Ginger Nuts of Horror
Suzanne Church juggles her time between throwing her characters to the lions and chillin' like a villain with her two sons. She writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror because she enjoys them all and hates to play favorites. Her award-winning fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Cicada, and On Spec, and in several anthologies including Urban Green Man and When the Hero Comes Home 2. Her collection of short fiction, "Elements" is available at bookstores and Amazon from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.
Hello Suzanne could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I write Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy short fiction. I've been nominated four times for the Prix Aurora Award in the Short Fiction English category and won in 2012 for "The Needle's Eye" from the anthology Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live edited by Michael Kelly. After taking my first writing workshop in 2000, I've built a steady audience and portfolio of published work. One of these days, I hope to add a novel (or two) to that list.
How annoyed do you get when people spell your name Susanne?
You have no idea. I'm saddled with one of those hard-to-spell names. And when I reference the "z" verbally, since I'm Canadian I tend to say "zed" rather than "zee" and then experience the blank stare of confusion if I'm in the US.
On the plus side, at least "Church" is easy to spell.
What’s the best thing about being a Canadian, and what’s the worst? Is it being constantly afraid of the dark?
There are tons of great perks for being Canadian, especially the igloos and the dogsleds.
Seriously, I'd have to say it's the sense of pride we share as a nation. We're the underdogs of North America so we must stick together! Plus we have Hockey Night in Canada, the best coverage for hockey anywhere. (Not to mention that whole global domination in hockey thing.)
From a writer's perspective, the worst is probably the cost of postage. Whenever I have to mail a story or a book, especially outside of Canada, it costs a fortune.
You make a yearly pilgrimage to Dragon*Con to work as a reporter for the convention. Why do you do this, is it a chance to pretend you are Ben Urich from the Daily Bugle?
I wear my "game face" at most of the speculative fiction conventions that I attend, trying to make contacts and spread the word about my fiction. But at DragonCon I'm focused on two things: having fun and writing content for The Daily Dragon, the official newspaper of the convention. At DragonCon I can let my hair down, maybe wear a costume, and indulge in some fan-girl escapades.
I attended my first writing workshop (under teacher Ann C. Crispin) at the 2000 Dragon*Con, and my writing group spawned from that workshop--DC2K Writers--is still active today. Probably the most compelling reason I return every year is to catch up with my writers' group and share news about all of our projects.
What exactly is the "* " in Dragon*Con for?
I wish I knew. For years we staff reporters had our knuckles rapped with wooden rulers if we forgot the "*" in Dragon*Con in any of our articles for The Daily Dragon. But for some reason in 2013 the convention officially dropped the "*" and now we refer to it as "DragonCon." It's much easier not having to type Shift+8 all the time, let me tell you! A girl could break a nail.
You have attended a number of writers' workshops. What do these workshops provide for a writer? And what do you think was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
Writers are always learning, improving, and honing their craft. The workshops I've attended have all kicked my writing up a notch. And the people at any workshop become critique buddies for future support.
The second reason I attend workshops is the absolute JOY of being surrounded by writers and spending every moment immersed in the world of writing. I get so rejuvenated and excited about my craft (even after something as short as a twenty-four hour writing retreat) that my productivity usually spikes afterwards.
The most valuable lesson is the ability to critically analyse a piece of fiction. Even though it's always easier to find the issues in someone else's work, the act of critiquing does help teach me to hunt down the flaws in my own writing.
Genre fiction seems rife with feuds and clashed of egos, are these workshops all nice polite affairs? Has there ever been a clash of egos?
Any workshop usually has at least one ego-splosion. But we're all adults, and after the dust settles, we shake hands and keep on writing. There's a trust that builds up in a critique circle, and we all know that whatever we say in the critique session stays in the session (even more so if it's held in Vegas).
As a Canadian, I try to be polite whenever possible. Then again, I've been known to occasionally tear a strip (or three) off a writer's hide if I think they're making the same mistake over and over. The trick is to smile while I deliver my wrath, because the message is meant to help, not harm.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Reading is a must, because that's what this whole fiction gig is about at a fundamental level. I do make room to watch TV and movies because they're all about story and I'm keen to see what new directions writers are taking.
