Saturday, February 25, 2012

Author of the Week: Selah Janel

This week I am proud to interview Selah Janel, the author of Mooner which was released January 23rd. If you have any additional questions or comments please include them in the comments below!

Like many young men at the end of the 1800s Bill has signed on to work in a logging camp to earn a fast paycheck to start his life. Unfortunately his role model is Big John, the camp’s golden boy known for blowing his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and the lives of so many. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows, something that badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door or does someone have their own plans for his future?

And Now Time For The Interview!!!!

 Where are you from?
I've lived throughout the Midwest and I've travelled to different places around the country for my other work - doing costume work for theatres. I'm just as happy in the city as I am small towns, but there is something to be said for small communities and being able to walk through woods and creeks. That's probably my inner romantic coming out, but I love the idea of those kinds of places. Plus, they harbor the best ideas!
 Tell us your latest news?
I released my first ebook, 'Mooner,' with No Boundaries Press in January. My next release, a contemporary piece about music and relationships called 'The Other Man' comes out in March! I'll be popping up in a few magazines in early spring and I've been writing a column on women's roles and portrayals in genre fiction and film for Fandom Scene, the official blog of the Fandom Fest convention. And of course I'm writing! I've got a lot going on and some days it feels like I have more ideas than time, but I'm really enjoying myself and all the people I'm meeting.
 When and why did you begin writing?
Stories have been a big part of my life for what feels like forever. I grew up in a small town community where everyone told tales on themselves or shared local legends, plus I was really fortunate to be around a few professional storytellers, as well. I always had the tendency to come up with the zaniest adventures when I was playing pretend or looking for things for my dolls to do. It wasn't unusual for me to be 'making books,' either - I still have some of those stories and they crack me up! When I got into theatre that sort of thing was put on the back burner, but I've always looked at characters I've played or designs I've done as more than just a role or a look. You have to know where a personality is coming from to really communicate who they are. Plus, I still wrote as a hobby and I finally realized that I shouldn't be denying myself the joy it gave me. I was scared to put myself out there and submit things I'd written and I finally realized that I was denying myself something that could make me really happy.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Oh, lord...the whole author vs. writer vs. whatever makes me uncomfortable anyway; I'm really not used to calling myself anything yet. I'm getting there and of course I'll tell people I'm a writer, but I feel more comfortable thinking of myself as a storyteller or a person who has a lot of stories in them.
 What inspired you to write your first book?
I really like history, especially those parts of American history that we tend to overlook. Growing up all my friends went to Disneyworld or the beach and my family went to places like old mining towns and Civil War battle sites. It took a while for me to appreciate what my parents were trying to do, but I eventually gravitated towards the humanizing aspects of the places we visited. There were so many stories about daily life or legends associated with the time period, and I love that. It's a shame that a lot of people aren't familiar with that sort of thing since national history is so much a part of a person. We'd never visited any lumber camps, but I've always been interested in pioneer history which led to mining towns and lumber camps. There are so many different personalities and mixed intentions in a place like that, and I really wanted to add in that mythical creature, that bogeyman in the woods type of character. In Mooner's case it's a vampire, but it's definitely not the modern, romantic vampire that we've gotten used to seeing. I get frustrated that with vampires lately it's all or none -- they're either these sexy, fangless characters or they're portrayed as mindless killing machines, and that's way too close to zombie lore for me. I wanted to hit that middle ground and make a vampire that was (or had been) human and had his own devices and drive, but not make him necessarily beautiful or romantic. He's intent on survival, just like any of the humans in the story.
 Do you have a specific writing style?
My close writing friends tell me that my style is to always change my style! I really go where an idea takes me, though I think I've been influenced a little here and there by writers like Ray Bradbury. I love his descriptions and how he always cuts through to the emotional truth in a scene. That resonnates with me and I find myself focusing on similar aspects, though in a very different way. But some manuscripts definitely have a more casual style than others, some have a gentler tone, etc. I found I had to be very specific about descriptions and settings because I was very aware that the historical element would be unfamiliar to a lot of people.
 How did you come up with the title?
I was fussing on some online educational dictionaries, trying to work with the vocabulary that's a big part of the story and I stumbled across the term. Mooner refers to a legendary creature or thing that was said to haunt or skulk around logging camps. Because the moon features heavily in early vampire lore I just loved it! It was absolutely the perfect title, even though I've gotten my share of jokes over it.

Is there a message in your story that you want readers to grasp?
I didn't set out to make it overtly moral, even though there are moral tones here and there in the story. I suppose you could say the message is to be a good person and watch the company you keep. Always keep your eyes open, or something like that. I find it more fascinating that even the most upright characters in this story are willing to use questionable methods to get their point across to a group of people that may or may not even care what they have to say.
 How much of the book is realistic?
I tried to be as accurate as I could with the historical element. Obviously since there is a paranormal element of the story I had to bend here and there to mesh everything together. I wouldn't use Mooner to write a paper, but I think it's a good introduction to the 1800s lumberjack lifetsyle. I hope it inspires people to look up information on that time period!

