Author Interview — Ogarita

The authors of stories in the upcoming anthology Avast, Ye Airships! continue to be willing to be interviewed by me. I haven’t scared the remaining ones away yet.

Speaking of scaring others, today’s interviewee is author Ogarita, no stranger to the art of terrifying readers, while armed with nothing but her bare words. Think I’m kidding? The opening picture on her website is of a lonely cemetery, in the dead of winter. My internet browser was afraid to open the page the first time, and now refuses to go back.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Ogarita: I’ve noodled around with writing stories since I was ten years old and conjured a girl, dumped in a boarding school, who is transported (via a mysterious and never explained glowing rectangle) to a world combining elements of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain. I turned to writing daily about three years ago, after retiring from an active-duty career in the U.S. Navy.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

O.: Most difficult? I always, always begin a story in the wrong place. A couple of novels ago I decided this just didn’t matter . . . for first drafts, at least. I save that pain for subsequent revisions, during which I suffer the recurring and depressing realization I will never produce anything as wondrously creative as the beginning of Nabokov’s Lolita. Regardless of one’s opinion of that story, the opening is fabulous writing.

The easiest part of writing? Everything other than beginnings.

P.S.: On your website, you’re known as Ogarita (not your real name), and the story of how you got that name is fascinating.  Is that family tradition of bestowing strange, secret, family names likely to continue to future generations?

O.: My family’s history is filled with bizarre names, among which Ogarita figures as fairly tame. This custom took a steep dive, however, two generations ago, when my grandfather abandoned the name Yakeley and renamed himself Robert. The love of eccentric names continues, however; throughout my childhood my mother expressed frequent regret she hadn’t named me Hepzibah. It’s possible this close call inspires me to write stories filled with fear.

P.S.: Ogarita it is, then. You’ve said you write stories of “ghosts and banshees, creepy houses and spooky cemeteries, stalkers and extroverts.” How did you become interested in writing tales of that type?

O.: First, discovering the best ghost movie ever filmed: The Uninvited, made in 1944 and based on Dorothy Macardle’s 1941 novel, Uneasy Freehold. When, three-quarters of the way through the movie, the double doors bang open . . . glorious terror! The book isn’t bad, either, although the secondary female characters tend to be a bit soppy. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House kept me awake at night for three days after finishing it, and I’m still not keen on holding hands in the dark. I’m always searching out well-written stories in which sympathetic characters find themselves inadvertently involved with the supernatural . . . and scared nearly to death.

P.S.: You call yourself a middle grade and Young Adult author. In what ways is that different from writing for a more general audience?

O.: A fair number of writers, and I include myself among them, claim there is and should be little difference between writing for MG/YA and adults, other than the former being a bit less overt in depicting violence, sex, and in using profanity/obscenity. These, however, are far from being hard rules. The characters in John Green’s collaborative book (with David Levithan), Will Grayson, Will Grayson, don’t hold back in terms of verbal obscenities. Nor does Stephen King dumb down the dangers faced by nine-year-old Trisha (in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), when she’s lost in the woods. Are Green and King writing for adults or middle-graders?

In my MG/YA ghost story novels I shoot for spinal meltdown moments, hoping to ruin the sleep of all my readers. That’s what I’ve loved since I was a kid and still do today.

P.S.: You have a story, “Captain Wexford’s Dilemma,” in the anthology AvastYeAirshipsAvast Ye Airships! Without spoiling anything, can you tell us a little about the story, and what inspired you to write it?

O.: The superheated steam produced by a ship’s boilers, properly controlled, creates enormous amounts of beneficial power. Controlling the steam, however, requires careful maintenance and the right materials—steel, for example—that can withstand the intense and high heat. In October 1990 the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) docked in Bahrain for repairs to a steam valve. A contractor mistakenly chose metal fasteners of brass, rather than steel, to fasten down the bonnet of a steam valve; when the ship got underway, the fasteners gave way and the ship’s boiler room flooded with superheated steam. Eleven men died because of a small, crucial, mistaken choice. Captain Wexford’s Dilemma allowed me to create and take control of a similar situation, but from that starting place spin a fantasy with a different outcome, one that I found emotionally salvific. And, because I have long worked in the field of religious diversity, humor crept in as the story revealed itself and Captain Wexford struggled to find ways to deal with a far less material challenge to the safety of her airship.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

O.:

  • Terry Pratchett. A genius who made Death one of fantasy’s most believable character.
  • Barbara Hambley. Those Who Hunt the Night (1988) a vampire-filled murder mystery, uses suspense and a sense of place exceptionally well.
  • Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Stefan Bachmann, and Emma Trevayne. The Cabinet of Curiosities (2014) contains thirty-six inventive and beautifully written short stories. I read these, then decided I needed to explore this form; the result was “Captain Wexford’s Dilemma.”
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I Remember You (2014; 2012 in the UK) is the best ghost story published in the last five years, hands down. Like Stephen King, Sigurðardóttir isn’t afraid to allow her characters to develop before she turns loose the ghosts.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