I'm a media junkie, and music is my primary passion. I've attended more than a hundred rock, pop, blues, reggae, punk, and classical concerts and I have thousands of song lyrics crammed into my brain.
When I need to clear my head or get the blood flowing I make time to exercise, preferably walking, swimming, and cycling in the summer, and ice skating in the winter.
What’s your favourite food?
All the great starches: potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
A ton of Canadian bands including Hedley, Blue Rodeo, Bryan Adams, Colin James, and Nickelback (don't judge me!). Probably Annie Lennox because she's the best female singer IMHO. When I'm in a darker mood, I have to include Audioslave, Staind, Seether, and Stone Temple Pilots. When I feel like dancing, add a little Deadmau5, Skrillex, Tut Tut Child, and Klaypex. Throw in some Lenny Kravitz and Puddle of Mudd because life's not the same without them. That's at least enough music to get through the first act of my life story.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
Probably Dark Fiction because it implies a mood that isn't always constrained by the generic definition of Horror. Some of my Science Fiction and Fantasy stories are dark, so they'd be included in that umbrella term.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Stephen King, Joe Hill, George R.R. Martin, Kelley Armstrong, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, John Scalzi, and Joseph Boyden.
What is your all-time favourite genre novel, and film?
For years I've answered this question with The Stand by Stephen King. Recently I read NOS4A2 by Joe Hill and that book has stayed with me on a profound level. It might be working its way to the top of my list.
My favourite genre film is a tie between Aliens and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Because Ripley is one of my favourite female characters, and well, there's nothing better than defending Helm's Deep from a horde of orcs in the pouring rain.
If you could erase one genre cliché what would be your choice?
For horror I'd have to go with slasher films. While I think they're fun (if you're in the right mood) I believe they tend to make non-horror readers mistakenly believe that all horror involves violence and gore. Which it absolutely does not.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Iron Man would totally rock as a neighbour because that'd probably mean I'd also own a big expensive house in Malibu and be invited to all the cool parties. Who knows, maybe he'd give me a turn in one of the suits?
Hannibal Lecter would suck as a neighbour because if he invited me over for a dinner party or a barbeque I'm not sure what would be creepier--eating the food he prepared or figuring out what to cook as my contribution.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Every year, the competition gets tighter in this writing game. More and more people are donning a writer's hat and buying a laptop. The natural result is a higher quality of product, especially from new writers who truly have to shine if they'll ever emerge from the slush pile with a publishing contract.
Small presses in particular are publishing so many appealing titles that I can't possibly read all the ones I've bought let alone added to my wish list.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
As I mentioned earlier, NOS4A2 by Joe Hill is brilliant and I highly recommend it as often as possible.
As for disappointment, I loved The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt until about the last fifty pages, at which point the ending seemed to fall apart into lacklustre chaos.
As for a genre book, (although I hate to admit it because I love John Scalzi's style) I was also disappointed by Redshirts.
If you could kill off any character from any other book, who would you chose and how would they die?
Die, die, die Ramsay Snow, for everything you've done to Theon Greyjoy in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. Ramsay is one massively sick and twisted freak of nature. Guys like Ramsay should die slow, painful, misery-filled deaths. I'm about halfway through reading The Orenda by Joseph Boyden right now, and the way the Haudenosaunee torture the Wendat would be a pretty fitting way for Ramsay to go down.
How would you describe your writing style?
In a word: sparse. I've always been more of a Hemingway than a D.H. Lawrence. When I read I tend to skim over purple prose, so when I write I try to make the prose as clean as possible.
My comedy tends to be closer to John Scalzi than Terry Pratchett and my fantasy closer to Kelley Armstrong than George R.R. Martin.
As a writer you have focused mainly on short fiction, is there a reason for this?
So many reasons, but I'll summarize with two.
First, short fiction fits into my chaotic lifestyle. I'm a single mom, but I share custody equally with my sons' dad. So half the time I'm playing mom, squeezing in writing when I can manage. Now that my sons are older, it's much easier to set aside quality time with my laptop but that's been a fairly recent phenomenon.
