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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Danielle L. Parker

The series of interviews that began in issue 474 concludes — at least momentarily — with a special case. Danielle L. Parker is technically neither a Review Editor nor an Associate Editor. Rather, Danielle is a highly esteemed contributor in prose fiction and holds the unique, semi-official position of Bewildering Stories’ ace book reviewer.

A browser search of our Reviews page will return dozens of hits on her name. And Danielle’s reviews are always lively and personable. Publicity “fluff” they are not; they’re always informative, pointed and fair-minded — quite in keeping with Bewildering Stories’ educational mission.

Danielle L. Parker photo

How did you become involved with Bewildering Stories and when?

Way back when. Bewildering Stories published my first stories ever, and has pretty much published them since, representing more or less my writing career from the start.

The first stories that appeared in Bewildering Stories were the earliest Blunt stories (“The Thief of Joy and Light” and “The Curse of the Dog-Faced Mummy”) and “Galen the Deathless,” which was a short story that I always intended to turn into a full length novel, and now have. That short story forms more or less the prologue of the new novel.

I can’t say how much Don and Jerry between them have encouraged me. Jerry has been my faithful first reader ever since. I might have thrown in the towel but for his support.

Is there anything you’d like to tell Bewildering Stories authors to do or not do?

I sometimes wonder if online zines are now more venues for writers than readers. How many send us stories but don’t read other stories we publish? If you want to be read, it’s nice to extend the same courtesy to other authors.

For sure, if someone takes the time to comment on my stories, I’m happy to return the favor. Writers need readers. Pass it on, as they say.

The Challenge goes a long ways toward making Bewildering Stories a lively discussion forum, and it’s one of the sections I always read, even when it’s not my story under discussion. I’d like to see more feedback from our readers, whether they are also our authors or not. I like to read what authors say about their own stories, in fact. Discussion is the lifeblood of this or any zine.

Use our new Facebook page, send us a letter, respond to the Challenges.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working as an Editor for Bewildering Stories?

I’m no longer a Review Editor, except when Don calls me in on some special or rare case (convincing an author of something, for example). I love that Bewildering Stories truly tries to help authors improve their craft. I know of no other zine that makes this much effort. Of course, when we make suggestions and the authors huff off in high dudgeon, it’s discouraging, I’m sure, for our Review Editors.

I mostly write the book reviews for Bewildering Stories now. I love it when there’s something I can argue with in a book. When an author lays out ideas, whether I agree with them or not.

The mindless entertainment books are far harder to review. They’re the one-night-stands you forget. What can you say? “Had a good time, thanks. Er... what’s your name?” And though mindless entertainment has its place, as a book reviewer I love the other kind. Discussion is the joy, once again.

What do you do in real life?

I spent about 15 years in the IT and telecom business, working as a developer, analyst, and eventually project manager.

I worked on all sorts of things: giant call center implementations, submarine missile launch control systems, police booking and records systems, grocery distribution and warehousing systems, semiconductor capital equipment manufacturing systems to myriads more.

When telecom went bust, as those of you who owned stock in Lucent Technologies remember to your sorrow, I bought property in eastern Washington state and embarked on a new gee-I’ll-do-any-menial-job-in-this-depressed-backwoods-county career, in the course of which I’ve worked as a librarian, caregiver, and writing conference speaker, among the more mentionable experiences.

What is your occupation?

I now consider myself a writer. It beats “often unemployed” all to pieces.

What do you like most and least about it?

I wish I could earn a living at writing. But as they say, “Don’t give up your day job,” even if you sometimes don’t have one. Other than that, I love it. Writing is the most satisfying thing you can do short of sharing that creative world with readers. Nothing beats the joy enthusiastic readers bring an author. We need them.

What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work?

  1. “Don’t give up your day job”.
  2. Never stop trying to improve.
  3. Be humble enough to submerge the ego (all authors take criticism hard) and think about any advice you receive (once the inevitable sting dies down).
  4. Enjoy writing for its own sake. You’ll get plenty of cruel discouragement from agents, editors, publishers, and even readers. Screw them and keep writing.

