What sparked the idea for 13 Drops of Blood?
I’ve always been a romance writer, it’s where my roots are. Last year I started dipping my toes into other genres and found I loved writing dark stories. From there, I decided I wanted to write a dark romance type of story, something with ghosts. When I heard about the Black Hare Press author led 13 projects, the idea for an anthology of dark, ghostly, love-gone-wrong stories was born. I always try to incorporate some element of real history into my work, so when I read about the Scottish witch, Isobel Gowdie, I got an idea for her ancestor, a fledgling witch, to inadvertently summon 13 ghosts with a love-spell gone wrong. The rest, as they say, is history.
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
Writing definitely energizes me! I get up at 4 am to write, and I love that I get to start every day like that. As I go through the rest of my day, I find ideas still simmering and often have to stop what I’m doing and jot down some notes. It’s a great way for me to always keep my work in progress in the forefront of my mind.
What kind of research did you have to do to prepare for your chapter in 13 Drops of Blood?
Quite a bit!
When Jodi approached me about participating in this fantastic anthology, there was no hesitation from me. Based on the brief given by Jodi, the first thing I did was get myself acquainted with Isobel Gowdie. I trawled through numerous historical records and accounts. Watched some great You Tube videos about her and even found a few podcasts about her story. I grabbed onto Isobel’s alleged affiliation with fae folk, and decided to work that into my story through the character of the Muse.
I am fascinated with the history of witches throughout time, and I have amassed a nice little collection of reference books which helped me formulate how Isobel would be connected/drawn into the world of my characters.
On top of this I love poking about the internet for inspiration, and when it came to writing my chapter for the anthology two true stories I had come across a few years ago sprang to mind. The first was the story of Elizabeth Siddal, an English artist, poet, and she was also a model for other artists from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. One of my favourite paintings of Elizabeth is of her as Ophelia (Elizabeth almost died following modelling for this painting – she had to lie for hours in a bathtub full of cold water which caused her to develop pneumonia) by John Everett Millais. The painting is absolutely exquisite. It was her story and that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that gave me the idea of the up and coming artist and his beloved muse. I spent quite some time studying the paintings, the artists and the art culture of that period.
Another source of inspiration for my story is that of the 1940 criminal case of Dr Carl Tanzer who fell in love with his patient, a young woman named Elena who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. When she passed, Tanzer stole her body, preserved it and lived with the corpse as “husband and wife” for seven years until her family discovered what he was doing.
If you didn’t write, what would you do with all of your creative energy?
Aside from writing stories I also love to draw and paint (when I was a kid I wanted to either be an animator for Disney or a comic book artist). Every so often I like to steal a moment from the busy of the day to day to stop and sketch a picture or two.
Your chapter in 13 Drops of Blood has a unique twist as a retelling. Can you tell us what inspired you to take that approach?
I have always found the origins of fairy tales to be quite fascinating. Modern versions are actually very different from the original tales. They were violent and bloody and very few had happy endings. When I read these sorts of books to my kids, sometimes I will add in new things to be silly or scary or just to mix things up if we’ve re-read them often. So, one day, as I was reading some random fairy tale, I thought to myself: someone really needs to retell this but make it darker, maybe throw in a few murders. And then I thought, it’s me, I’m someone. Fortuitously, the opportunity arose to write for “13 Drops of Blood” and the idea that I’d had a few weeks before just seemed like a natural fit! I had a lot of fun writing it, turning the fairy tale on its head and taking it in a whole new direction. I won’t be reading this version to my children though!
Are you part of a writing tribe, and if so, how does that help you be a better writer?
I am! I am a part of a wonderful tribe of writers. I am lucky to count myself as a member of the Genre Writers of Atlantic Canada. They are an incredibly supportive group of people, always there to lend an ear, offer a word of encouragement or advice and they always celebrate your successes. I have made friends and learned so much from the others in the group. They have an enormous wealth of knowledge and everyone is treated equally, whether you’ve never been published or you have twenty books under your belt. It has definitely made me a better writer. I have learned a lot from the people who have been in the business of writing for much longer than I have and who are more than willing to take you under their wing. They’ve helped me to gain confidence. We lift each other up. As our founding father Peter J. Foote says, “we are stronger together.”
