Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Rebecca Callahan, 31
Linus Callahan, 54
Fiona: Where are you from?
R: Fort Collins, Colorado. Walt Disney ripped off our Old Town area to make Main Street in Disneyworld.
L: I was born in North Carolina, then spent my teen years in Southern California. I consider north Orange County my “hometown” even though my family no longer lives there.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
R: Oh, man, I never know what to say…I’m a freelance game narrative designer and scriptwriter. I have a Master’s in English and used to be a university professor in Korea before I moved to Vietnam to pursue my writing business full-time. I have a four-year old son, Lincoln, who’s uncannily like me, and 18-month old daughter, Winter, who alternates between being a beam of sunshine, and a one-baby force of destruction. Two dogs as well, and a cat named Quinn who is absolutely nothing like my feline heroine, Pumpkin Spice. I live in Hoi An, one of the most beautiful towns in the world, and while I enjoy working for games and other interactive fiction projects, my dream is to support myself and my family through my novels.
L: I’m a freelance writer and editor, working mostly on game narratives, and whatever other assignments Rebecca finds for me. I have a Master’s in Sociology, with undergrad degrees in Religion and English, and those interests really color the kind of stories I like to write. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for a few years now, and the vast majority of the time I find it very rewarding. The rest of time it’s gross, weird, smelly, and embarrassing…
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
R: I’ve just released the third book in my series! It’s called The Damned King and it’s when my heroines, Pumpkin Spice and her witch, Morwen, really start to kick ass. Very excited to share it with the world.
L: My contributions to the Tales of New Kingsport are getting underway. My short story The Specimen is out, and I am working on an as yet untitled novel that stars Titan, the mastiff who helped Pumpkin Spice duringThe Dark Yule.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
R: I began in fourth grade (tell you more about that later). I don’t know why I began writing. I know I kept writing for three reasons: a) it was the only thing I was sure I was good at, b) I desperately wanted to live in a fantasy world of my own creation, and writing was as close as I could get to that, and c) I wanted to live a glamorous writer’s lifestyle full of travel and adventure. I hope all the writers who hear that are laughing, because adult me is laughing, too. Though, to be fair, I have lived for 8 years in Asia, and it has been an adventure. Glamorous? Definitely not.
L: I started writing in the 7th grade, when I took an elective creative writing class. I was heavily influenced by Tolkien at that time, and utterly fixated on Dwarves. The instructor offered us a wide variety of writing prompts every week, and she was very patient with my attempts to shoehorn grumpy little warriors with gold lust into every assignment. Shortly after that I discovered tabletop role playing games, and for the next 30 years or so, my creative energies were channelled into writing stories for my gaming groups.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
R: Fourth grade. I was working on a story during indoor recess. It was about a husky named Elka who was going to save her master, and I did NOT start it with “Once upon a time.” I thought that was very grown up of me, and considered myself a real writer henceforth.
L: I’ve been writing stories since my teens, but I didn’t introduce myself to anyone as a “writer” until the last few years, when it started to generate an income.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
R: I always wanted to be a writer. I finished my first novel when I was 14. I stayed up late, printed it out, and slept with the manuscript next to my bed. I have no idea what inspired me to write a book, I just knew that I had to. That said, I didn’t finish my second book until I was 23.
L: I’ve always written short stories, but the tale of Titan and his boy, Thomas, demands a longer treatment. I guess you could say the inspiration came from the characters themselves.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
R: I’m not really in love with the title “The Dark Yule,” but it was the best I could do. Actually, though, I started brainstorming the title halfway through writing the book, and it introduced the idea that the events of the book are are triggered by a new moon coinciding with the winter solstice—creating a literal ‘Dark Yule.’ I did so much astrological research trying to figure out exactly when and how often that happened. I’m talking combing through lists of moon phases and solstice dates, starting in 1900!
L: I haven’t named the Titan book yet, but I find that titles always present themselves to me at some point during the writing, so I’m not worried about it…yet.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
R: I aim for a writing style that is “gem-like.” I don’t really like to write descriptions of scenery or of people—and I tend to skip over them when reading—so I want to keep those sections quite short. But I also want the descriptions to grab the readers’ attention, and to immediately convey both intense realism and a sense of beauty, as well as placing the reader in the scene, rather than having them just observe it. If you want an example of what I’m talking about, check out the Li Du Mysteries by Elsa Hart—she’s actually much better at this style than I am.
To be honest, I err on the wordy side when writing this particular series, because I’m trying to evoke the feeling of Lovecraft without using quite so many adjectives as he did, so as to appeal to modern readers.
