Born in Hollywood and raised in San Diego, CA, J.L. Mulvihill has made Mississippi her home for the past fifteen years. Her debut novel was the young adult title The Lost Daughter of Easa, an engaging fantasy novel bordering on science-fiction with a dash of steampunk, published through Kerlak Publishing.
Interview with Author Jen Mulvihill
Co-editor of Southern Haunts
I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
Lisa, thank you so much for having me here first of all, I love having the opportunity to talk to people about my writing. I get some of my story ideas from my dreams which mean I have some pretty wild dreams. My first novel, The Lost Daughter of Easa, started out as a nightmare I had of being chased through the woods by a giant spider. The dream was so scary I could not get it out of my head, and the more I thought about it, the more it started to develop into a story.
Some of my ideas come from my observations of the world around me. I sort of see things in a different perspective I guess. For instance if there is a bowl of fruit on the table most people would see the bowl and think about whether or not they are allowed to eat the fruit, what kind of fruit it is and if the fruit is ripe. Maybe some people don’t even think that far, ha ha I’m not sure. But for me it’s different; I see a bowl of fruit on the table and I think who did that bowl belong to? Did an evil witch put that fruit in a bowl to tempt me? Maybe there is a curse on the fruit and everyone who eats it will turn into a zombie. Maybe that fruit used to be people and a mad scientist turned them into fruit with some strange chemical and now someone will eat those poor people. See the difference? I’m not sure why I think like that, I just do. Everything has a story behind it. My family and friends tell me I’m just not right. I’m not sure what they mean by that but maybe it has something to do with this thought process of mine.
I used to watch the Ray Bradbury Theater television series when I was a kid and in the beginning of the show the camera would zoom into his office where he writes and he would narrate as the camera did this saying, “what shall we write about today,” or something like that. The camera would span across an eclectic office. There were all sorts of things in his office and when the camera finally stopped on one item that item would be the focus of the day’s story. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I now have an eclectic office of my own where I surround myself with not only books of all genre but also strange knick knacks and a collection of dragons and art work I have purchased over the years. I love it. So sometimes I get my inspirations from just looking at the items in my office, or my little corner of the world as I like to call it.
What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am both. When I am working on a series such as the Authora series or the Steel Roots series, I have to be a plotter because there is so much involved in the stories. There are so many characters and places in Authora I have to have one of those tri panel boards like the ones you use for a science project? I have to use one of those with sticky notes all over it with the names of the characters, where they live, and how they connect to other characters in the story or the history. So when I say I use a story board, I literally use a story board.
However, when I write a short story, I have to admit I write by the seat of my pants and I just let that story flow on out of head, down my arms, through my fingers into the keys and onto the computer screen. But, I cheat a little because I do plot a little but in my head. I will mull the story over in my head for a few days before I actually write it out. But I don’t write an outline or anything of that sort for my short stories.
I think everyone is different in this though. Every writer does what works best for them and this is just how things work best for me. It does not mean this is the way one should do it by any means. When it comes to writing I don’t think too many rules and regulations should be put upon an author. If the story comes out good, does it really matter how it was done? Writing is a form of art I am certainly not going to go tell Leonardo Da Vinci how to paint any more than I will tell James Hilton how to write.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
Oh, yes I’m big on research. I research everything to the smallest detail. Why you ask? Because I believe that everything, even fiction, should be believable so when I research I look for the most plausible angle so I can create the most believable story. To me that is what makes a good story.
What is your daily writing like?
