Play Genre Slip-n-Slide: My Interview with Sarah Potter, Author of “Quirky” Novels

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Sarah’s newest novel, on special Dec. 25 through Jan. 1, 2017! Check out her Kindle Count-down deal and the Audio book version.

If you’re like me, you love to pick the brains of all the book-lovers and writers you know.

To that end, I’m very nearly ecstatic to host my very first author interview here on the ol’ Wordsmithery blog. So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming speculative fiction author and blogger Sarah Potter, who recently published a new novel.

*Please note that green typefaces are for emphasis and were supplied by me (that is, Leigh).

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Author walking in the wilds of the U.K.

1. Sarah, for those who might be visiting my blog and/or getting to know you for the first time, could you please introduce your own writing and other literary history, such as your own blog (and how long you’ve been doing that, etc.)?

Before answering this question, I’d just like to say a big thank you to you, Leigh, for inviting me to your blog for this interview. I can’t remember exactly when we stumbled upon each other in Blogland, but probably about two years ago. As fellow eccentrics, who enjoy exercising literary freedom writing speculative fiction, we gelled with each other from the start. And for those who don’t know, Leigh was beta-reader-in-chief for both of my published books, and a grand job of it she did, too.

In reviews of my work, people have used the word “quirky” so often that I’ve decided to make it my brand. Hence the recent birth of my Facebook fan page, “Sarah Potter’s Quirky Novels”. In other words, I slip and slide between genres, not to rebel against the pigeonholing of books into neat categories, but because that’s the way I write. The chunks of genre in my mixing pot include science fiction, fantasy, thriller, humour (both light and dark), snippets of romance, and the occasional eroticism.

I’ve written five novels, two of which I’ve indie published. The three unpublished ones are waiting for me to knock them into shape, armed with some invaluable, positive, and constructive feedback from publishers and literary agents over the years. I haven’t given up on the idea of traditional publishing, but just wanted a break from submitting material, in order to contemplate whether I could write a straight genre novel and, if so, what genre?

I started my blog Sarah Potter Writes in the last week of December 2011. It began mostly with haiku, which I’d been experimenting with on Twitter, and then moved on to include occasional flash fiction, or music-related stuff, as I’m a singer. Also, I got involved with various inter-blog weekly or monthly challenges. Then I took up photography and began posting my own pictures, mostly nature ones. In January 2014, I started a monthly guest storyteller flash fiction feature and my weekly Monday morning haiku feature, both of which have proved extremely popular and are still going strong.

2. Noah Padgett and the Dog-People is your second published novel, correct? For those not familiar with Desiccation (your first), what made you turn toward juvenile literature for your latest work?

Although these two novels were the first I published, they were my third and fourth ones written.

With Desiccation, I’ve never been able to decide if it’s a teenage or an adult novel. On Amazon, I have it under the browsing categories of science fiction (young adult) and urban fantasy (adult), with its readership age set at 15-18+. But with Noah Padgett and the Dog-People, I have it under animal stories/dogs (children) and action and adventure (children), with the age set at 10-18+. In other words, both of these works come under the umbrella of juvenile fiction but they are also crossover novels that will appeal to adults, too.

I never made a conscious decision to write for one age group or another, and suspect that my readers in main are aged forty-plus. With each of my five novels, I wrote the story that inspired me at the time, two of which happened to have juveniles as the main characters. As to whether this makes them primarily juvenile fiction, I’m still undecided. Certainly their Flesch reading-ease scores would indicate that this is the case, but some of the humour and references may go above some young people’s heads.

My three unpublished novels are definitely for adults, especially the last one, which is very controversial!

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Sarah’s own dog (shown here as a puppy) inspired her latest novel.

a. Following on this question: was your own Labrador inspiration for any character(s) in Noah Padgett (such as Bluebell!) and, if so, how?

Yes, indeed, my chocolate Labrador was the main inspiration behind writing this story. At the time when I started on the novel, she was a puppy just like Bluebell and, whilst we housetrained her, my son and I took it in turns to stay with her in the kitchen and stay on hand to let her outside into the garden at a moment’s notice. Each of us would use the time to work on our laptop computers at the kitchen table, which had the additional positive result of teaching a puppy with needle-sharp teeth some important lessons, such as the fact that wires are not for swinging on, playing tug-of-war with, or chewing.

What triggered the story was a dream I had about my puppy disappearing and not being able to find her anywhere. I awoke from this dream in a terrible state of anxiety, imagining how terrible such a thing would be, which then gave birth to the main premise behind my novel: that a boy has his precious puppy stolen from him and he has to rescue her from an arch-baddie in another dimension.

