Author Interview: Selah Janel
Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little, and she was convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either. She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror, but can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane. She has four e-books with No Boundaries Press, including the historical vampire story Mooner and the contemporary short The Other Man. Her work has also been included in ‘The MacGuffin’, ‘The Realm Beyond’, ‘Stories for Children Magazine’, and the upcoming Wicked East Press anthology Bedtime Stories for Girls. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to hold their own.
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When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always had a big imagination and grew up playing pretend all the time: dress up games, playing outside adventures with friends, constructing elaborate adventures with My Little Ponies and Barbies. Plus I was encouraged to go to the library a lot as a kid, watched Reading Rainbow and local access shows with storytelling themes, and I was surrounded by people who were always telling tales on themselves. There was no real deciding moment – I just moved from imagination games to actually writing those ideas down on paper. As I grew older, I did finally sit down and start writing my own tales, but it was more of a decision to actually start submitting them and trying to get published than a decision to write.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I usually have a basic plot and direction in mind, and usually an ending sequence, but I like to give my characters a little room to grow and contribute. I’m willing to let things tangent into subplots or change things around if it means that it will become a better story. I’ve learned not to hold the reigns too tightly because you miss out on a lot. I’ve also been told that I come up with a lot of wild combinations and tend to turn genres on their heads or sideways a lot, going for twists that are unexpected or untried.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
In the Red gave me a whole new respect for what it means to be a writer. It started out as a short narrative story, was contracted as such, and during the edits I realized that I had a lot more to say with the plot. My publisher graciously gave me time to work with it and it ended up becoming my first novel. That’s when I realized it’s not good for me to assume what a story is going to be from the very beginning unless I’m writing for a specific call. It also gave me a new appreciation for researching, editing, and getting things done on a deadline. I learned a lot about myself, too…I’ve always liked to make my characters well-rounded and not just caricatures, but In the Red really made me deal with writing some emotions and situations that were not easy to get on paper. It definitely made me grow as a writer.
Where did you get ideas for your books?
Ideas are everywhere, even for genre fiction that takes place in fantasy worlds. Sometimes I get an idea from an emotion I’m feeling, something someone says, something I see on a billboard, things that happen in my daily life…I think people assume that if you’re writing speculative fiction you don’t take any motivation or inspiration from the real world, and that’s entirely false. For things to read as real and have any sort of impact, that’s exactly where the ideas have to come from. Otherwise it’s just cool-sounding icing.
Out of all the books you have written which is your favorite and why?
I’m always all about my most recent title or what I’m writing at any time, but in looking back at everything I’ve done so far, I really appreciate them all for different reasons. I think In the Red is special for me because I learned so much while writing it, it encompasses a lot of things about music and genres that I really love, and it’s my first novel.
What age group do you think best describes your reader?
Depends on what I’m writing. In general, I do tend to aim toward an adult (or at least older teen) audience, and one that will take a chance on blending of genres. They don’t have to necessarily have experience with fairy tales or vampire lore or any of the mythological stuff I might throw in, but they’re usually willing to go with it and see what happens.
What do you think makes a good story?
I like characters I can empathize with … even if I don’t quite like them, I want to be able to feel for them. It’s hard to describe, but I think it also comes across when an author really loves the world they’re playing with, but has a good handle on the story, too. Otherwise it reads as slightly uneven or a little out of control. I personally like stories where the protagonist realizes they’re far more capable than they thought they were, and they grow as a person. I also like a lot of speculative elements, but I’ll read anything if the story is strong.
Who are some of your favorite Authors?
Ray Bradbury is my favorite. His descriptions are beautiful, the emotional content of his stories is always strong, even if it’s unusual. The passion he has for what he’s writing leaks off of the page – it’s hypnotic. I also really love Neil Gaiman. He blends darkness with humor so well, and I love that he incorporates older myths and stories with his own ideas. Madeline L’Engle was a huge influence growing up. Her books with the Murry family are just incredible – she handles the problems of growing up so gracefully, incorporating some really heavy ideas about science and fantasy in the process. I’m also becoming a really big fan of Alan Bradley. His Flavia de Luce series is so well structured, and he is so good at playing that fine line between her brilliant mind and the fact that she’s a typical eleven-year-old in a lot of ways.
If you could pick one actor to play a character in your book in the movie version, who would it be?
I’d really like to see Joe Anderson take a shot at Jeremiah Kensington/JK Asmodeus in In the Red. I first saw him in Across the Universe and not only is he an amazing singer and great at that type of performance, but he’s really great at gritty, unglamourous emotions. He’d be able to handle the emotional and paranoid aspects of Jeremiah and the rock star aspect when he’s transformed into JK Asmodeus.
What song best describes your book and Why?
