Thursday, 3 May 2018

An interview with L.S. Johnson


 L.S. Johnson's fiction first appeared in Dark Lane Anthology Volume Two.  She later opened Volume Five with her story 'Ada Awake'.  Her short fiction collection, Vacui Magia, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2017.

Q: What are your working methods?  Do you sit down every day to write?  Do you have a designated place to write?

A: I am currently blessed with a piecemeal freelance career. It’s stressful in regards to financial stability, but it allows me to control my schedule and thus carve out writing time every day. Before this, I tried to schedule my day jobs for either very early or very late starts, but that was hit or miss. Weekends I get up before my spouse and write. I was a night owl as a child, but circumstances have conspired to make me a morning person.
I took over the spare bedroom in our house for my writing space, but I have difficulty sitting at a desk for long stretches. Thus I usually draft on a cheap netbook and move around the house, writing on the floor, standing up, etc. Once the piece I’m working on feels solid, I’ll move it onto the computer in my writing space and put it in Scrivener or Word for revision.
I’m hoping one of these days I’ll be earning enough from writing to invest in an adjustable desk. Life goals!

Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories and why you like it (not one of your own).

A: Well, I can whittle it down to two, and I’ll mostly talk about one of them.
The two stories are “1986” by Yu Hua and “Rare Bird” by Andrea Barrett. Together, I think they form a kind of bracketing of my aesthetic.
I come back to “1986” often, because it’s so painfully precise and so mannered in its pacing and yet it is so, so brutal. It took me many years to let go of the idea that Proper Writers only write literary fiction, but “1986” was pivotal in that process. I think of the story as horror, though I first found it via a comparative lit class; more to the point, I think “1986” says something about war and trauma that can only be said through horror. My father was a painter, but in his early twenties he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, just before the Tet Offensive. When he returned he didn’t talk about the war for decades, but it … leaked out, in a sense? It showed in his temper and his art, and when I read “1986” I felt a kind of resonance for something I hadn’t been able to describe before: a sense of disjunction between my sheltered, loving childhood and this unspoken, brutal history. I haven’t found that resonance anywhere else, certainly not in the many literary novels or essay collections I’ve read about the war.
“Rare Bird” is at the opposite end of my aesthetic spectrum, a lovely piece of historical fiction. It shares the precision and mannered pacing, but it’s a quiet story—a domestic story, really—about repression and intellect and women. I think it says a great deal in the space around the story, if that makes sense. I struggle a lot with clarity vs. opacity – when to reveal, when to be explicit, when to hold back, elide? and when I’m really struggling I re-read Barrett to see it done well.

Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories (written by you).

A: I can’t choose! I love all my stories, both the great and the terrible. Whether they fail or succeed, they each have a tiny bit of life in them. How do you choose among them? Every one of them is a relationship. It’s like ranking friends.

Q: Where do your ideas come from?  Do you go looking for ideas – for example by brainstorming, or do you wait for inspiration?

A: A story usually starts with an image or two that’s stuck in my head. I can’t write a story until I’m immersed in it, like being inside a movie; fiction is very cinematic for me. So I’ll see things, or I’ll imagine something based on what I’m reading, and that will spark, oh, not even a scene so much as a moment—but it’s a moment I can enter, I can be the character in that moment. From there I can start imagining the emotional core of a story.
An example: I have a novelette that I’m working on whose initial seed was a video I saw a few years ago, about spider eggs hatching beneath a person’s skin. That video lingered in all sorts of gross and delightful ways in my head; I wrote “spider thing?” in a journal and tried to write a story with that as an element but got nowhere. Years later, I was describing the pine forest near where I went to college and I suddenly remembered that video, and at once I was in the moment: I was standing in the forest, the cool damp of it, and I was looking down at my bare forearms and watching the skin move and feeling those bodies wriggling inside. Then I was able to start building the story.
Sometimes, too, those initial scenes don’t make it to the final draft. Sometimes they’re just scaffolding. I write a lot of scaffolding.

Q: Are you a full-time author? If you have another job, what is it and would you like to become a full-time author if you could?