What books have most influenced your life most?
'Dandelion Wine' is one of my all-time favorites. I love the reminder that little things in life are important and magical, because someday you're not going to be there to experience them. I think as a whole we've let ourselves become desensitized to lot of wonderful things. Creatively, books like 'American Gods' or 'Imajica' have reminded me that it's okay to think big, it's okay to be that person who sees zany possibilities that other people may not catch right away. Madeline L'Engle's books have been a constant reminder that you can have strong women characters that are multi-faceted and wonderful. And I've always adored The Little House series and Heidi. They may seem simplistic but their messages about never giving up, the importance of family, and finding something to have faith in are so important.
 If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Ray Bradbury, all the way. He has this insane talent of making everything believable. While it is important to do your research, I think in some ways his sci-fi resonates more than titles that strive to be grounded in science. He's so good at using that as a setting or metaphor, but allowing the characters to shine through. His creepiest stories are creepy because you identify with something that's being felt by the characters. He works at such a core level that I find utterly brilliant. Plus, his short stories like Hopscotch and Medicine for Melancholy are so gentle and lovely. He's truly a master that knows how get the very best out of every idea he has.

What book are you reading now?
I've been on a Flavia De Luce kick - I just finished 'The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag.' I'm in awe of how fluid the plot is and how well-researched! Everything is believable and you have this wonderful balance of mystery and the conflict between Flavia and the rest of her family. Plus, she's such a nutcase! She's the perfect balance of eleven-year-old innocence and immaturity, brilliant detective/chemist, and all-around evil genius.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I have a lot that I want to read and haven't yet. S.H. Roddey, Charles Day, Alexandra Christian, Cherie Reich, Morgan Shamy  -- we're at a point now where there are so many talented names just starting to come out, too many to name! My hope is that those I've mentioned (and others I'm still discovering) don't get covered up by all the new stuff coming out every day, because truly I've seen some fabulous things from these people! Besides getting my own work out there, this has been the most awesome aspect of writing to me. I love the community and discovering other writers.
What are your current projects?
I'm polishing a novella that combines the structure and  true love/romantic parts of chick lit and blends them with horror. I'm also finishing up a story that I guess you could call rock n' roll conspiracy theory. I am a huge music geek so that one is a lot of fun for me to play with. And I'm working on finishing my first novel, which is this wild blend of fairy tale elements turned on their head. It takes everything we're familiar with and puts it all outside the characters' comfort zone in hilarious ways.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I have an incredible group of friends. There's a core group of people that really gets me, and if I'm in one of my worry-wart phases all I have to do is text and they're willing to shake some sense back into me. They've been there for me through a hell of a lot and are just an amazing, warm, supportive group that believes in me. Plus they're used to my humor and can take some of the wilder things that pop out of my mouth in stride!
 Do you see writing as a career?
I really hope so. I'm taking things one step at a time and trying not to over think or get focused on the end goal. Right now I just want to keep producing stories that hopefully people like and identify with.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I don't think so. I'm really pleased with the suspenseful tone and the balance of plot and historical aspects. I feel like none of the elements run over the others, so for me it's a success.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was always encouraged to read a lot. During summer vacations I practically lived at the library. I was interested in stories, anyway, so it seemed very natural to start trying to write them down. As I got older I loved the writing assignments we got in school that everyone else hated!
 Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Here's an excerpt from Mooner:
For a moment, Bill thought he was imagining things or was having a particularly bad reaction to the rot gut. Blinking a few times refocused his tired gaze and proved there was, indeed, a moving pile of…something at a table close to the other end of the bar.

Nancy shuffled back towards the bar, casting a wary look over her shoulder. “Red, he’s back,” she breathed as she scooped up another tray and fled to the other side of the room. Upon closer inspection, the youth realized it wasn’t a pile of something, but a figure draped in a patchwork of skins then cloaked with half-torn, moldy furs. Most who passed his way quickly avoided him, though whether it was because of his odd looks or his smell, it was hard to say.

Red hissed through his teeth and ran a sweating hand through his thick mane. “Tom Haskins,” he mumbled under his breath for the benefit of those crowded round him.

“I thought he lived on the edge of town,” Jack replied as he glared down the length of the bar.

“He tried to start a dry goods store, and it didn’t go over too well. He had it in his mind he could make up his loss with fur, though he ain’t no trapper. He moved out to the woods weeks ago and comes into town every so often to hang round and get his fix. Just when I think he’s finally died out there, he comes round again.” Not once did the saloon proprietor take his eyes off the body hunched over a table. Every breath made Tom’s ragtag cloak shudder, and every moldy hair on him quivered.

“You want me to kick him out?” Jack offered, already shifting his weight across the room.

“Nah, let him warm up at least. He doesn’t do much; just pesters everyone for drink now that he can’t afford it for himself. Give him time, and he’ll be up to his tricks.”

Bill couldn’t stop looking away. The pile of sloughed animals slumped as the man’s head rose. His skin was a cold grey and stretched taught across his face and hands. His hair had all but fallen out, but what was still left of it hung in clumps of long, ragtag strands that were paler than dried straw. His thin-lipped mouth was open and he sucked in air in painful, erratic pants.

