Author Interview: Zachary Steele

What’s new and exciting in your life as an author?

Well, it’s a busy time for me right now. My newest novel, The Weight of Ashes, is due out August 24th, with a fair number of events already planned and more on the way. I’m incredibly proud of this one and can’t wait to get reader feedback.

What is your connection to the American South?

I am a Southerner by birth. Born in Orlando, raised in Florida and Georgia, nearly all my life has been lived in the South. From rural areas to big cities, both sides of the political coin, immersed in the history and culture. This is my home. I enjoy writing about it, and working to breakdown some of the stereotypes that exist.

How has that connection to the South informed your work as a writer? 

More than anything, it’s given me an ideological base to draw from. Characters are always going to derive some aspect of personality from the real people I’ve known, but it’s the ideology of the South that has inspired my writing. There is a sense of family and community in the South that I haven’t seen in other parts of the country, and the depth of connection to one’s politics and religion is vibrant. People don’t just believe what they believe. They shout it with every part of what makes them a living human. Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege of spending equal parts of my adulthood in conservative and liberal areas. As a writer seeking to understand every motivation of the characters I create, it’s been amazing. I am a centrist, likely due to the exposure to such a variety of belief.

What can we expect to see from you in the future? 

I’m down the line on a contract for my fantasy series, the first of which is The Fallen Hero. Hopefully, I’ll have news to share on that soon. That will five or six books and follows the path of Oliver Miles, a young boy who finds himself the hero in the living world of his favorite series of books. It’s tremendous fun. I can’t wait for that one to come out. Also, I’m working with a friend on series of children’s books (either chapter books or middle grade). He’s an incredibly talented artist and the story is too fun not to tell. Beyond that, I’ll write a second novel for my current publisher to follow behind The Weight of Ashes.

My website is zacharysteele.com, where I blog occasionally and keep updated event info. There are links there to Atlanta-area indie booksellers who will have my book in stock. Otherwise, it’s available anywhere books are sold. So, no excuses! Otherwise, I’m rambling somewhere on social media channels about my writing, about Broadleaf Writers, the writing organization I run, my cat Winnie, or my new family that I absolutely adore.

I Will Not Be Attending DragonCon

After much consideration, consultation with others, and even prayer, I’ve made the extremely difficult decision to not attend Dragon Con, Sept. 2-6, 2021. I deeply appreciate the safety precautions DragonCon has put in place, but I have several pre-existing medical conditions that put me at high risk, even being fully vaccinated as I am. I am grateful to Derek at the Dragon Con Horror Track and Carol at the Dragon Con Urban Fantasy Track. They were wonderful in creating a schedule for me that looks like spooky fun as well as helping me promote myself as a writer, and I appreciate that more than I can tell. I am also grateful to Valentine Wolfe for creating an ambient vocal music number to accompany the ghost poem I had planned to read at Spooky Tales & Haunting Music, Friday night at the con.

I look forward to seeing everyone at DragonCon 2022!

The Curse of the Spider

UPDATE: My story did not win the contest, but it was an honor to be a finalist. You can read my story “The Curse of the Spider” here, in the Facebook group Con-Tinual: The Con That Never Ends.

Original post: I’m very proud to be a finalist in the August flash fiction contest. If you are a Patreon supporter of Crystal Lake Publishing, you can read my story “The Curse of the Spider” and vote on it this month! Here’s the Patreon link: https://www.patreon.com/CLP/posts

Author Interview: Jessica Nettles

Jessica Nettles grew up with one foot in the real world and the other in a world mixed with dabs of spiritual belief, science-fiction and fantasy dreams, and spooky experiences that she, nor her family, could quite explain. At age 11, she found the perfect outlet for this bizarre childhood in the form of writing. Her influences range from Ray Bradbury to Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson. She reads as voraciously as she can while balancing her career as an English Instructor and a writer of Southern Gothic and Historical Fantasy. She is also on the board of the Broadleaf Writing Association in Atlanta, Georgia and is a member of HWA Atlanta

Her first novel, Children of Menlo Park, will be released by Falstaff Books in the fall of 2021, and her short story (one of many, many short stories she’s written), “The Undead Have No Dignity” was published in Off the Beaten Path 4 by Prospective Press. To find more about her and her work check out jessicanettlesauthor.com very soon (the website should be up by DragonCon). She loves her beautiful adult children, who are successful in their own right, as well as her two black cats. She lives in Powder Springs, Georgia. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

What’s new and exciting in your life as an author?

