Thank you so much for sitting down with us for PRIDE month!
So, tell us a little bit about you. How did you get into writing?
Hi Michelle, thank you for inviting me back to the Eerie River Publishing blog. I’ve answered this question before for you HERE – but in brief, it’s my now-husband’s fault for making it look so difficult and causing my naïve brain to ask, “how hard can it be?”
I’ve now learned. It’s hard work but gratifying and the more I write (and get published!) the more I want to write. I’ve recently completed my second novella, although it’s very much in draft stage and having spent so long on flash fiction, and finding shorter word counts easier to manage, I’m really pleased I’ve learnt to write longer form too.
As an author do you intentionally try to represent LGBTQIA2S characters in your stories?
Now I have more confidence in my writing, absolutely. For shorter work, I play more and more with first-person protagonists, where gender is unknown. I think it allows more people to read themselves in the story. And I do use singular ‘they’ as well, unless gender matters to the storyline. It’s surprising how many people read singular ‘they’ and don’t notice, yet rail against people self-identifying as they/them. It’s been around since the 1300s as a singular pronoun yet is criticised as a modern trait.
In my novellas, I’m pushing harder to write non-heteronormative characters from the ground up. In my first one, ‘Telling the Bees’ (a near future, sci-fi story with folkloric elements!) under consideration by a publisher at present), I have a polyamorous triad: two bisexual women and a man who are in an equal and consensual relationship.
My second, ‘Canary’, which is at the editing and rewriting stage, has a transman as its central character and his asexual companion. It also involves an evil oligarchy and botanical gardens in space, so was fun to write. Again, these characters were written intentionally from the start, rather than shoehorned in to fit a “quota” or as a token nod.
What communities (online, IRL, paid, free) are you a part of that support your writing?
I’m not a huge Twitter-er but there’s a great writing community on there and I’ve met people who have become real life, amazing friends. I also am part of a WhatsApp group of a few people and we support and beta-read for each other, celebrating successes and commiserating failures. In terms of financial support, I have just set up my own Patreon where I’ll release stories for which I’ve regained the rights and publish some brand-new work.
Any advice for (young) authors beginning their author journey?
Presuming it’s for flash fiction/short stories… and writing to get published rather than to gather cyberdust on a hard drive.
I run an online magazine and have to turn down some great stories – some are too similar to others being published, some may have a couple too many mistakes, so I’ll pick another one equally story with fewer errors. To be very blunt, if you’re a short story writer, and you’re not getting rejections, you’re either not submitting to anyone, you’re not following submission guidelines, or you need to start aiming higher. (But always continue to work with publishers you enjoy working with as that does make the writing process more pleasurable). Rejections are part of the writing process and they do feel personal but mostly aren’t, so don’t get discouraged.
Also, writing isn’t a competition – there’s a huge community out there, whether it’s NaNoWriMo or on Twitter, be part of that – like and share and converse with other writers – because by being part of it, you get a lot back.
Always follow submission guidelines – best thing you can do is download the Shunn format template and change this when needed. I created it into a template in Word and it’s saved me hours, particularly as I tend to write in Courier and then change to Times New Roman for submission. Learn how to do hanging indents rather than tabs and make sure you do whatever else is asked.
Finally, enjoy it. Some days it’ll feel like pulling teeth but on other days the words will flow.
Do you feel an obligation to speak for or represent the LGBTQIA2S+ community through your writing?
No. Not because I don’t want to but because I can’t. My lived experience is not the same as another person’s lived experience, so I cannot speak for anyone but me.
Then again… Yes. I write LGBTQAI+ (I’m in the UK where we don’t have Two-spirit, so our acronym is different) characters because representation matters. One beta-reader told me my novella would have worked just as well with good friends rather than a polyamorous triad, but why should I write heteronormative fiction when I can show that other people exist and are out there?
Again, I think it comes back to motivation. If you’re writing in those characters as a token nod to anyone who’s other than white, able-bodied, cis-gendered and heterosexual, don’t. And whatever you do, don’t use those people as a plot device.
If you’re writing BAME or LGBTQAI+ or disabled characters as fully formed intentional people, it’s a great start. But, if you’re not part of that particular group of people, sensitivity readers are a great way forward. Just remember you’re only accessing their voice and they don’t speak for all “x” people or their entire community.
Writing in a pandemic. Has it changed the way you write? Has it made an impact on your voice?
It’s made writing a lot harder for me, as I’m feeling far less creative. That said, two novellas since last November, isn’t bad! The first was started for NaNoWriMo and whilst my writing buddy absolutely flew and finished with over 50,000 words, I stumbled and halted and couldn’t get going. My intention was to write 15,000 words and get ‘Canary’ out of my system – it was already was pretty formed in my head so wouldn’t be difficult.
Only, I sat down to write it and couldn’t. I tried something else and that didn’t work either. Then, I had a weird dream, woke up and interrogated the heck out of it, and just started writing to see what would happen. Turns out I kept writing in clues for further plot development, overcame big obstacles and by Christmas had an 18K first draft of ‘Telling the Bees’.
When I’m writing short fiction, I take an idea, start writing and basically wing it. I’m a pantser, to use the lingo. But I discovered that doesn’t work for me for longer fiction – I need to know where I’m going. So halfway through this first novella, I worked out the rest of the plot in very loose detail. For each section, I set myself a 1000-word goal and knew where I needed to start it and where I needed to finish. The middle bit? Still pantsing, so I guess that makes me a ‘plantser’ with longer work.
I also had to start writing more words. It sounds ridiculous but I’m concise by nature so finding a way to let myself go was interesting. And by the time I’d written ‘the end’ on Canary, the second novella, words were really flowing and that was a unique thing for me.
So yes, the pandemic has changed me in some ways but then, it goes in peaks and troughs and I’ve written very little since finishing Canary. I’ve not even reopened the file to start the first round of edits and rewrites.
Fun question: A mysterious box lands on your doorstep addressed to you. No postmark, not stamped.
I decided to use this as a prompt for a drabble, now knowing where it would take me. And I’ll be putting it on my Patreon later ;)
“Always Trust the Dog” by Emma K. Leadley I sat, drinking my tea, and cocked my head. I'm sure I just heard footsteps outside, but no-one had knocked on the front door or rung the bell. Even Betsy, my dog, remained curled up rather than sprinting to see who was there. Curiosity got the better of me though. On the step was a small, hand-delivered parcel -- no postmark or stamp to show a point of origin. Betsy sniffed it, cautiously extending her nose. One big inhalation and she bolted, tail between her legs. I left the parcel where it was. No point in inviting trouble over the threshold.
Emma K. Leadley (she/they) is a UK-based writer, creative geek, and devourer of words, images and ideas. She began writing fiction as an outlet for her busy brain, and quickly realised scrawling words on a page is wired into her DNA. She’s had over 30 pieces of speculative flash fiction and short stories published by independent presses, including Fox Spirit Books. She was a Grindstone Literary 2019 Microfiction Winner with her 144-word story, “Nothing to Lose” and Publishers Weekly once described one of her stories as ‘standout’. She lives in Nottingham, with her husband and a pampered rescue greyhound.