Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Interview with Our Editor, Pamela Gifford



We are grateful to have Pamela Gifford as the editor for Silly Tree Anthologies. We thought it might be interesting for our readers and authors to get to know Pam better and find out a little more about how the editing process works. Pamela agreed to do the following interview with us, which we hope you enjoy.

ST: Thank you so much for doing the interview, Pam. We really appreciate it. First, let’s get the basics out of the way. How did you get into editing and how long have you been doing it?

Pam: I eased into editing over several years, first as a slush and beta reader and then I started actually taking notes and making suggestions on the material I read. About three or four years ago, I bit the bullet and started freelancing.

ST: What are your credentials and who are some of the authors who have used your editing services?

Pam: A lot of people are aware that I decided to go back to college to pursue my teaching credentials in English. I’m halfway there with a high GPA so that’s part of my credentials. I work at the local community college as an English tutor (a.k.a The Best Job in the World). I’ve edited over a dozen books and novels including a non-fiction inspirational book from Katherine White and multiple romance novels from Australian author Jeanette Hornby.

ST: We know you are an author as well. Which you do enjoy more, editing or writing?

Pam: I enjoy the rough draft phase of writing more than anything. Revising and rewriting my own work, as well as editing the work of others, keeps me on my toes and I enjoy that, yes, but as a writer, when you  can churn out layers of words while embedded in that “zone”, there’s not another feeling like it.

ST: What are your favorite genres to write and edit?

Pam: Asking me to pick a favorite genre is like asking me to pick a favorite author or book. My tastes are eclectic so I enjoy pretty much a smattering of everything.

ST: Are there any genres you don’t like to edit?

Pam: No. I’ve edited non-fiction, science fiction, romance, thrillers… you name it and if I have any problem with a book at all, it isn’t the genre that I have a problem with but rather the book itself.

ST: How does the editing process work? 

Pam: I’m a constructive editor which means I look not only at grammar, structure, and all that jazz, but also at the believability, consistency, and flow of the storyline and characters. The first thing I do with new clients is get a writing sample. Over time, I’ve learned that there are some authors I just can’t help with the low fee I charge and that sample helps me determine who I can take on and who I must regretfully turn away, which doesn’t happen often. I read through a manuscript, comment on any issues I see and note any changes I make to grammar and structure. Some authors will take that first edit and run with it, others might pay me to do a second run-through which I approach in the same manner while keeping a look out for their changes (or reasons for lack of changes).

ST: How do you edit kindly and keep from killing a writer’s dreams while also helping them grow and learn?

Pam: I let them know that I’m not the Supreme Queen Editor of the Universe. The changes I make in their manuscript are only suggestions and they are free to accept those changes or decline them if they feel I’m wrong. It doesn’t hurt my feelings one bit; my opinion is my opinion and another editor or reader might feel differently and that’s completely okay. Also, though I may be critical in some areas, I make it a point to weave praise in there. I “LOL” in my comments when a certain scene tickles my funny bone, I comment, “Great job,” when a scene or a paragraph speaks to me… my type of editing isn’t just about pointing out what’s wrong but pointing out what’s right and give encouragement and praise where it’s due. 

ST: What are some suggestions you would offer authors that would make the process smoother for all involved?

Pam: A lot of writers will hire an editor because “it is the thing you’re supposed to do”. But that’s not why you should hire an editor. Before you hire an editor, ask yourself if you really want to learn from constructive criticism or if you just want someone to confirm that you are the best writer since the beginning of time. If you answered the former, the process with be a lot better for both you and your editor. No editor wants to deal with a writer who has a massive ego. No writer has it all figured out. There are always things to learn for both the writer and the editor. Thinking you know all there is to know is the quickest way to building a wall between you and your editor. It’s also the fastest way to stunt your growth as a writer.

ST: Is there anything else about editing in general or yourself as an editor, that you would like to share?

Pam: Like I say on my website, writers are different and editors are different. Both may be great at what they do but just not mesh well together. That’s completely okay. Find an editor that suits you and that you are comfortable with.

Having said that, it is important for writers to understand that editing is not an exact science. There are some hard and fast rules to writing but there are also many aspects to writing that can be a matter of opinion. Some writers despise adverbs and will tell you to avoid them at all costs. Other writers will say use them sparingly. Some writers hold stubbornly to concrete grammar rules while others will bend them to balance tone and voice in their work. It all depends on your style. Things that work for one writer may not work for another. Expecting all editors to work the exact same way based on a single set of rules isn’t realistic, just like expecting all writers to write the same way isn’t feasible.

Thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions. I hope I’ve been able to help someone understand the process a little better because after all, helping is my main goal.

You certainly helped us understand your thought process on the matter more and we work with you all the time. Wonderful interview. I hope all the authors who read it keep your advice in mind the next time they are working with an editor. Thank you again for doing the interview, Pam.

