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    Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail


Fiction Factor: When did you decide to write a novel?

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 getting.

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 writing.

FF: What inspires you to write?

Danielle:  Just 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.

FF: Do you use an outline when you write?

Danielle:  I have tried to use an outlineno 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 one.

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 therekind 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 your novel?

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?

Danielle:  Actually, it 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?

Danielle:  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?

Danielle:  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.

The other 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. :)

What is 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.

FF: What future projects do you have in the works?

Danielle:  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?

Danielle: Quite by 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.


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