For our first author interview of the year, I have the privilege of probing the magical mindscape of J.L. Mulvihill, Southern Haunts editor and writer of fantasy, horror, steampunk, and more. She’s the author of poems, short stories, and several novels, including Lost Daughter of Easa, Boxcar Baby, and Crossings.
Let’s start off with something basic but fundamental. How long have you been writing and what prompted you to go from amateur to professional?
Well, the funny thing is, I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I found an old journal of my mothers and there is an entry there that said “Today Jennifer made up her first poem, ‘light, light, burning bright’.” Okay so I didn’t actually write that, I was only two years old but I think if I could have written it I would have. We will just say I have been writing poetry and short stories as long as I have been able to write. I just saw it as a hobby and sometimes therapy. When I got into bands, I started writing song lyrics too. One day however, about eleven years ago, I had a strange nightmare about being chased through the woods by a giant spider. The dream would not leave my head but kept playing over and over until characters started emerging. I told my family about it and they encouraged me to write the story down. I did and the next thing I knew I had 180,000 words down on paper. What to do with that now I wondered. Well, that was when I started the long trek to getting the story published and it became my first novel, The Lost Daughter of Easa.
Frankly, I find that story fascinating and a bit terrifying. I’m a bit arachnophobia too, but it’s more of an irrational hatred toward them. Too quiet. Too many eyes and legs. Bleh. But you’ve just sold me on reading Lost Daughter now. It’s bound to be a fright-filled tale.
Which writers have influenced you the most along the way?
I, of course, am a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, Robert A. Heinlein, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. I could probably go on for a while since I read a lot when I was a kid that was all I pretty much did was listen to music and read books.
Apparently, you forgot about Stan Lee. I dug up this picture of you and him together at Dragon*Con 2014. 😉
Name five favorite novels that either influenced you or have simply stuck with you?
The Strawberry Girl – Lois Lenski;
The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien;
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradury;
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey;
Lost Horizon – James Hilton
The Hobbit and many works by Bradbury would be on my list as well. I can see a lot of Bradbury’s influence in the coming-of-age aspect of Boxcar Baby, especially focusing on a gritty, darker side of it.
I know you field this question on a lot of writing panels. But I’ll ask it again here. Always leads us into the mind of the writer. Where have you found inspiration for your stories/books?
Inspiration for my stories and books come from my dreams, parts of my life, my children and family, the world and people around me. Sometimes it’s something I hear on the history channel or Discovery and then develops into an idea. Maybe an object I see in a shop or on the ground. I guess most of my ideas just come from the twisted world inside my head.
You have worked as an editor on Seventh Star Press’s Southern Haunts series as well as authored several stories and books yourself. Which work do you find more fulfilling, writing and editing your own stories or editing, and shaping, those of others?
I think I prefer to work on my own stories because I feel like I am invading on peoples’ creativity when I edit. However, there is a certain satisfaction one can achieve when an anthology is created and finished. Especially when the idea of the anthology like Southern Haunts was something you helped come up with from the beginning.
I agree wholeheartedly there, Jen. I always feel intrusive if I’m doing more than proofing someone’s work. And even then, you can run into subjective disagreements about exposition, dialogue, and basic grammar. I’d rather be writing than editing anyday.
Your young adult fantasy novel, The Lost Daughter of Easa, and The Steel Roots series, which I’d term as a steampunk fairy tale and coming-of-age story, are rich worlds with descriptions and characters that fill them out in great detail. From outside appearances, both seem to involve heavy world-building and a lot of planning and outlining.
Could you tell us about your creative process with these pieces, with a focus on these topics?
When people say heavy world building, I feel like I am cheating because those worlds are in my head; and, yes, I guess I did create them but to me it is not such a hard task as it sounds. For Lost Daughter of Easa, I literally have a tri-board with sticky notes on it with regards to characters, places and things. I actually do have an outline, in fact an entire book filled with notes about everything from mythological creatures to the string theory and traveling between worlds. I follow my outline, and when I come to a creature or object, I look it up or research for good measure. Here is the trick though; I have books for this series. A lot of people rely heavily on the internet; I have books of all sorts about giants, and fairies and elves and dragons. The only things I do not have books on are spiders, because I hate spiders, and I will not even have a book about them. I look those up at the library or, yes, the internet. Now as far as the world, like I said it is alive in my head, so I just close my eyes and can go there. I see all my scenes as if they are really happening before me.
The steampunk series is a little different. I did a lot of research both in books and online about the 1800s and the Victorian era as well as the revolutionary time period, workhouses, and factories. The cool thing about this story is that it is in America, not a fictional place. Although it is set in my alternate history, I can look up these towns and see what they used to look like and then describe them, maybe altering bits and pieces here and there. Some the Steel Roots series has elements from my childhood as well that I have incorporated in the story to make it real. For instance, the very first sentence is taken from when I lived with my grandparents. I would hear the train whistle every night and every morning far off in the distance, and it would comfort me. I, of course, do a fair bit of research about trains, hobos, and the like. I go to museums and take notes. I immerse myself in so much research that sometimes I forget I am supposed to be writing.
How many installments will we see in The Steel Roots series? And will we see a sequel to Lost Daughter on the shelves this year?
Crossings, Book #2 of the Steel Roots series was just released in December of 2014. The publisher is expecting another one from me this year, so I guess there will only be three, though I dare say with so many characters afoot there could be some spin offs maybe, I am hopeful. As for the sequel to Lost Daughter of Easa, I cannot guarantee it will be out in 2015, but I can guarantee I will be done with the manuscript in 2015.
What are you working on currently? And can you provide us with a snippet from it?
I am currently working on both the sequel to Lost Daughter and the next Steel Roots book, as for a snippet, let’s just say in Lost Daughter the dragons will awaken. As for Steel Roots, I can only tell you that it will be the greatest invention ever. Spoilers, Sweetie, spoilers.
As winsome and evasive as River Song herself, eh, Jen? I guess that’s part of the mysterious allure that keeps readers coming back for more. Frankly, I’m looking forward to continuing AB’Gale’s journey.
What new creative works will you have hitting the shelves or the web in 2015?
I know that the Steel Roots sequel is slotted for release sometime in 2015, as for the rest we will just have to wait and see what 2015 has to bring.
One last question before we go, Jen. Where can we read more about you and your works? Do you have a writing blog or website(s) that you’d like to promote here?
You can also find out more about Authora and some poetry at the following link: http://home.comcast.net/~mulvijen/site/
Or catch me on my Facebook pages:
Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Jen. It’s been great chatting with you again and letting our readers learn more about you and what you have planned for the new year. Wish you the best in 2015. Hope to see you back on the Southern Fandom Convention Circuit soon.
If you would like to meet J.L. Mulvihill in person and pick up a signed copy of one of her works, you can find her at the First Annual Dark Oak Press Book Signing at the Barnes & Noble in Ridgeland, Mississippi on January 24, 2015. Alexander S. Brown, Kalila Smith, Kimberly Richardson, and publisher Allan Gilbreath will be in attendance.
For more details, find the event on Facebook HERE.
Stay tuned to this blog for more interviews, announcements, updates, and more.