Friday, April 27, 2012

Mooner by Selah Janel: Interview & Excerpt

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?

Word count:  8,143
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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.

How did you start your writing career?

I’d been writing stories for years but had scared myself out of submitting. A year and a half ago I had a health scare and didn’t have much to do while trying to figure out what was going on. I suddenly realized that I could keep putting off submitting and writing the stories I really wanted to be working on, or I could take a chance and embrace something that would make me really happy. I promised myself that I’d try for a full year and submit something every week. If I got a rejection letter I forced myself to take it with a grain of salt and resubmit the story somewhere else within forty-eight hours to a week, depending on if I wanted to edit or restructure a piece. I took away any excuse I could give myself and just focused on producing and editing good work and finding publishers that I wanted to work with. I would’ve been happy with one acceptance during that time but after a lot of work I ended up with acceptances for three e-books, two short stories in magazines, a story in an anthology, and a kid’s poem for an e-zine! 

Tell us about your current release.

It’s a horror story that’s set in a late 1800s American logging camp. It combines my love of history with my love of that ‘other’ element, that creepy creature that lives in the woods even though it’s not supposed to exist.

Tell us about your next release.

I’m finishing up edits on an upcoming e-book called In the Red. It’s a modern re-imagining of the folk story The Red Shoes that puts similar themes and archetypes in a modern, rock n’ roll setting. It’s a dark, gritty urban fantasy piece full of questionable magic and temptation. I just got my cover for it and it’s gorgeous – I’m so excited for this release! I love music and I love fairy tales, so getting this one published makes me really happy.

Here’s the blurb I’m working with for In the Red: 

What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? That’s what Jeremiah Kensington is thinking after an unsuccessful bar gig one night. When a sympathetic farmer with musical interests offers to help launch his career Jeremiah is desperate enough to accept. It’s only in hindsight that he realizes he’s just as stuck as before. But then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right? 

But what happens when they refuse to come off?

How do you describe your writing style?

I tend to change my approach depending on what I write. A good writing friend of mine pointed out that I write in a lot of different styles, so you never quite know what you’re going to get. I think I stick with similar themes: I like exploring how people relate to each other and their own emotions. I love throwing in fantasy or horror elements to complicate and enhance things. I like playing with that what-if factor and I really like getting into my characters’ heads. But other than that, I’m not really afraid of exploring different ways of doing things. It all depends on the genre and the audience’s age level. I think I do tend to look at things a little sideways, so I usually have a unique angle on an idea or type of character. I’m not really interested in working with specific formulas and I love it when I can be zany and throw bizarre wrenches into my own plots.

What are you passionate about these days?

I’m really passionate about women’s roles and portrayals in genre fiction and film. I love dark fantasy, horror, and a lot of genres that have become associated with male writers and personalities, and there are times when that can get really frustrating. I’ve become really curious about how as women we’re portraying ourselves in what we read and watch and what that actually translates to. It’s been a fascinating journey and I’ve been lucky to be able to write about it in a column for Fandom Scene. I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of good to go with the typical or one-dimensional female characters. I’d also assumed that I’d just be blasting everything I came across and really I’ve developed a much more middle-of-the-road point of view. I’m finding I’m able to see all sides to a character. I may not like certain popular female characters, but I can see why a lot of young girls or women are drawn to certain franchises. The whole thing fascinates me and my hope is that if enough people start having this conversation we can start moving genre fiction away from clichés towards new territory. It’s really exciting.

At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved stories. I grew up surrounded by tales about family members and local legends, and I lived at the library during the summer. I also design costumes and perform, but I’m always looking for the story behind anything. I’m so fascinated by what motivates people and the ‘what if’ in any situation. There are so many directions any little situation can go in – and that becomes exponentially so when you add in things like magic or fantasy elements. Plus, I think that having so many different personalities in the world is magical in itself. There’s so much to learn about, so much to work with! I absolutely love having all that possibility all around me. Ever since I was a kid I’ve written little stories or come up with imaginary adventures. It was the natural progression to start writing them down and learning how to develop them into things that other people would want to read.

Do your friends think you are an introvert or an extravert? Why?

A lot of my friends feel this is a topic up for panel discussion. I honestly feel that I’m pretty shy. I’m fine if I have a project or something to focus on, but put me in a crowd of people without a mission and I feel a little lost, especially if I’m on my own. However, when I’m comfortable I can be pretty silly and vocal about my opinions. I also tend to confront the things I’m afraid of and I like learning new things, so I’m always getting into new activities and classes. It’s hard to convince a lot of people that I’m more of an introvert that I let on, but I’m much more comfortable around a small group of people or fussing with my ideas than I am in a crowd. I just try really hard to not let it be an issue.

Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?

I was at a horror con a few years ago and got drawn into conversation by the actor Billy Wirth. We were talking about different things and I happened to mention that I was frustrated with where I was at creatively at the time. And I’ll never forget it; he told me that all I really needed to do was to ‘Just keep working.’ At the time I’ll admit that his good intentions ticked me off and unsettled me, though he’s such a great guy that I’d never admit that to him. It seemed way too easy and too cliché – the typical thing someone who’s had success would tell someone who was still aspiring to do something. After I got the chip off my shoulder I realized that he was absolutely right. At the end of the day perseverance is what separates people. If you don’t keep at something you can’t network or let people know what you’re up to, plus you can’t get better at your craft. It’s such a simple little thing, and because of that I’ve not forgotten it. Hands down, it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. When I got frustrated during the year I forced myself to regularly submit, I kept that piece of advice in mind and it’s definitely proven fruitful. I’m still very grateful for that conversation; it was exactly what I needed to hear even if I didn’t want to hear it at the time.

Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little when she wondered if fairies lived in the nearby state park and worried that vampires hid in the old barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading, the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either.  

Although she’s always enjoyed inventing stories and penning tales her creativity has filtered into many interests over the years including studying classical voice, a degree in theatre at the University of Southern Indiana, and work as a costume designer and costumer for various theatres, companies, and events. But behind every part she’s played, behind every costume and monster she’s created, behind every random idea is a story. 
She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror but has a deep love of children’s and YA literature and can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane.  Her first title ‘Mooner’ is a historical, vampire-centric horror story that is coming soon from No Boundaries Press. When she isn’t working on one of ten thousand projects she can be found at the following places – though be warned, she’s an old soul and is still learning to use most of these…
She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to hold their own.

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1 comment:

Gale Nelson said...

Thanks for the giveaway. The book sounds great. Gale