As part of our blog’s Writing theme this month, we’re interviewing a few authors to talk about their works, their creative processes, and any advice they might have for other writers!
Today, we have Amanda Cecelia Lang, writer of “weird novels and short fiction, tales of horror laced with whimsy, magic, and mayhem.” We’ll be talking about her work in the upcoming anthology Dark Side of Purity, as well as her other pieces and some general writing questions.
Jordan: Hey, Amanda! Thanks so much for joining us on Coffee, Book, & Candle. Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your works?
A: Hi there! I’m super nerdy, so be prepared. I write across a wide spectrum of genres, from fantasy to science fiction, but my first love has always been horror. My short stories include everything from gory meta-slashers to darkly reimagined fairytales to twisted haunted houses to alien invasions with unicorns. I’m also currently working on two novels: a paranormal retelling of Cyrano, and a meta-horror that explores the emotional aftermath of finals girls. When I’m busy procrastinating my writing, I make my own candles, try to keep my gardens alive, binge 80s movies, and cast chaotic spells full of creative intention.
Jordan: We’re both a part of the Dark Side of Purity anthology which, for readers, is a fully illustrated anthology of short fiction and poetry from over 30 authors and artists, all with a take on one theme: the dark side of purity culture.
Can you tell readers about your story in the anthology and what inspired it?
A: “Kingdom of Cinders” (working title) is a rebellious retelling of "Cinderella" where every eligible maiden in the kingdom is forced to attend the annual purity ball. Last year, Cinder’s stepsisters had the misfortune to attend. One was married off to a possessive, aristocratic monster and never heard from again. The other returned home, single and shaken and shattered, and refuses to talk about the atrocities she witnessed at the palace. This year, it’s Cinder’s turn. And thanks to a secret weapon from her fairy god-lover, she’s off to the ball—but not to find her prince. Before the clock strikes midnight, she plans to set the patriarchy on fire.
This is an important retelling for me because internalized misogyny is a real thing. As someone who was indoctrinated into the Disney princess cult at an early age, it took nearly half my lifetime before I woke up and realized that an entire kingdom of girls being herded in front of a prince is not a meet-cute to aspire to.
Jordan: This anthology is so important for a number of reasons, the least of which being that it gives voice to feminine rage and repression. What’s important about the project for you, and what do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: Any project featuring all women and non-binary voices will always appeal to me. Sadly, we’ve all had our #MeToo moments. Often, the monsters in my stories are based on the human monsters in my life. Writing about them, however metaphorically, is a way to take my power back. Beyond that, purity culture is usually ripe and sticky with dehumanizing double-standards that allow the monsters to stay in disguise. It’s always useful and empowering to bring these hypocrisies into the light. For every story that needs to be told, there’s someone who needs to hear it.
Jordan: I see that you’ve been published in quite a few anthologies and this is definitely not your first go ‘round! When did you start writing and what have been the highlights of your journey so far?
A: I’ve always identified as a writer, but I finally found the courage to (try to) become a published author three years ago. When I first started submitting my stories to publishers, one of my big goals was to hear something I wrote produced on a podcast. Since then, I’m proud to say, my stories have been featured on over a half dozen shows, including Tales to Terrify, Creepy, and my personal favorite NoSleep.
My favorite victory came last year when I made my first pro-sale. The open call was for the 80s horror-themed anthology Mixtape: 1986. I had six months to write my totally radical story. So naturally, I waited until three weeks before the deadline to get started. As I finished each section of what would become my novelette “Latchkey,” I sent them to the superheroes in my critique group and edited as I went. I even rewrote an entire five-page scene after a computer glitch deleted it—poof! I didn’t finish the ending until the evening of the midnight deadline, and when I went to submit, I discovered the submission portal was closed—an hour early. I spent about ten minutes as a puddle of despair, then I sent a groveling-on-my-knees email to the editor. Thankfully, she was cool. She said the clock on the website had been calibrated wrong and allowed me to email my story. A few weeks later, I received my acceptance letter. Out of over 400 submissions, the editor said mine was one of her favorites. My ending even made her cry. That was a total milestone moment for me. Even so, the moral of the story is: don’t procrastinate your deadlines, kids!
Jordan: Now on to some general writing questions from both of us! Let’s start with a fun one: do you listen to music while writing (if so, what?), or do you prefer white noise or silence?
A: Yes, but it has to be instrumental or else my squirrel brain latches onto the lyrics. I’m a big horror movie nerd, so I usually go with a mix of movie soundtracks. Some favorites: The Shining, The Innocents, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby. And there’s nothing better than writing a murder scene with the synth from Halloween pulsing in the background.
Kori: What first inspired your love of dark fiction and what authors, if any, do you feel influenced your writing?
A: Thanks to my big brother, I’ve been watching scary movies since I was three years old (starting with American Werewolf in London), so dark stories have always been a part of my life. As a young reader, I gravitated toward books with elements of strange magic and danger like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Bunnicula. My all-time favorite authors/influences include: Christopher Pike, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Shirley Jackson (with honorable mentions going to Grady Hendrix and Gillian Flynn).
Kori: What is your writing schedule like? Do you write during certain scheduled periods or when you find time?