Well I’m a full time mom, wife, and I have a 40 hour a week job, and I have promotions to handle for my books, so my writing is when and however I can squeeze it in. When I am hot on a novel I usually end up writing at least an hour or three each night and as much time as I can fit on the weekends. Unfortunately with the mom schedule it can be hard to set a precise time for writing. My kids are older but they are very involved and I don’t want them to feel I am neglecting them. But, that means the housework tends to get put off. I am fortunate to have a supportive husband who helps out though. When I finish a project I tend to take a little time off before I jump back into writing. Some people say you should write every day and maybe that is true to help keep you frosty. I just think you should not go more than a week without writing something creative. But again that is coming from someone who is very, very busy. Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
I would really like to have the luxury of being a full time writer but at the moment I have to keep my job especially now that I have to put one of my kids through college. Right now I am building a platform for my writing career so that one day I will be able to transition over easily, and then I will be able to write full time. I want to be sure that there will be enough of a demand for my writing before I give up the day job. That’s the plan anyway.
Can you tell us about your experience working with your current publisher? (Any other publishers?) (And/or your self-publishing experiences?)
I am very blessed to be with two wonderful publishers right now. Dark Oak Press, also known as Kerlak out of Memphis and Seventh Star Press out of Louisville, KY. Allan Gilbreath of Dark Oak Press took the chance on my first novel and I am very grateful for that. Since then I have enjoyed working with him and Kimberly Richardson at Dark Oak on other projects. I have some short stories in the Dreams of Steam anthologies Kimberly edits. I also have a few other projects in the works with Dark Oak, projects that are often born out of conversations and mayhem at the conventions I attend. There is never a dull moment when I go to a convention with Dark Oak and Allen and Kimberly are there.
I have known Stephen Zimmer from Seventh Star Press about as long as I have known the Dark Oak/Kerlak press. Stephen and I have often sat and discussed projects and ideas but it was last year he came to me and asked me if I had any young adult projects I was working on besides the Elsie Lind series. I told him I had an idea for a young adult steampunk series so he told me to write up a proposal and submit it. I was sort of taken aback when they accepted it because it was an idea I had only been mulling around in my head for about a year. Once I got into the story I became very excited as the characters came to life and the plot opened up to me. Now I can hardly wait until the first book comes out. The story is so unique and written from a completely separate perspective than the other series. I enjoy working with Seventh Star Press a great deal; they are so encouraging and supportive, like a family.
Recently I co-edited an anthology with author Alexander S. Brown, Southern Haunts, The Spirits That Walk Among Us. Seventh Star Press took the book on and since it came out last March it has been a big hit. The book is such a big hit that Seventh Star has already asked Alexander to do another Southern Haunts book. I won’t be editing that book since I have so many other projects on the table right now but I will be submitting a story.
So far my experiences with both publishing houses have been extremely pleasant and educational, and I‘ve got nothing but love all the way around.
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
My new novel, The Boxcar Baby from the Steel Roots series will be coming out in June from Seventh Star Press. I’m very excited about this book and series. It’s about a fifteen-year-old girl who was found as a baby in a boxcar. The man who adopted her and raised her as his own is now missing and she has to find him. Aided only by a motley gang of friends and a map she found hidden in her papa’s spyglass which has clues written on it, AB’Gale Steel train hops her way across the United States in a desperate attempt to find her papa and put her life and family back the way it was. This great American adventure takes place in an alternate steampunk dystopian world.
Can you tell us about some of your other writing and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
Lisa, last March I had a new short story called The Book, in the Dreams of Steam IV – Gizmos released out of out of Dark Oak Press/Kerlak. It’s a steampunk thriller where I send three publishers to steampunk hell. It takes place in Memphis and I will not tell you anymore than this, if you anagram the names you will find out who they are. Of course it is all in good fun.
At the same time Gizmos came out the anthology Southern Haunts, The Spirits That Walk Among Us which I mentioned earlier I co-edited with Alexander S. Brown was released out of Seventh Star Press. I also have a short story in this book called Bath 10 which is a real chiller and based off the bathhouses of Hot Springs, AR. The anthology has 15 other fantastic authors in it and all the stories are fictional but based on real places thought to be haunted.
