WIHM: An Interview with Zoey Xolton
Australian author Zoey Xolton begins her debut collection Darkly Ever After with a piece of flash fiction about a woman named Destiny who ventures into an ominous forest and is never seen again.
Yes, Xolton likes her fantasy dark.
Blood Song Books released Xolton’s collection of microfiction, flash fiction, and short stories on Feb. 4. It features dark fantasy, paranormal romance, mythology, and fairy tales with elements of horror.
“I do actually write a fair amount of horror, on its own; but speculative horror is certainly my favourite, so I find blending the genres comes naturally,” Xolton said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “They all lend themselves to it!
“A paranormal vampire romance, in my mind, inherently contains an element of horror. It’s the love of a monster, a creature of the night, whose primary sustenance comes from sapping the life of humans. It bites, it stalks, and it charms — like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What is not horrifying about that? It all depends on the degree to which you take it, that defines which genre it will most accurately fall under.
“Fairy tales in their original form are notoriously dark; they give warnings and teach lessons to generations of readers and listeners (in oral tradition). They’ve only become hopeful, fluffy, princess tales since becoming commercialised.”
Xolton is a fan of dark fantasy author Anne Bishop and other fantasy luminaries like Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
“Dark fantasy is definitely just ‘me’ in a nutshell, because it contains all the trimmings of every genre that I love, all wrapped into one neat package,” Xolton said. “It usually contains paranormal romance, traditional sword and sorcery elements, and in amongst all that, the darkness and the horror dance! The dark creatures, the high stakes, the overwhelming odds, with often just the smallest glimmers of hope … I live for it.
“In my opinion, a good dark fantasy has to contain decent lashings of tragedy. Someone crucial has to die, a beacon, or embodiment of importance must be sacrificed, or fall … and the best part is, sometimes, it doesn’t end happily ever after! Or if there is some form of redemption, or hope, it comes at an incredibly steep price — the kind that leaves scars on the memories of the world and the reader.
“The best dark fantasies stay with me forever, the characters living on, beyond the words which brought them life. I want to achieve that. I want readers to feel emotionally involved, because to me, that is what reading is all about. It’s about living another life, about becoming part of a story beyond your own.”
February is Women in Horror Month, and Xolton appreciates the spotlight on female authors in the genre.
“I think it’s a meaningful gesture that women are being championed in a genre, that traditionally, society doesn’t seem to believe women write in often,” Xolton said. “However, I just don’t know, personally, how much of a tangible effect the event has as a whole — on recognition, or sales — for the authors, themselves. I certainly don’t think there are any negatives to promoting the voices of female authors, regardless. We’re here, and we’re talented!”
Married with two children, Xolton is not only talented but determined to pursue her passion for writing.
“I do love it,” Xolton said. “Outside of my family, writing is my reason for living. I make time for it, no matter what is going on in my life. With kids, I had to learn to make writing a habit. A lot of writers talk about ‘the muse,’ and that they can only write if they feel a certain way. I think if you’re serious about this craft, you can’t allow yourself to be held back by such trivial, constrictive notions. I don’t have a quiet office, or private space, of any kind in which to write. Even if I did, I couldn’t use it. My son is school aged, but my daughter is a toddler and needs constant care and attention. As such, I never get time alone.
“I have a lot of my colleagues asking me how I get so much done. At last count, I’ve been featured in 65 to 70 anthologies and had over 150 acceptances, most of these taking place in the space of one calendar year. The strange thing is people don’t really want to hear my truth — because it’s ugly. I sacrifice enormous, unhealthy amounts of sleep to write. I sometimes go 72 hours without sleep, when I’m on a roll. My logic is: I can sleep when I’m dead! My dreams are more important to me than some relative notion of sanity.
“I write when the kids are collectively louder than King Kong’s destruction in New York City, when Baby Shark is playing for the eight millionth time in a row, and when I should probably be doing some more, mundane, everyday mum tasks. I have dreams to achieve, and time doesn’t wait for anyone, that’s what my children made me realise. Children are additions to your life. They are my world, but they don’t rule it.”
So, when asked to share a piece of advice for writers who visit Horror Tree, a site that helps support authors, Xolton reiterated her own approach.
“I just strongly advocate pushing your boundaries and making the time to write,” Xolton said. “I suggest ditching the concept of ‘the muse,’ or a ‘mood’, and just taking your craft seriously, and making a habit out of it.
“Bakers, teachers, boilermakers. and technicians don’t just work when they feel like it. If you want to succeed as an author moving forward, I think you have to treat your passion like your job, long before it officially is. Whether you’re tired, busy, or otherwise, you just have to make it a priority!”