Second, short fiction is a great way to "build the brand" for an author. I like to have a new piece of my fiction come out every year, and at this early-ish stage in my career, that sort of regularity isn't going to happen with novels.
What do you think is the hardest part in writing short stories?
Getting the beginning and ending right. Because let's face it, the slush pile is a deep and scary pit of doom, so my beginnings need to shine if they're going to claw their way to publication.
Endings tend to make or break whether the reader will like and/or remember a story. So if the endings aren't strong, I might be doing more harm to my career than good.
Your debut collection Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction has just been released, how did you go about selecting the stories for it?
I scanned through all of my stories that had been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, selected the strongest ones, and then gave them a thorough edit to smooth them over. (Some I wrote more than 10 years ago.) Next I looked at the unpublished stories I was currently circulating at various markets, decided which ones fit, and then sent them all to Brian Hades at EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.
We then played the back-and-forth game, taking some stories out (my two talking chicken stories for instance) and adding a couple of others that I'd recently written, including the last story in the collection, "Soul-Hungry."
The collection features many different genres, does this allow you to approach different themes and topics in a different manner?
My approaches depend on the current circumstances of my writing to-do list.
Calls for submissions to themed anthologies inspire me to write with certain styles or within specific genres.
If I'm stuck in a rut, my critique group pals occasionally send me a prompt to get the creative juices flowing, and I'll forge ahead on a genre tangent.
From the beginning of my career fourteen years ago, I decided to write whatever story rang true; to "speak my truth" as Mort Castle taught me at a writing workshop at World Horror Convention in 2007.
I understand that genre-hopping might increase the difficulty of building a fan base. Maybe one day I'll be forced to write under pseudonyms to meet the expectations of my readers. But in the meantime, I write because the words need to come out (or my brain might explode).
Also I need to buy groceries. Teenagers eat copious volumes of food.
Have you ever considered using the different genres to tackle a theme from different genre viewpoints?
I think most writers can't help but tackle the themes of their life stories. I know most of my fiction includes tidbits of my journey on this planet.
Family plays a huge role in my life as a mom, sister, daughter, and partner. I've addressed family from the Dark Fantasy angle in "The Tear Closet" and "Soul-Hungry," and from the Science Fiction angle in "Coolies" and "The Flower Gathering."
In two of the Couch Teleportation Universe stories, I examine a relationship meltdown from both the male and female perspectives. "Everyone Needs a Couch" is Tank Lazier's journey post-breakup, and "Waste Management" tells Lorna Watkowski's side of their implosion.
Do you have a favourite genre to work within?
That's a tough call.
If held at knifepoint over a pot of boiling oil, I'd probably blurt out Horror because I tend to see the world through a dark lens rather than rose coloured glasses. As long as I can include sarcasm to spice the stew.
Do you have a favourite story within the collection, and if so why?
Oh no...don't make me choose a favourite baby!
Okay, if you insist, my favourite Fantasy tale is "The Tear Closet" because it speaks many of the truths I've lived, and includes places where I hung out growing up, like the Leaside Bridge in Toronto (even though it's not named in the story).
My favourite Horror piece is "The Needle's Eye" because it's more of a love story, and plays homage to my paternal grandparents (who were French-speaking) and my maternal grandparents (who were blind).
My favourite Science Fiction story is a tie between "Coolies" because of the freakish job that soldiers like Marvin live every day and "Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop" because I've become a fan of Dubstep and House music through my sons and I wish I could actually snort a song directly into my brain and dance the night away in coordinated rapture.
I love the artwork for the cover, does it have any significance to a particular story?
The last story "Soul-Hungry" is based on the cover.
When Brian Hades sent me the cover, he and I had been toying with the idea of replacing one of the stories that didn't quite fit in Elements. Unfortunately, I didn't have another story written that fit the bill.
As soon as I saw that cover I was immediately inspired to write a story, and within a month, we'd added "Soul-Hungry" to the book.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
It's human nature to remember the negative and forget the positive. I try my best not to take the negative reviews to heart. When they do wear me down, I turn to my old pals chocolate and potato chips to assist with the wallowing.