Your chapter in 13 Drops of Blood has multiple supernatural characters. Is the supernatural an element you often include in your work?
Yes! I think within the last year I’ve only written two stories that didn’t include a supernatural character. I enjoy exploring the connection between supernatural beings and humans. The list to work with is endless. The more witches, fairies, ghosts, demons, dragons and vampires the better.
How often do you write and how long are your writing sessions?
Writing every day is my goal. But I write whenever I can fit it in. Often that means late at night if I’m on a roll. As long as my characters are happy, I am too, so I’m good writing for hours and hours.
Aside from the theme of the anthology, what sparked the idea for your chapter in 13 Drops of Blood?
I recently stayed on a campsite near Skipton in Yorkshire. I enjoyed hiking through the stunning scenery, but I was struck by how isolated some of the properties were and I thought how bleak it must be in the winter months. When I was invited to write for the anthology, winter in Yorkshire came to mind as a setting. Once I was in the mind of Gillian, looking at the bleak landscape, full of regret, the rest of the story just followed.
If you could tell your past writing self anything, what would it be?
I didn’t used to write at all. When I was growing up there were no word processors and I hated crossing things out or endlessly rewriting by hand, so I avoided it. I did get a computer in my mid-twenties, and I wish I had started writing then. I would tell my younger self to start writing, write for yourself, and enjoy everything about it including the inevitable disasters.
When you heard about the themes of 13 Drops of Blood, ghosts, witches, and love gone wrong, which element were you most excited to write about?
It was the idea of love gone wrong but with a supernatural twist that really interested me. I really enjoy writing in first person from a creature or monster’s point of view. 13 Drops of blood gave me a great opportunity to explore what the idea of love would be like from the perspective of something not human, or at least, not anymore. I think that it really allows for new ideas and that will make for great stories. So yeah, the whole theme was spot on for the sort of thing I both like to write and read.
What up and coming projects are you working on now?
Due to having long term health issues, that have been worse in the last year I have really cut down on my output. However, I am running a project. It’s about a coven of witches and I’m not sure how much I can say about that currently. I’m also involved in 2 other projects. One of which I am also writing a chapter from a monster’s point of view. I find that use of voice to flow really clearly when I write. And in the background, I have the horror film-based poetry I am slowly creating in the hopes of publishing at some point.
Aside from the theme, what sparked your idea for your chapter in 13 Drops of Blood?
My original idea was turning out to be problematic, so I was quite literally searching for inspiration when a news story about the first woman to be executed by the federal government in 70 years came across my feed. She had cut the unborn baby out of a mother-to-be and taken it as her own. I then fell down a rabbit hole of research into the case, only to abandon all the facts and lean into a more emotional angle.
What things in your background contributed to your choice to be an author?
I’ve always been a writer and student of the written word. Growing up, I preferred writing and reading to the exclusion of all else. I wrote my first awful vampire novel in the fourth grade, my second (just as awful) attempt in middle school, and by high school I’d moved on to Lovecraft and left vampires behind altogether. I think it is less a question of choosing to be an author, and more a question of could I have ever chosen anything else.
You chose an unlikely pairing of ghosts and fae in your chapter of 13 Drops of Blood, can you tell us what led to that decision?
I truly love Urban Fantasy. To take the world as we know it and just sort of … tweek it a little bit. Throw in the paranormal to see what happens. Where does it take us? And what do the creatures we inhabit that world with say about us? For me, the fae are creatures that are totally alien. They have no care of the human experience. Their world is outside of ours. It’s entirely different and the idea of throwing that into the mix with the human world is pure joy to me. And to be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of interaction with ghosts and the fae so I thought it would be an interesting angle to write from. Anytime I think of writing a story for an anthology, I ask how can I do something different? What makes my story interesting and unique to readers? In exploring the ghosts and fae as I have in this, I hope I’ve managed to come up with a compelling story.
What things/people/places inspire you and fuel your writing?