You can find Pamela Gifford online at:  http://www.pamelagifford.com/

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Interview with Bob MacKenzie

Bob put a lot of thought into his interview and allowed us into his mind and process. We're sure you will enjoy what he has to say.

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Do you see writing as a career?

I think for some writing is a career.  Most career writers work in media journalism or in advertising and publicity.  Some write genre-fiction for series published by large traditional publishers, usually under one or more pseudonyms. 

I’ve never approached writing as a career.  For me, writing is a calling, something I can’t help but do.  Writing is who I am, so it has never been a career or even a profession for me.  When I did work in the media or marketing, I chose to do so not as a career but as a way to hone the skills of my craft, skills I could then apply to the art of my personal writing.  The media were my first college, where I was educated in the craft of writing.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I was fortunate to grow up with two artist parents.  My father is a photographer and musician.  My mother was a visual artist and talented photo-colourist with a very creative mind.  My mother was constantly posing interesting visual, verbal, and musical exercises disguised as play.  These were favourite games for my two years younger sister and me.  I’m sure it was the same for my other sister, who was born nine years after me.  Between my parents and their artist and intellectual friends, we were early on exposed to the broad panorama of the arts.

Story was central to everything.  In photography, in music, in each aspect of the arts, there was always a sense of the story contained within.  I was making story so young I don’t remember when it began.  By the time I was four or five years of age, my Dad had given me and my sister each a Brownie camera.  We could take as many pictures as we wanted, of anything we wanted.  My Dad would develop our pictures and give us the prints.  Around the same age, my Dad began using us as models for competitive still photographs and as actors in his experiments making 16 millimetre movies.  As children at play, we were encouraged to create roles and play them out to create stories.  When I was eight years old, I wrote, directed, and starred in my own 16 mm movie, with my Dad as cameraman and technical advisor.

My interest was never in writing per sé.  It was always in story, which is at the centre of all artistic practice.  My interest in story began before I can remember. Throughout my childhood, my parents supported and encourage this interest.

Where did you get the idea for this story to be published in ST’s first anthology?


The idea for "War Games" really came from accumulation of many people and small happenings in my life and some sense of the collective-conscious during the times in which I grew up.  As a child and teenager, I saw the glorification of war in the late-Forties and early-Fifties, air-raid sirens in even the most isolated Canadian prairie towns during the nuclear-war paranoia of the Late Fifties, the onset and growth of America's undeclared wars against Asia, and the growth of the peace movement.  My Grandfather fought on the ground during The War to End All War and my father and uncles were in the Canadian Forces during the next war.  This story was written after my grandfather had died and I had been the one to make funeral arrangements.  I was a child in small prairie communities on the Alberta prairie.  We played with home-made wooden trucks and boats and with Dinky Toys, small metal British-made military vehicles creating whole worlds in the sand and clay of the back yard.  All of this and more contributed to my story of a boy who plays war games on the dust driveway of his rural Ontario home and whose mother is soon to die.  While it does have an omniscient narrator, the story is set primarily in this boy's imaginative mind.

Do you ever experience writer's block?

Writer’s block is something we create for ourselves.  We block because we fear we’ll not do well.  We think so hard about that perfect thing to write that we paralyse our ability to write anything. 

I don’t experience writer’s block.  I’ve lived a dual life in the applied arts of journalism and marketing and in the literary arts of poetry and prose fiction.  I started as a young poet with a “day job” in the newsroom of The Calgary Herald.  It was back in the days when newspapers put out several editions every day, so there was always a deadline to be met.  There was no room for writer’s block.  If you were unable to meet deadlines you would soon be out of a job.  It was a lesson I applied later to my work in advertising and also to my literary efforts.

The trick is to write anyway.  Write anything.  Write even if you feel the writing will be bad.  The only person who will see it is you, and sometimes the writing will redeem itself and surprise you.  Leave that book for a while and write a letter or a poem.  Just write.  Write your way around that block.  You can always come back later and polish for quality.

Do you write an outline before every book you write?

I never write an outline, or even have one in my head.  I’ve never been able to do that.

When I was in elementary school, we were required to write our essays in three stages, each of which gave us part of our mark.  We had to create an outline, then write a rough draft, then write the final paper.  My mind doesn’t work that way.  I’m sure something like that process happened, but so deep in my thinking that I wasn’t even aware of it.  To get all my marks, I would write the finished paper, dumb it down to a rough draft, then pare that into an outline.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t have some idea of the shape of my story or where it begins and where it’s going.  It’s just that the process seems to be an unconscious one for me, one that works well but of which I am mostly unaware.

Do you have a specific writing style? Genre?

I tend to be a genre-bender, a trans-genre sort of writer.  My short stories and novels don’t usually follow one genre but two or more.  I have great difficulty sticking to only one genre.  In life, things shift and change.  There is no single genre to real life, and I try to represent life as it is.  To write in a single genre seems flat and unrealistic.

