Author Spotlight: Danielle Ackley-McPhail

  • an award-winning author, editor, and publisher with over 25 years experience in the publishing industry. Her passion is creating, whatever form that may take. Currently, it means she makes books, flavor- infused candied ginger, and costume horns.

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle is an award-winning author and editor who has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, seven solo collections, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats.

Danielle, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Ooh…tough call. Something equine related…a unicorn or Pegasus or hippogriff…but not centaurs… people are not pets. I’ve always loved horses and mythology both so I can only imagine combining those two loves. I mean, cats are already magical and I have three of those, so time to branch out, right? For now, I content myself with turning real horses into fake unicorns with judicious use of polymer clay 😉

My first favorite animal was the unicorn. In fact, my mom still tells the story of my first time at the zoo, calling out for the “unis!” I’m not sure I knew what horses were.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I hear this a lot from other authors, but it is true for me as well. I started out with poetry. I think that is because at a early age our focus is suited to writing something short and moving and fun. It doesn’t feel so much like work. It isn’t always good, and it isn’t always easy, but we have the attention span for it.

As I grew up, though, I transitioned to short fiction. Partly that was due to English class, but also because I read so voraciously that my mind was never satisfied and so often when I ran out of book and didn’t have something else to read I would continue the story in my head (of course, writing myself in as I went.) It did wonders for my creativity and storytelling skills. Not so good for getting a good night’s sleep (mostly I did this when I went to bed at night.

The older I got the more fiction I wrote and less poetry, right up until I graduated from college.

Unfortunately, I had gotten so use to writing for assignments that I found without that incentive I wasn’t writing anymore. I tried having a friend give me assignments, but she was not a speculative reader. She tried…it didn’t go well, so instead I found a writers’ site online and hung out there. They did two themed contests every week and that was decent motivation. The prize was a free month of AOL. Eventually I became a volunteer (free AOL every month!) and that lead to me writing my first novel, Yesterday’s Dreams.

At first it was all teen angsty type stuff, but eventually transitioned into speculative fiction. Mostly fantasy, then, but now I write most speculative genres to one degree or another, from urban fantasy to military science fiction and most points in between.

I’ve definitely had my poetry phases, but I’m pretty sure I started off with fairy tales. And we all have those supportive friends who promise more than they can deliver. I’m so glad you found a home for your writing and that you’ve gotten to branch out, wherever your interests lead.

What do you like to read?

See above. LOL… I love anything with a speculative bend. After all, real life is all around me, why would I want to escape to there too? Give me new worlds to explore, or new dimensions.

Of course, I have to admit that my guilty pleasure is romance, speculative or otherwise. Now…this is definitely not meant as an insult, but mostly these are easy reads. If they are straight-up romance there aren’t even any tricky details to keep track of, just the journey to the happily ever after. Some of the paranormal romances, particularly by Sherrilyn Kenyon or Patricia Briggs, require you pay close attention, but your basic Harlequin of any assortment doesn’t. That means several things to me: I can relax and enjoy a good tale without having to think too hard; and I also won’t be confusing what I am reading with what I’m writing, if you know what I mean.

Sherrilyn Kenyon was my gateway drug into paranormal romances, but I’d argue Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series is more straight urban fantasy, with a strong romance (Anna, I’d categorize the other way). But yes, I definitely understand the appeal of a light book that’s a quick read.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

“Write every day.”

Sorry…I don’t roll that way. It would be great if I could, but there are
too many demands on me to let me fall away into my own worlds every day. I want to. There are times I need to, but it isn’t happening. Does that mean I’m not a “real” writer? Does it mean I’m not serious?

Heck no! I’m just busy!

I have a crazy number of books to my name for someone who doesn’t write every day. Not bragging, but they are there. I am up to six novels (you can find her published list here on Amazon) (Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn (co-written with Day Al-Mohamed)), five collections (A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Transcendence, Flash in the Can, and Eternal Wanderings (a novella turned collection)), and two non-fiction books (The Literary Handyman and The Ginger KICK! Cookbook). My stories and poetry also appear in about fifty or sixty anthologies. Of course, I’ve been at this professionally for over eighteen years.

Would I be more productive—and perhaps even more successful—if I did write every day? Very likely, presuming the muse cooperated all the time. But I have to accept that life just won’t let that happen, so I build my career slow and steady, like most other things!

You’re not the only one. I think most of us agree that life comes first, but writing is a big priority.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Everyone needs an editor!

