Author Interview: Damien Angelica Walters

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Sing Me Your ScarsWeightless Books interviews Damien Angelica Walters, a 2014 Bram Stoker Award nominee and author of Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of short stories.

Q: What do you care about most when you write a story?

DAW: The characters, most definitely. Most of my stories start as what-ifs: What if there was a woman who was a composite of body parts and each part retained sentience? How would that feel to the dominant part? What if there was a man who was disappearing, one body part at a time, and what would it feel like to watch that happening, knowing there was nothing you could do to stop it?

I try to put my head firmly into the characters’ hearts and minds from the start, because unless I know how they feel, I won’t know how they’re going to react on their journey and their story won’t ring true.

Q: If all the main characters in Sing Me Your Scars met on the battlefield, which ones would emerge victorious?

DAW: I love this question! I suspect the characters would throw down their weapons and go off to have coffee and talk about scars, but if coffee wasn’t an option, I think it would ultimately come down to Olivia from “Girl, With Coin” and Isabel from “They Make of You a Monster.” In the end, though, Isabel would be victorious because although Olivia can’t physically feel pain, Isabel’s ability to kill with a touch trumps all.

In the alternate universe, they’ve switched from coffee to cocktails and wine and they’re no longer discussing scars, but have moved onto things like what constitutes the perfect origami elephant, black and white versus color photography, and whether or not artificial intelligence should be granted autonomy.

Q: You’ve published a phenomenal number of short stories in the past five years. What motivates you to do this?

DAW: I don’t know how to not write. Words and phrases and characters and the before-mentioned what-ifs pop into my head all the time. Some of them turn into stories, countless others become scribbles in my notebook that might eventually be stories or they might remain as is. When I first started to write short fiction, those disconnected bits and pieces were frustrating, but over time, I came to realize that those pieces, whether intro paragraphs, lines of dialogue, or even story titles, were just as important to the writing process as the finished work.

Q: Though it doesn’t seem to happen a lot, how do you handle the times when your writing is rejected?

DAW: I think there’s a misconception that once you publish X amount of stories in markets A, B, and C, rejections become a thing of the past. This isn’t true, at all. Rejection is part of the business. Sometimes a story simply doesn’t fit what an editor is looking for. It doesn’t always mean the story is bad or won’t find the right home.

Truthfully, I’m very hard on my stories. When a story is finished, I jot down three or four markets I think it would be a good fit for, but if the story is rejected by those markets, then I set it aside. But I don’t see this as giving up, because I revisit the story later (might be weeks, might be months), make changes or not, and send it back out. I have trunked stories that I feel are flawed, but I’ve also given a story one last ride on the submission train and had it sell.

Most of the time, I brush rejections off, but every once in a while, usually when it’s an editor I’d love to work with or a magazine that has previously published my work, there’s a definite sting, a bit of not good enough. But it doesn’t make me want to give up permanently, nor does it last very long. I’m too stubborn and too driven to allow that.

Q: How does reading affect your writing?

DAW: I still read a lot as a reader, but there are times I read as a writer. In particular, if I’m trying to find the right threads to stitch ideas together in a story in progress, I’ll step away and reread an anthology or a few of my favorite stories, not for the stories themselves, but for the glue that holds them together or the story arc or the underlying theme. Often, just seeing how another writer has crafted a piece will help the pieces of my own story puzzle fall into place.

I also like reading successful stories that don’t grab me personally for one reason or another; again, not for the stories, but to discern what makes them work. I think reading with that sort of critical eye has made me a better storyteller and has made me more willing to take risks in format, points of view, and story structure.

Q: You’ve worked all along the editing spectrum — from associate editor at Electric Velocipede to freelance editing to being edited by senior staff at dozens of zines. If you could give yourself of ten years ago any kind of writing advice, what would it be?

DAW: It would be the same advice I’d give to anyone starting out: Take your time and don’t send your stories out too soon. Start with the top markets first and work down. Don’t be afraid to submit. Don’t give your work away for free. Rejections aren’t personal. And lastly, you are not in competition with anyone but yourself.

Q: Your second novel comes out in August. What can you tell us about it?

Damien Angelica Walters - Author PhotoDAW: Yes, Paper Tigers is my second novel, although it’s the first to be published under the name Damien Angelica Walters. Paper Tigers is about a disfigured young woman and an old photo album she finds at a thrift store. At its heart, it’s a ghost story, but it’s as much about the things that haunt us personally as it’s about the external ghosts. It’s closer in tone to my short fiction than my previous novel—Ink, published as Damien Walters Grintalis.

Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various anthologies and magazines, including The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Cassilda’s Song, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, and Apex. “The Floating Girls: A Documentary,” originally published in Jamais Vu, is on the 2014 Bram Stoker Award ballot for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction. Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction, is out now from Apex Publications and available from Weightless Books. Paper Tigers, a novel, is forthcoming from Dark House Press. Her other short fiction can be found here.

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