Spotlight: Emily June Street

Congratulations to Pratibha for winning the copy of The Gantean!!! 

I’m thrilled today to welcome Emily June Street to the FF mic. Why’s that name familiar?? you might ask, only a moment before scrolling back through memory and blushing as you suddenly recall her neck-high pile of Flash! Friday HMs and runners up awards, and all the accolades she’s reaped for editing prowess both for the #FlashDogs latest anthology project and for novelists like Tamara Shoemaker

Emily’s latest novel, The Ganteanis a mere four days away from publication (June 27). That would be sufficiently awesome on its own; but Emily hasn’t stopped there. Nosireebob; she’s determined to GIVE AWAY A COPY of The Gantean to a randomly chosen commenter today. So please read the interview and leave a comment. The first reader to explore the magical Gantean universe might just be… you! 

(The winner will be chosen at 7:30am Wednesday, Washington DC time.) 

Emily June Street

You’re a trapeze artist and a writer. Charlotte (of Charlotte’s Web) said hanging upside down helped her think better. Is that true for you? How did you first get into writing (“did you always want to write”), and from there gravitate toward the fantastical?

I must correct you. I’m not a trapeze artist. I’m a trapeze enthusiast. They’re two very different things. Trapeze artists have skills that they’ve developed over years; I just like to swing for fun on the rare occasions when I can. That said, yes! Yes! Hanging upside-down is great, if not for thinking, then at least for decompressing your spine after long hours at your desk. I try to hang upside down at least once a day. I have a swing on which to do so at my Pilates Studio. Exercise is a huge part of my life (I own a Pilates studio and teach full time), and I do think exercise is important for my creativity. I have all my good plot ideas while I’m making my daily bike commute. When I’m editing someone else’s work, I think about that book while I ride, and I get all my good revision suggestions, too. Rhythmic, repetitive motion is my best incubator for ideas.

I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve always written, at least for as long as I can remember. I started working on The Gantean, my epic fantasy novel, when I was twelve. I have stacks of diaries and journals from my childhood. I first got into writing as a natural extension of reading. My nose has been in a book from about age six on.

Fantasy has always been the genre I gravitated towards, as a reader and as a writer. All fiction is really a type of fantasy, a made-up world of varying degrees of verisimilitude. But I feel free writing inside worlds that have magic and bendable rules of reality.

Emily June Street trapeze

Give us the flash fiction-style version of your writerly life.

In the early days, all I did was write. Copiously. I didn’t plan to do anything with it or have anyone (gasp!) read it. I just liked writing. I finally shared an early draft of The Gantean with my friend Beth. We started meeting for a monthly writing lunch. Then I suggested we self-publish what we were writing, because I’ve had a lifelong fantasy of being a publisher. So Luminous Creatures Press was born.

We learned self-publishing from the bottom up and taught ourselves everything — old school, by-hand formatting, tech skills, WordPress, research about how to use the different sales platforms and their advantages and disadvantages, marketing, the works. We put out our first two anthologies as practice runs to apply what we had learned and really make sure we knew what we were doing. Then we put out my book Velo Races, which was originally called The Velocipede Races. It was enough of a hit to garner some interest in the bicycle subculture, and I sent it to a feminist biker publisher to have her review it on her blog. She liked it enough to offer to re-publish it. I did a revision on it and wrote an epilogue. Then the publisher merged with a larger press (Microcosm Publishing), and my contract was reworked with them. So now the new version of The Velocipede Races is slated for release by Microcosm in April 2016. My old, self-published version is now called Velo Races. This is probably the most unlikely means of getting a book contract, ever. But I like living outside the box.

I’m still continuing to self-publish. Indie publishing satisfies the crazed control freak who lives inside my outwardly mellow skin. I have other books in progress that I may try to shop out traditionally, but getting more books published traditionally isn’t high on my list of priorities.