O.: I’m finishing the first draft of “The Lake Eerie Ghost,” a MG murder mystery/ghost story about a group of kids attending summer camp on a fictitious island in Lake Erie. There’s a haunted lighthouse involved, because I’m crazy about lighthouses. At the same time, I’m revising another MG story that I hope will delight and frighten: “Curse of the Banshee,” in which a young girl and her twin cousins investigate a series of near-fatal accidents and an ancient curse. Murder, mayhem, and spooks make each day of writing pure pleasure.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Ogarita:

  • Don’t let anyone, editors or readers, tell you the semi-colon has no place in fiction; this fabulous bit of punctuation has ably separated closely-related independent clauses since 1494.
  • Write or revise or outline every day. Every. Single. Day. Doing this has been a trial at times, but it has also improved my writing and kept at bay writer’s block.
  • Ignore those who say one’s best writing (or revising and outlining) is done early in the morning. I’m convinced early-morning writers are masochists.
  • Exercise. Walk, lift weights, bike, swim, do yoga, anything that keeps blood pumping and muscles toned!
  • Find or create a support group of other authors. A good group celebrates success, understands rejection, and keeps dreams alive, often with cupcakes.

 

Ogarita, thanks so much for that fascinating interview. My readers can find out more about Ogarita’s spine-chilling tales on Twitter and at her website.

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 21, 2015Permalink

12 Reasons to Change Your Name

Pen NamesAs a writer of fiction, you might choose to be published under a name other than your real one for a variety of reasons. The use of pen names, (or nom de plumes, literary doubles, or pseudonyms, if you prefer) is not uncommon. Although I’ve blogged about one reason for pen names before, I figured I’d provide a more comprehensive list of reasons today.

• The first three on my list have to do with Branding.
1. To separate your books into different genres or types or styles. For each name, readers know what to expect.
2. To give the reader the impression the book is an autobiography. You can adopt a character’s name as your pen name, as Daniel Handler did by choosing Lemony Snicket as a nom de plume in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
3. To share the same pen name with other authors, making it seem like a book series was written by one person. With the Tom Swift series of children’s books, several authors wrote under the single pen name, Victor Appleton.

• You may have reasons to shield your true identity.
4. To keep your real name in reserve until you’re a more established author. Eric Blair used the name George Orwell for this purpose, though it’s not clear what he was waiting for!
5. To protect your reputation. As a don at Oxford University, C. S. Lewis got published under the names Clive Hamilton and N. W. Clerk for this purpose.
6. To maintain your privacy. Enough said.

• There may be problems with your real name.
7. To choose a name more appropriate to the genre you write in. Pearl Grey chose the pen name Zane Grey for his Westerns.
8. To present yourself as the other gender. As a woman, you might feel your military adventure novels would sell better with a man’s name as the author, and similarly for you men who write romance novels.
9. To enable readers to more easily pronounce your name. Face it, some names are difficult to say.
10. To distinguish yourself from someone else. Your real name might spell or sound like another person (or thing). The British statesman and author Winston Churchill always wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill (I know, not much of a pseudonym) to avoid being confused with the then-famous American author Winston Churchill.

• Sometimes the publisher has reasons for suggesting a pen name.
11. To enable several of your stories to appear in the same magazine. Thus Robert A. Heinlein became also Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong to avoid the appearance that a single author was monopolizing that issue.
12. To keep from saturating the market. If you write very fast, publishers might fear the public will see your name too often and tire of your novels too quickly. For this reason, some of Stephen King’s books were published under the name Richard Bachman.

Sure, there might be additional reasons for using a pen name. You don’t really need a reason, after all. It’s a personal choice and nobody’s business except yours and the publisher’s. (You’ll want your publisher to know your real name so they send those huge advance and royalty checks to the right account!)

Other good sites or blog posts that list reasons for pen names include this one, this one, and this one.

Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering, my real name isn’t—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 14, 2014Permalink

Better Writing through Chemistry?

If you consume alcohol or mind-altering drugs, will that improve your writing?  Many people think so.  Supposing it’s true, it’s nice to have that short-cut to greatness available, isn’t it?  Why struggle to choose the right words while sober or clean when you can snort, inject, or imbibe your way to literary greatness?

The connection persists because so many of the top writers, it seems, had a reputation for using drugs or alcohol.  The two that spring to my mind are Edgar Allan Poe’s use of opium and absinthe, and Ernest Hemingway’s consumption of wine, mojitos, and daiquiris.  The list of famous authors who wrote under the influence also includes Anthony Burgess, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Jean Cocteau, Phillip K. Dick, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Stephen King, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Tennessee Williams.

