(The F is for Fiona.)
San Gabriel, CA.
Welcome to Vision and Verse, the Place for Art and Authors this morning, Fiona. Tell us a little about yourself. What have you written?
My debut novel is Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of), which will be released May 6th, 2014. It’s a Young Adult Horror-Comedy about a group of teenagers taking a road trip through zombie infested America to rescue a stranded friend, working out their problems with each other and learning to stay sane together.
I’m also co-writing a Young Adult Horror/Sci-fi series, The Prospero Chronicles, with my husband, Matt Carter. The first book, Splinters, will be out fall of 2014. It’s about an invasion by shape-shifting, human-impersonating aliens in a California small town, and about Mina Todd and Ben Pastor, a teenage girl who’s been fighting the aliens all her life and a boy she recruits from the outside to help her. At the heart of it, it’s about the two of them trying to find a way to build trust and friendship so they can fight back together, even while surrounded by aliens who look like people they know.
I have a few short stories out in anthologies as well, all listed on my website under the Books tab.
What is your favorite genre to write?
I’m a speculative YA type. I love writing for and about teenagers, because fiction is all about exploring different parts of human feeling, and feelings are so intense and concentrated during the teen years, partly because that’s when we feel a lot of things for the first time.
I love Horror, again for its intensity and the freedom it offers to explore the darkest, most mysterious corners of the psyche. And I’m a writer because I’m really a big kid playing imagination games, so as long as I’m free to take it to some messed up places now and then, I also love to play with Sci-Fi and a little Fantasy.
Chocolate is the one I can’t live without, but sharp cheddar and pineapple both spring readily to mind. Not all together, though.
Where would you like to visit?
London. So many landmarks related to my favorite books and authors all in one place!
Favorite musical artist. Do you listen to music when you write? What?
I do, and I have pretty eclectic tastes, everything from pop to metal to Broadway and opera. What I listen to while I write depends a lot on what I’m writing, but my favorite band, both overall and for writing, is Rise Against. So many of their songs feel like a montage of tiny glimpses of an epic waiting to be written. While writing The Prospero Chronicles, I also listen to a lot of P!nk and Kelly Clarkson because they fit Mina so well. Particularly “Please Don’t Leave Me” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” I play those on repeat for her a lot, and when I’m thinking about the final book, it’s all about Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.”
What makes you laugh?
Too many things. I like high brow and low brow, intentional and unintentional comedy. I was raised on British comedy, so that’s definitely a strong influence on my sensibilities, but the entirety of my sense of humor is a bizarre, unquantifiable jumble that probably only makes sense to my similarly odd husband and me. We do our best to use our shared jumble to amuse as many other people as possible.
How old were you when you started writing?
As soon as it could be called writing. Childhood imagination flowed right into storytelling for me. Some of my earliest memories are of a reading circle my parents used to take me to. I was about three when I started making up stories to tell instead of just reading them, and I started learning to type them up when I was about six or seven.
I’ve written compulsively my whole life, disjointed scenes, short stories, poetry, a couple of unreadable short novels. For most of that time, I was also studying theater and dabbling in music. I knew I would be a storyteller of one kind or another. I was about seventeen or eighteen when I finally knew that writing fiction would be my one lifelong career pursuit, right around the time when my work was just starting to verge on shareable quality. Writing takes a lot of practice!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. Everything I do, see, read, hear, and feel goes into a mental vault for later use.
Coming up with that first beginning of an idea and its basic framework is one of the harder parts for me. Usually, new story ideas coalesce from the vault at random when I’m not trying, or come out of conversations about various storytelling tropes with my husband. When I’m stuck for an idea, I often pick a type of story I’ve always wanted to try, say, a cop drama or a psychological whodunit, and then mix it with some different window dressing from the norm and the YA dark speculative style I love, to make it into something unexpected.
Then comes the part where I feel really inspired, when I really get to crack into the vault and apply those thoughts and feelings to the basic outlines of the characters and scenes I’ve figured out I’m going to need, and bring them to life in the details.
What do you do when you get a writer's block?
I make a cup of coffee and listen to one or two songs that inspire me while drinking it, not doing anything else or actively thinking about writing. If that doesn’t clear it up, I give up for the day and work on something else, like my blog. If the block is seriously bothering me, I get drunk and play Guitar Hero. That’s about as close as I can get to completely unplugging and rebooting the writing part of my brain.
If the block lasts multiple days, it’s time to rethink the piece I’m working on entirely. A multi-day block usually means there’s something wrong with the next part of my outline, or possibly with the concept itself if it’s in the early stages of development. I try to pinpoint what it is that I don’t like about what I’m supposed to write next and start brainstorming completely different ways to progress the story to the next point I like about it.
Who is your favorite author?
J.K. Rowling. She created my childhood and the core of my passion for fiction.
Best book you ever read.
I count the Harry Potter series as a single story, so I could never pick one book over the others. All together, they’re my favorite, but if I had to pick a standalone, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion comes to mind.
Who is the one person who has influenced your personal life the most and why?
My husband is the one who introduced me to Horror and who expanded my sense of humor beyond the British Isles. Brainstorming, cowriting, and co-critiquing with him have made me the author I am. Not to mention all his support in the many, many moments of self doubt.
If you could sit down and have a conversation with ONE person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
Mary Shelley. The woman who invented modern dark Sci-Fi in 1818 when she was twenty years old. How could she not be awesome to talk shop with?
What advice would you give someone who aspired to be a writer?
Do your homework. Read constantly, in your genre and out of your genre, and read about writing, publishing and marketing. Write, even when you’re not sure what to write about. Write about anything, and practice spotting your own problems, taking notes from critique partners, and revising. Every bit of practice is valuable, whether it produces a publishable product or not.
Naturally, be sure to follow the guidelines when submitting to agents and publishers, and if you’re serious about this, don’t ever give up. It’s a long, difficult process. Good luck!
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Cover on website at http://fjrtitchenell.weebly.com/books.html