To be honest, most of the reviews, good or bad, fade over time and I'm left with my own feelings for my characters. We've spent so much time together, that author-character relationship will always be stronger than the reaction of any one particular reader.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
In my fiction I have yet to come across a topic, theme, or characterization that I wouldn't tackle.
But if we're talking about my social media presence, I tend to shy away from political and religious commentary. Many authors blog about their political opinions and/or religious beliefs (or lack thereof). My mother always warned me to never speak of religion or politics among friends because it was the surest path to anger and discontent.
I tend to agree with my mom to some extent. While I accept that it's my responsibility as a member of a democratic society to express my opinion--my vote--the thought of doing so in a public forum makes me feel squidgy.
What do you think makes a good story?
Having a sense of pacing is the key to telling a good story.
For many years I used to visit a couple of friends who were 50+ years older than me. We rarely watched television. Instead we'd sit in their living room and chat.
I have such fond memories of those encounters, where I learned the art of conversation. Time would unravel in their presence, as though I'd hitched a ride in a time machine back
to an era when the important aspects of life were your connections with other people, not the money in your wallet, the gadgets in your house, or even your career accomplishments.
To be able to sit down with an elder and tell an engaging and timeless story, that's a skill that few people have the opportunity to learn in our hyper-technology-driven society.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
One of my pet peeves is stories with too many characters whose names all begin with the same letter. When I begin reading a tale I tend to think of characters by their first initial (if I remember their name at all). So when I start my own writing project I tend to treat names as placeholders until the character is fleshed out and then the names materialize.
There are plenty of useful name databases online to help find names appropriate to time in history, country of origin, or meaning.
Writers must also be aware of how a name sounds. Inevitably I'll read the story aloud at a convention or a book launch, so I try to choose names that are relatively easy to pronounce. The same is true if the story will be made into a podcast or audiobook.
I'm also on the lookout for unintentional humour with respect to names. In my story "The Wind and the Sky" one of the androids is named "Astfour" (Ast-4) since he is the fourth model in the Astatine series. Originally I wrote him as "Asttwo" (Ast-2) but beta readers spoke of how they read his name as AST-TWOW, like the dog with the speech impediment in the cartoon The Jetsons.
Didn't see that coming.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
When I began writing I used sarcasm often (probably too often). I've learned with comedy that you either have to go subtle (use such a light touch that everyone won't get every joke) or go so over the top that you leave no joke left untold.
My biggest challenge with each story is to aim for deeper waters than I've swum in before. For instance, I try to make the science geekier, the fantasy more magical, and (if absolutely necessary) the gore gorier.
My most significant evolution (and probably the hardest to get right) is emotional resonance. If I'm going to write stories that touch readers, then I have to dig so deep into my emotional well that I plunge into an uncomfortable place. That risk can pay huge rewards or it can backfire. No matter what, I have to feel a certain level of respect and confidence in my writing voice before I can venture deeper into that abyss.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Proper grammar and spelling are essential. They're explained well in The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr. as well as Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.
For novel-length projects, I've found two books particularly helpful for planning and editing. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.
The most inspiring book about crafting fiction I've read is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Write the first draft with your internal editor turned off. Even though you might make slightly more work for yourself later when you do sit down to edit the prose, you'll experience the thrill of pounding words onto paper without that annoying critic whispering your failures in your ear the whole time.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I've blogged since 2004, so I've certainly enjoyed the power that blogs have to connect with readers and fellow authors. The internet has changed publishing on such an explosive and fundamental level and I can't thank it enough.
I'm pretty adept at reading aloud (IMHO--don't burst my bubble). Whenever I attend a convention I always request a reading time slot. I figure if people hear teasers from my fiction and they're driven to read the rest, then I've succeeded.
I'd say my strongest marketing tool is my ability to talk about my work, either one-on-one or in a more formally structured scenario. I used to teach high school math, so if I can survive standing in front of thirty teenagers who hate the subject and convince them that the quadratic formula is cool, then I can read one of my stories with enough emotion that people will head for the Dealers' Room, buy the book, and find out what happens next.
All of the social media culprits like Twitter and Facebook have their place in the publishing marketing mire. I was slow to comprehend the purpose of Twitter, but once I figured out that I could tweet about hockey I embraced tweeting with open arms.
