Bookwyrms, I have a very special surprise for you! Six of the authors of JL’s newest anthology, Tales of Forgotten Creatures, have stopped by to talk about this new release, as well as their approach to writing the stories found within!
You might remember my news a while back when I announced that my short story, “The Boy with Black Eyes,” appeared in The Magic Within, JL’s eighth anthology, back in 2019. I love JL’s anthologies; each one is packed full of amazing stories, and every author is an admirable writer. I’m so happy and honored to host this interview with Heather Hayden, Hanna Day, Kristy Perkins, Matthew Dewar, Renee Harvey, and Julian Elliot.
Rachel: Hi, everyone! I’m so glad to have you all here and sharing about your project. Your story will appear in the newest JL Anthology in October. That’s so exciting! How did you come up with the idea for your story?
Heather Hayden (“The Reluctant Banshee”): When I started looking into supernatural creatures, I knew I wanted something that would fit into the world of my short story series, Moonlit Fairy Tales. The legend of the banshee has always fascinated me, but although I’ve read a few stories in which they featured prominently, I’d never actually written one myself. I decided she would be the star of the story and started delving into the myths surrounding banshee kind.
Hanna Day (“Salt and Garlic”): I’m biracial–Filipino and Caucasian. I’ve explored the Caucasian side of my family’s history and culture in my writing (we can trace our family back to the Mayflower, American Revolution, and the Civil War) because I find the history endlessly fascinating, but what is also fascinating is Filipino culture and mythology. Of course, I’ve been told children’s stories about Filipino creatures by my mom and other Filipino relatives, though my real first reading experience of Filipinio monsters came in a children’s book Even More Short & Shivery: Forty-Five Spine-Tingling Tales retold by Robert D. San Souci in the story “The Berbalangs.” While they are not the Manananggals (pronunciation) I explore in my story, they are of the same kind of “aswang” commonly labeled in the category of “viscera suckers” in lower Philippine mythology. Essentially, they are the Filipino version of the well-known vampire, with the exception of being mostly female and going after pregnant women. “Salt and Garlic” is one of my few forays into exploring and understanding my family’s culture by digging deeper into the lore. I find the monster fascinating because the very idea of a woman vampire who is not only a day-walker, but also a viscera eater gives it a unique edge that I haven’t seen explored much in American horror literature. My mom gave me the idea for the title–when I told her she reminded me to use “salt and garlic” to kill off the monster. The very idea of the Manananggal allows deep thought and discussion into the history of Filipino culture. It’s not just a vampire–it’s the product of pre-colonial beliefs and postcolonial influences, and exploring the monster is also exploring what it means to be Filipino.
Kristy Perkins (“Dave’s Labyrinth”): With the theme set as “supernatural beings/monsters,” I drew a bit of a blank at first. Not usually my kind of thing! I knew I didn’t want to fall back on the more typical monsters I knew, like a werewolf or a vampire, and I already wrote a story about a dragon (my favorite kind of critter!). I also knew I wanted humor. Somehow, all of that plus an interest in Greek mythology landed me on retelling the Minotaur myth from a sillier perspective.
Matthew Dewar (“Stone Hearts Love the Strongest”): The theme was ‘supernatural creatures,’ and I spent weeks trying to decide what to write about. I had so many ideas but I simply didn’t love any of them. In my research, I stumbled upon the story of La Gargouille and St. Romanus and immediately I knew I wanted to write a story about that.
Renee Harvey (“Pot of Gold”): It is exciting! I’ve wanted to tell this story for a few years, now, but it didn’t work out to include it in one of the previous anthologies; I’m glad I had this opportunity to write it.
Mitch’s story came from the idea of a supernatural being living among humans and having to hide his identity (cliché, I know). The difference here being that even the audience thinks he’s just another human out to protect what’s rightfully his until the final reveal. Turns out we’ve been rooting for the “enemy” the entire time!
