Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Elizabeth Donald's Missives from Schnectady

Upon first meeting, Elizabeth Donald is an enigma. To meet her, you'd never imagine all the darkness that seeps from her brain to her books. But darkness is indeed her friend, and thanks to that kinship she's had quite a run of truly creepy tales -- and a new one just released. But why not let her tell you all about it.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Seventh Star Press has just released a compendium of my vampire series, all three novels in one volume titled Nocturne Infernum. It’s a delight to see my toothsome vamps back in action, and so much fun to revisit those books in the process of getting this release together. Part One, Nocturnal Urges, was my first published novel back in the dim dark years of 2004 when ebooks were a mystery. My vampires live in an alternate world inspired by the Jim Crow laws of the 1920s, where they are treated as second-class citizens without the rights of full humans – and they’re pretty pissed off about it. It’s the story that launched my career, and I hope readers enjoy it as much in its second round as they did a decade ago. Particularly since I’ve got a few ideas for more stories…

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

It depends who you ask! If you asked my fans or even my husband, they’d say grueling misery and misfortune. I usually respond, “Well, I am a horror writer.” If all my stories ended happily with people riding off into the sunset, I’d have to pick another genre! It’s hard for any writer to analyze her own work with success, because we can never be objective about anything as personal as our writing. But if I had to pick a theme, it would be, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Whether it’s love, freedom, friendship, safety, happiness or life itself, we take things for granted until we are threatened with losing them. And sometimes, in those moments of crisis, we find out who we really are.

That, and things that go chomp in the night. I really like those.

What would be your dream project?

There’s a story that lives in the trunk, and it bugs me. I wrote the first draft when I was all of seventeen years old, and it was wretched. In college, I rewrote it, velo-bound copies at Kinko’s and gave them to my friends for Christmas. It was still wretched, but now there was physical evidence – and some of those bastards still have those copies. They stubbornly refuse to burn them.

But that world – the Sanctuary universe – still loiters in the back of my mind. I’ve written a handful of short stories set in that post-apocalypse, the human race’s scrabble for survival after an alien invasion. But that original novel and the characters it birthed still want to live. I’ve made a few stabs at fixing it up over the years, and the problem is… I’m not good enough yet. Not for that one. I think every writer has that idea that you just know will be amazing, as soon as you have enough skill at the craft to pull it off. We’re all works in progress.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

My first response would be, “I wouldn’t have killed off so many people in The Cold Ones!” That zombie novella was supposed to be a standalone, and the body count was pretty high. But it was delightful fun, and surprised everyone – including the publisher and me! – by selling out its print run in 48 hours. Next thing I know it’s a trilogy, and I still kick myself for not saving a few people from that first book. Oh well, it’s a zombie world, right? Nobody dies forever!

What inspires you to write?

This is right up there with, “Where do you get your ideas?” I get that one from time to time, and I steal Harlan Ellison’s answer: “Schenectady.” Ellison complains that no author can answer that question, and so he tells people that he orders his inspiration in six-packs from an idea service in Schenectady. And just like Ellison, someone always thinks I’m telling the truth.

The question really isn’t what inspires me to write. The question is, why don’t you? I believe everyone has that spark of imagination, everyone gets little ideas and flashes of creative inspiration all the time. It comes in the shower, while stuck in traffic, in those last few minutes when you’re drifting off to sleep. The only difference between the rest of the world and the writers is that writers do something with those little flashes of inspiration. We wrestle them into submission and make them dance for your entertainment. We have to, or else they’ll drive us crazy. I’m no different than anyone else; I just stay up later making my ideas dance.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

When I was a girl, I stole my mother’s Stephen King hardbacks and read them under the covers. I was “too young” to read them, so I left the dust jackets in their places on the shelves so she wouldn’t notice they were missing. (Hi Mom! Love ya.) I was long ready to leave behind Lois Duncan and Nancy Drew, and King drew me into the shadows. It’s fair to say King was a huge influence, both with his clear, direct prose and his focus on writing about People Like Us. He wrote about teachers and teenagers, mill workers and shopkeepers: normal people, faced with abnormal things that represented the common ordinary fears that we all have. I aspired to write something that clear, that reached people in their hearts and made them afraid of the dark.

Later I discovered other giants like Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison and Peter David; I can only aspire to Ellison’s gift with words. But for me, it all began with King.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

 I don’t know that there is a true dividing line between art and science. Writing is a craft, and like any craft it’s one that requires equal measures of talent and discipline to hone. Certainly there are those who treat it as something nearly mystical that floats about in the ether until it chooses to be born; others who see it as laying pipe, step by step instructions churning out words on an assembly line. I cannot find fault with either approach or anywhere else on the spectrum, because every author needs to find his or her own path and use the techniques found to be most effective.

As for me, I appreciate those little missives from Schnectady, and I am getting better at catching them before they flit away.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

 I have a short story collection titled Moonlight Sonata that will be coming out later this year. Some of the stories have appeared in various magazines or as standalone novellas, and others have never appeared anywhere – including a few set in my existing universes. I really hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.