Author Spotlight: Ef Deal

  • The indomitable Ef Deal: musician, author, and cancer survivor who bears the scars of having taught English for 31 years.

Readers, thanks for checking out another Author Spotlight Interview. Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to this week’s guest!

Ef Deal is a new voice in the genre of speculative steampunk with her debut novel, Esprit de Corpse, but she is not new to publishing. She has been writing since the age of 9 and her short fiction has appeared in various magazines and ezines over the years. Her short story “Czesko,” published in the March 2006 F&SF, was given an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, which gave both her and Gardner great delight. They laughed and laughed and sipped Scotch (not cognac, alas) over the last line.

Despite her preoccupation with old-school drum and bugle corps — playing, composing, arranging, and teaching — Ef Deal can usually be found at the keyboard of her computer rather than her piano.

She is currently an assistant fiction editor at Abyss & Apex magazine, and a video editor for Strong Women ~ Strange Worlds. She lives in Haddonfield, NJ, with her husband and two chows. She is an associate member of SFWA and an affiliate member of HWA.

Ef, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most author spotlight interviews start off with the boring stuff, but I know what readers REALLY want to know.

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

I’ve had finches, a cockatiel, two huge iguanas, and six dogs, four of which were chows, all adopted. What I need is a small shoulder dragon wise enough to care for herself and content not to interrupt me when I write.

Ooh! What a lovely menagerie of pet, but I do like the shoulder dragon.

What do you write? And how did you get started?

I write fantasy, horror, and steampunk. My older sister Teri taught me to read. Yes, I was obnoxiously precocious that way.

Back in that era, the early to mid ’60s, my parents put me in charge of my little brothers and younger sister when they went bowling four nights a week. I was 9 years old, and in those days, nighttime radio was boring, nighttime tv went off the air at 11:30, and the silent house was scary. Once the kids had gone to bed, I taught myself how to type on my mom’s Underwood. I used stockings package inserts and math paper from school instead of my mom’s good paper.

My first short story was about astronauts exploring a dead planet, and reporting back that it was a shame the people of Earth had destroyed themselves. It was fewer than 500 words. Don’t you know, the following year, Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space featured the same story called “The Dead Planet.”

My first poem was about a vampire. I had already begun to show the effects of reading all the Hitchcock anthologies in my town library. That year, I had to get my mom’s permission to read The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction because I was only 10 years old. That was the year I said to myself, “One day I’ll publish a story in this magazine. One day I’ll write a book.” 57 years ago.

My first play I wrote in 7th grade for an English project on mythology. It was called JohnDealMan vs. The Gods. It was about this annoying un-superhero, a kid in my class I’d been in rivalry with since 5th grade, who wanted to be a Norse god. I also started keeping a journal in the third-person POV under the name “Crystal Leighton.” I thought one day my exciting adventures as a nerdy teenager might make for a novel.

My first novel was called Spy Kids. I loved “The Man from UNCLE” (Team Illya Kuryakin) and detective shows, so this novel was set in Hawaii (because I had a pen pal from Oahu. Do kids even know what a pen pal is anymore?) and the plot was about these kids who discover their parents are spies for the National Unit of Top Spies (NUTS) and have been captured by evil agents of FLAAB (I forget what that stood for, but it was cool, never doubt it). I handwrote it in various colored inks from a 12-color pen, again on math paper (the kind with wood chunks in it), stocking cards, and graph paper. My 8th-grade reading teacher read it aloud to the class because, hey, it beats making up lesson plans, right? If the title and plot sound familiar, believe me, no one was more ticked off than I was when that movie came out thirty years later.

1968 Summer Reading for 9th grade was The Hobbit. That began my “descent” into genre fiction. I emptied the town library shelves, then the school library shelves. I learned to write in Tolkien’s Elf languages. I discovered “underground radio” before they had real call letters. I wrote songs, stories, poetry, and I began the first inklings of a novel four years later when I began college. The Sword, the Pendant, and the Wizard’s Eye. Is that a cool title or what? 136K words! It got all the way to Lester DelRey himself, but ultimately was rejected.

What a great journey, even if it took longer than expected.

What do you like to read?

I read genre almost exclusively, mostly horror and fantasy. I have a friend who writes thrillers, and I enjoy his work immensely though I’m not much into crime novels. In college, I majored in French and really enjoyed 19th-century French literature the most, which is probably how I fell into my steampunk setting for my Twins of Bellesfées series.

An excellent reading selection.

Do you snack when you write/edit? What are your favorites?

No, no snacks. I might have lunch at the desk, but usually, it’s just coffee or tea while I’m at the computer. I also keep Ricola, elderberry syrup, and a ‘tussin at the desk for my chronic upper respiratory infections.

A very writerly selection, there.

What do you drink when you write/edit?

Decaf coffee, tea, iced tea, and spring water.

A reasonable mix!

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

Write every day.

In college, George Sand was my hero. She wrote a thousand words a day, relentlessly. I can’t do that. I might do research, and some writers consider that part of the writing process, but I cannot sit down and work on creating a story every single day.

So true! It’s up to you what level of priority your writing has in your life, but even when it’s a top priority, life happens! And weekends are helpful for resting.

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

Details matter! (Do your research)

I hate reading or watching stories set in a particular place and time that the author has failed to research or even visit. You can’t just say the character went to Cherry Hill, NJ, in 2022 and broke down in a dense forest, no cell reception, and not a gas station in sight. You can’t have an 18th-century woman at the court of Louis XVI complain about a stomachache; the word ‘stomach’ was considered vulgar and never used.

Indeed! Every time a detail doesn’t match up with reader knowledge is another chance they’re just gonna put the book down and walk away — or worse, one-star review it.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Esprit de Corpse

What secrets lay beneath Parisian Streets? And who will kill to keep them?

When a malfunctioning automaton runs full force into their locomotive on the new Paris-Orléans railway, Jacqueline Duval and her bohemian twin sister Angélique Laforge become embroiled in a mystery deeply rooted in their tragic past.

A polytech and famed engineering prodigy, Jacqueline is fascinated by the metal man, even more so when she discovers that it is powered not by steam, but by the supernatural. Her investigation puts the sisters on a path both dangerous and mysterious as they must foil a plot to employ the dead to power a mechanical army aimed at international conquest.

Aid comes from unexpected sources as the twins rush to avert this engineered war, but will they be in time?

For her short stories, among others, you can also find her work in: Conspiracies and Cryptids, Incubate: a horror collection of feminine power, Dangerous Waters: Deadly Women of the Sea, and, coming October 1st, A Cast of Crows!

Check out Ef Deal across the web!

Website | Tailspinner Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon


  1. Underground radio did have call letters. Back then, they were the then-unused FM stations that the “normal” AM stations had to have (per the FCC).


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