Julian Elliot (“The Nine Tails of Akio”): I realized many of my short stories within the Just-Us League anthologies were of Japanese origin. To celebrate the 10th volume, I wanted to keep to my tradition and researched Japanese mythology. I quickly fell in love with the kitsune, a heavenly nine-tailed fox!
Rachel: Has the writing process for this story changed you as a writer?
Heather: My writing process wasn’t any different than I usually do for a short story, but the story itself definitely was! Romance isn’t a genre I typically read or write, so when Bronagh’s tale started to unfold as one, I felt a bit out of my depth. However, the heart of the story is her learning to accept herself, and working with that theme really helped me develop the narrative—and the romance—organically.
Hanna: I don’t normally write many stories focusing on Filipino culture and identity. As a biracial person, the idea of identity becomes even more complicated and somewhat of a struggle, and incorporating that into the story made it very personal. Figuring out a way to make non-Filipino readers understand what the Manananggal is along with incorporating bits of the culture without being too overbearing was difficult. I grew up thinking certain Tagalog words were English or typical slang because they were said so often around me. Blending American and Filipino culture in a way that is enjoyable for many people was difficult, but taught me a lot about how to introduce a culture to a new audience.
Kristy: This story? Not particularly. It’s more the anthologies in general. This is the seventh one I’ve participated in. Each time I think it’ll get easier and the story will come together more cleanly, but it actually got harder! I expected more from myself, and attempted what for me were trickier plots and characterizations. It showed me that I can push myself, and looking back at that first story, I can definitely say I’ve improved as a writer. Not to mention the invaluable experience with the publishing process, that will definitely come in handy when I go to publish a novel.
Matthew: Every time I write something, whether it’s a new novel or a short story, I feel like I change as a writer. With “Heart of Stone,” the story is written almost like a point of view within a point of view. It’s a story about Sarah as seen through the eyes of a gargoyle. Playing around with that was fun and definitely helped improve some of my skills.
Renee: This is the first time I’ve done a male perspective in a short story, unlike my work in my novels. It’s also the first time I’ve published a crass character. Mitch isn’t charming or particularly kind. He has a myriad of faults, yet we still want to find out if he’ll win in the end. This kind of story has given me confidence in my novel writing, as I have rougher characters to write but a nervousness about sharing their stories. If Mitch can have his story told, so can the others.
Julian: I believe it has a little bit! Sometimes I feel that writing a re-telling can be more challenging than writing an original story. This exercise opened my mind on how to tackle this project. For example, I used to be more of a “pantser”, but “planning’ helped me organize my thoughts better. Ultimately, I feel that an author’s writing process is always evolving!
Rachel: Have you ever come up against the ever-dreaded Writer’s Block? How did you conquer the beast?
Heather: I have indeed! My usual method for dealing with it is to work on a different project or even just step away for a bit and do something else. I see writer’s block less as a block and more of my subconscious saying “You don’t have this figured out yet, come back later.” So that’s what I do. I always have plenty of projects going on, so it’s easy enough to shift around.
Hanna: Reading a variety of non-fiction topics and watching documentaries helps me think outside of the box and get rid of Writer’s Block. For this story in particular, I watched The Aswang Phenomenon and read The Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology for ideas on exploring the mythology within my story.
Kristy: All the time! Spend too much energy on writing? Block. Skip for a day? Block. Didn’t outline? Block. Too much outline (and now I have to go off script)? Block. My muse is always looking for a day off. There are two things that really help me deal with it. First, to examine where the block is coming from. Is this my brain being distracted, or am I legitimately out of creative energy? Not recognizing the latter has cost me, and I try to be careful to give myself a rest every now and again. No one wants a burnout! And second, I try to find something else to do. Skip to a later chapter in the book, work on character sheets, or just plain write something self indulgent that no one will ever see. Half the time, I end up finding my way around the block just by thinking about something else. And if I don’t, I still got something done. At that point, if the original problem is still stuck, I’ll just bull my way through and push myself to write until it’s done with.