I have been writing forever. I am a professional editor. I still make mistakes. I still have blind spots, there is no one who does not need at least one other set of eyes. See, what most people don’t take into account is that as the author, I know what I intended to write. And as far as I know, I did, because when I am reading over that story or novel my mind is filling in the gaps on the page. My understanding of the story inhibits my ability to notice what I forgot to say. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t find any of the mistakes—I’d be a piss-poor editor, if that was the case. But I can guarantee I won’t find all of them, and neither will any other author without someone else’s help.

Now as an editor I would say…follow the darn guidelines! There are standards out there for a reason. If the publisher doesn’t have guidelines posted, look for what is standard. The more difficult and annoying your submission is, the more inclined an editor is to put it down as not worth the time.

Regardless of how well written it is. And I’m not just talking about formatting here. I’m talking about basic details! Be professional. Include your contact information, title, pen/proper name, and word count at the top of every submission…even if you know the person you are submitting to!

It is not just about professionalism, it’s about respect and not giving an editor any reason to pass on your story. After all, at the very least it is pretty darn hard to pay you or even accept your story to begin with if we don’t know whose story it is or how to contact you!

It’s so true. So often, writers — especially starting out — focus too much on their art and aren’t as comfortable with the business side of things. Details matter!

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

I have two things I would love everyone to know about right now.

The first is a new release. My first solo fiction release in at least five years, (remember the part about life and the muse cooperating…that). It is
called Eternal Wanderings, the novella-turned-collection I mentioned above.

This is a the start of a series related to my Eternal Cycle trilogy of novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and Today’s Promise.

The original trilogy is urban fantasy based on Celtic mythology…basically Irish elves in New York City fighting evil demigods. Eternal Wanderings literally takes up where the last book left off. Kara O’Keefe—the protagonist from the original series—runs away with a Romani caravan. Well, not really runs away, but she does start traveling with them to fulfill a vow she made in the novels, and to continue her journey of self-discovery.

(Don’t worry, you don’t have to read the three novels to enjoy the novella! I make sure to recap the relevant details and the story stands well on its own.)

In the novella we follow a few tertiary threads that weren’t fully wrapped up in the novel and we also explore the culture and beliefs of the Romani people. A very difficult thing to do when trying to remain respectful and accurate, but necessary because of things set up in the novels (written well before concerns over cultural appropriation became as widespread as they are now.)

This novella is intended to be the first in a series of on-going tales. In fact, the subtitle is The Continuing Journeys of Kara O’Keefe. By the end of the tale she gains a new quest that will take her across the world and back again, a journey I cannot wait to make.

The second thing I’d like to mention—and here I should add, “Now for something completely different!”—my publishing house, eSpec Books, is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund three science fiction books. We have already met our base goal, so the first book, In Harm’s Way, is funded.

Project image for In Harm's Way - The Defending the Future Series

This is the eighth book in the award-winning Defending the Future military science fiction anthology series and all the stories are based on the theme of rescue and recovery. It contains stories by Brenda Cooper, Bud Sparhawk, David Sherman, Robert E. Waters, Jeff Young, James Chambers, Lisanne Norman, Robert Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher M. Hiles, Eric Hardenbrook, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Right now we just UNLOCKED the second book, Footprints in the Stars, a traditional science fiction collection with the theme of the discovery of evidence of other life in the universe and how those discoveries impact humanity. We aren’t talking first-contact (or even twelfth) this is about the first confirmation that we are not alone.

And can I tell you, our authors came up with some amazing approaches! This collection will contain stories by Jody Lynn Nye, James Chambers, Robert Greenberger, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher L. Bennett, Dayton Ward, Judi Fleming, Russ Colchamiro, Vincent Collins, Bryan J. Glass, Gordon Linzner, Ian Randal Strock, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

I won’t tell you how far we are from unlocking the third book, Robert Water’s single-author collection, Devil Dancers, let’s just suffice it to say we need the help of every sci-fi fan we can get to make all these books happen. We have just under two weeks, and there are loads amazing bonuses and pledge rewards to be had!

Anyone interested can check it out here on Kickstarter!

To learn more about Danielle’s work, visit!

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For her publishing company, check out ESpec Books or on facebook.

And for her craftiness: Horns and Ginger Candies


  1. Reblogged this on eSpec Books and commented:

    Here’s an Author Spotlight featuring eSpec author Danielle Ackley-McPhail over on Morgan Hazelwood’s blog. She asks some very interesting questions. Enjoy!


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