Saturday, July 19, 2014

Interview with Erika Wilson

Today I welcome fantasy author and poet Erika Wilson to my blog, editor of the anthology Unburied Treasures.

Hello, Erika, and thanks for agreeing to appear on my blog. Could you tell us something about yourself, and what you do when you're not writing?

As you can see from my picture, I wrestle dinosaurs in my spare time...


Actually, of late I don't seem to have much in the way of spare time (to the great relief of the local dinosaurs). I spend a lot of time at my job, though I do try to escape outside most days for lunch, which is when I get a lot of my best writing done. There's a little park nearby with picnic tables where I can sit with my salad and laptop in the shade of a tree, listening to the birds and feeling the breeze on my skin. I find that very conducive to writing. 

When I'm not working or writing, I'm probably reading - books or online news. The news is almost uniformly depressing, but I'm fascinated by the sorts of problems we are faced with, and the vastly different opinions on how they should be addressed. I suspect I'm studying the nature of interpersonal conflict, since I'm so conflict-avoidant, I have trouble putting it into my stories.

I hope to do more traveling soon. Unfortunately I suffer from air-sickness, and airplane seats are fiendish torture devices, but I do love visiting friends and seeing new places. Last year I spent a wonderful week in Oxford - 'the city of dreaming spires' - and this past autumn I helped organize a family trip to Key West, where my nephew and I made friends with one of the descendants of Hemingway's six-toed cat.

I wonder if it had any family anecdotes passed down about Hemingway. How long have you been writing for and what kind of things have you written and had published?

Hmm, it's a bit hard to say when I 'started' writing, it seems like it's been more of a step-wise progression to the point where I can actually say that I write well enough to call myself a writer. I've always been a huge reader - I was one of those kids who would visit the library every week and leave with a stack of books under my chin. In the years before I discovered the Fantasy genre, I wore out my book of Grimm's fairy tales and read through Edith Hamilton's 'Mythology' dozens of times. I thought books were absolutely magical in the way they could create beautiful pictures in my head, and make me laugh and cry, just with words.

I think I've always wanted to try my hand at creating that sort of magic myself. As a college freshman, I submitted a story to F&SF magazine, which was rejected, since it was mostly a series of pretty images with no real plot or characterization. Four years later, I had a story published in our school magazine which had actual character and plot development, so I was learning. After graduating, I spent several years writing fan fiction, which helped me practice constructing stories around existing characters. Nine years ago I signed onto and started creating original works.

About five years later I squelched my fear of submitting, and in 2010, I had a few poems and short stories accepted. That felt like a real achievement - to be paid for my work and published where anyone could read it. Since then I haven't submitted much - my story in the Unburied Treasures anthology is the first to be published in quite a while. There is something about having my work 'out there' that made me want to really love the stories I submitted and be proud of them - not just of having written them - but to publish the kinds of stories that instilled my love for reading all those years ago.  

What gave you the idea to edit the anthology Unburied Treasures?

The lovely Lydia deserves all the credit. She e-mailed out of the blue and asked if I wanted to help get the band back together for another anthology - this time fully illustrated by her and Isaia. It sounded like a brilliant idea, but I wasn't at all sure that I was the right person for the job. But really, when Lydia asks you to do something, it's pretty impossible to say no. She makes it sound like a wonderful project and convinces you that you'll have great fun doing it with her - all of which is absolutely true.

Did you find it easier or harder than you expected?

Much easier. Everyone was so pleasant and professional, and submitted such marvelous stories, I hardly felt I had earned my editorial title. I tried to get Lydia to take additional credit, since she did so much more than the beautiful illustrations, but I think she likes to be the secret elf who sneaks in at night to do her magic when everyone is asleep. Which is often the case, since her time-zone is so different than us Northern Hemispherians. 

Your story in Unburied Treasures comes over, to me at least, with a distinctly Buddhist feeling. Was this deliberate, and what were you aiming to convey?

It all started with a snow leopard, so once I had that, I had to have the Himalayas and a Yeti, didn't I? It is tricky, I think, to set a story in a country and culture with which you have no direct experience. It can come off as stereotyped and cliched since we tend to draw on simplistic images that come primarily from pop culture references, rather than taking the time to dig into the deep complexity of original sources. I did worry about that, but I tried to do at least some research into the symbolism of mandalas. Personally, I've always found them beautiful and fascinating - how can you not? My hope is that I may intrigue someone with my light-hearted story, and they will be inspired to look further into the images that I present in order to understand them better.

When you came to London a few years back, your instant target was the British Museum. How important is history to you?

What an amazing trip that was! Thank you for touring the museum with me and showing me so much of the City, Nyki. And reciting poetry while sitting on a bench overlooking the Thames! Wonderful memories. I only wish I hadn't been so tired - I'd been traveling around Europe for three weeks by then, so I was fair exhausted. And you're such a great walker - hard for this soft American to keep up with!

It was great for me, too, to have someone to remind me I hadn't taken advantage of being near all those things for too long. Thanks.

History, yes, I do have something of a passion for it. I don't know if you remember, but I said something about it when we were browsing the Egyptian exhibit - I thought it was like being surrounded by thousands of story fragments, that each little relic or carved hieroglyph was a piece of an unknown story. So much of who we were and how we got here has been lost to time, but museums are full of ghostly whispers hinting at how people once lived and what was vitally important to them. I homed in on the British Museum because there were two things I wanted to see most of all - the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta stone. I'd been deeply affected by what had been written about them, and had an intense desire to see them for myself. And I wasn't disappointed. They're like time machines revealing the pinnacle of ancient art and language, showing us how easily such things can be lost, and how much else of irretrievable value disappears when that happens.  

Can you tell us something about what you're writing at the moment and any future writing (or editing) plans?

At the moment, I'm working mostly on collaborations. I'm 15,000 words into a story set in a world created by a friend, using some of his characters. I've done a few others, one of which he may include in a future collection of his stories, so perhaps this could end up going the same way. Though at this point I'm writing it for the sheer fun of playing in his wonderful sandbox. It's like writing fan fiction, but with the original creator willing to comment and make helpful suggestions.

Editorially, I've been helping another friend with his online comic book. We actually started writing it together more than twenty years ago, but as neither of us could draw well enough, it fell by the wayside. He has since discovered the magic of 3-D computer graphics programs, and has done an outstanding job teaching himself how to put together some truly stunning illustrations. The scope of the project has expanded greatly as well - from the original six-issue series, to a thirty-issue monster. He's got it all planned out, though - I have the color-coded outline. It looks like a schematic for the New York Subway system. It's called The Great Game and the first issue was recently accepted by Comixology. 

For myself, I'd like to start submitting again. My favorite stories end up around novella-length, so I need to investigate some of the on-line markets that have been opening up for less-than-novel-length stories.

The recent one I've been reading certainly needs to be got out there.

Thanks so much for inviting me to be on your blog, Nyki, and getting the word out about our anthology. Your dragon story was wonderful, as well as providing an eye-catching focal point for the cover illustration. 

And thank you for entertaining and informing us, and for editing the anthology.

You can follow Erika's blog, and the links to buy the anthology can be found on this page.

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