With the Covid-19 virus keeping a stranglehold on households all over the world, many of us find ourselves in the position where we have to work from home. Some of us have had our income cut off. Some, temporarily until the lockdown lifts. Others, permanently. The author I’m introducing today lost his job because of the lockdown.
I too find myself between contracts, at least for the foreseeable future, and so I thought it made sense to do something proactive. That is, do something writerly that is unrelated to me. Between temporarily homeschooling my kids and writing fictional things and making super delicious dinners for my family, I have little time as it is. I barely watch TV anyway, unless it’s a show both my wife and I enjoy together, and those are rare, because, if we’re honest, current shows are atrocious and dull, aimed more at tick-boxing than entertainment. So I have more time for reading and writing and discovering new authors.
I have blogged in the past about the authors I meet in the online writing community and today’s author is yet another such friend. I met him a while back on Twitter of all places. Not that he was a complete stranger. The online genre-writing community is small but active and we frequent the same blogs.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt lives somewhere in the USA in what he calls a “haunted memory palace of his own design”, whatever that means (I should probably have asked him to explain). His short stories have appeared in various anthologies, both in print and online, and he regularly served as a judge for the now-defunct weekly writing contest hosted by TheWritersArena.com
I emailed him some interview questions in preparation for today’s post and I asked him to expand on his literary influences and his approach to writing his stories, among other things. You can read his answers below. My questions are in bold.
How long have you been writing and how many stories have you published to date?
I’ve been writing fiction off and on since I was in the sixth grade, but I’ve been writing seriously (by which I mean, trying to get paid for it) since about 2007. I have six dozen or so short stories published in that period, and a good number of 100 word drabbles. I’ve also been fortunate to have a good number of my stories adapted for audio format.
What draws you to writing and what is the motivation behind your concept of Haiku fiction?
Something about putting words onto paper both helps me relax and helps me figure out what I believe about a given theme. Writing allows for a degree of creativity unmatched by perhaps any other art. I like to let my imagination run wild and see where it takes me. I hope that if I write a story that I enjoy, the reader will enjoy it as well.
Regarding Haiku Fiction, it started as a personal descriptive term. I usually write some species of speculative fiction, but I enjoy writing in a good number of the various subgenres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. I love cross-genre stories, like dark sci-fi and science fantasy. I’ve written a furry dark sci-fi mystery with strong influences of Rashomon and H P Lovecraft.
Yet behind all these different kinds of stories sits a single individual. There should be a fundamental unity of some sort underneath all the different stories. I began to reflect on what that unity might be. I noticed certain things I did in most if not all of my stories, regardless of genre. A good number have shifts in perspective or points of view that require of the readers a certain amount of work in…assembling the narrative in their own imaginations.
Many stories contain haiku or other poems or quotations—either classical or composed by myself—that are meant to set up…reverberations in the reader meant to deepen the readers’ experience of the story. All of my stories intentionally focus on a small group of characters or a single individual but hopefully open up to an entire universe of wonder.
Small stories, big impact. The phrase “haiku fiction” began as a way to describe the common elements in my writing. Now it’s become a goal.
Do you consider yourself a primarily short story writer?
Short fiction is a lot easier for me, both in terms of my natural aptitudes as a writer, and in terms of the time I have to write—small chunks carved from my responsibilities as a father and husband. I do have plans and partial outlines for larger works. Hopefully I will have the discipline to finish some of these.
Which authors inspire your writing and do you consider as great influence on your writing voice?
This is a hard question, as I read voraciously, and I know that everyone I read has influenced me as a writer. I grew up on a steady diet of the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, seasoned with things like Kipling’s Just So Stories and Justin Norman’s The Phantom Tollbooth. Haunting the sci-fi section of the local library led to things like Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series. And Ray Bradbury—he’s probably a major reason why I have such a strong predilection toward short stories.
One of the authors that had the most stylistic influence on my concept of Haiku Fiction is the Canadian fantasist Charles de Lint. Then there’s been my reading in traditional Japanese haiku, especially the works of Matsuo Bashō and to a lesser extent Yosa Buson.
If I were to describe what I’m striving for in my writing right now in terms of influences, I would love to be thought of as a mix of Leigh Brackett, Gene Wolfe, and Jorge Louis Borges. If that makes any kind of sense at all…
It does, which brings me to the next question, what kind of stories do you write and why?
As I already noted, I write a wide variety of stories when it comes to genre and subgenre. I also often try to experiment with narrative effects and tones in my stories. That said, there do seem to be certain themes that I come back to: hope, despair, and hope in the midst of despair. The power of faith, for good and for ill. The powerful and self-destructive nature of both revenge and guilt. The power of stories to shape who we are and who we might become.
Whether I write about aliens, anthropological lions, serial killers, or whatever, I try to write very human stories. Stories that might lead someone to reflect about the human condition while hopefully having some fun doing it.
Do you have any advice for newbie writers out there?
Read widely, not only in your chosen genre. Learn what makes a good story. Apply butt to chair and write. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you write. You can fix it in the rewrites, so long as you have something there in the first place.
Find out what works for you. I have to draft nearly every story longhand on paper first. Something about the physical act of putting ink on paper helps me formulate my ideas. Translating my terrible penmanship into a computer file is an important part of my personal editing process. But that might not work for you, and that’s fine.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Shorts and micro fiction are great for that. Most of all, have fun! If you’re having fun when you write, that will carry across to your readers. At least in my experience…
Although Donald has stories in many publications and anthologies, I want to focus on two of his indie titles. The first is The Butterfly Path. The protagonist is a young woman and the only person uniquely skilled and able to protect medieval Japan from certain ruin. The only problem is she has amnesia.
A young woman with amnesia is the only one with the abilities necessary to save medieval Japan from certain ruin. But when she discovers the secrets of the Emperor’s mistress, will they prove her own undoing?
The second tale is La Danza de la Muerta: Seven Stories, a collection of seven stories featuring Death in all its guises, from horror to science fiction to fantasy. A morbid dance partner, to be embraced or feared, or both.
As the season grows colder, soft strains of music float on the breeze. You turn a corner and see a great throng. They all are dancing a slow, solemn dance, a great line of people hand in hand with no regard for differences of race, sex, age, or culture. The last figure in line beckons you forward, asking you to take her skeletal hand in yours.
This collection contains seven stories about Death. Ranging from horror to science fiction to superhero fantasy, they wrestle with death in different ways. Is death an evil to be fought against with all our strength or a lover to be embraced?
Join La Danza. You’re already dancing it anyway…
I’m almost done writing a post on H. Rider Haggard, one of the authors from that Master’s List I published last year. I plan to blog about each of the authors on that list this year, so please look out for them.
Stay safe, folks.