Friday, 3 November 2017

Interview With Author J. Lee Strickland

Today I have an interview with J. Lee Strickland, one of the authors in the anthology, Mirror & Thorns which I recently spotlighted. Enjoy.

Interview With Author J. Lee Strickland

Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

I grew up in rural northeastern Pennsylvania at a time when the anthracite coal industry, which was centered there, was transitioning from shaft mining to open-pit mining or strip mining. As a consequence of this unique timing and location, I was exposed to great natural beauty and tremendous environmental devastation at the same time. The appreciation for, and fascination with, rural life and the natural world appears often in my writing, as well as in my choice of home here in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York.
I started writing pretty much as soon as I started reading. I love to tell the story that my first real book—a book with chapters, and pages and pages of words—was Whitefoot the Wood Mouse by Thornton W. Burgess. As soon as I finished it, I wrote my first story, a story about a mouse who lived in the woods. I didn’t learn the word “derivative” until much later.

Could you tell us a bit about your latest book?

My story “Roland” is included in the latest anthology from OWS Ink, titled Mirrors and Thorns, a fantasy collection inspired by the darker side of fairy tales. I’m very excited about this anthology. The quality of the writing is excellent; the stories are clever and engaging, and everyone at OWS Ink is enthusiastic and committed to getting the book out to a broad readership. It’s been a real pleasure working with them.

Do you have a favourite character? If so, why?

In my story “Roland,” my favourite character is Iduna. She was a lot of fun to write. Where Roland is often sullen and brooding, always thinking the worst, Iduna is a bundle of frenetic energy. She talks nearly non-stop, filling the world with sound wherever she goes. She’s infectious that way, and it was an interesting challenge to write her convincingly without cluttering the text.

What is the hardest part of writing fantasy fiction?

The big challenge is to avoid falling back on the same tired tropes of fantasy. I love dragons and elves, fairies and magic, and I’ve used them in my writing, but great fantasy writing makes these elements fresh, new, and surprising. The other challenge is to avoid making the story just about the fantasy. All the elements, fantasy and otherwise, must work together in the service of the story. For example, in my story “The Turning of Pesh Thanat,” published in Newfound Journal this past Spring, Elini the slave woman saves the Emperor’s life by literally giving him hers. The magical, physical bond which unites them becomes a metaphor for the way in which traitorous behavior on the part of one person can have devastating consequences for both members of a couple.

What do you enjoy most about writing in the fantasy genre?

Fantasy writing at its best makes explicit that thing which in our ordinary lives we all tend to ignore: that the universe is a mysterious place, that all our probing has produced only the barest outline of what the world truly entails. With fantasy writing, we push the boundaries, illuminate the dark corners, and through imagination, show the truth of this mystery.

You write in several genres. Do you have a favourite? And if so, why?

I have written across a number of different styles and genres. Back in the 90’s I published a lot of creative non-fiction pieces centered on my experiments with simple living, alternative life-styles, and alternative energy and building techniques. At the same time, I was writing essays on philosophical and environmental topics, but fiction writing was my first love. Once I became serious about having my fiction published, that feedback loop opened the floodgates of creativity for me. I have written a fair amount of literary fiction, but my imagination seems to gravitate toward fantasy. Even my most realistic stories often have some hint of fantasy in them: ritual transubstantiation that produces undesirable results, or an out-of-body experience with serious physical consequences—the kinds of surprises that lurk at the borders of the ordinary. These are what fascinate me most.

Do you have a favourite author, or writing inspiration?

If I had to pick just one, I would name John Crowley and his master work, Little, Big. He is usually categorized as a fantasy writer, yet he does just what I said earlier where in his writing, the elements of fantasy work in service to the story. I’m really excited about the imminent release of his latest, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr. I don’t really have to stop at one favourite, do I? Ursula LeGuin has been with me since high school, and I never tire of reading her work. Paul Park’s incredible four-volume Princess of Roumania series blew me away. I remember getting to the end of the fourth volume, The Hidden World, and immediately starting back at the first for another read-through. Anne Patchett made fantasy totally believable in State of Wonder, and Elizabeth Gilbert performed writing miracles in The Signature of All Things. These authors and works provide both inspiration and aspiration. I aspire in my own writing to produce such beautifully conceived and deeply affecting work.

What advice would you give beginning writers?

Write as much as you can, as often as you can. The more you write, the better you will become as a writer. Meet other writers. Join a group. Expose your writing to criticism and act on the feedback. Grow a thick skin, and remember that pleasing yourself is easy; pleasing others is hard. Make writing the thing you do in spite of everything else. Submit your work for publication. There is no greater inspiration for a writer than to have a stranger in some editorial office say, “I like what you wrote, and I’m going to give others the chance to read it.”

What’s your next project? Any upcoming book secrets you care to reveal?

I’m working on a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel set in the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, eastern Mohawk Valley, and Albany area of New York. Ninety percent of the population has been lost in the war and subsequent years of nuclear winter. Albany has been reduced to a radioactive heap of rubble and declared an exclusion zone by the territorial authorities. Its residents are a mix of the dregs of society, the outcasts, and intrepid urban homesteaders who envision a new future for cities, no longer parasites on the land but self-reliant contributors to a peaceful, cooperative community. Along with the clash between idealism and reality, other old divisions rise up in new disguises, as people struggle with what it means to be human. I’d like to hold on to my secrets for a little while yet, but I will say that in the book, the consequences of global war manifest themselves in some surprising ways!

Mirror & Thorns can be found at:

About the Author

J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Workers Write!, Pure Slush, Mad Scientist Journal, Newfound Journal, Jenny, and others. He is a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 storySouth Million Writers Awards. He is at work on a collection of connected short stories vaguely similar in format to the long-defunct American television series 'Naked City' but without the salacious title.

1 comment:

Dave Gibson said...

I know Jim and his wife Laurie fairly well. Besides being an excellent writer, Jim is an accomplished carpenter. The two built a wonderful off grid home together in upstate New York. They grow most of their own food. They are true homesteaders. I'm very glad to see his writing is doing so well.

A quick story... my wife and I rescued an old lady dog who was abandoned. We already had three dogs and would keep "Babe" if need be, but we asked around to see if anyone would take her. And true to form, Jim and Laurie stepped up and took in this old dog that needed a lot of care, and gave her a wonderful home until she passed.

The world is a better place because of Jim and Laurie.

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