Meet Fiona Titchenell, author of Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of).
|Photo by Matt Carter|
What made you want to be an author?
Stories have always been an essential part of my life. Experiencing them, creating them, they’re a basic, critical function of consciousness for me. I also love playing with words. I dabbled in a few ways of involving myself in storytelling, including acting and songwriting, but no matter what else I did, I could never escape the compulsion to write fiction. I don’t remember ever deciding that I wanted to be an author. I just had to accept that I was a writer of fiction and that it was the only work I could ever wholeheartedly pursue.
Who has inspired you most?
In terms of idols, J.K. Rowling has to top the list. Even though I didn’t turn out to be primarily a Fantasy writer, J.K. Rowling is in large part responsible for the number of hours I spent with my head in a book as a kid, and my passionate connection with the world and characters she created is what I will always be working to re-create for my own readers.
On a more personal level, my husband, Matt Carter, keeps the creative juices flowing for me better than anything else can. He introduced me to the Horror genre I love, and co-writing and co-critiquing with him has done more to expand and develop my abilities and ideas (his too, I’d like to think) than any classroom.
Can you tell us about some of your earlier days of writing?
The really early days? Well, my parents used to take me to a children’s reading circle at The Reader’s Edge (a bookstore now long out of business). The parents and some of the older kids would take turns reading children’s books out loud. In my three- or four-year-old mind, the next logical step was naturally to make up a story of my own to tell. Not yet having the patience or foresight to do the making-up part in advance, I stood up in front of the group and improvised a little tale I called “The Bear Who Sneezed.” I don’t remember much more about it than the title, the fact that it detailed hurricane levels of destruction, and how proud my parents were of my imagination and initiative. In retrospect, I’m sure those were the best parts to hang onto.
A few years later, as I started learning to type, I came up with a similarly nonsensical children’s narrative called “Nadia’s Adventures in the Jungle,” which my dad still probably has a few copies of for sentimental-slash-blackmail reasons, and as a teen in Dad’s English class, I seem to recall something about a 3am-produced not-so-short short story featuring aquatic badgers that one particular classmate will never let me live down.
I experimented a lot in my teens with longer form fiction, in, out of, and between genres, but didn’t come up with anything I felt was polished and developed enough to share until college, when I wrote what was meant to be the first book in a YA Fantasy series, The Accidental Changeling. I loved that series to death, and it earned me a lot of very polite rejection letters informing me that I showed great talent and potential but that I’d missed the bus; YA Fantasy was out with publishers. Luckily, by then, I’d started working and conferring with Matt, my love of Horror and dark Sci-Fi had blossomed, and I knew what I wanted to try next.
How has your life considerably changed since being published?
My first novel hasn’t hit the shelves yet, so not too much has changed. I still have a day job, I have yet to do my first book signing, and I have not faced the reactions of any readers of my novel-length work except for my family, critique buddies, agent, publicist, and editors. There have been a few changes since signing the publishing contract, though. I never reached out to the public much as an author before I felt I had something major to share, but now, as a soon-to-be-published novelist, the time I devote to pursuing my writing career has to be balanced between blogging and networking as well as writing and reading. I find myself hiding what I do less in my day-to-day life as well, because of the confidence that comes with having proof that it is in fact something I do, not something I idly fantasize about.
What made you pursue the Horror/Sci-Fi genre?
I took on the title of Sci-Fi author almost by accident. I’ve read, watched and enjoyed a lot of Sci-Fi in my life, everything from space operas to a few hard speculative medical thrillers, but writing Sci-Fi isn’t something I ever set out to do until I looked back and realized I’d started doing it. It’s the most general and vague of speculative fiction categories. It covers pretty much everything non-realist that doesn’t fit into Fantasy or Horror. It’s the space between the two, so it makes sense that, as a Horror author who’s played with Fantasy in the past, when I ease up the Horror a little and let the Fantasy elements back in, I find myself squarely in the Sci-Fi realm.
How I got into Horror on the other hand….
I respect guts in storytelling (literal and figurative), and I love working in the Horror genre, because “Horror” is often the term applied to stories that cross darker lines that other genres are willing to approach. That freedom to push things further is something I came to appreciate after I started writing Horror, though. What brought me in in the first place? Did I run blithely into Horror’s waiting arms because I already felt artistically stifled by the inappropriateness of dangling intestines from a ceiling fan in your average paranormal romance? Not exactly.
