Welcome to the third interview in the series. This afternoon I am delighted to welcome the outstanding science fiction / fantasy novelist, Anne Elizabeth Winchell, author of a number of published works including; The Last War, Dystopian Galaxies: Visions of the Future and Moon of Lycca. It has been fascinating to discover Anne’s journey and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
As a Millennial female writer, I specialize in science fiction and fantasy and try to prioritize representation of underrepresented groups in my writing. I earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Texas State University and I always have at least three writing projects on the go. This May, I published my first novel, a science fiction work entitled The Last War, and a collection of short stories and poetry, Dytopian Galaxies: Visions of the Future. My writing is constantly interrupted by my wonderful cat, who insists on sleeping on my desk and regularly rolls over on my keyboard.
2. What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m either teaching, creating digital art assets, or designing video games. For art, I create human figures and poses for artists and video game designers. I also create interactive stories, which are text-based video games available online. I’ll join the occasional protest march as well, and keep up-to-date on politics.
3. Do you have a day job as well?
My day job is teaching English Composition and Video Game Studies at Texas State University, where I’m also the faculty advisor for the Video Game Club. I teach a variety of classes on how to use writing to promote social justice, and how to write for video games.
4. When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I started writing speculative fiction as soon as I could write and I finished my first novel in second grade: a thirty-page illustrated dystopian retelling of the Bible set on an alien planet. Drawing the illustrations was almost as much fun as writing the story itself! My first full-length novel was finished in high school, then revised several times and finally partially published as my thesis for my Masters of Fine Arts. I recently revised it yet again and self-published the novel as The Last War.
5. How did you choose the genre you write in and where do you get your ideas?
I’ve always been drawn to speculative fiction, though I veer back and forth between science fiction and fantasy. Most of my ideas come from dreams, and I keep a dream journal that I can refer to whenever I’m stuck and looking for new ideas. Occasionally I’ll have an idea for a story that just appears fully-formed and I scramble to write it out before I forget it.
6. Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Writer’s block can be debilitating, but sometimes it’s also a sign that I’m taking my story towards a dead end and I need to rethink things. I write a minimum of two thousand words a week, even if I’m just rewriting or writing something I’ll never use. Everyone has a certain amount of terrible writing in them and it’s best to get it out when the stakes are low. Sometimes, though, I’ll just stare at the screen and can’t think of a single word. I usually put my story away, do something to take my mind off it entirely, and come back a day or sometimes a week later. The time off gives me time to reconsider and regroup, and I’m usually able to return after a while.
7. Do you work with an outline, or just write?
My first draft of a novel is usually written very quickly, often in a matter of days, with no planning at all. But I revise every novel to make sure the overall structure works and I’ll use an outline when revising. Occasionally I’ll have a beginning and ending in mind but I’ll be stuck on the middle, and then I use an outline to help bridge that gap.
8. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
As a child, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques was very influential, as was Dune by Frank Herbert. As I grew older I started reading female authors such as Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and C.S. Friedman, and I felt as though I had found writing that truly spoke to me as a female author.
9. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Some challenges I faced in publishing started because I wanted to publish The Last War traditionally, with an agent and a publisher. I started writing to agents and attending conferences over ten years ago and while I received positive feedback, no one actually accepted the book. I took a few years to develop my writing and get an MFA, revised the novel quite a bit, and then chose self-publishing as a way to get my book out to people with fewer hoops to jump through and more control over the finished product.
10. If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
The one thing I regret about my publishing experience is that I didn’t have enough confidence in myself and my writing. As I revised and rewrote my novel, I found that what I really loved about the novel was slowly getting written out and by the time I partially published my novel as my thesis, it felt as though the energy of the book had been drained. Once I gained more confidence in myself and my voice, I rewrote my book (again) but added back what I felt was missing and I believe it improved the book immensely.
