. (Again, thank you, Vicky.)

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Skein Island – Lucky Number 7

I like Aliya Whiteley. I’ve said it beef and I’ll say it again. Hers, I think, was the first blog I subscribed to (way back in 2005, I think) and she even published one of my very early short stories (or one of the early ones I was happy with at least), when she was editor over at the brilliant, but now sadly no more, Serendipity Magazine. (It’s called Martha’s Dance if anyone wants to google it.)*

So it’s with an enormous amount of pleasure that I welcome her back to the blog (she’s been here many times before) to talk about her seventh book (seven! see how far we’ve come! and see! we’re still here, still doing this thing!) Skein Island, which I am very much looking forward to reading as soon as I get the chance – and about the joys of unpredictability (probably another reason why I like her). Of course I’ll let you all know what I think about it when I do. Until then, over to you, Aliya..

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Skein Island is the seventh book I’ve had published, and the fourth novel. But it’s the twelfth book I’ve written, and the seventeenth book I’ve started to write. There have been a lot of book corpses along the way.

If you were to look only at my published efforts you might struggle to find a common thread. It’s been a strange twenty year journey through comedy, mystery and science fiction that has led to fantasy-horror with my latest offering. I’m not even taking into account my first published effort under a pseudonym, which was a romance between a penniless artist and a movie star (so I suppose fantasy isn’t really a new direction at all). But the unseen books would probably fill in the gaps: the crime novel with mythological overtones; the romantic comedy set in space; the mystery solved by a 1950s RAF Officer. Well, perhaps all it really explains is why some of my books have been deemed unpublishable in the first place.

Here’s the thing; I hate predictability. I don’t ever manage to work out what somebody is going to do next in life, and so I rarely like that quality in literature. Having said that, the tension that readers’ thwarted predictions bring to a novel or a short story can be very useful. Think of the way we react to the memorable and yet not at all expected end of Gone With the Wind.

Skein Island has a quest, and a strong hero, and an evil villain. It has an ancient monster, and a wise man, and a comedy sidekick, and a feisty heroine, and everything a good quest narrative should have, but all of those characters don’t want to be what they are, just as Scarlett O’Hara didn’t really want to be, above all else, Rhett Butler’s wife. Still, they find that some personality traits are unavoidable simply because of the roles into which they have been forced. They are fascinated to discover they are types as well as people.

At the time of writing the book I was reminded of how many personality tests exist out there in the world, and how people love to take them, perhaps often with a tongue-in-cheek approach to whatever the results might proclaim them to be. Mostly B’s? Then you’re energetic, cheerful and keen on tapestry weaving. We don’t fit into boxes and we do. We hate to be thought of as a type. Well, the type of people who hate to be thought of as a type hate it. Marketing tells us we’re all unique and special snowflakes while categorising us according to spending habits. It’s a confusing business. The novel is about the tension that exists in a hero, or a villain, or even a monster, between being a personality type and an individual.

I’ve written in a lot of genres, and sometimes I worry that I’m not enough of a type for readers. Can I build a following? Will people read across horror, or fantasy, or even romance? The thing is, when I think about it, readers aren’t exactly types either. We don’t only pick up the same kind of books every time, no matter what the marketing department tells us. And it doesn’t really matter that I’m not one type of writer, because everything I write is still a part of me, and it bears my voice. You might not have any idea what I’m going to say next. I myself rarely have any idea of what I’m going to say, do, or write next. But one thing is for sure; I’m going to say it in the best way I know how. I can’t help it. That’s just part of my personality.

Skein Island. Dog Horn Publishing. 30th March 2015.

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* It is there. I just have.

Junior Writing Group Spaces

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, this year I’ve been running writing groups for younger people – and I’ve another on the horizon. It’s been an awful lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously and I’m looking forward to working with the next group

And there are spaces available (we’ve had a couple of cancellations).

So, what is it? It’s an eight week course, starting 28th April, which runs from 4:30 – 5:30 every Tuesday at Bollington library. Everyone, aged 7 and up, is welcome. And if you come you’ll learn how to come up with ideas, the basics of good story telling, how to plot a story, how to turn what you’ve plotted into a great story, description and dialogue – amongst other things. By the end of the eight weeks each member of the group will have completed their story which, if you like, can be turned into an actual book (I’m just finishing the latest ones now and they look AMAZING).

It’s had a terrific response so far and I think everyone who’s come along has not only produced something excellent, but has had a lot of fun doing so too.

If anyone’s interested either drop the library a line or give me a shout by pasting your details into the box on this page. Do spread the word!

