Guest Post: An Interview with T.J. Wooldridge

The Kelpie CoverToday I’m very excited to host T.J. Wooldridge, author of The Kelpie and president of Broad Universe.  Welcome, T.J.! 

Thank you so much for having me, LC! 🙂 I’m happy to be here. 

So first, the quick and dirty!  Tell us a little about yourself and your book! 

I’ve been writing all my life; I’ve loved horses all my life. Folklore and faery tales have always intrigued me for as long as I can remember–particularly equine ones: unicorns, pegasus (pegasi?), hippocampus… The kelpie myth of Scotland is a dark, evil horse who lures children into the water, drowns them, and eats them. Some of my scariest moments and worst injuries have actually come from working at a horse rescue. Horses are herbivores and not predators, and they are quite terrifying! Imagine that kind of beast as a predator…how much damage that huge body, those heavy hooves can do–and make it worse with additional weapons like nasty teeth and fur that can entrap you. That…covers a lot about me and the book together.

Of course, despite all my equine-related injuries, I still love the animals dearly. And I am donating a percentage of all my royalties to the Bay State Equine Rescue, to continue to help horses who have been abused, neglected, and abandoned.

I was glad to see that The Kelpie stars a young girl who steps up to protect the other children in the area!   The more female leads in our fiction, especially YA, the better, in my opinion!  Did you make a conscious choice regarding the gender of your protagonist, or was it just the story you wanted to tell?

My characters always tend to come to me. It’s not a conscious choice, but many of them end up being precocious girls; that’s the type of character my head attracts. And they’re all quite demanding in that I tell their story as honestly as possible.  Which means it’s not even necessarily the story I want to tell.  I had an entirely different ending in mind for Heather and the kelpie…but that ending was never to be and I had to go with the ending that would affect every other thing I would write in Heather’s world.

Can you tell us a little about your hero?  Is she someone to admire? What are her flaws?  What are some of the challenges she has to face as she deals with the kelpie?

Heather Marie MacArthur is definitely someone I admire. She has a strong set of ethics and morals; she truly cares about and wants to help other people. Her flaws, which she doesn’t see, is a certain level of vanity and pride that she totally can handle and fix every problem that comes her way. Granted, this comes in handy when dealing with the fey, who are more than a little vain and proud themselves, but it’s an awful lot for an eleven-year-old to handle.

On top of dealing with the direct threat of the kelpie, Heather also has a lot of other issues in her life. She’s picked on at school because she doesn’t fit into any group. Her father is bipolar and is currently suffering the depression side of that–aggravated, unfortunately, by the presence of the kelpie.  And Heather blames herself for that, too, because she’s afraid that the kelpie is attacking worse now because she accidentally angered it even worse.  Heather’s best friend, Prince Joseph, also brings another set of problems to the mix by being of royal blood, the issues that go with that (press conferences, having to keep up appearances), and the fact that his family–like just about every family, has their own set of issues. And, of course, Heather wants to take care of her best friend, too.

I’ll admit–it’s been a long time since I’ve read YA fiction outside of say, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.  What’s the landscape like out there for female heroes?  How do you think speculative fiction YA compares to adult SFF fiction?  What’s it like for female authors in the genre?

Spencer Hill Press, the company who is publishing The Kelpie, is primarily comprised of female YA authors, most of whom write female lead characters. In the YA realm, I think there is a good collection of strong women writers and strong–in many ways–female lead characters. There are also varying levels of romance in most of these books, too; very few flat out adventures.

That said, The Kelpie is more in the “middle grade” realm, with a target audience of 11-14 (YA tends to be 14+.)–like the first few Harry Potter titles.  And there are some significant differences between YA and Middle Grade in how they are treated and reviewed. In the middle grade demographic, women and female characters are definitely less represented.  Of the middle grade books SHP is putting out, we actually have more male authors sending us stories, more stories that feature male protagonists (even if they are written by women), and more pitches are sent in from agents offering one of the sales points of the book as being a “boy book” or a “boys adventure.” 

When I’ve gone to convention and conference panels that discuss middle grade books, the majority still have male protagonists because “boys don’t read girl books, and we need more boys reading” while it’s a given that girls who are readers will read just about anything. And there are clearer gender lines between books. Take a look at Diary of a Wimpy Kid versus Dork Diaries. Can you tell who the target gender demographic is for each book just by looking at them? Which one has a clearer target gender? Now…which do you think sells more?

