Special Feature: Author Interview with
by Nikki Baird
Laurence MacNaughton is the author of the Dru Jasper urban fantasy series, starting with Magic Carpet Ride, which is available free at
www.LaurenceMacNaughton.com. He's also the author of Instant Plot: Plan Your Novel the Easy Way, available free at www.FixMyNovel.com.
What's your take on the importance of short stories, especially in the speculative fiction genre? Have they helped you?
Reading short stories turned me into a writer. When I was 12, I discovered the Orbit series of science-fiction anthologies edited by Damon Knight. They were simply mind-blowing. So many possibilities, so much wisdom and wonder packed into just a few pages.
Granted, these were bizarre New Wave stories from the psychedelic sixties, and definitely not appropriate for a small-town choir boy like me. But they were the perfect point of entry into speculative fiction. I can honestly say that if it weren't for those short stories, I probably wouldn't be a full-time writer today.
The incredible thing is that right now there are an absolutely astonishing range of opportunities for writers to get their short stories in front of new readers. So I say: use that to your advantage.
Don't be afraid. Just go for it. Write something new. Something different. Write something true and honest and raw, and get that out into the world where people can read it and get their minds blown. And if you're lucky, you'll find some new readers who will want to check out your other stories.
Our goal at Electric Spec is to help authors advance their writing through short stories. Any advice to offer our readers who are planning to submit short stories?
First, finish what you start. An unfinished story will never get published. So come up with an idea, start writing it, and figure out where you're going with it. Figure out the ending, and shoot for that.
Once you start writing that short story idea, stay with it. Don't let it go cold. Don't over-think it. Just push through until you get to the end. Work on it every day for an hour or two until you're done.
Also crucial: find a group of like-minded writers to critique your work, offer feedback, and bounce around ideas.
Don't get too hung up on any one particular short story. Keep writing them and sending them out. Keep moving forward. Keep learning and growing.
Back in the days before email submissions, every time I checked the mail I found a fistful of rejection letters. I collected more than 1,000 rejection slips (not an exaggeration -- I actually counted them all) before my first short story was published.
That magnitude of rejection can destroy you. Don't let it. Just keep writing, and you'll get there.
For an aspiring writer, is it more important to write a short story or a novel?
Writers should do both. One of the smartest things a writer can do today is offer readers a short story that ties into their book series or standalone novel.
Before you say, "Oh, I can't do a story related to my book," just hear me out. If you take a step back and really look at your novel, I guarantee that you will find a short story idea.
Maybe there's a minor character who could face a conflict on their own. Maybe you could shine a spotlight on some pivotal moment in the main character's history. Maybe there's a guest villain that you could introduce in a short story.
Think of it like a TV episode in the "world of" your novel. Invite readers into that world. Start with trouble walking in the door, and use that opportunity to reveal something new about your characters.
You can also use short stories to test a new idea and see what kind of reception it gets. A few years ago, I was talking to Hugh Howey about a zombie novella he was writing at the time. I asked him if he was going to turn it into a series, and he said that it depended on whether or not people liked it. If there was enough of an audience for the story, he would keep going and write more. If not, he'd move on to the next project.
It Happened One Doomsday has been received well. Tell us about the book and how you came up with the concept.
The funny thing is that Dru and her friends made their first appearances in different unconnected short stories. Dru's original short story grew into a novella, then a full novel, and eventually a book series.
It's about a bookish shop owner who lives in a modern world where powerful sorcerers fight the forces of darkness. She wishes she could be a sorceress, but she's stuck on the fringe, selling magic crystals and potions to the real sorcerers. Then one day this hunky mechanic pulls up in front of her shop in a possessed muscle car. His eyes are glowing red. He's been cursed to transform into a monster. To save him, she needs to discover her own magic powers -- and if she can't, the world will come to a fiery end.
Believe it or not, it's actually a funny book. A lot of laughs, a lot of action.
Library Journal calls it "engaging urban fantasy." Publishers Weekly calls it "fascinating." It's gotten great reviews from RT Book Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist. The Science Fiction Book Club chose it as a featured selection. I'm actually blushing as I write this, because I can't believe that my little book is getting so much attention. I feel extraordinarily privileged to connect with so many readers.
You've got a second Dru adventure coming out soon -- any hints on things to expect?
Terrifying hordes of zombies! :) But not the kind you might expect. These undead creatures are part human, part machine, and part insect -- a crazy, creepy mashup I guarantee you've never seen before.
The first book ends on a cliffhanger, and the second book picks up at that exact moment and carries forward toward a new doomsday threat. Believe it or not, there are a lot of laughs, a little bit of romance, some crazy supernatural car chases. And of course, the same lovable characters.
You've got a rich, magical world hidden just beneath our own with Dru -- with a lot of detail about crystals and geology. Where do you get your inspiration for the magic these crystals can do, and how Dru uses them?
Here in Colorado, you can go into almost any mountain town and find a lapidary or rock shop. I wanted to create a school of magic that no one had ever seen in urban fantasy before, so I based it on real-life metaphysical beliefs in the properties of crystals.
Some people believe, for example, that quartz crystals cleanse your soul. Or that amethyst protects you from psychic attack. Or that halite (rock salt) dissolves patterns of negative energy.
So I thought, what if I take this up to a super-powered level? What if a crystal isn't just something that looks pretty, but something that you could actively use as a defense in battle or a weapon against demons, undead, and other forces of darkness?
The more I looked into it, the more exciting the possibilities became. Now I have a collection of crystals in my office, and I look at them as I write about Dru wielding her crystal magic.
You've also been working on some short stories that build out Dru's world and fill us in more on what her life was like before she meets Greyson. Is it different to write familiar characters in a short story vs. a novel?
Short stories are tough for me to write, and I've always struggled with the short form. I constantly want to go bigger --bigger stakes, bigger cast of characters, bigger story arcs. Most of my novels start out as short story ideas that just keep growing.
But that's okay. As writers, we're creative. You have to go with that.
So if you're struggling to write a novel and don't feel like you're getting anywhere, give yourself permission to take a break and write a short story. At the very least, you'll have the chance to try something new, which can break you out of a rut and give you new perspective.
And in the process, you might discover something new. New characters, a new setting, a different tone or point of view. If it resonates with you, you can take that and build on it.
Who knows what will happen? Anything is possible. Just get out there and write some short stories, and be open to trying something new.
Where can people find you and your books?
Before you jump into my books, why not start with a short story? :) I'll send you one for free. (And, if you're having trouble plotting out a story or book, ask me for a free copy of my ebook Instant Plot: Plan Your Fiction the Easy Way). Visit me online at www.LaurenceMacNaughton.com.