Not only are you a prolific writer (is it true you’re already in drafts of Book 7 of The Gantean series?? AWESOME) — but you are also an editor. How’d you get into editing? What have you learned about writing since working as an editor? What do you see a lot of in writing that really drives you crazy (turning on heels, hmmm??)? 🙂

I love these questions. They masquerade as one question but really they are about ten in one. {Editor’s Note: You weren’t supposed to notice.} I could write a non-fiction book on this “question” alone. So, yes, I have written seven drafts for the Tales of Blood & Light series (that’s the series that The Gantean opens). I have drafts for all seven books. I had to write them because the series is too intricate — like an enormous jigsaw puzzle — and I needed to know how the various storylines fit together before I could sign off on The Gantean. Now I have a pretty good sense of the master plan, and I only have to revise those seven drafts (only, ha ha!).

Working on such a monstrous project for the better part of a decade is what taught me how to edit in realistic terms. For instance, about five years ago I had a draft of The Gantean that was 260,000 words. It was a monster. I cut several subplots and got it down to about 200K. Then I line edited that thing about ten times (I kid you not) and got it down to its current 100,000 words. That taught me how to write a good sentence without filter verbs or filler phrases. It also taught me to recognize useless descriptions and stale body language that added no meaning to a scene. I haven’t just been killing my darlings, but rather slaughtering every single one into a bloody pulp never to rise again.

I got into freelance editing by doing trades with other writers as a beta reader. They’d read my MS; I’d read theirs. I soon realized I was terrible beta reader. Why? Because I was providing feedback like an editor. The level and amount of feedback I was giving was editorial, not beta-readerial. Yet most of my partners were hugely grateful for the editing. They were happy someone was willing to read so closely and so carefully. I realized I had an aptitude for these tasks — analytical thinking, skilled reading, holding the abstract, top-down structure of a book in my head as I absorbed the details of the writing. Not only that, I had strong opinions: grammar, sentence structure, flow, word choice, plot structure — I cared. I had visions for the manuscripts I was reading. I had concrete suggestions for how to tighten them that came from being an experienced reader with a pretty good foundation in writing craft. (I minored in English and focused on fiction). Vision is an important but underexplored aspect of editing — the need to be able to see the shape of the piece, what it is, what it could be. Good editors need to be able to see that different stories might have different goals; they need to juggle all the many layers of a story, not just the three or five act structure and the central conflict.

Long story short, someone I knew from work begged me to edit his book and asked me how much it would cost. I set a price and gave the most thorough edit I could, and my freelance editing career began. Now I try to edit or beta-read a book a month.

In terms of line or copy editing my biggest pet peeve is when I see “then” being used as a conjunction. I’m saddened by how prolific this is becoming. It’s one of those usages that seems to be morphing — it used to be considered incorrect; now it’s becoming acceptable. But it will never be acceptable to me. Jonathan Franzen hates it, too.

“Turning on one’s heel” (to make an exit) is another one, yeah. I always think they must be folk dancing! There are quite a few body language clichés like this that people overuse unawares.

With your fingers in all sorts of publishing pots, from writing to editing to marketing–what’s your take on the current publishing scene? Has rigor mortis set in for the traditional approach, or do you see it regaining strength? What should writers keep in mind as they think about getting work published?

Oh, boy, another book length question. You’re keeping my typing muscles in shape here, Rebekah. Marketing is the elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged and understood in any discussion of the future of publishing. Professional, experienced marketing is what the traditional approach still has going for it. It is really hard to do effective marketing on your own, even if you pay for a marketing package. Reaching the right audience for your book is important, but the reading and book-buying audience are a mysterious and elusive crowd. I think traditional publishers are still better at reaching them than most self-published authors. They have the network and they have the experience. That said, traditional publishers will expect you to work very hard to establish your own platform and they’ll want you to self-market, which you’d be doing anyway if you published independently. So your marketing work is the same, either way: as much as you can tolerate doing.

I think writers should consider a whole host of questions before deciding how to proceed. Why you write and what you hope to get out of writing are important factors in deciding the best path. The hybrid approach is a good way to begin, because you’ll learn a lot about both options and see which suits you.

