Angela Y. Smith

Ruschelle: Thank you for chatting with us here at the Horror Tree. I was peeping your titles online and what grabbed my peepers first…was the adorable lizard on your Literary Lizard Adventures series. It’s a children’s book. I’m a fan of adorable little illustrated lizards. What made you pen a fun book for kids and about the library to boot?

Angela: The Literary Lizard was originally a short story I wrote off the cuff to fulfill a personal challenge I was doing—seven stories in seven days or something. I worked at a newspaper in Florida at the time and that day we’d had a lizard crawl across the glass door. From the inside, his silhouette appeared to be hugging one of the letters. He became the inspiration for the little lizard that ran away from home to follow his quest for new words. An illustrator friend of mine, Robin Wiesneth, read the story and asked to illustrate it. Since then we’ve done quite a few kid books together.

I identify with “Lit” as well, so it’s lightly autobiographical. I ran away from home at 16. There were a number of reasons to do this, but at the forefront of my mind was the goal of finding a life worth writing about. The thought that every experience is material to work with still drives me. Whatever happens to me, however pleasant or unpleasant, I always find myself appreciating and notating the experience to tap into later.

 

Ruschelle: What do you love about writing children’s books?

‘The Christmas Spiders’

Angela: I don’t consider myself a children’s writer at all. I started reading before kindergarten and by the time I was in third grade I was reading adult books. I had no concept of age appropriate and read everything I could get my hands on. I was exposed to quite a lot of material that I didn’t understand at all, of course. Reading The Succubus by Ken Johnson was one of those experiences. I paged through a lot of sex scenes trying to get to the part where the demoness just killed the guy. Mrs. Whitmore was not happy when she discovered what was keeping me so absorbed at reading circle.

I don’t like the idea of stories being candy coated for kid consumption, and I think many of our kids are also tired of being force fed joy. As a child, reading was how I figured out what life was. I wanted to know about the cycle of death and why people could be cruel. Those questions are often present in my work today, kidlit or adult reading.

In The Christmas Spiders, my seasonal children’s best seller, an old woman goes on a mountain to reevaluate her life at its end. In the original version, she does die on the mountain and the spiders encase her in a silvery, frozen cocoon as a Christmas gift. I thought it was beautiful and I cried as I wrote it. Later, at the advice of beta readers I ‘jollied it up” by having the spiders decorate her tree instead and she returns down the mountain. I don’t think it would have been as popular if I’d kept that ending.

 

In Favor Of Pain

Ruschelle: I would have enjoyed your original ending! Okay, I’m going to pretend the witch died and was cocooned in the story instead of the tree decorating. But I’m A sucker for a morose ending. You are a poet. You’ve been in many poetry anthologies but in 2017 your first collection, In Favor of Pain, was published. How did you choose the poetry to star in your anthology?

Angela: By accident. Before Pain I considered myself a closet poet. I had attended a poetry critique group in high school that ripped me apart so bad I kept any verse I wrote after that strictly private and tried not to write poetry at all if I could help it.

A few years ago, I decided to get over my anxiety about being in front of people. I started forcing myself to attend poetry open mic events. Because of it, I had to write some poetry to perform. I wound up laying out a book for a friend, William L. Gent, as a surprise from his wife for his 80th birthday. Since my birthday was only a few days later and I had a stack of poetry, I threw a book together for myself. It consisted of all the poetry I had written for the open mic events. I assumed no one would ever know about it. I was pretty shocked when it was nominated for an Elgin award. I consider In Favor of Pain my ‘coming out of the closet’ as a poet book.

 

Ruschelle: Strange question but which do you feel are scarier, killer chickens on Crack with daddy issues or knife wielding, cannibalistic butterflies with acid reflux?

Angela: Definitely the chickens. I used to keep chickens and watching the little omnivores tear apart anything slightly edible used to make me think of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. Add daddy issues to that and you have an insatiable, not particular appetite with a vengeance. *shudder*

 

Ruschelle: Good choice! Chickens can have addictive personalities. Your first book, End Of Mae, is going through a metamorphosis. What made you go back to the beginning, so to speak?

Angela: Ugh. When I started End of Mae it was as a dare. At the time I wrote primarily nonfiction for newspapers and so on. I attended a writer’s convention with a very vocal fiction writer who declared that non fiction writers couldn’t write anything else because they had no imagination. I took offense and stated that fiction needed reality to make it believable and nonfiction needed a little magic to make it palatable. The discussion got pretty heated and by the end we were both almost expelled from the convention. I went home and started End of Mae with no direction and a lot of swearing just to show that I could. I wound up falling in love with the idea that I wasn’t constrained by reality and kept going.

