Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Inspiration Interview #5: Award-Winning Untreed Reads Author K. G. McAbee

Next up on the virtual interview stage is Untreed Reads Author K. G. McAbee.  K. G. has had two published short stories through Untreed Reads ("Keep Your Friends Close" and "BLZ"), and an upcoming "Steampunk" series, soon to be published in eBook form through Untreed Reads as well.  K. G. talks about her inspirations for her most recent short story "Keep Your Friends Close", and also talks about her upcoming ventures, and answers the question:  "What the heck is Steampunk, anyway?"

And, as a special treat, K. G. provides a short excerpt from her upcoming Steampunk series "Bold As Brass", titled "Lady Abigail and the Audacious Aeronaut"!

Welcome...K. G. McAbee!

The Accidental Author: As has been the theme throughout the first part of the year in my “Inspiration to Publication” series of interviews, this interview will focus strongly on Inspiration. After reading your short story, “Keep Your Friends Close”, I was struck by a similarity to some of H. P. Lovecraft's short stories. Who would you say are your predominant literary influences?

K. G. McAbee: I have so many! As a child, I could not wait to learn to read. I was just dazzled by the process; it seemed so magical to be able to look at lines and squiggles on a page and turn them into adventures. Then, when I learned to read, I couldn’t—and have never been able to—stop. I read Jules Verne—in the fourth grade, which startled my teacher, I can tell you. Then I stumbled upon Heinlein’s juveniles, and Andre Norton; both enormously influenced me. I like their crisp, clear style and vivid imagery; perfect for younger readers. A friend turned me onto the Doc Savage reprints, which got me interested in pulp fiction of the 20s and 30s, which lead to Robert E. Howard and our mutual friend, HPL. That whole pulp era fascinates me! I’ve written pastiches of Howard and Lovecraft, and my e-reader is full of old Astoundings, which are free at Project Gutenberg, in case my fellow geeks didn’t already know. Other influences are Asimov, Roger Zelazny, Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian’s historicals; honestly, my list is enormous! And Stan Lee and Roy Thomas; I firmly believe they are demi-gods and I worship at their feet.

AA: Is the fact that you use two initials in any way an homage to good ol' H. P. Lovecraft, or merely coincidental?

KGM: I never really thought about that, but I’m stealing your brilliant idea henceforth. ‘Yep, the K.G., it’s an homage to HPL, that’s what it is, uh huh.” Actually, the K and G are just my initials and, if anything, I stole the idea from C.L. Moore, brilliant writer of the Northwest Smith series and Jirel of Joiry—another pulp writer. I believe she decided to use just initials because she thought a woman wouldn’t be acceptable as a writer of adventure pulp. Hah, is my response; likewise bah. As if gender has anything to do with good writing.

AA: With “Keep Your Friends Close”, you present a gothic tale with a delicious twist at the end. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for this plot (without giving away the twist at the end)?

KGM: I never really know where my inspirations come from, other than the bubbling fetid swampy morass which must be my subconscious. Someone in a writing class I was teaching once asked me if he should ‘write what I know’? I told him, if that were true, then according to my last few stories, I am intimately acquainted with giant squids, werewolves, black holes, carnivorous college students, brain-eating worms and Beelzebub. Most of my stories begin with images or characters, then I toss them on the page and see what they get up to. Sometimes I have an ending in view, sometimes not. Sometimes stories sit for a while, then I get a blazing ‘ah hah!’ moment and discover what I need to finish them. Sometimes a story presents itself fully formed, like Minerva from the head of Zeus. Who can really understand the creative process? And I’m not sure I want to; I’m superstitiously afraid to enquire, to be honest.

AA: One of the things that struck me about your short story is, in the span of 12 pages, you were able to create such an interesting dynamic among the major players in the plot. What are some of the major challenges you face in creating such vivid characters and relationships?

KGM: I think every story, every novel, every movie, comic, TV show, all rest solidly on character. Plot’s nice, setting’s cool, but the people are what we love and come back to visit again and again. It’s important—no, it’s vital—for the reader to be able to see how each and every character feels about each other and how they regard themselves. But, naturally, sometimes what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. I like the phrase ‘lying for a living’ to describe a writer, but really, we all lie to a greater or lesser degree, and not just to others but, even more, to ourselves. These layers upon layers of lies, and the process of untangling them, are what drive my writing, I think. ‘I love you’ really means sometimes, ‘I love me and you make me realize that’. So what happens when this falls apart? What happens when the blinders are removed and we really see ourselves, or someone else, for the first time ever? Stories. That’s what.
AA: Another thing I found particularly fascinating about your story is that each of the four major characters spent some time wearing the “antagonist” hat. Was this planned, or did the characters take on lives of their own?

KGM: I always seem to prefer the villain to the hero, I’m afraid. And I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make it unclear who was hero, who was villain, who was good, who was bad, and keep it up throughout a story. That said, I don’t really believe in clichéd evil-with-a-capital-E-villains. I like to have ‘villains’ who do bad things for good reasons, or reasons they think are good, anyway. And I like my ‘heroes’ to be forced to make hard choices; sometimes they have to choose the lesser of two evils. But who decides which evil is lesser, and what does that decision do to the one who has to make it?

AA: I have heard it through the grapevine that you will be publishing a series of Steampunk works through Untreed Reads. For those readers that aren't aware of what Steampunk is, could you enlighten them?