A: I usually write really early in the morning when my ideas feel fresher, or really late at night when things feel creepier. (Also, in the desperate wee-hours before a ticking deadline).
Kori: Do you like to use certain symbolism or themes in your writing? If so, what?
A: Final Girls! This trope has me OBSESSED. I love watching/reading about/writing about underdogs who seize their inner strength and kick the monster’s ass in the end. My story “The Clover Café” (available on Tales to Terrify) tackles PTSD and survivor’s guilt while paying homage to the famous final girls of the 80s. These are the women who attacked their attackers and won, and we should all bow down to them IMHO.
Kori: What has been the easiest piece to write and why?
A: I mean, does "none of them" count? Flash fiction stories are way less painful. I wrote my 900-word story “Someday Driver” (currently out on sub) in my head in the shower then typed it out in about thirty minutes. I struggle with exceeding word count limits with my first drafts and usually end up cutting about 1,000 words when I edit. With flash fiction, the darlings I’m forced to murder are significantly less.
Kori: What has been the hardest piece to write and why?
A: My story “Zombie Unicorns from Galaxy 13.” It’s exactly what it sounds like and is one of the most delightful things I’ve ever written. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s also my most rejected story. Going on 23 rejections so far (and about as many rewrites). At this point, I should self-publish or drop it in the bog of eternal despair. But here’s the thing, it’s also been shortlisted by a couple big publishers. With each rejection, they say nice things about the humor, the structure, the style, the snarky unicorn one-liners—you know, the usual stuff. Problem is, for every element one publisher likes, another publisher hates it and loves the element the previous publisher rejected me for. That makes rewriting very confusing. Sigh. I suppose the moral of this story is: taste is subjective. Also try, try again.
Kori: What is your favorite type of monster to write about?
A: Ghosts. Hands down. It takes a lot to scare me, big old horror junkie that I am. I dig zombies and slime creatures and freaks in masks, but they don’t scare me. Ghosts terrify me. Every. Single. Time. And you know what they say: write what scares you.
Jordan: Do your dreams/nightmares play a role in your writing? How do you use them if so?
A: Sometimes if I’m really struggling with a story and I sleep on it, I’ll dream the solution. It will be brilliant, it will be Stoker-worthy. Then I wake the next morning and discover that brilliant idea is crap. I read somewhere that this is actually quite common because the part of our brains responsible for common sense shuts down when we dream.
Kori: What is your writing space(s) like?
A: Morning writing sessions happen before I get out of bed, usually with a cat in my lap helping me type. Night sessions happen in my living room with a view of my candle alter and the fairy lights in my garden, usually with a cat in my lap helping me type (like now).
Jordan: What has been your favorite fact or detail uncovered in your story research?
A: When asked what their biggest fear is, many people will say Public Speaking or Death—in that order. One theory for why fear of public speaking is so ingrained in the modern human psyche is because historically, if a common person had to make a speech, it was usually because they were about to say something that went against public opinion and might get them executed. Or, worse, they were already condemned to lose their head and were speaking their final words. For those watching in the crowd, the message was clear: best to keep your mouth shut.
Kori: Are there any elements you feel are overly cliché, tiresome, etc.?
A: Besides the male gaze? Gag.
I’m actually pretty forgiving when it comes to tropes and clichés, as long as the author seems like they’re attempting to explore them from a unique angle. Writing is hard. Sometimes tropes and clichés can serve as building blocks for fresh ideas. Turn the familiar into the unexpected.
Jordan: Do you have any favorite writing snacks/drinks?
A: Earl Grey with cream and sugar in the morning, and all the watermelon Red Bull during the witching hours.
Kori: Where do you fall on the planner/pantser scale?
A: I should be a planner, but I’m usually a pantser. An opening scene sparks and I run with it. I often regret it and have to untangle the story later. That said, I don’t always plan, but when I do, I prefer the Plot Embryo. If you don’t know, google it. You’re welcome.
Kori: How do you approach writer’s block?
A: I’ve learned that when I have writer’s block, it’s usually because my subconscious has recognized something wrong within the current scene. If my flow feels vapor-locked, I give myself permission to take a break until I puzzle out the solution. Usually, I’ll procrastinate with other creative activities. That means crafting, painting (not well), creating candles and spell jars, watching or reading nostalgic old favorites, and my preferred procrastination tool: photoshopping movie posters/book covers for the story I should be working on. My philosophy is that the sweet guilt of not writing is the best way to shake those ideas loose.
Kori: What are your perfect writing conditions/atmosphere?
A: I prefer the nighttime. Candles. Soft scary music. The possibility that something ghostly is standing out there in my garden.
Jordan: What advice would you give to newer writers after everything you’ve learned?
A: Read submission guidelines, every word. A loyal critique group is invaluable. When in doubt, even a shitty first draft is easier to rewrite than nothing at all, so let those words flow and polish them later.
Jordan: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! Where can our bookish followers find you?
A: You can stalk my work at www.amandacecelialang.com—just don’t be surprised if I leap out at you from the shadows.
Hey, book witches. It would mean a lot to us if you helped back this beautifully written and illustrated anthology, The Dark Side of Purity. Not only can you spy our resident witch Jordan's and Amanda Lang's works in there, but the novels support an important cause with an important message. Check out the Kickstarter link below for more information.