End of Mae is the thorn in my side though. It got reviewed surprisingly well for a first book but one of the complaints was the abrupt ending. Later I wrote 15,000 or so more words onto it to fix that. As I become a better writer, I dislike my older work and have a constant desire to go back and “fix it.” After doing that with End of Mae I have made a pact with myself not to give into that urge. I can spend my entire career fixing my past writing, or write new things better. None of it will ever be as good as I want it to be.

 

Ruschelle: You taught creative writing. What was the most important idea or theory you taught to budding writers?

Angela: The most important idea I think I tried to pass on was this is a craft. We all stink at first. You get better at writing by writing. Put words on everything, everywhere. Write for anything at all. Write for free, for food, for love, for favors… let those words go to anyone who will read them. Prolifically and unabashedly write. The more you do it, the better you get.

I saw a lot of writers in my classes that loved the idea of being a writer but they hated doing it. Some of them thought it was an easy way to get rich. I could explain statistics to them all day but they were convinced that their idea was the moneymaker. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “It’s just like {insert bestseller} but in my book the {insert trope} is completely different because they are {gay/straight, alien/human, female/male, etc.}”

Some of them were armchair writers. They loved to read books and wanted a closer look at the glamorous life that is being a squinty eyed hermit in a bathrobe on a computer every day, all day. They’d buy the inspirational mugs, get the T-shirts and bumper stickers, talk about protagonists and adjectives all day long… but miss assignments or turn in paragraph long stories that were not meant to be microfiction.

But then there were the ones that made teaching worth it. The ones that came in with a passion for writing for the sake of letting their thoughts bleed out onto paper. It didn’t matter if the words were honed or hapless. It always thrills me to find someone who will write because it’s a driving need, like geese flying south. Those are the ones that can become great because they are willing to spend the time to become better.

On a side note, I used to run all my lessons past my husband, R. A. Smith, when I was teaching. He got inspired and recently finished a 200,000 word book of dark fantasy that we hope will be released in 2019. It’s an excellent, original story and I couldn’t be more proud of him. There is unlimited space in the world for good stories and those that write them.

Ruschelle:  A book we’ll all be waiting for. Keep us posted. Now… newbie writers (and not so newbie writers) make rookie mistakes. While teaching, which faux-pas did you encounter most often and how did you attempt to teach it out of them?

Angela: Not editing or too much editing. I had some students that would spit a string of typos down on paper and then get mad when I corrected too much because I was limiting their artistic expression. I also had students over-think every sentence, agonizing over “a” versus “the” so they never completed anything.

I repeated Stephen King’s advice a lot: ““Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” I tried to teach no rules writing with strict rules editing—get it down on paper first. Let every ugly, misshapen and redundant word have a moment of life on your page. Then read it back over and kill most of them.

 

Ruschelle: Is there anything you wish YOU had been taught that could have made the writing process a little bit easier?

Angela: Oh yes! From the beginning I wish someone had sat down with me and told me about pacing myself. I had to figure it out on my own that I wasn’t a genius. No one will notice my first book and it’s not going to change the face of the literary world—so don’t buy 100 and don’t wait for accolades.

The first few hours after I held my first book were magical and deflating. My head knew that I was a blip on the literary radar, but in my heart I had just birthed a new world in ink and paper. I was ecstatic. I took a walk and wondered if people could see it on my face, the change of being a published writer—an author. The answer is no. No one could see the change.

If someone had told me that I wouldn’t have spent so much time and energy on marketing that first book. I’d have saved all that for the third book, or rationed it out more. The second and third books after that I was burnt out and I hardly marketed at all, also not good. It took me a few books to learn pacing. This is a long haul event. Like the fabled tortoise and hare race, steady, consistent publishing will eventually win.

 

Ruschelle: Your book, Escape Claws is about you growing up in haunted houses? How did that affect your story telling? More importantly, how did affect growing up?

Angela: Growing up and my storytelling are the same tale. I was always the creepy kid that didn’t have many friends because I would say the wrong things all the time. I would tell people how something invisible chased me upstairs at night or how there was a big, black creature with a fat belly and a scorpion tail that would hang over my bed at night. Looking back as an adult, I wouldn’t want me hanging out with my kids either. Despite that, I did get invited to quite a few sleepovers because I was the creepy kid.

