Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview with Lindsey Duncan

My guest today is fantasy author, poet and musician Lindsey Duncan, whose work has been widely published, including a story in the anthology Unburied Treasure.

Welcome to the blog, Lindsey. Could you tell us something about yourself, and what you do when you're not writing?

Glad to be here!  I’m currently a culinary student – I just finished a diploma in baking and pastry, and am continuing to complete an associates degree in culinary arts – and a professional harp performer living near Cincinnati, Ohio.  I also teach beginning harp. 

Right now, the combination of work, school (and writing, of course!) keeps me hopping:  I think if I did the math, it would come out to roughly two full-time jobs!  When I do have a bit of free time, I enjoy reading, both the expected fantasy and science fiction and historical or cozy mysteries.  Non-fiction, too, though I tend to classify that as research …

That's certainly a lot. How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I can’t ever remember not writing; I would say that by process of elimination, it would have to have been after learned to read, but then I remember dictating stories about talking multi-colored sheep to my mother.  When I was very young, my family had an old typewriter, and I diligently pecked out tales, bedeviled by typos – the texts would include such gems as “swrod, I mean sword” – before I encountered my first computer.  Apart from required cursive practice, I’ve never looked back. 
I know the feeling. My early efforts included words like "parashootist" and "obtikal illooshan".

I never did learn how to type properly, though:  I’ve developed my own typing system that has my left (dominant) hand doing the majority of the typing, with the sequence determined by the neighboring letters.  My parents used to call this the Columbus Method: pick a key and land on it.

It’s always been fantasy, too.  Even when I did a “real world” project, as I did for my cursive practice, I went straight to knights and castles.  And, of course, those talking sheep …

You also play the Celtic harp, which is an instrument I've always loved. Can you tell us about it, and how you got into playing it?

The Celtic harp is the “original” harp – in Ireland, they have found carvings of this style of harp dating back to the seventh century.  Obviously, the modern harp has some further evolutions, in particular the levers: tiny switches above each string that adjust the pitch of the note a half-step.  This allows the harp to get sharps and flats or change keys without retuning the whole instrument.  Ancient harps were strung with gut or wire – wire harps are played with a completely different technique, but that’s a whole other topic.  You’ll still see gut-strung harps nowadays, but most use nylon instead, as mine does.

(I do educational programs now and again, and I love nothing more than to call kids up to touch the strings … and *then* ask them what they think the strings are made of.  This always gets a few good “ewws.”)

I first “met” the harp at the Cincinnati Celtic Festival.  There was an event on the schedule called, “I’ve Always Wanted to Play the Harp.”  It was an informal thing, just a few harpers (harpers play the traditional harp; harpists play the orchestral harp) helping interested parties try out the instruments.  As soon as I got my hands on a harp, that was it:  I was in love.

I always associate harpers with smoke-filled halls where they play and sing ancient heroic lays. So does your writing and music interact at all, or do you keep the two art-forms separate?

I find that music and musical themes sneak into my writing, whether I intend them to or not.  I enjoy writing about musicians and their misadventures.  Thanks to a writing prompt, I even wrote a story loosely inspired by one of my more trying gigs … loosely.

Since starting culinary school, as I’ve pulled out older stories to edit them, I’ve noticed a surprising number that involve pastry, chocolates and cooks.  Life has a tendency to find its way into fiction.

As a harper, I arrange almost all the music I play, and I’ve even written a few sets of lyrics to traditional tunes.  I’ve never had much luck composing my own music, though, and this has always frustrated me.  It feels like a gap I should be able to bridge.

Earlier this year, a local conductor sat down to talk to me at a gig, and we discussed various musical topics.  Somehow, composing came up, and I mentioned my feeling.  He quoted a famous musician:  “God composes.  I arrange.”   (Alas, I can’t for the life of me remember who, nor can I find the quote online.  Pipe up if you happen to know!)  I’m not a religious person, but this idea – that the raw, creative essence is part of the universe, and that what the human creator does is express it – really appeals to me.

Your story in Unburied Treasures, Stone Unturned, is a haunting tale. Can you remember what your inspiration for it was?

