When did you decide to write a
Danielle Ackley-McPhail: In 1997 I began
volunteering on an online America Online writer's site called the Amazing
Instant Novelist, this was in an effort to get back into the writing I had
so enjoyed in high school, but had moved away from for lack of direction.
Interacting with so many other writers proved very inspirational, not only
in encouraging me to write, but in providing a unique perspective on life
in general that I found helped me to put a different angle on ideas I was
I never truly just decided I was going to write a novel.
Yesterday's Dreams started out as a short story inspired by a chat session
with another volunteer, who just happened to have been a pawnbroker in the
past. His big thing was vampires and the darker side of fantasy and
somehow I just came up with an idea that took off from there. Of course,
it mutated into a Celtic based sotry with positive connotations whereas my
original idea had been much darker.
Anyway, the short story became
a long story and by then it was just all of a sudden a novel I was
FF: What inspires you to write?
about anything can inspire me, though it more often turns out that
something in a conversation will strike me as odd and my mind will go off
on all kinds of tangents and slanted views of the original thought I had
and I will find some way to adapt it.
Currently I am working on a
sequel to my first novel. It is entitled Tomorrow's Memories. What
motivates me to work on that is the positive reception I am getting on the
first book, Yesterday's Dreams. Every time I get a positive review or some
bit of good news my mind goes to the sequel and I end up with another
10,000 words written before I've realized it! Also, since what I am
working on now is a sequel, I find myself thinking about where I took the
first book and comment people have made or questions they have asked. That
makes me reexamine the whys and what fors of the first one and I end up
expanding on concepts in the second book based on that. I also look back
on things I was dissatisfied with in YD and that motivates me to not make
the same "mistakes" in the second one. Thinking of ways to avoid those
mistakes leads to long writing sessions.
Do you use an outline
when you write?
Danielle: I have tried to use an outline…no
really, I have! But the story ends up just going off the way it wants to.
The first book, I didn't use one at all because originally it wasn't
supposed to be a novel and I had no idea of where I was taking it. This
could explain why it took three years to write! But for the second one,
since it was based on the first book, I actually did have a rough outline,
more because I felt I should have one, rather than from any desire to use
With my writing style I feel that the book more often writes
itself. I can't explain where I get half of my ideas except to say that
one segment of the novel inspires another and it just grows from
there…kind of like a virus; I have no control, I just sit back and watch
what happens. Of course having said that, I do have certain points that I
do know I must cover, I just don't restrict myself to where they have to
be dealt with. I will write what I am inspired to write and worry later
about placement and typing things together. Generally this works for me,
though it isn't the most organized method of writing and I know it
wouldn't work for everyone.
FF: How did you research the Sidhe for
Danielle: I have a selection of books in my own
library that I read from cover to cover and marked all the relevant bits.
Needless to say, they ended up looking like the books were eating several
packs of Post-Its, but it worked well enough. One of the books I used was
the Dictionary of Irish Mythology. Which definitely came in handy because
that one was obviously easier to refer back to.
To double check
what I was adapting or referring to, I went to the net. A lot of what was
out there was junk, or it was a reference to one gaming system or another,
but there were enough serious sites from Celtic scholars and from
universities that I could feel confident in what I chose to use.
On the net, I was able to copy text for off-line viewing and I
could copy just those bits that I wanted to refer back to. A lot of Celtic
mythology references-in books and on line-are very brief, lacking in
specific detail. Almost like simple synopsis, rather than complete
accounts. This is because much of Celtic myth and lore was passed down by
oral tradition, which means much was lost in the passage of time.
Since Celtic myth has always been fertile ground for fantasy
authors, there are a lot of concepts out there (not necessarily based in
the actual legends) that everyone takes as fact. I have used that to my
advantage either by making reference and then putting my own spin on it,
or by coming up with my own logic behind why whatever it is might have
come to be. That is the way I fleshed out the myth of the Sidhe, adapting
popular concepts with what I have researched in the actual accounts.
FF: Your novel, Yesterday's Dreams is out with Vivasphere Publishing, what
made you decide to submit to a small press?
was less of a decision and more fate. I told you earlier that I
volunteered for AOL and that was how I got back into writing and ended up
with my idea for the novel. Well another wonderful feature of AOL is the
free websites they offer. When YD turned from a casual story into a
serious novel, I created my own homepage for those following the story. I
loaded it with as many bells and whistles as my limited programming
ability allowed - including a link to author-and periodically I would
update it with whatever bit I was able to complete.
Since it was a
new experience to me and I loved the feedback I was getting from using
this tool, I registered my site with as many search engines as I could
find links. Eventually, after I had uploaded about five or six chapters, I
received an email from an individual who introduced himself as an agent
for several publishers. He told me he was very interest in my novel and
would like to see it when it was done...I am embarrassed to say that it
took me two years to get back to him, but he did remember me!