There are two distinct parts of In the Red, and they both have a different focus and feel. With the first section, I always think of the song Thunderstruck by AC/DC, because Jeremiah really is whalloped with the whole situation and caught in a lot of the action. He’s caught up in the music, the lifestyle, and the magic. I spent a lot of time listening to the song “Mend Me,” by G Tom Mac and Corey Haim while writing the second half. I think while Jeremiah is still learning how to become a full person and move on, he’s finally taking responsibility for himself. By the end there’s an inner strength that isn’t there, though it’s bittersweet, and I think the song reflects a lot of those similar feelings, too.
Who are some of the people that influenced your love of writing?
My mom definitely encouraged me to read – we went to the library all the time in the summer when I was a little kid. Every book that was featured or mentioned on Reading Rainbow in the 80s I’ve probably read because of her. She encouraged me to not be afraid of my imagination and to go after what I loved. I also had a lot of storyteller influences, from local access shows to librarians and teachers. Looking back, some teachers didn’t get me, but the ones that did were a godsend. I think teens feel stifled and confused anyway, so having people around me who encouraged me to do what I wanted within the confines of a writing assignment was magic. Creatively, I was influenced a lot by Jim Henson and David Bowie, too. Although their stories were told in different forms, they’re not any less of an inspiration or a storyteller. I clung a lot to their work at different times in my life, and it made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for having these big ideas.
If you had one piece of advice for an aspiring Author, what would it be?
Go for it. It’s going to not always be easy, you’re going to get rejections, you’re going to put in long hours, you’re going to find out things about the business of writing that will blow your mind and challenge you…but it will be worth it. I also think it’s important to do this because you love it, not because you think you’re the next big thing or because you want fame and fortune – write because you have to, because the ideas and stories inside you will tear you apart if you don’t get them on paper. Don’t be afraid to learn and change along the way…things like this aren’t always about being right or showing people, it’s about becoming the best storyteller and writer you can be.
What would you like to say to friends and family of writers (not just your own)?
Appreciate the hill your friend/family member is climbing. Even if you don’t always get what they’re doing or why, support them. Don’t feel like it’s just about becoming well known or about the money – most writers aren’t going to become JK Rowling or Stephen King. We know that. We’re aware of it. But it’s important to shoot as high as you can, and we all need people in our lives to help us do that. Appreciate that they’re learning and encouraging obstacles they didn’t foresee. Encourage them to keep at it and applaud the effort they put in. Just plain be there for them without bringing competition or ego to the table. We don’t need to know what multi-million name is doing what and why can’t we do something like that. We want people around us to appreciate us for who we are and the ideas we have.
What projects do you have up and coming?
I’ll have a story included in issue 5 of The Realm Beyond – I’ve worked with them before so I’m really excited for this one to come out. I’ll also have stories in a few upcoming anthologies: Wicked East Press’s Bedtime Stories for Girls; Big Bad edited by John Hartness, and a really unique anthology still being put together by Sean Taylor. There are a few bigger things on the horizon, but they’re still coming together. In the meantime I just keep working, keep writing and submitting, and see what happens!
Is there anything else you want to share with your readers?
I’m so thankful and appreciative of everyone who gives my titles a chance. I’m thrilled that something I write may interest people enough to let it into their lives. I’ve got a lot of things I still want to do, so I hope everyone sticks with me for some really fun adventures in the future!
An Excerpt from:
In the Red
What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? That’s what Jeremiah Kensington is thinking after an unsuccessful bar gig one night. Then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right?
But what happens when they refuse to come off?
They’re mine. I’m really holding them, Jeremiah realized. I’m holding history that isn’t supposed to exist. When The One took the stage, any competition turned tail and ran. It was said that the one time the singer revealed what he looked like the crowds were moved to tears by his beauty and sophistication, and tore each other apart because they couldn’t get to him. Some said it was a conspiracy that complete copies of his songs didn’t exist because the music was too potent to release to the public. There were people who still worshipped the mystery, the music, the outfits, and the boots.
And now those people would come to him.
“Go on. Try them on,” Jack encouraged. Jeremiah nodded and carefully put the platforms on the floor. Shaking with nerves, the youth sat and guided his feet into the cherry red sheaths. Electricity crackled along his instep and through his toes. He tugged the vinyl up over his calf and gasped. Jeremiah was overtaken by a sudden burn, a sudden ant-crawling of power that worked its way through his skin and into his very soul.