We used to play something I called the Ghost Story Game. Everyone at the party would give me something to from the room to tell a scary story about. It could be any object, person or animal as long as it was in the house. Having subject of the story in the house with us made it even scarier. I would tell stories for so long I’d eventually fall asleep. I can fall asleep and keep talking, it just comes out as spooky gibberish. That’s when the game would finally end.

So many frightening things happened to me in my real life, making up terrifying stories for others seemed easy. I found it comforting to be able to talk about things that had happened to me in a fictionalized way. It was therapeutic.

I didn’t realize then we were just working with prompts, an exercise I’m still fond of.

 

Ruschelle: You had an evening with Neil Gaiman…well not THAT kind of an evening. Lol.  You enjoyed an evening listening to Neil Gaiman’s inspiring stories. Was there something he said that truly inspired you and got you thinking?

Angela: Everything Neil Gaiman says is inspiring! In particular though, he read his essay on the importance of libraries, literacy and reading. It struck home for me because in recent years I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading for pleasure. My excuse has been lack of time and too many projects. Gaiman inspired me to add reading for the sake of pleasure back in my days.

I’m so glad too. Since I started reading for fun again, I’ve noticed my adult children and husband have also gone back to reading more. Different words are showing up in my vocabulary and thoughts, words I haven’t used in a long while like “truncated.” Finally, oddly enough I’ve started dreaming.

Perfect timing two. Last week we closed on a house that is about a two minute walk from a major public library.

 

Ruschelle: Here’s a question authors have and face every day. When writing your OWN books and stories, do you write to word count or do you write to what the story needs? Anthology requirements are a different animal.

Angela: I always write for what the story needs. Each tale already exists somewhere—in another dimension, maybe? In my mind, writers are like mediums. Touch the keyboard and messages from beyond pour through. Every story tells itself and I just try to stay out of the way and keep my fingers moving.

 

Ruschelle: Do your three dogs assist you while you write? I mean, do they bring you tea, shed all over your manuscripts and whisper sweet inspirations to you while you pound away at the computer?

Angela Y Smith’s Dog Cheeky

Angela: Officially I only have one dog, but I live with two more (soon to be six when we move into the new house!). They love to violently bark when I am at an intense part of a story, making sure my heart works by testing it regularly.

My own dog, Cheeky, adores ripping up paper and he has helped me dispose of pesky pages of edits I didn’t feel like doing anyways. He’s especially fond of eating complimentary critiques of my work that I would have loved to quote from. He says it’s so I won’t get too full of myself. It is hard to have an inflated ego when your dog is choking up paper mache in your slippers.

As I said, we just closed on a house and one of the features for me is an actual cupboard under the stairs that I plan to turn into my office. I hope to actually have mail addressed to Angela Yuriko Smith, Cupboard Under the Stairs, and the address. It’s the perfect size cupboard for a small desk and some books. Most important, it has a lovely door so I can close my furry assistants out of my work space.

 

Ruschelle: Bitter Suites is your newest offering. Ten tales woven together from a singular concept, a hotel that specializes in recreational suicides. So cool. How did Bitter Suites come to fruition?

Angela: Bitter Suites was inspired in part by my own self destructive behavior in my late teens and early 20s, and in part by a friend on the same cyclical path. I felt like I understood the driving need to permanently check out but I’d learned to channel myself in other ways, namely writing, to get out of that spiral. She hadn’t found her way out yet and was going back and forth from hospitals to being fine and then back.

“If only she could just kill herself and get it out of her system,” I said to myself one day. I was shocked such a thought would cross my mind, but I didn’t mean it in a permanent way. I meant I wished she could try it, see that it didn’t help anything and come back to move on.

The desire to have renewable death as a therapeutic option is what inspired Bitter Suites. I daydreamed about it at first. My mind quickly started exploring all the wonderful ways death could be beneficial if only it wasn’t so permanent. Recreational suicide became my fantasy world and something I hope to one day see offered. Finally, we could pull the curtain back on the great unknown and return to tell the tale.

In my personal experience, the urge to harm myself was like an obsessive itch I couldn’t’ ignore. It wasn’t about thinking positive or self esteem. Like a bird going south, I had a desperate need to migrate from this life. I tried four times, three of which landed me in the hospital. I had to get it out of my system before I could get it out of my head. Writing turned out to be my escape.