“Look at ‘im! Actin’ like a piglet pulled away from its ma’s teat!” Big John sneered. “I bet his clothes are fulla maggots!”

“It’s too cold for maggots,” Ben snorted. “His clothes are thin. Wonder how the hell he stands bein’ out in the woods in weather like this.” “We do it,” Bill muttered. The recluse’s head jerked at the sound of his voice; the young man immediately snapped his mouth shut.

“Yeah, but we’re used to it! And younger’n he ever was!” John’s voice was purposefully loud and carried the haughty tone that won him admiration from the other loggers. “He’s durn crazy, that’s why he don’t notice.” He cocked his head Tom’s way with a sneer. “All that time on your own turn you yaps, man?”

Tom’s head very slowly shifted towards them, and Bill shuddered. There were days he’d survived the logging camp and the extreme conditions by will power and prayer alone, all the while wondering in the back of his head what it would be like if he didn’t have even that. Looking at the vagrant, he knew.

Ben was cursing behind them. “I saw him not more than a month ago and he didn’t look like that. Solitary life don’t turn a man in that short a’ time! Maybe he’s got rabies or fever n’ ague.”

Tom’s eyes sat so far back in his skull, it was impossible to tell what color they were, though they harbored a steady, unsettling gleam. They roved over the huddled group, searching hungrily for an easy mark. Bill’s heart plummeted to his boots when the hollow glitter locked onto him. He was suddenly as cold as he was when a seventh-year blizzard hit. All the frustrations and hell he’d endured since joining the logging team, all his good intentions and reasons, all he was trying to move forward to, swelled and jumbled together in a brief, howling wind of thought. The two distant stars in Tom’s eyes were the only thing that pegged him as a stable man in his otherwise rotting and dozy appearance.

All around the little group, the saloon’s weekend life went on. The distant sound of swearing and dice clattering across the floor mixed with discordant harmonies and a half-hearted mouth organ. But in the area by the bar, all was muffled and still. It was like the snows had come without warning over the forest, smothering everything in their path with chilled silence. Bill shuddered, and out of the corner of his eye, noticed Red do the same.

“You want I should knock his ears down, Red?” John’s bravado was the sudden yell that knocked the snow from the treetops, for better or ill. He had the relaxed look of a man who’d been in his cup just enough to throw caution to the wind. “I’ll toss him out and give ‘im a pat on the lip he won’t forget!”

“Leave be, John,” the barkeep muttered. His hand never stopped wiping down the bar. Though his head was tilted down towards his task, his eyes were set on their target across the room.

“What…what you want me to do for a drink?” At first it didn’t register that that thing, that man, had actually spoken. His voice was high and reedy, and cracked the way the thinnest ice along the river did.


“What you want me to do for a drink?” His lips cracked when his mouth moved. A thin trail of spittle dripped off his lower lip and was quickly caught up by the tip of the derelict’s seeking tongue. The distant gleam in Tom’s eyes burned as his mouth formed the last word. Otherwise, it was hard to even say how he’d made it into the saloon; he looked more than a little dim.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I tend to have a sideways way of looking at things, so a lot of the time I'm asking readers to really suspend their belief as to how the world works and what people are capable of.  But I think that's a good thing. So much of what we're exposed to these days is really formulaic, and I love turning genres and expectations on their heads.
 Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Right now, no. I'll be in Louisville in June for Fandom Fest/ Fright Night Film Fest / Midamerica Comic Con. I'm hoping to be able to do more cons and go more places as I release more work, because I love events like that and I love to travel!

Who designed the covers?
Dakota Trace - she is a mad genius! She's so good at taking random snippets of images that I may have floating in my head and turning them into a cover that exactly matches the vibe of the story.
 What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The language. I love the lumber camp vocabulary and syntax. It's so rough and crass, but really musical. Still, it was not the easiest thing to write and it was the main element that gave me fits and sent me back to different dictionaries time and again. I wanted to use a lot of it, but I also had to find a way to work the definitions or intentions into the manuscript so people wouldn't get confused. As a back-up measure, I ended up doing a post on my blog where I did a full vocabulary list for people who were interested.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I'm capable of more than I thought I was. Every time I started to get discouraged with where the story was going I would remind myself that I could totally handle the different elements and make them into a cohesive whole. There really is something to be said for believing in yourself and taking things one step at a time.
 Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read all sorts of things, not just what you happen to like.  Write a lot. I had to learn that not everything I was writing was worth submitting.  Live a lot of life - those experiences and the emotions they'll make you feel will help your stories a lot. But definitely understand that for every JK Rowling there's a lot of other writers who are just as good who haven't reached that level of success. My point is that you should write (or do anything) because you really love it, and the rest will come. At some point you have to let go of the end goal and focus on the journey.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I truly appreciate anyone who takes a moment of their time to check out my work. Plus, I always welcome people's opinions and feedback. It's so easy to read and enjoy a book or a story, but especially for new authors it's important to let us know! And no matter what your opinions, I always welcome the support.
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1 comment:

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