You’ll also find more women writing under their initials, as I do, because a boy wouldn’t necessarily read a book with a particularly feminine author name.  You’ll notice on my cover that I’ve got both Heather and Joe, and it’s teal green…boys won’t pick up a book if it’s just about a girl or remotely looks girly.  Now, how much of that is parents and teachers perpetuating this, I can’t say. But, I did make a conscious choice to use my initials and make my book appear as non-gender-specific as possible in hopes that more boys might take a chance and find that girl stories aren’t nearly as scary as they think or have been led to think.

Broad Universe has a great mission and offers a community to women writing SFF and horror.  How has the community has helped you, influenced or inspired you as you wrote and published The Kelpie?  

In one word, immensely!  I met Kate, owner of Spencer Hill Press, and my editor, Vikki, through being active in Broad Universe tables and panels at conventions. I’ve got some really good presales on the book in places I’ve never been…and I believe it’s from the Broads I’ve made friends with requesting it at bookstores. I posted to the Broad Universe list for my blog tour and got so many people willing to support and help me out, I was blown away.  I tried to answer everyone, and there were more people than slots in my blog tour!  And I’ll have an excerpt from The Kelpie on the December Broad Pod. And my publicists, Kendra and now Jenn, are also a Broads. Kendra made sure that I got my cover reveal scavenger hunt accomplished back in March. When Kendra had to leave, Jenn stepped up and helped me do just about everything social media wise. She set up my blog tour and had her husband make the awesome trailer.  The art in the trailer is done by Kendra’s sister! Oh! And my awesome writers group who critiqued the crap out of my drafts are all Broads, too.  The whole project has been Broad-touched since before I even signed the contract.

Ok back to your book! The kelpie is not a monster you see a lot of–what drew you to it? Is the kelpie in your story very traditional, or have you put your own spin on it?  Did you have to do a lot of research into kelpie mythology?

As I mentioned above, there’s the equine aspect that automatically draws me in. I don’t remember when I’d first heard the kelpie myth, but it’s not one you hear often.  I have definitely put my own spin on it, but there is an awful lot that I drew from the traditional Scottish folklore…down to people “sticking” to the fur while they get dragged into the water. I have the fur like tiny tentacles that hold you like Velcro–which, I also learned, was invented in Scotland! The story of the bridle one must use to capture the kelpie…and the demise of its various owners… also comes from traditional folk tales.

There isn’t a lot of information on the kelpie myth out there, and in a lot of my research, the story was rehashed almost word for word.  What did take a lot of research was trying to be true to the Scottish culture and the land. My husband and I actually traveled out to the area in Scotland where I set the story…and that was a rather magickal experience itself! In short, though, I hiked the land Heather hiked, wandered around actual lochs, and chatted with the locals about what might happen if local children started going missing. (And then immediately assuring them, “I swear, I’m writing fiction!”)

What were some of the challenges (if any!) you had during the writing of The Kelpie?  Was there a particularly tough plot twist, or anything you agonized over during revisions?  Anything that just flowed as if it were inspired?

Lots. My general writing style is to write BIG. The rough draft word count was just about 100k words, which is far too long for a debut middle grade novel.  And…honestly, I just had too much in there.  In the drafting, I really did have a very different ending in mind, but it just wouldn’t work for Heather. It wouldn’t be real for her.  So I had to work that out.  And then I had to cut an awful lot of her family’s backstory, which was also hard. We’re all informed by our families, and the stress of our families has an immediate effect on us all the time. But I had to leave a lot to suggestion or cut it out and focus on the most immediate effects.

What just flowed was whenever Heather and Joe were on the screen together. The two have a great friendship chemistry and they work well together. Joe has a different kind of pride and vanity than Heather, being a prince and all, and Heather keeps him in check. Joe, on the other hand, is always giving Heather a reality check that not everything can be easily fixed…and sometimes you need a little help to deal with things. 

If it isn’t spoilery, what’s your favorite part of the story? As a reader? As a writer?

I have a few favorite parts. Probably my favorite of favorites is Chapter 14, when Heather and Joe run into the castle ghost who is trying to help…or would, if Heather wasn’t so freaking terrified of her. Not that the ghost is particularly friendly, either. And Joe has to mediate.

