From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Deb Taber, Author of The Summoning of Spirits Too Far From Home

Deb Taber is Senior Book Editor at Apex Publications and a graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She is also managing editor at a horse magazine by day and the slave of three cats by the light of the moon. In 1993, she turned her back on her native Denverian heritage and trekked westward and northward to Washington State. On the way, she saw a really big pig. Really big.

Her fiction has appeared in Apex Digest and Shadowed Realms. Her nonfiction has appeared in many places, often as a ghost writer, but the only one she’s currently admitting to is a posting for the Nebula Awards blog. When not playing with words, Deb plays with moderate voltage at less moderate heights in her freelance work as a lighting designer for theatre. She’s been known to paint, sculpt, and make jewelry too, but lately she’s taken to something called “sleeping” instead. She’s not very good at it yet, but she plans to be.

You can catch her infrequent ramblings at her blog, or you can get more frequent but less direct rambles (and poetry) from her cats.

The only other thing you need to know about Deb is that she might possibly own the world’s largest private collection of Halloween socks.

I have to ask — what are your favorite Halloween socks from your collection?

You ask the hard questions, don’t you? I have a pair of black cat socks I like to wear to work because they have big yellow eyes that peek out from my clogs. Their stare makes one of my coworkers very uncomfortable. I also just bought a great pair that are bat argyle. I don’t think most people realize how conducive the bat shape is to an argyle pattern. Then there are the black cat socks with all of the fish skeletons… so many to choose from.

Halloween Socks

Tell me a little about The Summoning of Spirits Too Far From Home. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

As a lighting designer who specializes in dance, I see quite a bit of various types of movement and performance. Hip-hop in particular often uses choreography to tell a story, and many of those stories are a kind of stylized battle. Inspired by a street-fighting piece, I wrote a rather ridiculous story set on a planet settled by people who divided themselves by their preferred type of music and dance. It was never published, but it inspired me to write a series of shorts set on that planet. Four of those stories have since been combined into a novel (currently being shopped around), but this one stood alone nicely.

For each story, I listened to the music of the land in which it was set in order to get a feel for the rhythms that would guide the characters. I may or may not admit to dancing to some of them.

The Summoning of Spirits Too Far From Home is rooted primarily in the music of Obo Addy (a Master Drummer from Ghana and all-around amazing man), supplemented by a CD of the Tabla Tarong drumming of India. I listened to the rhythms and I knew that the story had to do with some kind of ritual dance. The idea of taking old rituals to a new planet and what the consequences of such actions might be seemed to grow naturally from that beginning.

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas — at least mine — come from the Idea Slug. This is the reason I find living in the Pacific Northwest so conducive to writing, and I believe it is why the Seattle area boasts so many writers, particularly science fiction writers.

It’s an indirect relationship, to be sure. In fact, it took me a long time to realize just where these ideas were coming from. I do know this: when I lived in Colorado, where slugs are tiny and few, I tried to write but the ideas just wouldn’t coalesce. Then I moved to suburban Western Washington, where the ideas became clearer. My biggest inspiration in the ensuing years came when I was at work… and it just so happened that there was a garden just outside the window nearest to where I spent most of my time. Now I live in a forested area where slugs greet me on the porch or driveway nearly every morning, and I make my living as an editor and writer. I firmly believe in the gooshy greatness of the Idea Slug.

All hail the Great and Gooshy Idea Slug. In addition to geographical differences, do you write differently — or better — at different times or with different immediate surroundings?

I am not a morning person. I tried an experiment last summer with writing first thing in the morning, and after a few days of productivity, it fell flat. After 10am, I can pretty much write any time, though I usually don’t get the opportunity until late at night, curled up on the couch with the cats trying to get between me and the laptop.

I’m not a social writer, but every once in a while when I’m stuck I like to get out and work in a coffee shop (plenty of those in slug territory), either with my laptop or, if I’m really stuck, with a notepad and pen.

Of your current stories, published or unpublished, which is the most important to you and why?

Of my unpublished stories, the one I’m closest to is the abovementioned novel that shares a world with The Summoning of Spirits… It’s the first novel I’ve written that felt like I really got it right. (I have 5 others, only one of which is currently making the rejection rounds — the rest are locked up tight.) I love the characters and their colliding worlds, the way I can have a punk rocker trying to protect a ballerina, or a tax auditor who hides computer codes in jazz. I grew up with music, then moved into dance when I took up lighting in college, so the world is one in which I feel very much at home, and I hope others will recognize something of themselves in it, too.

As for the published stories, How to Raise a Human was a big one for me. It was accepted by Apex Digest in 2006, and while I was watching Jason Sizemore’s blog, anxiously awaiting any news about when it might come out, I saw his posting for a new slush editor. I’ve been reining in wayward words ever since.

Where would you most like to live?

Where I live now, in the woods of northwestern Washington, suits me just fine. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be, though I’d love to visit the Yukon Territories one of these days, and I enjoy traveling to conventions or to visit family and friends when I have the chance.

I vastly prefer cold weather to hot, so the climate is to my liking and all that rain does a fabulous job keeping the trees green and the Idea Slug happy and productive in its musings.

What’s your favorite punctuation mark?

I must confess to a love of umlauts. It probably stems from being a Queensryche fan in my youth (I’m still a fan as long as your playlist doesn’t go much beyond Operation:Mindcrime). It is my great sorrow that I can’t figure out how to get an umlaut to appear correctly in an email.

What natural talent would you like to have that you don’t?

The ability to make pancakes. I am pancake-impaired and have resigned myself to having scrambled pancakes any time I want to eat them without going to a restaurant. It’s actually not bad, especially if you scramble some sausage in with them.

I used to work as a cook for nuns (yes, you read that right — it was that job with the convenient garden-adjacent window), and when they hired me, I told them the one thing I could not do was make pancakes; the other cook would have to be assigned the “breakfast night” they had once a month.

The first week I was there, I was assigned to breakfast night.

I tried my best, but all I had was a runny mess of goo. Fortunately, the old cook was still around to save my butt, but they never gave me breakfast night again.

I can also kill a sewing machine with the slightest touch (I once killed three within the space of an hour), but I’m okay with my lack of seamstress talent. I prefer power tools anyway.

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