3. Could you describe what your writing process is like? This is something that I, as a writer, am always curious to know. Or, alternatively, what is a typical day like for you, in which you do some writing?

I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, so I start with an idea and do any research on the trot. With my first book, a science fiction romance, I set it in a psychiatric hospital similar to the one where I used to work. Thus, I fictionalised a familiar setting and had as one of my main characters a student psychiatric nurse who falls into an inappropriate relationship with a weirder than weird patient. People say, “Write what you know”. Well, I know about psychiatry back in the late 70s and early 80s, and about those huge institutions, now mostly closed down; although I never had an affair with a patient!

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Quick-link to this soon-to-be SF/F classic: http://myBook.to/QuirkyLit

Again, with Desiccation, I used both a setting and a time period with which I was familiar, having been at a boarding school for girls in the late 60s. Then I asked myself the question, what would have happened if my old school had come under attack by body-snatching aliens?

With my most recent novel, it started out as a 400-word piece of flash fiction with two characters, which grew into a 65,000-word novel because the setting and characters would not let go of me. The writing is very experimental, the plot complex, and, if I’d been of a weaker mental disposition, the writing of it could have given me a nervous breakdown. It involved such complex family trees and timelines that at one point I had to press the pause button on my writing and start plotting, or literally lose the plot. Such were my love-hate feelings towards it, that I drew my only consolation from the fact that George Orwell felt like this about his novel Nineteen Eight-Four, although unlike my book, nobody would have classed his one as a dystopian soap opera.

My typical writing day, when working on a novel, involves sitting at my desk and occasionally gazing out of the window to contemplate, or rummaging through research notes. This happens from Monday to Friday, give or take other family commitments, from 11am to 1 pm and then again from 2 to 3.30pm. These days differ from the times when I’m not writing a novel, which are much more fragmented and less inspired.


4. As you call him in your Amazon synopsis, there is a central villain in this book dubbed “mad entrepreneur Monsieur Percival Poodle.” My question is: why do you hate poodles? (Only kidding!) What in your background led you to describe (in spot-on ways, I must say) the Canis sapiens characters with the personalities, temperaments, habits, strengths, and foibles that you do?

I was raised in kennels — well, not literally, but my mother bred and showed dogs, so I was around them for most of my childhood. Then for about three years after leaving school, I worked in her kennels.

As for poodles, I don’t hate them; in fact, I know a wonderful white standard poodle who gets on just fine with my Labrador and isn’t villainous at all.

5. Backing up for a moment, Sarah, what would be (or is) your 30-second elevator pitch for Noah Padgett and the Dog-People?

You know, this question almost brought on an instant headache, until I realised that my book description on Amazon takes 30 seconds to read (if you’re a fast reader). So here it is…

The tale of a boy who fell into the paw-hands of a villain crazier than the Mad Hatter and more puffed up than Mr Toad…

Noah Padgett’s new stepmother treats him as the worst inconvenience in the world. She wants him to disappear out of her life, along with Bluebell, the nuisance puppy his father bought him for his birthday. Her wish comes true, although too fast for her to notice, after Noah clicks the wrong link on his computer at midnight.

Mad entrepreneur Monsieur Percival Poodle is the self-appointed ruler of Zyx, a dimension where Canis sapiens is the predominant species. Percival likes to collect alien specimens, and two of them have just arrived in his dimension from Earth. One is a primitive four-legged chocolate Labrador and the other a human boy.

Mercenary Lurcher Sergeant Salt works for the highest bidder and makes it his policy to extract maximum profit from jobs. This means selling his alien captives separately, however much distress it causes them.

Fate has already stolen Noah’s beloved mum from him, to replace her with a stepmother from hell. Now it seems that fate has struck again, by stealing Bluebell and leaving Noah to languish in a high-security hospital for criminally insane Canis sapiens, with no apparent means of escape and terrified for his precious puppy’s safety.

6. Merely a matter of curiosity for me, but something I’m wondering is did you ever consider making Noah Padgett a Naomi Padgett? In your novel Desiccation, the plot is centered on a girls’ school in the UK, so the main protagonist, Janet, is a teen girl–and the setting is some years earlier, whereas for Noah, it’s decidedly modern-day (ie, 2000 or later). Was it a conscious move on your part to make the next novel center on a boy exiting the pre-teen or “tween” years and entering teenage-dom full-fledged?

