Back with a new interview! Sorry it’s been a while, I’ve been feeling sick lately. Today I’m with R.M. Callahan with her SPFBO entry. Go check it out, and enjoy the talk!
Check out some examples of my SPFBO interviews by clicking on the book covers down below!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Hello! My name’s Rebecca, and I publish under the name R.M. Callahan. I’m a 31-year old mother, fantasy author, and game narrative designer and scriptwriter. My family and I are currently living in the “Land of Blue Dragon” (Vietnam).
I write contemporary fantasy, usually with cosmic horror and paranormal overtones. I love fantasy that’s truly plausible, that can be imagined as actually happening here and now, and that’s what all my books focus on.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
This original idea for my current series—combining cats with the Cthulhu mythos—was my husband’s. I liked the idea, and I also liked my friends’ contributions—they helped design the main cat characters—so I just took the concept and ran with it. With everyone’s permission of course!
It’s not usually such a group effort, though. Normally I base plots and characters around things I’m considering in my own life—challenges I’m facing, or existential questions I’m attempting to tackle. Then I work out the answers through story.
Tell us about your current project.
I’ve partnered with my husband to develop the Tales of New Kingsport, an extended universe featuring many different storylines and characters.
I just finished writing Book 3 of the Pumpkin Spice series, which is named for the heroine, a Maine Coon who’s a witch’s familiar. (Book 3 will be launched very soon!) Like all cats, Spice knows a bit of magic, can See That Which Cannot Be Seen, and has a good working memory of her last several incarnations—all of which gives her a distinct advantage over humans. However, both she and her witch are unprepared to encounter people who have used the blackest sorcery to transcend their bodies, time, and space—thereby putting, not only Kingsport, but the entire material plane at risk.
My husband is starting on an accompanying series, which is set during the same momentous events, but follows a different set of characters. The heroes of his series are Titan, a mastiff mix, and his new owner Thomas, a boy slowly discovering that he, too, can See That Which Cannot Be Seen.
Although the two series can be read independently, Titan and Thomas will play a critical role in Spice’s story, especially towards the end. We also intend to supplement these full series with short stories and one-offs, one of which, “The Specimen,” is already available on Kindle Unlimited.
If you like girl geniuses, mysterious cats, and rogue tentacles, you should check it out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07Q88RT1N#customerReviews
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
First time! The book I’ve entered is The Dark Yule, the first of the Pumpkin Spice Tales. It’s currently available on Amazon and Kobo if you want to judge for yourself.
Wish me luck!
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Pumpkin Spice (she prefers just “Spice”) is the narrator and primary protagonist. A 6-year old brown tabby Maine Coon, she’s got a strong maternal instinct and a nagging sense of responsibility—both qualities rather unusual in a cat, but exactly what Kingsport needs in this crisis.
It’s Spice’s feline curiosity that leads her to investigate the events of the Dark Yule, but in the end it’s her fierce determination that inspires her allies—cats, human, and otherwise—to rally against Kingsport’s most sinister citizens.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Write regularly—every weekday if possible—and keep at it! If your progression is anything like mine, your first books will be truly awful. My first novel was a compilation of literally every stereotype I hate now, from specially-colored eyes for the protagonist, to a mysterious prophecy about the Chosen One. Ugh. My point is, don’t be discouraged if your early work isn’t up to snuff, just keep writing.
The other thing you should do is read. Find authors you love, and then figure out what you love about them. I’m a little suspicious of creative writing books or classes because I think they can result in formulaic writing. I think working backwards is better—discover what clicks for you, then figure out how to do it in your own work.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Quite a few! This series is set—albeit quite loosely—in the Cthulhu mythos. I’ve based Kingsport on the real town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, just as Lovecraft did.
The cosmology of my books is also heavily inspired by Buddhist teachings. There’s a strong emphasis on multiple realms, reincarnation, and, ultimately, the salvation of self. I’ve also done extensive research on the occult, so that’s reflected in the magic system.
Finally, the cats’ behavior—their gestures, relationships, and culture—is the result of observing my own cats over time. Not that I’ve ever had a cat as cool as Pumpkin Spice.
What inspires you to write?
Writing is truly my ikigai. If I’m not writing something, I feel dead inside. It’s pretty good motivation.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
I’ve just finished writing The Damned King, Book #3 in the Pumpkin Spice Tales. The hard part was deciding what to do with Morwen, Pumpkin Spice’s somewhat naïve witch. Should she and her children be victims throughout the book, thereby providing more motivation for Spice to battle the bad guys? Or should Morwen pull her head out of her ass (‘scuse my French) and finally become an active participant in the fight? In the end I decided on the latter, because I wanted Morwen and Spice’s character arcs to reflect one another, and Spice definitely hits her stride in Book 3.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I’m a freelance game writer, and I’ve found that if I don’t work on my own books first thing, before any other writing, they don’t get done. So I typically aim for 1200-2000 words on my books in the morning, take a little break for lunch and exercise, then tackle my freelance projects and try to finish before my son comes home from school.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
My favorite part of The Damned King is when Spice finally embraces all the things that make her a “different” cat—her fierce dedication, her undying stubbornness, and her profound loyalty to her humans. Instead of being vaguely embarrassed by those un-feline qualities, she decides that she is exactly the cat Kingsport needs right now, and takes action accordingly.
