Interview with author Selah Janel

I’ve met a lot of fantastic people thanks to my blog. All the authors who I now consider friends are thanks to this site. Selah I met through a facebook group via some authors I’m friends with there. I offered my blog up for interviews and guest posts so I can share all their awesome work with everyone. Selah will be on the blog three straight days be sure to stop by and ask questions and check out her work. Thanks so much for being on Selah 🙂

 

Please tell us about yourself

I‘ve lived throughout the Midwest, but I’ve been lucky enough to travel across the country because of costuming work. I’m happy in cities and small towns, but I’ll admit that there’s an extra special something about small-town life. There’s something about a close-knit community, especially if it’s grounded in farms and forests that brings out my inner romanticist; I really love focusing on the little, mundane things that make every day special. I love sewing and crafting, I’m a big reader, and I’m a huge music geek. Pretty much I just plain love ideas and the possibility that lurks behind them, that what-if factor. I think I’m pretty typical and shy, but inevitably all of my friends will laugh and contradict me on that one because I always seem to go about my day and come back with these wild stories of things that just happen to happen to me.

I imagine your work as a costume designer is like writing a creative outlet, can you tell me more about it?

I do a lot of work building and designing costumes for different places. At the moment my strength is that I can do both so when people hire or commission me they get the full package. I started out doing a lot of wardrobe work while I was still in school – both for my university and for some amazing theatre companies like Glimmerglass Opera and Lost Colony. These days I still do maintenance but I’ve gravitated to a lot of specialty work for city events, especially around the holidays. I’ve done work for zoos, amusement parks, as well as personal commissions. I’ve sewn a lot of regular clothes or things you’d expect to see on a stage, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that I really like making really elaborate costumes, especially those that are creature or horror oriented. I love making monsters and costumes that are way over the top. I’m really influenced a lot by Japanese street wear and things that were popular during the glam rock movement in Britain, and right now I’m teaching myself how to work with and cast latex and things like that. Designing and sewing really have a lot in common with writing: you have to show up and put the work in whether you’re inspired or not. You have to know something about a character or a look you’re creating to make it come to life. When I’m designing I’m not just thinking about what looks good. I have to take into account what it’s going to be like for a person to wear the outfit, how easy the outfit will be to maintain, plus I always have some sort of backstory or idea of what that character is or why they would wear those clothes or look that way.

What about on stage? What has been your favorite on stage work?

This past holiday season I was with Madcap Puppets in their holiday show Winter Wonders. It was so much fun and involved black lights so everything looked really cool! I’ve loved puppetry and built puppets since I was a kid and to finally get to do a show like and work with the people involved was a dream. Plus, we got to talk to the audience after every show and getting feedback from the kids was fabulous. I love that kids want to know how everything works and aren’t shy about asking anything. It made every night a blast. A few years ago I did a local production of The King and I that was really good for me. When I was younger I took classical voice lessons for like ten years, and I’d always wanted to do a lead in a musical but never had the chance. When auditions for that came up I decided just to go for it and ended up getting Anna! It was probably one of the biggest personal challenges I’d faced up to that point. It wasn’t just learning all the lines and the music and working out the dance numbers, but overcoming a lot of personal insecurities… There’s a big difference in wanting to do something and suddenly having to prove to yourself that you’re capable, y’know? Plus, I can come across as a little rough now and again so I definitely was working hard on my grace and feminine energy. I was blessed that the director really let me get into the part and act it instead of just treating the character like a frame for all the musical numbers. Like with anything else, I really had to sit down and work out where she was coming from, because while the movie is amazing, I can honestly say that I didn’t understand why she made a lot of her choices until I was forced to sit down with the script and figure it out for myself. She’s very complicated and I loved playing her. Up to that point I’d done a lot of shows with small casts, so getting to be part of the huge community that put on that show was amazing. Everyone was so supportive – right down to the kids. They were some of the warmest people I’ve gotten to perform with. We had a great time together and I’ll admit that wearing those incredible outfits did wonders for my confidence. There’s definitely a part of me that wishes I could dress that way all the time!

What do you do when not writing or designing or acting?

Sleep! Seriously, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to carve out time for myself as I can – it’s a lesson I still have to have beaten into my head every now and again. I love checking out new music and going to concerts when I can; I love going to cons to see and listening to panels to get the story behind the story, as it were. I’ve got a core group of friends and family that I love hanging out with and talking to – I’m perfectly content going out to eat on a Sunday afternoon or hanging out watching movies, knitting, or reading. Every so often I see a flyer at the library or the gym about classes around town, and being the curious cat that I am I can usually be persuaded to give them a try. I’ve taken classes on learning to read Hebrew, painting flowers, Zumba, and now martial arts. Still, I really do value the z’s I get and I get teased a lot because most of my friends are early risers and I am not – unless I have to be up for work.

Clearly you are a very busy individual how in the world do you fit it all in?