I always wanted a “Noah” and not a “Naomi”, except for one brief spell. This was after I’d finished the earliest draft and wondered, as a female author, whether my use of the first-person point of view for Noah might confuse children. In the end, I decided to rewrite the novel in the third-person. I also made Noah three years’ older than in the first draft.

7. Let’s dig into your writing process a little more. Yet another thing I am curious about, as both a reader and writer, is how authors arrive at titles, character names, settings, and so on. Could you briefly describe how it works for you?

I have a working title for each novel, but usually end up calling it something else. It’s quite fun deciding what to call my characters, but I usually google a name to check that it doesn’t belong to a famous axe-murderer or war criminal or somebody undesirable. As far as fantasy names go, I like to check that they don’t mean something horrendous in another language other than English. Recently, I watched the Shannara Chronicles [based on the best-selling fantasy series by author Terry Brooks] on TV and thought “drat”, now I must find another name for Shanastra, the fantasy kingdom in my sword and sorcery fantasy novel, as it’s too similar.

I think I’ve already answered the rest of the things in this question.

8. From whom and/or what (e.g., hobbies, past-times, work) do you draw inspiration, for writing, life, or anything else?

I’ve already answered this question, too, but you might find a few additional snippets on my blog at https://sarahpotterwrites.com/about/

9. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you might be working on next? A novel? A novella? Short story?

I’m not sure whether to give my sword and sorcery fantasy novel an edit and final polish, then indie-publish it. For me, this would be an experiment into whether a novel that fits into a definite genre is easier to market, or that marketing for an indie author is always a pain.

Alternatively, I could work on something new. I have several ideas, including a crime novel, a ghost story, and a literary classic/paranormal mash-up.

On the other hand, I might compile an anthology of flash fiction and poetry, using Japanese poetic forms.

But before any of the above, I’m going to submit my dystopian soap opera to a new publisher who’s interested in speculative fiction that’s controversial and diverse.

10. Anything really important that I’ve missed? Such as, do you plan any specials on your book or have any other things in the works related to Noah Padgett?

In November [2016], the audio version of Noah Padgett became available to buy through Amazon or direct from Audible. A fabulous actor, Mil Nicholson, narrates the story with style, even managing to do different voices for all the characters. When I heard her recording for the first time, it was almost as exciting as having had a movie made of my book. At some point in the next few weeks, I will be interviewing her on my blog, so make sure not to miss that treat.