The last few months have been really amazing. My story “The Undead Have No Dignity” was published in the Off the Beaten Path 4 anthology back in June. This marks the first anthology I’ve been published in, so it’s a sort of landmark in my writing journey. I also wrote a new story, “Cancer at Zero Degrees,” which got some attention back in June online (it’s no longer available where I posted it). Later this fall, my first novel, Children of Menlo Park, will be released from Falstaff Books. I am hoping to have some ARCs at DragonCon where I will also be doing a reading with my publisher and friend, John Hartness, who is the author of the fabulous Quincy Harker Demon Hunter series as well as the equally fabulous Bubba the Monster Hunter series. I have high hopes that my website will be live by that time as well. My best friend in the entire world, Amanda Canup, is designing it for me, and the previews I’ve gotten so far are just beautiful.

What is your connection to the American South?

I was born and raised in Georgia and grew up in West Cobb County when it was still pretty rural. My momma is from Cobb County and my daddy is from Chatham (Savannah) County, so I got a double dose of Southern. I’m a child of the 1970s and 80s, so I witnessed a lot of the changes and stress that has faced the South, particularly in the Atlanta-area, as it has attempted to morph and move away from what some call “our heritage” to become a more international and modern city and region. On a more basic level, I feel the connection to the South in the way I tell stories. I believe there is a sort of story magic that runs throughout the American South, and a lot of folk in this region know how to tap into it.

How has that connection to the South informed your work as a writer? 

Not all of my stories are Southern, but I think there is a sensibility that runs through my work that is somehow, innately Southern. There are themes that run through my stories like family, belief, food, secrets, and strange doings (for lack of a better term). Lots of writers in lots of different places write about the same things, but somehow, the South makes all of these things seem louder and more intense, especially secrets and strange doings. When I write, often my stories begin with a secret or with someone not fitting in to the “family,” or some sort of darkness. That’s something else about the South—our people are born knowing how to hide darkness under smiling faces and tables filled with homemade food. Of course, if you’re someone like me, I want to look under the tablecloth and see that darkness and look it in the eye.

What can we expect to see from you in the future? 

My story “We All Gotta Eat” will appear in the HWA ATL anthology, Southern Nightmares, Vol. 1: Georgia Gothic (I’m not sure when the pub date is for this yet). I will also be a reader on Pseudopod this fall, which I’m really excited about because I got to read a really awesome Southern Gothic story by Michael McDowell. I’m also working diligently on my second novel, Kudzu Ridge, which is not even in the same world as my first novel. On top of finishing the second novel, I’m in the planning stages for two new novels, which continue the adventures started in Children of Menlo Park, and I have some ideas for a series about three witch sisters who live in a town much like my hometown. I’m also working on a short story for something called Scary Stories by the Fire, which is a Halloween event in Atlanta.

You can find me online at jessicanettlesauthor.com (website in progress). You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram. Mostly I post pictures of my cats and baking.

DragonCon Safety Guidelines

UPDATE: Please see my post dated August 16, 2021. I will not be attending DragonCon after all.

This will be my first year as an official Attending Professional at DragonCon, and I’m looking forward to participating in events on the Horror Track and Urban Fantasy Track. I’ll post more details about my schedule as they become available. Given the new CDC guidelines and the mask mandate by the City of Atlanta, here is the link to the updated Safety Guidelines for this year’s con (updated August 1, 2021).

Looking Ahead to 2021

The big news for me as a writer: I sold the film rights to one of my short stories, and it will be made into a short film in 2021 by an indie filmmaker whose work I love. The story is “Moonlight Sonata, With Scissors,” and you can find it in my chapbook, I Never Meant to Start a Murder Cult and Other Stories. The filmmaker is Chris Ethridge, whose previous features include Attack of the Morningside Monster (which has long been my all-time favorite indie horror film) and the more recent Haven’s End, starring Catherine Taber. The plan is for the film to travel the film festival and horror con circuit, hopefully winning awards along the way. Filming and production will begin soon, and I’ll post details as they become available.

Leonidas the Cat is also a fan of Chris Ethridge’s movies

Other Highlights of 2020:

My creepy graveyard story “Under the Blood” was favorably reviewed by Anthony R. Cardno. You can read the review here. 12 year old me, who worshipped Ray Bradbury, would be very happy to read that my story feels “reminiscent of Bradbury.” You can read the story in Skelos 4: The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy, where I’m proud to share a Table of Contents with several of my writer friends: Amanda DeWees, Charles R. Rutledge, Cliff Biggers, Milton Davis, Dacre Stoker, Anthony Taylor, and Cynthia Ward.

My flash-fiction story “What My Family Should Know in the Event of My Demise” was adapted into audio form for the Planet Raconteur podcast in March 2020.