Wanting to die is an obsessive need to scratch oneself from existence. My hope is that somehow the Bitter Suites stories can help alleviate that itch.

 

Ruschelle: Dark humor dances through Bitter Suites. As a fellow fan, reader and writer of dark humor, how do you decide how much humor in horror is too much? Where do you draw your lines?

Angela: I don’t think I understand the concept of too much dark humor. My husband is my sounding board for that. I read him my latest chapter and he will tell me if I’ve gone too far. He’s always been spot on.

My adult children are also pretty good about telling me when I’ve gone too far. I’ve been recently advised to calm down on the poison deaths or I won’t be allowed to cook dinner anymore. Of course, that just inspires me to come up with new, colorful ways to experience death by toxin. I hate cooking.

 

Ruschelle: From reading your Bitter Suites reviews, it seems that readers are wanting more. Is there another book in the series on the horizon?

Angela: Yes, at the moment I am busy writing the follow up book titled Suite and Sour. Now that all the characters from the first book are already engaged, Suite and Sour is a much more connected story arc that I can go forward with at full steam. I wanted the stories to start out as connected vignettes that start drawing tighter as they travel. Since the release of Bitter Suites I’ve become a full time writer. With 8-10 solid writing hours a day at my disposal, I hope to have the next book available in the first half of 2019.  There is a third book planned as well.

 

Ruschelle: I love reading your blog entries. What spurs you to post almost daily? How do you find the time and topics?

Angela: Of course, as I’m answering these questions I haven’t actually blogged in almost a week. Since we bought the house I’ve been stranded in frozen woods with a flat cell phone, dealt with a faulty furnace during a cold snap, moved in a blizzard, hotwired a heating system, plunged a basement and had my car totaled by a speedy teenage girl. So, when I am able to get back to regular blog posts I should have some interesting stories.

Posting almost daily keeps me in the habit of writing. When I don’t post, I can feel something missing from my day. It’s a way I can share information with people I love… and if you are reading my blog I do love you. It’s also an efficient way to share information. I can tell an unlimited number of people about the crazy week I just had in one post.

Sometimes finding topics can be a challenge. I keep a note of ideas in my phone and when I get a spark I jot it down. Bits of conversation, emails I get sent, things I’ve read, life experience… all are sources of material.

A lot will be changing in 2019. My husband and I will be going on a national book tour on weekdays and sell absinthe at Renaissance Faires on the weekends for about six months. We have also agreed to take over ownership of a longstanding literary magazine to keep it alive, but I can’t divulge details until the official announcement yet.

I imagine those two developments will all be good for some interesting new posts.

 

Ruschelle: But you could share some literary magazine info with certain Horror Tree interviewers…wink, wink. And yes, I meant me.   Do you write for yourself when you blog, and hope to entertain readers? Or do you blog to gain readers? Do you find blogs to be an important tool in the writer’s tool kit?

Angela: The answer is all of the above. I do write for myself, for the most part. I have many friends, but I’m an introvert so telling the same story 100 times exhausts me. I initially started my blog because I was moving to Australia for a year and I wanted to share my adventures with everyone all at once. Hopefully readers do find it entertaining. No one wants to tell a boring story!

I also hope to find new readers with my blog. Some people have equated blogging as giving away free samples. That’s not really true for me since I write fiction and my blog is primarily non fiction. I think of it more like an online dating service. Here is me, the author, and what I like—dogs, coffee and quirky music. Readers that are interested in getting to know me better can by reading new posts. Each post is a new date we share.

Finally, I hope they will like me enough to get in a relationship by buying my books. Eventually we can share a small, cozy bookshelf together and settle down. We’ll rent to start.

 

Ruschelle: You’ve written in many genres and styles. Do you have anything else on your writing “bucket list?”

Angela: I hope to write something that changes a life for the better. I want to write the story that expands someone’s vision of the world so they see bigger horizons. I’d love to write the words that save the planet, unlock the universe and defy death. If I fall short of all that, I’ll be happy to just have a New York Times bestseller and win a Stoker.

 

Ruschelle: Let’s tell a dark, humorous story shall we?  A vampire, a werewolf with a spatula and the Loch Ness monster walk into a bar looking for hookers ….Go.