Stone Unturned was originally written for a monthly challenge at  The challenge was to take five elements and write a story where each was an integral part.  In the spirit of making things unnecessarily difficult for myself, I always try to add another layer to the challenge topic.  In this case, I knew I wanted to write about history and myth, so I decided to construct the story so each element appeared both in the present and in the past.

The concept of being able to sense the past of an object by touch is one that has always fascinated me.  I decided to give my main character this ability.  (And the magic used in Stone Unturned has a tangential musical element, too.)  It is this talent that unfolds the story in the past … and gradually reveals its connection to the present.

You've been published all over the place. Can you tell us about some of your publications? What's currently available?

My contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, is available both as an ebook or in print from Double Dragon:

Flow follows two very different characters:  teenaged Kit, bitter in the wake of the death of her mother and unable to control her budding powers; and Chailyn, a water-witch raised in the underwater Vale and only now sent to the surface for her first mission.  The pair team up to uncover her mother’s killer and find more than they bargained for:  predatory fairies, a rival organization to the water-witches known as the Borderwatch, and secrets buried in both their pasts.  They also meet Hadrian, a bizarre young man with hyper-accelerated perceptions who invites himself along on the journey.

If you just want a taste of this contentious world, check out Xmas Wishes, a short story in the same setting – only a dollar, too!  Also available from Gypsy Shadow is Taming The Weald, which was one of my favorite stories to write and does some blissful blurring of the lines between science fiction and fantasy.  I have to say that “strange children” is another element I’m drawn to a lot in writing.

For freebies, my most recent publication, Polestar, is in the June/July issue of Plasma Frequency.  My first publication there, Mythocraft (all the way back in Issue 2) was nominated for that year’s Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll.

Abyss and Apex has been wonderful to me – they’ve published three of my short stories, with another coming out sometime next year; the first story (HourBy Hour) was in their first Best Of anthology, and I got the chance not only to read from it at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, but to meet the magazine’s editor, Wendy Delmater.

My most recent story there was Dancing Day, which was another monthly challenge involving five elements – this time five elements that were distinctly Christmas-themed, the challenge being to apply them in a new way.  There’s still a hint in the title, which is derived from one of my favorite period carols to play.

Could you tell us something about what you're writing at the moment, and any future plans?

The novel I’m working on right now is Unnatural Causes, a fantasy-mystery cross.  When a controversial enchanter is murdered, her familiar and her apprentice team up to find out who killed her.  I’ve been deliberately taking the writing of this one slow:  it’s from the first-person perspective of the familiar, and since in this setting, familiars are otherworldly beings, I want to make sure that I consider the way I’m framing her thoughts.  In this world, magic is performed by creating phantasmal thought-machines, visible only to the enchanter and others with the talent. These machines execute the spell.

I haven’t firmly chosen a future project.  Most of the novel-length works I’ve considered are rewrites, reimaginings, or new adventures for previous characters, including the idea of a sequel for Flow.

One shorter (comparatively) work I know I want to write is a – wait for it – zombie novella.  Of course, I know that zombies have been done to my death; my hope is that my take on the origins and themes of reincarnation will get past an editor’s groans.   In fact, the idea would have never come to me if we weren’t saturated in zombie culture.  Here’s how it came about:

I dabble in photography, and the flutist I played with in White Orchid – a much more serious photographer – invited me to a quirky northern Ohio town that was also hosting its annual Zombie Walk.  Wandering around town as the attendees prepared to walk was amazing: we saw costumes from the very simple to the elaborate, from the hilarious to the impressive.  (And the disturbing in a non-zombified context: the teen who, when asked how he had costumed his arm to look like it was broken, demonstrated it wasn’t a costume – he was double-jointed.  Oww.)  The “CDC” walked around in hazmat suits.

In any case, to make a long story short (too late!), I got some great photographs.  Most people were happy to mug for the camera, but I did get some candid shots as well, and that’s where the story comes in.  Among those pictures of people being themselves amongst the pseudo-gore and dishevel were a few images that illustrated a story in an eyeblink.  Some day, I hope you’ll be able to read it.
Sounds intriguing, and I hope I do get a chance to read it.
Many thanks for telling us all about yourself. You can find out even more about Lindsey on her blog.

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