Looking ahead to 2021, I have several other story projects in the works, including a possible collaboration with another author on an action-thriller novella. And I will continue working on the thriller/mystery novel I started in late 2019, a project that ground to a halt when the Covid-19 crisis hit. For updates, follow me on my Facebook author page, on Twitter, on Goodreads, and on Instagram.

Best wishes for a safe and healthy New Year!

The Writing Life

I’ve read many books on writing over the years (starting with “Journal of a Novel” by John Steinbeck, which I read when I was 10 years old). “The Writing Life” by Jeff Strand is by far the most unusual and the most helpful. It’s unusual because it’s not really structured like a linear book; it’s more of a patchwork of anecdotes and advice. The tone is very conversational and full of Jeff Strand’s trademark wit. It felt like talking with Jeff over a barbecue dinner but without having to look at the barbecue sauce on his face. Jeff shares stories from his career in writing, some of them success stories, some of them not. He is brutally honest about mistakes he has made. Some of the stories, like his tale of woe from his time as president of a writer’s organization, the story of one of his films being adapted (badly) into a film, and multiple stories of author readings where no one showed up, are hilarious and will make you snort coffee through your nose (well, they had that effect on me, but you might not be drinking coffee while reading).

And take note that the subtitle is accurate: there’s a LOT of cursing here. I think this is Jeff Strand’s filthiest book since his sex-farce thriller “Bang Up.” “The Writing Life” has 68 F-bombs and 62 S-bombs, for those keeping score. The awesome book cover by Lynne Hansen conveys the blend of humor, professional advice, and cursing that make up “The Writing Life.”

There are very helpful (and humorous) chapters on working with critique groups, dealing with bad reviews, collaborating with other authors, being on panels at conventions and conferences, balancing writing and day jobs, and dealing with imposter syndrome.

“The Writing Life” covers a topic I’ve never seen in a writing book before: there’s a chapter on quitting (Chapter 20: “Quitting”). This chapter was hugely liberating to me. It made me realize that for all intents and purposes, I quit writing when the Covid-19 crisis started in early 2020. I quit working on my novel-in-progress, other than making some plot notes here and there. And this chapter helped me realize: that’s OK. Like many people during this crisis, I had to drastically re-invent my whole job (I’m a self-employed counselor who works with clients in the criminal justice system) and go into financial survival mode for most of 2020. And I’m proud of how I weathered the storm and held on to my job and continued to help people in need of my services.

Not that I needed Jeff Strand’s permission to quit writing, or anyone else’s but my own – but realizing I had already quit writing, and realizing that was OK, felt like a huge burden of guilt was lifted off my shoulders. And paradoxically, when that guilt, that sense that I had failed as a writer, was gone, it was replaced by a sense of freedom and a new desire to write again.

The Writing Life: Reflections, Recollections, and a Lot of Cursing” by Jeff Strand has jump-started my own writing again, and for that I am truly grateful.

Photo: my cat Leonidas asks Jeff to cool it with all the cursing.

“Under the Blood” in Skelos 4

Yikes! I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while! When Covid-19 happened, I put my writing on hold while I re-invented my day job, where I work as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the criminal justice system. Most of the work I do is now online, via telehealth conferencing, although I do still see clients about once a week at my office in Marietta, Georgia.

All the conferences I planned to attend in 2020 got cancelled or moved online, but my guest status as an Attending Professional at DragonCon was transferred to 2021.

In new fiction: my Southern Gothic graveyard story “Under the Blood” is now available in print, in Skelos 4: The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy. If you like creepy tales, check it out!

 

Where I’ll Be at Monsterama 2019

Join us at Monsterama, September 27-29, 2019! While DragonCon is my High Holy Days, Monsterama is my home! It’s a much smaller con, but it’s awesome, especially if you’re a monster kid or a fan of retro horror pop culture.

2019 Monsterama.png

Here’s my tentative schedule for the con:

Friday 9/27, 4:30 pm The Bomb Under the Table: Writing Suspense: Amanda DeWees, John Hornor Jacobs, Darrell Z. Grizzle

Friday 9/27, 9:30 pm Author Readings: Charles R. Rutledge, Jeff Strand, John Hornor Jacobs, Darrell Z. Grizzle

Saturday 9/28, 10 am Terror Down South: Nancy Collins, John Hornor Jacobs, Charles R. Rutledge, Darrell Z. Grizzle

Saturday 9/28, 8 pm Collaborative Storytelling: Amanda DeWees, Jeff Strand, Darrell Z. Grizzle

Sunday 9/29, 1 pm Occult Detectives: Cliff Biggers, Amanda DeWees, Darrell Z. Grizzle

Click here to register and for more information!