Interview with Elizabeth Conall

When did you first start writing?
I don't remember. I think my first piece of serious writing might have been a Pern fanfic that thankfully never saw the light of day, or it might have been a Sailormoon fanfic that unfortunately did hit the Internet (but thankfully died with Geocities). In either case I think I was ten to twelve.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
When a reader tells me, yes, this is beautiful, this is resonant, I love this.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My first book, "A Dinner of Herbs", is a collection of short stories, two by me, two by Anne B. Walsh (also on Smashwords). I wrote the first story in that collection, "Pray You, Love, Remember", as my project for the Month of Letters; my idea was to mail a postcard-sized story every day, and then collect the stories into a single narrative which I could then publish. (I think I may have been driven a little by jealousy of Anne, who at this point had two novels published.)

The one story became four when I mentioned to Anne that twenty-five hundred words didn't seem enough to justify a cover price high enough to get the 70% royalties out of Amazon Kindle instead of the 35% royalties, certainly not enough to make a paper book out of, and Anne decided she could use practice writing short stories--what if we each did two, based (since my protagonist in "Pray" is named Rosemary) on the repeated line in "Scarborough Fair", 'parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme'? So my second story (actually the first in the collection), "To the Devil and Back", is inspired by the Italian variant of "Rapunzel", in which the plant the title character's mother craves is parsley. Anne's stories, "The Wisdom to Know the Difference" and "Born to Set It Right", spring from another meaning of 'sage' and a pun on 'time'.
What are you working on next?
In September, for SeptNoWriMo--it's like NaNoWriMo, only in September when the intersection of college in-between-terms and paycheck-job slow time mean I have lots of writing time, instead of in November when the intersection of fall term and paycheck-job busy time mean I don't--I am writing "Leah Far-Sighted", first novel in the "Blow That Trumpet Gabriel" quartet, to be followed by "Rachel and the Gods", "Rebecca at the Well", and "Sarah Laughed".

This quartet is in many ways an intersectional feminist critique of the TV show "Supernatural". My stars are two siblings, Becca and Rae Driscoll, both queer women of color, in contrast to the white, cisgender, and queerbaiting-but-probably-straight characters who headline "Supernatural". My premise is similar--here is a world in which supernatural nasties exist, and here are people who fight those nasties so the wider world doesn't have to concern itself with them--but I approach it differently.

As a queer person and as a woman, I want to see myself better represented in art in general and fantasy books in specific, and as a white person trying to be a good ally to people of color, I want to see people of color represented as well. In fact I feel I'm responsible for including marginalized people in my art, as one step in the process of bringing about a world in which people are not marginalized. I'm also trying to tell a story that I would enjoy if someone else wrote it, in hopes that people like me who enjoy fantasy stories such as "Supernatural" will enjoy what I write as well.

I'm excited.
What do you read for pleasure?
I gravitate, as is probably unsurprising, to fantasy and fairy tales. My favorite Mercedes Lackey books are her Elemental Masters and Five Hundred Kingdoms stories, all fairy-tale retellings in fantasy settings, and my favorite Nora Roberts books are the ones where fantasy rides shotgun with romance. Seanan McGuire's October Daye series combines fantasy with fairy tales as well. Beyond that, I like to learn. Nonfiction books relevant to my interests, of which I have many, are quite pleasurable reads. For example, as I type this I have out from the library books on food by Michael Pollan and books on sustainable forestry. The latter's pertinent to my "Tam Lin" retelling in progress, but the former's just for fun.
Who are your favorite authors?
Seanan McGuire, hands down. Nora Roberts when I'm looking for brain candy. Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, and J. K. Rowling were formative influences, and I still enjoy Lackey's work.

And I'm not ashamed to admit this: Orson Scott Card. He holds appalling views on queer people and not much better views on women and I won't read him anymore, but he taught me that a compelling story can convey a political message loud and clear without losing anything. I hope my stories are as compelling and as politically effective as his are, however politically different they may be.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I work at my paycheck job (I'm a state employee) and I go to college. I'm enrolled in the distance learning program at Oregon State University, majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Queer Studies and Writing. I also spend a lot of time on Dreamwidth, Tumblr, and the Atheism+ forums, where I'm trying to improve my understanding of various privileges and marginalizations and the intersections thereof.
What is your writing process?
I sit down and I type. Sometimes I type into an email to Anne and then copy it to Scrivener, sometimes I type into Scrivener and then copy it to Anne.

I try to write every day, and per HabitForge I've succeeded for over two hundred days in a row; I set myself the low bar of a hundred words a day to be able to note a success on HF, and I have two other HF habits concerning writing, "writing three longhand morning pages" and "writing five hundred words of project", at which I'm not yet as successful. Some days it's really hard to get writing, and I'm not yet a good writer, not yet someone who can write rain or shine. That's one of my goals for September: to get in the habit of writing a substantial amount every day whether the words are flowing easily or not.
How do you approach cover design?
For "A Dinner of Herbs", I found a picture of a knot garden that the creator released into the public domain. For "Leah Far-Sighted", I plan to do a Kickstarter and then pay someone else to do the cover art and design. I have someone in mind, but I won't name the individual until I'm ready to launch the Kickstarter.
Why do you employ Creative Commons licenses?
Copyright is a social justice issue. Copyright terms in the US are far too long, denying the public the ability to preserve, consume, and transform art that is of insufficient monetary value to the rightsholders, and copyright law in the US is far too favorable to the rightsholders at the expense of creators and the public. I particularly note that with regards to music, it's impossible to quote portions of copyrighted lyrics under fair use. Rightsholders are often wealthy corporations, not the songwriters or animators or directors, and there's a reason for the existence of the memes 'starving artist' and 'don't quit your day job', namely, art creators are almost always poorly compensated for their work.

I cannot fix this on my own. I hope that by releasing my work under Creative Commons, people will become more aware of Creative Commons, free culture, and the problems with US copyright law as it currently stands. I'm not sure free culture is the solution to our copyright woes, and I'm arguing with myself over whether I should make "Leah Far-Sighted" available under a free-culture Creative Commons license, but I have no problem whatsoever with making those of my works that are available online for $0.00 available under a free-culture CC license.

I'm also a product of fandom. The whole raison d'etre of fandom is to create transformative noncommercial art based on copyrighted works. It's a labor of love, but I don't see why it can't also be a labor of money, like with doujinshi in Japan. I have no intention of tickling the sleeping dragon by attempting to sell a fanfic without first filing off the serial numbers, but I think we should be able to.

Finally, I benefit from Creative Commons and free culture. In "Leah Far-Sighted", Leah is a lyricomancer, someone who uses songs and the shuffle function on her MP3 player as a divination tool. I have to be able to quote the relevant song lyrics. This restricts me to using lyrics released under a free-culture Creative Commons license. I feel I should give something back to the Creative Commons community.
Published 2014-05-03.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

A Dinner of Herbs: Tales from Scarborough Fair
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 15,970. Language: English. Published: June 25, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - multi-author, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
Parsley: Jumana is magically locked in the attic. Her only hope is her friend Nilam... Sage: Ms. Sophie lives in the house on the corner. People sometimes joke that she's a witch. They're right. Rosemary: The fae stole her in infancy. Can she learn to balance her two worlds? Thyme: Hina is a Damsel in a different kind of distress. Can she save both her Companion and their Quest—from her Hero?