My family has always been my inspiration. As a child, my mother always encouraged me to read. She gave me a true love of reading. It wasn’t ever a moment of telling me how important reading was, or her trying to find something I would enjoy. She loved to read and there were always books around. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a reader. I think the scope of the worlds I was exposed to through books gave me a desire to create my own worlds and share them. As an adult and parent, I look to my children to see their struggles and the stories they want to tell and it inspires me to be better and to do more.
M. Sydnor Jr.
Your chapter in 13 Drops of Blood takes place mostly in a Diner, can you tell us why you chose that setting?
Picking the diner was random, the date itself is what’s been in my head for a long time. A man finally proposes to his long-time girlfriend, but tragedy gets in the way.
What compelled you to start writing?
A love for creation. Back then, I wasn’t much of a reader, but I watched a lot of movies/TV and I wanted to do that. But I realised it was much deeper than that. I wanted to build worlds and tell stories. Writing gives me the freedom and the outlet to do that.
Crystal L. Kirkham
What challenges did you encounter in writing your chapter for 13 Drops of Blood?
I think the most difficult thing for me was finding the balance between an unreliable narrator and an engaging story. Those two things do not always pair well if an author isn’t careful. Other than that, I wanted to try something new with this short story. It’s one of the reasons I love the short story format—it gives me that chance to experiment with new formats.
Besides hard work and talent, what other traits have led to your success as an author?
This is an industry of rejection and to be successful, an author needs to be able to never throw in the towel, no matter the hard road ahead of them.
In your work, you often include musical elements of one kind or another, how were you able to do that in your 13 Drops of Blood chapter?
My main instrument from the fifth grade until the end of college was the oboe. For my first semester of college, we played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C Minor, and I had the task of playing the oboe cadenza in the first movement. So of course I had to make a reference to this particular section of such an iconic piece of music, because as they say, “write what you know,” and it’s a very expressive moment. I’d been playing in symphonies since I was about sixteen, so this was a setting I felt comfortable drawing upon. Even though I’d also taken music history in college, I had to do a lot more research to get my facts straight about early 19th century Vienna and Beethoven’s eccentric lifestyle. Consulting articles on the net only gave me frustrating whiffs of minutiae, and sadly the local libraries had nothing useful. But my parents–musicians themselves–had at least six valuable books about that era and about Beethoven, so I was lucky to have those at my disposal.
How many works-in-progress do you have right now?
I have two novels in progress, a novelette that’s undergoing final tweaks (very excited about this one), and five stories. At the end of 2020, I promised myself not to get distracted by more open calls until I’d gotten both of my novels into official “draft one/okay, you can look now” phases. I realized that while all the various and sundry open calls from myriad publishers had been a blast to write for (not to mention absolute sanity savers during the lockdown), they might have also been a mild form of procrastination from these novels. Or perhaps 2020 had hindered my ability to set bigger goals for an uncertain future. But I will complete everything I started last year, and hope that 2021 is a better year and that I will be more focused!
How did you come up with the main characters in your 13 Drops of Blood Chapter?
A few years ago, I wrote a very short piece based off a story prompt – the challenge was to take three items (that had been assigned) and craft a tale. It was a lovely little snippet, but nothing of weight. When I had a chance to work on this collection, with this theme, that tiny tale came back to me and grew into something so much better. From small seeds grow great oaks! Or in this case, fun saplings.
Did you always want to be an author?
Since I grasped what stories were, yes. Believing I could get there took a little longer.
Which of your main characters in 13 Drops of Blood do you relate to the most? Why?
Actually I can relate to both my characters, Meera and Alexi. She is lovely: charismatic, talented, and highly strung. Perhaps she has become a bit of a drama queen (ie jealous, but reasonably so regards Alexi’s affairs). She has a career and also a traditional, domineering husband from whom she wants to be free in the context of her work, as he is her agent. I do feel sorry for Alexi for having to tolerate Meera’s revenge haunting of him; he probably couldn’t see deep enough into himself, or have enough love for her, to change the way was treating her.
Complicated I know, but see the outcome! Boom! Not a happy ending.
Is writing your full-time job? If not, what do you do?
My writing is now my work. I had a career as a mental health clinician which ended mid-2020—does it really ever end?—and I’ve been long-term involved in a global meditation group.