11. How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I market my book through reviews and some advertisement on Amazon and Facebook. I had been using a wonderful advertiser that specialized in science fiction, fantasy, webcomics, and fanfiction; however, this advertiser just closed and I’ll be looking for new places.
12. Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
One novel I adore but haven’t published is a dark fantasy novel with some of my best writing, but I’ve had trouble finding representation for it because of the primarily gay/trans characters, which makes it less desirable to some agents and publishers.
13. Can you tell us about your upcoming or recently published book?
My recently published novel The Last War is set in a dystopian future sixty years after World War III devastated the globe. WWIII was waged by genetically enhanced superhumans who continue to rule the world with power is balanced between them. When a rogue superhuman appears, she threatens the balance that has prevented another nuclear war and she must work with an ex-revolutionary in order to keep humanity alive.
14. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Quite a lot of my writing comes from my life and the world around me. My novel features genetically enhanced superhumans whose DNA has been supplemented with diamond, an idea I had when I first learned about scientists creating liquid diamond. In terms of timing, I set the events of the novel about fifty to sixty years after the last world war, which is about the same time that has passed since World War II. Based on current events, that seems to be when the lessons of previous wars are forgotten; this novel warns about the dangers of forgetting past tragedies and examines how personal choices can and can’t change the course of the world.
15. What project are you working on now?
Right now, I’m completing an edit on a young adult fantasy novel tentatively entitled Invasion. It’s about a young woman fighting to save her continent after war has devastated her world. It will be a trilogy and I have the second book mostly written and large parts of the third book written as well.
16. Will you have a new book coming out soon?
In addition to The Last War, I just published a new collection of science fiction short stories and poetry. The stories and poems are unrelated but share common themes of adaptation, family, and love – they are all very dark. The collection, Dystopian Galaxies: Visions of the Future, is now available!
17. Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I tend to get attached to my characters and my writing is rarely limited to stand-alone novels. I want to stay in my worlds and explore my characters, so I tend to write too much for a single novel and most of my new projects turn into trilogies. I have one unpublished space opera that is currently six books long (no end in sight) with two spin-off novels because I fell in love with some minor characters. While I doubt I’ll ever publish any of it, I enjoy working on it and I’ve been working on it for fifteen years between all of my other projects.
18. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The worst criticism I ever received was from a friend. I gave her a draft that I was especially proud of and she started reading. A day later, told me she wasn’t going to finish because she just didn’t care about the characters. That was pretty painful, but spurred me to rethink how I introduced and developed my characters and ended with much stronger writing. On the positive side, I gave a (different) friend an advance copy of my collection of short stories and he skimmed through it, then sat down and read one story, and then kept reading because he was enjoying it so much. I love when people enjoy my work and can see themselves in my characters and worlds.
19. Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
My best advice to writers is to keep writing! If you’re facing writer’s block, write about something unrelated. Write a description of the room you’re in, or what your cat is doing. It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you keep writing. Even if you’re not having any luck getting published, keep writing. If you can’t see a way forward on a book or project, put it away for a while, perhaps even years, and work on something else. And have faith in your voice and your writing. Losing faith in yourself and finding too much fault in your work can be devastating, so remember that you are unique and as long as your writing reflects you honestly, you are doing the right thing.
20. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
To my readers and fans, I always love hearing from you! Please check out my website and get in contact with me through the website. If you have any feedback, comments, or suggestions, I love hearing all of them. I’m always working on new projects and love incorporating reader comments into my writing.
Please join me in thanking Anne for engaging with me and opening up with some revealing insights into the life of an author. If you would like to ask any further questions, please either use the facilities available below or contact Anne via the following links.
Please show your appreciation by checking out Anne’s work on Amazon:
Amazon Author Page:
Artist Store: https://www.renderosity.com/mod/bcs/?uid=741174
Dystopian Galaxies: Visions of the Future: https://www.amazon.com/Dystopian-Galaxies-Anne-Elizabeth-Winchell/dp/1944969055/