Guess what! We are interviewing one of the ASF Short Story Contest winners! Today we have the privilege of getting to know …
To keep you entertained and make sure our interview is fresh, we made sure to steer the conversation to the unusual and helpful. Hope you enjoy!
R: Oh Audrey! You’ve waited so patiently for this day, and I’m beyond grateful! Thanks for taking the time to come for this interview. We’re really looking forward to getting to know you better.
FYI y’all, Audrey’s story, “Blue Rose” won 3rd place in the contest!
Let’s dive right in with an awkward-but-fun question! Which word or phrase do you most overuse? If you could mix it up a little, what would you say in its place?
AD: I’m editing my latest novel right now, and as with my previous ones, I’m deleting a lot of commas. I admit to using commas by feel rather than by rule, so I tend to overuse them. MS Word’s blue squiggle alerts me to many of the redundant ones, although there are times when I disagree with the squiggle and leave the comma in place. I also overuse minimizing qualifiers like “sort of,” “somewhat,” and “slightly.” Some declarative statements feel too declarative, so I insert waffle words as padding. Now that I’m aware of these habits, I can look out for them, even at the first draft stage. It’s the ones I’m blissfully unaware of that are the problem.
R: Ha! Oh so true. It’s amazing what flies under the radar. I know as a writer I can certainly identify. I have a dislike of commas and often wish to make them disappear except in the rarest of situations. Maybe it’s not the commas that are the problem, though. Maybe it’s the rules that dictate when and where to use them that I dislike so passionately…. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’d love it if you shared a favorite line or two from your most recent published novel. Tell us a little about it.
AD: My last published novel is Hunting the Phoenix (2012). It’s the fourth and final book of the Herbert West series. Each book has a different narrator, and for this one it’s Alma Halsey. She’s a disaffected journalist who hopes to restart her career with a big story she discovers by reading a letter intended for her ex-lover, Charles Milburn (the narrator of the first book in the series). She goes to Providence, R.I. to track down Herbert West, a man who (Alma thinks) faked his death to escape the consequences of his crimes. At the same time, she’s hoping to reconnect with Charles. The boardinghouse she’s living in catches fire during a February blizzard.
Here’s a bit from that scene:
“I scrambled out of bed and ran to the door. The doorknob was warm and the floor was warm too, pleasantly warm to my feet. And smoke was thick around me.
Panicked, I pulled open the door. As though they had been waiting for my summons, flames leaped and rushed into my room from the inferno of the stairwell. Closing the door was impossible. I jumped back, but not quickly enough, heard an intense crackling and smelled my hair burning. Heat enveloped me. I beat at the flames with my hands and arms. Fire seared my skin, pain shrieked through my body. The window! The window!
Rushing over to it, I fumbled with the catch. It was stuck. No use. Break the glass! Grabbing a shoe from the floor, I pounded the glass with the heel. A star of cracks appeared, but it held. Frantic, I pounded harder. The glass shattered and my hand came down on a jagged shard. Hot blood steamed in the icy air that blasted in, whirling snowflakes over my desk. The shoe fell from my hand, teetered for a second on the outside ledge, was gone. I grabbed a towel from the back of a chair, wrapped my bleeding hand in it and thumped out the remaining shards from the frame.”
AD: Reading this over, I kept itching to make tweaks and changes and delete unnecessary words. That’s the thing about reading stuff you wrote a while ago – editing mode kicks right in. It’s amazing that anything gets published, because when you get down to it, nothing is ever perfect.
R: I enjoyed reading that bit, but you are so right about things getting published. Haha I have a hard time with my first novel–with giving it to people–for that very reason. I love the story, but I can’t turn off the more experienced revisionist in my head! Now, as you write with more awareness and maturity, what is the most often recurring theme you recognize?
AD: Deception and revelation. My characters cherish illusions until I destroy them. How they deal with the resulting disillusion makes the story. Another theme is what remains unknown beyond the reach of science, adding a supernatural element to most of my writing. Which leads to alchemy, an underlying theme of my four-book series, where it appears both as part of the plot and metaphorically.
R: Oh, I like that very much. Deception and revelation remind me of what I’ve been studying in more depth of late, and that is the lie the character believes, aka the misbelief, and character wounds. That’s very much at the essence of good fiction, and it sounds as if you do it quite naturally. What would you say is the genre of the series? I’m ever so interested in alchemy in books. I think the most recent book I read that mentions it specifically is Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. How important is alchemy to your series’ plot?
AD: No one in the Herbert West Series actually does any physical alchemy. Only Charles Milburn, the narrator of the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, knows much about it. But alchemy is all about transformation of the base to the excellent by means of ordeals and processes. That’s what the series is about. Herbert West, an amoral scientist and renegade physician, is transformed into Francis Dexter, a country doctor, healer and psychopomp (one who guides souls to the afterlife). The final book, Hunting the Phoenix, references alchemical processes in its part titles: Part 1 is “Mortification and Dissolution”; Part 2, “Calcination”; Part 3, “Conjunction”; Part 4 is titled “The Red King and the White Queen”, and Part 5 is “Quintessence”. They do represent plot elements but in a symbolic way.
As for the genre of the Herbert West Series, I call it “literary supernatural/psychological,” meaning it doesn’t fit comfortably into any standard genre. Another detail overlooked in the fever of creation (ha, ha).
R: So cool, Audrey! The series sounds right up my alley. I must get my hands on them! I love how well thought out you have been, even with titles. The theme that carries the series has this great underlying strength to carve out your plot much like the landscape-shaping ice of Antarctica…a place I’m curious about lately. If you were given an opportunity to go to Antarctica, would you take it? Why (not)?