Matthew: Yes, writer’s block and I are long-time adversaries. For me, a hike in nature often works quite well to become inspired once more. Alternatively, having a long soak in a nice hot bath is always quite good for me. I spend far too much money at Lush and like working my way through their catalogue of bath bombs!
Renee: Of course! Usually the answer is BICHOK—butt in chair, hands on keyboard—for 15 minutes at a time until I break through. I love revisions, but I can’t edit what isn’t written in the first place. The mistakes that crop up from just bullying my way through a particularly difficult chapter can be fixed later.
Julian: I am actually in quite a drought with my writing in 2020. It took me quite a long time to even select the myth I would be re-writing. However, my wonderful writer’s group (Just-Us League!) supported me throughout the entire process, and they were the ones who got me through my writer’s block.
Rachel: Tell us about your time working with JL. Is it a pleasant community?
Heather: The Just-Us League is an amazing community of like-minded writers who support and encourage each other in writing and in life. We’re more like a family in some ways than simply a writers’ group, even though many of us have never met in person. I love seeing everyone’s abilities develop and grow as we work on group and personal projects, and I enjoy celebrating achievements as we reach and exceed them. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without their help.
Hanna: I joined the Just-Us League around 2016, just a few months after I joined Scribophile. I love working with this group of like-minded and hardworking writers. I enjoy the dedication and willingness to help others to improve their craft.
Kristy: It’s an amazing community! I love being in JL. The writers here are so supportive, and compassionate, and so much fun to be around! I consider myself incredibly lucky to be part of such a fantastic group.
Matthew: JL is a great online community of writers. I can honestly say that if I didn’t find a good group of writers to help me hone my skills and be a sounding board for my ideas, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today. One bit of advice I have for any writer is to find a group of writers, online or in real life, to work with and bounce ideas off.
Renee: The JL is an awesome group! They showed me that there’s plenty of level-headed, supportive writers in the world, and they’ve become my good friends from around the world.
Julian: It absolutely is! I don’t think I would be a published author without them! This group is filled with members who offer genuine critiques on my drafts, but that is only scratching the surface. We support each other as human beings as well- and I value my JL family very much!
Rachel: What are your hobbies besides writing?
Heather: I love reading, of course! Fantasy and science fiction are my favorite genres, although I’ll occasionally branch out into mysteries. I also enjoy gaming, and currently I’m working my way through the various expansions of the incredibly well-written Final Fantasy XIV. I play Pokemon Go as well—it’s a great way to get some exercise (plus, I have a love of shiny things).
Hanna: While I haven’t been able to go hiking and camping because of lockdown and wildfires, I like spending time in the big outdoors. I also play tennis and like to dabble in artwork, which I post on my Instagram.
Kristy: I like knitting and crocheting. Right now I’m working on a lace baby blanket, and also a bunch of little Star Wars amigurumi figures (those are the cute ones with the big eyes). The latter is actually more challenging because it’s not something I’ve done as much.
Matthew: I love going to the gym and doing exercise classes. I’ve recently gotten back into swimming and I’ve been really enjoying that. I have two dogs that keep need constant attention, so often when I should be writing I’m also playing a game of fetch or giving a dog a scratch behind the ears. I also love day trips and going on adventures. I live in Western Australia and we are so lucky over here. There’s always something to do.
Renee: Genealogy. One of the best compliments I’ve received was after I revealed my passion for it: “Ah, you’re an old soul!”
Also hiking and travelling in general. I love being out in the fresh air and I love standing in the middle of the rich heritage that embodies a place. Especially if that place has cobblestone roads and hand-carved architecture.
Julian: My original love was drawing. When I was in high school, I dreamt of becoming a graphic novelist (before Marvel exploded into theaters and comics became cool again). I also enjoy running and hiking. Being outdoors refreshes my creative think tank!
Rachel: What other projects have you worked on? Anything new in the works?
Heather: I’ve published one YA science fiction novel, Augment, as well as nine other short stories in the previous JL anthologies. A number of the short stories are set in the same world as “The Reluctant Banshee.” My current project is Upgrade, the sequel to Augment, which is in the final proofing stage and will release later this fall.