My primary approaches are through crime-fiction and thrillers, romance in the Arthurian sense, and the supernatural, often blended in unique ways that surprise me as much as my readers.  The world I describe is very much like the world in which I live.

Are experiences you write about based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I borrow from everyone and everything.  Sometimes events in my stories are revisionings of events I’ve lived.  Sometimes I draw on aspects of people I know or have known, but usually only to create a composite which is not any one person in my life.  I also watch the newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet for stories that interest me and I incorporate aspects of those stories into my own.  To include only materiel from my own life would leave me with too narrow a palette for the stories I want to tell.

What books/authors have most influenced your life?

That’s an interesting question.  My life?  I’ve never thought about that.  I have no idea what books or authors may have influenced my life, though I’m sure some must have.  Mostly, books and their authors have had an influence on my art, on the directions my writing and photography have taken.

I have trouble remembering specific books by title and author.  Only the content, the story stays with me.  These are the books I think have been the greatest influence.  There are others, of course.  Kingsley’s “The Water Babies” is one, with its harsh description of real life blended with a coexisting world of fantasy.  Edgar Rice Burroughs sense of time and space has strongly influenced the way I structure my novels.  Although I’ve only read him translated to English, Jules Verne’s books - especially - Michael Strogoff - have also had a powerful influence on the way I tell my stories. Cohen’s “Spice Box of Earth” cemented my resolve to become a poet and his subsequent works have also been a strong influence.  Of course, the noir mysteries of the Thirties and Forties influence my crime fiction and thrillers.  Graham Green and Elmore Leonard are also strong influences.  James Branch Cabell’s novel “Jurgen” forever changed my approach to fantasy and the paranormal.

The list goes on and on.  Perhaps my writing is so eclectic because so many and varied authors and their books have influenced my life as an artist.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?


Here’s another interesting question, one that cuts both ways.  Does it refer to the way I write or to the content of what I write.

In writing my stories, my challenge is to keep the story real.  I want to tell the story in an interesting way, but even when I wander into fantasy and the paranormal I want it to feel real.  I want to draw my reader into the story and hold him or her there until the story ends.  If I lose that sense of reality, then I may also lose the reader.

I believe making art is a political act.  Art should be more than simply a pretty artifact.  It should inform or educate as well.  I hope my subtext touches on ideas and issues that will bring my readers more than just entertainment.  In some cases where the issue is especially important, I’ll even bring it more obviously to the surface.  It’s a challenge for me to include these elements without seeming to preach at my reader.  Though I feel an issue is important to raise, it must be consistent with the story being told and not stand out as something extra.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your story to life?


Research for “War Games” was pretty simple.  It was simply a matter of diving into my memories of a rural childhood plus my more recent understanding of history, loss, and rural life in Ontario, where I had lived for some time.  When in doubt, I found the Internet invaluable for fact-checking.

For me, the concept of a “literary” short story or novel has always been problematic.  It seems to me that this is the realm of the academics, elitists, and snobs who dismiss any writing that doesn’t fit their idea of what is literature.  I also find that many “literary” are not of the highest quality, even the ones that win important awards.  My only challenge is to avoid the sort of artifice that defines many of these works and to keep my own stories real.  I want my reader to be right there with five-year old Adam Forman as his story progresses.  I want my reader to see, hear, and feel what Adam sees, hears, and feels.  The reader should be able to escape to that world and forget for a time that this is just a story.

My psychological challenge was, many yechildhoodars past my own, to put myself into the heads of this young boy as well as those of his aunt, uncle and mother. 

My only logistical issue, if any at all, was to make myself sit down and write the story.  Making time for writing is always a challenge.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Interview with Alan Kemister

I really enjoyed the interview with Alan. His answers are straight forward and honest. I love his sense of humor and his writing. Oh, and I do hope his friend will submit to another Silly Tree anthology one of these days.

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1.         When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

My interest in writing fiction developed towards the end of a scientific research career when reporting of the actual scientific results took a back seat to selling the projects to the funding agencies.  It wasn’t much of a leap from writing these ‘stories’ about the research to creating fiction that has an environmental context.  When I retired I decided to try doing just that.  I imagine I came to creative writing much later in life than most of the other authors.

2.         Do you write for a living or as a hobby?

Writing for me is definitely a hobby.  I would like to see some of my work published so that others can read it, but I don’t expect to make any money from it.  I just hope a few people will get some enjoyment or enlightenment from reading what I write.

3.         Where did you get the idea for this story to be published in ST’s second anthology?

My story developed from my interest in climate change.  I tried to imagine how society might react if the ecological consequences of global warming and society’s response to these changes were more draconian than most of the projections we see.  The theme for this anthology gave me an opportunity to imagine how one individual could manage to look past the chaos and search for a future for himself.