AD: Yes, I would, but I would ensure the means of getting there and getting around was environmentally responsible. No idea how many carbon credits that would take. But I would love to see a place I’ve read a lot about. Both nonfiction (The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard) and fiction (H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym).
R: My teenage daughter loves Poe’s works. But I’m curious about all three stories you mentioned. What is one thing from each that stood out to you?
AD: The Worst Journey in the World is about the 1912 Scott expedition to the Antarctic, with a side trip in the middle of winter to get some penguin eggs for scientific purposes. It’s the whole man against the rigors of nature thing, and of course the attempt to reach the South Pole ended in failure and death. I like At the Mountains of Madness for the enormous significance of what H.P. Lovecraft’s scientists find in the Antarctic – the remains of a fabulously ancient alien civilization, and suggestions that what doomed it may still be around. The story’s weakness is that, knowing how real archaeology is done, the two characters who make the discovery learn way too much way too fast. These guys race around reconstructing the entire history of a pre-human civilization in one day, just by looking at carvings on the walls. Not too believable. But then, your disbelief is already suspended, so just go with it. As for Arthur Gordon Pym, I read it only because of HPL’s reference to it in AtMoM. I actually had to look up the Wikipedia entry to remind myself of the plot. But I guess the theme of all three books would be extremes. Extremes of nature, of human curiosity and of the imagination.
R: And you are constantly stretching yours to the, well, the extreme! with your writing. Since you obviously have come to enjoy challenging yourself with great character-driven fiction, who is your hero of fiction?
AD: Well, I guess it would have to be Mowgli, the Jungle Book kid. When I was a kid, I wanted to be him. I invented something called the Jungle Game I’d make my friends play. It was play-acting, really, with me as the writer and director. In later years, I think it might be one of Mary Renault’s characters from her novels of ancient Greece – Theseus from The King Must Die or maybe her version of Alexander the Great. Both are complex and interesting characters.
R: Mowgli is such an interesting character, but I’m not familiar with Mary Renault’s work. Tell me about Theseus. What makes him heroic in The King Must Die?
AD: The central theme of The King Must Die is the idea that kingship is a sacred role. The king is the intermediary between the people and the gods and must be willing to sacrifice himself if the gods demand it. Theseus learns this from his grandfather as a child and makes his life choices accordingly. He volunteers to be part of the group of Athenian teenagers who are sent to Crete as tribute.
Renault deals with the theme of being sacrificed to the Minotaur very cleverly – young people from all over the region are forced to participate in a sport that’s a cross between bullfighting and gymnastics. (There are actually pictures of it in the palace of Knossos, but it’s not known if it was a sport, religious ritual, or both). In The King Must Die, it’s definitely a sport, with a high fatality rate and wildly popular with the Cretan aristocracy.
Theseus assumes the role of a king for his group of Athenians, determined to ensure their survival. Under his leadership they become the champion bull-leaping team. Of course, he manages to offend the gods, specifically with regards to Ariadne, with bad consequences. The book was published in 1958, but it’s a fantastic read with lots of action as well as thought-provoking stuff. I definitely recommend it, as well as the sequel, The Bull from the Sea.
R: I will definitely have to pick it up! Thanks for the recommendation. Just based on that, I’m pretty sure the ancient world has influenced you, so as of old, do you have a personal motto? What is it?
AD: I have a bunch! I don’t know if these all qualify as mottos, but I quote them often enough.
- “Good, fast, cheap – pick two.” Applies to self-publishing as well as a lot of other things.
- “Hormones make the world go ’round.” In more ways than the obvious one.
- “Do the hardest thing first.” This is easier with housework than with book marketing.
- “Acts of courage have power.” Only if you act, though.
R: Ha! These are great. And as mottos, they’re advice I should surely be taking more often. The thoughts you added to each are priceless. 😊 Which one do you find the most difficult to follow? Do you think it’s the same for most writers (or people in general)? Why?
AD: Well, the last one, “Acts of courage have power,” is as difficult as doing whatever the act of courage may be. Writing a novel, trying to get traditionally published or publishing yourself. All that stuff. Any time I find myself on the brink of something challenging, I remind myself that just doing it generates a kind of magic, even if it’s only the motivation and energy to take the next step.
R: I’ve enjoyed our time together so much, Audrey! Thank you for taking the precious minutes from your day, and sharing your life with us. I hope you’ll consider coming back again to discuss Island of the Gulf with us and what
madness stroke of genius what would be a good reason to appear to switch genres between books one and two of a series! We didn’t get to discuss that this time. We could talk about that at the same time we shed some light on your upcoming publication, She Who Comes Forth.
In the meantime, where can people find you and your books?
- Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Audrey-Driscoll/e/B00J7X7QVC
- Amazon.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Audrey-Driscoll/e/B00J7X7QVC
- Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Audrey-Driscoll-Books/
- Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/author/audrey-driscoll/id380553438?mt=11
- Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/”Audrey%20Driscoll”
- Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/audreydriscoll
Information about Audrey’s writing and opinions on a variety of topics, including her other avocation of gardening, may be found by visiting her blog at www.audreydriscoll.com
The Herbert West Series has its own page on Audrey’s blog: https://audreydriscoll.com/the-herbert-west-series/. It includes brief descriptions of each book, as well as four short supplemental stories she’s published since.
And mare sure to find Audy on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4202146.Audrey_Driscoll