L: To the best of my ability, I am trying to just let the characters speak. Titan is a very straightforward kind of dog, so his telling of events tends to pretty unvarnished. That can be a struggle at times, but I hope I am striking a tone that readers will recognize as “dog-like”, if that makes any sense.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
R: The book is contemporary fantasy, so the setting is completely realistic. Like Lovecraft himself I’ve based my version of Kingsport on Marblehead, Massachusetts. Of course, I pull a lot from my own life—feelings, interesting experiences I’ve had, my own sense of motherhood—but nothing is transcribed directly, it’s just influences. I’ve certainly never met a cat quite as dedicated as Pumpkin Spice.
L: I worked at a pet shop in my teens and 20s, so I’ve been around a lot of big dogs, and I owned a St Bernard, so a lot of Titan’s behaviours are taken from those experiences.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
R: Hey, if I could afford to travel, I would—maybe hole up in a cabin in the woods for a week to finish a manuscript. That sounds great! Unfortunately, I have two children who need expensive things like “milk” and “diapers,” as well as their mother’s care. I’ll revisit the concept in five years or so.
L: I enjoy traveling, but it’s not really a part of my writing process. I drawupon my childhood on the East Coast for details of our setting, so perhaps we should visit New England soon to update my memories.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
R: I did! I paid hundreds of dollars for my first cover and wasn’t happy with it at all. I ended up designing my own instead, and came much closer to the style and concept I wanted in the first place.
L: Rebecca designs my covers. She has quite a knack for visual design, and since she is my wife, the price was right…
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
R: Yes. “Better to die trying than to live in regret.” Cheerful, right? But that’s the dilemma Pumpkin Spice faces, particularly in this first book. Later in the series she just assumes she’s going to die trying, and doesn’t bother to worry about it so much. But then again, cats in my series are one of the few beings who can remember their former lives, so they don’t fear death in the same way that other species do. They can afford to be a bit cavalier about it!
L: Titan’s story is largely about duty. He believes that how you address the duties you choose, as well as those that are thrust upon you by circumstances, are what separates ordinary dogs from “good boys.”
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
R: I have to pick one?! Who is my favorite writer? Well, my favorite book is Watership Down, but I don’t know if Richard Adams is my favorite writer, because I didn’t really like his other work. Watership Down is brilliant, though. It’s one of those books that proves that craft is what really makes a book great. The plot of Watership Down is such a simple idea—rabbits go on a journey to find a new home—so simple that it sounds stupid when you try to explain it to someone (or when they try to make a movie out of it!) The joy of the book is not in the story, though, it’s in how the story is told. Adams weavesincredibly beautiful prose and deep, striking insights around what was originally a bedtime story for his daughters, and lifts it to a whole new level. It’s actually enjoyable on many levels: it’s a brilliant animal story, it’s an epic quest, it’s a treatise on religion’s role in society, it’s intensely critical of human failings…my point is, if you haven’t read Watership Down, you should. But probably my favorite writer is either Alice Hoffman or Terry Pratchett, because both are so incredibly wise and forgiving about human nature.
L: Hmmm, new authors… does Phillip Pullman count as new? I love his stuff, and La Belle Sauvagecame out in 2017, right? I must confess, I’ve been reading a lot nonfiction of late. And by “of late” I mean for the last 15 years or so…
My favorite writer is impossible to pick without choosing genre by genre. I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Great Gatsby is an American classic that still amazes me every time I pick it up again. I have many loves in Sci-Fi, but Frank Herbert’sDune trilogy is what I would save if my library was burning down—assuming my copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide was already out in the car. In fantasy, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, and naturally, Tolkien, top the list. And there is my lengthy, sanity-blasting relationship with Mr. Lovecraft…
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
R: My junior high English teacherread the first half of my very first novel, and a collection of my poems, bless her. She strongly encouraged me to keep writing and get published someday. I wish I knew where she was. I’d send her a free copy of every book I write!
L: I want to thank all of my gaming buddies over the years who have said, “This campaign would make a good novel, you know?”
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
R: Yes, 100%. Writing is already my career, but right now I’m writing for other people—indie game designers and small studios for the most part. I’d really like to transition to earning most of my money from my own creative work.
L: Yes. Writing (and some editing) is how the bills get paid, and I plan to keep it that way for the rest of my life.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
R: I don’t think so…if I was going to change it, I would have done it in editing! Give me a few years distance and I’m sure I’ll find things, though. My craft is improving all the time, which is great but very frustrating for re-reads.
L: Perhaps you can ask me again after it has been out for a while.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
R: I caught myself creating a magical power that would have caused serious plot problems—I basically said that ghouls, one of the fantasy races, could travel at will from the material realms to the dreamlands and back. However I quickly realized (because Linus has trained me well!) that sooner or later I’d create a plot around some problem, and a reader would point out, “Why didn’t the ghouls just teleport in and save them?” So I altered the power and made it much more limited. Long story short, I was pretty proud of myself for catching a major plot hole before it was even written.
L: Thus far, I have learned that toddlers and pre-schoolers are just not impressed by writers. They have zero respect for when I’m “in the zone.”
