In this weeks Author Spotlight, I met up with the wonderfully diverse L. Joseph Shosty, author of Old Wine & Black Hearts, a Fantasy & Science Fiction (Story Collection)
What is your book about?
Old Wine & Black Hearts is as a mash up of two previously published works. The first is my debut, Hoodwinks on a Crumbling Fence, published back in 2000. The other is Swallow the Evil, a fiction sampler I created in 2014 to test the waters of self-publishing. By putting the two together, I’ve created a retrospective of nearly two decades in the field, twenty stories for twenty years. The Old Wine section represents my older work, and is mostly urban fantasy and magical realism with some light sf. The Black Hearts section is my more recent work, and is mostly dark fantasy and horror.
What inspired you to write this book?
Money. Filthy, stinking lucre, and all the fame and fortune that writing short fiction brings.
Who is your favourite, and least favourite, character in the book?
My favorite is the nameless woodcutter in “The Words We Speak Have Power” because, aside from his profession, he has the power to literally bring the stories he tells to life, though he has no control over them once they’re birthed into the world. Most writers can relate to this bit of fancy, but anyone who has ever gotten in trouble or inadvertently inspired someone with what they’ve said will find much to sympathize with in this character. My least favorite character is the goat man from “That Time of the Month”, and if you read that loathsome story, you’ll understand why.
What draws you to this genre? Do you write in any other genre?
I write a little of everything. Mostly I do fantasy and science fiction, but I’ve written two mysteries, Herbie’s Diner and Gomes & A Murder of Confessions, as well. There’s also a few horror stories, a steampunk novel, a mainstream novel called Ataraxia & Aponia that’s going to press next year, and a supplemental text for fiction writers that should be hitting the bookshelves in February. I’ve also a book of haiku in the works for the four or five people in the world who still enjoy the form. Put my work on a shelf, and it looks less like a single author’s career and more like a tiny bookstore.
Is this a standalone book, or can we expect more?
Before collecting Old Wine & Black Hearts, I discovered I had nearly one hundred previously published stories to which I owned the rights sitting around, gathering dust. Writing is a business as well as an art, and a smart businessman doesn’t allow assets to do nothing when they can be out there making money for him. Old Wine is part of an on-going effort to get as many of those stories into print as possible. There are four total story collections planned for release. The next up is Wizards for the Immediate Cheddar. It’s an unofficial companion to the first collection, hence the wine and cheese theme.
Tell me about you and what drew you to writing? Are there any authors who inspired you to become a writer yourself?
I started writing at age three, and what inspired it was a terrible book. My mother read it to me one night before bed, and I sat up and said something to effect of, “That book is terrible. I could do better than that.” My mother told me to put my money where my mouth was, and over the next few nights I dictated my first story to her. It was something dreadful about my dog, who I imbued with magical powers, but I was hooked. I’ve lived a pretty easy life because I’ve known what I wanted to be since then. Never a worry in the world what I wanted to do with myself.
Other than your own book, what is your favourite novel?
Ha! You presume that I like my own writing! I do love this book, yet, given that the Black Hearts portion was written during a painful stretch, it’s proof I don’t always like the subject matter. My favorite book of all time is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. A close second would be A Midnight Clear by William Wharton. Honorable mention would be The Sterile Cuckoo by John Nichols.
Have you written other books we should know about?
Well, if you’re going to twist my arm…haha!
Gomes & A Murder of Confessions: Amazon
Operational Costs: Amazon
If you could advise aspiring writers on only one aspect of authordom, what would your advice be?
There’s an old adage which says, a book is not written, it’s re-written. Whatever your opinion of yourself and your skills, your first draft is rubbish. You needn’t get angry about that, for it’s true of us all. A real writer emerges in the editing room. Being brave enough to cut a brilliant piece of writing because it doesn’t fit is only part of the ordeal. You have to be willing to strip away every unnecessary word and/or phrase from your work, no matter what. Sometimes, entire chapters must go. That requires being truthful with yourself, which is not a writing matter, but one of introspection. “Does every piece of the manuscript fit, or am I feeding my ego with something I’m including?” A good rule of thumb is to do a word count as soon as you type The End on the rough and resolve to cut 10% of that count before you consider letting another living soul, like an editor, see your work.
Another great adage is that a book is never finished, it’s abandoned. How do you know when you’re finished editing? Cutting 10% is fine, but you’re really done when you would rather kill yourself than read through the manuscript one more time. When that occurs, read it again. After that, abandon the book to posterity.
This last part is particularly for those of you who are self-publishing. Hire an editor. I get it. My mother told me I am a genius, as I’m sure yours has said the same of you. They do that. And you might be the finest editor in the world. I don’t know. I do know that I’m a freelance editor, with many years’ experience on my side, and I still hire one for each of my books. It doesn’t matter how good we are, having a second (or even a third) pair of eyes whose job is producing polished manuscripts is essential. If you’re reading this and thinking you’re the exception to the rule, you’re actually the person who most needs to be taking this message to heart.
Where can we find your book?
Where can we find out more about you?