My Kindle Countdown Deal is to run from December 25 – January 1 on Amazon (US & UK only), throughout which time Noah Padgett and the Dog-People will be $0.99 (£0.99). Added to this, if you download the Kindle copy of my book you can get this offer for my Audiobook …
Add Audible narration for an extra £2.99 Save 81% (List Price: £16.00)

~~~~~

MORE FROM SARAH:

You can find all the info appertaining to Sarah’s published novels on her blog page https://sarahpotterwrites.com/publication-updates/, including links to previews, an audiobook sample, plus links to her product pages on Amazon and on Audible.

A full list of Sarah’s author links:

Blog: https://sarahpotterwrites.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SarahPotterWrites/

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/sarahcpotter

LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/sarah-potter-9590aa3a

Amazon author pages: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Potter/e/B019A7QHO6/

https://www.amazon.com/Sarah-Potter/e/B019A7QHO6/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14775807.Sarah_Potter

Independent Author Network (IAN): http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/sarah-potter.html

Quick-links to both Sarah’s indie-published books:

Desiccation: http://myBook.to/QuirkyLit

Noah Padgett and the Dog-People (Kindle edition): http://getBook.at/Zyx

The Wordsmith’s Weekly Wramble in Words and Pictures

It’s been awhile, but as I love October, the time seems ripely right. So, another catch-all post. I’m considering doing the 6.66 days of horror fiction at the end of the month as well—and maybe even NaNoWriMo—but we shall see.

Think of this as a kind of Monday Markets, although it isn’t. Hope you enjoy what could be the beginning of a more consistent and beautiful blogging and reading relationship . . .

The Wordsmith’s Weekly Wramble

Publications & Awards (you, me, and any every-body*)

  1. MY SHORT STORY “MUZZLING THE MONSTER” IS BEING PUBLISHED at the end of this month, in a steampunk and horror anthology called Ghosts, Gears, and Grimoires (by Mocha Memoirs Press), and I’m thrilled and honored to be included. I literally cannot wait to see what the ghost-gears-grimoiresother storytellers have concocted for the book. And, in a first in my writing career, there’s even a creepy, cool trailer for this anthology, designed by the talented Terry Phillips. I’ll let you know as soon as I know acquisition details (sounds like something a Ferengi would be interested in, eh?).
  2. THERE’S ALREADY A TON of books out there, right? But you don’t want to waste your time with poorly edited or conceived works either. Thankfully, that is far from the case here. Although I am biased in the sense of having been a beta reader of this book (and her previous one), I am once again happy to champion Sarah Potter’s speculative fiction offering, this one christened Noah Padgett and the Dog-People. (I also hope to have Sarah over to the blog very soon, as her schedule allows!) Although NPATDP is aimed squarely at middle-grade readers (or accelerated 7-10 year olds), there’s every chance as an adult you will enjoy this romp through the world of Canis sapiens, in a dimension something like ours but curiously tipped. Will the human boy, Noah, make it out of Zyx alive? Do tell! . . .  I’ve done a review over at Amazon, and you lucky folks & blokes in the UK can get a deal on the book right now, with free delivery in the UK on orders with at least £10 of books. So, whatever are you waiting for?
  3. HAVE YOU READ? Resident WordPress poet Robert Okaji has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, for his poem “Two Cranes on a Snowy Pine”! Even though Bob might profess to be an ordinary person—and they, too, can be nominated for and win a Pushcart!—his diction, structure, and nimble enjambment techniques boggle the brain. Do check out his latest offerings at his blog, “O at the Edges.”
  4. PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR! WordPress humorist and author Hugh Roberts is releasing a book in early December 2016. If you’re a reader of Hugh’s blog, you know that some speculative fiction and otherwise wacky, wild, and wee-urd jellybabies (I mean, stories) await! More on all that Welsh Winter Wonderfulness at Hugh’s post, and you’ll find a slew of other books to add to your lists (chosen by Hugh).

 

Markets & Other Interesting Things

Depending on your time, desired compensation, experience, genre, word count, and so on, markets are your bread and butter. Your mead and meat. Your nectar and ambrosia. Your cake and icing. Your chutney and naan. Your Dornish wine and saltfish. I really shouldn’t blog while I’m hungry, should I?

  1. DeadLights magazine. This is a new market. They have hatched a nonpaying weekly short fiction market, called “Shotgun Horror Clips,” as well as a paying short-story one for the DL magazine. Citing influences from King and Straub to Barker, Jackson, et al, they clawed their way high up my horror-writing market list. The specifics about submitting paying short fiction, flash, art, and CNF for the magazine can be found here. For the Shotgun Horror Clips, check this link.
  2. More horror: Pseudopod, dubbed “the sound of horror,” is seeking your first-form, A-level, Big League, Premier League speculative fiction in the weird, gory, dark, violent, thrilling/unsettling vein. Got a time-traveling Jack the Ripper? Oh, wait. That’s been done already. But give them your absolute best, with emphasis on the dark and macabre (less comedy, more tragedy), and see if you can hit the really high notes with this HWA and soon-to-be SFWA approved market (professional rates, mind you!). Before you do submit, do get a really good feel for what they like. One of the writers I enjoy and follow, fictionist Aeryn Rudel, recently had a piece called “Night Games” converted to audio and featured on Pseudopod here. Think vampires and the desolation of the pitcher’s mound in baseball and you might harness a scintilla of this story.
  3. Interesting things:
  • Eavesdrop on F/SF writer Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn series et al) as he instructs on topics ranging from the business of writing to plotting to world-building and more. It’s as if you’re taking a master class but you can be introverted at the same time!
