Today we have an interview with long time community member, Maria Kelly, of “The Were-traveler” fame. If you are unfamiliar with the Were-traveler, it is an online speculative fiction ezine, which Maria has been running since the fall of 2011. She does this, and so much more, all while attending college, which is amazing all unto itself. Please spend a few minutes getting to know this incredibly productive and creative woman.
Jon: Hi, Maria. I hope all is going well with you. I wanted to talk to you because of all the activity I see from you on the various social networks. It seems like you always have something going on. Can you tell me, what is your current project, what has most of your attention right now?
Maria: Jon, I’m doing well, thank you. Currently, the project occupying a lot of my time is writing the last half of my fantasy novel, “Quellseek: The Army of Empaths.” It’s the first book of a trilogy. I’m also trying to get through Spanish 2 at community college so I can graduate with my Associates degree in May and transfer to the University of South Florida.
Jon: Buena suerte, mi amiga.
I’m most familiar with your ezine, “The Were-Traveler.” What is this other project I’ve read about, “Kill the Crow?”
Maria: “Kill the Crow” is an anthology of my short speculative fiction stories, and one or two poems. Some of the stories have been part of Friday Flash and some of them (the title story, for example) will be new to this anthology.
Jon: Tell me a little about the origins of both those projects? What inspired (possessed?) you to start an ezine while going to college? What sparked the birth of “Kill the Crow?”
Maria: The ezine idea had been in the back of my mind for awhile. I wanted to do it, but worried about having the time to put into it. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with it, but I’m having fun so I’ll keep on doing it. The idea for it came while trying to write a story about a werewolf in outer space. Ironically, that’s what I asked authors to send me for the last issue.
“Kill the Crow” is something I want to throw out there to get folks interested in my writing so they will (hopefully) want to read more of my stuff. I wanted to put together a compilation of my short stories, published and unpublished, new and old, for the ebook market. I’m scared to death of the Indie game, but I’m diving in anyway.
Jon: When is “Kill the Crow” due out?
Maria: I was supposed to have it out for the end of last year, but that didn’t happen. I’m shooting for this summer or fall. I’ll have community college (and Spanish 2!) behind me and will have a little time to get it to beta readers, get it edited, and hopefully get it on Smashwords and Kindle before I start school at USF. Then, I’ll look into creating a paperback of it on Amazon, if the interest is there.
Jon: Can you tell me more about “Quellseek?”
Maria: I have an off-world medieval-type fantasy, “Quellseek,” the first book of the “Army of Empaths” series. I’m working on finishing the second half of the book right now and planning the second book “Blood War.” The series takes place on a world called Esphaera. Some of the people on the planet have mysteriously evolved into physical empaths (think John Coffey from “The Green Mile” by Stephen King). These people are exploited in a type of blood-feud system by bickering nobles (Bon Lords). Oh, and there are flying marsupial lizards (meanders) that bring the mail.
Jon: That sounds quite intriguing.
With your various projects you wear two hats, that of a writer and that of an editor. Which hat do you prefer and why?
Maria: I like them both. I will always be a writer, so I love that more than anything else. Being an editor is definitely more difficult. Sometimes you have to say ‘No’ and that’s gut-wrenching hard. Having been on the receiving end of many rejection emails, I try to do it as nicely as possible.
Jon: I certainly empathize with you on that point. I think it is the hardest part of being an editor.
You launched the Were-Traveler with the October 2011 issue, Hundred Word Halloween. You marked your one year anniversary in October of 2012 with Issue #6: The Historical Undead: Alternate Zombie History. You kicked off year two with the December Big Bad Wolf issue and looking at your editorial calendar it appears you are on track for six issues again this year. Do two years make a trend, is that what you are shooting for, six issues per year? It seems quite ambitious.
Maria: I think at this point 6 issues a year is all I can handle while still having time to write and go to school. I may even have to pull back some from that, or seek some assistance with it, if the magazine keeps growing. We’ll see.
Jon: The deadline for your next issue is February 15th with the theme of The Wise and Ancient Dead: Mummies. You are accepting everything from drabbles all the way up to 2000 word short stories. What would you say is the most common submission length when you open it up like that?
Maria: I get a lot of short stories and drabbles. Drabbles are great to edit, one-hundred words…easy peasy. Short stories are a little harder. You get to the deadline and you get three or four stories in to read.
Jon: Do you have slush readers to help you get through the submissions?
Maria: I don’t have any slush readers at present, but I may take that under consideration soon. Especially if I start university full time like I’m thinking about doing.
Jon: I see you have a drabbles-only edition on the slate. Are you particularly fond of drabbles?
Maria: Yes, I am. I have had three of my own drabbles published in Luna Station Quarterly’s drabble issue and I’m a big fan of The Drabblecast podcast, though I don’t have much time to listen to it anymore. There’s something wonderful about the challenge of writing a story in a hundred words. I want to someday do a drabble vignette issue, or drabble novel…those are short stories of about 1000 words or greater all told in little 100 word chapters or vignettes. An example is one of my favorite short stories, “The Seven Deadly Drabbles” by Jake Bible.