My final marketing tip: make sure to have cake at a launch party. Really awesome cake. Trust me. ;)
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
Tank Lazier in "Everyone Needs a Couch."
He's a writer and a loser, but his heart's in the right place. I've walked a few miles in Tanker's shoes and I get him on a fundamental level.
Many of the secondary alien characters in the Couch Teleportation Universe stories--especially the Drips, the Braklez, and the Cravvers--were a hoot to write.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
I tend to write believable assholes so it's tough to decide which one is the most loathsome. The father characters in "The Tear Closet" and "Hell's Deadline" immediately come to mind, but they're too easy.
Instead I choose Aurisandra from "The Flower Gathering" because she's so judgemental. Characters like her that make hurtful choices based on the foundation of their fanaticism are probably the most frightening to me, because they are driven by the same convictions as terrorists.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Fame is probably more of a nuisance than an accomplishment. I often write in coffee shops and that's probably impossible for someone like J.K. Rowling.
Fortune is probably overrated. If I ever wake up one day the proud owner of a vault full of cash, I'll let you know for sure. But it certainly didn't work out too well for Walter White in Breaking Bad.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
My collection, Elements. This is the first time I've published a book that is all me. And I've learned a tremendous amount about the marketing of a book over the last few months.
I cannot thank Brian Hades and EDGE SF&F Publishing enough for giving me this opportunity.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
The first chapters of the first novel I ever wrote.
I had to submit a whack of pages to Ann Crispin for my first writing workshop in 2000. As I sat in class learning all of the rules and realizing that I'd unknowingly broken all of them, the knot in my stomach kept tightening.
I remember when she and I sat down for my one-on-one critique session, before she spoke I blurted out, "I know my submission is terrible. I've learned so much these last few days and I'm embarrassed at how many mistakes I made."
She let out a huge sigh, and said, "What a relief! You're so nice and I was so afraid to crush your spirit, but I couldn't give you a critique without listing all of the huge mistakes you made."
Years later, Ann often shared the story of my rough-newbie fiction with her students as an example of how much a writer can improve simply by learning about and honing their craft.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
Technically Elements is my first book that's all-mine, but my stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines.
If I had to pick a story that best represents my authorial skills, I'd probably name two.
"The Tear Closet" was the first story where I felt I'd truly found my voice as a writer. I tend not to read it aloud in its entirety because there are segments of the story I can't get through without tearing up. And even though I've grown as a writer since penning that tale, I will always love the scenes in Mabel's tear closet.
In 2013 I published "Living Bargains" in the anthology When the Hero Comes Home 2, edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood from Dragon Moon Press. It's by far the darkest, most horrific story I've ever written but it's also Science Fiction, and at its core it's a love story. I believe that "Living Bargains" showcases my ability to unearth the power, beauty, and humanity of love from a tragic and gruesome situation.
Can you tell us about what you are working on next?
I'm always writing short fiction, especially for anthologies with themes that appeal to me.
I've finished two young adult novels that I hope will find homes.
For the last few months I've been researching and building the foundation for a novel set in the world from "Destiny Lives in the Tattoo's Needle." I hope to start writing the first draft by the end of May and if I'm lucky, it'll be ready to shop by the end of 2014.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Suzanne, what is it with you and hockey? Especially on Twitter?
I love hockey because it's a super-fast sport. Hockey is so quick that the players don't wait for a whistle to do a line change; they jump over the boards and right into the action. I've followed the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid (yes, they've won the Stanley Cup in my lifetime--I'm that old). When they're winning, I tweet during the game to share that adrenaline rush with the other dreamers who are crazy enough to pour their hopes into the Leafs as much as I do.
I absolutely love to skate and there's nothing quite like the sound of skate blades cutting into ice. There's a day I live for in December that signals the blossoming of winter and the holiday season--that quintessential moment when I dig the skates out of summer storage, take them to be sharpened, and then hit the ice for the first time since the previous March.
Sweet and unfiltered joy!
Purchase Suzanne's Collection from the links below
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To find out more about Suzanne follow the links below
Amazon Author Page
Amazon Author Page