I also love writing the scenes with the various fey. Tom, the cat fey, is, well, in his own words, “I’m a cat.” One of my other editors, Laura, is particularly fond of Chapter 6, entitled, “Because research always needs snarky talking cats.” And that sums up Tom. Lady Fana and Lord Cadmus are the ruling daoine síth of the region who Heather has to deal with to get some help protecting one of the children targeted by the kelpie.  And then, when the kelpie gets “on screen,” well…he is the book title after all.

Who was your favorite character to write in the story? Was anyone your least favorite to write?  Did ease of writing equate to liking or disliking the character?

It’s all written in Heather’s point of view, so everything is seen through her eyes. Fortunately, I made her half-American, which gave me a little cushion in dealing with Scottish culture…and particularly in trying to write a royal family and the whole idea of what nobility and peerage is–something truly foreign to an American. So, all the scenes with Joe’s family, particularly when his grandmother, the Queen, shows up, were especially difficult to write because I was constantly double checking all my etiquette and trying to be respectful to actual people who have these titles. 

That said, there were two characters who I truly disliked, and are pretty much meant to be disliked for certain. One is Joe’s uncle. While he is a vile person, part of the dislike in writing him came from trying to not have that necessarily cast a negative light on royalty or peerage as a whole group and culture.  The other is Jessica, who is the mother of Heather’s half-sister, Lily. And I don’t have the same excuse for not liking her as I do Joe’s uncle; she just came to me as a particularly nasty character.

Sometimes writing isn’t the hardest part–what did you find toughest about bringing The Kelpie from manuscript to published book?

Gack, social media everything!! Let me just put another shout-out to Jenn, my publicist, who made me a Goodreads page, reminds me to do stuff, and is extremely patient and holds my hand while I try to navigate doing crap online.  I hate it; I really do!  I love interacting with people and writing, so you’d think I’d enjoy it. But no. I’ve done a particularly crap job on my own blog and my webmistress is always reminding me to actually send her information to update on my website.

I’m glad Jenn organized the blog tour! I love writing articles and doing interviews…but I wouldn’t know how to tie them all together, run a giveaway, or anything else cool like that.

Last but not least: how are you feeling, now that your book is out?  Spill!  We want to share in the thrill of it :).

So, when I got my first printed proof, it never left my purse or tote bag. Ever.  I carried it all over–and I do a lot of traveling!  I showed it off to my chiropractors, my favorite coffee shop, my dentist…I brought it to the barn and showed my riding instructor (who helped with a lot of the other equestrian parts of the novel) and all the Future Trainers–teens who are learning to train horses.  I took it to visit my mom, I showed it off to my brother (to whom the book is dedicated), and I carried it to every single convention and event.  It’s quite beat up now, but I still hug it. 😉

Besides that, just wow! I’m much better at thinking up words to describe evil child-eating faery horses than myself… so I’m sorry I can’t be more descriptive. Squeee!!

Thanks so much, T.J.!

TJ WooldridgeT. J. Wooldridge is a professional writing geek who adores research into myth, folklore, legend, and the English language. Before delving full-time into wordsmithing, she has been a tutor, a teacher, an educational course designer, a video game proofreader, a financial customer service representative, a wine salesperson, a food reviewer, an editing consultant, a retail sales manager, and a nanny. While infrequent, there are times she does occasionally not research, write, or help others write. During those rare moments, she enjoys the following activities: spending time with her Husband-of-Awesome, a silly tabby cat, and two Giant Baby Bunnies in their Massachusetts home hidden in a pocket of woods in the middle of suburbia, reading, riding her horse in the nearby country stables and trails (not very well), reading Tarot (very well), drawing (also not very well), making jewelry (pretty well), making lists, and adding parenthetical commentary during random conversations. She also enjoys dressing up as fey creatures, zombies, or other such nonsense at science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions.

You can learn more about The Kelpie and T.J. Wooldridge over at her blog, A Novel Friend.

The Kelpie
978-1-937053-78-9

Advertisements

Lucky 13 Blog Tour: An Interview with Die Booth

Die BoothMy old friend Die Booth has recently released his wonderful steampunk-supernatural novel, Spirit Houses.  I’m thrilled to have the chance to interview Die as part of his Lucky 13 Blog Tour.  Spirit Houses is out now; get your copy now or stay tuned to learn more about the book after the interview.

LCH: Introduce yourself!  Tell us a bit about yourself!