A: I mostly write book indexes. I’ve indexed everything from history to critical theory to automotive repair. I also proofread books and copy, write copy for retailers, provide story critiques, and read exams to dyslexic and blind students. It’s a hodgepodge income stream, but I burned out very badly at my job in publishing, so I’m trying to avoid a return to full-time office work.
I’ve had a taste of writing full-time now in the lull between freelance projects, and I like it, but it’s much harder than it looks. It takes a great deal of discipline to stay consistently productive.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

A: First drafts. I hate how far they are from the thing in my head, and I have to be careful that I don’t psych myself out of the story completely. It’s easy to reread a garbage scene, see only an endless parade of revisions to be done, and abandon the whole damn thing, who wants to do that much work? I just keep reminding myself of that glorious moment, usually second or third draft, when it actually starts to polish up a little. Then all the enthusiasm kicks in.

Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self about becoming an author?

A: That all that stuff you’re writing with the mysterious filenames, so no one would twig what they’re about? The sword and sorcery, the fairy tale adventures, the fanfiction? Trust your heart and don’t stop. You just haven’t found your tribe yet.


Thursday, 19 April 2018

An interview with Vikki Yeates

Vikki Yeates' artwork first appeared in the original Dark Lane Magazine. Her work has since graced all six volumes of the Dark Lane Anthologies. You can find out more about her work on her website.

Q: What are your working methods? Do you sit down every day to work? Do you have a designated place to work?

A: I usually start work after I’ve walked the dogs and had a coffee, so usually at about 10am. I work at home, on my dining room table, which is a rough wood slab, covered in ink and paint splatters. This table has a personality of its own and is ingrained with character.


Q: Tell us about one of your favourite artworks and why you like it (not one of your own).

It’s difficult to bring it down to one piece, but I really like the woodcut of ‘Potsdamer Platz’ by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1914. The figures are so stylized, angular and dramatic; he invents his own proportions and doesn’t care if they look realistic – it’s the feelings underneath that are important. He also did a painting of this, that I like as well, but I love the direct effect of the black and white.

A: Tell us about one of your favourite artwork (done by you).

Q: One of my favourite pieces is ‘Hagbound’, which is in Dark Lane Anthology Vol 2. I loved creating the angular figure, twisting her body around to make her menacing even in her nakedness. I think it’s obvious to see that I’ve been influenced by the Japanese version of ‘The Ring’, which absolutely terrified and transfixed me; I think it was the first time I’d seen the jerky movements and strange special effects. This has embedded itself in my own creative centre, so that whenever I think of eerie figures they all seem to have to be emaciated, contorted and to have long black hair! The ‘Hagbound’ picture has lots of other symbols, which probably only make sense to me, but I decided that didn’t matter.

Q: Where do your ideas come from? Do you go looking for ideas – for example by brainstorming, or do you wait for inspiration?


A: I don’t always have the luxury of waiting for inspiration, but I keep a sketchbook full of ideas and starting points, so if I need to come up with something in a hurry I can nearly always find something there.

I get my inspiration from reading, watching films and listening to music.

When I get a story to illustrate, I usually read through first, underlining sections that appeal to me and that I know will work visually. On the second read through I make doodles in the margin, trying to avoid thinking too deeply. I then redraw the doodles in my sketchbook and either work one up into a workable idea, or merge a few together, to get a more overall illustration.

Q: Are you a full-time artist? If you have another job, what is it and would you like to become a full-time artist if you could?

A: I am a full time artist, but most of my paid work comes from my animal paintings.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

A: Probably getting a good idea in the first place – once that’s there the rest just follows.

Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self about becoming an artist?

A: That if I wanted to be rich, forget it!

But also to be true to myself and not to try to change my artwork to fit in with somebody else, or just to be more popular; the work always suffers if you do that.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

An interview with Robert Pope


Robert Pope’s fiction first appeared in Dark Lane Anthology Volume Three.  Since then he’s made regular appearances in subsequent volumes.


Q: What are your working methods?  Do you sit down every day to write?  Do you have a designated place to write?

A: I sit down everyday and give attention to writing, but I don’t write every day unless I have a story in the works. Then I sit down a couple of times each day to do as much as I can. As it has been too cold to work in my attic this winter, I write in a large leather chair in the living room, with the laptop on my lap—early in the morning. I often come down to Nervous Dog coffee shop when I find it tempting to play with the dog or daydream. At the coffee shop I sit in a stiff-backed chair, so I will not get too comfortable. People talking or working around me gives me the sense I’m getting somewhere.

Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories and why you like it (not one of your own).