What do you do in your spare time aside from reading and writing for Bewildering Stories?

Of course, I read a lot (everything: fiction and non-fiction). I like to cook. I love animals, and as a child raised everything from goats to cows. Goats are a hoot, except for the smell (I used to lie in bed and know when the billy drifted near the window just from the smell), but I never learned to drink goat milk. Cats and dogs I love too.

What’s your favorite book?

I couldn’t possibly give one book or one author. I have a love for noir detective stories; few novels give the sheer joy of great writing as well as the best of the genre (Ross MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, many more). I even love pulp detective stories (John D. MacDonald was one of the greats). I love historical fiction (Philip Kerr is one recent joy, Dorothy Dunnet and Mary Renault other examples).

I love science fiction and have a nostalgic fondness for the zesty early adventures (Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton, Fred Saberhagen, many more), though the writers I respect the most are probably Gene Wolfe and J. G. Ballard. I love horror of the early, atmospheric strain (Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgeson, Arthur Machen). I do not like the slasher variety of horror at all.

I love the occasional weird and eccentric (the Gorminghast series is one example). I love first person eye-witness travel experiences, such as Paul Theroux and Harry Franck. I love eye-witness historical accounts, too, from Marco Polo to Bernal Diaz.

I love a lot of young adult fiction I grew up with (Alan Garner, C. S. Lewis, Arthur Ransome, Howard Pease, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander and more). I love a good fantasy (The Riddlemaster series is one example, Yves Meynard, J. K. Rowling, as others).

I even love some romance works, such as Gabaldon’s Outlander series, in its early examples. I love spy novels (Adam Hall being one particularly beloved author). What can I say? I’m a book slut, I guess. There’s not much I don’t like.

If you could invite any other writer to dinner who would ask and why?

I corresponded for a while with Stephen Marlowe, now deceased, whose wonderful book The Lighthouse at the End of the World I reviewed. He was a great talker. He, too, wrote science fiction early in his career, until he branched out into more literary works. I’d invite him because he was simply such a gentleman, and we both shared a love of Poe.

And maybe Adam Hall, a.k.a. Elleston Trevor, and John D. MacDonald, just to tell them how much I enjoyed the Quiller and Travis McGee books.

What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed?

I’m re-reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series. And how simply great the writing is. MacDonald was one of the few to carry the original American noir tradition into the 1960’s. If there is a Rushmore of detective fiction writers, the heads are Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.

If you could be any character other than one of your own from a book or movie who would it be? Why?

I’m afraid I don’t have THAT much imagination. I’m stuck with ol’ me. For good or for bad. I have no yen to be someone else, though a few pounds less, a wart or mole missing, and — ahem! — a few years younger; yeah, I can imagine that.

How do you think literature might be used in education, especially in the age of the Internet?

Great books open our world. Without them we can never personally experience the bounty that is available to us in the world of the imagination.

Do you write yourself? What kind of stuff?

Of course. Fantasy, science fiction, “literary,” detective. I aim to branch out into historical and horror as well. ”Galen the Deathless” has some horror elements.

How long have you been writing?

Bewildering Stories received my first stories. 2004? Thereabouts.

What made you want to start writing?

Um... I was laid off from my telecom job. I needed to do something. Lo and behold, once I started, I had the fever. Been at it since.

Some authors have said that their parents were supportive of their efforts when young, and some have said they had to sneak around and hide. What was the case with you?

I don’t dare let my father read my writing. He freaked out when he read my early story “Galen”. “There’s queers in that story!”

My father is very religious and, well, dogmatic. Four-letter words, no matter what the context, translate to Damned to Hell in his mind. But he supports me and is proud of my writing. We know he’d better not read it or we’ll both be very hurt. Still, I appreciate it when he proudly tells the postmaster “my daughter’s a writer”. He’s trying.