“What the—” he choked. The plastic spasmed, tightened around his foot, and then relaxed. The left boot stretched itself a little higher up his calf and extended its sole and heel a little more to adapt to his needs. Jeremiah thought he had imagined it, but the right boot immediately followed suit. The matching sets of the laces squirmed and rippled, settling into a slightly different pattern than when they were taken out of their box. A quick look around proved that while everyone in the room was looking, Jack was the only other person that actually saw. “Did they just…?” Jeremiah couldn’t bring himself to say something so bizarre. He barely managed to hold back a cry when a thousand tiny needle teeth nibbled his skin from toes to knees. A tingling sensation spread under his skin and Jeremiah was filled with a rush of violent confidence that almost made him swoon.
“Good. They fit,” Jack said. Only his tiny, mysteriously cruel little smile hinted that he was aware of the boots’ strange behavior.
The longer Jeremiah looked at himself the more he realized that he could do no wrong. My life just changed. With these on my feet, my past is gone. I’m going to be better than I ever thought possible.
All around him the yes-men and hangers-on gaped.
“You look so good!” the store footman practically swooned. His vinyl and lace frock coat danced under the fluttering movements of his hands. His sharp, pale face flushed with excitement underneath the stylized Victorian wig.
“I’m gonna cry you look so good!” the blonde assistant squealed, gripping Jack’s knee as if she’d keel over if she didn’t have it there to support her. “It’s like I’m witnessing history!”
The faces that surround him were positively thunderstruck and at his mercy. The camera kept right on clicking. Jeremiah got to his feet and struck a few more ambitious poses, dropping into a low crouch before kicking a leg up in an insane bastardization of a round kick. It didn’t matter that he’d grown up looking like every other average guy in Middle America. It didn’t matter that he’d been more accustomed to cotton T-shirts and washed-out blue jeans than the clothes Jack had him wearing. The overall look wasn’t complete, but the boots pulled everything together. The added height evened out his lanky proportions. In some unlikely way the platforms made his stubble-sporting, angular face look downright exotic. His eyes blazed liquid brown heat and his dishwater hair almost glowed under the dressing room lights.
Jeremiah sashayed around the tiny space and leapt onto the low podium at the room’s center, full of a burning drive to do something. He wanted to sing. He wanted to rock. He wanted to dance, and he’d never had that sort of urge before in his life. Every school dance he’d ever gone to had involved him either playing in the band or drinking contraband beverages with his friends outside the building. “Guess I’m a natural!” he laughed. He knew he was lying, Jack knew he was lying, but there was no reason for anyone else to know the truth. Why bother with the truth when the image in the mirror was so much better?
He had expected his balance to be shaky in the tall platforms, but it was like the boots were built for him. He hadn’t thought to check the size. Maybe The One wasn’t the original owner; maybe they conformed to whoever wore them. Jeremiah’s face glowed when he looked at his mirror image. His reflection looked as giddy and ecstatic as he felt. Why do I care what they are? If they work, they work! His eyes dropped to the new footwear. He was just able to see the tiny, warped image of his face in the shiny toes. Everything’s going to be amazing from now on. As he admired his distorted image via his feet, all of his hang-ups and personality drained out of him. Who needs a personality with boots like these?
Jack Scratch watched his protégé glided round the room, that same tiny, dangerous smile just barely curling his full mouth. “Just think. What you have on represents everything that you want to be,” he coached. His words drilled through the rocker’s ears and hardwired themselves into the deepest parts of Jeremiah’s heart and soul. “They’re everything you want on your side. These boots are temptation and chaos, just like you. I’ve got it,” he declared. “I’ve got your name.”
“Give it to me,” a raspy voice in front of the mirror breathed.
“Forget Jeremiah Kensington: folk singer, blue jean rocker, country boy, small town loser,” Jack breathed, his giant hands fervently patting down his front until he found which jacket pocket his cigarettes were hidden in. It was amazing that he didn’t gouge himself in the chest given the sharpened tip of the massive silver ring that enveloped his right forefinger. The manager leaned back against the sofa and lit up, never once taking his eyes off his new golden boy and meal ticket. “From now on you are J.K. Asmodeus, rock star and corrupter of the masses.” A thin plume of smoke stretched up to frame his intense expression.
J.K. looked from Jack to the man in the mirror, saw how the red glitter of the boots was echoed in his eyes. “Yes.”
The two ignored the gasps and commentary around them as everyone texted photos and alerted the necessary paparazzi. The pair shared a slow smile as Jack inhaled another draw of nicotine. “It’s time to sign,” he murmured. The smoke crept in front of his face and turned his pleased expression into something that bordered on animalistic. He removed the top sheet of the stack he’d been examining and held it out to the younger man.
I should wait and consult a lawyer. I should take my time. These things need to be done with care, a distant echo of a Midwestern conscience chided. J.K. ignored it, grinned back at his manager, and reached for the fountain pen the manager handed him. His expression was almost as malevolent as Jack’s, though there were still traces of wholesomeness that had yet to drain away. “Let’s do it.”