Honestly, I’ve spent the past two decades happily holed up in my office writing for no one but myself, and there are times when I’d like to go back there. Sometimes sharing my work makes me feel… oogey inside. Marketing makes me feel even oogier. Some people have the marketing gene; I do not. I favor the “organic” marketing approach, making connections rather than touting a product. Even so, there are times when I just want to crawl back in the writing cave and hoard my words like a dragon.

You’re a huge art buff. What styles of art do you love most — who are your faves — and does that love for art find expression in your writing?

I don’t know how you know this about me. *checks shoulders* I can’t recall writing a blog about my love of art or anything. {Editor’s Note: Dragons know everything.} My husband is an artist — sculptor, painter, photographer, film-maker. In fact, if he touches something, it turns into art, and he loves everything he makes — the process of making it as well as the outcome. He’s taught me so much about how to let creativity move through me without judgment of the results. Writers and readers can be an extremely cerebral, anxious, and critical bunch, and having my husband’s counter-example helps ground me.

Every room in our house has original artworks in it, by my husband and others; it’s like a museum. I pick pieces that make my soul feel shivery in my chest. Art, just like writing, is a way to connect to people and get inspired.

I love sculpture and dance above almost any other forms. I love weight and heft and dimension. I love wood and stone. I love bodies in motion to music. I love color. I think most of those loves probably come across in my writing, especially in The Gantean, which is very colorful in the most literal sense of the word. I use anything I’m passionate about in my books: Velo Races is about my love affair with the bicycle, The Gantean is full of art and culture and color, one of the other books in Tales of Blood & Magic is about a bona fide trapeze artist, and Secret Room came out of the passionate anger I feel about the circumstances of so many women in a misogynistic world.

Talk for a minute about writing communities. You’re obv a huge part of the #FlashDogs; do you belong to any other groups, online, IRL? Do those communities help fuel your writing, or are you more of a solo-style writer? What are your “musts” for sitting down to write? Any unique quirks?

Mostly I fly solo for my own writing, but in this past FlashDogs anthology, SOLSTICE : DARK, we had a formatting snafu that was easiest to fix by adding another story. I had a story idea but I didn’t want to write it on my own. I told alpha FlashDog Mark A. King about it and we managed to write a story together in less than 36 hours. He lives in the UK; I live in California, and we’ve never met. That’s a beautiful example of the writing community that I’ve found on the Interwebs — the FlashDogs and others who I’ve traded with as critique buddies.

Even so, mostly I like to go into my cave and work alone. I need a cup of coffee and a few open hours and I’m good to go. I prefer to write early in the morning, but I’ll take whatever hours I can get.

I also have this great community of people for whom I beta-read or edit. I really love working on their projects with them. Part of this comes from my career. Teaching Pilates is a lot like editing. I pay careful and close attention to my clients and offer suggestions, refinements, and modifications. I hone in on details. I try to put things into clear, direct words. It’s the same thing in a different domain. I’ve been teaching Pilates for seventeen years, and most of my daylight hours are given to helping other people develop themselves, to listening, to gently coaxing deeper awareness. That’s a great practice for editing, which also requires that you concentrate deeply on another person’s work, suspend your own style, and encourage expansion and exploration of edges.

You’ve a custom of setting monthly writerly goals and then reporting on those goals. This is a wonderful accountability method; do you find it helps you meet those goals? With your myriad commitments and deadlines, how do you keep yourself organized and current? Any tips for writers struggling to finish projects?

I shouldn’t tell you this, but the real reason I post the goals is to have something to say on my blog. I’d complete the goals whether I posted them or not. And there’s some evidence from psychological literature that says keeping your big goals secret is one way to help you achieve them. Note: I never publish the big goals on the blog, only the little step-by-step ones. I kind of hate blogging (says the woman writing the 5,000 word blog interview). The goals are a painless way to make sure I minimally post once a month to the blog.