My mother was a wonderful person who supported me whole-heartedly and was broad-minded enough to read what I wrote. I miss her dreadfully.

Where do you get your ideas?

Other authors inspire me, of course. And sometimes ideas just pop. Most of my novels have started with the character in my mind first. The melancholy character of Galen was in my head full-blown before I even worked out the plot.

The guilt-ridden, chip-on-her-shoulder character of Minuet James sprang full-blown, too, though she has developed over the series (The Infinite Instant, The Nihilistic Mirror, Knight of Faith).

Where do you write?

At my desk.

When do you write: at set times or as the mood moves you?

When I am writing a novel I tend to be in an unhealthy write-till-I-drop fever, oblivious to food, sleep, and interruptions. Then I finish, and go into some kind of recuperative stupor. But when the fit’s on, I write as long as it lasts. I’m not a 500-words-per-day-and-quit person. It’s a furious love affair and then it’s over. I go into withdrawal.

Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block?

Depression and discouragement do affect me. When I’ve made no progress on selling my work, the umpteenth agent rejection arrives, the zillionth publisher sneer, I do get discouraged. Writers need support. Writing is an audience-participation gig. Without readers, we’re meaningless.

I think if you suffer writers’ block you are trying to write too much with your head and too little with your heart. If I feel, I can write. If it’s an intellectual exercise only, I can’t. Of course, the analytical part, the plotting and consideration of themes and so forth, is also absolutely necessary. But emotions fuel my writing, and if the gas runs out, I’m dry.

Who proofreads and critiques your work?

I have two long time first readers: my old friends Jerry Wright and Steve Elmes. Steve loves to research; he was right up his alley helping research the A.D. 1209 historical section in my “Galen” novel. Jerry has a keen eye for character. Both provide the encouragement that keeps me going in this atmosphere of publisher and agent sneers.

Do you have a favorite among your works?

The most ambitious work I’ve written, the hardest and the greatest stretch, is “Galen the Deathless”. I am proud of that work.

I have a nostalgic fondness for the tough-but-humane adventurer Jim Blunt, of my Captain Blunt stories. Probably Minuet James, of the three fantasy/detective novels, is the character I understand and relate to the most.

I’m afraid it’s the characters that mean the most to me. My aim as a writer is to have characters that step out of the page and become three-dimensional, real persons in the reader’s eyes.

Do you have a favorite character? If so, who is it, and what makes it your favorite?

Character is what really makes the story to me. Of course, a ridiculous plot kills our belief, so we can’t have that, either. But the writers whose works mean the most to me created characters that step out of the page.

That’s always been my own goal. To create characters as real as Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson did. Can anyone ever forget Long John Silver, for example? (I don’t mean his movie incarnations, which never did him justice).

Who drives a story: you or your characters?

The characters. I can’t write until the characters stand in my head as three-dimensional beings. Then they write themselves. Of course, I have to plot. But character drives plot, to a large extent.

Of course, it all comes out of my head. Writers who say the characters create themselves are being disingenuous.

What do you consider the strangest thing you’ve ever written?

“Galen the Deathless.”

Almost every writer is inspired by someone or something else. What inspirations have you found?

Other works, other writers. Mood and emotions.

Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying?

On 20 wooded acres in NE Washington, in one of the poorest counties in the state. The economy is based on ranching, mining, logging, prison (literally, the local sherrifs are paid to incarcerate folks from other states/counties), hunters in season, and various forms of the dole.

Where do you think you might like to live either in reality or in your imagination?

Civilization. Defined as a place with at least a grocery store and a bookstore within 20 miles, and men who still shave, instead of sporting beards down to their chest.

In imagination, how about during the early Golden Age of Science Fiction and Detective stories, when an author could still earn a living by writing (even short stories!). I’d now be rich and famous. Of course, also very old, or more probably, dead.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

This was a long list of questions! But fun. Thank you. Thanks for the good work you and the Review Board do.

Copyright © 2012 by Danielle L. Parker
and Bewildering Stories

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