After determining that he was legit-and finding out that he was
the actual publisher himself!-I sent him an electronic copy of my
manuscript (after sending a copy off to the Library of Congress). Due to
health issues, it took him six months to get back to me, but when he did
he was very apologetic for the delay and quite clear that they were
definitely interested in the manuscript.
Though I had the option
to submit it elsewhere, I considered it fate and went with Vivisphere. I
won't say it was an easy ride, but considering I could still be trying to
sell my manuscript today if I hadn't, I feel it was a good move.
FF: What were the advantages of publishing with a small press?
Danielle: Well the advantages of a small press, first and foremost
is that they are more willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts; they
work more closely with the author, allowing more input, and, many of them
are more understanding about the process of becoming known and how long it
can take to reflect in sales. A large publisher will really push a book,
but as soon as sales drop below a certain level, the book is dropped as
well. A small publisher uses different cost-saving processes and can
afford to keep titles on their list regardless of the volume of sales so
it is more likely that your work will stay in print longer. My current
publisher keeps a small amount of stock on the shelves and then prints to
meet any orders that exceed that stock, a process referred to a
print-on-demand. Because of this, my book will never go out of print as
long as they are the publisher.
FF: What were the disadvantages of
publishing with a small press?
The disadvantages of a
small press is that it translates into a small staff and a small budget.
Because of this, the bulk of the promotions fall to the author, which,
when it is your first novel, can make for a lot of missed opportunities as
you learn the ropes. Promoting your book on your own can be an exhausting
process, especially because of the big name venues (the newspapers, the
magazines, the media) do not consider a small press as legitimate,
equating it with vanity press, which it is not. However, their
misconception means that the small press author is limited in their
potential for exposure and must work harder to become known. This means
promoting yourself on the Internet, attending the convention circuit and
hitting the pavement to try and generate author signings and such.
FF: Would you publish with a small press again?
Danielle: I feel
that with all I have learned with this first publishing experience I would
not say not to a small press if they were interested in my work. I would
obviously prefer to be picked up by a larger publishing house with more
resources behind them, but I find merit in both methods of publishing. The
only thing I would never consider is paying to have my work published. If
it isn't good enough to be recognized in its own right, then I feel it
shouldn't be in print.
FF: What methods do you use to promote your
work and how successful have they been?
I send out a lot
of emails approaching Internet and print media offering my book for
review. I have gotten a lot of favorable response with this, the only
drawback is that you don't really have a way to gauge the impact or how
many people you are reaching. You can hope that it will reflect in sales,
but that isn't always a good indicator, unfortunately.
thing that I have been focusing on is approaching convention organizers
that I have researched on the net and offering to appear as a guest or
panelist at their conventions. This can be exhausting and expensive
depending on how far you intend to go and what resource you put into it,
but it is also more gratifying. You can connect directly with the audience
and there is more potential for instant sales.
I also find that by
searching the net there are a lot of database sites and author listing
sites that provide links for you to add yourself to their database. This
doesn't always generate reviews, but it does get your name out there and
increases your potential exposure.
At a recent convention, I
learned of another tool that can be useful, the news group. I know, I am
probably one of the only people who didn't know what one of these were,
but my net-time is limited, recently used only for research. Most of the
people in my news group (Yesterday's Dreams on Smartgroups.com) are those
I have personally invited either among friends and family or those I have
met at conventions, but occasionally a friend will invite a friend and I
find my little group growing. Every little bit helps. :)
also very important is an author home page, so that those you have already
connected with can find out more about you directly from your own words. A
fellow small press author, Tee Morris (Morevi) also has his own design
service called Imagine That Studios and he is helping to develop my own
site, which we hope to have launched this fall. Through it might not be
something the general person would think about, networking with other
authors can be an important part of promoting your own work, sharing
resources and talents can go a long way to make up for the limited
marketing power/effort your small-press publisher may be able to offer.
Finally, many sites and publications will do author interviews and
this is a wonderful way to become known to your audience.
future projects do you have in the works?
I am currently
working on the sequel to Yesterday's Dreams which is approximately halfway
completed. I also have some ideas for a third book to complete the trilogy
and a loose concept developing for a stand alone book that would take
place in the time before the Sidhe came to Ireland. This book will
reference legends and occurrences I have and will mention in the trilogy,
but that is the only way it is connected.
I have been jotting down
many other ideas for science fiction stories that have potential to
develop into more, but I really can't dedicate any serious time to them
until I wrap up what is going on in this reality.
FF: What other
news do you have to share about your book?
chance I discovered late last night that I have been nominated as a
contender for the Compton Crook Award, which is presented each year by the
Baltimore Science Fiction Society at the Balticon Convention.