My writing happens in small, daily doses. I work in little snippets of time, but I work every day. I don’t have commitment issues. I know exactly what I want to do, and I do it; it just takes a long time. I stay organized by having a routine. I have regular Pilates teaching hours each week, and I work my writing and editing hours around that. I have healthy habits, and I think that is important for getting into a creative zone. I eat well; I exercise often; I sleep deeply. I break my secret big goals down into bite size pieces and check them off one by one.

I can’t really give advice to anyone struggling to finish because I’d need to understand the struggle to do that. To steal from Tolstoy: Finishers are all alike; every writer who has not finished is struggling in his own way. But it does seem like the struggle usually comes from two issues: anxiety or lack of routine. So learning how to quell the anxiety is often the first step. You’ve got to face yourself and decide — how am I going to be? What do I want to do and what’s preventing me from doing it? Then you impose the structure that helps you address the obstacles you’ve identified. Aren’t you glad I’m not your mom?

Just how awesome is Beth Deitchman?

Beth Deitchman is the reigning queen of awesome sauce. She’s written two novellas, Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, and Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas, and plans more in her Regency Magic series. She is my editor and I am her editor. We are great matches for each other because our strengths (not to mention our personalities) are very complementary. Beth is good with details, grammar, and sentence structure. I’m good with big picture global issues and integration. We make a perfect team.

Because (clearly) publishing The Gantean this week (!) isn’t enough for you — Solstice: Light & Dark have just come out. Aside from Pack Leaders Mark King & David Shakes, you know these stories better than anybody. Give us a quick inside peek: what stories/writers should we especially look for? 

Solstice : Light had fewer genre pieces and lots of stories with meat on their bones. Some of my favorites were:

“Like an Old Venus” by the reigning queen of awesome-sauce herself, Beth Deitchman

“The Bamboo Forest” by Mark A. King

“Knight In Shining Armour” by Brian S. Creek

“Transient” by Tamara Shoemaker

“The Maiden” by Rebekah Postupak {Editor’s Note: Heeeey!}

“Lucidity” by Nancy Chenier

Solstice : Dark leaned towards sci-fi and fantasy stories, though there was a great variety. I enjoyed:

“A Woman’s War” by Amy Wood

 “Black Squall” by Chris Milam

“West and East” by Mark A. King and me (if I do say so myself)

“The Family Plot” by David Borrowdale

“The Hero’s Other Faces” by Nancy Chenier

Gantean

OK, let’s do it–I’ve saved the biggest question for the end! that huge gorgeous elephant in the room: The Gantean. Your new book is coming out in FOUR DAYS!! Tell us everything!

Yes, The Gantean, the book I began at age twelve, is finally coming out on June 27th. What a long, strange trip it’s been! I’m very glad to have it out of my head and in its permanent form. This was by far the most difficult book I’ve ever written. I really had no idea what I was doing for the first fifteen years of writing it. So I tore it apart countless times and then tried to put it back together. Once some of the other books in the series took shape, I was able to go back into The Gantean and make the important revisions to get it to work. The Gantean introduced me to the joy of writing, the pleasure of it. It also introduced me to the joy and pleasure of revision. I love revision. Cutting words makes me cackle with deranged laughter. Cutting entire useless scenes is even more exciting. And when a full rewrite really works—that’s a pinnacle of writing joy. I think I could have endlessly edited this book for the rest of my life. A friend put her foot down this year and said I had to publish it and get on with things. So I did.

Here’s a brief introduction to the story’s worlds:

Gante is a cold, stark northern culture, very austere, very strict in their beliefs and ways. At the same time, because of the harsh environment where they live, the Ganteans must be extremely interdependent and communal. Their magic is rigidly controlled and frugal. This is the culture my heroine, Leila, has grown up in. The neighboring culture to the south is much more free and independent, yet at the same time, privileged and profligate. They are also trying to conquer the Ganteans.

Leila is kidnapped by southern raiders, and that is the beginning of her story. The first layer of the story is a character-driven tale of assimilation, cultural conflict, magic, and love. The two cultures mirror the two sides of Leila’s personality. Leila discovers herself, weighing her devotion to duty against her individual desires.