  • #HoldontotheLight: Did you know that 100+ authors of SF/F are blogging about mental illness and wellness this month? The matters touched on range from PTSD to anxiety to suicide. I can attest that these issues surface time and again in the science fiction and fantasy communities. If you’d like to join the movement, as a reader, commenter, contributor, or otherwise, one fitting place to start is writer Gail Z. Martin’s link round-up.
  • You might not know it, but there’s a campaign to create an exhibit and anthology of women’s science fiction writing, with confirmed participants as illustrious as Jane Yolen, N.K. Jemisin, Seanan McGuire, and a bevy of others thus far. As I write this, the “Catalysts, Explorers & Secret Keepers: Women of SF” project is raising funds and in the process of kicking off a call for submissions by or featuring strong female protagonists, including those from the stellar authors mentioned above. Now here’s a campaign to fund, if ever there was one!

It is time, or far past it, for me to close this post. *If you’d like to plug your own latest publication in the comments, please feel free.* Just don’t try to sell Russian watches, Cialis, or other male enhancement paraphernalia there.

See you in the funny papers . . .

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For those times when you want to look like Freddie Mercury with a sore shoulder. Maybe it’s under pressure?

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Remember these console record-players? You never know what you’ll find at Goodwill.

 

Monday Markets: The Spiders Spinning the Moon Edition

Long time, no blog. Well, a couple weeks. An eon in interwebs years perhaps.

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Can you spot the second spider? The first certainly seems bigger than the moon.

Despite the annus miserabilis (yep, I meant that) on many fronts, there are good things about, too. Thank goodness.

I’ll do “markets” a little different this time. Once I get more sophisticated (maybe someday ponying up for the cost of a ‘real’ WordPress or other writing site), perhaps this might grow and improve and transmogrify. First:

Things to Read

Apart from your posts, which I’m still trying to catch up on after the Great Computer-Cord Fry-Up of August 2016, in which the little adapter box thing went bzzt (and my battery had no juice), here’s some notable writing (news and otherwise) you might enjoy or find helpful:

  • Surviving the Death Railway: A POW’s Memoir and Letters from Home, editor Hilary Custance Green’s very personal book about Far East POWs—with an endearing and enduring love story wrapped therein—is out now. Has been out for awhile. Do consider it for your reading list. Even better? It’s in hardback!
  • Another fellow WordPresser, Sarah Potter, just last week released her second book in a year. Wow! This one, Noah Padgett and the Dog-People, while written for the youthful crowd, approximately age 10 (up to and beyond age 100), features a boy with all the resources of Harry Potter, minus the wand. So, by his wits alone, he must survive and navigate a bracing crab of a stepmother and another dimension, called Zyx, ruled by Canis sapiens, or upright-walking, clothes-wearing, English-speaking dog-people. And with all the foibles of humans, spun into a new view, from a (nearly?) megalomaniacal poodle to a fretful golden retriever with a hidden beauty secret. Can Noah save his real dog, Bluebell, from Monsieur Percival Poodle and get out alive? Although I was a beta reader on this, I can confirm it was a quite enjoyable book. As an adult or, I would think, a dog-loving or imaginative child. Here’s where you can get it on the Kindle.
  • Take a look at a post by Diabolical Plots titled “Negotiating Short Story Contracts.” I won’t give away the keys to this kingdom, but when you sell a story, ask for a contract and actually read it. That’s one of the most basic tips for any writer. But get more insights from the diabolical personage himself, David Steffen, here.
  • If you like epic stories and the storytellers who execute them, then you’ll probably enjoy this Powell’s (bookstore) interview with Annie Proulx as much as I did.
  • And, finally, a survey of the psychologically “deep” short stories of British horror writer Robert Aickman.

 

Things to Write: Markets & Submissions

  • National Lampoon is looking for humor writers. This is a well-known, and paying market, but, I’ll presume, pretty competitive. If you submit, you absolutely must bring your funniest stuff. Otherwise, you’re schtick out of luck.
  • If you aim for the top, you’ll find Tin House, among others, sitting astride it. And, by the by, they are accepting submissions the entire month of September 2016, for several issues slated for 2017. One story or essay and up to five poems per submission. So, in September at TH: there’s an open-publication (no theme); there’s a rehab-themed issue; and then there’s a true crime issue. Many submit, but few, alas, are chosen. See more here.
  • Rejectomancer and author Aeryn Rudel has announced he will be a judge in an upcoming flash fiction contest run by Red Sun Magazine. There’s a small entry fee for submitting your fiction under 1K, and the deadline is Sept. 23. Prizing and other salient criteria are at RSM’s site here. And, if you’re a speculative fiction writer, aspiring or otherwise, you owe it to yourself to follow Rudel, whose name rightly appears persistently among the rolls of winning stories.
  • As this is a long post already and it’s almost bus-time, I’ll share one last one. Tacitus Publishing is seeking short fiction, 1500 to 5K, on the theme of shattered space. I’ll let them tell you: “[the story] takes place in space and has a strong horror element.  This can include aliens, ghosts, or disturbing circumstance[s].  The key to success, as with all strong writing, is the human struggle and relatable characters. . . . . ” Your story is due Oct. 31, and, as always, it would behoove you to know your market before submitting.

As ever, let’s go out there and  . . . get rejected! And, a la Samuel Beckett, get rejected better the next time.