Hanna: I’ve been involved in two other JLA anthologies (numbers here). I’m also working on my epic fantasy novel The Hymns of Creation and an upcoming serial novel called The Monsters in the Mall. The Monsters in the Mall is the story of five people who are quarantined inside a megamall when monsters attack, and how they escape the mall and also the demons within themselves. The Hymns of Creation is a high fantasy flintlock story about a group of people who learn that they must restore an ancient magic at a deadly cost.
Kristy: I’m pretty good at writing first drafts, but not so good at editing. So I’ve got over a dozen manuscripts, but only four that I’ve edited beyond the first draft. I’m getting better, though. My newest project is a science fantasy series that I’ve been playing around with for a while. Right now I’m planning it out and designing the world so that I can build the story properly. I’m excited for it! But it’s definitely not ready to be a novel yet.
Matthew: I’ve been working on my novels recently. I have a YA novel I’m trying to get published at the moment. While that book is doing the rounds with agents and publishers, I’m working on my next project which is a MG book featuring an Australian monster!
Renee: I’ve published four other stories with the JL, and they’re in the process of being published as stand-alones, available on Amazon. Links to them are at reneeharveybooks.wordpress.com. One was a continuation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Another was a mash-up of Rapunzel and The Frog Princess. The third was inspired by the haunting stories coming out of the Bermuda Triangle and is based on actual events. The fourth celebrates childhood magic, inspired by relatives very close to my heart.
My newest work will be available this Thanksgiving: an historical fiction, LDS novel called As the Wind Blows, which is set in medieval France and Italy. It’s the first in a series of six novels, with the next two slated for publishing in the next couple of years (Refiner’s Fire and Justice and Judgements). I’ll be writing Book 4, Ye are Free, for NaNoWriMo this year. Watch my website and Facebook page (@PRHarvey6) for further details.
Julian: I have most recently completed my fantasy trilogy with Silver Leaf Books. I was supposed to work on novel number four this year, but experienced that “writer’s drought” I mentioned earlier. My plan of attack? Well, November IS NaNoWriMo! (National Novel Writing Month).
Rachel: And now, for the most important question: If you could be any supernatural being in the world, what would you choose to be?
Heather: Not a banshee, that’s for sure! If I had to pick, I wouldn’t mind being a shapeshifter. It’s like having multiple options all rolled into one! Being a dragon or unicorn might be cool, too, although I would insist on having the magical ability to turn book pages so I can still read.
Hanna: I definitely won’t want to be a manananggal! But, if I had to pick one from any country, I’ve always been a fan of the Selkie from Scottish/Irish mythology. The idea of being able to swim in the sea and also turn back into a human sounds like fun!
Kristy: Dragon. Definitely a dragon. Flying, fire breath, tough skin, shiny things.
Matthew: Good question! I’m going to go for a shapeshifter. I like the idea of being able to live a double life as a human and whatever I can turn into. Hopefully I can shift into something cool, but knowing my luck it’d end up being something mundane!
Renee: Oh. Would now be a good time to mention how badly I struggle with magic and the imagination that comes with it? Selkies are bound by too many laws, sirens are rude, unicorns are too precious and hunted, and werewolves are too chained by the nature of their existence…
I’ll go with leprechaun. I’d struggle with the magic, but they’re a naturally private, law-abiding folk that I can get along with.
Julian: A dragon hands down. Not only is that my animal from the Chinese zodiac- but I always fancied being a powerful, badass creature that can fly and blow fire. There is a lot of mystery to the dragon too, preferring to isolate itself. I may not be into total isolation, but I am an introvert! It may be a cliche answer, but I always held the dragon near and dear to my heart!
THANK YOU to our seven guests for taking the time to have this fun discussion! If you want to know more about Heather, Hanna, Kristy, Matthew, Renee, and Julian, check out their websites and social media — and pick up Tales of Forgotten Creatures when it comes out on October 31, 2020!
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash