Megan Arkenberg [markenberg]
What is your message?
"Hi, [insert name here], this is Megan Arkenberg calling to check up on [noun]. Call me back when you get the chance. Thanks!"
"Dang, now I need to say it all over again?"
How should a work of art be evaluated?
The same way all things must be evaluated--by how well it accomplishes its purpose.
Though I think Oscar Wilde has the right of it: "all Art is quite useless," except to exist as a thing of beauty. As for what makes something beautiful..."The Picture of Dorian Gray" is beautiful. "Webster's Dictionary" is not. Draw your own conclusions.
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I've always loved reading, but the first time I became really passionate about a book was when I read John Bellairs' "The Curse of the Blue Figurine" in, oh, third grade or so. Bellairs inspired my first timid steps into fantasy writing--and by "timid," I mean plans for a massive trilogy that would have taken several hundred thousand words to wrap up from where I fortunately abandoned it. My sister was my first reader and my first editor, and I can't say for certain how far my readership has expanded since then. No matter the quantity, I'm not sure they can equal her quality. She knows when I'm trying too hard.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
Fantasy, specifically Secondary World. I love the ability to play with my favorite historical time periods without being limited by the limitations historically placed on people with a certain gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. Links to my work can be found on my bibliography page: www.freewebs.com/meganarkenberg . "Winterblood," my favorite short story to see print (so far), can be found here: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/story.php?s=18
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Typically, I start with a title, a character, and a basic problem. Next comes basic worldbuilding--what time period is this fantasy world based off of, what kind of language will tthe characters speak, what will their homes and cities look like? By this point, my basic problem will have expanded, not unlike kudzu, and it will be my job to trim it down to its essentials. Oh, and theme comes up somewhere in here, too.
Finally, I spend a rediculous amount of time thinking up a good first line--which will probably be changed before the end of the draft--and scribble it on a post-it. Now it's time to apply arse to chair and write!
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Nonfiction fuels my world-building, but plot ideas can come from anywhere. Since I typically start stories from a title, poetry is particularly helpful--it provides great jumping-off points, even if my title eventually changes.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Well, you need a setting, and the setting needs to DO something. You need a problem, or at least a mystery, or there's no point for your reader. You need facinating characters. But most of all, you need words and you need to know what to do with them. The Clarkesworld guidelines have it right; there is no difference between substance and style. If I can't read your "style," I'll never know or care what your story is about.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
First person, absolutely. I never write in third person if I can avoid it. I think half (or more) of the fun in the writing process is finding a new and exciting way to tell a story, a new perspective, a new way to play with tone and voice. I prefer to read first person, too--with the caveat that the first person narrator needs to be a character first, and not a thinly-veiled author insert peering at the story through long-range binoculars.
What well known writers do you admire most?
Sarah Monette knows how to use words, which alone makes her something of a god in my pantheon of favorite writers; she is also a brilliant world-builder. Oscar Wilde's wit and sense of irony ensure that "The Picture of Dorian Gray" will always be my favorite novel. For more brilliant world-building, I cannot recommend George Orwell highly enough. And for a good chill and facinating atmosphere, it's tough to beat M. R. James.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Oh, no. If I need to give an example aloud--for example, when discussing dialogue with a class--I invariably say something rediculous.
"No, you don't need a comma after the question mark. For example, if Fred asks 'Why is there an elephant on the ceiling...' Wait, no, that's not right."
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
Myself. I write what I love to read, and I hope to God there's someone out there who shares my taste.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Sometimes. I'm passionate about LGBT rights and queer issues, and I think that comes through in a lot of my writing. But there are personal issues that I just don't want to bring out on the page--they would hit too close to home. In that sense, the process of writing is a bit of escapism on my part.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes, absolutely. I need to know what I'm doing wrong (and, less often, what I'm doing right). And yes, sometimes the best form of feed-back is a rejection slip.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Ish. I'm competitive, but I don't often have the reading fees for contest entries. I'd rather submit to a market with a .00000000001% acceptance rate if I'm up for a challenge.
Most of my awards are in the haiku and tanka arena. I placed in the Tanka Splendor competition in 2007, and in Charnwood Arts' "Miniwords" competition in 2008. I'm certain there's more, but I can't remember it all off the top of my head!
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Sometimes. I have great faith--perhaps too much--in my ability to tell whether a draft is rough or diamond, and so far it's worked pretty well. I do ask for outside opinions when I'm playing with a complicated viewpoint and I need to know if all the information is coming through to the reader.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I believe I have a good, solid default setting, yes. In fact, it's rare that a rejection letter doesn't compliment my style! However, since I believe each story has a different "voice" that works best for it, I do spend a large amount of time trying to strike the perfect cord. And of course, my default style is (hopefully) improving as I read more and more.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I make myself work every day. There have been times when I've set a time-goal--for example, complete one story a week for eight weeks--but I don't find they help me any more than a simple "apply arse to seat and scribble" method.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Ha! as if I had a personal "work area". Honey, I write wherever I can find the table space. Though I do have one requirement; absolute silence. The sound of someone whispering three tables over in the library is enough to make me homicidal.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I used to do most of my writing directly onto the computer, but now that I edit two e-zines, they take up most of my computer time. I've invested in several nice journals and I make sure to carry one with me at all times, and that's where I do most of my first drafts. I then type them up on the computer, editing as I go. If I need a second draft (Ha! there's another confession. Bless me, Father, for I sometimes submit first drafts), I often type my revisions directly into the computer document, though I have been known to print out an entire story and pen corrections into the margins.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I find forums.sfreader.com answers most of my questions. Otherwise, Ralan.com and Duotrope.com for market resources, and Wikipedia for quick fact checks. The great thing about Wikipedia--it doesn't matter if the information is a little bit off for the real world, I'm only going to change it farther for my fantasy.
What has been your experience with publishers?
Um...good, I guess. I certainly haven't had any problems worth discussing. Scott Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is the most helpful editor I have worked with, if that has any bearing on the conversation.
What are you working on now?
If you have all day, I'd be happy to tell you.
My major WIP is a gothic-novel-morphs-into-secondary-world-fantasy-short called "The Celebrated Carousel of the Margravine of Blois," inspired by the beautiful earrings of the same title from elisem.livejournal.com . There's also a little something on the back burner (pun absolutely intended) called "Four Burning Things." I'd tell you more about it, but then I'd have to do something unsavory to you.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Render them down from scrap. That's what I do with mine, anyway. A phrase here, a character name there...all picked from the bones of my previous mistakes.
Of course, if they're REALLY bad, you could always send them to some poor overworked editor just to give him or her the pleasure of rejecting you soundly.
What hobbies have you got?
I got the hobby of correcting people's grammar. Fix your question and ask me again.
Which actor would you like to be?
Johnny Depp, of course. Wouldn't everybody?
If you were sent to a deserted island, which book, CD and film would you take with you?
I'd want something by Sarah Monette, but it's a toss-up over which of her four novels I'd take. Probably "The Virtu." CD and film would both be useless to me. Where am I going to find a CD player on a deserted island?
How do you find the balance between working to live and living to work?
I suppose it depends how you define "work." I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I define my life by my creative work; it's what I love most. In that sense, I absolutely live to work.
As for working to live...I spent two years in the fast food industry. Enough said.
A simple pleasure that for you is quite big or important.
Correcting people's grammar. Please change your sentence fragment into a complete question.
Something in which you are completely incompetent.
Biochemistry. If you want a designer baby, don't coming running to me.
Of what are you an addict?
Silence. I cannot get enough. If I could buy it illegally, I think I would.
You have nine wins in a row in a game of roulette: do you continue because you are on a good run, or abandon the game because statistically, it is your turn to lose?
Whatever Mark Twain said, statistics never lie. It's time to take my cash and hit the casino gift shop.
Unless this is a game of Russian roulette, in which case, whoever loaded the six-shooter did something wrong. Really wrong.
How did you meet your current boy/girlfriend?
The theatre, darling, the theatre.
Is there any superstition that makes you change your behaviour?
Not consciously, though I enjoy making wishes at 11:11 and tracking the amount of time it takes for them to come true. I wished for a Writers of the Future win several years ago, and it has yet to materialize.
Does knowing someone's zodiac sign help you to better understand that person?
Of course not. Though if they told it to me up front, it's a good indication I should keep my distance.
A word or expression that you love.
If I had to declare my verbal tic, I'd say quoting Oscar Wilde. Otherwise, it varies by the day. Lately, I've been trying to deter students from unhealthy stunts by saying “There’s no way THAT can end in anything but sunshine and giggles.”
A word or expression that you detest.
"Like." If you're not using a similie, for the love of God, don't say "like." On a larger note, don't whisper. I'd rather you screamed in my ear than whispered when I'm trying to work.
If you were to return reincarnated, which real-life person would you like to be?
Oscar Wilde. Does reincarnation work in reverse?
To what percentage do you believe in statistics?
0%. General facts should not be made to apply to specific individuals. Just because most women like dark chocolate doesn't mean I want to be within a mile of that stuff.
Do you believe many illnesses can be caused by the mind?
I spend a year or two in high school as the poster child for psychosomatic illness. So, yes, I think one's mental state can combine with a run-down physical state to create some nasty problems. But no, thinking about a cold won't give you one.
Do you believe it is true that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity?
For most humans I know, I think the number is closer to 1%; the amount necessary to chew a wad of gum. Walking simultaneously is optional.
Using the subway without paying, shoplifting: is there excessive tolerance to these small offenses?
Absolutely. If someone works to provide a service and you take advantage of their work without paying for it, you have committed a terrible, disgusting crime and I have no patience with you.
Does brand name influence your buying habits?
Honey, I can't name three brands off the top of my head. I buy what I can afford.
Do you think tipping is a good custom?
Yes. When someone has worked hard to provide a service for you, it is fair and proper for you to compensate them accordingly.
Do you think the catastrophism about climate change has been exaggerated?
Call me in a few years. My answer will depend on whether or not I can see the ocean from my house.
Do you boycott brands if you learn they employ children in third-world countries or harm the environment?
What do you currently have in your MP3 player?
I don't have an MP3 player. Sad, isn't it?
What books are you currently reading?
The Complete Work of M. R. James: Victorian Ghost Stories, an Oxford Anthology: and several others which I can't remember off the top of my head. I'm reasonably certain that I'm currently using every book-mark in my collection.
Places in the world that you have visited recently.
The grocery store. The local high school. You need an Ebola vaccine before you visit either.
What is that special film you never tire of watching?
Pan's Labyrinth. Brilliant, brilliant, and beautiful.
How do you kill time?
I edit two e-zines. What is this "time" and where can I get some?
Two-party systems are on the rise: is this good for politics?
A better question is, is this good for citizens? And the answer is a resounding NO.
Should homosexual couples have the same right to adopt as heterosexual couples?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes.
If you were a millionaire, what would be your charitable work?
This is easy. I'd up the pay rate for Lacuna.
What will your epitaph be?
Here lies one whose name was writ in water...and horrendously misspelled.
Milwaukee, United States