DB: Hello, I’m Die, I live in Chester which is a very old city in the North West of England, which might account for how much I love old things and ghosts, which are the subjects of a lot of my writing. There’s debate whether Derby or Chester is the most haunted city in England – of course, I’m biased (it’s Chester.)

LCH: What inspired Spirit Houses?

DLB: Well, I do think living in Chester had quite a lot to do with how Spirit Houses turned out. I think there’s a distinct sense of place in a lot of my work and Spirit Houses is no exception. The locations in it are loosely based on places close to me. The University Hospital in particular is based on The North Wales Hospital which is a huge and sadly empty Victorian asylum complex in nearby Denbigh. We’re right on the Welsh border here – maybe that’s a subconscious reason that I’m so interested in the liminal, the line between physical and spirit, the veil between planes. I dream a lot about that stuff – I dream often, and have since childhood, of an alternate plane that I called The Negative for reasons that are made obvious in the book – and I frequently use my dreams as inspiration for my stories. Lots of stuff in Spirit Houses are just written directly from my dreams, which I suppose is cheating a bit, but I think it works. I think a little of those bits as ‘canon’ and the consciously written stuff as ‘fictional’! A lot of things inspired Spirit Houses; it’s an amalgam of a real pile of stuff that I’ve been collecting in notebooks for a decade.

Spirit Houses coverLCH: Who’s your favorite character in Spirit Houses?

DB: Oh good grief, you can’t ask that! Fix. Fix is definitely my favourite; I’ve known him the longest. As to the others, I’m not sure… it’s kind of like having a group of friends. You love them all, even though some of them do your head in, and you get on better with one person on certain days than others; another day, you’ll hang out with someone else more. I think Ray is the person I’d spend the most time with. He’s considerate, easy-going, just a really nice guy. That said, Alex is secretly a little bit my favourite because I find him hilarious and he’s always up for partying.

LCH: And how would the other characters feel knowing you’re playing favorites?!

DB: I don’t think any of them would be surprised if I said I liked Alex best – they’re used to him being popular, I don’t think they’d mind. Daniel would be put-out though, those two really don’t get on. Daniel’s definitely the hardest to get along with, although I wouldn’t say I dislike him by any means. I can never understand writers who seem to hate some of their characters: you created them, how can you not love them? I don’t think I could even hate a real villain if I’d written them myself.

LCH: You went through a lot of titles before you settled on Spirit Houses. Titles are something I waffle over and grapple with constantly.

DB: Choosing a title was one of the most difficult things about this book. I think that’s how titles go – either you start with an amazing title and then hang the story off it, or the title just won’t happen and you have to wrack your brains at the end. It’s such a vital element though, it has to have that hook to it, to draw people in immediately, entice them, but also sum up the book somehow even if it’s just in flavour.

LCH: What other titles did you try that you liked? 

DB: I had ‘Embedded’ as the provisional title for ages, because I couldn’t think of one and my mum came up with that one for me. She’d read the whole thing in segments as it was being written and thought that was a good summation, which it was. It was so very nearly called ‘Embedded’ but something just didn’t feel quite right. I think if I recall I Googled that as a title and there were a few books with that title and I was a bit iffy that it didn’t really get across the nature of the book.

LCH: What made you choose Spirit Houses?

DB: ‘Spirit Houses’ I think is quite multi-layered – it can refer literally to the spirit houses featured in the story (which in this context are containers that you invite a ghost into, to provide it with alternative accommodation if it’s haunting your house) or it can refer to whatever houses the human spirit, which is a really central notion to the story. Plus, it gives the reader much more indication that the contents of this book are supernatural.

LCH: We’ve both been thinking and chatting a bit about gender in fiction, especially in horror.  In light of that, what are some of your favorite portrayals of women in speculative or horror fiction? 

DB: Eleanor in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. I just adore that book; I think it’s the absolute number one shining example of what horror should be – gorgeously written, subtle, understated but utterly, check-under-the-bed terrifying. Eleanor as a character is so beautifully observed and so real, her claustrophobia and frustration with her situation, her paranoia. She’s a really sympathetic character who I think most readers can identify with; in that way she transcends her gender if that makes any sense. I think a lot of female characters are female first and characters second – whereas she’s a protagonist who happens to be female, human weaknesses and all.