I don’t do everything at once. I’ve learned that if I’m not feeling a project (if I’m not working on a deadline) I put it away for a while. If I have to focus on what’s directly in front of me, then I do my best to do that. Sometimes it’s not easy to do, but I really believe that there’s a time for everything. If I’m doing a lot of costume work, I’m usually not performing and vice versa. I can usually fit writing in with either of those, but if I’m in the middle of a tech week or something I’m not going to be working on a novel. It’s definitely been a good lesson in rolling with the punches because there’s no way to do everything at once.

How long have you been writing?

Writing has been a passion and a hobby for as long as I can remember, right back to when I was a little kid. I’ve always loved stories and I was probably the one girl in school that actually liked all the writing assignments in English class. By the time I was in college theatre had taken over. I did write a little here and there as a reaction to books I was reading at the time; I was younger and arrogant and thought I could do better. When I hit my early twenties I realized that I had a lot of stories knocking about in my brain and started to write in earnest. Looking back on those now, the ideas were good but I had a lot to learn in terms of development and execution. I’m by no means an expert now, but I definitely had no business being published back then, and I wasn’t. After the first couple of rejection letters came in I got discouraged, though I kept writing. I’d mostly been interested in short stories, but I began to develop a book series that I’m still working on. In a lot of ways I think putting my ideas and passion into something that I cared so much about without the stress of outside judgment really calmed me down and gave me the focus and practice I needed. By the time I was reaching thirty I had gotten past a health scare and I realized that I had all these stories that were just sitting there with the promise that someday I’d get to them. I feel like I went through things and gained a vast appreciation of my life at around that time, and that kind of submission to fear wasn’t going to cut it anymore. No matter what people thought I owed it to myself to take a deep breath and really give submitting another try. I didn’t want to be the person that scared myself out of doing something I truly love.

Tell me about your experience getting published

I made the promise to myself that I’d devote myself to submitting short stories for a trial period of a year while working on longer works, and go from there. My agreement was that I wasn’t allowed to give up or pass any sort of judgment on myself until that time period was over. I had about thirty stories on my hard drive that I thought showed promise, so I polished them and started submitting every week. I hit the writer’s market books, writer’s digest, duotrope, ralan.com, friends’ suggestions, publishers I met at horror conventions – I tracked down every resource I could find that I could get reliable information from, and wasn’t going to limit myself to any type of legit publication. We’re talking professional, semi-pro, token, exposure, literary journals, genre magazines, book publishers – everything. Granted, I did my research and wasn’t about to go into anything blind or pay to be published or something like that.

Every time I got a rejection letter or email I gave myself between forty-eight hours to a week to resubmit the story, depending on what else I had going on. I learned really fast that a writer has to be open to receiving critique. Being willing to listen will hands-down give you an edge. If a publisher sent me feedback, I tried to understand their side of things. If a story was rejected by different places three times straight I sat down with it and reworked it. I adapted things to fit word counts, I tightened things up, changed points of view or structure, and addressed parts that I thought might be weak – I made it my full focus to do everything I could to produce quality work.  I really wasn’t expecting much. I’d heard all these horror stories of how you could submit forever and never see an acceptance letter, but I was insanely lucky to have friends that were getting published who could give me feedback and advice. I was aiming for four acceptances within a year, but I would have been thrilled with one. My year’s deadline ended January twenty-fourth and within that time I’ve had two stories accepted for magazines (the literary journal The MacGuffin and the small-circulation The Realm Beyond), another accepted for an upcoming anthology with Wicked East Press, a poem accepted by the e-zine Stories for Children Magazine, an essay on the inspirational website Operation Beauty, and I’ve had three titles accepted as eBooks with No Boundaries Press. Besides all that, from networking I’ve been able to do the column I’m writing for Fandom Scene, which is the blog associated with the Fandom Fest convention.

I’m the personality type that always wants to do better and do more, but this has given me a lot to be proud of and tend to. Right now I’m learning the ins and outs of promotion, which is a whole new experience for me. I think the most important things that I’ve taken away from this past year was that getting published is possible if you keep at it and if you’re open to listening to others’ opinions. Plus, you do have to modify your expectations at some points. You can have the most brilliant manuscript in the world, but if no one’s willing to take a chance on it then you still have a problem. I hadn’t really wanted to self-publish because this world was so new to me at the time, and I really prefer working with people than having to handle every single aspect myself. It’s not something I’m totally against but I’d have to learn a lot more about it first. That being said, a writer still has to be really self-sufficient. I’ve been lucky to have publishers that are very open and communicative and willing to answer my questions. You definitely have to keep an eye out and get a vibe for people and companies who mesh well with your personality type.

What is your writing space and routine like?

I’m still trying to get my act together. When I can keep on a schedule I like to write a couple thousand words a day at least. It’s a fine line for me – I like to be working on a few projects at once to combat writer’s block, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ideas I’m trying to juggle. Afternoon and evening are usually better times for me to plow through long stretches of writing. I do carry a notebook and pen everywhere, though, so if I’ve got downtime somewhere else or think of something I really want to capture I can at least get it roughly on paper. At home I do most of my writing on my laptop. Depending on my mood I’ll write wherever, though I’ve gotten used to sprawling about to work on longer manuscripts. I like to be comfortable and I like being able to have my playlists on my computer so I can work to music. Sometimes silence works for me, but often I need that accompaniment, even if I’m not consciously paying attention to it. The only downside is my cat really likes to climb on me while I’m writing if I’m not at a desk or table. He either lies on my arms and blocks the screen or he’ll perch on my shoulder like a parrot! It’s hilarious and I love him, but it’s not conducive to getting work done.