I can’t tell you more than that because it would spoil a major plot development that I’ve been working towards since the first book in the series, The Dark Yule.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned that my own writing has to come first, before the freelance projects that support me and my family. I have to occasionally remind myself that my books can take me places, career-wise, that game writing just can’t.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
I’m a gardening plotter. That is to say, I used to be a total pantser—in fact, if I outlined a story, I then lost all interest in actually writing it. Getting serious about my novels and becoming a professional writer made me realize that a good plot requires planning, so now I outline almost everything.
However, I’ve found that a story will take its own shape as it grows, and I definitely don’t try to fight it. My favorite part of the writing process is when the story comes together in ways I hadn’t even planned. There will be times when I include some odd detail at the beginning, not even quite knowing why, only to discover that said odd detail offers the perfect solution to an issue I introduce many chapters later. It’s glorious when the pieces fit together like that, and makes me feel that the story is writing itself.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I usually don’t have difficulty understanding the characters I write. What I do struggle with is keeping them in line.
For example, Cyrus, the king of the Kingsport ghouls, is in danger of becoming far too adorable simply because I like him. That’s not true to the character, however, so periodically I have to remind myself—and the readers—that as much as we love his little gold spectacles and tweedy vest, he is a corpse-eating, dog-faced monstrosity. Also, he smells.
What are your future project(s)?
The Pumpkin Spice series is supposed to be five books, but I’m flexible about that; we’ll see how, and if, the fifth book wraps things up. The Tales of New Kingsport universe, as a whole, will occupy my husband and I for some time.
I’ve also got a few other projects in mind. I’d love to write a book I’ve already entitled A Slave in Lantern City, based on an Otherworld version of the Vietnamese town I’m living in. I’ve got ideas for a sci-fi based on Earth being a literal third-world tourist trap, and some plans for a cute, sexy series starring lesbian teachers at an all-girl witches’ school. They solve murder mysteries together because, these days, who doesn’t?
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are Alice Hoffman and Terry Pratchett, because they are both so incredibly wise about human nature.
But my favorite book ever written is Watership Down. It’s one of those books that proves that craft is what really makes a book great. The plot of Watership Down is such a simple idea—rabbits go on a journey to find a new home—so simple that it sounds stupid when you try to explain it to someone (or when they try to make a movie out of it!). The joy of the book is not in the story, though, it’s in how the story is told. Richard Adams weaves incredibly beautiful prose and deep, striking insights around what was originally a bedtime story for his daughters, and lifts it to a whole new level. It’s actually enjoyable on many levels: it’s a brilliant animal story, it’s an epic quest, it’s a treatise on religion’s role in society, it’s intensely critical of human failings…my point is, if you haven’t read Watership Down, you should.
What makes a good villain?
An understandable motive. All of us possess an unacknowledged darkness. Most of us aren’t saints: under the right circumstances, we could be (and often are) the villain in someone else’s story. So I love writing villains with motives that you can’t really fault, like deep maternal love, or fear of mortality. Ideally, I’d like readers to come away questioning their own desires and behaviors.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have a bit of a shopping bug—it’s genetic—so I really enjoy going to downtown Hoi An (one of the most beautiful places in an extraordinarily beautiful town), and looking at all the things I can’t afford. Mostly I’m going for the walk.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I can’t imagine not choosing to be a writer of some sort—writing is fairly critical for my sanity. However, I sure wouldn’t mind writing in the evenings after a hard day’s work training award-winning sheep dogs on my Irish farmstead. I have completely romanticized that lifestyle, by the way: on my dream farm, sheep don’t smell, I’m allowed to sleep in every morning, and I never step in dog crap.
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
I would go to Titan, to discover if there is actually life. It’s considered one of the most likely places for biological life to exist in our solar system.
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
I pick Granny, Nanny, and Magrat from the Terry Pratchett witches books. We fly around Discworld on our broomsticks and wreak magical havoc. Any unfortunate incidents (which make up the majority of the trip) are followed by Nanny drinking me under the table, Granny making snotty remarks, and Magrat dying of embarrassment. Perfect road-trip (broom-trip?).
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Subscribe on our site and become a member of the Flock, with access to free exclusive content, special deals, and more! www.flockhall.com/contact
I also have a Facebook group, R.M. Callahan Readers, in which I post daily. https://www.facebook.com/groups/457294898150727/
The first book in the Pumpkin Spice series, The Dark Yule
“The Specimen”—a short, Kindle Unlimited story featuring the aforementioned girl genius, mysterious cat, and rogue tentacle. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07Q88RT1N#customerReviews