4.         Do you enter many writing contests?

I have entered a few contests but never won any.  Their appeal to me is the challenge of writing something, usually something short, which makes me think about a problem from the perspective of the contest rules.

5.         How do you feel about entering contest only for the fame and not the fortune?

I don’t think of them from either of these perspectives.  I think of them as exercises to try something new and challenge my imagination, to do something I wouldn’t otherwise have done.  They can also, depending on the structure of the contests, be an opportunity to get some feedback from the judges or the other participants.

6.         Where did you hear of Silly Tree?

I heard of Silly Tree from a colleague in a writing group I belong to.  He submitted a story to the first Silly Tree anthology, the one that didn’t get off the ground.

7.         Do you write an outline before every book you write?

I’ve managed to get three books close to something that might be described as finished.  They all need extensive editing and review but I think the structures for the stories won’t change much.  At least I hope that’s the case.  I had outlines for all three of them, but didn’t worry if I diverged from the plan.  One was a mystery and I paid more attention to the outline for that one because I had to bring the story to a logical and internally consistent conclusion, but the other two diverged substantially.

8.         How do you come up with your titles?

I find deciding on a title incredibly difficult and I don’t think I’ve liked any of the titles I’ve come up with.  If I had to decide on a title before I began a story I’d never write a single word.  Generally, I accumulate various possibilities, wait until the last moment, looming deadline for submission or whatever, and pick the one that seems to best describe the overall scope of the story.  I seldom come up with anything particularly good or catchy.

9.         What are your current projects?

I have two active projects.  The first is to review/revise the mystery I referred to above so I can submit it to a contest.  The second is to expand/continue the story I wrote for this anthology to get Benjamin Ford and some of his friends and compatriots to the end of their journey.

10.       If you had to do it over again, would you change anything in your latest story?

Is this a trick question?  I can’t imagine writing anything I thought so good I wouldn’t want to change it.  Every time I reread one of my stories, I find things I want to change

Monday, January 13, 2014

Interview with Mikko Harvey

Mikko Harvey's sense of humor grabs you even in an interview. We enjoyed her work and I love the fact that she likes "Silly Tree." I am very partial to the name myself since I came up with it. Please enjoy Mikko's interview.

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1. Where did you hear of Silly Tree?

I don't remember, but I remember smiling when I saw the name. I had just written a poem--a rather silly poem--about a tree, and I couldn't think of a better home for it than a magazine called Silly Tree.

2. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Hans Christian Andersen. His fairy tales are special--playful yet deadly serious. 

3. How do you come up with your titles?

Coming up with titles is one of the hardest parts. Writing a good title for a poem is almost like writing a second poem. You want the title to do more than just label, but you also don't want it to be distracting. It's a tricky balance. Or you can take an easier road and use a descriptive title, a minimal title, or a line from the poem. These are fine approaches, but I don't know. The whole business feels stilted to me. Like any convention, the assumption of using a title at all seems worth questioning.

But I don't mean to sound like an extremist about it. Titles can be great. For example, "As I Step Over a Puddle at the End of Winter, I Think of an Ancient Chinese Governor," by James Wright.

4. How do you stay motivated?

I don't worry about staying motivated so much as staying excited. Poems fall naturally out of excitement, like shaking change from a blanket. Everybody is excited differently. For me it often involves being outdoors. I think the biggest enemy is self-absorption. The internet is also not to be trusted.

5. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

I am going to say trees. They provide paper as well as quiet daily reassurance.

6. Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Yes, and you can find several such things on the Internet, permanently connected to my name. But no, hate is too strong of a word. Maybe feeling bad about something you wrote in the past is a sign of growth--in which case I look forward to years of dissatisfaction.

Maybe one day I'll hate myself for answering this question this way.

7. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Right now, or in poems? Either way I mostly just want to say hello, briefly connect, and leave them feeling fresher. I think having a specific message or moral in mind can crush the other, greater possibilities that arise unexpectedly. When I read a poem that is trying to transmit a specific message, that poem has to be very good in order to justify its limited scope.

8. At what age did you write your first story?

I wrote a story for school when I was 8 called "The Juice Vampire." I poured grape juice on the pages to increase the project's authenticity. That is when I first realized I was an innovative genius.

9. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

After reading her funky chapbook, "The Dept. of Ephebic Dreamery," I recently became interested in the poet Darcie Dennigan.

10. What book are you reading now?

Yesterday I started reading "after the quake," a collection of stories by Haruki Murakami. One is about a giant frog who wants to save Tokyo from an earthquake that is about to be caused by a giant, angry worm that lives under the city. The frog tries to recruit an ordinary man to help in the fight against the worm: "I know this must be difficult for you, Mr. Katagiri. A huge frog comes barging into your place and asks you to believe all these outlandish things..."  Story of my life.