From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Is That a Finger Bone?: Alison Campbell-Wise

A.C. Wise was born and raised in Montreal, and currently lives in the Philadelphia area, with two cats and a spouse. By day, she’s a mild-mannered fundraiser for a museum. Her fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, Chizine, and Strange Horizons, among others. Her story “Revisionist History” is in this week’s Fantasy Magazine.

Tell us about yourself, background, etc.

Let’s see…I was born in Montreal and lived most of my life there, which means once upon a time I spoke French, though I’ve since forgotten most of it. I studied Liberal Arts in CEGEP (bonus points if you’re not Canadian and you know what that is), so I have an official degree in convincingly making stuff up. I also have a B.A. in History and Religion and somehow, despite all that, I managed to avoid becoming a teacher.

What led you to becoming a writer?

Remember that scene in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman* where Richard Madoc uses his bare fingers to scribble on a brick wall because he doesn’t have a pen or paper? Yeah, it’s kind of like that. Not writing was never an option.

*(Calliope, The Dream Country, Sandman Volume 3)

How would you describe your fiction?

Atmospheric. Dark. Most of it tends to be very descriptive whatever genre I’m writing in.

In addition to fantasy, what other genres are you interested in or write in?

The other genre I write in primarily is horror, though I’ve dabbled in science fiction, and once even romance. I actually had a romance piece accepted for publication, but the magazine folded before it was printed. I’m also really interested in crime/hardboiled/noir fiction, and anything that mixes and blends genres.

In your story up this week at Fantasy Magazine, “Revisionist History,” Robert and Tess find themselves in a dubious wish fulfillment gone awry when they write on the walls of their home with a magic marker.

The next time he walked into their bedroom, he saw Tess’s neat, calm script lining the walls. How could you do this to me? How could you turn our lives into this?

What was the inspiration behind this story? Tell us about the theme of marital unbliss and how the fantastical elements here came to fruition.

The story grew out of wanting to write something where the fantastic element was fairly slight at first. The events at the beginning can be said to be possible, if not plausible. The image of someone writing on the walls came next, and the rest of the story just kind of tumbled out from there. It wasn’t exactly an inspiration for the story, but when we were really young, my best friend and I did get in trouble for writing and drawing all over my bedroom door. I don’t know what made us think it was a good idea, but I guess it made sense to us at the time. Luckily, it washed off.

Are you a slow methodical writer or a quick facile one?

For the most part I’m a quick writer. At some point the story takes over and tells itself. When a story is working for me, everything just flows, sometimes faster than I can type. There’s a great quote, I think it’s from Ray Bradbury, though I can’t find it at the moment. It’s something about vomiting words in the morning, and cleaning them up in the afternoon. The hard part is the clean-up – going back and editing later.

When crafting a story what aspect(s) of it do you find the hardest? The easiest?

The easiest part is probably the spark, the initial inspiration. Not all the ideas pan out, mind you, but I usually have more things rattling around in my brain than I have time to work on. See above for the hardest – editing. During the writing process, I try not to think too much at all. If I did, I’d never get anything written.

Who are your main literary influences? Whose fiction do you like to read for pleasure?

I often find myself being influenced by whatever I’m reading at the moment. For example, I was recently reading Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, and I found myself having to cut a lot of words from a short story I was writing. As for reading for pleasure, like many writers, I’m addicted to words in general so the short answer is anything and everything. If pressed, I’d have to say my favorite authors are Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman (witnessed by the fact that I’ve already mentioned both of them within the space of a few short interview questions). The full list is much longer and it evolves every day. I read a lot of short fiction, both online and of the dead-tree variety. I read a lot of graphic novels, too; I’m a sucker for all things Batman.

Who was an author (or two) who you found most helpful when you first began learning about craft and technique?

Neil Gaiman (see, there I go again) had an interesting blog post about advice he gave to a Clarion student. The gist of it was that your characters should be someone you’d want to spend time chatting with at a cocktail party. I try to keep that in mind as I write. Recently I’ve been re-watching Firefly, and I’m amazed at how few episodes there were, because there’s such a strong sense of personality – you really feel like you know each character, like you’ve spent a lot of time with them. The writers conveyed so much in such a short space of time, so I try to keep that in mind too. Tad Williams is great at creating characters you miss after the books are over. One of these days I intend to re-read his Otherland series and study his method.

If you could be one mythological creature, which one would that be and why?

I have to choose just one? Dragons are freaking awesome, what with the fire-breathing and the flying and all, but that seems too easy. I’d have to say Hippogriff…if for no other reason than because it’s a fun word!

What question are you really hoping I won’t ask?

Where were you last night? What’s in the trunk? Is that a finger bone? Oh, and anything about math. I really hate math.

When not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

Photography, cooking, gaming, reading, and watching tv. I also like walking and biking once I convince myself to get up off the couch.

What are you working on now? Short stories? A novel?

I pretty much always have a short story going. In theory I’m working on a novel, but I’m easily distracted. I’ve also got some ideas for a couple of linked story short collections, one set in the same world as my short story ‘Fortune’, which recently appeared in Fictitious Force # 6.

What’s ahead for you? Goals? Ambitions?

Finishing that novel that I’m theoretically working on, getting an agent, getting the novel published, having something I’ve written turned into a graphic novel, having something I’ve written adapted into an awesome movie, having that movie nominated for an Oscar so I can wear something ridiculous to the ceremony that would make Bjork’s outfits look normal – and world domination. Might as well aim high, right?

Interviewer Marshall Payne has written over 90 short stories and his fiction has or will appear in Aeon Speculative Fiction, Brutarian, Talebones, and Fictitious Force to name a few. His numerous interviews with various luminaries of the field, as well as with up-and-coming SF/F writers, have appeared at The Fix. He has a homepage at marshallpayne.com.

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