And The Work Goes On

If I seem to be saying the saying the same thing here, over and over again, it’s because that’s how it is. So I’ll say it again: I am still super busy and that’s mostly very good indeed.

I think, over this past few months, I’ve probably taken more train journeys than I previously had in my whole life. (I was strangely amused earlier today when the lady on the platform was convinced I was heading to London – I must have had the look. Or something.) But that’s good. I’m enjoying myself and I’m doing an awful lot of teaching and all that kind of thing, and I’ve been working with, and for, some really great people who are doing some really great things.

Today, I had a very useful conversation with my publisher, which is always a lovely thing. Stay tuned for info on the next in the Beautiful Series, Beautiful Trees. All, on that front, is looking very well indeed. Then, this evening, I taught grown-ups and that was fun and, again, great stuff was produced. Now I’m back at a desk approving the proofs for the children I had on my junior writers’ course. They look absolutely stunning. Thank you, clever, lovely, Vicky. [Added, a little later: finished! See picture.]

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Tomorrow I’m teaching again over in Sheffield (details here). And then there’ll be more editing and more teaching and even some writing. The writing, I should add, has started again. It had been a while and I guess that’s fine. Often, other things can get in the way and I think the trick is to allow that, to a certain degree. It’ll always come back. It’ll always be there.

So, lots done, lots achieved, lots to be happy with. And lots to look forward to too. And walking. I have promised someone there will be walking soon. So walking, there shall be and I can’t wait.

More soon.

Lots of Writing Stuff

I have been very busy recently with a whole bunch of stuff, mostly writing stuff – and lots of it –  which is great. I’m sitting at my laptop now, at twenty past ten on a Tuesday evening, after having spent the morning editing short stories as well as a travel memoire (the page is here in case anyone would like my help with any of their stuff) and the afternoon was spent teaching at the brilliant Bollington library.

First, before the adult group, it was the last session of the junior writers’ group I’ve been running for the past eight weeks. And it was, as things like this always are, both a very happy and very sad time. I was happy –  thrilled, in fact – to see the members finishing their stories, and covers, and illustrations. We’ve had a lot of fun along the way, but we’ve worked very hard too, and to see the results of that is a brilliant thing. I think one of the best things about teaching, in my book at least, is seeing how great ideas have been turned (with fun and hard work) into brilliant stories. And today’s certainly were that. And a whole lot more. Next step is to turn the stories into books. There will even be a launch. This is exciting.

But, as I said, it’s a little sad too. I’ve enjoyed working with all of the writers and it’s a sad thing to be waving them goodbye. I just hope they all keep writing. They’re all very, very good.

We’ll be starting the course again on April 21st (as far as I know). If you’d like your child to enrol then either drop me a line (pop it in the box here) or give the library a shout. Places are limited (as far as I know there are only two left) so you’re probably best off acting quickly to avoid disappointment, as they say.

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Tomorrow I’ll be, courtesy of the brilliant Writing Yorkshire (who do all sorts of brilliant things, including free groups like this), be at Sheffield Children’s Central Library, 5:30-7:30 (still covering for the usual group leader, the very wonderful Vicky Morris, and loving it very much). If you’re a 14 – 19 year old writer, do pop along. We’re very welcoming and supportive and it’s a really top group. There are even snacks. And if you know of anyone who might be interested, do send them that way. I’ll be at Rotherham Young Writers next Monday – if you’ve any questions or would like any further details, do let me know (just pop your question inside the box here).

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And that’s about it for now, I think. I’ve still stacks of work to finish and tabs to close and everything so it’s back to that for me. And writing. I really should do some writing soon.

More soon.

14-19 Year Old Writers

For the next few weeks I’ll be running some workshops for young writers in Yorkshire. I’ve been helping out with them already for the past few weeks and it’s been something I’ve enjoyed an awful lot – I’ve been working with some brilliant writers and we’ve produced some excellent work.

So, if you’re a young writer who’s close to either Rotherham or Sheffield, or you know anyone who might be interested, you can get in touch with me here (just pop your email inside the box) for the details of when and where, or if you have any questions. Everyone’s welcome – it doesn’t matter if you’ve been writing for ages or whether you’re only just starting. Do spread the word. It’s a good thing. And it’s free, which is a good thing too, in my book.

Recommended by the Hungover

I have made it onto The Pokehttp://www.thepoke.co.uk/2015/02/25/book-recommendations-waterstones-getting-bit-weird/ and it made me chuckle