The world’s weirdest marine ecologist who fills time between anglerfish dissections with writing, Brianna hails from New York and now lives happily in the Scottish Highlands. She enjoys long walks through the cemetery and short walks to fridges full of leftovers, and prides herself on embracing literary themes most might find uncomfortable: grief, morbidity, and the nitty-gritties of mental illness. A connoisseur of all horrors cosmic, psychological, and comedic, Brianna hopes to break down the boundaries dividing the common man from the cathartic delight of fright, while hoping to teach a thing or two about the starker realities of life in the process. Her cat and her parents are her biggest supporters… in that order.
Brianna, thank you for agreeing to this interview. What is the title of your current work in progress or the most recent manuscript you’ve completed? Do you want to tell us a bit about the story?
I’ve just finished the first draft of The Quaking Aspen, a psychological literary horror piece with a dash of LGBT romance (when I go niche, I go niche). It follows the trials and tribulations of Mitch Maslany, who, one year after the death of his daughter, thought a forest fire lookout tower would be the perfect place to drown his sorrows in scotch. But a bond blossoms via radio with fellow fire-spotter, Sid Doyle, and the burden of his self-destructive despair begins to lighten—at least, until the trees start talking.
Something sinister lurks in the aspens. As he is forced to relive past nightmares and suffer fits of violent amnesia, the woods threaten to reveal a dark secret Mitch is desperate to hide. Trapped in a forest where reality and illusion blur, he must fight not only for his sanity, but for his final chance at redemption—before the trees drive him to a madness from which there will be no return.
There’s a talking fox with one eye, sassy bouts of walkie-talkie banter, and adorable abstract art made of deer carcasses. What could go wrong?
Do you do your own editing, or do you send it to someone else? When reading through your own rough drafts what are you looking for?
Self-editing is essential, though I think it’s equally essential to have a professional go through it. I have a fantastic editor lined up over at Bowler Fern, but I’ve only just started combing through the second draft – it’s best practice to send the best version of your work to your editor, methinks (and over-editing is a danger as well, so it’s a balancing act!).
Aside from the typical grammatical and structural hoopla, I tend to be unnecessarily descriptive in my narrative, so editing for cohesion is my first priority: How can I make this sentence the best it can be without over- (or, less often, under-) doing it? This means striking redundant strings of adjectives piled on ad nauseum, or trading a long phrase for a punchier, more powerful verb, for example. My second writing crime is using a specific word or unique phrase more than once in a short time. I once had a beta reader point out that I’d used the word ‘rivulet’ three times in five pages. Can you imagine?
You have written several short stories and poems, having them included in a variety of publications from anthologies to digital and print magazines. Can you walk us through the process of submitting to these entities? What should writers know if they want to be published in an anthology or magazine?
Short stories are so underrated, and make fertile training fields for writers seeking to make a name for themselves before diving into the deep end of novel writing!
There are several websites out there which compile pretty much every digital or print literary journal, anthology, and story contest seeking submissions. In my opinion, the best value-for-money (and the one I use) is Duotrope. Sites like these make it easy, breezy, beautiful to find who wants stories like yours by applying filters by genre, sub-genre, and word count, and how much (or if) they are paying. From there, you can visit the publishers’ websites and review their submission guidelines. This is, without a doubt, the most important part – Read. Those. Guidelines. They’re different for every magazine, every contest, every publisher, whether it’s formatting, if they want a bio, if they ban certain topics or themes, if they don’t want foul language. These guidelines will tell you everything you need to know about submitting your story, and from there, it really is just a waiting game!
I’ve got four big tips for writers interested in foraying into the field.
First: Cover letters are necessary, but these are completely different from the cover letters you’d submit to, say, an employer. The best cover letter is a short one. Mine are usually a mere 4 sentences long. Greet the editor, state your name, the genre and length class (drabble, flash, short, etc), the “Title” of your story, and the rounded word count. Offer maybe one line about what sort of work you write if you have no publication qualifications, if you do, mention the top three publishers who’ve accepted your work. Look forward to hearing from you. Tada! Easy peasy. Important note, though – did you read the submission guidelines? Sometimes a publisher might want to know more about you. Sometimes they want the cover letter as an attachment, not in the body of the email. Sometimes they want you to include a bio in the cover letter. Read the damn guidelines!
Second: Sites like Duotrope will tell you if a publisher does or does not want two important things – reprints and simultaneous submissions. A reprint is a work that has been previously published somewhere else; a simultaneous submission is submitting the work to multiple publishers at the same time. Most publishers don’t like these, a few don’t mind. Pay attention to this, as it can cause a snafu if you don’t, and make you appear a fool.
Third: If you use a different word processor, save your story in Microsoft Word and ensure it follows the Shunn Manuscript Format – this is the standard format for short story submissions. It’s pretty simple but would take a lot of words to explain in detail, so a simple Google will do the trick!
Fourth: Don’t think you’re getting cheated by not getting paid; exposure is golden for new writers. Get some practice, earn a smidge of name-recognition, then start working your way up, cent by precious cent per word.
(Sidenote: Duotrope also does poetry!)
While my most popular story is a sci-fi short, “PLEASE STAND CLEAR”, my personal favorite is “Palmistry”, which can be read for free on Bull & Cross. This was actually going to be part of a scene in a dark fantasy trilogy I was working on (and have since side-lined). I’d skipped ahead just to write the scene, because fuck the rules, right? But it hijacked me and took on a life of its own. It’s a short flash piece, more literary fiction than anything. It got to the final round of judging on Flash Fiction Online (an excellent publisher to aspire to), which I was equally disappointed over and proud of!
Are there any elements that characterize your writing which readers might find through your literary work?
I have a borderline erotic relationship with callbacks. Now that that’s out of the way, in my writing you’ll find oodles of antiheroes, moral gray areas, and atmosphere. As a lover (and writer) of horror, and whose writing outside horror always breaks the scales toward the ‘dark’ thematic side of things, atmosphere, I think, is one of the most effective tools to spark just the right sort of shiver up the reader’s spine (or a warm tingle in their belly, or whatever reaction you’re aiming for). As for the other stuff—is there anything scarier than human nature? How it varies and changes, how far it can bend, where and when it breaks, and why? Layering these very real horrors on top of paranormal, monstrous, or otherwise otherworldly terrors, I find, is a fantastic fright. My goal is to leave readers wondering what they should be more scared of: the demons in the dark, or the demons in their head.
I’m also partial to run-on sentences and liberal use of em dashes to convey anxiety. Watch out for those. Might need to grab a Xanax.
What can we expect from you in 2019?
Sadly I haven’t published or written a short story since early 2018 – both because I’ve been working on TQA and struggling through my Master’s (in a completely unrelated field, mind you). So the first thing you could probably expect is a dissertation on the use of parasites as biological tags of monkfish in the North Sea which you will never, ever read.
I do have a treasure trove of short stories I’d written and simply never submitted, which I plan to begin the process for. These include “Eleven Scarlet Boxes”, a horror flash about a woman’s Christmastime revenge, “Two Tastes”, a romantic horror short about a vanishing bar in NYC where evil men go to die, and “Midnight to One”, a plain, old-fashioned horror short about a man who’s supposed to be dead showing up at a sheriff’s office, desperate to report some murders. These and several others should be showing up soon while I attempt to wrangle TQA down from its obscene word count!
It has been a pleasure, Brianna! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
Thanks so much for having me! The best place to follow my goings-on is on my Facebook page, where you can find loads of awesome promotional art for TQA, excerpts, and publication announcements. I’m also trying out that whole Twitter thing… if you feel so inclined, you can find me @fentyscribbles.