Jon: What other themes do you have on the agenda?
Maria: “Crossroads: The Realms of Death” will be about ghosts, ghouls and the places where you find them. After that will be a Steampunk issue called Magnificent Monsters…all about metal monsters: dragons, dinosaurs, sea serpents…let your metal imagination soar! I’m flirting with the idea of making this one another contest like the vampire issue, but with judges, if I can find people who are willing to read and judge some steampunk. There is also a general zombie themed issue in the works.
I’m happy to say that I will open 2014 with a tribute issue for Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and Southern Fried Freak Show, an issue of weird stories taking place in the south. I’d like to have the Poe/Lovecraft one published in time to celebrate Poe’s birthday in February.
Jon: That would be neat.
Any advice to authors who may want to submit? What do you look for?
Maria: 1) A compelling story…I like stories that grab me from the start and don’t let go, with characters as compelling as the situations they find themselves in. 2) Good grammar and spelling. I don’t have time to edit and really shouldn’t have to. Stories have to be as error free as possible. I won’t turn a really great story down if it has typos, though. We’re all human.
Jon: I see you are listed on Duotrope. Just out of curiosity, how does one get listed on Duotrope?
Maria: The process is simpler than one would think. I think all I had to do was fill out a small online form and send them an email. It’s supposed to take a couple weeks for them to investigate it and set it up, but with The Were-Traveler it was only a few days. I don’t know how they do it, but they monitor your site for updates. I haven’t had to send them any new information so far. With doing all of that, I can see why they’ve had to go to subscription service. They really work hard to provide authors a decent database of submissions.
Jon: Has your Duotrope listing been helpful in driving submissions your way?
Maria: When I was first listed, I was getting a ton of visits to the site. Now that they’ve gone to subscription services, it’s slacked off some. I envision having to start pimping the submissions on Twitter again soon. I can understand the author point of view, too, don’t get me wrong. I can’t afford to get a subscription right now myself.
Jon: I can see how lots of submissions could either be a blessing or a curse. How do you keep from being overwhelmed?
Maria: I take lots of deep breaths and try to plan ahead as much as possible. If I know I’m going to accept a story the first time I read it, I put it on a list and let the author know as soon as I can. I also set up the website posts (especially the one with the story listings) well in advance of the release. Then I just have to go back on release day and make sure the links go up in order. It was a nightmare the first time I did it, but I’m getting better at it.
Jon: Can you share some insight into your own creative process? Day or night? Coffee house, or quiet spot? Scheduled? Unscheduled? What sparks your muse? That sort of thing.
Maria: Afternoon or evenings. Mornings if I’ve had some serious coffee. I’m not much of a morning person. I like solitude. Coffee houses are fine for journaling and planning stories, but when it comes down to the actual writing, I like quiet. I may listen to music beforehand. Lately I’ve taken to the practice of finding theme songs for the characters of my Quellseek book that inspires me to write their POV chapters. It’s been really helpful to me writing characters like Wellynd Niles (the sarcastic, roguish, sexy spy) and Rafael Errick (a young Quell abused by his father). When I edit, it’s the same, either quiet or some classical music.
Jon: How do you balance the writing and editing you do with going to school? It seems quite a feat to me.
Maria: I’ve been a part-time student while I’ve been at community college. I work part-time at the college and then attend classes. When I graduate in May, I won’t have my part-time job anymore and some of the scholarships I’m applying for require that you go to school full-time, so that will be interesting when I start classes in the Summer or Fall, because I still anticipate I’ll need a job somewhere, unless the scholarships are really good! Right now I take 6 (sometimes up to 9) credits per term. That’s 2-3 classes. It’s not easy to keep it all straight. I make lots of to-do lists and schedules. My daily planner is my best friend…next to coffee, of course.
Jon: Anything else I failed to bring up you would like to share?
Maria: Just that my honors society, Phi Theta Kappa, meets again for the Florida Regional Convention the first weekend in March. I had a former Friday Flash story, “Shiny New Pants,” take first place in the fiction competition last year. This year, I have 2 entries: a poem (created from a former FF piece) and another short story. Just would like everyone to please root for me and put in a good word for me to God or the Universe, whoever, whatever…when that time comes. If I can be there, I’ll be tweeting and Facebooking it. I’m also submitting these same works to the PTK literary journal, Nota Bene. I just ask everyone to keep me in your thoughts for these competitions and publications, they will help me in my future academic endeavors. Thanks for reading my stories, and The Were-Traveler. And look for “Kill the Crow” soon!
Jon: Congratulations on last year’s win, and good luck this year. Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me, Maria. I want to close in telling you that I find you truly inspiring. I feel very proud to count you as a member of the #FridayFlash community.