Like most Horror geeks I know, I was a pretty skittish kid. Not shy; I’m probably shier now than my crowd-working, spotlight-loving childhood self, but there were episodes of Winnie the Pooh, The Little Mermaid, and Care Bears that could give me nightmares. Don’t even get me started on the mood music in the original Amazon Trail computer game and the cold, indifferent voice of the jaguar who informs you when you’re dying of malaria. When I was fourteen, some of my friends dragged me on two consecutive movie nights to The Butterfly Effect and The Punisher (neither of them even horror movies, I realize), and I thought I’d never set foot in a movie theater again.
At seventeen, when I found out just how seriously my new beloved was into this whole Horror thing, I was sure it was going to be one of those subjects, like my love for vegemite and Gilbert and Sullivan, on which we’d have to agree to disagree. Luckily, Matt knew exactly what it was like being that skittish kid and just how to desensitize me in slow, easy stages, the way he’d done for himself.
People say that word like it’s a bad thing, “desensitize,” but I fail to see the downside to dispelling fear of the mysterious and unknown through safe, harmless, pretend exploration. In a few short years, I grew from someone who panicked at the gate of Knott’s Scary Farm and sat out every maze to someone who goes into every Horror event, movie, and book thinking, “Scare me, I dare you” (and I have yet to take a chainsaw to any real life people as a result). That’s what really sucked me into Horror, the empowerment of dragging fears out into the light and taking a good, hard look at them.
There are still times when a work of Horror can scare me, though, when something unexpected can reach in and make me three years old again, and I hope that never goes away. Being afraid all the time is no fun, but having that skittish kid sleeping somewhere inside, always waiting to be woken up, allows Horror to do one of the most essential things art is for. It makes me feel. That’s what I hope to do for my readers with everything I write, Horror or not.
Your book, Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of), is set to release next year. Are you more excited or nervous?
Excited. This is what I’ve worked and waited my whole life for, after all. But I can’t deny the nerves are there too. This is where it gets real, where all my daydreams about all the different scenarios that could happen get boiled down to just the one that actually does. When that one little scenario involves one of the most important parts of your life, that’s inescapably scary.
What has been the best experience so far in your journey as an author?
Being offered representation by my agent, Jennifer Mishler, was one of the best, most exciting things that’s ever happened to me. Being told by someone in the industry who knows what she’s talking about that my work is good enough to bet on and support was a dream come true.
But – this is going to sound like such a stereotypical artist answer, but it’s true – the best experiences of all don’t involve the business. They’re those moments when I look back over something I’ve written, planning to give it one last polish, and I find myself amazed that it came from me.
Those are the moments that make up for the ones I spend staring at the screen or hammering at the keyboard, agonizing over why I can’t get what I’m working on just right. It’s those moments that give the business-y ones their power, because the promise of having time for more of them and the chance to share them with more people is what gives the business of writing its appeal.
Can you give us some insight on any upcoming projects?
Right now, Matt and I are working on our joint YA Horror/Sci-Fi series, The Prospero Chronicles. The first book,Splinters, will be released fall of next year. Imagine a teenage Mulder and Scully investigating an invasion by The Thing in a Stephen King-esque small town, and you’ve got a pretty good idea.
I don’t want to spoil too much about the rest of the series (five books in all), but we’re currently having a lot of fun with the first draft of book three and working out the finer details of the rest. Our unlikely alien-fighting partners, Ben and Mina, will gather a motley assortment of allies, the character drama will be intense, and the stakes will get epic.
What advice can you give to any upcoming authors?
This is hard. Really hard. It’s also wonderful. Do this only if you agree with me on the wonderful part vehemently to make any difficulty worth it. Then do it, all of it, as determinedly and fearlessly as you can. That means, as with most pursuits, practicing and studying. Read books in your genre, books out of your genre, books on grammar, storytelling, publishing, and book marketing. You will need them all. There’s no part of this you’ll get to skip. Write constantly, whether you’ve got that great idea yet or not, don’t skimp on the revising, send out your best work while observing the rules laid out by whoever you choose to send it to, don’t give up over a few dozen rejection letters, and if you run out of places to turn, keep writing new things and try again. In the meantime, get a head start building your online presence. You’re going to need that too.
Thanks so much, Fiona for interviewing with us! Don't forget to follow her on her outlets below!
While her novel hasn't hit shelves just yet, go check out her short stories and anthologies on her website and Amazon page!