Favorite books and authors?

Ray Bradbury is my all-time favorite. I read a lot of different genres, but to me he’s a master. My favorite book of his is Dandelion Wine, but I’ll read anything he writes. Not only can he write in a variety of genres, but his essays are informative and come from such a place of love – he’s so deft at subtly getting a reader on his side. It doesn’t matter if his sci-fi isn’t as hard as what’s in vogue these days. It works because you immediately identify with the characters. It’s the same with his horror or gentler stories; you can tell they all come from a deep place of emotion.

Next to him, Neil Gaiman is my other huge favorite. I love that he works with these gigantic, complex plots and worlds but that he still works in fabulous details like the raffle in American Gods where the townspeople bet as to when the ice under a car will melt. I love that his female characters are fully developed and are there to be characters and not just girls. Really, I think he’s one of the closest modern versions of a true storyteller that we have; he’s keeping alive the old themes and adventures in modern contexts. To this day I think that The Sandman series is probably one of the most perfect examples of fiction in any form that a person could discover.

I’ve just started getting into the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley and they’re hilarious and stunning. I’m a sucker for a well-written mystery and Flavia is such a nutcase! She’s a genius character; she should totally have her own TV series like Sherlock or Poirot or something. I also really love Sheila Roberts, especially On Strike for Christmas and The Nine Lives of Christmas. She has this knack with chick lit that makes her characters relatable and believable that I’m so jealous of!

What are you reading now?

I’ll warn you – I’m a fast reader and when I have time I tend to gorge on a lot of titles at once. I just love a good book and there are so many fantastic ones out there! To be fair, I’ve had some downtime and have been reading a lot for the column I write in Fandom Scene – Carrie, Misery, The Hunger Games are all titles I’ve been tearing through for that. I’m currently finishing A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley, I’m paging through the latest issue of The MacGuffin, and I’ve been catching up on my favorite manga, Skip Beat. I’m on pins and needles for American Vampire vol. 3 but I haven’t gotten a copy of it, yet.

Tell me about Mooner, what kind of reader would it appeal to?

Mooner is the story of Bill, a young lumberjack who’s worked hard, but recognizes that the lumber camps are a hard way of life. He’s ready to leave that behind and really start his own life, but he’s got a lot of people around him pulling him in different directions. Big John, the camp hero of sorts has suddenly befriended him for his own reasons and the rest of the camp plays along, and the staff of the saloon are also trying to tell Bill what’s good for him. There are all these different personalities jammed into this little saloon on a cold winter’s night, so something’s bound to happen. Added to that is this mysterious thing that comes wandering into the saloon from out of the woods. He appears to be kind of human but there’s also something really off about him, and with the drink flowing it doesn’t take long for him to get noticed and for his real intentions to come out.

I’m hoping it will appear to vampire fans who are tired of seeing these awesome predators portrayed as angsty, fangless antiheroes. I think it’ll also interest those who like historical stories, especially those that take place in time periods and places that aren’t often portrayed in fiction, since it takes place in an American lumber camp in the late 1800’s. People who like to read about pioneer life will probably be intrigued, and I’m hoping it will attract those who just plain love a good scary story, especially one that involves different personality types. This isn’t a clear “Oh my God here comes a creature, we have to kill it!” Story. Everyone has their own motivations and it was interesting for me to weave them all together when I was writing it.

What future works do readers have to look forward to?

In March I have another e-book out with No Boundaries Press called The Other Man.  This one is different than my usual work. There’s no magic and nothing paranormal or weird in it. It’s the story of a disenchanted guy and his family, and what happens when he keeps blaming everyone around him for his unhappiness. It touches a lot on the little things in relationships that can spark big arguments. In April or May my third e-book In the Red will come out (also with No Boundaries Press) and it’s a modern rock n’ roll version of the folk story The Red Shoes. Both of those have big musical elements, and since I’m a huge music geek I’m really thrilled that they’re coming out soon.  I also have stories in a few different magazines, e-zines, and an anthology coming out throughout the year and readers can keep track of those releases by going to my blog.

Right now I’m writing a few novellas which I hope to start shopping soon, and I’m also working on finishing my first novel. They’re all very different projects, but they all have my unique point of view in common. One is a love story that combines elements of chick lit and horror, one is a rock n’ roll conspiracy theory, and the novel is fairy tale satire. I can guarantee you that I’m usually not boring and I hope to always give you a new way to look at a subject!

Selah Janel Blog / Facebook / Facebook Fan Page / Fandom Fest Page / Twitter

Books Mooner and The Other Man

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