KGM: Yay! Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to coerce, er, convince Jay Hartman, brilliant editor of Untreed Reads and all around gentleman full of fabulousness, to accept a series of my steampunk short stories. Steampunk as a genre has been around for a long time: think Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Luis Senarens, who was often called ‘the American Verne’. But the genre didn’t receive its present name until 1987, when J.W. Jeter, author of MORLOCK NIGHTS, coined the term ‘steampunk’ in a letter to Locus magazine. Steampunk is science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction/alternate history set in the actual or some kind of quasi-Victorian era. Steam is the primary motive force instead of electricity, and travel, even interplanetary travel, is by airships or other lighter-than-air craft. There are a lot of interesting aspects of steampunk writing and the steampunk trend in general: clothing and jewelry and weaponry and such.

My steampunk series for Untreed Reads is called BOLD AS BRASS: The adventures of Lady Abigail Moran, thief and airship pilot, as told by her partner in crime, Simon Thorne Esquire. If you’ve ever read any of E. W. Hornung’s A.J. Raffles stories—who was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law, thus proving life is always stranger than fiction—about a ‘gentleman cracksman’ or thief, then that’s the feeling I’m going for. I just really appreciate Jay Hartman’s trust in me!

Let me share another bit of exciting news. My co-writer Cynthia D. Witherspoon and I—we write as Cynthia Gael—have just signed a contract with Carina Press, an e-division of Harlequin, for—you guessed it!—a steampunk series of novellas. The first is projected to be a fall 2011 release.

AA: Can you give us a tiny taste of the first planned release?

KGM: Sure! Here’s a smidgeon of one of the early stories in my BOLD AS BRASS series from Untreed Reads, ‘Lady Abigail and the Audacious Aeronaut’:

Ah, the Ascot Races! What true Englishman can keep the thrill from his soul, the pride from his heart, the joy from the very innermost depths of his being, when he but observes the crowds of rich and well dressed beings who inhabit this most ostentatious, not to say pretentious, event each year?
Well, Lady Abigail Moran for one.
“Simon, you know quite well how much I despise going to Ascot!”
We were in the cellar of our landlady’s house in Chelsea, in a small clear spot surrounded by veritable mountains of coals. Abigail had a most fetching smudge of inky dust on her aristocratic nose and her hands were absolutely filthy. I was not in much better condition, being rather dirty about the hands, while the knees of my flannel trousers—fortunately, an ancient pair kept for this very purpose—were beyond description.
Do not think, pray, that we scrounged in piles of coal as an amusement. The horror! We did, however, utilize certain secret cubbyholes in said cellar for our own purposes; to wit, we had a hiding place for certain valuables which we had not yet had time to dispose of. Our line of business, if you will, is relief. We relieve others far richer than ourselves of certain unneeded bits and bobs, chiefly jewelry, gold watches and such. We have been known to go for bigger game, mind you. Once there was this enormous painting of a plump lady with rather less on than was suitable for one of her obvious years and position in society—but that is a story for a different time. Let us return to our dank, dark and dusty cellar.

AA: What types of things get you in the mood to be creative? Music? People around you? Peace and quiet?

KGM: No noise, please, and definitely no music! Dogs, of course, are a strict necessity, however. I live in a 200-year-old log cabin surrounded by woods, near a tiny former mill town in upstate South Carolina. So the exterior quiet is pretty much a given, barring the occasional deer munching on my tomato plants. Also, I’m pretty much a butt in chair, hands on keyboard type, meaning inspiration isn’t a prerequisite for writing. My main problem is finding enough time to lock myself away in my office. Luckily, I’m really good at sitting and staring at a monitor; it has been suggested by some that this is my major skill in life. So, total silence…then I get bored quickly and start writing in self-defense.

AA: What types of books/stories do you enjoy reading?

KGM: It often depends on what I’m writing at the time. I read a lot of history and biography; I’m into the Victorian Age, hence my love of steampunk, but I also like to read about the Elizabethans and the English Civil War and the Napoleonic Wars and—well, lots of history. I am passionate about fantasy and science fiction, and I love urban paranormals, like the Dresden Files and Mike Carey’s series about Fix Castor, who’s an English ghostbuster of sorts. And I love mysteries! The classics: Stout and Sayers and Allingham, and then Elizabeth Peters and Laurie King and P.D. James. And horror! And thrillers! And and and and…

AA: What are you reading right now?

KGM: Book three in Mike Carey’s series, DEAD MEN’S BOOTS. I’m rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s FLASHMAN series, all of which are both hilarious and full of wonderful nuggets of yummy history. And a book about the British Raj in India called SOLDIER SAHIBS, not entirely because my next book is set in India but because I’ve always been fascinated by Victorian adventurers. Sir Richard Francis Burton is one of my idols.

AA: Finally, what one piece of advice would you offer to the fledgling authors out there right now who are thinking about jumping off the ledge of “writing for fun” into the abyss of “writing for fun and profit”?

KGM: The same thing I tell my writing students, “To be a successful writer is really simple; all you need to know are four words: Read. Write. Submit. Repeat.” You cannot separate the four; you have to do them all, all the time. But just look at what’s involved in those four simple words—enough to keep you busy for a dozen lifetimes! And of course, you have to be able to accept rejection, take anything valuable from it, and move on. So. Read. Write. Submit. Repeat. Go thou and do likewise. 

K. G. McAbee writes steampunk, fantasy, horror, science fiction, pulp, paranormal, gothic and Young Adult Fiction, and has had more than a dozen books and nearly seventy short stories published.  Her work has won a variety of awards, including the Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence from Reviewers International, the Independent E-Book Award for Best Reference Book, and the Dream Realm Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy.  She is also a Derringer Award finalist in mystery.

K. G. lives in upstate South Carolina in a haunted log cabin with her gorgeous husband and two black labs, all three of whom she lives to madly spoil.

For more information, please visit her website at:  http://kgmcabee.com or email here at kgmcabee@gmail.com.

You can also find her works through Untreed Reads available here.