The effects of alcohol that might benefit a writer include a loss of inhibitions, which might stimulate creativity.  However, other effects would be less helpful: blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory, blackouts, shaking, lack of muscle coordination and balance.

Drugs vary in their effects, but some of the reactions that might aid an author include euphoric pleasure, confidence, and extended wakefulness.  I suppose hallucinations could be of use to a writer, so let’s include those.  However, the known downsides of drugs can include delusions, aggression, paranoia, drowsiness, respiratory depression, nausea, blurred vision, headaches, disorientation, impaired memory, slowed reaction time, diminished judgment, mood swings, and addiction.

On balance, it seems to me there would be more harm than good in drinking or using drugs to improve your writing.  Some of the things said about the writers I listed above may not even be true.  The Edgar Allan Poe Society has debunked the myths about the writer of “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells.”  It’s not entirely clear if some of the other writers took drugs or alcohol to improve their writing or to cope with their troubled lives.

I remain skeptical about using drugs or alcohol as a path to quality writing.  Joanna Penn, whose blog I follow, has written a very thoughtful piece on the subject.  I have to commend author Eric Kuentz for actually conducting an experiment and being willing to share his experience.  His results seem rather mixed and it appears he’s disinclined to recommend the practice to others.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on, or experiences with, this subject.  Please leave a comment.  As for my own experiences, well, my scribing job occasionally takes me to Olympus where I’m sometimes allowed to partake of ambrosia and nectar.  Those are the substances most recommended by—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

November 4, 2012Permalink

Shortcut to Greatness?

When we watch magicians perform, we’re smart enough to know there’s no real magic involved.  We know there’s a perfectly logical trick.  In fact, we’re sure if that magician would only reveal the trick to us, we could do the act too.  Magicians guard each trick with great care so that knowledge of how they do it doesn’t spoil the show.

Think it’s the same with writing?  What if we could beseech a great author to teach us his tricks, reveal the secrets she’s been concealing?  “Make me a best-selling author, too,” we’d say, “I don’t care if it takes all day!”

I’m not a best-selling author (yet), so for all I know they are withholding the secrets from us, hoarding their tricks and special knowledge, unwilling to spill the beans and open themselves up to a little more competition.

If those no-good, stuck-up top shelf authors really are keeping secrets from us, then they’re not only guilty of that, but of lying as well.  Writer after writer has claimed there are no secrets, other than hours and hours of practice.  Writers as diverse as Isaac Asimov, Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, and Tom Clancy all say there are no shortcuts, no simple tricks, and no keyboard sleight-of-hand moves that will make you a great writer.  W. Somerset Maugham said, “there are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  Apparently the number of rules is three, though, so that’s progress.

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell claims the secret to genius-level greatness in any field is a combination of luck and a lot of time spent practicing.  How much time?  Gladwell says around ten thousand hours.  Yes, ten thousand. That’s a lot more than the solid afternoon we were hoping to devote to it.  More like fourteen months, continuously, without sleeping.  If all you can spare is two hours a day for your writing, then you’ll need nearly fourteen years to achieve greatness.

At this point, you may be yearning for some easier path.  What about writing courses, writing conferences, workshops, how-to books, critique groups, and the online versions of these?  I’ll give my perspective, having tried many of them.  I think all of these aids have value, some more than others.  In particular, I believe critique groups have been the most beneficial for me.  However, it’s important to embark on each one with the right attitude, the correct level of expectation.

If you pay for a conference, a how-to book, etc. thinking you’ll emerge out the other end as a pro market author, I suggest you ratchet down your hopes a few settings.  Each of these venues is fine to partake on an occasional basis to learn different viewpoints, refresh knowledge you might have forgotten, etc.  But make you a superstar author?  Doubtful.  Not impossible, just improbable.

There are expenses involved with each of the venues, too.  On the other hand, the long hours of lonely practice are nearly free, except for the amount of time spent.  I urge you not to fall into the trap of thinking that just because the last writing course (or workshop, etc.) you took didn’t result in instant success, surely the next one will.  Now that I think of it, I’ve never heard of a Great Author attributing his or her achievements to a how-to book or a conference, or any of those things.  Many of them do talk about reading a lot, especially reading the classics.  But they all say there is no substitute for writing, writing all the time, writing constantly.

So maybe one day some successful author will take you down a winding staircase into a hidden hideaway, enter the little-known combination into the locks, swing wide the series of creaking vault doors, and open the chest containing the secrets to easy writing greatness.  If you know those secrets, e-mail me here.  Until that day, I suggest practice.  But what do I know?  I’m just…

Poseidon’s Scribe