The next events I will be attending will be Mobicon May 17-19 in Mobile Alabama where I am one of the guest authors http://www.mobicon.org/
I will also be a guest at the Alabama Phoenix Festival May 24-26 in Huntsville Alabama, http://www.alabamaphoenixfestival.com/
I will at a book signing with several Imagicopter authors at Cups in Brandon, MS on June 1, 2013 from 11am -1pm and then that same day I will be at another book signing at Bay Window Books in Pearl, MS from 2pm to 4pm.
Then my biggest most exciting event is that I will be attending Comic Con July 18-21, 2013 in San Diego, CA as a professional. I can hardly wait I am so excited about this http://www.comic-con.org/cci.
Also in October 18-20 I will be attending as a regional guest at one of my favorite conventions Contra Flow http://www.contraflowscifi.org/
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
I would suggest to inspiring authors try to attend some of these speculative/science fiction/fantasy conventions where they offer a writing program and learn as much as you can from other authors. My first convention was MidSouth Con in Memphis, TN. This convention is held every March and has writing panels geared toward the college so it’s highly educational. Don’t just attend any convention though, do some research to see who will be there and what sort of programing they offer. Writing conventions can be very expensive but if you can afford to go to one you probably should try that as well. I also recommend reading a lot. Whatever genre it is you choose to write, read it first so you understand what you are writing. I would also recommend research and get your facts straight even if it’s fantasy, making it believable makes the story all the more readable and interesting.
Who is your favorite author, and can you recommend a book or series by that author?
Oh wow, favorite author? That is really hard because I have so many that I like. Ok well J.R.R. Tolkien I guess is my all-time favorite but that’s a given, I probably don’t even have to tell anyone what to read when it comes to his writing. No one writes like that anymore.
My next favorite would have to be Terry Brooks, I have only read The Shannara series, and I have started to read the Magic Kingdom series. Anne McCaffrey and the Riders of Pern series had a big influence on me, as well as Neil Gaiman. My favorite story is Neverwhere. I have read a lot of his writing and I love Stardust too but Neverwhere, hands down is a fantastic story.
I would also like to recommend some of the classics like Edgar Rice Burroughs; The Princes of Mars series was my favorite. Anything by Ray Bradbury I don’t think the man could write a bad story, I am very sorry I did not get the chance to meet him he was an incredible writer. Robert Heinlein, I loved Stranger in a Strange Land. Oh and Isaac Asimov, those are some classic science fiction writers. Michael Crichton I think was an absolute genius and it is a great loss to the literary world when he died.
Ok so everyone has heard of these authors but here are a few that maybe you have not heard of but also are fantastic authors and have some great series that I have read and enjoy: D. A. Adams and his Brotherhood of Dwarves series. Usually dwarves are written in as comic relief or sidekicks but this series puts a whole new meaning to dwarves. Also Stephen Zimmer has two really good series he writes but the one I am reading now is the Rising Dawn Saga, totally epic. David Blalock is an amazing author too with my favorite Ascendant which is part of the Thran Chronicles. I read Ascendant and then found out that he had been writing these books for a while so I just got a hold of the other six books and I can’t wait to dive into them.
If you like Vampires Galen and Dark Chances by Allan Gilbreath has a badass vampire who does not sparkle. If you are into horror then Alexander S. Brown’s Traumatized is brilliant with a variety of physiological horror and so does Kimberly Richardson for that matter in Tales of The Goth Librarian. Michael West’s Poseidon’s Children is one of those nail biting but you can’t put it down books and Jimmy Gillentine’s Of Blood and The Moon is a fast pace but fantastic story; he just released the sequel to it, Crossroads.
I’m sorry I better stop now because really I could go on and on about books and authors, like I said before it’s hard to pick a favorite when there are just so many fantastic authors out there.
Thank you Lisa for the interview and I hope I have answered all the inquiring minds satisfactorily.
Thank you Jen! If you would like more information about Jen Mulvihill you can find her books on Amazon, and updates about her writing on Twitter, Facebook and on her website.