A: At the time I read “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol, I might have been twenty, but the experience of wonder and delight at the purposeful wackiness of the story gave me a bit of a thrill. Since then, there have been many highlights, and often the stories share this quality of purposeful wackiness as well as intensity in forward motion. The sense of wonder found in strange situations and comedy in tragic moments satisfies the mourner and the fool in me.

Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories (written by you).

A: In recent years, my favourite stories appeared in Dark Lane, “The Detective’s Son” and “The Rose Is Red the Grass Is Green.” Both had qualities I want to balance: a developed, dense sense of both the realistic and imaginative levels. “The Detective’s Son” was an apotheosis of what I most desired to achieve at the time, but “The Rose Is Red…” had a more complex development. I wrote the sections from varying viewpoints, as they occurred to me. In rewriting, I chose the dominant point-of-view, Farrell Flynn, a lawyer running for political office, and each section fell in place naturally. I ended up with a file of pieces that didn’t make it but have not looked back at them with remorse. Writing it did exhaust me, I will admit. Perhaps because I had to put in more time and effort, I have to like it best, for the same reason that troublesome children are so often most loved by their parents.

Q: Where do your ideas come from?  Do you go looking for ideas – for example by brainstorming, or do you wait for inspiration?

A: I do what every reasonable writer says you should not: wait for inspiration. Once I finish a story, I have a couple of days of ecstasy that slowly evolve into desperation. But I always trust another story will present itself to my imagination, and I have to be ready. I have to recognize it as a story worth developing, and it has to take root firmly for me to stick with it. Of course, everything you do, hear, read, seek, dream comes into the formation of the idea, but all bets are off once you wade into it. I might actually have thoughts such as, wouldn’t it be nice to write something that did such-and-such, but conscious desires of this nature must be blended in with an idea that comes with sufficient force to demand attention. Eventually, your unconscious mind will come to the idea your conscious mind suggested at the point at which the unconscious mind believes he or she came up with it on its own. Never contradict the unconscious mind, for she or he is the source of all good things. I suppose I am a bit of a Jungian, but only because my unconscious thinks he or she invented it.

Q: Are you a full-time author? If you have another job, what is it and would you like to become a full-time author if you could?

A: I write full time now and would like to be a full-time author if I could. Yes. Teaching has supported my vice throughout the years. I just got a letter (meaning a long email) from a former student and present friend who asked me why I continue to write when I do not have to do so any longer. My first response is best represented by three large question marks appearing over my head. Evidently, when she took my fiction writing class, she thought I was kidding. I write stories. This is what I do.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

A: The most difficult part of the writing process is a triumvirate: waiting, writing, and obstacles. In the space between writing one story and starting another, I often question myself most severely.  In the writing, I usually take Advil at least once a day because my back or neck hurts. In the living of any life at all, there are situations that demand attention if you hope to be a decent, law-abiding citizen. If you are neither decent nor law-abiding, you don’t have time for writing stories.

Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self about becoming an author?

A: If I could go back in time, and if I could find myself again, I would nod to my younger self in passing, and I would smile and point at him. That would give him enough to think about for years.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Announcing Dark Lane Anthology Volume Six

Dark Lane Anthology Volume Six was released in February 2018.  Table of contents below:

PLAYFIGHT - James Hartley.
TO DREAM THE DREAMS OF WOMEN - Jeff Meyers.
GREEN PASTURES - Laura Maria Grierson.
DRIFT - Megan Taylor.
OUT OF THE BASIL POT - Gregory Wolos.
THE GIFT - Tim Jeffreys.
THE KEITH OF DEATH - Christopher Fielden.
THE CIDER MILL - Timothy Delizza.
THE THIRD DEVIL ON THE LEFT - Charles Wilkinson.
THE BROWNIE - Ariel Dodson.
THE PEOPLE IN THE CLOUDS - Gary Power.
WHEN THE MADONNA RETURNED TO SAN VERONICA - Ingvar Hellsing Lundqvist.
THE SUBMISSION - Tushar Jain.
RETURN UNTO GOD - Ben Edmunds.
THE DAY THE OTHER DAD DIED- Giselle Leeb.
THE GRASS IS GREEN THE ROSE IS RED - Robert Pope.
DANCING WITH THE TREES (poem) - Jeremy Hill.

Available to buy in paperback or for kindle from Amazon US or Amazon UK.  Paperback includes additional artwork by Vikki Yeates and Sally Barnett.