I’d also highly recommend The Ghost Drum by Susan Price. It’s a children’s book, but is exquisitely written – far more so than most adult fiction – and it’s very unsettling in places indeed, I think everyone should read it when they get the chance. The lead protagonist, Chingis, in a lovely break from the norm, is the witch who rescues the prince (or rather, the Czarevich) and she’s a proper badass. I defy anyone reading that book not to wish they were her a bit.

Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Invisible Monsters’ as well – I’m not sure if it can be classed as strictly horror, but there are some truly horrifying elements to it and the female protagonists are beautifully twisted, yet entirely sympathetic (to me, at least!)

LCH: How about in your own story? 

DB: Well, pretty obviously, the lead protagonist of Spirit Houses is female. It was always Manda’s story, so it’s quite focused on her experience. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t have made much different what gender she was, that if you swapped the gender of every character in the book it would be pretty seamless and still work – that they’re more than just caricatures, I hope, more than just shaped by stereotypical behaviour. But I’m not sure that’s entirely true – I’m not sure you could write even quite a feminist story and have that be true, because to be realistic, you have to be aware of the often quite sorry state of the world. Spirit Houses deals a lot with prejudice. The overriding prejudice against Manda comes due to her medical condition, but there’s a little gender prejudice bubbling under the surface too I think, despite the fact that the Spirit Houses universe is quite equality-aware, there’s still a marked difference in the way the girls and the boys behave.

In terms of favourite female characters though, in Spirit Houses, I have to state my fondness for Matron Tagfalter. I had a little character sheet for each character in my notes, and one of the questions I asked for each of them was “Given the choice between saving one loved one, or ten strangers, which would they choose?” and the answer for Matron T was “She would come up with a plan to save everyone and she would not fail.” I think that sums her up.

LCH: I sometimes write scenes that concern me a little but that feel necessary for the story, but then I fret a bit about reinforcing negative situations or stereotypes.  Did you ever face this situation while writing or revising your novel?

DB: I started writing Spirit Houses a long time ago, before I became so super-aware of and concerned with every-day, institutionalised sexism. So when I came back to edit the main story, I started fretting a lot over all sorts of things. The core storyline, being the relationship between Manda and Daniel and what goes on between them; I started to worry a lot that it made Manda seem too stereotypically weak – because she really, really isn’t. I worried that Daniel would come across too manipulative and therefore Manda would seem easily manipulated. I even agonised for the longest time about showing Manda crying. But in the end I had to sit down and think, well – anyone, regardless of gender, in that situation, would show signs of stress, would cry: it’s not female weakness, it’s human emotion. I think that’s shown when Ray and Daniel both show the same kind of emotion, but obviously it’s more apparent with Manda as she’s the focus of the book. The temptation to make her super emotionally-strong was there, but I think her character would have suffered for it: she would have been less real, less easy for a reader to identify with. I still worry a bit that she has stuff ‘happen to her’, that she has situations forced upon her, but I think that she copes with it better than most people would.

I did change a few things in the edit though. I found myself noticing where I’d unconsciously put ‘default’ male characters in (presumably because I identify more with male characters). It’s something I’ll watch out more for in future work. It’s so easy when you have a ‘bit part’ character to automatically cast them as male, so, for example, I ended up changing the male surgeon Brother Halstead so they became the female surgeon Sister Halstead. I think that we need to become more aware of ingrained stereotypes and try to undermine them, to flip them – then maybe attitudes in society might eventually start to change.

LCH: If you could write anything you wanted, regardless of audience concerns, what your mom would think, what your inner editor would think, what’s the most ridiculous, self-indulgent story you’d like to tell someday?  The one you’d squirrel away under your bed and cackle gleefully while writing?

DB: I have so much of that stuff under my bed already that it presents a serious fire hazard..! To be honest, I’m really quite bad for writing what I want to, regardless – which is probably why so much of my stuff isn’t very commercially marketable! If I wanted to write something that I’d rather keep from, or to, a certain audience, then I’d just use a pen name. But to answer your question properly – hmmmm… let me think… I reckon it’d have to be zombies, some kind of B-movie zombie survival tale. That’s not really very self-indulgent, is it? Maybe set in the English Civil War, with a ridiculously dashing protagonist. And lots of mild peril. And some giant flying piranhas. Oh dear… I think I want to write it!

#

Find out more about Spirit Houses and Die Booth over at his blog, diebooth.wordpress.com or at maddocsoflit.com!  Or you can buy Spirit Houses at any of the following places:

ISBN 978-0-9926400-0-2

Ebooks

Paperback