Almost all of the Tales of Blood & Light are written in first person, and I used an element to help shape each narrator— not that they have elemental magic; they don’t. I used elemental qualities to give the characters their unique temperaments. Leila is water. The narrator of Book Two is fire. The books fit together like jigsaw pieces, similar to some stories I’ve done on Flash! Friday where I have two interconnected stories, each told from a different perspective.

I tried to forge a new path for Leila, making her different from the “strong female leads” we’ve seen so often in fantasy, these heroines who basically follow a typical hero’s path and take on a lot of traditionally masculine features to do so. Instead, for her character, I started with the concept of water. Leila’s changeable and accommodating. She’d rather adapt than fight. She shapes herself to her circumstances the way water shapes the vessel that holds it. I wanted to see if I could make a fantasy heroine who was more traditionally feminine and yet still make her “strong” in the way so many women have been for so many centuries in actual history — adapting rather than fighting.

Share an excerpt with us, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease????? 

Something important and vital dies inside you when you face the end of your world. My friends’ expressions dulled and closed as the Entilans loaded us onto their ship and down into a dark hold below decks. A frozen, windlashed fear lit their eyes and trembled through their flesh. My uncontrollable scream had been my breaking point, too, the final deadly clamp of the wolf’s jaws on the deer’s neck. The part of myself that took action, that made plans, that believed I could exert control over my life, laid down in my chest and surrendered. The Entilans had turned me liquid and uncertain in a few short, brutal moments. I’d never recapture my easy, confident innocence. Fear, once rooted, never dies.

Why does the deer give up? I had once asked Nautien. Why doesn’t it fight to escape?

It is a kind of natural wisdom, she had answered. Death comes to everything. The deer knows it is better to flow than fight. It surrenders to death; it turns liquid and dissolves in it. There is less pain that way. This is why we say ‘flow like water,’ Leila. In this way, we maintain our proper role in the Slow Dance of creation, Sukaibiruq. We adapt.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark of the larger vessel’s hold, I saw little Anarian, only four winters old, curled in a heap on the floor. I gathered her into my lap and wound my hands into her hair, unworking the snarls. She eased her crying as I wove her hair into braids. This was the soothing a Gantean understood: gentle, comforting hands, and silence.

Murlian lifted her head. “What do you think they’ll do with us?”

Merkuur wrapped an arm around her shoulder. His brown eyes flashed as he saw the scratches on Murlian’s neck where the raiders had ripped away her tormaquine. I tucked my two charms deeper under my sealskin cloak. I must not let the Entilans see that I still had them.

“They’ll take us to the slave market, of course,” Merkuur said.

“Merkuur, did you see—did you see what happened to the others at the main camp?” The question had been eating at me since the horror on the beach. If the others had also been killed—

Merkuur only closed his eyes and shook his head.

I persisted. “That bad?”

“No one escaped,” he finally said.

Now I mimicked him, closing my eyes and blanching. The world had truly shattered beneath my feet. What would become of us now? What would become of Gante? Of our Hinge and the world’s magic?

The task is yours.

The burden of Nautien’s duty weighed on me, but eventually exhaustion and fear trumped every concern.

Be like the deer, I told myself. Surrender.

Sometimes that is all you can do.

–From The Gantean; courtesy Emily June Street 

♦♦♦♦

A true privilege having you join us today, Emily. Thank you so much for taking the time! And now to you readers: Emily is giving away a free copy of The Gantean to a randomly chosen commenter. She’s covered a lot of ground in this interview; what surprised you? Impressed you? Did you (dis)agree with anything she said? Have any follow up questions? Chime in, and get a shot at your own copy of The Gantean. And thank you. 