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
R: Well, my lead is a cat. Any reasonably attractive, brown tabby Maine Coon will do! I suppose her witch, Morwen, would need to be cast well, but I can’t think of someone specific.
L: I’m sure Hollywood could find an attractive mastiff for the role. For the voice, I want Patrick Warburton.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
R: A writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. Says the author who’s only on Mile 5…but I’m still going.
L: Cultivate a circle you can count on to tell you the truth. Someone who’ll tell you when your stuff sucks is much more valuable than unconditional support.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
R: I hope you love our books. I loved so many books growing up, and so many of them profoundly shaped my life and my world-view. I can name half a dozen books that, put together, literally made me the person I am today. My dream has always been to have some other reader pull my book off the shelf, and be inspired, comforted, or transformed by my writing, in the same way that I was by the works of others.
L: Yes—take your pets seriously. They know stuff…
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
R: I’m working my way through the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series right now. I’m kind of a paranormal nerd—I love ESP, NDEs, and of course ghost stories—so I think they’re great. Ellie Jordan’s a great character, too, very interesting and driven without feeling unrealistic.
L: I am currently rereading some Lovecraft tales—research for coming events in New Kingsport.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
R: I remember being very young and stumbling my way through a “See Spot Run” kind of book while sitting in the car. I didn’t like to read and was angry that Mom was making me do it. I don’t have any memory of reading “clicking” for me, but pretty quickly after that I was outright addicted to books. Mom used to punish me by saying I had to sit in my room and not read.
L: I don’t have a specific memory of the first book, but I recall my first book obsession; I was so into the Hardy Boys Mysteries that I started carrying around a handwritten catalogue of the ones I had and the ones I needed to complete my collection. I was about 7 or 8, I think.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
R: Everything makes me cry, but especially Thai life insurance commercials. My kids make me laugh. They are so bizarre.
L: I cry an embarrassing amount for a big bearded guy. If it involves kids, pets, or someone making a noble sacrifice, I’m probably sniffling. As for laughter, I’m a huge fan of watching my children’s ongoing struggles with gravity.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
R: Enlightened answer—the Buddha. More realistic answer—Terry Pratchett. That man was a genius about people. Linus doesn’t like his books, but that’s ok, I don’t really like his personal bible, the originalDunetrilogy.
L: I have to say the Buddha as well, but I’d settle for Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
R: I turned my hobby, writing, into my business, which is usually a good thing.
L: I play a little D&D every Sunday, but my main hobby is music. I’ve been in a few bands—Ising, and I play the ukulele, tiple, harmonica, and drums. I’m currently between music gigs, and I really miss it.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
R: Well, I’m finally getting around to watching Supernatural. Only 14 years late! My absolute favorite film is Spirited Away, which I usually watch with my son. If someday I can create a fantasy setting half as fascinating as Yubaba’s bathhouse, I’ll die happy.
L: My favorite movie is The Big Lebowski; I can watch it over and over, and it’s still hilarious. My favorite TV shows are all the various iterations of Star Trek; I’m currently rewatching Voyager. Having access to all of Star Trek on Netflix hasn’t done my productivity any favors.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
R: Salmon sashimi, black, black, and more black…My musical taste is often pretty embarrassing. Probably the most interesting/respectable artist I enjoy is Emilie Autumn.
L: I am a dedicated meat-eater, so a big steak or a nice slab of prime rib is always welcome. Since I’m a bit color blind, I long ago adopted an all-black wardrobe. My music tastes vary wildly; earlier, I was listening to James Hill (great ukulele player from Canada), but right this second I’m listening to Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
R: This is a future I seriously don’t want to imagine. One of my favorite aspects of writing is that it can be done no matter what your age or physical condition. Even a man with locked-in syndrome wrote a book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. So it would take a lot to get me to quit. That said, I do enjoy studying spiritual and esoteric subjects, and I’d love to be a really great professional dog trainer.
L: Perish the thought. I suppose I would play ukulele on the corner for nickels.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
R: I’d meditate, go for a loooong walk to say good-bye to the Earth, and then spend the rest of that time with my family. If I was conscious to the end I might try to write a death poem, similar to the Japanese practice of jisei. Or smile, so my children wouldn’t be scared of dying. That seems like the best gift I could give them.
L: I’d want to have a lovely meal with friends and family, followed by conversation and laughter. Seems like the best use of any 24 hours, really.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
R: I’m not sure. It’s hard to beat Keats’ epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” After that, everything sounds lame.
L: Actually, I’m not allowed to die—Rebecca plans to have me transferred to a robotic body as soon as the technology is available.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
R: Yes! It’s www.flockhall.com It’s…quirky. Your listeners should check it out.
L: Yes, and it’s totally not a cult. Also, the rumors of a curse are wholly unfounded.