- writer/mom/wife with a day job and a dream to be a successful speculative fiction author
Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Michelle D. Sonnier.
Michelle Stengel is a writer/mom/wife with a day job and a dream to be a successful speculative fiction author. She battles her flaws of anxiety and iffy time management skills to make it happen, and while she’s not rocketing up the NYT Bestseller list like she does in her daydreams, she is making progress.
Michelle, 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?
I am very much a cat person, so I’m pretty happy sharing my home with two lovely felines (Desi and Nyxie). But if making pets of wild creatures weren’t such a bad idea (for both the human and the animal), I’d want a cougar and a flock of crows.
I’m allergic, but I still like cats. Interesting choices! Cougars are sleepy and dangerous, whereas a flock of crows invokes images of witchcraft and battlefields after the battle…
What do you write and how did you get started?
I primarily write dark urban fantasy, but my first novel that actually sold is classified as steampunk, although it edges toward gaslamp fantasy. A lot of genre boundaries are fuzzy and I feel like I’m in good company if I treat those boundaries flexibly. Some of my favorite authors genre bend on a whim.
I am especially drawn to using the Fae in my work. I also enjoy exploring the gray areas of human behaviors and I considered it a compliment of the highest order when reader said of my characters, “no one is pure.” Because isn’t that the way of life? No one is 100% good or bad and we all make mistakes. Flawed characters are so much more interesting than perfect ones.
As for how I got started, I think you can blame my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. MacNeilis. I adored her and when she complimented me on a poem I wrote about spring I suddenly wanted to write more poems to please her. Then, somewhere along the way, I discovered the joy of playing with words and started writing for myself. I abandoned poetry and moved to short stories by sixth grade because I wanted to tell stories and not just relay emotions. I was hooked and I’ve never looked back.
I love fae creatures and gas lamp fantasies. Let’s hear it for teachers who encourage us!
What do you like to read?
I tend to favor urban fantasy and alternate world fantasy, but I’ll read any genre as long as the characters are well written. I like to read about interesting characters facing extraordinary circumstances. I like it when a character is so well drawn that I can understand why they are doing what they are doing even if it’s an action I wouldn’t take myself. It’s probably easy to tell that I’m into character-driven narratives.
Right now I’m finishing N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and I am in awe. The story is so intricate and layered, but at the same time it doesn’t feel forced, which can be a problem with complicated narratives. Each twist and turn is at once surprising and completely natural and reasonable. The main character does some terrible things, but you can understand her choices and even sympathize because you can see all the stressors and experiences that led her to where she is now. My other favorite authors include Charles de Lint and Margaret Atwood.
I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy and alternate world fantasies as well. Jemisin’s trilogy is on my (massive) to read pile. And I stumbled across a Charles de Lint book last year… not realizing it was halfway through the series. Definitely someone I’d love to read more of.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
“Write what you know.”
Really? You think I’ve actually met mermaids and fairies and talking crows? Perhaps I interviewed a goblin or two?
There’s so much speculative fiction that couldn’t be written if all writers obeyed this edict.
I think this advice can stunt the growth of a writer and keep them from expanding their curious imagination. It can also really go wrong when a writer just assumes they know what they are writing about based on limited information and common stereotypes.
I’ve seen some recent social media posts that hilariously skewer male writers for writing female characters as flat stereotypes and/or displaying a stunning lack of knowledge of basic female biology. So many of these flubs could have been avoided by talking to a woman, any woman.
I think a much better piece of advice would be to let your imagination run free and then research the heck out of things to make sure you’ve got a solid foundation. For example, my knowledge of the Victorian England base I used for my novel was pretty paltry before I started writing, so I spent a lot of time on research. Some of the things I found during my research became fun plot points. And some of the things I’d originally planned had to be altered or cut completely because they didn’t fit.
That’s my approach — dream big, but do your research.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
You can’t edit an empty page.
Whatever is going on, put your butt in the seat and write.
Of course, this is one that I break far more often than I care to admit. The advice is spot on – there’s no way to publish anything that still resides in your brain. You have to get it down on paper (or electrons) if you want to have any hope of someone else reading your work.
But then life gets in the way… There’s a kid who needs me, and so does my husband. My day job boss is not going to be happy if I miss deadlines for her in order to write a novel. The dishes don’t do themselves and the cats won’t clean their own litter (lazy furballs). So, I’m trying to be better about getting my butt in the seat and getting the words out of my head.
I haven’t figured out the answer yet; I seem to go in fits and starts. But I keep trying and I’m always going to keep trying. I’m a writer, and I can’t not write.
I know the call of the page, and the temptation to let it slip. We all have that struggle.
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
You can get my novel, The Clockwork Witch, here.
The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Arabella is destined to disappoint, when she was expected to shine. Though she descends from a long line of gifted witches she has earned the moniker of a “brown bud” showing no sign of magical talent.
When it truly seems her lot can grow no worse, she discovers an unnatural affinity for…of all things…technomancy. Not only are the mysteries of the mechanical world open to her, but her new-found ability allows her to manipulate them, making her the first ever clockwork witch and anathema to the nature of the witching world.
How will she come to grips with her new power when she must question if she will survive the judgement of her family and her peers? Or, more daunting yet…The Trials?
You can get my short story collection, Charmed City, in paper here.
Not all dreams are magical things filled with hope and light, some dreams are murkier and far more sinister. From the shared dreams of her famous sons John Waters and Edgar Allen Poe, Baltimore is known for her share of peculiar oddity, but beyond the bouffant hairdos of her trademark Hons and the quirky neighborhood bars is a world even darker and stranger.
Or in ebook form here.
Feel free to friend follow her on facebook!