Advertisements

28 thoughts on “Spotlight: Emily June Street

  1. I can’t wait to read this.
    You are a crazily talented writer (Velocipede Races will become a huge film one day, I have no doubt).
    You’re also incredibly dedicated and generous with your time (on everything you work on).
    There are few people in the world that care as passionately as you do and then back it up with selfless action.
    I loved writing with you and the story was such a great idea.
    Just want to say a massive public ‘thank you ‘ for just being so fab, brilliant and inspirational.
    With my very best wishes for the book.
    (No need for prize draw, I’ll be buying one)

  2. I’ve gotten to know Emily’s editing style (which is awesome), and recently finished reading an ARC of The Gantean, (also awesome), and am amazed by the sheer talent that oozes from her. It’s rather mind-blowing.

    Also, marketing makes me feel oogey, too. 🙂

    Thanks for this peek into your life, Emily! 🙂

  3. You once had a draft that was 260,000 words? My goodness. I have to scrape and claw, drink 20 cups of coffee, to squezze out a 700 word story. Impressive.

    Congratulations on your book, and thank you for all the work you did with the anthologies. You’re awesome. Engrossing interview as well.

  4. Well, I knew that you were an amazing writer/editor. It’s awesome to be able to get a little peek of the amazing person behind the craft. This whole interview is a big inspiration.

    I LOVE that the garden from which you drew the novel came from age twelve (glares at the dust-gathering box of notebooks). Big congratulations on finally bringing it to fruition.

    “…let creativity move through me without judgment of the results”–I have to make a poster of that and tack on the walls of every room.

  5. Reblogged this on Spec-Fic Motley and commented:
    Interview with Emily June street, an amazing woman (wordsmith, artist, cyclist, trapeze enthusiast) who I’ve had the honor to work with since she’s acted as editor for the Flash Dogs and Luminous Creatures anthologies.

  6. Wow, gorgeous, gorgeous excerpt. Can’t wait to read it.

    Being able to edit ruthlessly is something I wish I could do. My novels are barebones and if I were to cut what’s necessary, I’d be left with flash fiction and no novels in the works. 😛
    Tamara has sung your praises to me and fully convinced me that your prowess with the pen is expert level. 🙂

    • Bones alone do not a meal make. I revise like a sculptor. I always put way too much in the first draft, and the whittle, chisel, and shape by cutting. But you might revise like a builder, starting with the skeleton and then adding the flesh.

  7. Awesome interview, Emily. You are truly inspiring.
    Thank you for all your work on the Flashdogs Anthologies–I’m looking forward to reading all the stories!
    Big congratulations on the publication of The Gantean. What a wonderful preview—I am buying a copy, too. x

  8. There’s so much here- I barely even know where to begin! Like Chris, I was definitely struck by how prolific you are! Wow. I also appreciate the balance you have with your husband; how freeing it must be to create without a sense of judgement (internal and external) hovering above your fingers! Additionally, I love that your “strong female character” is atypical. My husband and I were just talking about how almost all of the modern female main characters are the same basic “tough girl/tomboy/etc.” character. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I am exhausted just reading this. How does she do it all. Bows in the fashion on Wayne and Garth, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.” Seriously, I am amazed. Congratulations on everything. I look forward to a summer meet.

  10. Whew, woman. Is there anything you don’t/can’t do? I’m both inspired and exhausted just by reading this. 🙂 I love your approach to editing. I wish I loved it; I don’t. Your enthusiasm for all you do shines through, and I can’t wait to read The Gantean (in fact, I preordered it already, so should I happen to win the free book, gift it on!).

  11. Great interview. The excerpt is fantastic as is your work on Flash Friday. Good luck with the novel. And a big thank you to you and all the guys at FDHQ.

  12. Wonderful interview filled with many nuggets of great advice. I love how on top of this quite frankly baffling amount of work you still find the time to do trapeze – you must have figured out how to hang upside down in your sleep! 😉

  13. Wow! That was an inspiring read. (Still wondering how she puts all those things into 24 hrs. Ahhmazing! And sleeps soundly too! ) Would love to read the book but unfortunately amazon.in will not have it or I would have ordered it and the flash dogs one in a jiffy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s