Angela: A vampire, a werewolf and the Loch Ness monster walked into a bar looking for hookers and they were not disappointed. There were hookers available to suit every fetish. Zombie corpse rides, vampire snuff girls, orgasm phantasms (what used to be called succubi) and the usual furry contingent leaned against the walls and sprawled across stools all over the place. The Brew & Chew was one of the seedier dives in the underworld, and that was saying a lot.

“See what you’re looking for?” asked Loch Ness. He sighed and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter where we go. I’ll never find anyone for me.”

“Ugh. Just ugh.” The vampire looked sidelong at her friend. “It’s not that we never find anyone. It’s that you’re too damn picky. Don’t look for the perfect one. Take what you can get… as long as it’s not herpes.” She snickered and then noticed a sexy wraith making eyes at her.

“Guys, I think I’ll jump off here,” she said. “Leave the door unlocked but don’t wait up.” She sauntered off to indulge in phantom fishnet and ectoplasm dazzles.

“She’s just self centered, that’s all there is to it,” said Loch Ness. He turned to the werewolf. “Is it my fault there are never any Nessies? Is it my fault I’m utterly alone?” He noticed the spatula his friend had brought along.

“Why’d you bring that? Are you planning on spanking someone with it?” Loch Ness let himself smile for a brief second before returning his frown securely to his face. The werewolf shook his head.

“No, I don’t want to spank anyone. That’s not my thing. I’m all about efficiency.” He leaned against a corner of the bar and surveyed the room.

“Efficiency?” asked Loch Ness. “What the Hell does that have to do with looking for hookers?”

“This is the way I see it,” said the werewolf. “Vampira is too easy. She’ll jump on board any train that whistles at her. She spends so much time on the trains she never arrives anywhere. You refuse to get on any train at all. You never leave the station, and therefore also never arrive anywhere. But me? I’m an opportunist. I choose the right train, and I always get where I want to go.”

He spied a tender looking Siren draped across the jukebox and smiled. She batted her eyelashes at him and bit her lip seductively. He gave a low growl.

Loch Ness watched the exchange and sighed. He knew what this meant. He would sit by himself the rest of the night and then wind up getting everyone home and cleaning up the messes. Eternity really sucked.

“Where is it you want to go?” he asked, trying to delay the inevitable desertion. The werewolf was combing his claws through his hair and smoothing whiskers. He tucked the spatula in the back of his pants.

“Dinner and a show, my friend. Learn to play with your food,” He flashed a toothy smile, white canines glowing blue in the black light. “Efficiency.” With that he strode off towards the Siren. Behind him, Loch Ness sighed again and sat on a nearby stool with a huff.

“I’m a freaking vegetarian, you asshole.”

 

Ruschelle: That was awesome. I need to know more about that damn spatula. I mean, it’s seen what’s in the wolf man’s pants!!

It was wonderful getting to you. Tell your newfound fans what offerings they should be looking for from you in the near future and where they can snatch em up from? Oh and give em all your addresses, you know, so they can check you out, Tweet you, “friend” you and just generally stalk you.

Angela: I adore being stalked! It makes me feel validated as a person. Thank you so much, Ruschelle, for such an excellent interview. This has been one of the most in depth and fun interviews I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of. You rock!

As far as laying out the stalker red carpet, the best place to find me is my blog—AngelaYSmith.com. I do try to post daily when not trapped in the frozen dark woods with a dying cell phone.

I’m also active on Facebook at facebook.com/angelayurikosmith and Instagram at instagram.com/angela_yuriko_smith.

If you’d rather, I can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/AngelaYSmith and Goodreads at goodreads.com/author/show/5044741.Angela_Yuriko_Smith.

Of course, you can always find my books available at Amazon at amazon.com/author/angelaysmith.

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About Ruschelle Dillon

Ruschelle Dillon is a freelance writer whose efforts focus on the dark humor and the horror genres. Ms. Dillon’s brand of humor has been incorporated in a wide variety of projects, including the irreverent blog Puppets Don’t Wear Pants and novelette “Bone-sai”, published through Black Bed Sheet Books as well as the live-action video shorts “Don’t Punch the Corpse” and “Mothman”.Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and online zines such as Strangely Funny III, Story Shack, Siren’s Call, Weird Ales- Another Round and Women in Horror Anthology to be released. Her collection of short stories, Arithmophobia, will be out in the Fall of 2017.Ruschelle lives in Johnstown with her husband Ed and the numerous critters they share their home with. When she isn’t writing, she can be found teaching guitar and performing vocals and guitar in the band Ribbon Grass Acoustic Group.

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