Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Suzanne Church

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Suzanne Church

Can't decide between whether you feel like reading horror, fantasy or science fiction? Why not go for all three by picking up Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing) by Suzanne Church. The story collection draws on elements of all three genres, covering topics as diverse as dimension hopping, dystopian epidemics and self-aware androids. These twenty-one stories offer something for everyone, with a quirky, witty take on beloved genre fiction.

Today Suzanne speaks to Open Book about her new collection, offers great advice to emerging writers looking to find a publisher and talks about her new projects, including one that details the destruction of heaven.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction.

Suzanne Church:

ELEMENTS includes 21 speculative fiction short stories. I can't tell you how happy I am that EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing has put together such a gorgeous book. Fourteen of the stories were previously published in magazines including On Spec, Clarkesworld and Cicada, and in anthologies including Tesseracts 13 and 14 (also from EDGE). The remaining seven are new to the collection.

Since I write science fiction, fantasy, and horror the collection contains stories that likely appeal to every interest and reader. Some stories are funny, some tragic, some romantic, and some offbeat. Most are character-driven with a cast of heroes and the occasional loser (Tank Lazier, for example, from "Everyone Needs a Couch") to add a little spice to the mix.

I was so inspired by the cover art created by Neil Jackson that I wrote the story, "Soul-Hungry" and am thrilled that it's the final one in the collection.

OB:

What research did you do to write your collection of stories?

SC:

My research varied from story to story.

"Storm Child" is a retelling of a Rwandan myth from The Hero with an African Face, Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa by Clyde W. Ford (Published by Bantam, 2000). One of my writers' groups challenged me to write a myth retelling, so I researched folklore that wasn't as prevalent in North American culture. Once I found a tale that resonated with me, I set my reworking of the story in the United States, soon after the war and emancipation of the slaves.

The characters in "Coolies" are members of the Royal Canadian Regiment, and I researched the RCR and the Canadian Armed Forces to try and ensure the military details were as accurate as possible for the story. I also asked two veterans to read the story in the hopes that I might accurately depict the experience of being in the middle of a firefight.

I've always been fascinated by virology and vaccine creation, and referenced Scourge, The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox by Jonathan B. Tucker (Published by Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000), a book that explores the eradication of Smallpox from our planet. The inspiration for the virus Retiniapox in "The Needle's Eye" is a direct result of that research.

OB:

Your stories are a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Why do you like moving between genres?

SC:

I've always been a fan of all three genres, and I believe that I have stories to tell from each. Many of my stories are a blend of two genres (or more), which can make placing the stories tricky when Market A might only seek science fiction stories or Market B might only publish horror. Even though I should probably write more targeted pieces, I prefer to have the stories evolve organically, and if that means genre-hopping then I'm game.

OB:

Does where you live influence your writing?

SC:

Definitely.

In "Courting Ice" Faya is connected to ice on a visceral level, courting it to shore where it's sold to market. I think most Canadians have a special connection to winter and all the ways that ice and snow affect our lives for those long, cold months.

I had great fun imagining a war between Canada and the United States for "Coolies", especially since Canada had the advantage. And I was particularly pleased when On Spec, a Canadian speculative fiction magazine, published the story.

The club culture and subways in "Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop" are fictionalized versions of Toronto locations that I frequented back in my early twenties. Since the story takes place in the near future, I updated the musical aspects, referencing modern Dub Step and Electronica vibes. I have my teenaged sons to thank for that inspiration.

"Gray Love" takes place on a county road in Muskoka, near the now-abandoned location of a former residential facility for people with developmental challenges that was active from 1963 to 1994. Before that, the facility was built in the 1890s as a tuberculosis treatment sanitorium. I used to run along that road. On one really hot and humid day, I saw a woman whose skin looked totally gray and washed out. She didn't speak to me, but she smiled and moved on. I don't know if the experience was a direct result of running in high heat or if the woman was simply ill, but when I returned home, I was sure I'd seen a ghost from the Muskoka facility. She became the inspiration for the gray lady in "Gray Love".

OB:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to find a publisher?

SC:

First, be persistent. Write another short story or work on your novel while you're waiting to hear back from current submissions. The more you write, the better you'll hone your craft, and the more stories you'll see published.

Second, Network. I try to attend several genre conventions a year to meet publishers, listen to them speak about the sorts of fiction they're looking for and inspired by, and chat with other writers about what they're working on and markets they might have experience with.

Finally, be polite. I believe that this quintessentially Canadian trait has helped me to interact with publishers on more than one occasion.

OB:

What are you working on now?

SC:

I'm working on two novels.

The first is a Young Adult Fantasy novel with two male protagonists: an alien who is bat-like and communicates with scent as well as words and a human who's been in a car accident. Their lives intersect when the aura/mind of the alien lands inside the head of the human while he's unconscious in hospital.

The second is also a Young Adult novel where heaven is destroyed and angels fall to Earth over several days. I explore the notion that our world finally receives proof of the existence of heaven at the same time that heaven is destroyed. The protagonist, Crystal, is inadvertently handed the celestial-reins from the angel that falls into her backyard. I was fortunate to receive two grants for this novel (from the Ontario Arts Council Writers' Reserve and the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund) and used those funds to rework the entire novel from the ground up over the last few months.

I also try to write at least four short stories a year. Four doesn't sound like many, but I've found that with my novel schedule and being a part-time single mother, four is an attainable goal, and I do try to set goals that are achievable. I've been researching Algonquin folklore in the hopes of being inspired to write a Fantasy short story, but so far an outline has eluded me.

In the back of my mind, I'm also brainstorming a mainstream chick-lit novel. We shall see if it blossoms into my NaNoWriMo project for 2014, assuming I'll participate this year.


Suzanne Church lives near Toronto, Ontario with her two teenaged sons. She is a 2011 and 2012 Aurora Award finalist for her short fiction. She writes Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror because she enjoys them all and hates to play favourites. When cornered she becomes fiercely Canadian. Her stories have appeared in Cicada, Clarkesworld and On Spec, and in several anthologies including Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live and Tesseracts 14.

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